Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Summers End

The summer is at its end; and certainly it went out in a rage.

Now is the time to take stock of the year that was, and the year that is to be.

Bring in the harvest.

Make ready the slaughter.

Feast at the closing of the year.

With the fire of your hearth, keep a vigil for the fallen.

For those who now abide beyond the veil, may yet need a light to guide them home.

A warm welcome.

A hearty meal.

If only for one night.

Give praise to those whose bones we tread apon.

Keep their love in your heart.

Their memory in your words.

Their legacy in your deeds.

Begin again to tell tales, weave wonders and speak of bygone days.

Long ago, or maybe not so.

Stories connect us to the gods, to the land, and to each other.

Three candles to light any darkness: Truth, Nature, Knowledge.

Yet what lights the candles?


Of our hearth.

Of our head.

Of our inspiration.

Fires of protection.

For Ourselves.

For our Kin

For our Kith.

A gift from the goddess.

Gentle and fair cheeked.

Patroness of poets and smiths both.

Fires until February, for most longer still.

To keep the frost at bay.

To see in the season of the dark.

To flourish in the absence of the sun.

Summer is ended.

Welcome the winter.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Box Seats for the End of Days

This is sort of piggy backing off my entry looking at human agency in different eschatological narratives, but I happened upon an interesting documentary titled "Waiting for Armageddon", which explores Evangelical Christianity's preoccupation with the event, and the potential for political action based on trying to bring the events about as quickly as possible.

One quote stuck out, which crystallized the moral bankruptcy of the longing for the end of the world so prevalent among Evangelicals. It occurs little under half an hour into the film, during a sequence where a tour group is being baptized in the Jordan river. The tour leader is talking to the camera about the battle of Armageddon:
" In the tribulation, this will be the final battle ground, and there are lots of different thoughts where the battle happens or any of those things. As a believer in our lord Jesus Christ, we'll have the greatest seat of all to watch it. That's something that's fantastic to me; we will not be here but we'll be able to watch it"
 Absolutely chilling, when you stop to actually think about what he is saying; genocide as a spectator sport. It isn't enough that these folks are actively longing for the mass murder of the majority of humanity, no; on top of that, they want to watch the whole thing go down. The obvious reasoning is of course that everyone who isn't "saved" deserves to be horribly murdered (before spending an eternity in writhing agony), and that the enjoyment those who get to watch will experience isn't sick or twisted, it's comeuppance. The Book of Revelations, after all is one giant revenge fantasy; those who suffer and are persecuted for Jesus will be rewarded and those who did the persecuting will get what's coming to them. While I believe his initial giddiness is based upon his actual beliefs, I think he takes a second to think how someone "of the world" would view his unabashed sadism at the prospect of Armageddon and tries to back peddle:
"The final battle I think will be a lot of fun to watch... Not fun in the sense of knowing that people are dying without having received Christ as their saviour, but at the same time seeing the prophecy fulfilled, seeing god's word come out.
On second thought, this doesn't seem like a back peddle at all (what I get for writing while watching). He doesn't do the decent thing, like say, "Oh, you're wondering why I said watching millions of people being horribly murdered would be fun to watch; what I meant was...". But no, he actually sticks to his perspective adding that he isn't happy about people dying without "getting saved". So the tragedy isn't that people are being brutally murdered as the streets overflow with rivers of blood; the tragedy is that people didn't convert to Christianity, and now they get to suffer for it. The sentiment expressed is unimaginably cruel, while at the same time unbelievably sanctimonious.

The problem is that this isn't just some zealots fevered nightmare vision of the future, millions of people believe this and share in the sentiment that such a scenario is something everyone who has a conscious ought to be hoping, nay praying for. Think about it won't you, one of the most common Christian prayers has such a sentiment within it. "The Lord's Prayer", found in Matthew 6:9-13, contains the passage "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done". Side stepping the hermeneutics of this, at its most obvious the prayer is wishing for the coming of the "Kingdom" of the Christian god, and how when is that going to be coming again? Well according to folks like the fellow quoted above, right after most of humanity is wiped from the face of the earth. I'm not sure how many people actually make the causal connection between this sentiment and the events of Revelation, but it is certainly there.

