More reasons why I am not a Christian

religion and morality

I am no longer a practicing Christian, but I have some respect for the founder of the religion; he said some very profound things about how to treat other people, and how to think about our lives on earth.

Which is why I am so charmed by this comment, made by Stephen Colbert:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Like most people, I love the idea of altruism. Sometimes I’m actually altruistic myself. I spent three and a half years of my life as a Peace Corps volunteer, which I suppose counts for something, but I have to admit it wasn’t exactly like spending time in prison; I had some pretty entertaining times in Morocco and Tunisia, and quite a few laughs.

Sometimes I try to help the needy. I contribute what I can, when I can. A British friend in Morocco gave me advice on how to deal with the armies of beggars there: “Choose one whom you see every day. Give him or her some money on a regular basis. You will have done your duty.” I still remember this. There’s one homeless woman in downtown Providence who sings and preaches on the street corner, and who always smiles when she sees me and says “God bless you.” I give her money when I have a bit extra.

But I’m also very selfish. I think of my own needs before those of others.

I am very far from being Christlike.

Which is why I shudder with revulsion when I watch and listen to the soldiers of the Christian Right – people like the repugnant Pat Robertson – spout all kinds of hate and nonsense.

They claim Christ as their lord and savior, and then they act as if the New Testament and all of the things Jesus said and did were irrelevant.

They have created a religion in their own image.

They can have it.

As Ringo Starr said to the followers of Kahili in the movie “Help!”: “Get sacrificed! I don’t subscribe to your religion!”

The Hobbit


Are we looking forward to Peter Jackson’s filmization of “The Hobbit”? Yes, of course we are.

I was born into the Lord of the Rings Generation. When I was in the seventh grade I bought “The Two Towers,” not knowing that it was the second book in the trilogy, and not understanding how trilogies worked in any case.  Naturally I didn’t understand a bit of the plot, but I struggled through it anyway. Then one of my teachers, Mister Lorenz, bless him, noticed what was going on, and offered to lend me his copies of “Fellowship of the Ring” and “Return of the King,” so long as I didn’t damage them.

I was an immediate convert to Tolkienism.

A summer or two later – around 1970, anyway – I wrote to Ballantine Books, and sent them my $2.00, and received in return a copy of “The Hobbit,” which was described on the cover as “the enchanting prelude to ‘The Lord of the Rings.’”

I devoured it in a couple of days.

Have you ever noticed that “Hobbit” is exactly the same story as “Lord of the Rings”? A hobbit (Bilbo / Frodo) is enticed by Gandalf to leave the Shire with a group of oddball travelers. They encounter problems on the way (trolls, Nazgul, whatever). They get to Rivendell and have a chitchat with Elrond. They cross the Misty Mountains, but not without difficulties (Bilbo with Gollum and the goblins, Frodo in Moria). They pop out the other side and have a little rest (Bilbo and the dwarves with Beorn, Frodo and his companions in Lorien). They cross the river, and get into trouble, and get separated. There are spiders. There’s an ominous mountain. There’s a treasure that needs to be thrown away or given away (the Arkenstone / the Ring). There’s a big climactic battle. “The eagles are coming! The eagles are coming!” A few key people are killed in each battle (Thorin in “Hobbit,” Theoden in “Rings”).

And then the hobbit goes home to the Shire.

I’m delighted that Jackson is bringing back some key people: Ian McKellen, the perfect Gandalf, and Hugo Weaving, a grave (if intense) Elrond. (Please note that I love the Elrond that Tolkien gives us in the books; he’s thousands of years old, but he’s also very nice. Hugo Weaving looks irritated all the time, or maybe constipated, which is maybe more likely for someone who’s half-human and thousands of years old.)

Martin Freeman, like Ian Holm and Elijah Wood, is a perfect hobbit; like them, he’s a little unearthly-looking.

I hope the movie isn’t too CGI-reliant. “Hobbit” is a children’s book, but this had better not be a children’s movie.

And I don’t know if this is true, but I hear that Stephen Colbert is in the movie, as an elf. (He’s spoken Elvish on his show more than once, so he’s got the right background.)

We will see.

Here’s hoping for the best.

