Sunday, June 29, 2008

When Bad Vegetables Happen to Good Churches

Headline in the Duluth News-Tribune:  "Rhubarb’s mass appeal descends on Duluth's First Lutheran."  The blood runs cold.

Father Anonymous himself has been eating a little rhubarb this summer.  The experience has forced him to reconsider his enthusiasm for community-supported agricultural cooperatives.  Turns out they make you take the stuff in order to get your hands on their organic strawberries.  (Delicious, delicious strawberries).

Briefly put, any mention of rhubarb's mass appeal sound suspicious to us.  In Minnesota, however, it appears they actually like rhubarb, or at least pretend to.  The paper claims that "you’re going to find it in some type of baked good at just about every picnic or potluck you go to."  One more example of the Scandinavian capacity for self-punishment.

We already have a list of states we try to avoid during summer:  Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, and the one where Houston is, we forget the name.  We are, somewhat sadly, putting Minnesota on the list, despite its gazillion Lutherans.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Let's Kill the Baby"

In case you didn't already think Robert Mugabe had to go, by any means necessary.

McCain Channels Thoreau

No, not the pacifism.  Just the tax-evasion.

Per the HuffPo, Newsweek is about to report that the McCain family owns a house in La Jolla on which they have defaulted on the last four years of real-estate taxes.

The GOP faithful will not doubt be pleased to learn that McCain is so serious about his objection to taxes that he refuses to pay them. 

Obama is a Psychic!

In Jacksonville last week, he predicted that his opponents would use his race as a weapon against him.  In a chat with the Times this week, Grover Norquist did precisely that, calling Obama "John Kerry with a tan."  Holy cow -- Obama's like Kreskin! 

In between Prophecy A and Fulfillment B, there was a week or so in which conservative commentators accused Obama of "pre-smearing the opposition," "casual slander," airing "imagined grievances" and of course "race-baiting."  Which suggests merely that their predictive powers are weaker than his.  Maybe that's why they thought Iraq would be a cakewalk.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Faces of Evil

Contempt of Congress is part of the American character.  As Mark Twain once said, "reader, suppose I were a congressman.  Now suppose I were an ass -- oh, but I repeat myself."  Or as the delightful C.J. Cregg put it more recently, "We need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the U.S. House of Representatives?"

That said, Dana Milbank's WaPo description of recent testimony by David Addington and David Yoo should cause the blood of even the Twains and C.J.s among us to boil.

These are the two men who, while working for Dick Cheney, did more than any others to chart the course which cost America its credibility as a voice for morality, human rights, or the rule of law.  These are the men who turned us into a nation of torturers.

And when asked about it by Congress, they did not attempt to defend their behavior, nor even to lie about it.  Instead, they simply mocked the Congress itself -- over and over again.  Their favorite dodge was to pretend that they could not answer questions because they did not understand them, and to run out the clock.  Oh, it was all very lawyerly, on the order of Bill Clinton's exegesis of the word "is."  

But this was not a discussion of an embarrassing comic-opera adultery.  This was about the systematic torture of prisoners by a nation that claims not to torture; this was about elaborate steps which these men personally took to change our nation's policies in ways that violated the international agreements by which we are bound, and which when revealed would imperil the delicate diplomatic relationships necessary to effectively combat terrorism

This was not, in short, a matter on which their preening and posturing is welcome, or should be tolerated.  These men are criminals.  They are traitors.  They should be punished.

It may very well be that Addington and Yoo cannot be prosecuted under American law -- that remains to be seen, but they are smart, smart lawyers and have probably kept their hands clean enough to pass muster in our courts.  Probably.  But this does not mean that the cannot be punished.  First off, it is unlikely that either will ever travel to Europe again; they are likely to wind up in a dock at the Hague, like Milosevic and all the other international war criminals.  But for many Americans, America is all the world they need, and travel restrictions inflict no pain.  So what else can we do?

Ruin them.  These men should be disbarred.  Failing that, any firm that hires them should be subjected to intense public pressure to reconsider.  So too should any law school.  Clients and students should be urged to avoid them.  Journals should refuse to publish their articles, publishing houses should reject their books.  Having squandered it before Congress, they should never be given another forum in which to defend their indefensible behavior.  

But neither should they be allowed to slip away, gracefully, into either a peaceful retirement or the dimly-lit world of policy intellectuals, from which they might someday return to harm their country further.  Their government papers should be released, so that their monstrous activities should be investigated and reported to the public, and become a cottage industry for historians.  Their secret work is should be made public, over and over, with the inevitable result that their names (like McCarthy's) become codewords for behavior which is unacceptable to America or to Americans. 

Why Did Clear Channel Ban Harry Shearer?

I dunno.  Lemme think.

Obviously, the notoriously conservative radio monopoly banned advertising for Shearer's new album because it felt the album cover, pictured at right, cast unfair aspersions upon nose-piercings.

The funny part, though, is that Clear Channel is a radio monopoly.  Radio.  So it's not as though listeners would actually see the album cover.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Asparagus on Mars

Astronauts are advised to pack hollandaise.

"Flabbergasted" NASA investigators report -- and we're serious about this -- that Martian soil contains the nutrients required to support life, "past, present or future." Specifically, Sam Kounaves, the lead investigator for the wet chemistry lab, told journalists, "It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard, you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well."

Newsflash: God Deserts G.O.P.

This must be driving them crazy.

