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Credo

One day twenty-two years ago I ran into one of the Lawn Preachers at the University of Virginia.  The Lawn Preachers were a shock when I first encountered them; I had just come from Columbia (well, with a year off to earn the money to attend graduate school for a little while in the first place—I didn’t have me no fellowship), and I was under the impression that a campus should be ringed by feuding members of the Fourth International.  This is not a joke.  Columbia was indeed ringed by members of the Socialist Workers Party, the Spartacist League, and the Revolutionary Youth Brigade, among others.  I hung out with one of these grouplets for a month or two until I realized that their most hated foes were the Spartacists, on the grounds that the Spartacists had refused to denounce the leader of the SWP as a CIA plant.  The Lawn Preachers, by contrast, were feuding varieties of evangelical Christians, and they had come to Mr. Jefferson’s “academical village” to spread the Word in the very den of iniquity itself, the American college campus.  Some of them were loud enough to be heard in adjacent classrooms, and occasionally someone would complain about this; the university replied, back in the mid-80s, that they could not compel the Lawn Preachers to preach someplace other than on the Lawn because it was a free speech issue.  Very well and good, I thought at the time, wondering if the university would have been so ecumenical if the Lawn Preachers had been a couple of loud, audible-in-class Trotskyites.

Anyway, so one of them followed me for a few steps one day and asked if I had heard the Word.  Now, back then I was usually inclined to reply, “why, no I haven’t, brother—but have you read American Power and the New Mandarins?  Here’s a free copy for your very own.” But on this day, I was feeling kind of annoyed with the world in general, and so I said, “why, yes—as a matter of fact I studied the Bible rigorously with Jesuits for four years at Regis High School.  We read Norman Perrin on the textual sources of the New Testament and were introduced to Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth.” I’d intended to make his hair fly back in horror, but he didn’t miss a beat.  On the contrary, he followed me all the way home (back then I lived just off the main campus), and in the course of our fifteen-minute conversation, this is what we said.

He asked if I had joined the Jesuits; I replied that I was, in fact, an agnostic.  This confirmed his sense (as he said) that the Jesuits were the last group a Christian encounters on his way out.  Ha ha ha, I said.  He asked why I’d left the faith; I told him I’d never really had much faith to begin with, but that my parents, agnostics themselves, had convinced me that the intellectual and religious history of Christianity was well worth knowing.  After a few months at Regis, I quickly came to agree.  But once I’d studied the New Testament, I came to the tentative conclusion that it was a mistake to think that Christ had meant “this really is my body” as opposed to “this is a symbol of my body.” Luther, I decided, had the drop on the Church on that one.  So much for transubstantiation.  (What about John 6:53-58? I was once asked.  Isn’t Jesus quite clear that the flesh and blood of the Eucharist are literally his flesh and blood?  Sure enough, I admitted, but John 6:53-58 is a belated interpretive gloss on the Last Supper, not a corroboration of it; the Book of John was written some thirty to fifty years after the synoptic gospels, and is especially concerned about the unbelief of the Jews, ahem ahem, filled with Jesus’ proclamations of his own divinity.  Note that Christ’s insistence on the flesh and blood of the Eucharist comes just after John’s retelling of the fishes and loaves story in 6:1-14.)

Well, then, the preacher asked, if you rejected the belief in transubstantiation, why didn’t you become a Protestant?  Good question, I replied.  Because, basically, you folks are all bollixed up when it comes to the question of good works, and you’re not that clear about grace either.  Sure, I understand that you can’t have an omniscient diety who’s up there wondering if you’re going to stop and help the old woman across the street.  But you know, even the Puritans believed that justification (grace) must be accompanied by sanctification (works).  Outward and visible signs and all that: the person’s works help to testify, in an ex post facto kinda way, to the person’s state of grace.  But if you believe that, then you really shouldn’t ever go around in the “conviction” that you are saved.  The state of grace is completely unearned, and it’s not for us to declare ourselves to be among the Elect.  I don’t understand how Christians can be so damn presumptuous about this.  I mean, it’s like saying, “of course we cannot know the mind of God, for His ways are not our ways—but just between you and me, we have a pretty good idea of who’s damned and who’s saved.”

And what’s with the damnation and salvation, anyway?  You’re really going to tell me that a just and merciful God is going to consign someone who’s led a blameless life to an eternity of torment and pain just because she believed the Host was the body or because he had doubts about the doctrine of the Trinity?  Or because she didn’t consume the Host at all and didn’t care what it was?  Run the “just and merciful” part by me again, please.

The preacher tried to back me up a few steps further, to the part about how we cannot know the mind of God, His ways are not our ways, etc., whereupon I said, look.  I like this caritas and agape idea.  That was a good idea.  I like the bit about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That was a good idea.  I like the idea of treating the least of our species as if he or she were the moral equal of the most powerful person on earth. That was a good idea.  But the history of your religion, I’m sorry to say, looks like a history in which some of the finest legal minds in the West set about festooning those central beliefs with all manner of pernicious nonsense about transubstantiation and consubstantiation and the three-personed God and the Virgin Birth.  Not to mention the Ascension and the Assumption.  See, I’m a graduate student in literary criticism.  So I just love the idea that centuries worth of brilliance went into developing the idea of type and antitype, figura and fulfillment, in order to reconcile the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  But when it comes to the question of how to live in the world, I’ll take the caritas-and-agape part and leave the pointless doctrinal disputes to you-all.

