Friday, April 28, 2006

The Unrelated Negative Meme

I was feeling kinda grumpy this morning. Writing this cheered me up some.

5 Bands I Used-To Like But I Don’t Anymore:

David Bowie
Yeah, I know. Iconoclast. Innovator. Theatrical. Influential. Ho-hum. His music rubs me like an attractive woman with onion and salmon breath. His singing always sounds so calculated and plastic to my ears. His antics of the 70’s haven’t aged well, prancing around on stage in his androgynous Halloween costumes and his ugly make-up. I can’t think of many songs that annoy me more than “Golden Years.” I absolutely hate his “ad-lib” singing at the end of “Young Americans.” When “Let’s Dance” comes on, I try to concentrate on the tightness of the rhythm section and Stevie Ray’s guitar, but when he sings “When you say run / I’ll run with you” I hear a drunk Kate Hepburn.

Billy Joel
One of things that bothers me about Joel is his constant references to the fact that he ran with the tough guys from Long Island. That’s like saying “I have the coolest minivan,” or “Sure I get exercise – I golf!” Add to that his “lyrics.” Remember “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me?” “Honesty?” “Piano Man?”

“And he’s talking to Davy
Who’s still in the Navy”

Except for “New York State of Mind.” That’s a good one. Lyrics are probably crap on that one too, but I share his affection for my home town.

Electric Light Orchestra
Just kidding. I think they sucked from the first note. I can’t stand their background vocals and their bogus violin riffs. As an ex-bandmate once said, “You can coat shit in chocolate, but at the end of the day it is still a pile of shit!” Jeff Lynne is the anti-lennon.

Bernie Taupin
Ever revisit his lyrics from the 70’s? I can’t understand how anyone ever thought he was good.

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise the kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them
If you did…”

(By the way, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Shatner recite those lyrics replete with his famous dramatic pauses. I hear he has to go into hiding every year a couple days before Easter when the homeless shelters put out the calls for ham.)

“If I were a sculptor
But then again, no
Or a man who makes potions
For a traveling show.”

Beautiful song melodically, but the lyrics make me cringe.

And while I’m at it, who thinks Elton John’s music took a major left turn once he decided that the world needed another Liberace? I’ll tell you who.


The Talking Heads
Except for “Remain In Light.” I still think that is a great album. The rest of their other records have lost their charm and pretty much leave me cold. I wouldn’t even mention them in this list, except for the fact that I used to count them as favorites.

5 Movies That Everyone Else Liked But Me

“Lost In Translation.”
I can never get those wasted two hours back. I’m supposed to feel sorry for these people? I like Bill Murray, but his character is about as sympathetic as Ralph from “Happy Days.” Poor has-been has to go to Japan to make $5,000,000 dollars while his wife calls him up about some renovations on their house in California gets a crush on a poor little rich girl who married a self-centered shallow photographer.

“Chariots of Fire”
It was a long time ago. I just remembered that I thought it sucked like Xaviera Hollander.

[Thanks for pointing out the spelling error, Xtcfan.]

“Breaker Morant.”
Rip-off of the brilliant Kubrick classic “Paths of Glory.”

“Ice Age.”
Even Jack Black couldn’t save this film from the corny Ray Romano.

Anything with John Wayne in it.
I mean it. His characters always strike me as big, dumb, anti-intellectual republicans that think "might makes right." He never did anything but say his lines. He “acted” the way Anthony Kiedis “sings.”

5 Things That Other People Do At The Office That Annoy Me

Chew gum.
Snap snap, chew chew. I can’t stand talking to someone who is chewing gum, staring into their gaping maws, listening to their saliva slather around their mouths and their heavy breathing. I hate gum. You really want to see me get mad? Watch when I step on a piece of gum that some slob spit out in the parking lot on a hot summer day. If were dictator, I’d ban the shit.

Slurp Hot Coffee or Hot Soup
Even worse when they add the “AHHH” after a mega coffee slurp. “SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP! AHHHHH!”

