Category Archives: Religium

The Devil You Know and the Moral Buffet

I’ve been religious at some times in my life, and not religious in others. I’ve believed in God, not believed in God, and occupied several intermediate spots in between those two poles. So I feel that I can understand beliefs that motivate statements like that of Richard Mourdock, who called a hypothetical pregnancy resulting from rape “a gift from god.” I also feel I can denounce them regardless.

Mourdock’s statement touched a nerve in a campaign season that’s seen many candidates (all of them men) chomping at the bit to address the subject of rape for some reason. It also points to a big divide in our country when it comes to people’s notions about The Man Upstairs.

Very few Americans are full-fledged atheists; that’s a leap not many of us are comfortable making. But most of us aren’t super-religious, either. Most of us believe in God in a “sure, why not?” way that makes few demands of our time, because passive faith is a lot easier than active agnosticism. However, we also don’t enjoy the concept of a micromanaging God that directs and influences every single event in our daily lives. We like the idea of a God that made everything and has a cool crash pad ready for us when this life is over, but he’s not gonna give us a big plastic hassle about what we do day to day, man.

But, there are a significant number of people in this country who do believe in a hands-on God, one that takes an active role in our existence. This brings up the thorny issue of why such a God allows bad things to happen, over and over and over again.

Continue reading

Two More Notes from the Delayed but Impending End of All Humanity

NOTE #1: When I stepped on the 1 train this morning, I soon discovered I was standing right next to a Jesus Guy. Like most subway panhandlers, this Jesus Guy was smart enough to start preaching only after the doors had closed and the train began moving. Although it’s not really accurate to call this guy a panhandler. He wanted no change, only a few moments of your time so you could be informed that you were going to hell, and why.

He was not a rant-y rave-y Jesus Guy. (Once a ubiquitous feature of the New York landscape, the Crazy Jesus Guy has all but disappeared from our midst.) He spoke in measured, mellifluous tones buoyed by a West Indian accent. I had headphones on, but I was listening to a podcast, so I was catching about every third word that came out of his mouth.

The train paid him little mind. Subway crowds seldom give Jesus Guys the time of day, but this one seemed to aggressively ignore him. This is not a good week to be a Jesus Guy, what with the postponed Apocalypse. It was like he was selling Y2K insurance on January 1, 2001. Nothing this guy said (that I heard, anyway) indicated he was on board with the Family Radio Ministry theology, but simply being in a subway car at this hour preaching at people on their way to work implied he might be.

As I said, I missed most of his sermon until one line stuck out at me: “I have the mayor’s son coming over to my house.” I think he may have prefaced this by saying, “Let’s imagine,” or something to that affect, as if he was relating a parable. But since I didn’t hear that part, it sounded like he was describing an actual impending visit from the mayor’s son.

“I have the mayor’s son coming over to my house. I am going to prepare a feast,” he said. At that point, the train had pulled into a station, and as soon as the doors opened, he beat a hasty retreat into the car behind us–mid-story! You finally piqued my interest, Jesus Guy, and then you bolt because you got a tough crowd? You’ll never play the big rooms with that kind of attitude, Jesus Guy. Now I’m left hanging, wondering where that story went. What did you serve the mayor’s son? Did you serve cordials afterward, or just coffee? So many unanswered questions.

NOTE #2: As I wrote in this post, there’s this odd dichotomy amongst the millennial Christian set, in the sense that they seem to want the world to end because they think it’s so rotten, and yet they also vote in droves for people who they think will prevent the world from ending. But I wonder if a politician could capitalize on the opposite instinct. What if you actually declared yourself the Antichrist and promised to bring upon the Biblical Apocalypse?

There’s a million variations on what the Apocalypse would entail. But if you believe that it’s coming and coming soon, you also believe it is ultimately a good thing, because it will end Satan’s grip upon this planet and bring Jesus back and, I dunno, make more puppies or something. So wouldn’t the person who pledged to make the Apocalypse happen be the best person to elect? In other words, shouldn’t you want The Antichrist to come to power?

Believers, I’m sure, would counter, The real Antichrist would never openly declare himself as such. Okay, so how about some enterprising young politician works on molding himself into a vague resemblance of The Antichrist as described in the Bible? Then, people will subconsciously vote for him hoping that in so doing, they will hasten the day when they will be assumed into heaven?

Any politicians who want to steal this idea, I will gladly accept a minor position in your Satanic cabinet.

