The life and death importance of calling things by their proper names

1947 Currer and Ives print of Adam naming the animalsMost people, when they think of Genesis, remember that God created everything, told Adam and Eve to leave the tree of knowledge and, when they didn’t, kicked them out of Eden.  What few remember is Genesis’s insistent focus on the importance of naming things.  In the first chapter, God no sooner creates something, than he gives it its rightful name (emphasis mine):

  1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
  2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
  3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
  4. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
  5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
  6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
  7. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
  8. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
  9. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
  10. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

And so it goes, with God systematically creating the world and naming it as he went.

In the second chapter of Genesis, God designates to Adam the primary task of assigning the proper name to each of God’s creations (emphasis mine):

  1. And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
  2. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
  3. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
  4. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
  5. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
  6. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

What Genesis establishes is that identifying things is essential to understanding their function.  Only when Adam had named the animals, properly classifying them as any modern-day scientist would, did he and God determine that Adam had no mate.  And once God created that mate for Adam, Adam again had to give her species a name, one that he chose in relationship to his own species:  “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Leftists are fully alive to the importance of naming things.  For example, when Obama came into office, “terrorism” was out; “man-caused disaster” was in.  Man-caused or not, “disaster” has such a such a pleasantly accidental connotation.  You have your earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes on the one hand, and on the other hand you have your men who cause disasters.  That these men happen to be devotees of a cult committed to spreading violence and death wherever it goes is as incidental as the precise wind speed during a hurricane or the decimal valuations on the Richter scale separating one big quake from another.

And yes, Bush created the abstract “War on Terror” designation rather than the more accurate War on Radical Islamists, but at least he was acknowledging that those pesky man-causers were actually trying to instill terror.  It was the Obama administration that found even that definition too raw and real.

Obama on Wheel of fortune

ISIS’s rise has given Obama plenty of opportunities to try to define away problems.  Having unsuccessfully described the nascent ISIS army as a “JV team,” Obama decided to define ISIS right out of Islam.  ISIS he opined, is un-Islamic, because a good God wouldn’t countenance its appalling violence.

Well, maybe a good God wouldn’t countenance appalling violence, but it’s a historical reality that a certain prophet would.  Mohamed was very clear when it came to demanding that each good Muslim wage war to spread Islam, behead non-believers, and enslave those who were not beheaded (with sex-slavery being the chosen outcome for surviving women).

Intriguingly, the Qur’an, which is normally a very straightforward book when it comes to describing a binary world of peace under Islam and war as a precursor to Islam, also does a little fudging with labels itself.  For years I’ve seen Muslim-apologists claim that the Qur’an, at 5:32, explicitly disavows violence.  For example, this poster crops up periodically:

Mohammad on killing innocent human beings

It doesn’t seem to occur to any of the apologists that other chapters and verses in the Qur’an, with their litany of punitive acts that must be committed against Mohamed’s many enemies, make it plain that non-believers, especially Jews, are not innocents.  Likewise, apostate Muslims aren’t innocents.  And of course, Christians and Hindus aren’t innocents.  Oh, and devout Muslims who practice the “correct” form of Islam, but somehow run afoul of Mohamed’s dictates, even if they do so unintentionally or through ignorance, are also not innocents.

Indeed, once one gets down to it, it’s clear that the only “innocents” among us are those who practice the “correct” version of Islam, and who do so without ever committing an error — and really, there’s just no reason to kill them in the first place according to the Qur’an.  Let’s just say that, if I were the lawyer advising Mohamed regarding all the many acts of violence, rapine, and murder that he demands of his followers, I would recommend that he insert just such a meaningless paragraph as an “out” should he ever be called upon to defend this blood-thirstiness.

But getting back to things here in America….

Jonah Goldberg is so disturbed by the “naming” problem that’s infected the early 21st century that he’s penning an entire book on the degradation of names for very important things under Obama’s watch.  Taking a page out of Confucius, Goldberg is working on the “rectification of names.”  According to him, “society goes ass-over-teakettle (to borrow a phrase from the academic literature) when names no longer describe the things they are assigned to.”  Exactly.

