Monday, October 27, 2008

Signs of the Times

Down the road from my house is a church and Christian school, Baptist I think, but I can't be sure and don't care enough to find out.

They've got a sign out front. One those message boards, where they broadcast whatever God is thinking about this week. You know, the usual helpful loving messages: God hates the homos, God hates the Atheists, God hates uppity women, God hates abortionists, God hates evolutionists, God hates the Muslims, and, well, God apparently hates a lot of things.

This week God hates liberals and admonishes us to "Vote in accordance with Biblical Guidelines."

I'm not exactly sure what that means, God hates liberals? Hmmm that's probably why he had his kid nailed to a cross, huh? I don't mean to point out any logical fallacies in modern conservative Christianity or anything, but it seems to me that Jesus was just about as liberal as it gets. So, if God hates liberals, and Christians should emulate God, then Christians should hate liberals and therefore shouldn't they hate Jesus too? Forgive me, Father, but I'm a little confused.

The sign, it often has that effect on me.

And then there's that whole vote in accordance with biblical guidelines thing: So far as I remember, there weren't a whole lot of democracies in the the bible. A word search on the King James Version yields exactly zero hits on the word "vote" and biblical scholars back me up on this. The word vote doesn't appear anywhere in the modern bible. So I'm unclear as to what "Vote in accordance with biblical guidelines" actually means.

There's this passage: Deuteronomy 1:6-13: The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying... Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads. OK, done. So now what? Does God just pick one or what? How do we know, does a rainbow appear over the winner? Does God smite the loser? What? Details of the process would be helpful at this point, but the damned sign isn't saying.

There's this passage: Job 34:1-4: Then Elihu continued and said... Let us choose for ourselves what is right; Let us know among ourselves what is good. Well, hell, that's just a bunch of stone age sheepherders who don't have any more of a clue than their four footed wooly girlfriends. I mean, Elihu doesn't exactly list any criteria for determining what makes a good leader, he basically says, "Hey, let's pull it out of our burning bush!" The message on the sign is quite specific, we're not supposed to choose for ourselves, we're supposed to use the biblical guidelines. Be nice if the damned sign would cite chapter and verse.

Then there's this bit: Romans 13:1-14 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. ... Um, if you read that and switch your internal narrator to a nasal Minnesotan accent (go on, try it), it sounds a whole lot like something Palin would have said when Katie Couric asked her about the economy, NAFTA, or Iraq: i.e. I have no damned idea what it supposed to mean. Amusing, but not helpful, really.

Perhaps we should try: Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hmmm, somehow I don't think that's what the sign meant. And thinking about my leader's way of life doesn't really help me in the voting booth, other than making me feel like punching them in their dangling chads, that is.

Frankly, I've driven past that stupid sign a dozen times this weekend and I've been tempted to stop in and ask. I mean, damn, could it be a little more vague? And I hate to criticize, but the Good Book needs to be better formatted, numbered tables and some colored graphs for example, and an index would be helpful. I mean, I can't find the part where God says it's OK to just make shit up about you opponent, you know, call him an Arab, say he's not an American, call him a terrorist, question his patriotism, and like that. I've racked my brain trying to recall the Sunday school lessons where the minister told us that God wanted us to carve backwards letters into our faces and blame it on big black Democrats, but you know I just can't remember it.

Look, I'm not trying to pick on the Republicans here, but the sign is directed at them (because as you know, Democrats are heathen atheist devil worshipping gay lovers who don't go to church, and by default all good Christians are Republicans - Hey, don't yell at me, it's the sign. You got a problem with it, you go talk to the sign and get off my case).

I thought I might get some clarification from the church's website, instead I got a link to here. Um, yeah. Thanks.

And don't get me wrong, I did find this passage: Luke 22:36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. I'm pretty sure that's clear direction to grab the RNC checkbook and do some spending at Neiman-Marcus and Saks, and maybe get your kid a spiffy designer knapsack. On the other hand, this ought to shut the damned liberals up, when Jesus says to upgrade the ole' wardrobe, well, who's to argue with Him. Right?

All and all, I'll probably just go with Elihu up there in Job, and figure out for myself what's right.

Somehow, though, I don't think that's what the sign meant.


  1. Am I the only one who thinks "Elihu" would be a fabulous name for a dog?


  2. Janiece -- yes. And I think Osama is a cool name for a cat.

    A heathen atheist devil worshipping gay lover

  3. Dog is already in the bible, but you have to hold the pages up to a mirror in order to see it.

    :::zzzzzzzzzzzt!::Wright disappears in a blinding lightening bolt::smote as it were:::Dog is not amused:::

  4. I have mixed feelings about this. I happen to think that if you do subscribe to some religious affiliation, I don't see how it wouldn't effect your politics. Bearing that in mind, there are an awful lot of 'pro-choice', gay loving Catholics.

