Does God Play Games?

Is there a secret version of the Bible that I don’t know about? One that’s being covertly circulated among today’s Christians here in America?

I have to wonder, because I went to church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. I also attended Sunday school. My father was a Deacon in the Catholic Church, having earned a doctorate in theology, and my mom volunteered as a secretary for the local parish.

But many of the words and actions of today’s most vocal Christians seem utterly foreign to me. They profess their faith, but seem to act according to an entirely different doctrine.

So Many False Followers
As one example, I could focus on the Christians who go to church every Sunday in luxury automobiles and designer clothes. I do recall a Bible passage along the lines of, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Does Jesus want you rolling in to Sunday services in luxury vehicles that are designed primarily to flaunt one’s wealth and cost enough to feed a family of four for 10 years (quite literally…I did the math)? Is that how the Bible teaches us to behave? Is that how Jesus rolled? What about the meek inheriting the Earth?

I could also focus on the behavior of certain Christian conservatives, who often object to programs that help the poor and less fortunate, who seem far more eager to strike down their enemies than to turn the other cheek, and who focus on hate and intolerance when so much of their Lord’s message is about love and tolerance. What would Jesus do? Would Jesus oppose taxing the rich to serve the poor? Would Jesus build a wall? Would Jesus own an assault rifle?

Instead, I think I’ll take this in an entirely different and unexpected direction. I’m going to talk about professional athletes. Specifically, those who all too often invoke God in their preparations, performances, and celebrations.

Does Jesus Score…or Save?
I love sports. I’m not a betting man, and neither was Jesus…as far as I can tell. But I do love sports, for the benefits they bring to participants (from physical activity to learning to work together in harmony towards a goal) as well as for the entertainment and joy they provide spectators.

But why is it that some people clearly believe that God actually takes sides in such spectacles? Given all the misery and suffering in the world, why do people think God has any vested interest in who wins or loses something as trivial – in the grand scheme of things – as a game? Yet so many athletes, coaches, and fans invoke the blessings of their chosen God before, during, and after sporting events.

Even as an atheist, I’ve always found this behavior to be somewhat sacrilegious. Because, after all, these are just games. Our team wants to beat their team, to prove that we are more talented than they are, or at least willing to work harder – not that we are somehow “better” children of God then those other “lesser” children of God.

And for those who argue that it’s more than just a game, that modern professional sports are ultimately a business, this only makes such prayers and praise all the more sacrilegious. Instead of asking for God’s blessings to perform better than another group of individuals for the sake of entertainment, you are asking God to help you get rich – at the expense of others. Or, in the case of most professional athletes, even richer – and often filthy rich. Is that a lesson from the Bible? What would Jesus do? Was he all about gettin’ paid?

Let’s overlook the fact that many modern sports, their superstar athletes, and their legions of tribal fans engage in borderline idolatry. And the fact that many sporting events are played on the Sabbath, turning a day that’s supposed to be sacred into a day of frivolous spectacle and shameless profit. Even though, right there, we have evidence that fans, athletes, and owners are already violating 20 percent of God’s commandments.

But let’s put all that aside for a moment and ask whether it jives with the teachings of the Bible, Torah, or Qur’an to ask God to help you beat your rivals for financial gain and personal glory? And do you really believe that God helped you score that goal? Of all the things that God is supposed to be involved in, do you sincerely believe that this omnipotent being is actively favoring you to succeed in a sporting event, to provide you with personal glory and riches at the expense of someone else?

It’s strange that you rarely see a doctor, scientist, or winner of the Nobel Peace Prize thanking God for helping them achieve success or glory, when – if God were willing to intervene to help someone achieve success and glory – those are the kinds of things one would assume God would get involved with, at least if you take the Bible and its lessons to heart.

God-Given Greed?
It’s just as strange to see professional athletes talking about their God-given talent. And some of that talk goes beyond sacrilege and borders on blasphemy.

For example, American football player and infamous press conference pouter Cam Newton appeared in a Super Bowl advertisement entitled Cam’s Prayer. This “prayer” was a paid endorsement to help himself and others achieve even greater wealth (he earned $24 million the previous year, while the company who paid him to endorse their product had earnings in excess of $233 billion).

