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Tag: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: What Kind of Worm Are We?

earth worm

Whenever I read about how we humans are as low as worms, I think of the enormous uber-destructive sandworms from the fictional universe of the Dune novels. Then I think about how my father, who grew a fantastic garden, prized ordinary garden worms for their work in aerating the soil. Humans can be both these things. Personally, I don’t mind being the latter: someone who lets life-giving air at the roots of others. I fail too often, but keep trying.

The problem with the Christian doctrine of the utter ghastliness of humans is that there’s no path for us to ever get better. We must have salvation through an external source (Jesus) and then the internal residence of external motivation to be better people (Holy Spirit). That is not a growth trajectory, that’s a form of possession. It’s a complete denial of the preciousness of the HUMAN spirit, and profoundly destructive.

— Karen the Rock Whisperer, comment on the post titled How God Reminds Us Every Day That We Are Little More Than Worms and Slugs.

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Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Why Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Beliefs Matter

preaching anti abortion gospel lexington kentucky (5)

During the first day of Appellate Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, they [Democrats] focused on health care and how Donald Trump’s third nominee might rule after the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments next month on the Affordable Care Act. Avoiding religion was probably wise given the Republicans’ level of fake outrage over fake “religious bigotry.” The rest of us, however, don’t need to play along. Barrett’s Catholicism is fair game.

Yes, I know. Highly influential liberal pundits, and some liberal pundits striving mightily to become influential, argue that religion should be off limits. First, they say, because a person of sincerely held religious beliefs can adjudicate impartially. Second, there’s enough to talk about without bringing up Barrett’s faith. While I presume these liberals mean well (to be clear, in presuming this, I’m being generous), they’re wrong.

They assume, for one thing, that religion and politics can be disentangled. Sometimes they can be. Sometimes they can’t. For another, these liberals behave as if politics is somehow taking religion hostage. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote Monday night: “When politicians use faith as an excuse to pass and uphold laws that seize control of people’s bodies but not guarantee them healthcare, feed the poor, shelter the homeless, or welcome the stranger, you have to wonder if it’s really about faith at all.”

No, you don’t have to wonder. It’s about their faith, full stop. Millions in this country—white evangelical Protestants and conservative white Catholics chief among them—root their genuinely held religious beliefs in opposition to modernity, which is to say, in politics. There is, therefore, no appreciable difference between them. The more our society moves in the direction of greater freedom, equity, and justice for all people, the more these revanchists believe their faith is under siege; and the more they feel their faith is under siege, the more prepared they are to go to war over “religious freedom.”

I don’t know if Barrett intends to help reverse Roe any more than you do. I do know—and you know—that that’s why Donald Trump picked her. That’s why she accepted his illegitimate nomination. Overturning Roe, or at least gutting it in order to permit the states to outlaw abortion, has been the goal for decades.

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They are demanding, and getting, an autocratic usurpation of the majority’s will in the name of religion.

Not just any religion, though. A very specific strain of conservative white Christianity. This strain believes that one person has a right to use another person, without her consent, in order to stay alive. The person being used by another person to stay alive has a moral obligation to forfeit the monopoly over her body, such that her body isn’t private property so much as public property jointly owned by members of their shared faith. Importantly, if the person being used by another person to stay alive refuses, she is subject to various punishments, including, if the court overturns Roe, legal ones. There’s a reason Republicans want to make Barrett’s religion off limits. They don’t want a majority to see outlawing abortion as the establishment of a state religion.

You aren’t able to see violations of the First Amendment if you insist that religion is off limits. What’s more, you can’t see the treasonous bad faith of the revanchists. They don’t care about babies. If they did, they’d be up in arms over news of the president’s treatment for covid-19. He was injected with an “antibody cocktail” tested on stem cells derived from a baby aborted nearly half a century ago. White evangelical Protestants and white conservative Catholics usually say “fetal tissue,” even in life-saving drug treatments, is a grave offense to God, but not this time.

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That’s bullshit, but at least they’re dropping the charade. What they want to say but fear saying—because saying it out loud for everyone to hear would be too gothic and horrifying for mainstream America—is what they really mean. What they really mean is that it’s okay for one person to use another person’s body without his or her consent.