Kirbyjon Caldwell, the Methodist minister who introduced President Bush at the 2000 Republican convention, and who performed Jenna Bush's wedding ceremony, has started what amounts to a pro-Obama website. Technically, it's more of an anti-James Dobson site, which serves a far more useful public purpose (and is less likely to endanger his congregation's tax-exempt status). The Bush White House would once have fumed with public rage over this seeming disloyalty, but these days they probably just shrug their shoulders in despair. There isn't a lot of loyalty left over there.

There's also an article in this week's New Yorker called "The New Evangelicals," which reveals the shocking fact that not all evangelical Christians are die-hard Republicans, that some have mixed feelings about abortion rights, and that many both care about the earth and dislike war. This news, we expect, will shock few Egg readers. Indeed, we expect the only Americans who will find it truly shocking are the New Yorker's target audience of secular liberals -- and the Republican leadership.

And that is what galls us, and has galled us for years, about the GOP. They present themselves, over and over, as the Party of God, and have claimed to have a lock not only on "values voters," but on specifically Christian values. But let's be serious. Ronald Reagan was not a member of any church, and rarely attended one. George H.W. Bush sought his bishop's approval for a war in Iraq and, when that approval was not forthcoming, ignored his bishop. His son 's neocon cronies sought the Pope's approval for another war in Iraq, and when that approval was also not forthcoming, ignored the Pope. Not mention his son's bloodthirsty use of capital punishment, even against women and men with the IQs of children. Oh, and Nixon was Satan.

Meanwhile, prominent Democrats have included Gary Hart and Al Gore, both former seminarians; George Stephanopoulos, who almost followed his father into the priesthood; and Jimmy Carter, whose Southern Baptist evangelicalism got him teased by sophisticates for admitting to adultery in his heart, but also earned him that Nobel Prize. Bill Clinton, another Southern Baptist, was practically a televangelist (big hair, adultery, fried food). More to the point, in recent years it has been Democrats who consistently push government toward the few social policies that Jesus actually articulated -- feeding the hungry, healing the sick, making peace rather than war. (And yes, okay, paying taxes).

Nonetheless, there are surely GOP leaders who feel betrayed and, worse, bewildered these days. They have gotten so much mileage, over so many years, out of the emotional issue of abortion, that they had simply assumed that those "values voters" were their forever. This is a sign of their own shallow grasp of Christianity, or of Christians. It never occurred to them that there might be other values than the ones they talked about. Worse yet, it never occurred to them that evangelical voters might have a loyalty which was far, far deeper than any passing attachment to a political party.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Literary Classics in 3 Lines or Less

Click for the brilliant McSweeney's feature (Sullivan saw it first).  Here's a sample:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C.S. LEWIS: Finally, a utopia ruled by children and populated by talking animals.

THE WITCH: Hi, I'm a sexually mature woman of power and confidence.

C.S. LEWIS: Ah! Kill it, lion Jesus!

Who Cares What the President Thinks About Economics or Foreign Affairs?

Not Americans, it would seem.

Now James Dobson and Jim Wallis are in a spitting match, as they (like FoxNews) argue over the nuances of Barack Obama's theological doctrine and Biblical exegesis.  Because after all, there is no qualification for high office more important than theological prudence.  Right?

To be charitable, maybe they are making all this fuss over Obama's religious opinions because, unlike McCain, he seems to have some.

Department of Down the Rabbit Hole

Among the creepiest effects of the Iraq quagmire has been the shifting of alliances by Christopher Hitchens and Patrick Buchanan.  

Both men are die-hard controversialists.  Hitchens is (or was) an Anglo-American lefty, hard to imagine without a cigarette in one hand and a whiskey in the other, of the sort who becomes more belligerent and yet perversely more brilliant as the night's boozing wears on.  Once upon a time, he was something of a role model to us at the Egg.  Buchanan, the sometime Nixon staffer and presidential candidate, has grown increasingly isolated, as he has staked out positions so far to the right that they resemble no post-1930s Euro-American politician of any substance, unless you count Jean-Marie Le Pen.  And, like Le Pen, it has been impossible for most civilized people to take him seriously.

But then came Iraq.  Even earlier, just after 9/11, Hitchens detected in the Islamists the precise enemy of his tribe:  Fascism.  (Did he invent the term Islamo-fascism?  The debate will rage for decades, but we think he did.)  He went on the attack, and urged the nation to do likewise.  He has defended the Iraq invasion and, by extension, the Bush Administration, with his customary startling vigor, no doubt shedding old friends as rapidly as he has made new ones.  (In his typically beguiling manner, he has kept those new rightist friends at arms-length by couching much of his attack on Islamism in the rhetoric of militant atheism.  You see why we love the man?)

Buchanan also detected an ancestral enemy, one remembered only vaguely these days by the most palaeo of palaeoconservatives.  After all, a fear of "foreign entanglements" is at least as deeply rooted in the American political heritage as a zeal for quasi-imperial meddling.  Pat's people, the Republicans of yore, were isolationists.  And he saw, as early as anybody else, that the Bush Administration was not, by the traditional standard, even remotely conservative.  So while Hitchens was trying to rally support for Iraq from a leftist position, Buchanan was denouncing it from the right.

This presents a conundrum for those of us who considered Iraq to be a disaster from the very moment it was contemplated.  To whom now could we look for leadership in the arena of the talking heads?  Traditionally, after all, the enemy of my enemy and all that.  But to befriend Buchanan seems risible, and to abandon Hitch seemed, at least for a long time, like intellectual suicide.  After all, we told ourselves, God -- ahem -- knows that he's right about the new fascists.  And yet he seemed wrong about everything else.

Oh, it wasn't that much of a conundrum:  Hitchens left us behind long ago, on his pilgrimage (or is it hegira?) to the dark side of the Potomac.  And we still can't take Buchanan seriously.