The voiceover – which the athlete surely approved, as it’s designed to make the viewer think it’s actually him speaking (and it may, in fact, be him speaking) – claims that God has given him these gifts, his talent as an athlete, so that he could be the best, that he could succeed, and gain wealth and glory by triumphing over his fellow man. It proclaims: “You placed purpose on my shoulders so now I come to you. Lord, give me the strength to finish this… my way.” Not God’s way, mind you, but his way. As if to say, damn it, God, give me what I want! You made me great (or so my Mommy says) now give me the glory and riches I deserve!!!

That doesn’t sound like the God I read about in the Bible. Bestowing special gifts on select individuals so that they can achieve riches and glory? No, I don’t think so. According to the Torah and Bible, God is more interested in putting gruesome burdens and obstacles into people’s lives to test their faith – not providing them with advantages that enable them to gain individual wealth, privilege, and glory.

But claims of divine favoritism are prevalent in the world of professional sports. Athletes flash shirts saying “I Belong To Jesus” as they mug for the camera and then thank the Lord for making them a winner before driving off in their Lamborghini to their mega-mansion so they can count their money. Sounds to me like they belong to someone else, perhaps even Satan.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is some other version of the Bible, some other Christian doctrine that guides these people. For there is nothing in the Bible I’ve read that condones such behavior. In fact, there’s plenty that not only contradicts it, but outright condemns it as well.

What Would Jesus Do?
Which leaves me wondering, what sort of athlete would Jesus be? Would Jesus even take the time to play a sport? Or would he spend what little time he had in this world, what little time any of us have, and help those who are in need? And I’m not talking about making a handful of pro-bono tweets for a charity and a contractual appearance at a benefit dinner, but a full-on commitment to helping those in need.

Sure, you could argue that people are in need of entertainment. But that’s not really true, is it? No, people want entertainment. They need food, shelter, and compassion. There’s a big difference between want and need, just as there is a big difference between the what Cam Newton does and what Mahatma Gandhi did. And Gandhi wasn’t even a Christian.

Thought of the Day: The Virgin Mary

OK, let’s say that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was somehow impregnated by the Holy Spirit (are we talking avian bestiality here?) without “the agency of a human father,” and that she was still a virgin when Jesus was born. I don’t believe that, but apparently a third of the world’s population do. Well, technically a little over half the people on the planet do, because Muslims also believe in Jesus, and that he was born of the Virgin Mary – who, interestingly, is the only woman mentioned by name (Maryam) in the entire Qur’an. Seems you folks have more in common than you realize.

Anyway, the point is that Jesus’ mom is, to this day, still referred to as the Virgin Mary. Immaculate conception aside, are you telling me that she and Joseph never consummated their relationship? They never had sex? Even though Joseph was a carpenter, and therefore “good with his hands,” they never “knocked sandals,” to use the parlance of the day? And considering their son literally worked miracles, they never thought about trying for another miracle worker?

Believe it or not, many Christians – including Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists – believe that Mary died a virgin as well. Frankly, I’d rather be crucified.

But what’s stranger still is that no one ever refers to Joseph as the Virgin Joseph, or the Virgin Father. Does that imply that he got a little action before he was married, or perhaps something on the side? Or should we be calling him Joseph the Celibate? Joseph the Chaste?

The Imaginary War on Christmas

SatancupsJesus freaks are on the warpath – again. It’s that time of year, Christmas, when Christians celebrate the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ.

Of course, December 25th isn’t exactly when Christ was born (if, in fact, such an individual ever actually existed). When shaping the doctrine of modern Christianity, determining what Christians would believe and what would be abandoned (specifically, what stories would be adopted as the Bible, the alleged word of God, and what stories would be left out, no longer considered the word of God), Roman Emperor Constantine and his sanctimonious spin doctors decided to declare December 25th as the day Jesus was born.

They didn’t select this date at random. No, they stole it from pagans, the very people modern Christians claim have declared some sort of war on their Christmas holiday. Constantine and his word-of-God-declaring minions knew that their best bet for getting people to join and celebrate their new-found faith would be to co-opt an existing holiday they’re already celebrating, like the pagan one on December 25th, which celebrated the birth of their Sun God.