Why the Rapture People Are the Worst

The Rapture did not occur this past Saturday, which was good, since that would have put a huge crimp in my weekend. The failure of the world to end inspired many a joke in all conceivable media, and we all had a jolly good laugh. (I also imagine the guys in the band The Rapture enjoyed a brief spike in iTunes downloads.) However, I don’t want to let this occasion pass without commenting on how horrible all these Rapture People are.

First off, why this rapture prediction garnered any attention at all is beyond me. Granted, the “church” that made said predictions (Family Radio Ministry, which I’m not sure is an actual church in either physical location or organized congregation) bought huge billboards in big cities across the country. I saw one late Saturday night while driving on the BQE, hours after its prediction had failed to come true, and I saw multiple ads in the subway on the way to work this morning. (Hope the MTA got their money up front.)

For one thing, the church’s leader, Harold Camping, made a similar prediction in 1994 that obviously did not come true either. For another, the guy’s 89 years old. Do you know how few 89-year-olds are fully possessed of their mental faculties? A disturbingly small amount. An almost 90 year old saying the world is about to end should have as much merit as a 6 year old saying he saw a monster under the bed.

It’s easy to dismiss this as the ramblings of a semi-lucid charlatan who took advantage of some gullible, vulnerable people, and to say that criticizing them or rubbing it in is pointless. And in the specific case of the Family Radio Ministry and their heavenly math, I suppose I agree. But here’s the thing: There are millions of people in this country who believe there will be a Rapture and/or an Apocalypse, sooner than later. And these people are terrible.

I generally support people’s rights to believe whatever they want to believe, provided such beliefs don’t prevent reciprocal tolerance. There’s an almost endless variance on what The Rapture is and what it will entail. But nearly all such beliefs carry with them the simultaneous belief that all those who are not raptured, those who remain on earth, will eventually wind up burning in hell for all eternity. I don’t know about you, but I take the threat of damnation personally.

Let’s put aside for the moment that Biblical support for The Rapture is, at best, sketchy. (Long story short: The idea is based on one lone verse that could easily be interpreted in a million different ways.) Believing Good People will go to heaven when they die is one thing; nearly every religion believes this in some form or another. Believing that said Good People will be assumed into heaven so they can watch Bad People suffer back on Earth is monstrous.

I question the true humanity of people who actively wish for such a thing. It’s not enough that your good deeds have earned you a heavenly reward; you have to be reassured that all those who disagreed with your way of living will burn forever–and that you will get to see it.

How many people actually believe such a thing? An awful lot, it turns out. You need only see how many copies the Left Behind Series of books sold to get an idea. Even granting that not every single person who bought one of those books necessarily believes in the Rapture, you’d have to assume a good portion of them do, and those who might not actively believe in it are at least receptive to the idea.

It’s part and parcel with another widely held belief among evangelical Christians, which says that Armageddon/the Apocalypse/end-of-the-world-what-have-you (which may or may not include a Rapture of some kind) is coming very soon. Why? Because the world is so rotten and full of bad things, well, it just has to, doesn’t it? This attitude ignores the fact that if you look at history, it’s hard to find an era that wasn’t terrible in its own way (Black Plague, anyone?), which in turn inspired people to believe that surely the end was nigh.

And in general, the people who believe in the impending Armageddon are not bugged about war or poverty or famine or global climate change–you know, the actually horrible stuff on this planet. They tend to think the world is in the terlet because women have jobs and gays exist and also abortion.

How many people believe this? An awful lot. So many, in fact, that most news outlets didn’t feel comfortable completely dismissing the Rapture/Apocalypse outright. If you read any mainstream media account of the May 21 prediction, you probably also read a severe condemnation of Family Radio Ministry, not from a politician or a scientist or even a middle-of-the-road clergyman, but from someone else who believes in an imminent cessation of the world as we know it by celestial means. Like this article in the Daily News, which counters Camping’s predictions with those of Steve Wohlberg, an Idaho minister “who has written several books about the end of the world and believes the Apocalypse is approaching”. His beef with Camping is not believing in the Rapture, but assigning it a specific date. Silly man! You can’t predict the end of the world, even though it is coming and you should repent or be forever consumed by the eternal raging flames of Hell!

Some people see the state of the world and feel compelled by their faith to make it a better place–volunteer, donate time and money, start organizations. Some people see the state of the world, condemn everyone they don’t like, and wait for it all to end.