So now it comes down to this.  Click the link for Pat's review of Hitch's new book on WWII, and be prepared to read between the lines.  Basically, Hitchens argues that the enemy -- Fascism -- was so evil, that we had a moral duty to use every tool available to us to defeat it.  This includes fire-bombing and even nuking civilian targets, expressly in order to terrorize the populations of Germany and Japan as the Nazis had terrorized Britain.  Buchanan mocks this argument on moral grounds, and ends with the oblique suggestion that the Nuremberg trials were a sham, because Allied officers were guilty of crimes comparable to their Nazi counterparts.

So, um, okay.  What Hitchens really means is that we should torture the hell out of anybody we capture in the Middle East, right?  So that means Buchanan must be right.  But wait:  Buchanan is an apologist for Hitler, so he can't be right.  Right?  

We were agonizing over this insoluble problem when -- holy cats!  Excuse us, but a rabbit just pulled a pocket-watch from its waistcoat.  We're off in hot pursuit.

Department of No Surprise: G.A.S. Edition

Headline over a letter to the Guardian:  "Anglican Split About Power, Not Sex."

We couldn't have said it more succinctly.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

3000 Miles Wide and Three Inches Deep

That's a sociologist's somewhat unscientific description of religion in America, based on the Pew survey we mentioned yesterday.

Remember the 92% of Americans who believe in God, however that word is defined? 70 percent of those with a religious affiliation believe that there is more than one way to salvation, no matter the teachings of their, umm, "affiliation." This includes 57% of the soi-disant evangelicals.

So much for Cal Thomas and his ravings about Obama's theology. Turns out Obama votes with the majority on this one.

George Carlin, RIP

It is a fitting tribute that the ABC News website ran an article called "Do Carlin's 'Seven Dirty Words' Still Shock?" -- and more fitting still that they wouldn't print any of the words in question.  Because you never see words like that on, y'know, the Internet.

The dinosuars will go on censoring themselves long after the giant asteroid smashes into the planet and obliterates them.  Carlin would not have been surprised.

We were a little surprised, though, when Keith Olbermann -- our latest guilty pleasure -- mentioned something we did not know.  The original routine began with a bit about a guy whose phone is tapped by the FBI.  He knows this, so every time it rings, he picks up and says "Fuck Hoover."  

So, in honor of George Carlin, we at the Egg intend to spend the day answering our phone "Screw Cheney."

Monday, June 23, 2008

America Is a Christian Nation!

That's what the Christianists will be shouting this week, following a Pew survey in which 92% of respondents affirm their belief in "God or a universal spirit."

But of course, a category like that is so broad as to be philosophically meaningless.  As Luther says, "that upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your 'god.'"  He is at pains to point out that not all the 'gods' intended by this definition are God.  Luther points especially to money and possessions, but there are plenty of other false gods, worshiped devoutly by the masses:  country, family, self-esteem, you name it.  The Times Book Review, even.

Even those who happen to call their god by the name "God," or by any of the various historic names which are often denoted in English by that awkward catchall (YHWH, Allah, Father-Son-and-Spirit, among hundreds of others) do not mean the same thing.  "God," to Christians, is incarnate and triune; this is, irreducibly, who God is.  Without both characteristics, God is not God from the perspective of Christian theology.  Yet to both Jews and Muslims, a god with these characteristics simply is not, and cannot be, God.

The true situation, however, is far more complex than this.  Not only between religious traditions, but within any single tradition, there are competing images of God.  Sometimes, the competition becomes so fierce that the majority labels the minority "heretical."  (The Arian God is not the Orthodox God).  More frequently, the differing parties agree to disagree.  (The God present in, with and under the eucharistic elements is, at least arguably, not the God whose only true presence is localized in heaven.)   But most often, the differences persist, unspoken and scarcely acknowledged, between those who are ostensibly united by a single faith.  (Some of our own church members believe that God receives the blessed dead  immediately and spiritually, others that God is waiting to revive everybody, physically and together).

This may sound like Scholastic nitpicking, but it is not.  Because there are some people who believe that "God" requires them to kill for religious reasons -- think of jihadists and Crusaders.  There are others who believe that "God" permits them to kill, under certain circumstances, such as war and self-defense -- the traditional position of Constantinian Christians, and virtually all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and many more Buddhists than most Americans realize.  And there are some who believe that "God" absolutely forbids them to kill -- most Anabaptist Christians, many Buddhists, all Jains.  These people worship different and distinct gods.

Although it is customary to lump, say, Lutherans and Mennonites together under the label "Christian," the truth is that, from this perspective, they hold a dramatically different doctrine of God.  Which is nothing more than a theological way of saying that they impute different attributes to the ultimate reality -- or that they believe in different gods.  From the perspective of the public square, Mennonites and Jains worship the same deity, at least functionally.  As do Bin Laden and Ann Coulter.

So when we hear that 92% of our compatriots believe in a god, we are not much moved to displays of triumphalism.  A little phenomenology of religion and a smidge of pastoral experience combine to convince us that the respondents are not united by any nebulous thing called "faith," but rather divided by their many separate gods.

Which is why the American Constitution, while allowing all 92% to hold their beliefs unmolested, requires the government to function as though the remaining 8% were right.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pentecostalism May be Dangerous to Your Health

A Tennessee man went to his "non-denominational" church, which is the kind where they assign people to stand near the altar and catch worshippers who may fall over when the Holy Ghost cometh upon them.  