    I would assume there are churches in you area who would offend you less.

  5. I'm not offended, Nathan, not in the least. It's just that I don't see what, exactly, the point of the message signs are. And this place posts messages that I find mostly amusing - but in this case I'm not exactly sure what "vote in accordance with biblical guidelines" is supposed to mean.

    If it had said, vote for the people who best support our Christen ideals, I could understand it - but saying biblical guidelines confuses me, because everybody interprets that differently. And then there's the whole God Hates Liberals thing, I don't get that at all. As I said in the post, Jesus, so far as I can tell was a major liberal, but that's definitely not what this church is all about. So, again, what's the message mean?

  6. "And I hate to criticize, but the Good Book needs to be better formatted, numbered tables and some colored graphs for example, and an index would be helpful."

    Hee hee hee.

  7. As a Christian, I really do try to vote for those who best uphold Christian ideals. So I look for candidates whoe want to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, find housing for the homeless, etc. You know, Matthew 25:31-46, where, if you are a believer, Jesus spells out what you'll be asked, and it doesn't have anything to do with politics or gays.

    But I seriously doubt that's what the sign is talking about.

    Which is really sad.

  8. you know, Palin et. al. think that we are near the End of Days, so mabey we should vote Fred Phelps as god and watch the universe implode in disgust

  9. As a Christian, I find that I normally get to sit with the kids on the short bus. It's not always true -- and I actively do my part to stop the insanity in my little sphere of local influence. But really, it sure makes it harder for the sane, rational, semi-intelligent believers out there.

    Maybe the sign was attacking the idea of false voting. Biblical guidelines would imply voting only once, and once you're dead, stop voting. Yeah, I'm sure that's what the sign was about.

    Silly Jim.

  10. Vince, see that I could get behind. If the sign said, hey, Matthew 25:31-46 vote for somebody who best lives up to that - that I could understand. And you guys, of course, don't see the messages that are up there every week so you don't get the tone of this place. Seriously, every single message has the words "Hate" in it - as God hates Sin, God hates Atheists, God hates Gays - followed by what I assume are supporting bible passages. Every week. I dunno, maybe the letters for "Hate" are painted on and they have to work the rest of the message around it?

    Now, on the other hand, Thordr, I'd don't think they're WBC either, but sometimes I wonder just what they're preaching in that little storefront church, school, and daycare. But I understand what you're saying.

    Shawn, yeah, I'm sure your are correct :)

  11. So Jim could you come and teach my Religion and Culture class this Thursday? Religion, according to Christopher Hutchings will try and creep into power by doing three things..
    1..Education of young children
    2..Declaring themselves tax exempt (non-profit groups, who have NO right to be sticking their noses into politics....if they do, then they are crossing the line into a political group which is NOT NON_PROFIT)
    3. Using racism and hate speeches to facilitate bringing Blaspheme Laws, thus ending Free Speech as it is.

    Your little sign may be up to a whole lot more than just annoying you...just saying'.

    (thanks for letting me actually use something I learned in a class in the real world...or at least our version of it)

  12. Actually, there are pro-choice pro-gay marriage Catholics.

    My mom is one.

    Abortion is problematic (but then the subject is problematic for me), but the gay rights issue both my grandmother and father has spoken in favor of.

    I simply don't understand "Christians" who pull out all the stops digging up passages in Leviticus, while ignoring the hundreds of time the NT tells them to care for the poor and those in need.

    Er.. Sorry. Didn't mean to get all ranty there.

  13. Oh, and Jim...

    On another subject BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

  14. I'm covered in sawdust, regular dust, and mud at the moment, Nathan, and on the way to the shower. Could you be just a little more specific? Please? What subject. Obviously I've missed something today, but I have no idea what it might be. Sigh.

  15. Nevermind, it's the Stevens thing, right?

    Yeah, bawahahahahahaha! Of course, this doesn't mean that he can't be a Senator. Note the quote on top the main page, one of my very favorites

  16. No, that's not it. I assure you, you'll know it when you know it. Although, my information says you should know it by now.

    And on second thought, this version is kinda fun too.

  17. And now we can guess where Nathan's package went...

  18. Bwahahahahaha.....hahahahahah.....hahahahaha

  19. A couple of questions come to mind, the first being...what ever happend to the separation of church and state? There seems to be a lot of overlap these days, especially from the pulpit. Several churches here in Georgia have been on the hot seat for brining the various campaigns into their sermons on Sunday mornings.

    And, you're right, Jesus was pretty radical for his time, preaching love and inclusion, not hate and exclusion. I know many Christians who happen to be gay, are very religious, and struggle daily to come to grips with the venom spewed at them by so many in the name of God and Christ. For the most part they have found wonderfully inclusive churches that celebrate their individuality and diversity.