This perspective is commonly referred to as Christian triumphalism, and the more I learn and interact with Christians, the more common the sentiment is. It stems, I believe, from having been the hegemony for so long. Christianity is, in Western culture, the default position, and with this comes an inbred sense of entitlement. Amazing then that when one reads articles like the article I discuss here, they have the tremnity to perceive themselves as still being a persecuted minority. A textbook example of what the phrase "having ones cake, and eating it too", the obvious superiority the religion has been written across the pages of western history since 391 CE. Yet today in a culture so deeply beholden to its influence that any attempt at minority groups to attempt to get a fair shake is seen as an erosion, an attack on said religion. Not to be too derogatory, but the idea of a "default position" is something which is so pervasive it is almost rendered invisible; at least to those who share the position. The triumphalism trumpeted from the pages of WND may be the most blatant and obvious sort of example, but the idea runs far deeper, and across a much broader swath of traditions.

Even among many of my family, friends and co-workers, the sentiment is expressed and sustained, despite the fact that few would even consider themselves "religious". Again, when ones only frame of reference is the dominant cultural force that is the "default", everything else becomes "the other", "weird", etc. It doesn't matter how many ludicrous or clearly fantastic hagiographic tales about flying monks abound; that's normal. But some guy saying a prayer to the sun, bizarre. It may seem like I'm getting away, to some degree, from my original purpose in writing this post, but it all ties in. The guy quoted in the first couple of paragraph's, with he raging hard on for the end of days, is as I pointed out, not an aberration; far from it. While many of the more liberal or "open minded" of the Christian tradition would claim otherwise, he is simply the logical end of the sort of ideology which monotheism in a much broader sense, instills in its adherents. To be clear, he isn't advocating genocide; he isn't saying we must kill those who will not be converted. I doubt very much that the man would even have a proclivity towards violence. As an individual he is very likely a moral individual. The issue, the chilling moral callousness of his world view, is something which expressed in a group, can become very dangerous.

The idea of millions of otherwise moral individuals longing for a day when billions will die in the most horrific ways imaginable, calls into question just what it means to be moral in the Western cultural tradition. If the reward for "goodness" is that you get to sit in box seats, and witness the "wicked" cleasned from the earth, what does it say about the kind of morality which underlies a huge percentage of the "religious" in the West. Is it the funniest sort of irony when a group of people, who still percieve themselves in the same light as their historic forebearers, lions and all, now await for their turn to shout, cheer and cry out "well washed!"?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

War on Halloween 2012: News from the Underground

This is sort of becoming an annual feature here on the hilltop, but I do admit that this year I actually had to do some digging to find anything which actually qualified for a "War on Halloween" post. Usually the news feeds are ripe with "Halloween not fun for all" articles, or "Pagan Puff Pieces", but this years crop is either late, or isn't coming. Maybe it owes something to the economic powerhouse that is modern Halloween, but it doesn't seem like many sources are particularly concerned about trying to sensationalize it this year. Of course, with a little effort, one can always turn to the conservative Christian media and find some ripe articles to help with the harvest, so without further ado I give you "10 reasons to fast from Halloween".

Published three days ago by known homophobe Linda Harvey, she extols the typical (and some more topical) perils in letting little Petey and Pauline partake in Halloween partying. I'm not going to link to the actual article; of course the few people who read this blog, and then care enough to follow links would be a drip in an ocean of WND page counts, but directly linking to them makes me ill. A quick google turns up the article in question, if you are so inclined.

1. Halloween's origins are occult and not Christian.

Probably the single most trumpeted argument against good Christian kids dressing up like Iron Man, is that the origins of the (un)holiday are rooted in the practices of those evil, satan worshipping Pagans. Utter tosh, of course, but in a lazy attempt to seem intellectual (like the WND readership cares about such things), there is a piss poor attempt to pronounce Samhain as (sow-een). Because that sounds like Halloween, and thus is the etymological smoking gun to prove the occult roots. Unlike say, some ridiculous notion of "All Hallows Eve" being contracted to form the name. She also seems to acknowledge the fact that the day was an attempt to win over Pagan converts, but is "thin gruel:. After all, what sort of righteous, god fearing Christian would ever celebrate a holiday with Pagan roots or symbolism?

Because picketing a party store would be just plain ridiculous

2. Halloween is a (not so) secret Gay Holiday

Apparently the use of costume and a wee bit of liminality is not at all light hearted fun, but rather an attempt at disobeying the Christian god's divinely ordained plan for you. Children shouldn't be dressing up as Iron Man, because they are not Tony Stark. Doing so is an affront to their god, and furthers the homosexual agenda of cross dressing or something. Don't make believe, live in the real world where little Petey dressing up as Iron Man is inviting demonic possession.