Eat Smelly, Noisy Food In Their Cube
Look, I’ve eaten in my cube, but not fried fish or curry. A sandwich or a cup of soup is ok (if they can avoid the damn slurps!) but I can’t stand when someone stinks up the entire floor with their lunch and then crunch a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for the next 45 minutes! I keep thinking, “Damn that is one big-ass bag of Doritos! That had to be the last one!” …………….CRUNCH!

People Who Blather on and on about their kids, especially when they have names like “Logan” or “Parker.”

“I went and saw Logan in the school play last night. He was a Tomato. He was so cute. I can’t believe the teacher didn’t cast him in the lead part as the Washing Machine!”

“Parker got an 'A' on her spelling test, and she didn’t even study. My Mom says she is even smarter than I was when I was her age.”

People Who Bitch About Their Job Every Damn Day
“This place sucks. I can’t believe I have to do this. These idiots don’t know what they’re doing.” Sometimes I just want to say, “Shut the fuck up or go get another job!”

Ok, I’m done. I tag Ned (even though I don’t think he likes the whole “meme” thing,) Bobby, Kevin, Blue Girl and Sound, unless they don’t want to play.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meet Me Somewhere Else

I lived in St. Louis from July of 1989 until February of ’92. They didn’t care much for the likes of me. I was committed to making things work out there, but in the end I succumbed to the pressure and decided that the feelings were mutual. Some of the things I’m going to write will no doubt offend the couple of good friends I made there, including Sticky .

Sorry about that.

I had been meaning to write about my experiences in St. Louis for some time now. What prompted me to write about it on this particular day was that I spotted a marquee outside of a local bar that boasted:

“Hoosier Daddy – TONIGHT!”

That was the name of my band when I lived in St. Louis. We were a damn good band too. Except for the fact that the drummer hated me. I rubbed him the wrong way. He was rebel from West VA that had relocated to St. Louis some 20 years prior to my arrival. He didn’t have much use for NY Jews. I am from New York. I’m not a Jew. But in St. Louis I was. Even after I told them I wasn’t, I was.

More on that later.

Seemed that people in St. Louis had something against “Hoosiers.” I noticed it shortly after I moved there. People would say things like:

“Damn Hoosier.”
“Stupid Hoosier.”
“That guy is such a Hoosier!”

One day I just had to ask.

“Is there some sort of rivalry between Missouri and Indiana?”

“Nooo. Why do you ask?”

“You just referred to that guy as a “Hoosier,” and the way you said made me think that you didn’t care much for Hoosiers.

“I don’t. What’s that got to do with Indiana?”

I sat there blinking. I hadn’t been there long enough to have learned that these people have a culture all their own. Things that I thought everybody knew, they didn’t know. Things they thought everybody knew, only they knew. I hadn’t learned that yet.

“Um, Indiana is ‘The Hoosier State?’ They got a college team called ‘The Hoosiers?’ People from Indiana are often referred to as ‘Hoosiers?’ That’s what it has to do with Indiana.”

“Really? I hadn’t heard that. A "Hoosier" is like a hick, or a redneck.”

That floored me. Not only did they have their own definition of “Hoosier,” but this guy didn’t know the real definition, and I concluded after several subsequent conversations, neither did many other people.

When I first got there, I was determined not to be the cliché New Yorker. You know what I mean. The thing is, they never gave me the chance to prove otherwise. That’s who I was.

I heard at least 20 times, “You probably think we don’t have any good restaurants here.” They wouldn’t wait for me to complain about a restaurant, or even wait for the discussion to come up. You know, not, “So what do you think of our restaurants?” I would try to be congenial and say something like, “The restaurants here are fine. I couldn’t afford to eat out in NY anyway!”

Then I would get what I call the “St. Louis Smirk.” The smirk that said, “You New Yorkers are all alike. You all think we are so stupid.” Never saw the irony that THEY were the ones who were stereotyping me, and not the other way around. At least not yet.

I’m not much of a sports fan. I liked whomever my friends liked, and I liked whomever was winning at the time. In NY, most people either liked The Jets or The Giants. The Mets or The Yankees. The Rangers or The Islanders. Not me. I liked all of them, especially when they were winning.