Yup, Son of God…Sun God…Constantine was a clever little charlatan. After all, not only did his co-opted holiday usurp and ultimately outlast the original pagan one, but his favorite stories are now considered the word of God.

Today’s activist Christians (those who disobey the teachings of Jesus to openly judge their fellow man instead of leaving that solemn responsibility to God, as their Bible teaches) claim that non-Christians have somehow declared war on their Christmas holiday. Apparently those of us who don’t follow their faith have been accused of not following their faith. In a nutshell, we are treating December 25th like any other day, and that simply will not do for them.

This, of course, happens every year – at least every year since the Republican party cut a deal with the devil and decided to defy the Constitution by mixing church and state in an effort to win more votes. Christian fundamentalists have become one of the most powerful special interest groups in Washington, forcing countless conservative politicians and their right wing propaganda outlets to declare that there is a phantom war on the holiday they stole from the pagans.

The latest target of their wraith is Starbucks, a company that dared to introduce maroon holiday cups for the holidays. The cups, according to the American Inquisition, lack the apparently essential Christian symbolism. Forgetting the fact that these cups are designed to celebrate the entire holiday season, including Judaism’s Chanukah and Islam’s Mawlid, it seems these Christians want Starbucks to reissue new cups that honor only their beliefs – perhaps by prominently displaying either a baby Jesus being born in a dung-filled manger or the cross that was used to slowly kill the adult Jesus. You know, to better celebrate the season.

It’s strange, though, because most of these activist Christians are also conservative voters, and as such they generally oppose government interference in the business sector. Yet they have their politicians out in front of the news media interfering with the way a company does business – specifically how they design their coffee cups. And, similarly, you never see these Christians or their lap-dog politicos going after retailers who have big sales on the holidays. They claim to oppose the commercialization of Christmas, but not if it’s going to diminish their investment portfolio.

What would Jesus do? Happy Holidays, even to the hypocrites!

Terrorism Knows No Religion

RLDMany Republican presidential hopefuls have branded Islam as the religion of terrorists. Some, such as Donald Trump, have gone as far as suggesting we should register all Muslims in America, like they did to Japanese-Americans during World War II. Ever the ugly idiot, Trump even called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, apparently unaware of the little thing we call the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I was curious to see how these ill-informed and shamelessly intolerant politicians, and those who share such beliefs about Islam and Muslims, would react to the recent shooting in Colorado Springs. Of course, it was followed by an even more horrific shooting rampage by a California couple who claimed to be Muslims, acting on their own twisted interpretations of Islamic doctrine. But the shooter in Colorado Springs, Robert Lewis Dear, claimed to be a Christian and was apparently acting on his own twisted interpretations of Christian doctrine.

So we’ve had two mass shootings by people who profess a certain faith but follow their own twisted interpretations of that faith – interpretations not widely recognized by the true adherents of their faith. Both are cases of violence in the name of religious extremism and religious intolerance. Yet the acts committed by those claiming to be Muslims are widely recognized as terrorism while the similar actions of someone claiming to be a Christian are viewed more as an unfortunate incident by a mentally unstable individual.

Other Christian terrorists have used bombs, arson, fake anthrax, and assassination as tools in their jihad against law-abiding citizens choosing to exercise their rights and freedoms. Mainstream Christians rightfully denounce such acts, noting that they do not represent their faith. In such instances, including the recent shooting in Colorado, we all recognize that these are people who are using religion as an excuse for their own intolerance and hatred. Yet when someone commits such horrific acts in the name of Islam, based on their own warped interpretation of that religion, they are said to be evil, haters of freedom, and their entire religion is often condemned for the actions of a few. The difference in the reactions to these two tragedies, particularly by the Republican presidential candidates, illustrates this bias unmistakably.

But there seem to be far more acts of terror being committed in the false name of Islam, so there must be something about that religion, right? Well, maybe if you were born yesterday. Anyone who knows their history will recognize that this wasn’t always the case. For example, a litany of unspeakable horrors we’re committed in the false name of Christianity during the Inquisition. But I believe the recent rise in Islamic extremism is being driven by two factors.

