December 27th, 2014
(Yes, I'm pretty sure that's meant to be the United Nations HQ in New York.)
December 17th, 2014
(Sorry, I can't remember who pointed me towards this a few days ago.)
February 18th, 2014
Why Jerusalem renters are wary of the Messiah's arrival:
In apartment contracts around the city, there are clauses stipulating what will happen to the apartment if or when the Jewish Messiah, or mashiach, comes. The owners, generally religious Jews living abroad, are concerned that he will arrive, build a third temple, and turn Israel into paradise – and they will be stuck waiting for their apartment tenants' contracts to run out before they can move back.
October 11th, 2013
Southern Baptist stock photo makes pornography seem glorious, or, to put it another way, "Lobbyists for the Religious Right, choose your stock photos with care."
September 15th, 2013
Jim Macdonald leads us on a romp through the story of which books did and didn't make it into the most epic piece of fanfic ever written:
Speaking of tours of Heaven and Hell, there's the Book of Enoch. This is in the Old Testament of the Ethiopian Church, but didn't make it into Athanasius's list. (Since Ethiopia didn't belong to the Empire they didn't care.) Enoch himself gets about one line in Genesis. But it's in the Book of Enoch, all about his adventures after being taken up to Heaven by the angel Uriel and told the secret history that we get the story of the Watcher Angels. Angels, as I'm sure everyone knows, get all turned on when they see human women's hair and they go on and seduce and boink those women. The women then have children who turn out to be man-eating giants (don't you hate when that happens?) Which is where the "giants in the earth" come from in Genesis (right before the story of the Flood). Didn't make the cut because it doesn't include the genealogy of Jesus or any New Testament prophecies but this story, the Book of Enoch, would have been known to Paul and he'd have no way of knowing that it would be left out of orthodox scripture a few centuries later; that's why he admonishes women in church to cover their hair, because angels hang out around churches and you don't want them to pull out the flowers and chocolates, do you?
But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. … Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels.
1 Corinthians 11:5-10
Enoch inspired the 16th century con artist Edward Kelley, Dr. Dee's running buddy, to come up with the Enochian Alphabet for communicating with angels. (What the angels said was "Edward Kelley should totally boink Mrs. Dee." Dr. Dee was all, "Well, if the angels say so we don't have a choice." What Mrs. Dee thought of this I don't know.)
May 22nd, 2013
President Barack Obama reveals What Happens To Us When We Die?, from Patrick Farley's sketchblog.
[Via homunculus, commenting at MetaFilter]
May 19th, 2013
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Wesson Goes to Church:
When does life begin for a gun? Is it first casting, first barrel boring, first test fire? Is it before the gun is formed when the metal is mined, or the carbon fiber manufactured?
A thoroughly mischievous little piece.
[Via The Browser]
March 30th, 2012
Oh, My Hand: Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts.
As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.
August 21st, 2011
Stakes, Perky Hairdos, and Other Things That Matter:
Those of you with no experience of Australian Protestant culture might assume that we'd be okay with tv shows. Those with a little more experience might assume that we'd run away from all slightly dubious tv shows, proclaim them satanic, and start boycotting everyone in sight.
You wouldn't be far off – but my church wasn't quite that bad. We were avid Friends fans, happily read the Harry Potter books, and used clips from The Matrix in sermons. The only pop culture we really stayed away from was the worst of the worst: shows which had demons, or witches, or pagan gods.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer had all of those, and more. There were lesbians, resurrection spells, sex, demon possession, and explosions. It was not something that any good Christian girl should be watching.
I… was rather sick of being a good Christian girl. So, with a few doubts and hesitations, and the firm conviction that I was not going to let my parents find out, I started watching. Anything to get another fun and distracting form of entertainment.
(Then it went and changed my life. That was unexpected.)
May 11th, 2011
Courtesy of the Slacktivist, 7 biblical women's names that deserve wider usage:
2. Jael. You meet plenty of people named after Mary, the other biblical character praised as "most blessed of women," but I've never met anyone named after Jael. Maybe it's because the name translates, literally, as "mountain goat." Or maybe it's because "bad-ass" isn't what most parents are looking for in a name for their baby girl. Jael was bad-ass. She took out Sisera, the general in charge of the invading army:
Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. "Come," she said, "I will show you the man you're looking for." So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple – dead.
Don't mess with Jael.
April 11th, 2011
I know it's been linked to everywhere by now, but Google Exodus genuinely is well worth a look.
November 27th, 2010
September 22nd, 2010
Boris Johnson on meeting the Pope:
There we were on the tarmac at Heathrow as the papal jet prepared to land. The cameras were trained on the night sky. The red carpet was rolled out. The charming Foreign Office people tried for the umpteenth time to remind me where to stand – and all the while my mind was whirring with a single question. It is a problem that goes to the heart of the relationship between church and state. It is a question that will be studied by future generations of students of theology and patristics, because the answer we give – and the answer you give, off the top of your head – is an indication of the balance currently existing between the privileges of spiritual leaders and the egalitarian demands of our temporal world.