From day one, whenever I met someone new they would assume that I was a Met fan. That was odd. I mean, who never heard of The NY Yankees?

I’m not kidding here. They would always say the same thing:

“Pond-scum Mets.”

They said it in a way that implied those words went together in the same way that “Volkswagen” went with “Beetle” or “Southern” went with “Baptist.”

“Whaaa? Pond-scum?”

“You like the ‘Pond-scum’ Mets.” I didn’t forget the question mark. It was a statement of fact. “You like the Pond-scum Mets.” Period. End of discussion. None needed.

“Pond-scum Mets?”

“Yeah. We HATE the Pond-scum Mets!”

“Errr, actually I like all the NY teams.”

“Pond-scum Mets. Pond-scum Mets.”

I got so tired of hearing that, I started to say, “You know what? We didn’t even care about the Cardinals. This rivalry is one-way. In NY we concern ourselves with real ball-teams like the LA Dodgers.”

That used to piss them off. Funny thing was, I really didn’t care a whit over professional sports by that time. And it didn’t matter WHAT I said. One time I said, “Yeah, I’m from New York. I’m not a Met fan and I don’t care for baseball.”

“You like the POND SCUM METS!”


Ok, back to the whole Jewish thing.

I have light / olive skin, dark wavy hair and a dark beard. Prominent nose. I would occasionally be mistaken for a Jew in NY, but most people knew I was Italian.

Not so in St. Louis. In St. Louis I was a Jew.

I was working for a small company. They were a service bureau. Employed about 30 people. 15 key-punch operators, a few technical people and a couple managers. At the company Christmas party, a young woman who I’d known casually came up to me and said, “What are YOU doing here?”

I thought she was kidding. I laughed and must have said, “Standing here, drinking a beer and talking to you?”

“No. I mean what are you doing at the CHRISTMAS party? You’re a JEW!”

She said it the way Woody Allen said it to Tony Roberts in “Annie Hall.”


“Um, well first of all, I thought anyone who worked for the company could come to the party, and second of all, I’m not Jewish. I was born and raised a Catholic, but now I’m an agnostic.” I was bit off-balance, but was ready to take it in stride and move on.

“C’mon. You’re a Jew and you know it! Why won’t you admit it?” She said it with an air of annoyance and self-righteousness.

At that point I wanted to call her an ignorant slut a la Dan Akroyd, but it was a company Christmas party and really didn’t want any trouble.

“Listen. If I was a Jew, I would admit it. I wouldn’t be ashamed of it. And I’d still be at this party, because it is for everybody.”

As I turned to walk away she said, “Even your wife and kids look like JEWS!”

[I’ll use that as an excuse to show off just how cute my little girls were back in late ’91, Jewish or not.]

Then there was the “What High School did you go to?” thing. There was apparently some sophomoric pecking order based on of all things, your high school, still going strong 20 years after graduation. There was the “NY Sucks” thing. People would say things like, “How many times did you get mugged,” or “How could you live in that dump?” None of them had ever been there. Granted, they’d seen “Death Wish.”

There was this guy who worked for one of our customers. He visited once or twice per month. He knew I was from NY. He told me one day, “The boss asked me to drive his car to New York City for him. Going to put me up in a hotel and fly me home.”

“That sounds great. Are you going to have any time to do anything?”

“I don’t know yet, but if I have time to do just one thing, I’ll be going to The Hard Rock Café!"

For some strange reason known only to themselves, the people there thought that those “Hard Rock Café” sweatshirts and T-Shirts were the bee’s knees. No one in NY, not from the hippest punk from the village all the way down the squarest cat from Levittown who liked The Captain and Tenille would have been caught doing yard-work in one of those stupid shirts.

“The Hard Rock? What about the museums? Central Park? Greenwich Village? Radio City? China Town? Little Italy? Empire State Building? Ellis Island?”

“Why would I want to go to any of those places?”

