Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why I Don't Celebrate Christmas

"Christmas" is not the December shopping season in advance of Christmas Day ... During most of December, Christians observe Advent, a four-week season of reflection, preparation and waiting that precedes the yearly celebration of Jesus' birth ... If you wander into a local Lutheran, Episcopal or Roman Catholic parish ... There are no poinsettias, no Christmas pageants, no trees or holly, and no red and green altar linens ... There are no twinkling lights or over-the-top Christmas displays. Just four candles in a simple wreath, two partially burned, two yet to be lit. The mood is somber ... It is Advent. During these weeks, churches are not merry ... The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing ... -- from Fox News' War on Advent by Diana Butler Bass. Author, "Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening"

Reading this article about Advent, I realize how my Vedanta, Lutheran and Quaker religious education leaves me appalled at the way the 2012 edition of “Christmas” is being celebrated as basically a product marketing holiday.

The conspicuous consumption starts on the oddly named Black Friday, one day after the American Bacchanalia euphemistically known as Thanksgiving. Rampant consumerism continues through Dec. 24 with people frantically buying everything from Mortal Combat video games to Mercedes Benz motor cars as “Christmas gifts” to celebrate the birth of "The Prince of Peace."

So I think from now on instead of saying I’m being a Scrooge or Grinch about Christmas, I’ll just say I’m making a conscious choice not to participate in the December marketing holiday and I don’t care if they call it Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Saturnalia.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My 100% Score on Pew Religious Knowledge Survey

You answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly
for a score of 100%.

QuestionYour ResponseCorrect Answer% of survey respondents answering correctly
1. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?correct Answer Moses Moses72%
2. What was Mother Teresa's religion?correct Answer CatholicCatholic82
3. Which of the following is NOT one of the Ten Commandments?correct Answer Do unto others as you would have them do unto you Do unto others as you would have them do unto you55
4. When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?correct Answer FridayFriday45
5. Is Ramadan…?correct AnswerThe Islamic holy month The Islamic holy month52
6. Which of the following best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion?correct Answer The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.40
7. In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?correct Answer Hinduism Hinduism38
8. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering?correct Answer JobJob39
9. What was Joseph Smith's religion?correct Answer Mormon Mormon51
10. According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer, or not? correct Answer No, not permitted No, not permitted89
11. According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?correct Answer Yes, permittedYes, permitted23
12. What religion do most people in Pakistan consider themselves?correct Answer Muslim Muslim68
13. What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation?correct Answer Martin LutherMartin Luther46
14. Which of these religions aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering?correct Answer Buddhism Buddhism36
15. Which one of these preachers participated in the period of religious activity known as the First Great Awakening?correct Answer Jonathan EdwardsJonathan Edwards11
This online quiz includes 15 of the 32 religious knowledge questions that made up the telephone survey. The order and context of the questions are not exactly the same in the online quiz and telephone survey. To ease the administration of the online quiz, the wording of some questions is slightly different from the wording used in the telephone survey. For the questions used in the telephone survey, see the survey questionnaire.
Your responses on the quiz do NOT affect the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey's results.
Here's how you did on these 15 questions (excerpted from the larger U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey) compared with a nationally representative sample of 3,412 adults. Read the Full Report
Your responses on the quiz do NOT affect the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey's results.

Religious groups
For an analysis of the link between religious affiliation and religious knowledge, see the full report.
The graph above shows how you did on these 15 questions (excerpted from the larger U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey) compared with a nationally representative sample of 3,412 adults.
Your responses on the quiz do NOT affect the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey's results.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trample Thy Neighbor

This is a Black Friday Sale not to be missed! -- ad on Twitter

Yes, pilgrims, it's time to line up outside your favorite Big Box store while still burping your Thanksgiving turkey.

When the doors open, stampede over your co-religionists. If a few of thy neighbors get crushed to death so what?

Trample on!

No one gets in your way as you madly rush into your own Happy Holidays.

The important thing is to get a sale price for that special person in your life, so they can play a video game featuring mass murder as they celebrate the birth of The Prince of Peace.

Missing Texas

A few years ago, while conducting research for a novel I was writing about Lone Star politics, I discovered a short clause in the state's 1845 annexation agreement that's well known to any serious state historian, though far less well known to the average Texan. Buried beneath some highly boring details about how the republic's resources were to be transferred to the federal government in Washington is language stipulating that "[n]ew States, of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter, by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the federal constitution."