Here's how it goes:  Preacher taps man on head; man falls; no catchers are present.  Man smacks his head on the floor, and sues the church for $2.5 million, which is real money, even in today's devalued dollars.  Oh, and the insurance company rejected the church's claim, on the grounds that they are freaking idiots, who should have made sure their catchers were on the ball.

We propose that the church in question file suit against the Holy Ghost, for malicious mischief.

McCain Family Lives in a Glass House

Maybe literally, we don't know, although very wealthy people often build those things.  But we're talking figuratively today.

Cindy McCain has been on the hustings, sweetly reminding people that "I've always been proud of my country."  Her goal is to establish some contrast with Michelle Obama's unfortunately-phrased February remark that "for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country."

The HuffPo has recently provided us with at least two reasons that the McCain family ought to reconsider making hay with this, and neither one is aboout altruism, fairness, or the fact that Mrs. Obama is not a candidate.  They are pure self-interest:

Item the First:  Mrs. McCain is a Thief and and Addict.  As recently as the 1990s, she was an active drug addict, who stole her stuff from the American Voluntary Medical Team, a relief organization she had created, either to help poor people or to cover her tracks.  Stephen Elliott sees the layers of hypocrisy here:
  1. "Like most ridiculously rich people, she didn't have to go to jail for her crimes and was allowed to enter a rehab program rather than face criminal charges."
  2. "Try to imagine what the reaction would be if Michelle Obama had a history with drug addiction? If Michelle Obama had stolen drugs meant for third world countries to support her own addiction?"
  3. And regarding Mrs. McCain's claim to have "always" loved America, "She spent at least three years stoned out of her mind. It's impossible to know what she thought during that time. Was she really proud, or was she just hallucinating?"
Item the Second:  Senator McCain Has Also Said Stupid Things.  For example, click the link to see a March interview in which he tells an interviewer that he "didn't really love America" until he was a prisoner of war.

The McCains would be well-advised to talk about real issues, rather than to invent false ones. ABut  if they are going to invent issues, they ought to choose ones that make them look less foolish.

Henry Chadwick is Dead

Among the best-worn spines along Father A.'s bookshelf is a Penguin paperback called simply The Early Church, by the Anglican historian Henry Chadwick.  Although the paper is cheap and yellow, and the print is abominably small, this book was an indispensable supplement to the "official" textbooks assigned by seminary professors and remains a useful reference many years later.  It is clearly a beginners' guide:  few quotations, fewer sources, and little acknowledgment of questions disputed by historians.  But it is for that reason, along with its clear prose and straightforward narrative, an indispensable vade mecum for those stumbling into their study of the earliest Church.

Rowan Williams' touching obit in the Guardian pays tribute to Chadwick's extraordinary scholarship and ecumenical leadership, as well as -- obliquely -- to his faithful pastoral service in what sounds like an unpleasant tenure at Christ Church.  It also includes this sobering nugget:

No one could replace Henry and no one will. The Anglican church no longer shows so clearly the same combination of rootedness in the early Christian tradition and unfussy, prayerful pragmatism, and the ecumenical scene is pretty wintry with less room for the distinctive genius of another Chadwick. But the work done stays done, and it is there to utilise in more hospitable times.

Henry Chadwick was born in 1920, ordained in 1943, and taught first and Cambridge and then, for many years, at Oxford.  He is survived by his wife, his daughters and his brother Owen, also a fine church historian.  But more than that, he is survived by the many thousands of students and pastors whom he helped to understand the sources of their own tradition.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"We Have Cake, They Have Lies"

“These are the nicest protesters I have ever had the privilege of policing,” one policeman said. “They even bring lunch.”

For the love of mercy, click the link and read a London Times takeout on Anonymous, the internet-driven protest against Scientology.  It is both funny and fascinating.  (By the time we hit the part about KFC, the entire Egg pressroom was in hysterics).

Yes, they are nice young people, these Anonymi, what with their Guy Fawkes masks and snacks for the bobbies.  They are also onto something:  it is entirely possible that all the public protests in the world cannot stop the Iraqi war machine.  But it is just possible that enough publicity can put a dent in the organization that thought Battlefield Earth deserved a green light.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mr. Sulu Getting Hitched

George Takei, known to science-fiction fans everywhere as the mysterious father of time traveler Hiro Nakamura on the hit show Heroes, once played some other character on some other show, but we forget the details.  That was back in the days before California gave out wedding licenses to same-sex couples, so nobody can remember it anyway.

Anyhoo, Takei and his partner Brad Altman picked up their license yesterday, made the obligatory "live long and prosper" joke, and moved on with their lives.  We wish them well, and hope that neither man falls victim to the Psi 2000 thing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And On A Less Serious Note

So one of the newlyweds in the last post is the Rev. Dr. David Lord.  Does anybody besides the Egg think that guy's life must be pretty tough?

We are reasonably confident that people come up to him at parties and say, "Hey, that makes you Father Lord!  Get it -- Father Lord?"  And then, after a second, they probably add, "I guess you hear that all the time," in a tone of voice that suggests they still hope he does not.  But he does.

A cleric named Lord. Hysterical.  Just ask anybody from this list of our own friends and colleagues:  Michael Church, Mark Christian, David Parsons, Stephanie Pope, or John Priest.  Not to mention the one poor guy whose name caused even our icy-cold heart to melt with compassion, a classmate named Randy Bishop.  Get it?  Randy Bishop.

Wedding Season Ruined By Gays!

This time of year, old Father Anonymous is ordinarily busy scheduling weddings, counseling sweet young couples who tell him white lies about their lives together, and wondering how many more times his poor organist can stand to play the Wedding March.