Never mind abortion or paedophile priests. As Pope Force One taxied towards us, there was one issue still revolving in my mind at the speed of a Rolls-Royce fan jet. Should the Popemobile be liable for the congestion charge and, if not, why not? Should the Holy Father have to pay £8 to drive through Westminster, like everyone else? Or should that fee be waived, in recognition of his status as the vicar of Christ on Earth? It is a tough one, and I am sure there will be clear-sighted readers of this paper who will take opposite views; and it is that very division of instinct that is so revealing about the psychology of this country. […]
[Via The Browser]
August 18th, 2010
Sixwing is right: Scissors for Hitler (and the ensuing comment thread) wins the internet today.
August 1st, 2010
Maureen Dowd brings us A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia:
Jidda means "grandmother" in Arabic, and the city may have gotten its name because tradition holds that the grandmother of all temptresses, the biblical Eve, is buried here – an apt symbol for a country that legally, sexually, and sartorially buries its women alive. (A hard-line Muslim cleric in Iran recently blamed provocatively dressed women for earthquakes, inspiring the New York Post headline SHEIK IT!) According to legend, when Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden they went their separate ways, Adam ending up in Mecca and Eve in Jidda, with a single reunion. (Original sin reduced to friends with benefits?) Eve's cemetery lies behind a weathered green door in Old Jidda.
When I suggested we visit, Abdullah smiled with sweet exasperation. It was a smile I would grow all too accustomed to from Saudi men in the coming days. It translated into "No f—ing way, lady."
"Women are not allowed to go into cemeteries," he told me.
I had visited Saudi Arabia twice before, and knew it was the hardest place on earth for a woman to negotiate. Women traveling on their own have generally needed government minders or permission slips. A Saudi woman can't even report harassment by a man without having a mahram, or male guardian, by her side. A group of traditional Saudi women, skeptical of any sort of liberalization, recently started an organization called My Guardian Knows What's Best for Me. I thought I understood the regime of gender apartheid pretty well. But this cemetery bit took me aback.
"Can they go in if they're dead?," I asked.
"Women can be buried there," he conceded, "but you are not allowed to go in and look into it."
So I can only see a dead woman if I'm a dead woman?
No wonder they call this the Forbidden Country. It's the most bewitching, bewildering, beheading vacation spot you'll never vacation in.
[Via The Browser]
June 1st, 2010
Although this article about the Oberammergau passion play focuses on the recent tensions over modernisation of the play, what really struck me was the way the event takes over the entire town:
[…] For months, even the village's elderly and sick residents have been doing their part, while younger people have been reshaping their plans to accommodate the event. This year's Philip the apostle interrupted his doctoral studies, and one of the two actors who will play Jesus gave up his job, which was too far away. The mayor issued a "hair and beard decree" on Ash Wednesday of last year, and since then men, women and children have left their hair and beards largely uncut, so that they will look the way people supposedly did in ancient Jerusalem.
Locals use phrases like community, homeland and identity when they attempt to explain the event to outsiders. Anyone who was born in Oberammergau or has lived there for at least 20 years is entitled to take part in the festival. One of the many attractions of the event is that it brings a welcome change to residents who have spent the last nine years working in their ordinary jobs, as teachers, plumbers or landscapers, and who now get the chance to appear in the global spotlight. In fact, it must be painful not to be a part of it.
It would have been nice to have seen some comments in the article from locals who are ineligible to take part because they've only been living there for, say, a decade. Do they find themselves counting the years until they can take part, or do they live a life in parallel with that of their longer-established neighbours for the duration of the festivities?
April 11th, 2010
Adam Curtis on history repeating itself in Afghanistan:
There is a growing sense in the West that we no longer know what we are fighting for in Afghanistan. The question that is almost never asked is what they are fighting for? What do the Taliban want?
We are told that we are fighting to prevent terrorist attacks in Europe and America. But the reality is that the Taliban have no interest in attacking the West. In the public imagination and in much journalism the Taliban are seen as exactly the same as political Islamists such as bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. The truth is that they are the very opposite of each other. […]
The truth is that we may be fighting an enemy in Helmand – and soon in Kandahar too – that also no longer knows what it is fighting for. Both sides are locked together in a nihilistic war.
But the fascinating thing is that we, the British, have been through all this before in Afghanistan.
In 1919 there was a grand attempt to create a modern Islamist state in Afghanistan. But it collapsed into civil war and horror and led to the resurgence of old Islam coupled with the most traditional and reactionary forces in the country. And the Royal Air Force and British army was left fighting a futile, pointless war in the mountains of Waziristan. […]
March 14th, 2010
Economics of Sainthood (a preliminary investigation):
Saint-making has been a major activity of the Catholic Church for centuries. The pace of sanctifications has picked up noticeably in the last several decades under the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Our goal is to apply social-science reasoning to understand the Church's choices on numbers and characteristics of saints, gauged by location and socio-economic attributes of the persons designated as blessed. […]
[Via The Browser]
March 7th, 2010
Gobekli Tepe might conceivably be the site of the world's first temple:
Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple. […]
Be sure to view the photos that accompany the article.
[Via the Long Now Blog, which linked to a rather less satisfactory Newsweek story about the temple.]