Why the apocalypse is in America’s DNA

FeatureStefany Anne Golberg writes: Harold Camping expected a spectacular death. He thought he would see horses and towering flames. Instead Harold Camping fell down at home last month at the age of 92 and never got up again.

Judgment Day is upon us, the radio evangelist proclaimed a few years ago, setting May 21, 2011 as the date. All across America, billboards became Camping advertisements for Apocalypse. “Cry mightily unto GOD for HIS Mercy” was one suggestion, “Joy to the World” claimed another. All across the nation, there were Americans who laughed, and those who readied themselves. Camping’s believers stopped paying their credit cards, quit their jobs, said farewell to friends. Some spent their life’s savings in preparation for the End — some spent it on the Rapture campaign itself.

When Judgment Day did not come, Camping tried to assuage believers. “Please forgive me, America!” a new billboard read. “I was terribly wrong about … May 21, 2011. There is forgiveness in those who trust in Jesus Christ.” Then he said that he had gotten the timing wrong and that the End would, in fact, happen in October. But October passed the same as ever and then Harold Camping had a stroke. By that time, accounts of thousands who had mistakenly given up their Earthly existence came pouring through the news. “Yet though we were wrong,” wrote Camping in a letter to his Family Radio Family, “God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way.” Look at the millions and billions of people who heard the message of Christ’s imminent return, Harold Camping wrote. And he would still come, Camping assured us.

Reporters and Average Joes expressed outrage at Camping’s Rapture campaign. Camping’s followers were treated in the media as ridiculous and occasionally as tragic, Camping as a fraud and a heretic. The whole thing is an anomaly, the American media told the world, America is not like this.

But America is like this, and it always has been. [Continue reading...]

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Arkansas GOP candidate, endorses death penalty for rebellious children

The Huffington Post reports: Charlie Fuqua, the Republican candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives who called for expelling Muslims from the United States in his book, also wrote in support for instituting the death penalty for “rebellious children.”

In God’s Law, Fuqua’s 2012 book, the candidate wrote that while parents love their children, a process could be set up to allow for the institution of the death penalty for “rebellious children,” according to the Arkansas Times. Fuqua, who is anti-abortion, points out that the course of action involved in sentencing a child to death is described in the Bible and would involve judicial approval. While it is unlikely that many parents would seek to have their children killed by the government, Fuqua wrote, such power would serve as a way to stop rebellious children.

Here’s the passage in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 that calls for child killing:

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

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‘Jesus wife’ research leads to suspicions that artifact is a fake

Huffington Post reports: Facing mounting doubts over the legitimacy of a business card-sized Coptic papyrus fragment that appears to quote Jesus Christ discussing his wife, the Harvard professor who acquired the artifact said Wednesday that she stands behind her findings, but is “open to questions about authenticity.”

Karen L. King, the Harvard Divinity School professor whose announcement at a Coptic studies conference in Rome last week about a 1½-by-3-inch fragment inspired “Jesus’ Wife” headlines worldwide, said the badly damaged artifact has been sent for testing. She said the tests should determine if it is from the fourth century as originally proposed, or if parts of it are a modern forgery, as an increasing number of scholars of Coptology and papyrology have suggested.

The fragment, which has eight mostly legible dark lines on the front side and six barely legible faded lines on the back, was never meant to prove Jesus was married, King said, since its writing dates back to hundreds of years after his death. It was intended to highlight that some early Christians may have believed he was married. That would be significant because debates over sexuality and marriage have dominated contemporary discussions about Christianity; the Catholic Church cites Jesus’ celibacy as one reason its priests must not have sex or marry. [Continue reading...]

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The wife of Jesus: New discovery challenges fundamental Christian belief

Ariel Sabar interviews Harvard researcher Karen King who talks about the discovery of an ancient papyrus fragment with the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’”

The fragment was a shade smaller than an ATM card, honey-hued and densely inked on both sides with faded black script. The writing, King told me, was in the ancient Egyptian language of Coptic, into which many early Christian texts were translated in the third and fourth centuries, when Alexandria vied with Rome as an incubator of Christian thought.

When she lifted the papyrus to her office’s arched window, sunlight seeped through in places where the reeds had worn thin. “It’s in pretty good shape,” she said. “I’m not going to look this good after 1,600 years.”

But neither the language nor the papyrus’ apparent age was particularly remarkable. What had captivated King when a private collector first e-mailed her images of the papyrus was a phrase at its center in which Jesus says “my wife.”

The fragment’s 33 words, scattered across 14 incomplete lines, leave a good deal to interpretation. But in King’s analysis, and as she argues in a forthcoming article in the Harvard Theological Review, the “wife” Jesus refers to is probably Mary Magdalene, and Jesus appears to be defending her against someone, perhaps one of the male disciples.

“She will be able to be my disciple,” Jesus replies. Then, two lines later, he says: “I dwell with her.”

The papyrus was a stunner: the first and only known text from antiquity to depict a married Jesus.

But Dan Brown fans, be warned: King makes no claim for its usefulness as biography. The text was probably composed in Greek a century or so after Jesus’ crucifixion, then copied into Coptic some two centuries later. As evidence that the real-life Jesus was married, the fragment is scarcely more dispositive than Brown’s controversial 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.

What it does seem to reveal is more subtle and complex: that some group of early Christians drew spiritual strength from portraying the man whose teachings they followed as having a wife. And not just any wife, but possibly Mary Magdalene, the most-mentioned woman in the New Testament besides Jesus’ mother.