Not this year, though.  Oh, we've got a few little matrimonies coming, and the couples are exceptionally sweet this year.  But the number seems awfully low.  For a while, we couldn't figure out why.  And then we started reading the newspapers, and the cartoon lightbulb went off over our tonsured head:  It's the gays, by gum!

See, they're getting married now.  Massachusetts will marry in-state couples, California will marry anybody, and a handful of other states (including us here in the Minor Outlying Islands) will recognize the deal as done.  

But it's not just us Yanks, not by a long shot.  The big news from what's left of Anglicanism this week is the marriage of The Rev. Dr. David Lord and The Rev. Peter Cowell, at St. Bartholomew the Great in London.  All the press reports are using inverted commas -- you know, 'marriage,' 'wedding,' and so forth.  One supposes they must, since this was, at least technically, the blessing of a civil union.  (We occasionally do this for straight couples, who have been to City Hall, but later decide they want a church "wedding.")  But except for pronouns, it is reported to have been the Prayer Book service, right down to "with my body I thee worship."

Needless to say, international Anglicanism -- getting into the spirit of this inverted-comma thing, we're going to start calling it the Anglican "Communion" -- is all atwitter.  Howls are coming from every corner, although it is often difficult to tell whether they are gleeful or dolorous.  The southern tier and its adherents will surely gain some momentum as a result of this, and the more extreme liberationists will no doubt claim a stupendous moral victory.  But in fact, the south was in no danger of losing momentum and liberationism manages to find victory in every act of rebellion, including those which are utterly crushed.  (Somebody, somewhere, considers Michael Servetus to be the victor in his struggle with Calvin.  Despite that whole burned-alive thing).  The same dynamic can be discerned, less easily perhaps, in US politics.

The only parties for whom this new wave of same-sex broom-jumping is not a victory are the moderates, especially those who have not yet put little marks around "Communion."  The howls coming from Canterbury are of genuine pain, as the G.A.S. becomes daily more noxious.  (That's Great Anglican Schism, and we won't define it again).  We feel for the Archbishop, and for all the rest of those Anglicans (or Americans) who had been hoping to fence-sit for another generation, until none of this seemed quite so pressing, and then slowly adjust to times that had already changed.

But seriously, people.  The cultural need and the theological arguments have both been accumulating for decades.  Since 28 June 1969, to be precise, when a bunch of gay men and drag queens decided that they had a legal and moral right to sip their martoonies at the Stonewall Inn without police harassment.  That's forty years next summer, or roughly since the next US president was still sleeping with a teddy bear.  So a few states, and a few churches, have just figured out that if you sit on the fence long enough, people start to think you're just a scarecrow.  

For more on this, click the link to read an essay by the Rev. Martin Dudley, who solemnized the Lord-Cowell nuptials.  His apologia pro rite sua is worthwhile, even if we do cringe when he begins by proclaiming his own "robust" heterosexuality, and claiming the nickname "Dud the Stud."  But the point to note here is that Dudley also presided at the first CofE wedding of a couple who had been previously divorced -- not so long ago, either.  For most of our readers, the idea that this too was controversial will seem freakishly quaint.

So we at the Egg are neither surprised nor particularly emotional about these recent developments.  At no point in our life, child or adult, did we not expect them.  To us, and to most of our generation, they are no more remarkable than a woman running for president.  The next generation or two, we gather, are already scratching their collective head and saying "Umm ... hasn't it always been done this way?"

But there is one catch.  You see, brides are notoriously competitive.  So our theory is that a lot of straight couples are holding off, waiting until the fuss is over so that people will pay attention to them (or specifically, to her) again.   Truth is that the gays have raised the bar -- a fabulous service!  St Martin the Great!  International press coverage!  How can modest little St. Dismas-by-the-Quickie-Mart and a misspelled blurb in the Peoria Star ever hope to compete?  So although we can't prove it, our working theory is that those pesky gays, what with their their civil rights and religious observance,  have conspired to keep straight people from tying the knot.

Which just proves that the US conservatives were right all along.  Gay marriage really is a threat to non-gay marriage.  It's just a theory, for now.  We could be proven wrong if straight people ever start getting married again.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Department of No Surprise: Albino Monk Edition

Church officials in Rome will not let filmmakers use the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo or Santa Maria della Vittoria to film Angels and Demons, a prequel to The Da Vinci Code.  According to a spokesman for the diocese, the film "does not conform to our views."

Understatement of the week, and it's only Monday.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Crypt Keeper Doesn't Read My Blog

McCain can't use a computer, and claims to rely on his wife for all things cyber.  

The good news is that, unlike Judge Alex Kozinski, he won't be embarrassed when his porn stash hits the press.  The bad news is that this puts him considerably more out of touch with mainstream America than, say, Bush I's confusion over the price of milk.  It raises him to a level of out-of-touchness that rivals Bush II's slack-jawed response to a reporter that he'd never heard about any $4/gallon gasoline.

Among the other things for which the candidate relies upon his wealthy spouse, it now seems, is $100,000 in zero-interest credit-card debt.  The rich really are different.

Real Men Don't Eat ... Meat?!

We were soooo sure it was quiche.

But it turns out that Mac Danzig, apparently a world champion in some brutal combat sport as well as one of America's Fittest Guys, according to the magazines they sell in drugstores, is also a vegan.  No milk, no meat, just a steady diet of teeth and knuckles.

The vegans of our misspent youth (and there were many) tended to be willowy young ladies with translucent skin and ethereal manners, or men who were indistinguishable from same.  We thought they were cool, until we found out that Hitler was also a vegetarian.

Still, we are reminded of Luther's frequent contention that Adam and Eve ate only fruits and vegetables, and that meat consumption was a sign of the Fall.