So you really don’t care whether Christ was divine? the preacher asked.  You really don’t care if your immortal soul is at stake?

Well, that’s exactly the point, isn’t it, I said, stopping at the corner of my block.  See, if I’m hearing you correctly, the insights about caritas and agape and the human dignity of the meek and the wretched of the earth make sense if and only if Christ was divine.  If he was just a guy, you’re saying, then those insights are just ordinary human utterances with no special claim on our attention.  Whereas I think they’re worth pursuing regardless of whether the guy who delivered them to us was a deity or the son of a deity or part of a mysteriously tripartite deity or just a guy.  I honestly don’t care what you believe about Jesus.  All I care about is how you act while you’re here.

And your soul, he said.  You don’t care if you lose your immortal soul in that belief.

Right, here’s the way I look at it, I said.  If you’re right about this and I’m wrong, then you and I agree that we have the obligation to treat others as we would have them treat us, but because I believe that we humans just made that up one day, I’m going to Hell for an eternity, and you’re pretty much in the clear.  Whereas if I’m right about this and you’re wrong, my beliefs don’t visit any punishments on you.  We live, we act as best we can, we die, end of story, except that we hope that maybe some of the good we do on earth will live after us for a little while.  And that’s it.

Well, the Lawn Preacher said, I can’t say I’ve ever heard the argument for agnosticism put that way before.

Dang, that’s a shame, I said.  Because lots of us agnostics have a coherent moral code.  We just don’t feel the need to ascribe our moral code to a supernatural being.  We don’t think that solves anything, honestly.

He did not say he would pray for me.  I liked that.  He simply nodded, extended his hand, and wished me well.  I shook his hand, thanked him sincerely for hearing me out, and wished him well in return.

Posted by on 01/07 at 12:22 PM
  1. I shook his hand, thanked him sincerely for hearing me out, and wished him well in return.

    And suddenly we were both run over by a truck.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  02:04 PM
  2. Very funny, Sorry.  You know that’s how the original Book of John ended, right?  Have you read The O’Donoghue Code?

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  02:41 PM
  3. And suddenly we were both run over by a truck.

    In this here little clip Jesus gets slammed by a red bus.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/07  at  03:16 PM
  4. He simply nodded, extended his hand, and wished me well.  I shook his hand, thanked him sincerely for hearing me out, and wished him well in return.

    Benign incommensurability. Syn: liberal.

    Posted by black dog barking  on  01/07  at  03:36 PM
  5. Hmmm. You fared a lot better than I did when I wrote an essay for our school paper on the Campus Crusade for Christ claim that all of its beliefs are “based on the Bible.” My argument was simple: 1. There are several significantly different versions of the Bible--Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, etc. 2. Before one can base one’s beliefs on the Bible, one must choose a Bible. 3. That very important choice cannot be based on the Bible, since it is prior to having a Bible to base it on. 4. Ergo, CCC’s claim is silly, at least insofar as it applies to one of the most important choices any believer must make. The essay generated quite a response from the Campus Jihad for Christ contingent, most of which had to do with how much fun it is to be in Campus Crusade and build houses for poor people in Mexico, and exactly none of which actually addressed the argument. As a pedagogical exercise it was pretty much a flop, except as a demonstration of the evasiveness of our local theological discourse. No doubt the UVA area serves up a higher quality Kool Aid than my own humble institution.

    Anway, the Gospel of John ends with the marriage of Simon the Zealot to Salome. It’s all right there in The Podhoretz Code.
    Anway, the Gospel of John ends with the marriage of Simon the Zealot to Salome. It’s all right there in The Podhoretz Code.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  03:36 PM
  6. And are you so patient and kind 20 years later whilst those that bringeth you the Watchtower wish to take up a part of your Saturday?  I am always struck by the desperation of prostelitizing that accompanies so many religious zealots.  If their concern is their construction of my eternal soul and its possible damnation, then i urge them to go away to a quiet place and pray for it, all they want.  Just leave me out of it.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  04:35 PM
  7. Kudos to the Lawn Preacher for acting in a very, well, Christ-like manner.

    And are you so patient and kind 20 years later whilst those that bringeth you the Watchtower wish to take up a part of your Saturday?

    While I admit it’s a lot of trouble to go through just for the purpose of turning away proselytizers, being Jewish is a good means of shutting down the discussion. Some of them persist, but there is a general feeling even amongst the Most Concerned that it’s bad manners to lecture Jews, kind of the way that you don’t correct Great-Grandpa when he slurps his soup.

    Posted by mythago  on  01/07  at  05:12 PM
  8. Oh, and Michael, for a moment there I thought you were referring to an entirely different Credo!.