Then there was, “What do you mean you like The Beatles? The Beatles? Are you kidding? They suck! They broke up years ago!”

I remember that there was this one “Howard Stern wannabe wannabe” (redundancy deliberate) who called NYC “an open sore” and “a sewer.” His name was J.C. Corcoran. I actually called in one day to talk to him about the apparent “anti-Beatle bias” and he told me that it was more likely that they didn’t like me because NY sucks. Among other idiotic, ignorant and (as my dear departed Dad used to say) "as-funny-as-a-busted-bladder" things he said on the air everyday, this one day he referred to a real-life “Doogie Howser” Asian-Indian intern as a “towel head” and a “camel-jockey.” Beyond the blatant racism implied in those comments was that simple fact that the prodigy was an Indian, not an Arab!

Then there was their “world famous” V.P. Fair. Happened every 4th of July. I’d never heard of it. They were dumbfounded. “You’ve never heard of the VP FAIR!!!?????

“Er, no. I just moved here.”

“Where’d you move from, Neptune or some place?”

You’d a thought I’d never heard of the 4th of July.

“It is a famous celebration, known across the country! How could you have never heard of it!”

Or how about, “That’s so fruit!” (Means crazy, not gay.)

And my adventures at the Sunday School.

And on and on an on.

By the time I’d gotten a job “back east” I was so glad to be rid of that place, and I’m sure most of them were glad to be rid of me. I don’t feel any nostalgia for St. Louis, except for my friends. Them, and the ice cream. St. Louis ice-cream rocks. Perhaps my experiences were unique, but there seemed to be an odd consistency to them.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Do You Believe In Magic?

No doubt most of us have heard of the woman from Gwinnett County GA who wants to ban the “Harry Potter” books from the school library system? Her name is Laura Mallory, and she is a self-described “Evangelical Christian.” Says Mallory:

“I think the anti-Christian bias — it’s just got to stop, and if we don’t say something, we’ll just keep getting pushed out of the schools. And I pay taxes, too, and I think that gives me a voice to speak out about this.”

“Their thinking has changed. They’re designed to think that witches and witchcraft and wizards and all this is just normal. And that it’s OK. And that it’s even good. I strongly disagree with that. I don’t think it’s OK, and I don’t think it’s good at all.”

Haven’t we had enough of this idiocy? What has happened to our culture? Respecting other peoples’ religious beliefs is one thing, but putting up with this sort of thing is quite another.

When I was a kid, everyone knew there was no such thing as magic. There were no witches, warlocks, sorcerers, wizards, ghosts, goblins, flying elephants, talking rabbits or coyotes that ordered contraptions from ACME in order to catch a roadrunner. These things were in our lives, but were not real. We learned people were human, capable of acts of good and evil and everything in-between, but without the benefit of magic.

The real problem is that people like Mallory have their own fantasy book that they believe to be real. A book that tells of talking serpents, demons, virgin births, all sorts of fantastic events.

As my wife says, rational people are not threatened by fantasy books about supernatural powers. They know how to separate fact from fiction. They use logic, reason and critical thinking as their tools. It is the people who believe in magical powers and the supernatural that are threatened.

Here is the irony. You know what books she is suggesting to replace Harry Potter? Tim LeHaye’s “Left Behind: The Kids.” The “Left Behind” books? The ones that say they are based on Biblical prophecy. The ones that say, “You just wait, EVERYBODY. You’ll see. Jesus is coming back and he is going to be so pissed. You are all going to die horrible deaths.” Just another fantasy, right? Only these people think it is true.

I was raised a Christian, but it was way different back then. We were taught that the Bible was written metaphorically. The minutiae of the Bible wasn’t important. The lessons were. The Bible taught us to be good decent people. It wasn’t science book. It wasn’t a history book. We were taught God used evolution to put life on earth. Genesis was a metaphor about good behavior vs. bad behavior. It wasn’t meant to be taken literally.

Moreover, we were taught that there are all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs, and we just had to accept that. You couldn’t ban books if they contradicted your beliefs. You could choose not to read them. You could disagree with them, but you accepted the fact the other people had a right to read and believe what they wished.

