Religion and Politics

It’s always sad to see a country sliding back from Science, Justice and Democracy, towards Religion, Corruption and Kleptocracy. Russia made that rapid turn when reforms failed in the aftermath of the Soviet Union; the US began that slow turn under Ronald Reagan, leading to the corruption of Donald Trump and the packing of the Supreme Court with justices hostile to the will of the American public.

The huge irony with the “religious right” taking away the right to abortion in the US after 50 years is that it is unjustified by the Bible that they are always quoting. Life, in the Bible, begins with the first breath. Abortion is used by priests as a test of marriage infidelity (Numbers 5:11–28). Jesus makes no mention of abortion other than to implicitly agree with the above passage, in saying that not one word of the Old Testament Law can be changed. (Because Jesus was a fundamentalist Jew, not a Christian, of course.)

The “cafeteria Christians“, on the other hand, decide that “Thou shalt not kill” applies to the unborn (ignoring the fact that priests are told in the Bible to cause an abortion when appropriate, and how to do it), while deciding to ignore a host of things that are termed “an abomination”, including:

Crucifixes… Deuteronomy 27:15 – “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

Bacon… Isaiah 66:17 – “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord.”

Statues of saints… Deuteronomy 29:17 – “And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them.”

Shrimp and lobster… Leviticus 11:10-13 – “But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is detestable to you.

Clothing of mixed fabrics… Leviticus 19:19 – “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

Tattoos… Leviticus 19:28 – “And a cutting for the dead you will not make in your flesh, and writing marks you will not make on you; I am the Lord.”

All Christians are “Cafeteria Christians”, because Paul, abandoning strict Judaism in the name of a “new testament”, commands them to do things that Jesus implicitly forbids.

The US Supreme Court would be better off without any Christians on it, and a full separation of Church and State.

Poem by Marcus Bales: ‘Perhaps’

When Christians started out they had to find a place to hide,
For Romans were not pleasant to the Christians found outside;
They taxed the Christian buildings, and their jokes were rather snide
About the rude productions when the Passion Plays were plied.
But Christians turned the other cheek and counted up to ten —
Perhaps we ought to persecute the Christians once again.

The Romans built in marble and they carved in alabaster,
The Christians built in wood and lath, and covered it in plaster.
The Romans mocked inversion of the humble with the master,
And laughed at how the Christians stole their Christ from Zoroaster.
But through it all the Christians acted virtuously then —
Perhaps we ought to persecute the Christians once again.

But once the Christians got on top they went on the attack,
So long abused they thought they’d do their own abusing back.
Mean-spirited and mean, it’s Christian charity they lack,
And ever since they’ve warped their woof by talking trash and smack,
They’ve sought out cheats and pedophiles to be their clergymen.
Perhaps we ought to persecute the Christians once again.

L’envoi
The worse the Christians have it, why, the better they behave:
They’re rotten as the boss, but they are brilliant as the slave.
They ought to be reminded of their teachings now and then;
Perhaps we ought to persecute the Christians once again.

*****

Marcus Bales is one of the leading formalist poets writing today – he is a master of poetic form, from parodies of Kipling and Poe to the creation of his purely original work as in ‘Perhaps’. His collection “51 Poems” is available from Amazon.

Credit: The inside of a jail of the Spanish Inquisition, with a priest supervising his scribe while men and women are suspended from pulleys, tortured on the rack or burnt with torches. Etching.
Wellcome Collection.

The Bible says abortion is OK

Jesus never mentioned abortion, and the Bible never condemns it. That’s because according to the Bible, life doesn’t begin until the first breath is taken (Genesis 2:7).

Causing a pregnant woman to miscarry so that she loses the child is not considered an injury (Exodus 21:22-25).

If a pregnant woman is accused of adultery, the recommended way to seek proof is for a priest to abort the fetus (Numbers 5:11-31).

And God is constantly threatening to kill unborn fetuses (2 Kings 8:12, 2 Kings 15:16, Isaiah 13:18, Hosea 9:10-16, Hosea 13:16).

This puts anti-abortion activists in the same category as fundamentalists who wear clothing of mixed fibers, or eat shrimp, or eat bacon, or plant different types of seed in the same field, or a man who fails to marry his brother’s widow (and the Bible allows polygamy). They are all hypocritical, irreligious “cafeteria Christians”, picking and choosing what to accept and what to ignore.

Anti-abortion activists are anti-Bible. Life begins with the first breath. American “fundamentalists”, so-called Christians who don’t know what is in the Bible that they claim is God’s unchanging word, are linked to the Republican Party whose symbol, an elephant, can be appropriately modeled with a coat hanger…

Sonnet: ‘Fat-Shaming’

Gorging on food, an atavistic trait
useful, essential, in the paleolithic–
like a man’s lust for teenage girl as mate–
is one not needed now, shamed as horrific.
It’s healthy, though, to recognise such drives,
note where they came from, why they once were good:
these traits in which the primitive survives,
inbuilt components of our personhood.

It’s acting on them, though, that we deplore:
those who fuck teens and those who overfeed,
like those who steal, or lie, or start a war,
aren’t shamed for primitive desire, but deed–
like those who pray to gods, follow religions,
or skry the future from entrails of pigeons.

This poem is about a lot of things, but the punchline is: religion is an atavitic trait of humans, as useful as overeating in prehistoric times, and as counterproductive today.

About the poem itself: it’s not PC these days to even mention various issues, and I seem to have covered a lot of them in this sonnet. But it’s a decent enough Shakespearean sonnet (iambic pentameter, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, volta between the octave and sestet) and also a good enough expression of an opinion, so what is there to complain about? Originally published in that not-always-comfortable but always formal ‘The Road Not Taken – A Journal of Formal Poetry’. Thanks, Dr. Kathryn Jacobs!