    Posted by mythago  on  01/07  at  05:14 PM
  9. Thanks for sharing this.  I hope a lot of people read it.  It’s got the kind of message that has a hard time getting much attention amidst the Robertsons, Falwells, Bushes, and, to a lesser extent, the Dawkinses of the world. 

    And yes, the lawn preachers at UVa (at least that one) must have been a mucher saner lot than we get here.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  06:05 PM
  10. Yes. Your arguments about religion are the ones I would make if I had the brains.
    What’s wrong with just doing your best in an imperfect world? Actually, I shouldn’t say “just,” because that’s a lot to do right there.

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/07  at  06:23 PM
  11. I had an awakening of sorts in junior high. I went to a “separate” school (as opposed to public), which meant Catholic. My homeroom teacher throughout junior high was a man named Brother Joshua Weiss; he was a Jesuit who’d survived the Nazi occupation of Holland.

    Anyhow, Brother Joshua was a great homeroom teacher. He spent most of his time teaching the Old Testament, though he never taught from the perspective that the OT was divine truth. He taught it as human interpretations of experience, as modes of negotiating with the unknown.

    Brother Joshua was one of these old-school Jesuits who seldom got visibly angry. He would just *look* at you in that Old Testament way of his and the whole room would grow still in a heartbeat. But there was this one incident I will never forget. Some jerk carved a swastika into one of the desks in the room. Rumor had it that it was this tiny Korean guy who was about three feet shorter than everyone else, and whom the bullies always picked on. I never found out who did it, but Brother Joshua responded to the swastika in this amazing way.

    He walked around the room very slowly, stopping in front of each student and making a quick assessment: “You would be dead; You would be dead; You would live; You would be dead.” After a while, I realized he was appraising us based on our racial/ethnic features. The blonde and blue eyed kids would live, whereas the vast majority of those in the room (it was an inner-city school with a large immigrant population) would die. When he came to me, Brother Joshua stopped for a split second longer than most people and said, “Maybe.”

    If a junior high teacher did that today, they’d probably be fired for harrassment or something. But it was by far the most effective and memorable political lesson of my junior high career; I didn’t want to die because of someone’s intolerance or ignorance. I learned that it’s important to speak up if you see signs of hate, and to educate those who leave such signs behind.

    Anyhow, to my best knowledge, no one ever drew another swastika in Brother Joshua’s homeroom again, or in the rest of the school.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  06:39 PM
  12. Damn it, Michael, you must really be leaving (else I’m guessing you’d have struck a different tone for the last Sunday of your blog). 

    I teach in a religion department at a public university, and the lawn preachers here are worse, probably, than the ones I remember from Virginia all those years ago.  Whoever comes through our department will get what you got from the Jesuits at Regis, and some of them can respond to the circuit riders almost as satisfyingly you did.  But for every 20-year-old who hears something intelligent said about religion for the first time in a college classroom and wants to hear more, there are a dozen that Campus Crusade for Christ will get to sooner.  This is so, I think, because the gag rule on religion in the public schools means that an honors student can come to college and be just as ignorant of the historical construction of Christianity (or any religion) as anyone at Falwell U.

    So now that it really looks as though I won’t be reading Michael Berube.com for the better part of every afternoon, and will have to get back to work and all, I hope you’ll let me enlist this post in my feeble efforts to move the discourse on religion and public schools well beyond the ersatz “debate” between creationism and evolutionism, where too many Dobsons, Robertsons, Dawkinses, and Sam Harrises seem content to leave it. 

    Thank you, Michael.

    captcha: say, as it say it again.

    Posted by Tracy  on  01/07  at  07:09 PM
  13. Gosh, why would people be nice to each other if they weren’t afraid of ending up in Hell?

    The Christianists really get to me with that one.

    Posted by donna  on  01/07  at  07:35 PM
  14. "We just don’t feel the need to ascribe our moral code to a supernatural being.”
    But to give theists some due, the message of Jesus and the Prophets- the challenge to Empire, questioning violence, and above all- the call to economic justice and recognition- comes from the sacred Jewish and Christian texts.

    Habermas talks somewhere about how these potentials migrated from religion to the lifeworld in general. Of course the lifeworld or culture of ordinary people living under the regimes of various empires was their source in the first place. But having them taken up in the sacred texts gave the project of human liberation and emacipation- socialism, social justice, etc.- a gravitas and legitimacy that could not be denied- perhaps downplayed, but not denied.

    Anyway, I think our radical bent towards distributional justice and recognition springs from certain threads in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Having “migrated” into the lifeworld they are now the foundations for secular social justice movements and no longer in need of sacred justifications.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  07:39 PM
  15. When I see them on the subway, I usually from Matthew Chapter 6 (the part about not bein like the hypocrites and pray on the corners so that they may be seen of men, etc.) and that shuts them up.

    Posted by Randy Paul  on  01/07  at  08:01 PM
  16. I’ve always like Jesus’s two commandments (love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself). I figure that how you do the first is your business and how you do the second is everybody’s business.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  08:24 PM
  17. . . . I hope you’ll let me enlist this post in my feeble efforts to move the discourse on religion and public schools well beyond the ersatz “debate” between creationism and evolutionism, where too many Dobsons, Robertsons, Dawkinses, and Sam Harrises seem content to leave it.