Something has happened since then. Today’s Evangelical Christians want to build a world where there are no other beliefs. They want to force their beliefs on the rest of us. It isn’t enough to say, “Listen Logan. I don’t want you to read Harry Potter. You are my child and what I say goes. Never mind what the other kids are reading. You aren’t going to read that.” They don’t want to do that. They want to say, “Listen Al. You are a heathen. You are going to hell, and frankly, I’m happy for you. I don’t like you. In fact, I hate you. You and your dirty little kids are all going to burn in hell. Your opinion doesn’t count. What you want doesn’t count. Because you aren’t a Christian. I believe in magic, and witches, and sorcerers, and I’m going to decide which fantasy books are going to be available for all the kids, not just my own. Some of us are in the club. We’re special. We are going to spend our eternity in a good place, because we ‘believe.’ You, on the other hand are not in the club. You are going to burn in agony for eternity. Your opinion doesn’t count.”

What kind of sick twisted vision is that anyway? We live what, less than a hundred years? A hundred years max vs. eternity. And in that relatively minute span of years, if we don’t believe in an extremely narrow, very specific set of irrational concepts that do not hold up to scrutiny, we are tortured for eternity. Tortured for eternity? This is what I’m supposed to believe? That there is this supreme being, the inventor of the universe and the laws of physics, and all things in it, including our sorry little asses? He has created us imperfect beings, capable of feeling horrific physical pain and mental anguish, and if we don’t believe in something that is entirely ridiculous, that goes against what little bit of rationality our pea-brains are able to fathom, our punishment is eternal torture? I could be a selfless, altruistic person. Devote my life to the service of the downtrodden. Deny myself any sort of comfort or pleasure in lieu of helping to alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate than I, but if I don’t believe in magic, not because I don’t want to - but because I am incapable of ignoring facts and believing the fantastic - because I use the brain I was given by the Almighty - I get condemned to eternal torture for eternity by The Almighty? Ask any Christian. Even the reasonable ones. If you push them they will tell you that you must “believe” to enter heaven. Good behavior alone will not save you. In fact, bad behavior can be forgiven if you “believe.” These people say that belief trumps behavior. And there are millions of them.

Bloody Shite.

“Harry Potter” isn’t the problem. “Left Behind” isn’t the problem either. The problem is that we still have millions of ignorant people who cannot separate fact from fiction. We have millions of people who actually believe in magic.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Best Allman Brothers Song

In my mind, this is it. The quintessential Allman Brothers song. Progressive blues at its finest. I wrestled with this conclusion because it was written and recorded after the death of founding member, driving force and guitar-virtuoso Duane Allman. Moreover, this version was recorded in 2003 after Dickie Betts was asked to leave.

In the end though, it is what it is. The lead/slide guitar and first solo is Derek Trucks. There is so much pure emotion, gut-wrenching tone and pristine technique in his playing that he makes you forget all about Dickie Betts and has you believing that he has tapped into whatever vein that fueled Duane Allman in the early days. The solo on the outro is Warren Haynes, and he is no slouch himself.

The song was written by Gregg in the aftermath of Duane’s tragic and untimely death. The lyrics are a bit ham-fisted in parts, ("…'Cause time goes by like pouring rain, and much faster things...") but they are earnest and straight from the heart. (Reminds me of a lyric by Bob Dylan, from “Tangled Up in Blue” when he sings:

“And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin' coal
Pourin' off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you”
...but that’s another post isn’t it?)

The point is, the lyrics are great regardless of his inability to think of another metaphor. Listening to the song on the way to work this morning brought a tear to my eye. This is as good as it gets.

You can find it on the “One Way Out” collection, or better yet you can watch and listen to it in 5.1 on the DVD “Live at the Beacon Theater.” Outstanding.

Aint’ Wastin’ Time No More (Listen)
By Gregg Allman
From “One Way Out.”

Last Sunday morning, the sunshine felt like rain.
Week before, they all seemed the same.
With the help of God and true friends, I come to realize
I still had two strong legs, and even wings to fly.