3/4. Halloween is a "Gimmie" recruitment tool for satan.

Apparently the idea of having 10 individual reasons was too difficult for Harvey, so 3 continues into 4, and neither makes any sense without the other. All that blood and gore being presented to impressionable children will terrify them, maybe scar them for life? Apparently this allows satan to depress young Christians into giving up their faith? I can understand though, Christian children shouldn't be fearing Iron Man, they should be fearing their parents god and the fire and brimstone that awaits them if they fail to be righteous.

The kind of terrifying images Christian children ought to be exposed to

5/6. Hasbro wants your child's soul/ Divination is a tool of diablo

Remember all those Halloween parties you went to when you were young, and people couldn't wait to break out the ol' Ouija board and consort with the devil? Apparently Harvey remembers, and she sure turned into a devil worshipper, didn't she? This is one of those ideas which continues to perpetuate itself because Halloween parties were so lame in the 1970's that the highlight of the party was playing board games. Reason 6 is again wholly incomplete without the warnings laid out in 5, so again we get a half assed segway into the dangers of divination. Palm reading, again a mainstay of any good Halloween party, will lead to bad places and the like.

7. Hedonism!

America is obsessed with partying and what happens at parties? Booze, Drugs and Sex is what happens! Sure little Petey is dressing up like Iron Man now, but letting him attend social gatherings will condition him to be unable to say no to going to parties when he goes off to college. Soon he'll be snorting blow off a co-ed's ass, while thinking about how much he'd like to bang her roommate, Steve. All this because his Christian parents let him go to a Halloween party that one time when he was 8. Also female costumes come in two varieties, awful and slut. I actually don't have a flippant comment about this one, because its true. Not that I am terribly fond of slut shaming, or think it an ethical approach to sexual expression, but there is a disconcerting trend in Halloween costumes, in which the female versions are terrible versions of the male ones, or "sexy". One could try and make the argument that the market is speaking, and sexy costumes are what sells, but the inverse is true as well; if all that is available is sexy or awful, the idea of choice is cursory at best.

8. Halloween is empty of the Christian god's presence

All this trick-or-treating and dressing up is taking away from what Christians ought to be doing, shouting from the hill tops the greatness of their lord and saviour. Where is the religious nature of Halloween; where are the "Halloween carols"? Sure those weirdo Catholicks and their Roman Popary have that whole "All Saints/All souls day", but they aren't really, Bible believing Christians, so it doesn't count.

Nothing remotely Christian here
9.Deny your kids today, avoid damnation tomorrow

This amounts to not giving into pressure from your kids to let them partake in the devils holiday, and by doing so helping them avoid such evil and unholy of festivities.

"But Mom, Pauline's dad let him offer up burnt offerings to Baal..."
10. Halloween is an affront to the Christian god

This is really more of a conclusion than a separate reason; and really 8, 9 and 10 all flow into one another, but Harvey needed to come up with a good, Christian number like 10. So what if she actually only managed to come up with 6, it's the thought that counts. Though she fails to explain precisely why this is in fact the case, other than the assertion in 8 and 9 that her deity doesn't endorse Halloween because, well she says so. In fact, she makes the assertion that Halloween actually dishonours her god. After all, those upside down crosses and burning Jesus effigies found on every porch the night of October 31st, really lets those no account Christians know where they stand. The targeting of Churches for pranks and defilement every year, really brings home just how the day is an excuse to further persecute the down trodden Christians.

The bottom line is that Halloween will make your children hate Jesus, shun their Christian upbringing, turn them onto drugs, booze, illicit sex and probably turn them homosexual too boot.

Linda Harvey protecting the impressionable youth of America
Other than the "secret gay agenda" angle, which seems to be a hallmark of everything Harvey disagrees with, this article is pretty tame. Since it was published exclusively for WND, it amounts to little more than preaching to the choir. Perhaps there is an underlying aspect of moral weakness which the author fears is creeping into her religious community, and so this is a bulwark against those conservative Christians who do not think that their kid dressing up as Iron Man will lead to moral depravity and demonic possession. Really, this article reads like something written by Junie Harper. When a writer (and I use the term loosely) sounds less like a journalist, and more like a cartoon character, perhaps its time to get out of the game... or you know double down and prove once again the veracity of Poe's Law.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

In my own backyard

So the Wild Hunt published an article yesterday which talked about the decision of Minister Vic Towes to cut all part-time paid chaplaincy positions for inmates; leaving full time chaplaincy duties to be performed by Christian (and one Muslim) chaplain. The reasoning behind the measure, has of course been lauded as "cost cutting", but $1.3 million dollars is a paltry sum compared to what the government spends on other endeavours. I haven't mentioned Canadian politics here all that often, but this is something which does bear witnessing, because there really is something else at work here.