    I’ve made some efforts in this direction over at The Valve (and here as well), not so much with respect to religion in the public schools, but the general discussion of religion among intellectuals.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/07  at  08:31 PM
  18. the gag rule on religion in the public schools

    There is no “gag rule on religion in the public schools”. This is the lie promoted by the people who think every American child should be led in prayer to Jesus by their godly teachers at the start of the school day.

    The “rule”, loosely speaking, is that a public school can’t promote religion. There is NO rule against teaching comparative religions, or the origins of major world faiths, or a “History of Christianity” class--as long as those are classes meant to teach neutrally about religion, and not a cover for preaching.

    Of course, it’s exactly the proselytizers who fight hardest against such classes. They darn sure don’t want Christianity taught as anything other than The Truth, and certainly not subjected to historical or literary analysis. Or, heaven forfend, taught as having no greater worth than those other, heathen faiths.

    Oh, and as a side note, there is NO rule prohibiting students from individually deciding to pray; if they’re allowed to talk during lunch, they’re allowed to pray during lunch. “No prayer in school” is, again, flat-out false.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  08:59 PM
  19. A small note on Lutheran eucharistic theology that neither you nor I care about: Lutherans actually do not have a “symbolic” interpretation as to the elements of bread and wine being body & blood. Luther rejected the Roman Catholic mechanics of how the elements are true body and blood, but not the end dogma. For Luther, it was true “just because God said so.” Kind of a germanic-facist thing.

    With respect to the moral ethic in your agnosticism, bravo. Without following you for blocks and blocks, I would just observe that your ethical bent has a bit of a Jewish flavor.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  09:00 PM
  20. I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be nuclear. The Lord didn’t say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that.’

    Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, predicting that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in ‘mass killing’ late in 2007.

    Your old argument may not have convinced the polite Lawn Preacher—though it probably should have—but it looks like a little prodding might sway Pat Robertson to your new GNF argument . Might be worth an AM-radio talk show debate.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  09:55 PM
  21. But to give theists some due, the message of Jesus and the Prophets- the challenge to Empire, questioning violence, and above all- the call to economic justice and recognition- comes from the sacred Jewish and Christian texts.

    Quite true, Dale, and I especially like the part where the message migrated to the lifeworld.  After that happened, we could get rid of the messy theist stuff like a spent stage of a rocket.

    I would just observe that your ethical bent has a bit of a Jewish flavor.

    Funny you should say that, Rabbi Jonah.  I’ve discussed this with people once or twice, not that anything ever came of those conversations. . . .

    Posted by Michael  on  01/07  at  10:56 PM
  22. Re “the gag rule on religion in the public schools” I agree with mythago that there isn’t one but I agree with Tracy that a lot of my undergrads *think* there is, and religiously-faithful students often *believe* themselves to be laboring under a sort of censorship—I’ve encountered this a lot with students at my public university.  So Tracy’s account seems spot-on.

    Part of it may be that for a lot of folks the distinctions between studying religion or using religious ideas to think with on the one hand, and promoting religion on the other, are not clear.  If I were teaching in in the public schools, and vulnerable to complaints by parents, I can easily see how I might just steer clear of anything that sounded like religion.

    Lotta stuff to talk about; looks like we’ll have to find another blog to do it on though.  One of my experiences teaching Latin American history here in the Seattle area is that there’s an aggressive anti-Catholicism just below the surface.  Students latch onto the worst possible interpretation of whatever the Catholic church was up to and it’s hard to open room for nuance.  I’m very grateful to have had some religious education as a kid (though it was merely Episcopalian and I’m jealous of Michael’s Jesuits) in part because it gave me a model for discussing religious ideas that’s not about shutting people down.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  11:17 PM
  23. Ah, I wish I were as calm and intellectually agile as you, Michael!

    In grad school at Iowa, one of my favorite events of the year was the visit of Brother Jed Smock and Sister Cindy, the Disco Queen (and later Brother Jed’s wife).  A friend of mine (shades of David Horowitz) once pie-ed Brother Jed… but I just liked to watch him, enjoying the show.  He would start by shouting “Whores and whore mongers… “ getting more and more frenzied with every phrase.  I didn’t have a fellowship my first year either, so needed to take my entertainment where I could find it.

    At that time, I ran a local environmental organization.  We would raise money by selling tee-shirts and buttons festooned with leftist slogans. ("If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution"--stuff like that).  Once, while I was sitting at our little booth in the student union, a Maranantha guy carrying a Bible came up.  No one was buying anything, so I humored him as he started trying to convert me.

    Eventually, once he had said something about the literal truth of the Bible, I pointed out that 2nd Corinthians says something along the lines of God or Jesus or someone “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” Doesn’t that, I asked, mean both that the spirit of the New Testament supercedes the Old and that we shouldn’t take either one literally, anyway?  “I mean,” I said, “isn’t the Bible here literally telling us not to take the Bible literally?”