And oh I, ain't wastin time no more
'Cause time goes by like hurricanes, and faster things.

Lord, lord Miss Sally, why all your cryin'?
Been around here three long days, you're lookin' like you're dyin'.
Just step yourself outside, and look up at the stars above
Go on downtown baby, find somebody to love.

Meanwhile I ain't wastin' time no more
'Cause time goes by like pouring rain, and much faster things.

You don't need no gypsy to tell you why
You can't let one precious day slip by.
Look inside yourself, and if you don't see what you want,
Maybe sometimes then you don't,
But leave your mind alone and just get high.

Well by and by, way after many years have gone,
And all the terrorists (war freaks) die off, leavin' us alone.
We'll raise our children in the peaceful way we can,
It's up to you and me brother
To try and try again.

Well, hear us now, we ain't wastin' time no more
'Cause time goes by like hurricanes
Runnin' after subway trains
Don't forget the pouring rain.

This week's Top 10.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Some Guy Once Said

"There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents... There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents... The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy."

-Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect and author (1743-1826)

Thanks to Xtcfan.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lone Star Justice

That's Lone Star Justice for you.

Oh yeah... Remember how it was when that good Christian man GWB was governor?


The record came out in 2002. I can’t imagine that the statistics quoted have improved.

Monday, April 10, 2006

I Give You Our President

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

-H.L. Mencken

This has to be watched.

Thanks to Crooks and Liars.

Don't forget this week's Top 10.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Christ Among the Partisans

How obvious is it to anyone who actually thinks and has read The New Testament that Jesus had nothing in common with politicans? Call me an atheist, an agnostic, a secular humanist - call me whatever you wish - but to me it is plain as the guilt of Tom DeLay, the corruption of Dick Cheney, and the incompetence of President Bush that whoever Jesus was, he wasn't a Republican!

Christ Among The Partisans
Published by The New York Times
April 9th, 2006


THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

Those who want the state to engage in public worship, or even to have prayer in schools, are defying his injunction: "When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others. In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you" (Matthew 6:5-6). He shocked people by his repeated violation of the external holiness code of his time, emphasizing that his religion was an internal matter of the heart.

But doesn't Jesus say to care for the poor? Repeatedly and insistently, but what he says goes far beyond politics and is of a different order. He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. "Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me" (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.

The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

To claim that the state's burden of justice, which falls short of the supreme test Jesus imposes, is actually what he wills — that would be to substitute some lesser and false religion for what Jesus brought from the Father. Of course, Christians who do not meet the lower standard of state justice to the poor will, a fortiori, fail to pass the higher test.

The Romans did not believe Jesus when he said he had no political ambitions. That is why the soldiers mocked him as a failed king, giving him a robe and scepter and bowing in fake obedience (John 19:1-3). Those who today say that they are creating or following a "Christian politics" continue the work of those soldiers, disregarding the words of Jesus that his reign is not of this order.

Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan "What would Jesus do?"

That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He could round on Peter and call him "Satan." He could refuse to receive his mother when she asked to see him. He might tell his followers that they are unworthy of him if they do not hate their mother and their father. He might kill pigs by the hundreds. He might whip people out of church precincts.

The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father's judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs — accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.

He is more a higher Nietzsche, beyond good and evil, than a higher Socrates. No politician is going to tell the lustful that they must pluck out their right eye. We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.

It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide. To trivialize the mystery of Jesus is not to serve the Gospels.

The Gospels are scary, dark and demanding. It is not surprising that people want to tame them, dilute them, make them into generic encouragements to be loving and peaceful and fair. If that is all they are, then we may as well make Socrates our redeemer.

It is true that the tamed Gospels can be put to humanitarian purposes, and religious institutions have long done this, in defiance of what Jesus said in the Gospels.

Jesus was the victim of every institutional authority in his life and death. He said: "Do not be called Rabbi, since you have only one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, the one in heaven. And do not be called leaders, since you have only one leader, the Messiah" (Matthew 23:8-10).