If you like formal verse, you can find more in my formalverse.com blog.

“Young and Fat” by Tobyotter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sonnet: ‘The Fall of Rome’

Jesus, a preacher with fake miracles,
his “Sea” of Galilee just eight miles wide–
rebelling against Rome and crucified–
his failure clear (though words were lyrical)…
you’d think “Messiah” was satirical!
But epileptic Paul a chance descried
to shut out other gods and thoughts worldwide,
thus sealing up Rome’s vital spiracles.
So, building on apocalyptic fears,
the Jewish Jesus ends where Paul begins.
Scientists, artists, poets, engineers,
are suffocated as the new faith wins.
All progress is set back a thousand years.
The Roman Empire died for Jesus’ sins.

Belief is strange. Take Covid vaccination: two thirds of us believe it’s an effective way to save lives, one third of us believe it’s a dangerous and unscrupulous way to make money and control people. Virtually no one has actually done any research and analysis of the issue, we just listen to our preferred sources of information and the community we’re a part of.

Or take religion: for the most part, children raised in Christian families remain Christian believers all their lives, Muslims remain Muslim, Buddhists remain Buddhist, and so on. Which makes it all the more impressive when someone can radically change the belief structure that surrounds them. Kudos then to the epileptic Paul of Tarsus, who created a Jewish-Mithraist-polytheist mishmash that has lasted almost 2,000 years. Pity about the Roman Empire, though.

This happily Petrarchan sonnet (iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABBAABBA CDCDCD) of mine was originally published in Rat’s Ass Review, where respectfulness and respectability are not required. Thanks, Roderick Bates! (More of my poetry is at http://formalverse.com)

“Darkness Falls in Rome” by Storm Crypt is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Religious evolution: appropriate clothing

Religion, and religious practices, and religious attitudes, all evolve without their followers even being aware of how far they have drifted from the original intents.

That’s not to say that this Romanized drapery is what Jesus would have worn. He would have favored something more standard classical Arab/Jewish.

So much for Imitatio Christi, living in imitation of Jesus’ life.

Religious divisiveness: the Immovable Ladder

The Immovable Ladder

A mason doing restoration work at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (i.e. the church built over the place where it is claimed Jesus was buried) accidentally left a ladder behind, sometime before 1728 when it shows up in an engraving of the building. Because the six Christian groups who control the site cannot agree on what to do with it, it is still there today.

To read more on the background of the Status Quo, you could go to Wikipedia.

To see more photos, and some video of the physical fights the groups occasionally get into for various reasons, you could go here.

God’s Unchanging Law

In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura: Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination … End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging. Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia (It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian)

Photo: “Leviticus says…” by San Diego Shooter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Crucifixion by Romans

Crucifixion was designed as the ultimate in slow, painful and humiliating deaths.

Crucified naked

Naked like this, but with a lot of blood

Aspects of the punishment included that prisoners were often required to carry their  crossbeam to the place of execution for it to be attached to its stake or tree; that they were crucified completely naked (more humiliating for a Jew than a Celt, and for a woman than a man – though female crucifixions were rare); that, naked, they would undoubtedly empty their bladder and bowels over themselves in front of the crowd who came to watch.

The prisoner was tied or nailed by the wrists to the crossbeam. The feet were often nailed to the upright, one one each side, at the ankle. Frequently the prisoner had a block of wood attached to the stake or tree for them to sit on, with a spike sticking up from it to magnify their pain.

The execution could last for hours or days, depending on the weather, the prisoner’s condition (such as loss of blood from having the skin scourged off his back) and whether the legionaries guarding the crucifixion were in a hurry to go back to camp. Some ways for the soldiers to hasten death were to break the prisoner’s legs with an iron bar, to run a spear up through the stomach and chest, or even to light a smoky fire below him to asphyxiate him.

Once dead, the body was normally left in place as a warning to others, while it was eaten by crows and buzzards.

The punishment was in use by Greeks, Persians and others before the time of the Roman Empire. The Romans originally used it only for slaves, but then extended it to pirates and enemies of the state. The punishment was forbidden under Jewish religious law, which only allowed execution by stoning, burning, strangling, or decapitating the victim.

So Jesus was not crucified at the wish of Jewish authorities, or of the Jewish people. He was crucified by the Romans as an enemy of the state, which he had declared himself to be by claiming the kingship of Israel while entering Jerusalem. The Romans tacked a sign above his head reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, to show what they thought of his ambitions.

Jesus was crucified between “two thieves”, but you didn’t get crucified for mere theft. However “thief” and “robber” were synonymous with “Zealot”, “sicariot” (or knifeman) and “insurgent” to the forces of the Roman Occupation. It is reasonable to assume that the “thieves” were leaders in the armed wing of the Zealot resistance – but not as prominent as Jesus, and not part of his cadre of preachers.

Jesus was stripped naked, and the legionaries diced for his clothing. He was scourged: flogged 40 times with a short cat-o’-nine-tails , each tail ending in a lead ball to lacerate and strip the skin off. He was made to carry his crossbeam to the Place of Skulls outside the city, but he collapsed on the way. After perhaps nine hours of crucifixion he called out “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” Then he called out again, and died. Joseph of Arimathea negotiated with – or bribed – the Romans to be allowed to take Jesus down for burial, but first the Romans ran a spear up through the corpse to make sure it was dead – this was common practice, and only a dribble of blood and a watery fluid (presumably from the pericardium around the heart) came out.

And that was it. The end of just one of a 200-year series of attempts to oust the Romans from Israel. But preachers and knifemen didn’t have much chance against the Roman Empire.