And now I’ll explain to you what got me all heated up about this “naming” thing.  It may surprise what did not excite my ire today.  Today, I’m not upset that our political class, from the White House down to the police department in Oklahoma City, refuses to admit that, even if a killer is acting alone, when that killer shouts “Allahu Akbar” or beheads people or openly dedicates his life to jihad, while his violence may occur in the workplace, we are not seeing “workplace violence.”  We are, instead, seeing a pernicious type of Islamic violence that needs to be named, shamed, and destroyed.

Nope, what worked me up was something entirely different.  Yesterday I spoke with a physician who was saying that his health care group is running into very specific problems when treating people who have had sex change operations.  It all goes back to the computer systems that Obamacare insists all doctors and hospitals have.

At least for this doctor’s health care group, when it comes to assigning a person’s sex in the health center’s computer system, the health center’s policy, after a sex change operation (whether or not the health center performed that operation), is to assign to the person that person’s “preferred” sex.  What this means is that, if Jane Smith comes to the hospital, has her breasts sliced off, has excess flesh shaped into a simulacrum of a penis and testicle sac, and begins taking hormones to coarsen skin, create facial hair, and develop male-pattern baldness, the fact that Jane now identifies herself as John Smith means that the health center must change her sex in the computer system from “female” to “male.”

The problem is that, for all the superficial changes Jane went through to become John, the biological reality is that she’s still Jane — she has a uterus and ovaries (unless she joined a hysterectomy with the rest of her surgery).  That biological reality explains how you can end up with flesh-and-blood oxymorons such as a “pregnant man”:

Pregnant man

At the hospital level, the political correctness of letting patients identify with their cosmetic sex, as opposed to their birth sex, means that they don’t get treated for diseases unique to the sex embedded in their DNA (XX or XY).  This problem is different from things such as the male-to-female transgender who, once he takes female hormones, becomes prone to breast cancer. Instead, this problem lies with core matters of self-identification versus real identification — people aren’t getting the health care their DNA demands.

Our hypothetical “John Smith,” for example, isn’t going to get annual notices that “he” needs to get a pap smear. If John doesn’t go to an OB/GYN, because John is a “man,” John’s at higher risk of uterine and ovarian cancer — both of which are treatable if caught early, and both of which are expensive and, sadly, fatal if caught late.  Likewise, if John has a friend who once was Paul, but is now Paulina, when Paulina goes to the doctor, there’s a good chance “she” won’t be getting her prostate checked nor will she be getting appropriate checks for heart disease. Both John and Pauline are at greater risk of entirely preventable problems because they have demanded that the hospital ignore what’s going on beneath their cosmetically- and hormonally-altered appearance.

Here’s where I stand on the matter should I ever meet John Smith:  In all social settings, I will be completely willing to acknowledge his chosen identification as a male. That will probably be true too in most work situations. But I will not ever allow myself to believe that he’s actually male. He is pretending. If it makes him happy, I’m good with it. But I won’t delude myself that it means that I should enlist him in the military and pretend that he is, in all respects, a male. Likewise, when I meet Paulina, I’ll call her “Ms” if she likes, but I won’t allow her to get into a Mixed Martial Artist cage with me in the women’s class.

Moreover, at home, I’m not going to tell my children that a transgender person has magically been transformed into the sex of his or her choice. What I will do, though, is tell them that, whenever possiblethey should accord that person respect, they should never bully that person or discriminate against that person, and they should use the pronouns and honorifics that the person prefers to have applied to himself or herself. And that’s it. Naming things matters and, until we acknowledge what something really is, rather than what we want it to be, we will be, as Goldberg says, a society that is “ass-over-teakettle.”

All gender bathroom

Hollywood couldn’t make an honest “Noah” without indicting itself

Noah-2014-Movie-Poster-650x962Ben Shapiro doesn’t like Noah, the newest Hollywood wannabe blockbuster, this one based loosely on the Bible.  At his own website, Truth Now, and at Breitbart, he vigorously attacks the movie for turning the Bible on its head.  As you read here some months ago, Hollywood has taken one of the Bible’s pivotal narratives, which focuses closely on the wages of man’s immorality, and turned it into a Gaia-focused extravaganza, with a steroid-pumped, ninja-esque Noah cheerfully watching humans die because they pillaged the animal world.  In his Breitbart critique, Shapiro, perhaps accidentally, hones in on why it was ridiculous ever to expect Hollywood to be true to the Biblical source:

In this litany of great sins [eating meat, mining for energy sources, making weapons], you may be missing the traditional Biblical explanations of sin: idolatry, sexual immorality, violence. Rape and murder make brief appearances, but those sins are purely secondary to the true sin: destruction of the environment and the purty animals.