Bishop Hooper's Annus Horribilis

... was the year they made him a bishop.

In the last ten months, Penrose Hooper has (a) been elected bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod; (b) taken a month-long trip to rehab for his alcoholism; and (c) learned that his synod treasurer embezzled a million bucks.  Oh, and his daughter is studying to be come a rabbi.

Rumor has it that Hooper, shortly after his election, tried to back out of the job.  You can't blame him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Oldest Church in the World?

Maybe, or maybe not.  

There are currently several contenders for the title, the most recent of which is a cave underneath St. George's, itself an extremely old church building in the Jordanian city of Rihab  It is described as a circular worship area with stone seats, as well as living quarters with a long tunnel connected to a water-source.

This may or may not be the oldest church in the world, but we know a certain parish on Long Island that almost certainly has the oldest church council in the world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

McCain's Economic Plan (See Below)

Obama has said, often, that McCain is running for Bush's third term.  It's a sharp line, reminding us of the strange way that McCain has tried to embrace Bush -- literally,  with an on onstage hug -- while trying to keep at least notional distance from the most hated presidential polices since LBJ.  Or even since Reconstruction.

The gentleman from Arizona has come up with his own response:  "He says I''m running for Bush's third term?  It seems to me he's running for Carter's second."

Well, now.  That's a good sound-bite, isn't it?  But let's be serious.  Carter gets the blame, deserved or not, for inflation and high oil prices -- but we've already got those, in spades.  That's the Bush legacy.  Carter also gets the blame for an ineffective response to the Iranian hostage crisis -- after all, eight American soldiers died, and America came out looking a bit milquetoasty.  But now we have 4100 dead soldiers, and we look like a lying, warmongering bully.  Again, that's the Bush legacy.

So in fact, Bush seems to combine, and greatly excel, some of the failures for which Carter is routinely excoriated by the right.  Of course, he has utterly failed to realize any of Carter's genuine accomplishments, such as the Camp David accords.  (Needless to say, Bush will never be a candidate for any Nobel, but he couldn't score the Peace Prize if they put it in a box of Cracker-Jack.)

The real point, though, is that Obama's proposed policies bear no particular resemblance to Carter's.  Both men are churchgoing Christians, but other than that they have little in common.  What is McCain trying to suggest?  We have no idea, except -- perhaps -- to frighten the ultra-Israeli bloc with the threat of peace initiatives.

But here's what we love best about the brief Politico piece linked above -- one commenter's description of McCain's economic plan:  "Dump wife and marry rich."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Bush Fired Rove ... in Church

Apparently the White House has a shortage of conference rooms.

This, at least, is what we conclude from the story told by Paul Alexander, in his book Machaiavelli's Shadow

On a Sunday in midsummer, George W. Bush accompanied Karl Rove to the Episcopalian Church [sic] Rove sometimes attended. ... They made their way to the front of the congregation. Then, during their time in the church, Bush gave Rove some stunning news. "Karl," Bush said, "there’s too much heat on you. It’s time for you to go.”

The speculation is that the President was trying to avert an explosion by the notoriously hot-tempered Rove.  This strikes us as odd.  After all, he's the POTUS.  What's Rove gonna do -- take a swing?  The Secret Service would love that.

The big surprise is that Rove goes to an Episcopal church.  Probably Truro or Falls Church, though. 

McCain's Divorce: Does It Tell Us Anything?

The Daily Mail article, based in part on a rare interview with the first Mrs. McCain, is worth reading if you think that character matters in your chief executive.

Your probably know the outline version.  While McCain was a POW, his beauty-queen wife Carol nearly died in a car crash.  She survived, but was crippled and disfigured.  They were reunited in 1973, and stayed together until 1980; one month after the divorce, he married an heiress.

The story can be read in different ways.  One reading makes it pretty unremarkable:  they both changed, a lot, during the years they were separated; they gave it their best shot, but couldn't make it work. He has always admitted some fault in the matter, and still picks up Carol's medical bills.  She has his bumper-sticker on her car.  Que sera sera; move along, nothing to see here.

The other reading makes McCain look pretty bad.  He was a notorious womanizer before the marriage, and after his return home was living a high-powered public life in which his wife had no place, and adultery followed.  Friends and acquaintances, including Ross Perot (who paid for a lot of Carol's medical care) are quoted to damning effect -- McCain has no character, he's cruel, etc.  

Frankly, we lean toward the first and more charitable reading.  It is easy to imagine, and seems to fit with what both parties have said over the years, and continue to say.  But if the second and more sinister version is correct, and McCain were to win the general election, we would all be in a mess of trouble.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Kissing Frogs and Beating Horses

Having attained his majority in the 1980s, Father Anonymous has always taken for granted the truth of that era's pieties:  that Madonna is a gifted artist exploring the boundaries of sexual self-expression, and that buyouts help to build strong corporations.  Increasingly, however, it seems that these are both errors.  Madge, for example, seems more and more like the chorus girl who woke up in a big bed and thinks she must be a lady.  And according to James Surowiecki in the New Yorker, those mergers and acquisitions a la Gordon Gekko actually do more harm than good.

Seems that only about 17% of corporate mergers studied by KPMG created real value, while more than fifty percent destroyed value.  This is apparently no big secret; when CBS announced it was buying CNET, the Tiffany Network's stock took a quick dive.