    Instead of answering, he started preaching at me.  I mean, really preaching--using his Bible as a prop.  He deliberately dropped it on the floor over and over to demonstrate that it was real (or something).  He went at it, and at it, and at it.

    Not that I minded.  In fact, when campus security showed up and led him away, I was kinda sad.

    Why?

    While he was preaching, a crowd had gathered.  In fact, I sold more merchandise in the short time he was ranting than on any other full day, ever.

    Captcha: “earth” As in “Where on earth do they find these people?”

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  01/07  at  11:20 PM
  24. What Rabbi Jonah said. My Lutheran confirmation book gave clear descriptions of the Satholic doctrine and the Calvinist doctrine, and described the Lutheran doctrine as neither of the others—that was pretty much all they said. I didn’t bother to ask the poor pastor about it. By that time I didn’t care.

    Regarding Jehovah Witness missionaries, don’t leap to conclusions. Awhile ago a youngish attractive Witness lady accosted me at a bus stop, and when I politely turned her down and she headed to her car, she showed some lace beneath her dress. Then I looked the car, and another nice-looking, nicely-dressed youngish lady was driving. I ended up convinced that their motives were impure, but it was too late.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  01/07  at  11:32 PM
  25. Mythagos, could it possible have sounded as though I’m in FAVOR of prayer in public schools?  I emphatically am not, and certainly not under the so-called “equal access” rulings you allude to. I have strong civil-liberties objections to those, which can be found elsewhere.  And if “gag rule on religion” sounds like the codespeak of the right, well, let’s just say that that’s another phrase (like “equal access") I’m reluctant to give up to them just yet.  The impoverishment of public discourse on religion serves the Christain right far, far more than it hurts them, and I’m tired of them playing victim on that score.  You’re right, of course, that nothing in U.S. church-state rulings since the late 60s should keep the critical and historical study of religions out of public schools, but as Colin Danby notes, it just isn’t there.  And one part of the thorny reason for this is that arguments in favor of the study of religion in schools can sound to so many of us like arguments for school prayer, and the like, which seems to be what Mythagos jumped on, even though s/he and I seem to agree on all the relevant points. 

    Bill Benzon, many, many thanks for taking this issue up at the Valve and elsewhere.  I look forward to checking in more often. 

    Captcha: moved, as in the center needs to be . . .

    Posted by Tracy  on  01/07  at  11:46 PM
  26. Apologies, Mythago, for botching your nom-de-blogue.  Mythos, logos . . .

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  12:08 AM
  27. I would like to see this impoverishment of the public discourse on religion. Seems to me that the only time restriction of the public discourse on religion takes place—at least in my experience—is when doubters and atheists speak up about their beliefs. At which point left and right alike cast stones: the right for “disrespect,” the left for “counterproductivity.”

    I mean, it’s true that religious discourse in US society is shallow and assumption-laden, much more a (sorry) preaching to the choir than the kind of cooperative soul-searching that, as did Michael, I benefited from while under the tutelage of Jebbies. But religion is hardly unique in its shallow treatment in US society. Science and politics and educational theory and about a hundred other things get the same treatment by society at large.

    Also, I think “a tutelage of Jebbies” would be an excellent addition to the list of collective noun phrases.

    I would further like to apologize for impersonating Kirby Olson in this thread.

    Thank you.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/08  at  12:13 AM
  28. Thanks, Chris, for the hyperlink to this latest unpleasantness from K.O.  Here’s what I’ve posted as a comment to Althouse’s blog and to Olson’s.  First, Kirby’s comment on Althouse:

    I was on Michael Berube’s blog for a while and commented and made fun of some of his comments, but did so under my own name. He then had a number of people writing completely idiotic comments on his blog pretending to be me and using my name. He was completely aware of this, and encouraged it.

    I asked him to make this stop, but he is an authoritarian leftist and can’t handle anybody questioning his reality so he actually claimed that I have never existed.

    Now me:

    For the record, these are lies. I never encouraged people to use Kirby Olson’s name, and I never claimed that Kirby does not exist. Kirby was banned from my blog on October 23 of this year after he tried to make sport of the fact that someone had threatened Chris Clarke’s dog on Chris’s blog.

    And Kirby, if you continue saying such things, you will be hearing from my attorney. You have been warned. I don’t suffer psychopaths gladly.

    (Now just don’t tell Kirby that I’ve instructed my attorney to accuse him of impersonating a Lutheran Surrealist.)

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  12:45 AM
  29. So Godspeed, my humble blog!  May you someday find a sympathetic reader, or perhaps attract the notice of some kind of futuristic cyberspace casino operator or diet-drug merchant.

    Well, one out of three ain’t too shabby.  Thanks for sharing so much - it’s been a fun if short ride [note to self: find next best blog earlier.] All the best to you, your family and the rest of the dangeral family of commenters.

    The posts and the comments have been insightful, provocative, funny, witty, strange, challenging, long, short, just right, and just plain old hunky doary.  I’ll miss this blog. 

    Ha, end of chapter 4 and now I get the reference made about 50 posts ago.  Go figure, so many layers.

