The heresy test

heresy test

Once upon a time, when the Internet was young – approximately 1996 – I had a funny little website which drew no traffic at all. (Almost like today!) It was mostly a nice way for me to practice writing HTML. I posted jokes, and had a family-history section.

I also had a nice heresy test.

It was very simple: five questions, multiple-choice. You were expected to answer from the dogmatically established Roman Catholic point of view. Otherwise, the test threw you out. You were a heretic and bound to burn in hell unless you renounced your heretical beliefs.

Here’s a sample question:



The Blessed Virgin Mary was the mother of Jesus. Jesus was, of course, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, which means he was God. If you follow this line of thinking, you will probably realize that this makes Mary (a human being) the mother of God (who is eternal).



How can a mother be younger than her own son?



A: Oh, to hell with logic. Mary is the Mother of God. Period. End of story.


B: Mary was the mother of the human part of Jesus. She’s not the mother of God; that wouldn’t be logical.


C: Mary is the mother of Jesus in some sense of the word, but not in every sense of the word. We shouldn’t try to define these things too precisely.

The correct answer is A. This was established (with some strife) at two Church councils: the “robber’s council” of Ephesus in 449, which claimed B to be correct, and the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (only two years later!) which reversed Ephesus and laid the Church’s path to the present day.

Did you get the question right?

I didn’t think so.

Burn in hell, heretic.

Love your enemies

love your enemies

When my mother was undergoing cancer treatment in the 1990s, she went through all kinds of interesting states of mind, way beyond Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s measly five.  Elisabeth would have been astounded.



One of the most unexpected was the “I’m gonna tell you what I think of you before it’s too late” phase. We discovered that Mom was calling up people from her past and telling them all the things she’d been holding back for decades: how they’d disappointed or betrayed her, how they weren’t good enough for their wives/husbands, how they’d made bad decisions. (Myself, I was surprised that Mom had ever held anything back – she could be a real loudmouth when she was wanted to be – but apparently she’d kept a lot of opinions back after all.)



I am my mother’s son. I am full of grudges and unsettled scores. I am terribly self-righteous, just as she was. I only hope that, as the cancer treatment weakens me, I don’t succumb to Mom’s let-‘em-have-it mentality



This is why I was bemused by something that showed up on my Facebook wall a while back: a serious discussion of why you shouldn’t have enemies. To wit:



  • Enemies take up a lot of your valuable time – whether you’re actually taking revenge, or just thinking about it. (This is true, and I hate the idea of wasting time, especially at this point in my life.)
  • Your enemies probably aren’t worth hating as much as you think they are. (Maybe. Some of mine are pretty loathsome.)
  • Most of the world’s religions tell us to be kind to our enemies.



This last one needs some scrutiny. Certainly Jesus tells us to love our enemies. But the God of the Old Testament certainly didn’t mess around with anyone who got in his way. And many modern Christians seem to act as if they loathe whole squadrons of people.



So what’s an unbeliever to do?



Well, I normally don’t like Saint Paul, but in Romans 12:20 he comes up with the perfect reason to do good to your enemies:



Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.



See? You can make your enemy ashamed of himself by being nice to him. And then, if he doesn’t make friends with you, he presumably goes to hell.



Doesn’t that make you feel better?



It does me a world of good.


The American Christian politician

Todd Akin, last week, made his concession speech in the name of God. I think his point was that God is allowing America to become more and more sinful, so that he (God, not Todd Akin) can destroy it with impunity, a la Sodom and Gomorrah.

I picked up a local Christian newspaper last week, just to catch up on the Good News Today. I used to enjoy these papers: they have cute features, like Bible riddles (Who’s the shortest man in the Old Testament? Bildad the Shuhite!) and little homilies about grace and forgiveness.

But this little newspaper was full of vitriol. Mostly it was about abortion and gay marriage. These are the two worst things happening in the United States, in case you’re wondering.

Do you remember Jesus, in the New Testament, doing anything or saying anything about either of these issues? He did not. He fed people, and healed people. But apparently health care and world hunger are not important issues for modern fundamentalists.

I am so sorry that, for so many modern Christians, “social issues” consist of abortion and gay marriage. Why don’t they address health care, and hunger, and housing, and poverty? Their Saviour addressed all those things.

I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God. But Jesus the man, as depicted in the Gospels, had a lot of good ideas.

Such as: Don’t worry so much about how sinful your neighbor is.

Just make sure he’s fed and housed and warm.

Let the rest take care of itself.

The angry Jesus


Last year at this time, I did all kinds of Easter-themed blogs.  This year, not so much.  I used to try to feel Christian; then I felt sort of post-Christian; now, I don’t really think about it much.



But I think the mood of the nation is going in the opposite direction.



I was asked approximately 17 times this year what I was doing for Easter.  Each time I answered, steadily, that Partner and I weren’t doing anything, that we had no plans, we didn’t really observe the holiday.  No one seemed to believe this.  It’s Easter!  He is risen!  You have to do something!  At least have a ham dinner!