Put plainly, Texas agreed to join the union in 1845 on the condition that it be allowed to split itself into as many as five separate states whenever it wanted to, and contingent only on the approval of its own state legislature. For more than 150 years, this right to divide—unilaterally, which is to say without the approval of the U.S. Congress—has been packed away in the state's legislative attic, like a forgotten family heirloom that only gets dusted off every now and then by some politician who has mistaken it for a beautiful beacon of hope.

Naturally, it took the Machiavellian political mind of Texan Tom DeLay—the former House majority leader, currently out on bail while appealing a 2011 money-laundering conviction—to put the pieces of a tenable scheme together ... DeLay intimated that the threat of sending eight newly minted, and almost certainly Republican, senators to Washington might be the key to getting this whole secession ball rolling. Referring directly to the language of the joint resolution, he said, "If we invoke it, the United States Senate would kick us out ... because they're not going to allow 10 (sic) new Texas senators into the Senate. That's how you secede."

-- from -- How Texas Could Mess With Us: Lone Star secessionists could (theoretically) get their wish.
By Jeff Turrentine

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rain Coming in the Life of Muldoon

Rain coming and going. Hours and seconds passing. Sun rising and setting. Muldoon sees all these things and records them meticulously using his computational machine. But the gadget relies on electricity, so when current fails thus goes Muldoon's avocation. His acolytes, if acolytes there be, miss out on one opus after another. Never will they know of Muldoon's epics: My Incomplete Haircut, Memorializing My Middle School Experience, Names of People I No Longer Remember,  How I Lost My Parents at Disneyland and Why I Never Went Back to Look for Them, Is This the Best I Can Do with Cleaning Products? Bereft of computation, Muldoon scrawls these titles in pink chalk on the sidewalk in front of the orphanage where his original parents left the one-month old in a cardboard liquor box lined with shredded copies of The National Review. Affixed to the stolen Holiday Inn towel, in which the baby boy was wrapped, was a handwritten note: "Muldoon must now fend for himself." And so he does.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Great White Hope Goes Down

"There's nothing worse than when you think you're going to win, and you don't," said another adviser. "It was like a sucker punch." quote in CBS news item

The Black Professor beat up the White Bishop in last night's club fight.

The Bishop represented the patrons who yearn to decriminalize rape, which parishioners celebrate as a deus ex machina for procreation.

This is a popular concept among the true believers who populate the King James Version of the late Confederate States of America.

Unfortunately for the Bishop, the club fight was held in the current United States of America where the godless socialists reside. Taking a break from smoking dope and engaging in unauthorized sex, the unwashed masses cheered on the permissive Black Professor.

The Great White Hope, as the Bishop was unofficially known, wore his trademark pressed white trunks.

He won an early round on points.

In the later rounds, however, the Bishop suffered a series of body blows as the Black Professor, a middle weight in blue trunks, landed devastating left hooks.

As the fight wore on, the Bishop kept his chin up, making a tempting target of his glass jaw.

When the Professor smashed it, the moral uplifter went down for the count.

The aged referee, his white shirt flecked with the Bishop's blood, finished counting.

Straightening his black bow tie, the ref walked over to the Professor's corner.

"I hate these Great White Hope pugs," the referee told the Professor's manager. "Their people always over match them."

"He wasn't much of a fighter," the manager replied. "He was fighting out of his weight class."

The referee considered this for a moment. "These Great White Hopes," he finally said, "They never got no class."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mencken on elections

Politics, under a democracy, reduces itself to a mere struggle for office by flatterers of the proletariat; even when a superior man prevails at that disgusting game he must prevail at the cost of his self-respect. -- H.L. Mencken


Monday, October 29, 2012

blood on the napkins

(Credit: Shutterstock/Salon)

see So Much For Family Values at

blood on the napkins

family sittin' down to dinner
time's come to pick a winner
there'll be blood on the napkins tonight

papa loves an obvious sinner
mama says he's just a spinner
now they circle for their fight

family prospects lookin' dimer
water overcomes a swimmer
nothin's goin' right

now the gold starts to shimmer
in the blade you see a glimmer
there'll be blood on the napkins tonight

Monday, October 22, 2012

Suicide Church

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace according to the Pew Research Center. -- news item