    And, now that I've voted, can someone please stop the infernal robo-calls?!?!?!? Although there was a really funny one this evening with a candidate for local judge advising people they could participate in early voting at a specific neighborhood polling station... which just happened to be the one that had a computer glitch that resulted in 6-7 hour lines!! Good new is it only took me about 90 minutes to vote at another location.


  20. Re: separation of Church and State.

    I come down on the side of thinking that it's only State that needs to maintain the separation. Just like free speech. Jim is free to delete my ass here. It's his place. No law constricts him.

    Church? Heinous as your particular beliefs may be, you're a RELIGION. You stand for something. I have no problem with you endorsing someone.

    That being said, I will feel free to tell you you're full of shit.

  21. Ha! Now I understand.

    Full report tomorrow.

  22. Nathan, I couldn't disagree with you more strongly.

    Religious figures have a tremendous amount of power in their spheres of influence. They are viewed by their followers as speaking for God.

    We worry about the influence of industry and special interest groups upon our politicians, how much worse would it be if GWB had owed his election to the likes of the pastor of the church by Jim's house? Or any of those horrible televangelists?

    My dad was talking to one of the priests at his church, who said he strongly dislikes it when the pro-life people put political brochures in the pews, because there are people who believe those brochures come from the church, and are how the *priest* thinks they should vote, which is an undue influence.

    And that influence is even greater in small towns, where a single church could have tremendous influence over local politics. Imagine a local church having control over the local sheriff.

    Look at what happened historically when the state was influenced by and entangled with the church. We ended up with Ferdinand and Isabella and the Spanish inquisition. We have divorce and marriage controlled by the state, including who is allowed to marry.

    We like to think we are an enlightened society, but historically in the US your relatives and mine would have been denied rights by the various states. We believe it could never happen again, but I'm not so sure.

  23. Maybe we can recite Ezekiel 25:17 to aid us in the election, while pointing .45 down some poor schmucks head.

    "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by inequity of selfish and the tyranny of evil..."

  24. Michelle,

    When it comes to organized religion, I'm more or less apathetic. I'm not Atheist. I'm not Agnostic. I'm Apathetic.

    I was raised in an observant Jewish home. I lean toward those beliefs, but I cherry-pick at will.

    That having been said, I think that if religions stand for anything (and what other purpose would they have), they should have a clear ethos.

    You and I are free to disagree. We're free to find another church. We're free to abandon all churches. We're free to found another church that more suits our beliefs.

    I'm sure I haven't expressed this well and one of these days I'll get around to figuring out how to really articulate it.

  25. So, Deuteronomy 1:6-13 means that if Obama wins all these religious people ought to STFU and sit down.

    And Nathan, I have to agree with Random Michelle here. It's the same thing if your commanding officer brings you an absentee ballot and tells you how to vote. Any officer caught doing that will see a door very quickly.

    The reverse of this is, if religion wants in to politics, then we get to insert politics into religion. All those rules about "not hiring" people for their outreach services, yeah, those all go away and churches can be sued for discrimination under EOEA. Also, we're going to schedule your worship times, because it's a matter of how many cars are on the road at a certain time (safety), and the restaurants would like to space out the rush. Oh, and we're going to audit your books.

    If a religion doesn't like that, perfectly fine (I agree), they should stay out of politics.

    And as I'm sure you know, Jim, that sign is code wording for "if you want to get into heaven, you'll vote the way we tell you."

  26. I've seen the people who are going to heaven. Being stuck with those self-righteous bastards for all eternity would be hell. Yeah, I pass.

  27. I'm going to stick to my guns here.

    Imagine, if you will, the improbable specter of the American Nazi Party putting forth a viable presidential candidate. The campaign has three candidates running neck and neck a month from the election.

    I'll ignore others for a moment, but I can't imagine the Rabbi or the preacher in a black church remaining silent. I'd not only condone them speaking from the pulpit, but I'd consider silence a dereliction of duty.

    The case of parishioners distributing pamphlets is not the church speaking. It's some zealots in the congregation. And I'd expect the Priest in question to publicly ask them to stop it if it bothers him.

    Furthermore, every one of these congregants is going to be alone in the booth when it comes time to vote. Nobody will know how they chose to vote.

    Lastly, Steve, your example of an officer ordering someone to fill out an absentee ballot a certain way? I'm pretty sure that constitutes an illegal order and the subordinate (theoretically) has been instructed that he is duty bound to disobey it. (Yes, in reality, he might be scared to disobey, but that's not how things are set up to work.)

  28. I'm with Steve on this one, if one side wants to blur the line, then both sides get too. You do not get to redraw the line where you want, cause everyone’s version of where the line belongs is different, that is why it is so black and white, there supposed to be no grey, if you allow a little bit of grey, who judges when the grey grows to large and where it is centered?