So why, after decades of failure -- or, heck, after AOL/TimeWarner --  is M&A still a common strategy?  Surowiecki has a couple of ideas.  In some cases, it really is good business, as when two banks merge their assets and cut their "back-room costs," meaning staff, to save money.  But many more cases can be explained by corporate myths, including the myth of synergy, which, Surowiecki writes,

appeals to executives’ sense of themselves as magic-workers. As Warren Buffett once put it, executives see the companies they acquire as handsome princes imprisoned in toads’ bodies, awaiting only the “managerial kiss” to set them free. Unfortunately, most toads turn out to be as warty as they look, and magic kisses are harder to bestow than executives think.

In other words, it's about executive ego.  But its also about the closely-related matter of investor expectations: 

C.E.O.s of public companies often feel what you might call the “grow or die” imperative .... It’s the rare C.E.O., of course, who’s comfortable presiding over a shrinking empire, and running a public company creates a bias toward action, if only as a way of convincing investors that you recognize your problems and are dealing with them

Wait. "Grow or die" -- this sounds familiar. How many churches, when a pastor or worse yet outside consultant is talking to them about evangelism, have been hectored to grow or die, usually with the image of a shark that can't stop swimming lest it drown? (Which is, incidentally, a myth.  Sharks do sleep.  And incidentally, the Chinese word for crisis is not a combination of danger and opportunity).

Bishops, like CEOs, are often taken by the myth of synergy.  St. Rigomortis' is a declining urban parish, ever since the Bohemians moved out of the neighborhood.  And O.L. of Aquavit has been hurting for years, ever since the Danes were replaced by Yuppies.  But if we merge them -- argue the bishops, and other judicatory leaders -- if we merge them, then we'll have one nice big healthy parish.  Right?

And sometimes it works.  Father A. knows very fine congregations formed by merger.  Saleable real estate makes a pretty good dowry, and will see the new family through a lot of tough times.  But often it fails (and we at the Egg don't know the success/failure ratio -- yet). 

Of course it does, because synergy is a myth.  Two congregations, like two companies, are the sum of both their assets and their liabilities, human as well as financial.  But in the case of churches, unlike that of companies, if both were thriving, there would be no merger.  Which means that at least one, and often both, have more liabilities than otherwise.  This is (and watch for another 80s allusion here) risky business.  

Merging two truly moribund congregations is sometimes remarkably like beating a dead horse, and makes onlookers want to cry "Just give the poor thing a decent burial."  And the executive ego-trip is matched by the myth of "the right person" -- that is, a pastor whose kisses can work magic on a frog.  Frankly, it's fun to watch the poor bastard keep kissing, until he finally leaves the synod to do the same work somewhere else.

For both churches and businesses, there will always be times when a merger makes sense.  But as Surowiecki writes, 

... history suggests that, when it comes to mergers, the best response is often to just say no. In effect, deals like the CNET acquisition are a bit like an aging outfielder taking steroids in order to stave off the boobirds. The difference is that steroids usually work.

Perhaps We Missed the Point

Per the Times, an article on "Lord's Gym," a Christian health club.  You can tell it's Christian because people read the Bible while they walk the treadmill, the music is Christian rock, and there's an airbrushed mural of the Apocalypse in the kickboxing room. 

No word on whether membership dues are tithed to a a local homeless shelter or food pantry.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Afghan Bloodbath Worsens

May 2008 was the bloodiest month in Afghanistan since 2001.  This is despite the fact that troop levels are at their highest since the campaign there began.

Please skim down to the Egg's may 12 post, "The Moral Minority," for a reminder of how blinded by their own ideology and propaganda the neo-cons were when the fight in Afghanistan was still fresh.  In early 2002, our colleague Father Ron assured us that the war was "winding down."  Of course, he also thought that nobody cared much about the World Trade Center.  It was this counting of un-hatched chickens that led us to fight the unnecessary war in Iraq before winning the thoroughly necessary one in Afghanistan.

But don't lose sight of the fact that Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, is an essential front in the war against terrorism.  This is one that we actually do have to win, as we will probably have to win the eventual combat operations in Pakistan, whether or not they are undertaken with the support of that nation's government.  (Holy cow!  Did I just type that?  it feels like I've broken the code of silence.  But come on -- we all know it will have to be done.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Preaching the Gospel is a Hate Crime

Well, sometimes, when it's done very badly.

But we are still a little shocked that two street-corner evangelists in England were told they could not do their thing "because this is a Muslim area."  We are considerably more shocked that a police officer agreed, and warned that if they came back, they would be beaten up.

We at the Egg will confess that we have occasionally wanted to beat up a street preacher.  They just bug us.  But we have always refrained, both because of our a priori commitment to free speech, and because we were convinced that the law would punish us if we assaulted somebody because we didn't like what they said.  

Apparently Britons -- or at least British Muslims -- lack this commitment or this conviction.

Obama STILL Needs a New Church

Jacques Berlinerblau has some suggestions.  We still think ours is better, though.

Fox News is Now the Pope

And it has excommunicated Obama.

Columnist Cal Thomas, writing on the Fox website, unearths a 2004 book in which Obama was interviewed about his faith.  And he doesn't like what he finds.  Thomas snidely observes that Obama "has declared himself a Christian," but quotes the senator saying “I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”  Uh-oh, says Thomas -- universalism!

Worse yet, Obama is guilty of "work salvation," (sic) because he isn't sure that he or his children will go to heaven, but is nonetheless proud to have raised them well, and tucks them in at night.

Thomas claims that "any first-year seminary student could deconstruct" these remarks, and concludes that "Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn’t meet that requirement."

Err.  Hmmm.  Sorta.  Obama certainly doesn't meet the requirements for fundamentalist Christianity, nor even rigid Evangelicalism.  But then, we never thought he did. He is, after all -- or was until last week -- a member of the United Church of Christ, the most theologically flexible of the mainline Protestant groups.