Suicide Church
people lurch
mostly to the right

Suicide Church
worships John Birch
Jesus out of sight

Suicide Church
does research
on how to start a fight

Suicide Church
they gotta search
funding's gettin' tight


Who would go
when they know
no one can be free

Put on a show
ends in a row
sorry sight to see

They strike a blow
for to and fro'
folks getin' sleepy

They worry so
in the under-flow
church runn' on empty

Monday, October 15, 2012

Life Just Got Very Difficult for Someone

This just in ... Life just got very difficult for someone. But we have not been able to find out who that someone is. Nor are we able to ascertain the exact nature of the difficulty or how difficult the difficulty may be. It is entirely possible that the difficulty is horrendous. Or it might just be a note on a windshield saying: "Don't park here any more or we will put a bumper sticker on your car labelling you personally as a not nice person." This bumper sticker reads: "This driver is not a nice person. Honk if you want this driver to go to hell." That may be too many words for a bumper sticker but what it loses in readability it clearly makes up for in the general nastiness of its tone. So if no other driver can read it, so what? Do you understand how difficult it is a write a good bumper sticker? The last great bumper sticker was penned in 1961. It read: "I miss Ike. Hell, I even miss Harry." It was expressing dissatisfaction with Camelot before Camelot even got off the ground. Some people are never happy even if they have the original cast album, which is what people had in 1961. How many people saw the Broadway musical or even the movie and then counted the hairs on Lyndon Johnson's head. Not many because there is no record -- historical record not record album -- of anyone doing it. That's because it would have been difficult. You could see the Broadway show, you could easily do that. But how could you count the number of hairs on Lyndon Johnson's head? You could rip his full-color photo out of Life magazine at the public library and then try. But photo reproduction in that era was not what it is today when it is basically non-existent in terms of what you could photograph with a Speed Graphic, the camera newspaper photographers still used in 1961. The ideal way to do it would have been to find Lyndon Johnson in person sound asleep and then get real close to him and start counting. But the chances of doing that were next to zero. You'd have to be his wife or mistress to get passed the Secret Service. And how many mistresses did Lyndon Johnson have? You start with Helen Gahagan Douglas and then you count forward but it is no easy job. It is a difficulty. Perhaps the someone finding life getting very difficult is facing a similar dilemma. That would make sense as much as anything makes sense anymore. It is very difficult to make sense out of anything. That's what youth leaders are for but where have the youth leaders of tomorrow gone today? No telling until tomorrow when they start making sense. Youth leaders are not here today because they are waiting in the wings at the Youth Leaders of Tomorrow Conference and Expo in Modesto, California. Right now they are mowing lawns because there isn't a lot to do in Modesto. Go there some day and try to have a good time and you will find out just how difficult it can be once you mow a few lawns and rake up all the leaves. Then what are you going to do? Offer to clean the gutters? That is a strategy that worked in the past but may not be viable today and is certainly not as much fun as going to a Broadway show in New York City. Modesto simply cannot match New York, New York in arts and entertainment. So here you are with nowhere to go on Saturday night after you mowed some lawns and raked some leaves and cleaned out some gutters. Sure you've got money in your pocket but it's difficult to make a good choice. There might be a museum where you can guess the hairs on a California Golden Bear. But that's got to be very difficult because bears, let's face it, are very hairy. And bears will not usually stand still while you count all the hairs on their body. One strategy might be to drive down to Disneyland and count the hairs of the Bear Country bears. That's because they are made out of some plastic or cloth deal that the Disney Imagineers dreamed up and there's no real hair there. So you write zero down on your score card. Then you've won but what have you won? You don't know. Who made up this contest anyway and was there ever even going to be a prize or money or anything? So now you're in Disneyland with zero on your scorecard and you realize that you are the someone for whom life just got very difficult.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Much Fun Can I Have Before I Go To Hell?