    Captcha - open, as in time to open another chapter....and, maybe a brew. 

    Here’s to new times, may the future provide (2nd captcha...don’t ask) good things.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  12:56 AM
  30. Aaron Barlow, thanks for reminding me of Jed and Cindy, whom I haven’t thought of in about a quarter of a century. (If memory serves, she was not simply a Disco Queen, but a Roller Disco Queen!) They plied their trade and entertained the masses at the University of Illinois, too, telling all the students on the Quad that they would be cast into the Lake of Fire, which we took to be just west of Lake of the Woods.

    (A little [very little, actually] C-U humor for Michael as he cleans out his cyberdesk. Thanks for this blog, the only one where I try to read all of the posts and all of the comments.)

    My captcha is “church,” which means I win.

    Posted by Dr. Drang  on  01/08  at  01:21 AM
  31. I’ve instructed my attorney to accuse him of impersonating a Lutheran Surrealist.

    Ah, but that sort of impersonation would in and of itself be a surreal act. I think he’s meta-got you in advance on that one, Michael.

    Captcha: “usually,” as in “I can ______ come up with a better witticism including the relevant captcha.”

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/08  at  01:22 AM
  32. Chris Clarke wrote, “I would like to see this impoverishment of the public discourse on religion. Seems to me that the only time restriction of the public discourse on religion takes place—at least in my experience—is when doubters and atheists speak up about their beliefs. At which point left and right alike cast stones: the right for ‘disrespect,’ the left for ‘counterproductivity.’” Chris, the casting of stones you mention is one example of the sorry state of religious discourse.  Here’s another: as of a few months ago, when this story started getting what play it did in the NYT and elsewhere, almost no one in the Congress or the War Cabinet could give so much as a Wikipedia-level account of the differences between Shi’a and Sunni Islam, or why it mattered for the course of the war.  And few of us doubters and atheists ever bothered to call them on it.  This may finally have been the least divisive issue leading up to the elections.  Does the (apparently) widespread perception among us that such differences either (choose one) 1) grow out of deap-seated “tribal loyalties” or 2) blur together in the demonic darkness beyond the light of true faith--that they in any case are not worth bothering about--have NOTHING to do with the fact that a particular brand of conservative Christianity still controls the discourse on religion in public life? So that we’re reduced to being “for” it or “against” it, and our kids go to school to find the Scopes trial being replayed, eithty years on?

    captcha:  either, as in, not either-or.

    Posted by Tracy  on  01/08  at  01:47 AM
  33. Seems like we don’t disagree too wildly, Tracy. But the cultural illiteracy of the War Department vis-a-vis Sunnis/Shias did at least make the Daily Show a few times! Credit where due, etc.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/08  at  01:58 AM
  34. Good post, you have the patience of a saint,
    but sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.
    gisaso3.gif

    I am glad to see that you did get the Stonehenge religion blogging in. (Was looking forward to it since you mentioned the possibility back in the KO era. Thank God that’s in the past.)

    My own experience has been closer to Bardamu’s discussion with a priest in Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night.

    According to his view of things, all we humans were in a sort of antechamber to eternity, waiting with our numbers. His, of course, was an exceptionally good number for Paradise. Anything else left him cold.

    My personal belief is that the traditonal authoritarian forms of the main Abrahamic religions were struck a fatal blow sometime around the time of the Enlightment - but that their thrashing around on the dock in their last throes have more centuries to go, and if you don’t watch out they’ll take your leg right off (or even induce you to use mixed metaphors.)
    [I have been searching my soul to see whether this is in fact not just an opinion, but an honest-to-God revelation.]

    And I am sure there are also many other marvellous thoughts which I and others have, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the margins of this blog itself could not contain the comments that should be written. Truck.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  02:34 AM
  35. b64554498eb0.jpg

    Do you ever get the feeling that you are posting the same image over and over again? (And besides it was buried the first time in comment #227 in the ABF Colors and Numbers thread.)

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  02:44 AM
  36. Agnostic before high school, eh? Blessed are they with a coherent intellectual autobiography. I was steeped in family values style conservatism when I started at Regis. I was well into college before I jettisoned all that, and now I see high school in a kind of double vision, as both formative and alien. But then, I seem to remember that the Jesuits (jokingly) advertised their help in that way: “we’ll give you the critical thinking skills necessary to reject your faith.”

    I’ll second J.P. Stormcrow’s thanks. I was hoping you’d get to such a post before your indefinite hiatus--or whatever it needs to be. I remember you suggesting that one might read the archives in a previous absence; I hope that holds.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  03:41 AM
  37. asked if I had heard the Word. ... “why, no I haven’t, brother — but have you read _American Power and the New Mandarins_?  Here’s a free copy for your very own.”

    Blessings on you, brother Michael.  Lately I haven’t been checking in here daily (captcha), so hadn’t realized that The End is nigh. I feel lucky to have happened by in time to thank you for everything.  Which is what your wonderful blog has always had: humor, analysis, compassion, politics, brilliancies…

    As well as the always splitting and always fusing Giant Nuclear Fireball. 