First and foremost, many nations in which Islam is the dominant religion have been ruled by corrupt regimes, often either put in power or supported by Western nations like Britain, France, and the United States. That has resulted in generations who feel disenfranchised and cheated by their own leaders and they, in turn, blame the nations that have put or helped keep these beasts in power.

We’re talking about uneducated, impoverished individuals with an axe – real or imagined – to grind, much like Robert Lewis Dear. We’re also talking about the alienated outcasts and, quite often, those who consider themselves victims of some grievance – again, real or imagined. And, of course, there are those who simply want to be somebody, striving for global infamy in a brazen act of terrorism instead of the now somewhat lesser infamy (and often much harder to justify to oneself) of killing a celebrity or politician.

This is compounded by some very manipulative people who also feel they have an axe to grind, and know how to use things like religion to get these other unfortunate fools to do their bidding. And they have been able to greatly expand their reach thanks to the Internet and 24/7 news cycle. Think of Osama bin Laden, the maniacs in charge of ISIL, and even the evil bastards who doctored videos of Planned Parenthood staffers to make them look like monsters and then fed these brazen falsehoods to the conservative Christian propaganda machine.

As you see, it takes all kinds. And in this culture of victimization, there are no shortage of candidates who might decided to commit an act of terror to right what they perceive as wrongs. For them, religion – that ultimate authority that has the power to both justify and absolve – is an ideal form justification. And that goes for any religion, including both Islam and Christianity.

The Bible, like the Quran, is open to interpretation. Some people say you can eat shellfish. Others claim that doing so is an abomination. So when will we recognize that those who commit heinous acts based on their misguided interpretations of the Quran are no different from those who commit similar acts based on their misguided interpretations of the Bible? And when will we finally admit that terrorism is not the product of a religion but rather of people who use religion as an excuse for anger and evil?

Arizona: Land of Hate?

AZflgWould it be reprehensible for me to ban people from Arizona from reading this blog? Or would that merely be a justifiable exercise of my rights?

OK, I don’t mean to sweep all residents of Arizona into the same asbestos-lined basket of rotting rat turds. In fact, I like everyone I’ve ever met from that state. But the majority of voters in Arizona seem to be assholes of the highest order.

First they pass a law on par with those of the old East Germany, giving the police the right to demand proof of citizenship from anyone who looks the least bit suspicious. So if I, with my Mediterranean good looks, were to walk into a dinner outside of Tuscon, the local cops could saunter over to my booth and legally demand “Papers, please!” It must be like living in a Cold War spy movie, except this is your home – not some Iron Curtain backwater.

Then the esteemed citizens of Arizona tried to pass a law on par with Uganda’s recently enacted official hatred of all things homosexual. Clearly looking to outmaneuver Mississippi in the race to be the Shithead State, Arizona tried to pass legislation that would give businesses the right to refuse service to anyone they deemed gay.

How exactly would that have worked? I mean, Richard Simmons is about as flamboyant as the stereotype can get, but he’s never openly discussed his sexual preference. Would he be able to order a gluten-free kale wrap at an Arizona diner with more enthusiasm than the entire cast of Glee? Or would he be refused service simply based on appearance, like the state’s “I Hate Hispanics” law? And what if someone is bisexual? Does that mean they can only order half a sandwich?

HoBiReligious Freedom, Religious Liberty
Look, I understand where these people are coming from. They do not believe in homosexuality, just as a significant portion of like-minded individuals in this country don’t believe in science. It’s ludicrous and shameful, but they are certainly entitled to believe what they choose to believe. The problem is that these religious fanatics are now trying to legislate their beliefs, insisting that we must all adhere to their extremism as as if this country were some sort of medieval theocracy.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve also flirted with the notion of religious freedom as an excuse to shape legislation. Though, rather than using it to oppose a behavior I found objectionable, I was thinking of using it to support one that I enjoy: the legalization of marijuana. After all, I reckoned, the practice is considered a sacrament in the Rastafarian religion. So, if I grew some dreads, I shouldn’t have any trouble with the feds, right? Religious freedom…religious liberty!