And if you simply want the world to end, I wouldn’t have so much of an issue with you. Go live on a mountain and prepare to be assumed into the clouds if it makes you happy. But such people, despite thinking we don’t have much time left, vote. Like, a lot. It’s hard to imagine Michelle Bachmann being a viable presidential candidate without them, and I mean that in all seriousness. Her every statement carries with it an implied sense of doom, that we all sit on the precipice of a cliff, ready to fall over, and only she pull us away from danger.

It’s this bizarre dichotomy: The world is ending, which if you’re a Christian who believes in such things, should be good. But things are terrible so we have to keep them from being terrible even though we want everything as it is to end!

Long story short, I don’t want someone who thinks the world is ending passing laws. Or voting for people who will pass laws, for that matter. And that is why The Rapture People are the worst.

Church Leader Appreciates Timing of Rapture

rapture.jpgBAKERSFIELD, CA–The controversial minister of an evangelical church, who predicts The Rapture will occur this year, says this celestial event “couldn’t have come at a better time.”

“Our world has earned its own destruction by turning its back on our lord and savior,” said Rev. Jebediah Montrose, leader Eternal Life Forever Ministries. “And I also appreciate the Almighty bringing about this destruction when I’ve just begun to realize my own mortality.”

Using a unique interpretation of Biblical prophecy, Rev. Montrose determined that on September 19, 2011, the righteous will ascend to heaven while sinners will remain on Earth. “Which, as it turns out, is the exact point at which my own earthly life would reach its apex, after which my body and mind would begin their steady decline towards death.”

The reverend said he first began to suspect the world would end soon “when I noticed my bald spot had grown to such Leviathan proportions that it required a comb over. Who would want to live in such world. Oh, and the sin. All the sin, too.”

“God has condemned us for our wicked ways,” he said. “The day will come when all sinners will weep and gnash their teeth, knowing their blasphemy has condemned them to eternal damnation. The day will also come when I’ll be doddering around like an old man, unable to control my bodily functions, and praying for the sweet release of death. But thank the Lord He has chosen to end this wicked world before that day comes!”

Montrose said he determined The Rapture would begin on such a specific date “once I figured out how many good years I really have left, and saw there wouldn’t be many. I studied the prophecies of Ezekiel and The Book of Revelation, and calculated that if Armageddon didn’t begin soon, I might not be around to see it. I don’t think God would allow such insanity.”

The reverend’s predictions have spurred widespread condemnation, even among fellow evangelicals. “That this man would proclaim God has ordained a specific time for the end of the world is extremely upsetting,” said Leroy Jenkins, president of Praiseways Baptist Ministries. “Especially since I’d like to think I have a good decade left in me, at least. I believe I have a special relationship with God, earned through service and prayer, and He has assured me that this world shall not end at least until I purchase my first boat.”

Jenkins pointed out that Montrose had previously predicted The Rapture would occur during 1995. “I fully admit my error,” Montrose responded. “My calculations were incorrect and not thoroughly checked. And also, I was going through some stuff at the time, and I thought ascending into heaven would’ve really taken care of a few things.”

“God does not bow to our earthly dictates. He shall act in the hour and the manner of his choosing. But I am truly grateful He has chosen to act at the most convenient possible time for me.”

Media Turns Its Attention to Other Tiny Bands of Kookadooks

On Wednesday, the collective American media pledged to cover a more diverse selection of incredibly small groups of maniacs. The move came after several weeks of unblinking coverage of Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, Florida and their plans to burn the Koran, despite the church’s miniscule membership.

“It’s a basic matter of fairness,” said New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger. “We’ve spent a ton of time reporting on a church with a congregation of 50 people, who not only want to burn the Koran but think their Christian god is telling them to do it. So we have to give equal time to comparably sized, comparably insane religious sects. We’ve already sent two reporters to Des Moines, where there’s a tiny cult that worships Jim Backus.”

Shortly after the Times‘ announcement, other news organizations followed suit. USA Today is planning a three-part series on a temple in Galveston, Texas dedicated to the monster truck Bigfoot, while MSNBC has prepared an hour-long special about a church in Bakersfield, California that believes Jesus Christ was made of fudge.

“When compared to the total US population, 50 people is an infinitesimally small, statistically insignificant number,” said CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “That’s only slightly less than the number of people who believe Jamie Fahr is the antichrist. Which is why I’ll be interviewing some of those people this week.”

FOX News did not join the public pledge, in part because it has already been devoting a large amount of its airtime catering to a small, deranged audience that believes President Obama is a Muslim.