    Thank you so much.

    Posted by Nell  on  01/08  at  04:00 AM
  38. Ah, but do you believe in the Golf Gods?  And are you really saying hasta la vista, baby, to the whole blogging thing?

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  01/08  at  04:34 AM
  39. My favorite minister was Sam Kinison, verily.

    Father Guido Sarducci taught me everything I need to know about masturbation (tirty-five, tirty-five, tirty-five).

    And now, I finally get a new preacherman who can outparable Peter Falk, and you’re tellin’ me the Lord’s gonna take you away, too?

    What kind crummy Deity’s runnin’ this joint?

    Posted by Kevin Hayden  on  01/08  at  07:11 AM
  40. You and me both, Kevin—it seems to be goin’ around.  Anyway, good luck with handing off the American Street next month, and many thanks for all your hard work in the left blogosphere!

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  08:46 AM
  41. Aaron Barlow, thanks for reminding me of Jed and Cindy, whom I haven’t thought of in about a quarter of a century. (If memory serves, she was not simply a Disco Queen, but a Roller Disco Queen!)

    I spent some time in Madison, WI in the early 1980s, where they were regular guests, and I had forgotten all about them.  I do remember, vaguely, a feeling of dismay at the juxtaposition of the glee some took at heaping abuse on them with their almost-masochistic acceptance of the abuse.  Kind of sordid.

    Michael, your post is the best example I’ve ever seen of someone dealing with a fundamentalist.  On the few occasions when I’ve tried, I’ve gotten into back-and-forths—not exactly shouting but just as useless.  Someone above praised your agility and patience; I join in that praise. 

    This kind of writing and story-telling is why I’ll really miss your blog.  Thank you for all your hard work writing your wonderful posts.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  10:17 AM
  42. The impoverishment of public discourse on religion serves the Christain right far, far more than it hurts them...

    Yes.

    Amardeep Singh has posted on Putting the “Literary” in “Secularism” over at The Valve. That discussion is oblique to this one. Amardeep ends his post with this:

    In the end, the “-ism” in my title (Literary Secularism) is still probably a bit misleading. There is a secular ethic in modern literature, but it’s not quite as strong or forthright as an –ism would suggest. A fundamental quality of the literary in the modern era is ambiguity, and literature that thematizes the struggle for secularization is no different. So “literary secularism” is perhaps better understood as indicating my exploration of a historical phenomenon via close reading rather than as the advocacy of a polemically “secularist” mode of reading.

     
    The post derives from Amardeep’s book, Literary Secularism: Religion and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Fiction, for which he has established a mini-blog, or is that mini-blogue?
    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/08  at  11:32 AM
  43. And thank you, as well, Michael. I not only learned a lot of non-political stuff that helped take my mind off the tedium, but the parenting stories and the zany molecules emanating from this place have made me bipolar from the tears and cheers.

    So do you ever plan to return to the genre?

    Posted by Kevin Hayden  on  01/08  at  02:15 PM
  44. Oh, and Michael, for a moment there I thought you were referring to an entirely different Credo!

    Holy Anubis*, mythago!  A game about doctrinal disputes of the early Church?  I mean, I’m a big fan of Republic of Rome, and wouldn’t mind playing Diplomacy again, and even I find this a bizarre concept.  Not much of a ranking from the Board Game Geek gods, either...Oooh, hey, Princes of Florence!  I had forgotten about that one.  And to think I had more of a life when I still played all this stuff.

    *Naturally, the preferred deity of Buck Naked would be anubis.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  03:36 PM
  45. Michael --

    give it up to the Jesuits—they teach some mad dialectical and rhetorical skills—not that you mayn’t have developed them elsewhere, but that you ain’t the first Jesuit-educated master debater I’ve met.  (Sorry.  The pun is purely gratuitous and meant in no bad way at all—merely pleasuring myself here.)

    And thanks for the beautiful story, and all the beautiful stories. 

    If you’re ever out Seattle way and want to play some music, drop me a line & I’ll rustle up some drums.  Cheers & best wishes to you & yours.

    (p.s. to JP Stormcrow:  thanks for posting that awesome pic again!)

    Posted by john  on  01/08  at  04:15 PM
  46. Nicely done. Now let’s all set about doctrinizing the lack of doctrine in Berubism and maybe we can all make a buck off it.

    As an aside, as regards the title of the post: May I recommend to all music fans Mary Lou William’s amazing recording of “Credo (Instrumental)” from the album “Mary Lou’s Mass” on Smitshsonian Folkways Recordings? Whatever you believe, you’ll believe it all the more.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  06:17 PM
  47. Atheists are spoiled problem children of the world. Always crying for attention. Almost all of the of the heavy lifting of upholding the moral framework that our lives depend upon is done by the faithful, the vast majority of them Christians, yet atheists can never get enough attention for near nil contribution.

    Would it be that atheists, for all their bluster and self regard as path-breakers, actually do something significant with their atheistic beliefs. For instance, how about establishing their own fundamentally atheistic, coherent, rational ethical code, instead of just assuming the prevailing Christian one. And you do assume it, don’t try and wriggle out of this one. Most of you are just a bunch of finger waging moralizing parsons, without the redeeming conviction that there is a Godly will behind your code.