Teaching children to belittle gay people


John Jackson, the president of Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island (which describes itself on its website as a “Catholic, all male, college preparatory high school”) wrote a letter to the editors of the Providence Journal the other day.

The letter contains no real surprises. Jackson (in line with his church) condemns gay marriage, and says that President Obama is assisting in the continuing moral decay of our great country by countenancing gay marriage. He calls gay activity “disordered and immoral.” He resorts to the old “hate the sin, not the sinner” ploy: same-sex love is okay, but gay sexual activity is not, since it doesn’t lead to procreation.  He ends the letter with this grave pronouncement: “As the song goes, ‘God is watching us,’ and I can assure you he is not happy.”



(How does he know this? I wonder. How do these bejeezly idiots always know for sure what God is thinking?)






Well, this Church flunky is getting his face rubbed in it. Parents and alumni of Hendricken are slamming him in print and on Facebook. The point made most often is that his letter comes pretty close to hate speech, and that he is helping to create a negative atmosphere for gay students at Hendricken. (Assuming, of course, there are some. Gosh! Do you think that’s possible?)



Jackson, on Saturday, apologized for the tone of his letter. Not for his message, mind you, but for his tone.



The Church still doesn’t understand a thing. They don’t realize that “Catholic priest” has become a virtual synonym for “pedophile” in the public mind, and that Catholic prelates, as portrayed in movies and TV these days, are shown in the same way that Nazi officers were portrayed back in my childhood: stupid, pompous, mindlessly bureaucratic, and cruel.



Jackson thought (I assume) that he was helping reaffirm morality and good behavior. He did nothing of the sort. He showed himself to be a bigot. And I tell you, if there are any incidents of anti-gay bullying on the Hendricken campus this year, we will hear about them, and little Mister Jackson will be roasted properly. (He will probably be protected by his Catholic-prelate bosses, up to a point. But he’s a layman, so they’ll probably toss him out on his ear if it goes too far.)



(This is a link, by the way, to the song he referred to above, with the lyric “God is watching us.” It’s a beautiful lyrical song, sung by Bette Midler, about how local and sectarian differences break down when viewed from far away, and that God looks down from Heaven and loves us all. Funny how Jackson got a different message from it.)



Finally: let’s remember (as Stephen Colbert reminded us recently) that the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament said not word one about homosexuality.



The Jesus of the New Testament did, however, say the following:


Mark 10:14 Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Mt 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 

Mt 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 

Mt 18:14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

Mr 9:42 And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. 

Lu 17:2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 



Now let us think about the Church’s record on pedophilia, and the way in which they continue to protect pedophile priests, and the way they treated young girls in Ireland. Let’s add to the list the fact that John Jackson, President of Bishop Hendricken High School, is telling his students – children! – that gay people are “disordered and immoral,” thus encouraging a hostile environment for gay students at his school.



He is teaching children to hate other children.



Better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck.

Signs of hope




I was delighted back in September to hear that Jon Stewart was setting up his own rally à la Glenn Beck. I was in a doctor’s waiting room and the TV was blaring out the usual nonsense, and I overheard the news item, and I turned my head in time to see a clip of Stewart holding up a sign: I DISAGREE WITH YOU, BUT I DON’T THINK YOU’RE HITLER.


I was sold on the event right there and then.


Later I became worried. The pundits all predicted that Stewart had jumped the shark, he was going to be humiliated, he’d gone too far –


Gosh. Everything turned out okay. Even the pundits (most of them) thought so.


Stewart and Colbert are smart. Blazingly, blazingly smart. Far smarter than any of us (even me) give them credit for. Do you agree, Tucker Carlson?


At any rate, I shouldn’t have worried.


I love everything I’ve seen and heard of this rally. I love the signs, and the acts (Yusuf Islam / Cat Stevens duetting with Ozzy Osbourne!), and the jokes (Colbert ranting about Muslims, and then realizing that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a Muslim!).


And the signs!


The one I’ve used as an illustration here is my very favorite. It’s rich. It’s a deliriously funny play on – what? The (many) misspellings seen on the Tea Party signs. The use of the Bible to justify everything. The use of Jesus to justify everything.


And it hits at a real problem that I’ve always had with the New Testament.


What in the hell was so terrible about that particular fig tree?




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