If Democrats want to fight Republicans for the support of an institutional Jesus, they will have to give up the person who said those words. They will have to turn away from what Flannery O'Connor described as "the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus" and "a wild ragged figure" who flits "from tree to tree in the back" of the mind.

He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed — respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil's agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.

The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.

Garry Wills is professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University and the author, most recently, of "What Jesus Meant."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Religion, Again - Updated

Some time ago, my friend Lance Mannion had this to say in his post titled, “A Praise of Folly:”

“Bigotry, hatred, intolerance, tyranny, and violence can wear a Christian mask as well as a Muslim one. (Son of Billy Graham) [Franklin] Graham has this in common with Richard Dawkins. He thinks the problem is religion and not human nature.”


Taken out of context, it would appear that Mr. Mannion has the opinion that they are equally extreme on opposites sides of the spectrum. This is not the case, but there are some who believe exactly that. I’ve heard people say that science is just another belief system; that nothing can be proven. In fact, there is a passage in Carl Sagan’s excellent “The Demon Haunted World” where he points out that people who believe that sort of thing have no qualms about hopping on an airplane to fly to a seminar where that is to be the featured topic, never stopping to think that there would be no airplane to take them there if that was true.

Reading Mr. Mannion’s excellent post prompted me to reiterate the following, although if you don’t have a lot of time today, I suggest that you skip my post and read this editorial by Richard Dawkins, also referenced by Lance in his original essay.

Many people like to dismiss the polar opposite to an extreme position on the grounds that it is on equal footing, albeit opposite. This is sometimes true, but not always. For instance, there are people who insist that the moon landings were staged and that an elaborate hoax has been perpetrated against the world at large. They have written books, erected websites and even aired a television show presenting the “evidence.” I would say that most of us dismiss the conspiracy theory for what it is and don’t think too much about it, but I’m certain that there are people, let’s say the astronauts who actually walked on the moon that have a very strong opinion to the contrary. In this case, they are indeed polar opposites with extreme positions, but I wouldn’t class them as having anything in common.

Richard Dawkins is right, and Franklin Graham is wrong. Their positions are not equivocal. At the heart of science is the search for truth. Religion is in the business of getting people to believe lies. Science requires evidence to support its claims. Religion dismisses evidence when it contradicts their claims. The conclusions of science are subject to change based on the acquisition of new evidence. Religion is impervious to new evidence. Indeed, each of the major religions all have this one thing in common: There is absolutely no evidence, no facts, no logic, no critical thinking, nothing whatsoever to support their absurd beliefs.

Religion may not be THE problem, but it certainly is a big one. Religion is based on lies. When we as a people are confronted with a challenge, shouldn’t we base our decisions, our plans, our remedies, our courses of action on the best possible information? People like Franklin Graham say “no.” People like Richard Dawkins say “yes.”

I’m with Dawkins.

People who believe that Jesus is going to come back soon and clean up the mess we are making of the planet are not only wrong, not merely delusional. They are dangerous. People who believe that their imaginary god wants them to convert, dominate, marginalize or destroy other people who believe in a different imaginary god are dangerous. People who believe in the fantastic, the ridiculous and the absurd are dangerous, and right now they have are driving the bus.

Lance also said this:

“I don't want to live in the Christian America Franklin Graham and his like are trying to bring about.”

Obviously I share that sentiment, but I have to say I’m not holding my breath. The more I learn and the longer I live, the more I believe that the religious hold the seeds to the destruction of all that we hold dear, and perhaps to of all mankind.

Lance Mannion responds:

AL, you've got to get out of the South.

Up here in the Northeast, the odds are really good that when I run into someone who is deeply religious, they are also socially and politically liberal and are in fact far more likely to be working to change the world for the better than I am.

[Dawkins] thinks the problem with the world is religion in general. Graham thinks the problem with the Mideast is that it contains Muslims. Both think that if they could just convert everybody to their point of view things would get better.