But here's the thing.  Obama says nothing, at least as quoted here, that Father Anonymous doesn't hear on a regular basis from members of his church.  A great many devout and thoughtful Christians have wrestled with the issues surrounding the ultimate destiny of non-Christians.  

In a seventeenth-century sermon, John Donne addressed the question by saying (and this is from memory, so the details may be off) "I don't know what provision God may have made for saving souls in China or India; I only know the provision he has made for saving mine."  During the 20th century, this line of thought was pursued more aggressively, especially among those with a special interest in missiology.  Robert Jenson, a hero to many Lutheran theologians, has written that evangelical theology according to the Augsburg Confession permits the possibility (although it cannot declare the fact) of universal salvation.  The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner devised the theory that "anonymous Christians," good people who have not heard or even have rejected the Gospel, may nonetheless be saved by the merits of Christ.  Rahner's far more conservative student, Joseph Ratzinger, appears to have been taken with this idea.  At a papal audience in 2005, commenting on something by Augustine, Pope Benedict XVI said "Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith."  (Note the works-righteousness here, far more piquant than anything Obama says!)

So, while Thomas may be correct from one narrow perspective, it is important to recognize that from the same perspective most Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics, along with virtually all liberal Protestants, are not Christians any more than Obama is.  If Cal's church won't have him, then one of ours certainly will.

The real question for us is why Fox feels that it should be in the business of theological analysis as part of its campaign coverage.  After all, America doesn't have any religious test for office ... does it?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Cheney Says West Virginians are Incestuous

This could explain why they refuse to believe that Obama is a Christian.

But seriously, folks.  The Veep's display of contempt for West Virginia should come as no surprise.  The Bush Administration, with its love of cheap energy and hatred of industrial oversight, has done its best to destroy the state, one mountaintop and one river at a time.  it is pretty clear that, if they don't actually hate the Mountain State, they certainly have no use for it.

Jesus at Gunpoint

American soldiers, notably the 101st Airborne, are working overtime to convert Iraqis to Christianity.  On patrol, they pass out Bibles and fundamentalist tracts, as well as fake coins imprinted with a "Jesus loves you" message.  Some of these tracts are pretty damned offensive, such as the Jack Chick comic books, which not only show cartoon pictures of Mohammed, but also show him roasting in Hell along with other Muslims.

This is a direct violation of General Order 1A, Part 2, Section J as issued by Tommy Franks, which forbids proselytization.  It is probably a violation of the US Constitution, which forbids the government (for which these soldiers work) from promoting one religion at the expense of others.

It is also -- and here's the part that troubles us today -- incomparably bad military strategy.  It virtually guarantees that American troops will be perceived as a "Crusader army," in Iraq not for political but for religious reasons.  This, in turn, will feed the Islamist recruiting machine.  Religion -- and we say this in our driest tone -- has proven to be a remarkably good motivator in those parts.   Good strategists know better, of course.  The  Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual, written principally by Gen. David Petraeus, says bluntly that "US forces should show respect for local religions and traditions .... US forces must make clear that they do not intend to undermine or change the local religion or traditions."  (6-60, if you want to check).

Do we need to mention that it isn't an especially good evangelism strategy, either?  The Gospel promoted by soldiers carrying automatic weapons smacks strongly of colonialism and forced conversion.

It gets a lot worse when we hear stories like the one about a sniper using the Quran for target practice.  To Iraqi ears -- and frankly, not only theirs -- it really does sound as if our soldiers have begun to perceive themselves not as the instruments of a secular nation, deployed to achieve its political goals, but as religious crusaders, sent to either convert the infidel or to kill him.

The chaplain corps is complicit here.  Once dominated by moderate Episcopalians and, to a lesser degree, Lutherans, it has in recent years been the object of a fundamentalist takeover attempt, apparently not yet entirely completed.  The problems at the Air Force academy are pretty well documented, and we have heard instructors at West Point describe heavy pressure on new cadets from moderate Christian households to accept the Christianist model.  And it appears that chaplains are the conduit by which Jack Chick comics, in Arabic, have reached the Middle East -- suggesting strongly that military chaplains have overstepped their bounds.  They need to be reminded that they are there to serve the religious needs of the soldiers, not to re-write American military doctrine.

This behavior undermines the American military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is illegal and it is foolish.  It endangers our forces and emboldens our enemies.  Certainly, the individual soldiers caught doing these things will be punished, as they should be.  But more is needed.  A thorough house-cleaning of the chaplain corps is required.  Careers need to be ended abruptly.  Relationships with the publishers who provide these printed materials need to be terminated.  And it needs to happen yesterday.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Obama Needs a New Church

After all, he quit Trinity UCC last week.  And who could blame him?  Trinity's pulpit has done what neither Hillary Clinton nor the secret-Muslim-fearing morons of West Virginia could accomplish:  actually hurt Obama's campaign.  

At coffee hour today, old Father Anonymous made a deal with some of his parishioners.  "If any of you ever runs for president," he said, "I promise not to publicly humiliate you.  And if I do it by mistake, I promise to apologize quickly, and then keep my damn mouth shut until you're elected."  It just seemed like the decent thing to do.

But why wait?  We can begin not embarrassing candidates today. If Senator Obama would like to join a church where visiting clergy are politely asked to talk about Jesus rather than make fun of a woman's tears, and "inflammatory rhetoric" really just means talking about how to get the incense lit, then he should consider our little neo-Gothic patch of Paradise.

But fair warning, sir:  we will ask you to bring baked goods to coffee hour.