Maybe it’s Omaha. You get to a place where you can’t go there any more. Like Hemingway said about the war. It was there but he could not go to it any more. And you can’t go into that darkened bar and play the fool for the patrons of the arts. You can’t believe that America is a great country so it deserves great art. What the hell could that mean? McDonald’s is a hamburger so it deserves great art. Jesus is God so he deserves great art. And what is great art anyway. Some dimwitted college professor with tenure and a bad case of herpes decides what’s great art and when he writes about it in The New York Times it becomes the Word of God. Please. But this is Omaha and you can’t go any further. You get out of the car, off the bus, deplane and un-board the train. You lay your motorcycle down in the road and just hope nobody hits it. You are stopped dead in your tracks and a man comes up to you and says when this war’s over we’ll kill everybody we meet. And you move on alone. You move on because you’ve got nobody to go see and you don’t want to hear about the Supreme Court going deaf. That’s their problem. Your problem is moving and staying put. All together now. All together now. What is your problem? It’s the trouble with going nowhere fast. Where is nowhere and how fast can you get there. You heard about a kid in New Orleans wearing a t-shirt that said: “How much fun can I have before I go to hell?” That seems like a legitimate question. Why don’t the big brains work on that one? Why don’t the preachers talk about that one? No way, Jose. We don’t get into philosophical and theological issues such as resolve: how much fun can this boy have before he goes to hell? We can’t debate that. We’d have to take the whole country apart and start over. And first we’d have to define what fun is. And the whole thing depends on what hell is. And you’re just in Omaha overnight thinking you can’t go on. You can’t go on even if there is hell out there that you could go to if you could just figure out how to have fun. You don’t know. Tomorrow, they’ll bring you your bike and say ride white boy ride. What will you do then? Try to explain Omaha? It could be beyond the scope of the discussion. So you rent a room and wait. And you never know how much fun you could have had before you go to hell.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Lost Temptations of Christ

The Devil wore a digital watch.

This is a little known fact.

Jesus was in the wilderness

for 40 days and didn't know

what day or time it was.

Then the Devil showed up

and said: "It's the Sabbath."

And Jesus said: "How do you know?"

Then the Devil showed him his

digital watch and said:

"See you should be in temple."

But Jesus said: "The Sabbath

was made for man, not man

for the Sabbath."

And generations of football fans

yet unborn and un-named gave

thanks for this teaching.

However, the Devil would not

give up that easily.

He whipped out his iPhone.

"Look at this! It's a combination

telephone, digital time keeper,

personal calendar, and you can

check out your favorite Websites,

and send email, update your

Facebook and Twitter."

But Jesus said: "I don't Twitter.

I don't email. I don't have

a Facebook page and I keep my

personal calendar in my head."

At this point the Devil saw

a potential sale slipping away, so

he produced a 3D flat screen TV.

"Look you can watch all your favorite

shows in three dimensions."

But Jesus said: "I don't have any

favorite shows and I already see

the whole world in three dimensions."

In desperation the Devil took Jesus

to a big box electronics store,

which was a wholly-owned subsidiary

of Hinges of Hell Enterprises, Inc.

There were rows of personal computers,

and all manner of hi def televisions,

and tons of portable mobile accessories.

Everything sparkled like new wine.

"All this plus iPhones yet to be

invented can be yours if you will

just follow me," the Devil said.

"You can't fool me," Jesus said.

"All this will turn to rust and dust,

except for the plastic parts that

will pollute landfills for millions

and millions of years."

"Oh, come now," the Devil replied.

"Surely you could use an iPod

to play you some tunes during those

lonely nights in the desert. It's

a great little device. It brings you

full surround sound stereo through

these little ear buds. Try it out.

You can hear all the instruments."

But Jesus looked around the store

and said: "These are instruments

of the Devil. These are the Devil's

own devices of distraction."

Then Jesus walked out of the store,

passing the counter where he might

have applied for easy credit with no

payments until January 2013.

And the Devil stood there screaming:

"Socialist! Luddite! Environmental

extremist! Anti-American! Killjoy!

I hope I'm not leaving anything out!"

Jesus just kept on walking, and never looked back.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Alan Watts: The Zen of Getting Over Yourself

The paradox leading to Zen awakening begins, Alan Watts once said, "at the level of spirituality where the highest ideal is to be unselfish, to let go of one's self.*"

But what happens when you realize that trying to be unselfish is a selfish act?

You want to be unselfish so that others will see you for the spiritual giant you want to be. But you cannot make yourself unselfish by force of will.

As Watts said: "You can't be unselfish by a decision of the will any more than you can decide not to think of a green elephant."

He goes on to explain that this is the common dilemma faced by students when the Zen master asks: "Show me your true self?"