Wrong. I quickly dismissed this notion because it is hopelessly flawed. Religious freedom is about the freedom to believe whatever you want, not necessarily do whatever you want. Of course, you are free to practice your beliefs in whatever way you want as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others, who may not share your beliefs, or the laws of the land, which are – and should always be – secular, just like our Constitution. And that’s where the problem lies, in that these boneheads think the law should be dictated by their own religious beliefs, like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Besides, if we had to allow everything that is illegal simply because someone claims their God says it is or is not permissible, then we’d have to allow clowns like David Koresh and Warren Jeffs to freely molest children. Is that what Arizona wants? I don’t think so.

Leave Judgement To Your God
OK, so you still insist that your invisible being in the ether says that homosexuality is a sin. An abomination, if you choose to interpret it that way (I have a friend who is fluent in Hebrew and she argues that the biblical passage says it’s merely frowned upon, not an “abomination” as some – particularly those who aren’t fluent in Hebrew – claim). But if that’s what you believe, then simply don’t practice homosexuality. Don’t commit that sin.

Why must you judge others based on your beliefs? Isn’t it part of your beliefs that only God can judge your fellow man? Or is that now your job because the omnipotent one is having a little trouble multitasking as he tries to assist every single high school football team in Texas that has a pre-game prayer, with the team that prays harder winning in the all-too-likely event that both teams engage in this ridiculous and surely blasphemous practice?

LeeringLegislationComplete Bullshit
How do I know this is nothing more than blatant homophobic bullshit? Because the Bible also claims that coveting thy neighbor’s wife is a sin. Is anyone pushing for legislation to refuse service to men who leer? Strangely, no, these pure adherents of the Bible have chosen to ignore or overlook that one.

Many Christians also consider gluttony to be a sin, one of the Big Seven. So where was the Religious Right when Mayor Bloomberg tried to ban large servings of sugary sodas in New York City? Shouldn’t they have thrown their millions of dollars and supporters into that well-intentioned effort to combat the sin of gluttony?

The Bible’s Book of Proverbs contains a list of six things that God allegedly hates, and one he considers an abomination. The first two items on that list are a proud look and a lying tongue. Why is it that Christians, particularly those who think every word of the Bible was written by God, never concentrate any of their venomous judgement and well-financed lobbying on those two offenses?

There’s a lot more vanity and deception out there than homosexuality. But rather than focus on these two offenses, among the first things their God is clearly said to hate, Bible thumpers are totally obsessed with one obscure passage that may or may not claim that homosexuality is an abomination.

If these people genuinely believe that the Bible is the word of God, and have dedicated their lives to following it, then why do they ignore that passage in the Book of Proverbs? Perhaps its because the seventh offense on that list, the one that God supposedly does consider an abomination, is one that doesn’t fit well with their chosen lifestyle: him that soweth discord among brethren.

Hmm, that sounds a lot like the voters of Arizona.

What’s Up, DOC NYC? Mission Congo

NYCdocI watch a lot of documentaries. On the TV as well as the big screen. I like a little redeeming value from my entertainment. I consider it part of my continuing education.

Naturally, I was stoked to learn about DOC NYC, New York City’s documentary film festival. And they had such a diverse selection to choose from. Though, considering these economic times, I felt obliged to be particularly judicious in deciding which I’d go see in the cinema and which I’d wait to catch on television.

Mission Congo
First up was Mission Congo, which took a look at multi-millionaire televangelist Pat Robertson, his 700 Club television show, and his Operation Blessing relief mission. Now I know these clowns are crooks, and the true enemies of all that Jesus supposedly taught us. Yet Robertson, a failed presidential candidate, is one of the most revered individuals in the Christian Right. In addition to heading the multi-million dollar Christian Broadcasting Network and hosting the 700 Club, he is the de facto leader of the Christian Coalition, the heart of the right-wing evangelical movement of conservative Christians. He is the posterchild of the Religious Right.