Meh.  (Actually, we did have ham for dinner. But it was nothing out of the ordinary, although it was very good.)



Anyway: last week I saw this article about the differences between the ways Korean Christians and American Christians think about Jesus.



Americans, for whatever reason, think of Jesus as the ultimate positive guidance counselor.  They associate him with “love” and “amazement.”



Korean Christians, on the other hand, associate him with words like “pain” and “suffering.”



Cultural?  Perhaps.  Probably.



But wow.



Now, all you Americans, think about it for a moment.  Jesus (as depicted in the Gospels) is never seen to smile or laugh.  He is, on the contrary, as serious as a heart attack.  He is not depicted in the Gospels as an adorable guy. He did not resemble your football coach, or your pastor, or your favorite movie star.  He was skinny and Semitic and crochety.  He called his own mother “woman”! 



And a happy Easter Week to all of you.



(I’ll take Ganesha any day.  He’s usually cheerful, and he is easily placated with sweets.)



A fine secular Christmas


Neither Partner nor I practices any particular religion.  I spent a couple of years in the mid-2000s trying to recapture my Catholicism, but found it ultimately futile.  Partner and I talk about Buddhism a lot, but I am uneasily aware that Buddhism is easier to talk about than practice.  (For those of you who use “Zen” as an adjective, I recommend a wonderful and very acerbic book called “What Makes You Not A Buddhist,” by a wonderful Bhutanese lama / film director / author (!) named Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.)



So how did Partner and I, both filthy heathens, spend this Christmas season?



Let’s see:



        We saw “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” on Christmas Eve.

        We exchanged gifts.  Partner gave me a lovely sweater and two lovely shirts.  I like pretty colors, but am often confused by the bright lights in the department stores; Partner corrects my fashion sense, and I invariably get compliments when I wear the things he’s bought for me (so long as I wear them in the combinations he very carefully specifies).  I gave him, among other things, a mounted 1957 one-dollar Silver Certificate.  (I was born in 1957, before the Space Age, so it was a little symbolic.)

        Next morning, we sleepily wished each other a Merry Christmas.

        After some discussion, we went to the closest casino, Twin River, in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

        We left at 1:00 pm with considerably more money than we arrived with.  Merry Christmas!

        We went to a Chinese restaurant and ordered everything on the menu. 

        We ate until we were sick.

        We took our leftovers and went home and napped a bit.

        In the evening, I baked cookies.



This is the perfect secular Xmas, as far as I’m concerned.  And here’s why:




        We both spent it with someone we loved.




And that’s all it takes.



Happy holidays, kids.



Rick Perry: Call him! Call him louder!


You know I am seldom political – here, in this blog, anyway. I would hate to alienate anyone, especially you, my dear reader, whom I have wooed so carefully with my natural sweetness and Mark Twainish common sense. And if you are a dirty conservative, well, I forgive you, and will look the other way discreetly while you see the error of your ways.



I will also forgive you for your error if you are religious. In my lifetime I have tried very hard to be religious, in several ways (both Protestant and Catholic). I have failed. It’s just too difficult to believe in ridiculous things; I don’t care to expend the energy anymore. As I’ve said elsewhere: if Christianity were more colorful and entertaining (like Hinduism, for example), I’d be tempted, just for the sake of aesthetics, to suspend my disbelief and jump into the worship business. But the Christian god is not a million laughs: he is sometimes well-meaning, but he is often an unholy bore and a prig, and he serves (sadly enough) as a ventriloquist’s dummy for every bigot and charlatan who comes along. The bigots and charlatans all look into their hearts, and pray, and what do you know? God always agrees with them! No matter what! No wonder they love their prayer breakfasts. God always confirms their prejudices! What do you think about that?



Anyway: sorry. I’m ranting, aren’t I?



I have been bemused lately by the snake-oil-salesman posturing of new Presidential candidate Rick Perry. He says outrageous things for the sake of outrageousness; he seems to think he’s still running for governor of Texas, where you can say things like “Let’s secede from the union!”, or “Ben Bernanke is a traitor!” (Ben Bernanke! Of the dark eyes and kissably soft beard!), and get away with it. See, Rick, the cautious use of words is often considered an asset in a president.



Also: this is the Rick Perry who has held two big prayer vigils since the first of the year. One was to end the Texas drought. The other was to remedy the current fiscal crisis.



Neither one worked.  



Can we find some Biblical precedent for this?  Oh, most certainly we can.  I got lots of gold stars for memorizing Bible verses, back in the nineteenth century.



From the First Book of Kings, chapter 18 (King James version):



  • 26  And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Ba’al from morning even until noon, saying, O Ba’al, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.

  • 27  And it came to pass at noon, that Eli’jah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

  • 28  And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

  • 29  And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the eveningsacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.




For those of you who didn’t grow up with the KJV: in this passage, Elijah has called upon Jehovah to punish Israel with a drought. The priests of Ba’al try to pray it away. Nothing happens. Elijah mocks them, since – obviously – if their god were real, their prayers would be effective.



Get it?



Get it?



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