The question the discovery raises, King told me, is, “Why is it that only the literature that said he was celibate survived? And all of the texts that showed he had an intimate relationship with Magdalene or is married didn’t survive? Is that 100 percent happenstance? Or is it because of the fact that celibacy becomes the ideal for Christianity?”

How this small fragment figures into longstanding Christian debates about marriage and sexuality is likely to be a subject of intense debate. Because chemical tests of its ink have not yet been run, the papyrus is also apt to be challenged on the basis of authenticity; King herself emphasizes that her theories about the text’s significance are based on the assumption that the fragment is genuine, a question that has by no means been definitively settled. That her article’s publication will be seen at least in part as a provocation is clear from the title King has given the text: “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.” [Continue reading...]

If references to Jesus’s marriage were removed from the gospels, this may have less to do with the promotion of celibacy as a Christian ideal than with the need to buttress claims about Jesus’s divinity. After all, if he had a wife then he almost certainly had children and not just a mother but also a father — a human father.

And with that blasphemous thought perhaps it’s worth remembering that those who feel their faith is being challenged can have extreme reactions — whatever their faith. Remember The Last Temptation of Christ?

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How Christian fundamentalists plan to teach genocide to schoolchildren

Katherine Stewart writes: The Bible has thousands of passages that may serve as the basis for instruction and inspiration. Not all of them are appropriate in all circumstances.

The story of Saul and the Amalekites is a case in point. It’s not a pretty story, and it is often used by people who don’t intend to do pretty things. In the book of 1 Samuel (15:3), God said to Saul:

“Now go, attack the Amalekites, and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

Saul dutifully exterminated the women, the children, the babies and all of the men – but then he spared the king. He also saved some of the tastier looking calves and lambs. God was furious with him for his failure to finish the job.

The story of the Amalekites has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages. According to Pennsylvania State University Professor Philip Jenkins, a contributing editor for the American Conservative, the Puritans used this passage when they wanted to get rid of the Native American tribes. Catholics used it against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics. “In Rwanda in 1994, Hutu preachers invoked King Saul’s memory to justify the total slaughter of their Tutsi neighbors,” writes Jenkins in his 2011 book, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperCollins).

This fall, more than 100,000 American public school children, ranging in age from four to 12, are scheduled to receive instruction in the lessons of Saul and the Amalekites in the comfort of their own public school classrooms. [Continue reading...]

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NEWS: Fighting for freedom from religion

Are U.S. troops being force-fed Christianity?

At Speicher base in Iraq, US Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.

Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.

On Sept. 17, the soldier and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed suit against Army Maj. Freddy Welborn and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, charging violations of Hall’s constitutional rights, including being forced to submit to a religious test to qualify as a soldier. [complete article]

See also, Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

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NEWS: Staying on the straight and narrow — really narrow

McCain: No Muslim president, U.S. better with Christian one

GOP presidential candidate John McCain says America is better off with a Christian President and he doesn’t want a Muslim in the Oval Office.

“I admire the Islam. There’s a lot of good principles in it,” he said. “But I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith.” [complete article]

“Amen” for Israel, say Christian Zionists

7,000 mostly evangelical Christians from across the world flocked to the Holy Land this week to celebrate the Jewish festival of Sukkoth and to show support for Israel.
[...]
Not all Christians back Israel. The Vatican’s envoy in the Holy Land and bishops from three other churches last year accused the Christian Zionist movement of promoting “racial exclusivity and perpetual war.”

While pilgrims in Israel this week were keen to visit Jewish towns and settlements, few appeared to venture into Palestinian towns, or meet many Arabs during their stay.

“We dare not go into the Palestinian areas and anyway they are not open to us,” said Elizabeth Lee, a Pentecostal Christian from Malaysia who has been to Israel 40 times.

Many pilgrims saw the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians as an extension of U.S. President George W. Bush’s “War on terror,” and talked about a clash between good and evil.

Mark Burns is an ardent Israel supporter who runs Christian radio stations in Illinois and brings groups every year to the Holy Land to donate blood and money.

“Christians who read the Hebrew scriptures know God made a promise with Israel,” he said. “People who are clueless about the Old Testament can be persuaded to support the other side.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — And there I was thinking this web site might help a few folks understand the Middle East better when I should have been studying the Old Testament. Dang!

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INTERVIEW: James Carroll interviewed by Tom Engelhardt

American fundamentalisms

He’s a man who knows something about the dangers of mixing religious fervor, war, and the crusading spirit, a subject he dealt with eloquently in his book Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. A former Catholic priest turned antiwar activist in the Vietnam era, James Carroll also wrote a moving memoir about his relationship to his father, the founding director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. Carroll essentially grew up in that five-sided monument to American imperial power. For him, as a boy, the Pentagon was “the largest playhouse in the world” and he can still remember sliding down its ramps in his stocking feet, as he’s written in the introduction to his recent, magisterial history of that building and the institution it holds, House of War.

As a weekly columnist for the Boston Globe, he was perhaps the first media figure to notice — and warn against — a presidential “slip of the tongue” just after the assaults of 9/11, when George W. Bush referred briefly to his new Global War on Terror as a “crusade.” He was possibly the first mainstream columnist in the country to warn against the consequences of launching a war against Afghanistan in response to those attacks — now just another of the President’s missions unaccomplished; and, in September 2003, he was possibly the first to pronounce the Iraq War “lost” in print. (“The war in Iraq is lost. What will it take to face that truth this time?”) His stirring columns on the early years of our President’s attempt to bring “freedom” to the world at the point of a cruise missile were collected in Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War. In those years, Carroll was a powerful, moral voice from — to use a very American phrase — the (media) wilderness until much of our American world finally caught up with him. [complete article]

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