“Idolatry, sexual immortality, violence” — the big sins in the Bible . . . .and the big money-makers in Hollywood:

Idolatry

academy-awards-oscar

425_barack_obama_zach_galifianakis_140311

Barack-Obama-George-Clooney

Madonna Super Bowl

Sexual Immorality

Lena-Dunham-Naked-at-Emmys1

Madonna and Britney kiss

the-wolf-of-wall-street

samantha-sex-in-the-city

Violence

skyfall-train-fight

Fight scene 300

Kill Bill

django unchained

Without the staples of idolatry, sexual immorality, and violence, Hollywood would go broke. It was therefore always impossible to expect Hollywood to make a movie attacking its holy trinity.

A proverb that has withstood the test of time

I was watching a high school soccer game (our side won), and letting my mind wander a bit, when Proverbs 15:17 popped into my mind:  “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”

Isn’t that lovely?  It’s also a pithy piece of wisdom that is as true now as it was when written down thousands of years ago.

Do you have a favorite Biblical passage that reminds you what’s important in life?  (And no fair citing John 3:16, because I know that trumps all other passages.)  After all, one of the reasons the Bible lives on today is because of its timelessness, not just when it speaks directly to man’s relationship with God, but also when it speaks to man’s relationship with his fellow man or with his inner needs and drives.

Friday morning round-up

If ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise — especially when the subject is Islam.

Today is the day that Obama (at extraordinary cost) flew all over the country to hype as Armageddon.  I got out of bed this morning, looked up, and saw the sky right where it belonged.  “Wow,” I said to myself.  “The sky didn’t fall.  I think someone lied to me.”  Krauthammer thinks the same.  The Dems were on to something with their “never let a crisis go to waste” policy.  Where they erred was in thinking they could use that policy effectively by faking crises.  That might have been a mistake for them — and I hope it was a big mistake.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Mia Farrow inadvertently said something very important.  “Bob Woodward burned his cloak of impartiality.”  What did Woodward do to start this conflagration?  Acting as an actual investigative journalist, he reported that Obama lied about the sequestration.  In other words, “impartiality” means “the Obama party line.”  I have a friend who loves Jon Stewart.  He cannot understand when I say that, aside from finding Stewart too puerile and crude to be funny, I don’t like his biased humor.  “Bias?  There is no bias,” says my friend.  According to him, the impartial truth is that, 90% of the time (per Stewart) conservatives are stupid, mean, and wrong, while that’s only true (maybe) about 10% of the time for Democrats.

I couldn’t agree more with this article urging that schools have children read the Bible, not as a religious book, but as literature.  The King James Bible is, without doubt, one of the most beautifully written books in the English language, and one that enriches our speech every day.  And if a little morality rubs off along the way, well, who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

Who knew that Michelle Obama had so much in common with ancient Sparta?  Following her fitness program is now a “patriotic obligation.”  Considering that Sparta was a, well, spartan, warlike, slave state, I’m not sure I like this.  It’s one thing if people want to be physically fit (as I do).  It’s quite another thing when the state makes it a civic obligation that, ultimately, as a civic obligation, will be enforced using all the state’s power.

One of my long-time blog friends, and one of the smartest women in the conservative blogosphere has a fascinating post up at PJ Media about the transition from liberal to conservative — one that sees many of us following a Churchillian political trajectory.  I think many Bookworm Room readers will recognize themselves in her post.  I certainly see myself.

Also at PJ Media, David Goldman brings some of his always interesting insights to bear on the warped, and definitely pre-modern, mental life of Obama’s favorite political leader, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan, as you may recall, is the Muslim political leader who just the other day called Zionism a “crime against humanity.”

When Whitney Houston, the pathetically drug addicted diva, died in her bath, Obama paused in his busy campaign to acknowledge her passing.  To date, Obama has said nothing about Chris Kyle, a man who fought ferociously in the military that Obama heads, given his constitutional status as Commander in Chief.  Keith Koffler rightly calls Obama out on this revolting silence.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the day rolls on, but this is a start.