  29. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    I see the line there as being in one direction...only limiting what the Government can and can't do. I think there's sufficient protection from any church's agenda based on the fact that if they're pushing some religiously based legislation, the Government wouldn't be able to enact it if it is unconstitutional under the amendment.

    I'll repeat that I think this is very similar to free speech. The government can't limit your speech but there's nothing in the constitution that says I can't. If you want to test that theory, come on over to my blog and see how fast I can limit your speech. (That's an example, not a threat.)

    And similar to free speech, I'm not going to like all of what you're allowed to say. And I don't have to agree with a lot of religious agendas. I'm free to say that as loudly as I like. I honestly don't have a problem with religious authorities having the same right...even when I'm going to disagree with them. Which is going to be quite often.

    As usual...I might have expressed that better, but this is what I've got right now.

  30. Religion exercises a claim over a person's moral, ethical and philosophical spheres. Those who are religious find religion to be a guide, if not a definitive solution to their various quandries and disputes in life.

    That religion has an overlap with the public and political should be self-evident. Not just in the extreme cases, such as Nathan suggests, but even in more ordinary circumstances. If one's religion says it's ethical to behave in a certain way, then this defines what one looks for in ethical leaders. If one's religion says the world works in a parcticular way, then one looks for laws that are in accord with that.

    The classic issue is abortion: if one believes that God (via His representatives) has declared that a human being exists from conception, then it only follows that killing this thing is killing a human and therefore murder. If it doesn't follow from that that abortion is murder, then it's only because one's religion or conscience or understanding of the facts allows for another outcome.

    The classic case of "another outcome" might well be "Just War" Theory, another debt Western Civilization owes Catholicism. If killing is wrong (per God) it can only follow that war is wrong (ditto), unless your interpretation of God's dictates allows you to fight back (per, IIRC, Augustine, on God's behalf).

    The point is that matters of statutes against murder and war are not merely religious, but obviously political. And so if you're going to accede to a religion's authority to declaim on one sphere you must accept their authority to declaim on the other because they're the same sphere.

    Understand now, I'm an atheist. I don't have a particular problem with equitably taxing churches (religion's tax immunity comes largely from a fear the state might punitively tax certain churches out of existence), requiring that churches receiving Federal funds follow Federal law (which was the case until Bush and the Congress began supporting "Faith-Based Initiatives), and either keeping the government out of religious institutions like marriage entirely or defining them solely in civil terms. In fact, I favor everything I just mentioned. But I would never say that a pastor can't tell his congregation how he thinks Jesus would vote. While I'd prefer everyone be a nice secular humanist like me, if you're going to accept that there is a God and He has a benign interest in human affairs, then it's only fair for you to wonder how He feels about the budget deficit or school bonds, and your priest is purportedly the expert with an inside line on that sort of thing.

  31. PS:

    Short version: what Nathan said.

  32. Nathan, first, I find your scenario improbable and best. :)

    Second, the probability of abuse far outweighs the minuscule possibility of a neo-Nazi running for president.

    Thirdly, as was pointed out previously, that leads to a reciprocal ability for politicians to meddle in religion.

    Although there may be exceptions, I don't think it's ever a good think when politics and religion mingle.

    On one hand, some countries in Europe we have the banning of head scarves and religious jewelry in schools.

    On the other hand we have the specter of evangelical Christian prayers in American schools.

    We know what state religion has led to in the past, and we have examples of it in modern times.

    Regarding being alone in the polling booth, the thing is they think they are NOT. They think God is watching and judging their choice.

    Crap, I had a bunch of other points I wanted to make but I have a headache. I'll try again later.

  33. Well no, there's not reciprocity because the First Amendment only governs what the Federal Government can do to individuals and churches, and the Fourteenth Amendment only governs what state governments can do to individuals and churches. The separation of church and state, in other words, is about the relationship between government and churches, not between churches and government.

    A pastor can tell his congregation how to vote. An elected official can't tell a pastor when to hold services.

    Yes, there are churches that would impose their visions of the world upon individuals through the schools, the public square, etc. But the reason they're wrong isn't because the wall between church and state doesn't allow them to lobby or vote or sue or petition. The reason they're wrong is that government cannot act against other people in accordance with these churches' wishes. A pastor is entitled to say, "We should teach Genesis in schools," but a school board cannot then turn around and say "Schools should teach Genesis to children whose parents might not believe in Judeo-Christian creation myths."

    The problems of creationism in schools, or prayer in schools, or "In God We Trust" appearing on coins isn't that churches have asked for them, it's that elected officials have violated their oaths to uphold and follow a Constitution that says you can't actually do those things.

    Does this mean the churches' speech is futile in a perfect, law-abiding world? Sure. But they have the same right to argue that abortion should be a litmus test for judges that I do to argue that all the churchgoers ought to be atheists. It's not that they shouldn't hold forth, it's that they shouldn't win.


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