This hour-long documentary focuses on Robertson’s activities in the 1990s, when he was using his television show and broadcasting network to raise more than $200 million for Operation Blessing, which he claimed was an African relief effort. The film featured footage of Robertson claiming that funds from phone-in donors were being used to fly doctors and medicine to Zaire (now the Congo) to treat a cholera outbreak and other crisis conditions at a camp of refugees from Rwanda’s genocide. Then the documentary showed interviews of people on the ground in Africa – not only the doctors, relief workers, journalists, and locals at this refugee camp but also employees of Robertson’s Operation Blessing and African Development Corporation. The discrepancies were startling.

MissCongContrary to Robertson’s claims, Operation Blessing was not flying significant amounts of medical teams or medicine into the area. Nor were they even a factor in the relief effort. The only recollection anyone on the ground had of Robertson’s people was that an occasional zealot would follow Médecins Sans Frontières’ stretcher bearers, doing nothing more than trying to read the Bible to the camp’s most critical patients. Some of the footage Robertson showed on the 700 Club to raise funds were clearly Médecins Sans Frontières aid workers – not Operation Blessing personnel as he had claimed.

So what did Robertson do with the $200 million he raised tax-free for these African refugees? He cut a deal with Zairian President Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, a notoriously brutal dictator who was under investigation at the time for crimes against humanity (some of Robertson’s other pals in the country lived long enough to be convicted of war crimes), that gave him diamond mining concessions in exchange for his efforts in using the Religious Right to lobby against the sanctions imposed on Mobutu, as the dictator had been branded evil (and rightfully so) by the American government. In reality, Operation Blessing was an airlift to bring dredges and other mining equipment to the other side of Zaire for his mining operation, which was incorporated offshore as the African Development Corporation.

So instead of helping African refugees, he was raping their land of its precious resources. And doing so tax-free, under the false flag of Christian charity. That’s the face of American televangelism. That is the face of the Religious Right. A multi-millionaire who prays off the false hopes of the faithful and crawls in bed with war criminals to further fatten his tax-exempt bank accounts.

A reporter from The Virginian-Pilot exposed the scandal, and the Virginia Board of Consumer Affairs (Operation Blessing and the Christian Broadcasting Network are based in Virginia) launched an investigation. They found that Robertson not only lied, but committed fraud. And they even recommended that Robertson be prosecuted for his crimes. However, the state’s new governor and attorney general declined to prosecute him. And they denied that their decision had anything to do with the large campaign contributions they received from Robertson’s people.

Having used his political influence to evade criminal prosecution, Robertson claimed he was vindicated of all wrong-doing. But his diamond-mining concessions in Zaire disappeared once Mobutu was ousted. So Robertson then cut a similar deal with Charles Taylor, the then notoriously evil leader of Liberia who is currently serving 50 years for his crimes against humanity. And, as the documentary points out, the Operation Blessing Web site is still raising funds for its operation in what is now the Congo, claiming that the funds are needed to support a farm and school that it abandoned way back in 1995.

If you get a chance to see Mission Congo, I highly recommend you do so. The problem is that so few will actually see it (the filmmakers don’t even have a trailer on YouTube). And those who do see it most likely already know what a corrupt douche Pat Robertson is.

But perhaps something good will come out of it as people, like myself, become aware of the Trinity Foundation, which was featured in the film. It is a watchdog organization that investigates religious fraud, primarily in the televangelist community. Now that’s something I can support!

PeepHistZinnThe Untold History of the United States
Have you read A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn? If you haven’t, you should. And if you have, then you have no need to see The Untold History of the United States, a 10-hour documentary series by Oliver Stone.

I saw the second of two two-hour prologues to Stone’s 10-hour series that first appeared on Showtime. Neither of these prologues had been seen before. He claims it would have been too confusing for younger audiences. In other words, he chose to edit the historical narrative in hopes of earning higher ratings.

As part of DOC NYC, I went to check it out, to see if it was worth 10 hours of my time to watch the rest of it. But, like I said, it’s a flashy rip-off of Zinn’s magnificent book. I didn’t even stick around to listen to the Q&A with Stone, who had sat across the aisle from me. I figured, I gave him two hours to make his case…I don’t need to stick around for another hour to hear any more.