But the problem is people. Religion is just one among many excuses people use to justify the worst elements of their nature. Take away their religion and they would still be greedy, lustful, gluttonous, full of pride and envy and avarice. Persuading them to be better, to act virtuously instead of viciously isn't necessarily a matter of talking them out of their religious beliefs, but persuading them to act according to the beliefs they profess to hold.

Which was the basis of the Civil Rights movement.

And what Jesus was trying to do, when you get right down to it.

My Response to Lance:

I agree with some of what you say, but not all of it.

But the problem is people.

That is obviously true. It is also superfluous to the discussion. The pro-gun people argue all the time, "guns don't kill people, people kill people." While that is true, that doesn't justify placing automatic assault rifles into the hands of whoever desires them. If some wing-nut blows a circuit and decides to open fire in a shopping mall with an assault rifle, he does a lot more damage than someone with a 5 chamber revolver. If the person didn't lose his mind, no problem right? But once he does, the availability of weaponry can have an impact on the amount of damage he can do.

Take away their religion and they would still be greedy, lustful, gluttonous, full of pride and envy and avarice. Religion is just one among many excuses people use to justify the worst elements of their nature.


But like the assault rifle in my analogy, religion exacerbates the problem.

It is a recipe that has the wrong ingredients and the incorrect instructions. It stops people from thinking. It distorts reality. It deters people from contemplating their own mortality, which I believe is essential to the human experience. It justifies the hatred of entire groups of people. It is the enemy of reason, which makes it the enemy of mankind.

Up here in the Northeast, the odds are really good that when I run into someone who is deeply religious, they are also socially and politically liberal and are in fact far more likely to be working to change the world for the better than I am.

And like the point you made about how people would be evil in the absence of religion, the same could be said about the goodness of the sort of people you have described in that comment as well.

I think Richard Dawkins is 100% correct. The elimination of religion would not eliminate all of our social problems, but it would be a big step in the right direction.

This of course is an exercise in futility, because it will never happen.

"The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most
that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one
delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked."

"I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind -- that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking."

"I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious."

H.L. Mencken

One other thing. Here is a link to a short video that features James Randi and some of his adventures in exposing the bogus claims of Uri Gellar and Reverend Popoff. It is both interesting and entertaining, but my favorite part is the point that me makes at about 8 minutes into it.

Monday, April 03, 2006

I Don't Wanna Know

His father was John Lennon, only he was never around. About a year before John's death they started to build a relationship.


Julian Lennon was blessed (and cursed) with the voice of his Dad, which was exploited on his debut album. I remember the first time I heard “Valotte” on the radio it was chilling. The years went by and the novelty wore off. His lyrics were pleasant enough and his music went down easily. He had talent, but he wasn’t John.

Here is one you may have missed from his 1998 release, “Photograph Smile.” Great guitars, tuneful melody, and lyrics that may not be profound or clever but they ring true to many, including me.

[Click here to listen.]

“I Don’t Wanna Know”
By Julian Lennon and Mark Spiro

I don't wanna know what's going on
and I don't wanna know what's right or wrong
and I don't wanna know who's bed you're in
and I don't wanna know just where you've been.

Oh baby, you were never really good for me
just maybe, you're a stranger to reality
and baby, don't you know you haven't got a clue
'cos lately, I don't know what to do.

I don't wanna know what's going on
and I don't wanna know what's right or wrong
and I don't wanna know who's bed you're in
and I don't wanna know just where you've been.

Oh baby, you said you're changing for the better now
just maybe, you're not as strong as you thought somehow
and baby, you know you're heading down a one way track
and baby, I won't bring you back.

Well, you said you were looking for a better way
but you just keep coming back
to a place you can never seem to get away
that will always hold you back...

Oh baby, you said you'd rather be a daddy's girl,
but lately, you're try'n a fight against the whole wide world
just maybe, you've found a love that you can hold on to
and baby, I pray for you.

I don't wanna know what's going on
and I don't wanna know what's right or wrong
and I don't wanna know who's bed you're in
and I don't wanna know just where you've been...

This week's Top 10 conservative idiots.