 

The Marines take care of their own — forever

I’ve finished reading the wonderful Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine, and am about to embark upon Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story–The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company.  One of the things that stands out in any book one reads about the Marines is the fact that they never leave their fallen comrades behind.  The Chosin Reservoir campaign, which is covered in Brute and which is the Give me Tomorrow, wasn’t just a stunning military victory, it was also a profound moral victory because the Marines not only fought their way out of a deep hole, but they didn’t leave anyone — living or dead — behind.

To me, there’s a vaguely Biblical quality to the Marines’ reverence for their fallen.  As you know, under Jewish law, the dead must be buried immediately.  I always thought that was simply a practical rule for a people living in a hot climate.  A more scholarly friend, however, explained to me that there is a much deeper, spiritual reason behind the rule.  The human body is God’s creation.  One does not fold, spindle, or mutilate that creation (so that piercings and tattoos will not show up amongst the Orthodox).  This was not just an abstract idea.  During Biblical days, the Jews lived surrounded by pagan tribes that practiced human sacrifice and ritually mutilated enemy corpses.  By immediately burying their dead, the Jews ensured that God’s handiwork would be respected and protected, even in death.

Sometimes, recovering the dead may take a while, but the Marines try to leave them in safe hands and they go back when they can.  This video is a moving illustration of that fact.

 

Personal morality and responsibility

11B40 asked a good question, which is why I’m so focused on McQueary, when it was Sandusky who committed the crime.  It’s because I have no fellow feeling with Sandusky who, if the allegations are true, is a perverted monster.  I therefore don’t need to analyze my behavior or parenting decisions with regard to his conduct.  McQueary, however, is Everyman.  Each of us could be in his shoes.

McQueary’s response to a horrible, unexpected situation wasn’t perverse or illegal.  Instead, it was just the lowest common denominator of acceptable behavior that an ordinary human could commit.  I have within me the capacity to do exactly what he did — but I want to be better than that.  That’s why I’m also hammering away at columnists who explain what he did, not just to offer explanations, but also to excuse his conduct.  Like them, like all of us, I could be McQueary, but I don’t want to be McQueary.

Perhaps my obsession with this is also because I’m a parent in a morally challenging world, attempting to give my children moral lessons.  That hit home yesterday. As I hadn’t quite made it back to the house when my 12-year-old son got home from school, he called me, his voice trembling with unshed tears. “Mom, I have to tell you this. I need to confess. There was this old guy handing out little pocket Bibles at school [actually, next to the school, on non-school land]. Then, on the school bus home, one of the kids had candy and I wanted the candy and the kid said he’d give me the candy if I ripped up the Bible — and I did. Another boy threw a bunch of Bibles out the window.  I’m so sorry. I know what I did was wrong and I just had to tell you.”

When I got home, my son was still very upset, partially because he knew he’d done something wrong (both destroying a book and destroying a religious symbol) and partially because he was worried about getting expelled from school.  Without actually meaning to, I made him even more upset.  On my way back home after his call, I’d already called a friend whom I knew was taking her kids to a non-denominational youth night at the local church. I figured it would be good for my son immediately to go to a place where the book of God matters. When I mentioned I’d told her, he completely broke down, sobbing hysterically. “How could you? She won’t respect me any more.” (And I can’t tell you how glad I am to know that he realized that what he did would impair his standing in the eyes of the community.)

It got worse for my little guy when I opened my email and discovered an email from a friend and neighbor who didn’t know that my son had confessed, telling me about what happened and adding that several of the children on the bus were quite upset. “Oh, no! None of the parents will respect me anymore. This is horrible. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to destroy God’s property.” More sobbing. My son wrote our neighbor an abject apology for having committed an offensive act, and she sent a gracious reply.

I wasn’t pleased with what my son did, but I wasn’t angry at him.  It seemed to me that he was angry enough at himself.  He knew that he’d done an irresponsible and offensive act, although he did so foolishly and entirely without malice.  He also felt very keenly that what he had done might diminish him in the eyes of people he respects and whose respect he desires.