Students are faced with the impossibility of doing what they came to the Zen master hoping to learn to do. The students came seeking their true unselfish self. And now in the midst of Zen training, that true self fails to show up for class.

As Watts explained "...the student finds that there is absolutely no way of being his true self ... "

This is the moment when the impossibility of an answer becomes the answer.

Watts asks: "What does that mean if I can't do the right thing by doing and if I can't do the right thing by not doing?"

Then Watts answers his own question.

"There is no independent self to be produced. There's no way at all of showing it because it isn't there."

And this is Zen-style good news.

"You recover from the illusion," Watts said. "You discover that what you are is no longer this isolated center of action and experience locked up in your skin. The teacher has asked you to produce that thing [the self you call your own] and show it to him genuine and naked. And you couldn't find it. So it isn't there. And when you see clearly that it isn't there you have a new sense of identity. You realize that what you are is ... the whole world of nature."

* Alan Watts quotes are based on notes I made from a Podcast titled "Intro to Zen 4 of 4" at the Alan Watts Podcast Website.

Facebook: The True-Self Free Zone

There's a concept among old fashioned Christians like the late Thomas Merton that there is "a true and a false self." The false self is the irritable little sinner and the true self turns out to be a sweet and Christlike being yearning to unite with God.

And as Ernest Hemingway might say: "It's pretty to think so."

This nice conceptualization of your own true self is nicer than what mostly passes for Christianity these days when the followers of The Prince of Peace have morphed into a right-wing morality enforcement squad preaching hatred for anything that is fun or different or French.

Since the good Christians are on a moral us-versus-them crusade, we are left with the secular religion of  Facebook, which encourages the projection of a false self that is sweet and Christlike. Even if you are a non-believer, which is the politically correct term for today's heathens, you can only succeed on Facebook by pretending to be a social media version of Mary's Little Lamb.

You put up cute photos of puppies and kittens and all your so-called "Friends" will hit the like button quicker than Pavlov's dog.

But don't put up a photo of Pavlov or his dog as that will disturb the denial of reality that is the hallmark of the Facebook-approved persona.

And if you like bears, only post photos of cute little bear cubs. A full-size bear, even in a benign pose, will not get a single like because adult bears are scary and your Facebook friends do not want to see anything that might frighten them or knock them out of their complacent denial of reality.

The harsh realities of life are off-topic among Facebook friends, even those who claim to be Bob Dylan fans. (Do they ever listen to the words or just mindlessly hum the tunes?) So you end up with a social media viewpoint that is a Disney version of the Magic Kingdom ("Happiest Place in All the World") without even a Big Bad Wolf to mar the sense that we are all wonderful people having a wonderful time in a wonderful world where nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong ...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why I Left Facebook

Yesterday evening, I deactivated my Facebook page.

To complete deactivation you have to tell Facebook why you are telling them goodbye.

I selected one of the simple canned answers that the ever-helpful marketers at Facebook provide. It was something to the effect that I didn't find Facebook worthwhile.

So that was the short answer.

This is the long answer.
Facebook "Friends" turn out to be very much socialized into the basic American Dream myth and are trying against interpretation to live every cliché associated with it.

This explains why they are all so positive that your birthday marks the beginning of the best year you've ever had.

“This is the greatest summer of your life,” as the old L.A. rock station promotion used to tell us. But I thought we all knew that was just a marketing slogan.

Apparently not.

The happy persona Facebook encourages explains why "Friends" react to little bits of political cleverness as long as the post matches their canned concepts about politics, which is little more than received wisdom from the usual sources.

Most "friends" do not want to read about anything that challenges their POV, which they mostly get from network TV and online media.

The media mavens are clever enough not to challenge the general denial of reality that their followers cling to the way rednecks cling to guns and God. The media tells their audience that if they vote the right way and keep hoping things will change for the better then things will change for the better.

The better you hope the better things get.

And who wants to argue with circular logic?

Facebook "Friends" do not want to bother looking outside the leftwing versus rightwing debate paradigm they’ve been given as a place to park their brains. So they think inside that reserved parking space. There are two white lines, one on the left and one on the right and you stay within that space.

It is all safe and grounded.

And boring.

Or as Bob Dylan once wrote: "Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial. Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after awhile ..."
But then who actually listens to Dylan lyrics anymore?

Not even, as I discovered, the Bob Dylan fans on Facebook.