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So don’t ignore religion. It is central. None of this makes sense when it’s not.

— John Stoehr, Religion Dispatches, Why Amy Coney Barrett’s Religion is Fair Game, October 14, 2020

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Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Was World War II Inevitable? by David Swanson

david swanson

“One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once, ‘The Unnecessary War.’ There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.” —Winston Churchill

World War II grew out of World War I, and almost nobody tries to argue that World War I was just or glorious. By behaving more wisely, governments could have chosen not to launch World War I, or not to end World War I in a manner that had people predicting WWII on the spot. A war that could have been avoided is only a justifiable war if actually desirable, if actually preferable to peace. Of course what was still avoidable in 1939 might not be the same as what was avoidable in 1919 — a topic that, like hundreds of related topics, is covered in Leaving World War II Behind.

I want to touch here on over two decades of completely unnecessary actions, including a particular event in Philadelphia in 1918. If we went back an additional 2 decades to the proposals for peace discussed at the Hague in 1899 but never acted upon, our case would be that much stronger. The point is not to pretend that the crisis of 1939 didn’t happen, but to become aware that governments could behave much less recklessly now, just as they could have in the lead-up to WWII.

Jane Addams and her colleagues not only predicted in 1919 that a second world war would come, but also detailed what would need to be changed about the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations in order to avoid it — and launched a global peace organization to advocate toward that end. The famous 14 points promoted by President Woodrow Wilson were largely lost in the Treaty of Versailles, replaced by brutal punishment and humiliation for Germany. Addams warned that this would lead to another war.

The British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1919 in The Economic Consequences of the Peace, “If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp.”

Thorstein Veblen, in a highly critical review of Keynes’ book, also predicted the Treaty of Versailles leading to more war, though he understood the basis of the treaty to be animosity toward the Soviet Union, against which, it should be noted, the United States and allied nations were fighting a war in 1919 that rarely shows up in U.S. history books. Veblen believed that reparations could have easily been taken from wealthy German property owners without imposing suffering on all of German society, but that the primary goal of those making the treaty had been to uphold property rights and to use Germany as a force against the communist Soviet Union.

Woodrow Wilson had promised “peace without victory,” but, in the treaty negotiations, given in to French and British vengeance toward Germany. Afterwards, he predicted World War II unless the United States joined the League of Nations.

Veblen thinks Wilson didn’t cave in and compromise at the treaty negotiations, but rather prioritized enmity toward the Soviet Union. I think the British did that, but that Wilson’s is a stranger story.

Wilson began by forcefully arguing against vindictive punishment of Germany, but was struck down by the so-called Spanish flu, was weakened severely, spoke as though delusional, and quickly agreed to abandon much of what he had promised the world. The Spanish flu (so-called because, although it probably came from U.S. military bases to the European war, Spain allowed its newspapers to write about unpleasant news, a forbidden practice in nations at war) had infected the White House.

The previous fall, on September 28, 1918, Philadelphia had held a massive pro-war parade that included flu-infected troops just back from the war. Doctors had warned against it, but politicians had announced that nothing would go wrong if everyone refrained from coughing, sneezing, and spitting. They didn’t. The flu spread. Wilson got it. He didn’t do what he might have done in Paris. It’s not inconceivable that WWII could have been avoided had a parade in Philadelphia been avoided.

That may sound crazy, but the parade in Philadelphia was just one stupid thing in an ocean of stupid things that didn’t have to be done. Nobody could have predicted World War II as a result of that parade, but such a prediction was possible and in fact made about many other of the unnecessary and foolish actions in the years between the wars.

Ferdinand Foch, a Frenchman, was Supreme Allied Commander. He was very disappointed with the Treaty of Versailles. “This is not peace,” he supposedly exclaimed. “It is an armistice for 20 years.” World War II began 20 years and 65 days later. Foch’s concern was not that Germany was punished too severely. Foch wanted Germany’s territory limited on the west by the Rhine River.