Indeed, I was quite pleased that he was upset and able to identify his own wrongdoing, rather than arrogant and dismissive.  He could have gone the other route:  “It’s just a book, and people who believe in it are stupid, and I should be able to rip up a book if I want, etc.”  That he didn’t, that he immediately realized he’d made a mistake, was a comforting reminder that my son is a fundamentally good person, who is simply a long way from maturity.  He is not, thank goodness, a punk or a sociopath.  A good (not angry or accusatory) talk about decency and respect, a total media blackout for two days, and a rather pleasant evening for him at a church youth group (he wants to go back) were, to my mind, entirely sufficient responses.

What was really interesting — and here we’re back at my whole obsession with McQueary and a society that passes the back and practices moral relativism — was the response from a liberal friend of mine.  Rather than acknowledging that my son had done something wrong, his ire was all focused on the old man who had handed out Bibles.

“That’s illegal.”  ”

No, it’s not.  He wasn’t on school property, and he wasn’t handing out anything that is illegal or that is prohibited to minors, such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or pornography.”

“Well, it ought to be illegal.  You can’t just hand out Bibles to people.”

“Um, actually, a little thing called the First Amendment says you can.”

He was shocked.

My friend’s next challenge was that handing out a Bible to school children was entrapment.

“That man was trying to entrap children.  He knew that most of them would throw it away and that boys would play with it.  There’s no difference between shredding it and throwing it in the garbage can.”

My friend was unconvinced when I pointed out that (a) the fact that many children on the bus were upset shows that treating a Bible with disrespect is not a natural or appropriate act and (b) that there is a difference between respectfully disposing of an unwanted item and deliberately destroying it in public view.  Intention matters.  And it was because intention matters that I was upset with my son for what he did, but I was neither angry nor perturbed.  His intentions weren’t blasphemous.  He just wanted candy.

Because issues such as this pop up in one form or another quite often when you have parents, you can see why I think long and hard about the messages we send our kids when it comes to right and wrong, and about responsibility to individuals and to society at large.

What do you all think, whether about my parenting decisions, about my McQueary tie-in, about societal messages, or anything else this post might have brought to mind?

The Bible’s humanity

This weekend, Mr. Bookworm and I finally got around to watching “Koran by Heart,” an HBO documentary about an annual Koran memorization contest held in Cairo during Ramadan.  The documentary followed three ten-year old children — a boy from Tajikistan, a girl from the Maldives, and a boy from Senegal.  All three children were manifestly bright, curious, and possibly possessed of photographic memories.  And all three were trapped in a system that makes memorizing the Koran in the original Arabic (and none of these three children spoke Arabic) the apex of education.  In other words, this was a sheer memory exercise, unaccompanied by understanding and analysis. Indeed, the boy from Tajikistan was functionally illiterate in both Arabic and Tajik.  This show, more than any other we’ve ever watched, got Mr. Bookworm thinking about the vast chasm between the Western and Islamic worlds.

Spending an hour and a half watching a show about the Koran, which included periodic translations from the text, got me thinking about the Bible.  Around the world, billions of Christians and Jews read the Bible.  It is a living text.  Although last updated two thousand years ago, with the New Testament, it is as vital today as has been at any time during its history.

I don’t believe the Bible’s continuing vitality is simply because people of faith teach it to their children, and have done so for thousands of years.  I believe its ongoing relevance and resonance come about because the Bible is an intensely humanist document.  I cannot think of another religious treatise that is so people-oriented.  God is certainly there, as the creator, covenantor, moralist, teacher, guide and judge, but the Bible is fundamentally a story of human kind:  its virtues, foibles, fears, frustrations, good and evil.  It remains valid today because, while cultures change, people don’t.  We recognize ourselves in the Bible.  Our times may dictate the morality and other lessons we take from the book, but we are all there, every one of us, in all our permutations.

In the same vein, Yiddish is an intensely human-oriented language.  While the Inuits may have a lot of words for snow, jungle dwellers a range of words for animal and plant life, and farmers an endless repertoire of weather and crop words, Yiddish has words about people.  Not blunt, broad words, but myriad delicate words that contemplate the nature of humanity and all shades of human behavior.

Only Yiddish has such words as schlemiel and schlemazel.  You may already know the difference between those words:  the schlemiel spills the soup; the schlemazel gets it in his lap.  Or chutzpah, which is defined by looking at the man who kills both his parents, and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.  And how about mensch, which sounds exactly like the German word for person but, in Yiddish, means so much more:  a Yiddish mensch is a truly decent human being.  He’s not just a sentient ape; he is the apex of what ordinary people can aspire to be in their daily lives.