    The Christian ethical framework is not obvious. It really isn’t. It’s weak, whiney and deferential. It’s pathetic, really. For a proud man, there really is not much in it to speak of, let alone die for. Yet, Christians attempt to adhere to it, and have done so for 2,000 years, quite powerful Christians too. And they do so because they believe that God commands it. You don’t believe in God, what’s your excuse, you weak, whiney, pathetic fellow?

    I would almost wish it, that Christianity passes, so I could measure the awful horror dropped upon your “progressive” descendents when they are faced with a world full of existential struggle where little of the presumptions that you take as granted are in fact granted. In a world where God, and more specifically Christianity, is dead your philosophical descendents will face quite powerful ethical codes that will demand strict utility. Your code won’t measure up. It’s not rational, not coherent. It doesn’t ensure security and survival. Again, it’s pathetic. What a joke.. In the 20th century we did get a glimpse of other ethical codes, which did reject God entirely. They came close to winning.  Frightening, if you ask me. I would almost wish this future on you, but I’m not a stupid atheist. So get to work, start creating something useful, some coherent, useful, defensible, non-Christian code of your own. You may need it.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  10:38 PM
  48. For instance, how about establishing their own fundamentally atheistic, coherent, rational ethical code, instead of just assuming the prevailing Christian one. And you do assume it, don’t try and wriggle out of this one.

    And here I thought there’d be no more ridiculous “where does one begin to rebut this crap” trolling here! It’s like a taste of old times. The GOOD old times.

    The day just got a little brighter, Daniel. Thank you.

    Posted by Dylan Thomas  on  01/08  at  10:48 PM
  49. Shit. Forgot to change the name field back from the villanelle. Now Welsh poets are gonna start slandering Michael in comments at Althouse’s. Sorry, man.

    captcha: “public,” as in “they really shouldn’t take me out in.”

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/08  at  10:51 PM
  50. "Non-Christian code”? I hear the Muslims have a working draft.

    A game about doctrinal disputes of the early Church?

    No foolin’. Sadly, it could have used more playtesting.

    Tracy - no apologies necessary, and I didn’t assume you were pro-mandatory prayer; but the idea that religion is forbidden in schools is a falsehood that serves only those who want government-mandated religion.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  11:06 PM
  51. Luther rejected the Roman Catholic mechanics of how the elements are true body and blood, but not the end dogma. For Luther, it was true “just because God said so.” Kind of a germanic-facist thing.

    Naw, it was based on the words Christ spoke at the Last Supper and the all-around ubiquity of God. As Luther said to a friend, “God is in my cabbage soup.” And Zwingli was his main antagonist on the Real Presence issue.

    Posted by  on  01/09  at  12:23 AM
  52. I am guessing that Daniel doesn’t know anything about those Tibetan Buddhists that don’t believe in any gods or whatnot?? Oh well, c’est la vie.  (btw--wasn’t “Daniel” an Elton John song??)

    But if anyone as the vidclip of that original last supper i would love to check it out and see who was really there and what was said.  Anyone?? Anybody?? Somewhere???

    Posted by  on  01/09  at  12:53 PM
  53. Thank you.

    Posted by Zhoen  on  01/09  at  06:32 PM
  54. At my alma mater, we had a regular “lawn preacher,” whom we affectionately called “Preacher Bob,” because no one knew his real name. He was a 50-something, slightly overweight man, whose face would turn an unnatural shade of magenta about 2 minutes into one of his “sermons.” He only seemed to show up on warm, sunny days, because apparently during winter, and when it’s raining, Christianity hibernates.

    Preacher Bob was fond of asking the audience questions, and then, ignoring any responses he might receive, answering them himself. My favorite exchange with Preacher Bob resulted from one of his questions. It went something like this:

    Preacher Bob: “Fire. Brimstone. Fire. Brimstone. Fornication. Do you know what fornication is?”

    Student at the picnic tables nearby, eating lunch: “It’s fucking!”

    Preacher Bob: Long, pregnant pause, turning even more unnatural shades of magenta. Pacing. Picking up Bible. “Fire. Brimstone.”

    Posted by Chris  on  01/10  at  04:55 AM
  55. As the youth offshoot of the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade are Maoists not Trotskyites and therefore not members of the 4th international!

    Posted by  on  01/11  at  02:32 PM
  56. Tracy - no apologies necessary, and I didn’t assume you were pro-mandatory prayer; but the idea that religion how much does an abortion cost tg How to Get Pregnant After an Abortion
    is forbidden in schools is a falsehood that serves only those who want government-mandated religion.

    Posted by  on  02/07  at  10:21 PM
  57. 51.Luther rejected the Roman Catholic mechanics of how the elements are true body and blood, but not the end dogma.yblvaghub fv rrwcoqxgk sg lovequoes df taxalcool
    For Luther, it was true “just because God said so.” Kind of a germanic-facist thing.

    Posted by  on  02/07  at  10:25 PM

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