With widespread agreement that all governments would arm and prepare for more wars, predicting that Germany would be embittered by too much punishment or that too little punishment could allow Germany to launch a new attack were both safe predictions. With the ideas of prosperity without armament, the rule of law without violence, and humanity without tribalism still so marginal, Foch’s prediction made as much sense as Jane Addams’.

After WWII, Winston Churchill said, “Last time I saw it all coming and I cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. . . .” Churchill meant that more armaments, more show of force, more threats and provocations could have prevented WWII, and that the same would prevent war with the Soviet Union. Churchill also put it this way:

“President Roosevelt one day asked what this War should be called. My answer was, ‘The Unnecessary War.’ If the United States had taken an active part in the League of Nations, and if the League of Nations had been prepared to use concerted force, even had it only been European force, to prevent the re-armament of Germany, there was no need for further serious bloodshed.”

Churchill goes on to describe not so much a stable peaceful world, as a delicate and increasingly dangerous imperial balance. There is no way to know that he’s mistaken. There was great opposition to Nazism in Germany, and some shift in history — whether a greater understanding of the tools of nonviolent action, or a more Churchillian militaristic resolve, or an assassination or coup (there were a number of failed plots) — might have defeated it.

But the point here is not that the world might have gotten lucky. Rather, the world acted foolishly, both by the standards of the time, and even more so by today’s. The Marshall Plan following WWII, for all its deep flaws, was an effort not to repeat the stupid way in which WWI had been ended. People were too much aware immediately after WWII of how they had created it after WWI.

The Treaty of Versailles was only one thing among many that did not have to happen. The people of Germany did not have to allow the rise of Nazism. Nations and businesses around the world did not have to fund and encourage the rise of Nazism. Scientists and governments did not have to inspire the Nazi ideology. Governments did not have to prefer armaments to the rule of law, and did not have to wink at German outrages while encouraging a German attack on the Soviet Union. A major change to any one of these factors would have prevented WWII in Europe.

— David Swanson, World Beyond War, Without A Super Spreader Event 102 Years Ago Today, WWII Might Not Have Happened, September 28, 2020

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Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Why So Many New Testament Textual Critics are Evangelicals

bart ehrman

Here’s a good question about why so many New Testament textual critics (those who study the manuscripts of the New Testament) are evangelical Christians.

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The interesting thing about the discipline is precisely what this questioner is suggesting. Evangelical Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God down to its very words make up the majority of New Testament textual critics. By a (very) large margin. And so the question is why?

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So why do evangelicals so frequently go that route?  I would say that, as a rule, it is for one of three reasons.

First: theology.  It is precisely because of their theological convictions that many evangelicals want to devote their lives to knowing what the NT authors originally wrote.  If the original words of the Bible were inspired by God, then it is important to know what those words were.  Scribes occasionally (OK, often) changed the words.  But who cares what some anonymous scribe thought or wanted to say?  We want to know what GOD wanted to say!  And so we have to figure out which words come from scribal changes and which from God.  We can throw out the former and will revere the latter.  Any time a verse is worded in different ways, only one of those ways is original (assuming the original itself wasn’t lost along the way, so that *all* we have are various kinds of changes); we need to figure out which one it is.  For me, personally, this was THE MAIN REASON I wanted to become a textual critic.

Second: apologeticsThe term “apologetics comes, as you might suspect, from the word “apology,” which in this context decidedly does not mean saying you’re sorry.   Apology in its technical sense refers to a “reasoned defense” of a view  – say an ideological perspective, a philosophical position, or a religious claim.  Christian apologists make, or try to make, intellectual arguments for their religious views, trying to show, for example, what the actual evidence is that Jesus was really born of a virgin or raised from the dead, or that the human race was created not evolved, or that the Bible is the word of God without mistake.  In some periods of Christian intellectual history – including right now, as we speak – one reason often adduced for doubting that the Bible is the inspired word of God is that it doesn’t seem to be all that important, or even plausible, that God inspired the words of the Bible if we don’t’ know what the words are.  Evangelicals who go into textual criticism often do so in order to be able to show that we know the original words and that therefore there is no reason for doubt: we have the very Word of God.