I don’t have anywhere else to go with this post.  I just thought that both the Bible and Yiddish are unusual insofar as they are intensely aware of human nature.

 

Anne Rice and neo-paganism *UPDATED*

My book club group met the other night to discuss William Manchester’s book A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age. The title is something of a misnomer. It’s only a “portrait of an age” if you want to read a thousand years of medieval history crammed into a single chapter, and written in a style that’s a cross between the National Enquirer (in its pre-Carol Burnett, dishonest days) and Vanity Fair (in “full disdain for conservative shibboleths” mode).  The book is distinguished by being salacious, ill-informed, and anti-Catholic — and it is, for a history book, a very easy read.  I think all these factors explain why it is a regular part of high school and college curricula.

Of course, not all of Manchester’s book is a biased muddle.  One of the things he does well is to describe the way in which the Roman world, with its Christian sub-set, collided with the pagan world.  This collision, and the subsequent “conversion” of the pagans, resulted in the medieval Catholic faith.

The word conversion in the previous paragraph deserves those scare quotes because most of those conversions did not involve informed people making a genuine commitment to the new Christian faith.  Instead, the vast majority of those conversions were nominal only.  If a pagan king converted, all of his subjects “converted” too, although few, if any of them, embraced Christianity’s teachings — including monotheism and the acceptance of Christ as their savior.

The end result was that these newly baptized Christians, many of whom inevitably ended up working within the Church itself, simply grafted their still-existing pagan beliefs onto the completely unfamiliar gospels.  Sometimes this grafting was innocuous.  an good example was the way in which Christ’s birth, which didn’t have a fixed date in the Bible, ended up getting blended with the date of a pagan winter celebration.  No harm, no foul.  Sometimes this grafting was magnificent, since the doctrine of transubstantiation put a final end to the pagan obsession with both animal and human sacrifice.  I don’t know about you, but I consider that one of the greatest leaps forward in human civilization.

Sometimes, however, the intermingling of paganism and Christianity was quite damaging.  The specific damage I’m thinking of is the way the pagans co-opted Christianity as an arm of the state.  I don’t need to remind any of you that this was not Christ’s intent.  He anticipated the founding fathers by more than 1,700 years when he said “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:21.)  In the pagan world, however, church and state had long been inextricably intertwined, and the newly Christianized pagan rulers continued to believe that religion and the state were one and the same.

This meant that pagan political and social ideologies were woven into Christian doctrine.  Now, I’m not Christian, and I haven’t read the New Testament closely in about 30 years, but I’m pretty darn sure that Christ never talked about the Augustinian notion of forced conversions and the merits of religious war, about death for heretics, about saints and relics, or about myriad other practices and procedures that became regular fare, both inside and outside of the walls of the medieval church.  Christ’s silence notwithstanding, all of these beliefs and practices became, in the minds of the common people, core religious doctrine, inseparable from Christ’s teachings.  In other words, popular culture became one with the Gospels, never mind what the Gospels themselves actually said.

Anyway, that’s my take on the worst excesses of the medieval Catholic church, excesses that were cleared away by both the Protestant reformation and by the Catholic Church’s own counter reformation in the wake of the 16th century upheavals.  While Christianity may ostensibly have been in the ascendant by the 6th century or so, the fact is that paganism itself didn’t really vanish for another 1,000 years.

And where does Anne Rice come into all of this?  She comes in because, after her much-heralded “kiss and make up” with the church of her childhood (an announcement that allowed her to publicize a new line of books imagining Christ’s life), she’s now in the process of a much-heralded “break up” from the church of her childhood.  On facebook (what better place to discuss faith), she announces thusly (emphasis mine):

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

In other words, Rice is upset that the Christian churches refuse to layer over Christ’s teachings the beliefs of modern liberalism.  Just as the pagan rulers wanted (and were able to) overlay their political and religious belief systems directly onto Christ’s original message, Anne Rice wants to put the modern Democratic playbook into Christ’s mouth.