The Conservative party, for those not in the know about federal politics north of the 49th parallel, is aptly named; they are the more right leaning federal party. They are currently enjoying their first majority government in almost 20 years, after having bucked the historic trend of the Conservative party forming a minority government, only to be dissolved and then defeated by the Liberal party. Canadian politics is, though, a significantly different beast than those in the US; and political longevity is found in the centre. As such, the Conservatives are not all that conservative in their policies; they do, however, have rather aggressive right wing Members of Parliament and of course there is their base to think about. Their recent string of electoral wins is a combination of staying in the centre, a succession of ineffective opposition leaders (especially in the now third place Liberal party, which historically could be considered the "government party"), and disaffection with the legacy of that party. The base for the Conservatives has generally been in the western provinces, which would also be the closest thing to a "bible-belt" in Canada, and yet the party has not really done anything to pander to the religious right component of their base.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly resisted requests form his own party to reopen the issues of same-sex marriage, and more recently abortion. There was some dust up over including gay rights in an information booklet given to new comers to Canada, with it finally being added just prior to the 2011 election. The government has invested funds into an "Office of Religious Freedom", whose purpose is to aid in the expansion of the rights of religious minorities in foreign nations. A noble undertaking, to be sure, but again of the kind with the faint smell of something fishy lingering about it.

The Conservatives are not stupid, and realize that not giving something to a significnt part of their base could lead to disaffection and fragmentation (because this happened less than 20 years ago). The conservative Christians need some kind of bone thrown their way to reward their loyalty and support; and since Harper is too politically wily to believe his party would survive a repeal of same sex marriage, or the reopening of the abortion issue, something else needs to be done.

Well, there is that "Office of Religious Freedom" I mentioned eariler. Which countires, and which religions need protection? Christians of course, and since the RR base are the same sorts who decry the international persecution of Christians, seems like a good choice. The Conservatives get to aid in the spread of the Canadian ideal of religious freedom, which appeals to centrist voters; and get to help out persecuted Christian communities in other countires, which appeals to that segment of their base. Is the same office going to be doing anything to say, fight the growing tide of "witch-killings" in many African countires, or the supression of practicioners of Falung-gong in China? It remains to be seen. I hope very much that this is not going to be another platform for spreading the "good news" of Christianity, but I have my doubts.

The other thrown bone is the issue mentioned above, the firing of all part-time prison chaplains who were employed by Corrections Canada. The door is still open for volunteer chaplains providing the services to inmates, but I'm certainly not the only person who feels this smacks of favouritism. Essentially this means that chaplaincy services for all religions (except that one Muslim cleric, and of course First Nations) are going to be served by Christians. I understand that chaplains are required, regardless of their individual religion, to serve the needs of any religious group; but the efficacy of a Presbyterian minister knowing and understanding the needs of an Asatruar, is going to be difficult. But again this goes back into the idea of a two message policy. On the one hand it appeals to their image of fiscal belt tightening, which will appeal to those precious centrist votes. On the other hand it attacks the "PC excesses" of a multifaith system, and effectively provides a solely Christian chaplaincy. It may not be overt endorsment of a given religious persuasion, but it certainly is tacit support, and that segment of the base will understand it as such.

Afterall, few people are going to kick up much of a fuss over the charter rights of convicts. Oh sure the NDP and LIberals are already speaking out against the move, but that is to be expected from opposition parties. This is a disappointing move, but not terribly unexpected. The best hope is a charter challenge in the courts, or a lot of negative press attention given to the issue.

I hope that this issue is resolved fairly, and that my (and others) misgivings are wrong in regards to the "Office of Religious Freedom". But all this remains to be seen. Again, I'm hopefut but at the same time I'm not really expecting my misgivings to be misplaced. The base needs their bones, and right now no one but them are really paying any attention.