Third: professional career.  Graduate students in New Testament studies, just like graduate students in any academic discipline, almost always do a PhD because they want to have high-level credentials and respect from colleagues in what they do.  There are very few disciplines in which a person’s theological views create real and serious difficulties.  If you are a Mormon, or Buddhist, or observant Jew – nothing about your personal religious views should have much bearing on your ability to do a PhD in physics, or anthropology, or French literature.  Your views do not prevent you from accepting the widely held premises of your discipline.

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The problem is especially intense, though, in the (much smaller) field of New Testament studies. There are certain assumptions, views, ideas, approaches, methods that simply do not work well with conservative evangelical understandings of the Bible.  If you think the Bible is without mistake of any kind, it is very difficult to engage in the kind of critical study of the New Testament that is promoted in research universities and non-Christian colleges (whether Princeton or Florida State or Appalachian State University, or Swarthmore, or Kenyon College or … or pick your secular school….) – work that admits that Paul may not have written Colossians, or that John may not be historically accurate, or that Luke has a different view of salvation from Mark, or that many of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are based on oral traditions that were altered over the years.   And that makes it difficult for evangelicals to get a PhD in many areas within New Testament studies.  But not all.

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A problem arises only when this kind of work gets turned on its head into some kind of “apology” for evangelical causes, as if showing what an author probably wrote originally has anything to do with whether what he wrote is true or not.  Textual criticism cannot say a single thing about the truth claims of an author’s text, about whether he was right or wrong.  It can only (try to) show what the author originally wrote.  People who claim that knowing what an author wrote somehow shows that what the author wrote is right (even if these people have have PhD’s in the field) are simply being duplicitous or stupid (or both).

And unfortunately, there are some of those out there, at least among the evangelical crowd, who sometimes say such crazy things as “we can trust the New Testament because we have more manuscripts than for any other ancient document.”  Good grief.   Our decision to trust an author is never based on the number of copies of his book.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Why Do Are So Many Textual Critics Evangelicals? July 26, 2020

Quote of the Day: Donald Trump Explains His Favorite Bible Stories

evangelical support for donald trump

Genesis: Two fools want more, better information rather than to feel blissfully ignorant all the time. They meet Tim Apple.

Exodus: Egypt, a land of very good administration, responds correctly to a series of plagues by changing nothing about its daily lives or routines.

Golden Calf: People are inexplicably punished for worshiping something shiny and fake.

Daniel: Ferocious beasts defy their duty to attack a man who has committed an offense against his ruler.

Lazarus: Very good illustration of how easy it is to recover if you put your mind to it and why nobody needs health coverage.

Job: Someone is treated almost but not quite as badly as Donald Trump gets treated every day.

Ruth: Ruth accompanies her relative Naomi to a new country in a disgraceful instance of chain migration.

Two Corinthians: There are Corinthians, and there are two of them, for sure!

Joshua and the Battle of Jericho: Very sad story about a man blowing blasts on a trumpet and damaging a wall.

Solomon: A man suggests a very good way of dealing with a disputed baby, but a nasty woman interferes.

Lot: A man’s wife does something different with herself physically, and he sort of notices after the fact.

David and Goliath: Someone makes the mistake of flinging a projectile at a heavily-armored man; they will need to come down on him hard.

Noah: This is a good, inspiring story about a wise man in a floating bunker avoiding a catastrophe, but on the other hand it is bad because he is also surrounded by animals, birds, reptiles — disgusting.

Jonah and the Whale: Bunker again, but worse.

Esther: Failed king listens to a woman about not inflicting violence on people?

Revelation: Beautiful first draft of Trump inauguration speech.

Abraham: Man confusingly remains married to the same woman for decades.

Temptation of Jesus: Man offered infinite worldly power; says no, like an idiot.

Crucifixion: Agitator gets what is coming to him.

Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post, Trump Explains His Favorite Bible Stories, June 4, 2020

Thank you to Ms. Petri for making my day. Funny stuff. 🙂

Bruce Gerencser