The Bible (Old Testament and New, together) was written over the course of almost about 1,500 years, with the first 1,000 years encompassing the Old Testament, followed by a few centuries’ pause, followed by the short window in time during which the New Testament came into being.  There are, therefore, thousands of ideas and edicts in the combined books of the Bible, although I’d argue that the core tenets that inform modern Judeo-Christian culture are the Ten Commandments and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

However, much to Rice’s manifest distress, in all those books, and all those hundreds of years, neither God, nor the Prophets, nor Christ himself remembered to say the following:

We will lead to defeat the epochal, man-made threat to the planet: climate change. Without dramatic changes, rising sea levels will flood coastal regions around the world. Warmer temperatures and declining rainfall will reduce crop yields, increasing conflict, famine, disease, and poverty. By 2050, famine could displace more than 250 million people worldwide. That means increased instability in some of the most volatile parts of the world. Never again will we sit on the sidelines, or stand in the way of collective action to tackle this global challenge. Getting our own house in order is only a first step. We will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries preserve biodiversity, curb deforestation, and leapfrog the carbonenergy-intensive stage of development.

We will reach out to the leaders of the biggest carbon emitting nations and ask them to join a new Global Energy Forum that will lay the foundation for the next generation of climate protocols. China has replaced America as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Clean energy development must be a central focus in our relationships with major countries in Europe and Asia. We need a global response to climate change that includes binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions, especially for those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia.

This challenge is massive, but rising to it will also bring new benefits to America. By 2050, global demand for low-carbon energy could create an annual market worth $500 billion. Meeting that demand would open new frontiers for American entrepreneurs and workers.

You may recognize that language as coming directly from the Democratic Party platform for 2008. When Rice castigates the Church for being “anti-Democrat”, it’s pretty obvious that she thinks that modern Christian Churches ought to make  the above words part of their official doctrinal position, tracing them right back to the Sermon on the Mount.

In other words, Rice is a neo-Pagan.  She doesn’t want to take the Bible on its own terms.  Instead, she wants to graft her own belief systems right onto the Bible.  This is quite different from our (appropriate) modern decisions to ignore some of the Bible’s more difficult passages, such as its instructions to kill witches.  Cherry-picking a little is one thing.  Doing what the pagans did, and simply grafting non-Biblical values on top the old, is something else entirely.

UPDATE:  The Anchoress, who has a deep and rich knowledge of Catholicism, and an abiding love for the faith, takes Rice to task for her silly outburst.  Bruce Kesler weighs in too, quite beautifully, in both poetry and prose.

UPDATE II:  Since I opened this post by saying that William Manchester’s anti-Catholic diatribe is required reading at many schools, this seems like an appropriate place to link to a take-down of Howard Zinn, who dominates America’s U.S. History studies.

One Old Testament — Two Interpretations

It’s always interesting to hear my husband, a militant atheist, and me, a respectful agnostic/atheist, talk about the Bible to the kids.  Today, my husband tackled the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.  He told the kids that the whole point of the story is to remind religious people that they have to be blindly obedient to their God, no matter how evil or wrong his commands are.  I told the kids that it’s a stunningly important story, since it marked the beginning of the end of human sacrifice.

My husband has a different view of the story of Exodus too.  He refuses to celebrate Passover, because he says it commemorates the genocide of the Egyptians.  While it is certainly troubling that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to the point where the Egyptian First Born had to die (a neat parallelism, of course, to Pharaoh’s decision to kill the Jewish First Born), the fact is that Jews, for thousands of years, have celebrated Passover as a story of freedom — it’s the world’s first recorded slave revolt.  As celebrated, it isn’t a blood-thirsty tale of murder but is, instead, a story about Mose’s personal redemption, and about individual dignity and liberty.  It’s also a story about overarching human emotions:  self-sacrifice, greed, fear, etc.  Or, I guess, if you want to see it that way, it’s a story about genocide.

There are many troubling stories in the Bible, whether Dinah’s brothers slaughtering a whole town, Lot offering to throw his daughters to a rape-made crowd, or even the story of the circumcision of Moses’ son.  What’s striking about the Judeo-Christian tradition is that these religions have looked at these stories, some of which reach far back in pre-history, and have rejected their randomness and violence.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we tell these stories, but we keep our life lessons focused on justice and morality.  Just as it’s troubling that modern Muslims take literally Mohamed’s most violent prejudices and prescriptions, so too is it sad that atheists look at the Bible and see only a book of evil.