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Religion, Politics & Screaming at the Internet

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

screamingatcomputer

David Swindle has entered the ongoing  discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:

Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?

No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a number of articles in the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.

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Love and Altruism Prove Opposite

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

YouTube Preview Image

Sunday, I offered the provocative theological claim that Altruism Has No Place in Christianity. I referenced the biblical teaching of pastor and theologian John Piper, who advances a notion of Christian hedonism summed up in the declaration that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

My colleague Susan L.M. Goldberg approached my claim with reservations. She concluded:

The question of whether or not altruism holds a place in religious life is dependent upon how one defines the structure of their faith: as a business arrangement or a personal relationship. The argument Walter poses is a good one in terms of the welfare state in America. I agree with him that socialist policies should not be promoted as altruistic acts of a benevolent big government. As far as altruism goes in relation to faith, I also agree that God prepares an individual for His purpose in their life and rewards them for their faith. I do, however, question Walter’s contextualizing our personal relationship with God into a business transaction. Before we hasten to view our personal faith in that light, we should bear in mind that the failure of the welfare state was preceded by the transformation of our houses of worship into social halls dedicated to fulfilling our own very non-altruistic needs.

Susan makes a distinction which I reject. Whether business or personal in nature, all relationships prove transactional. Certainly it is possible for people to act altruistically in their relationships. But altruism proves the exception to the transactional rule, and undermines the relational bond.

In my previous piece, I cited the example of a husband buying a bouquet of his wife’s favorite flower with money he would rather spend on something else. That’s altruism, doing something for someone else at the expense of your values. Not only would the husband harbor bitterness from his sacrifice. If his wife learned how he felt about the purchase, she would despise him for it. Why?

We have heard it said that “it’s the thought that counts” when gifts are given. What thought are we referring to? In the case of a bouquet bought for a wife, the thought might be, “I love you and want you to have this symbol of my affection far more than I want the money and time it took to acquire it.” In other words, the wife wants the husband to feel satisfied by her enjoyment of the flowers he bought. It’s transactional. Everyone is better off.

The same applies in our personal relationship to God. 2 Corinthians 9:7 reads:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

If God wanted altruistic worshipers, He would not care whether they were reluctant or not.

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Altruism in Religion’s Free Market

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

tithe

My colleague Walter Hudson recently concluded that altruism has no place in Christian life:

Christian giving promotes life and health. Altruism promotes starvation and death. Altruism redistributes. Christian giving transacts. Christ’s own words assure us of greater blessing in giving than receiving. Christian giving leaves us better off, not worse. Altruism therefore proves atheistic, as Piper declares. We will never give more to others than God will give to us.

Walter’s basic conclusion is capitalist in nature: A Christian should be rewarded in kind (or over and above) for giving of their money, their time, or their talent. On the face of it, his argument makes sense, especially in light of congregational membership. My Christian friends often complain about the concept of “tithing,” a Torah teaching that is grossly abused by the religious establishment. Far too often, “tithing” translates into religious leadership putting pressure on church members to “donate” up to 10% of their annual income to their church. Synagogue membership, on the other hand, is rather simple: The same flat fee is charged to everyone on a yearly basis. No weekly passing of plates, no feeling ashamed; most synagogues have provision to assist members who may not be able to meet the annual sum. Programming fees are charged for additional events, like holiday services and Hebrew school. This model best fits Walter’s description of being rewarded in kind for monies given.

In the era where religious establishments have become places to fulfill business networking and social needs, it makes sense that you’d pay a fee for the religious service as you would any other mode through which these things would be accomplished. You pay for drinks at bars, JDate and Christian Mingle memberships, and head hunters; someone’s got to pay the electric bill so the lights are on when you’re shaking hands. The only question is, where is God in all of this? If the Bible is right, and we were put on earth to walk with Him in a personal relationship, what is He getting for His services rendered? That is, besides a corrupt priesthood on both sides of the aisle, pressuring congregants for cash and willing to let God take the back seat to a business deal?

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Altruism Has No Place in Christianity

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson
Do you regard the gifts you give as loss?

Do you regard the gifts you give as loss?

“It is better to give than to receive.” How often have we heard that? The motto of the altruist, this would-be-proverb exhorts us to act for others at our expense. Among the vast culture of Christendom, altruism has been adopted as a tenant of the faith by many if not most believers. Churchgoers are encouraged to give sacrificially, which generally gets interpreted as giving until it hurts.

Yet careful examination of scripture suggests that altruism has no place in the Christian life. Consider this from pastor and theologian John Piper:

After my message to the Liberty University student body [in September of 2013], a perceptive student asked this clarifying question: So you don’t believe that altruistic acts are possible or desirable?

I asked for his definition of altruism so that I could answer what he was really asking. He said, “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward.” I answered: that’s right, whether or not it’s possible, I don’t think it’s desirable, because it’s not what the Bible teaches us to do; and it’s not what people experience as genuine love. Because it isn’t genuine love.

What does Piper mean by that? Consider that the phrase “it is better to give than to receive” does not actually appear in scripture. Instead, Acts 20:35 reads:

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

More blessed for who? The Contemporary English Version translates it this way. “More blessings come from giving than from receiving.” The New Life Version among others translates it another way. “We are more happy when we give than when we receive.” Christ, according to Paul, tells us we are better off helping the weak than being among the weak who require help.

That presents a far more precise application than the vague notion that “it’s better to give than to receive.” From an earthly perspective, giving requires abundance above and beyond our requirements for survival. We must have before we can give, and we must get before we can have. From a heavenly perspective, helping the weak in the name of Christ proves an act of obedient worship which draws us deeper into joyful relationship with Him. There’s nothing altruistic about that. You cannot lose upon securing an infinite value.

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Noah: A Good Jewish Boy’s Cinematic Drash

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

AronofskyNoah

Darren Aronofsky’s take on the classic tale of Noah is the Jewish guy’s Bible movie. The narrative, which does remain true to the textual account of Genesis, is crafted in the style akin to a scholarly drash. In another lifetime you might imagine this story to have been generated by a minyan of Talmud scholars poring over the story in their classes. Perhaps that is why the Christian audience has reacted so poorly to the film; it is not, in the words of Walter Hudson, told “from a Christian theological standpoint.” The audience is treated to a wrestling, not recounting, of the text for two very good reasons: A four-chapter story would make for a very short film and Aronofsky, for however religious he may or may not be at the moment, is most definitely 100% a Jew.

Aronofsky’s Noah remains, first and foremost, a story of redemption as it was interpreted thousands of years ago when paired with Haftarah portions in Isaiah (42-43 and 54-55) for the weekly Torah reading. Like the patriarch Jacob, Noah wrestles with God: the battle is a question of original sin and free will. Redemption, Aronofsky illustrates, is a choice entered into by covenant with God. It is not simply a no-strings-attached gift granted to perfectly bad people by a perfectly good looking guy who tests well with focus groups.

Contrary to most Bible epics, a faceless, voiceless God communicates His redemptive plan to Noah through the Biblically prophetic device of a metaphoric dream. “You must trust that He speaks to you in a way you understand,” Noah’s grandfather Methuselah advises. Reminiscent of the Tanakh prophecy “your old men will see visions, your young men will dream dreams,” Aronofsky engages Noah with his aged, wise grandfather, who advises him of Enoch’s prophecy that God would, one day, annihilate the world by fire.

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A Jew’s Take on Jesus Movies

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

BiblememeAcculturated‘s R.J. Moeller has penned an excellent commentary on faith-based films in light of the Christian controversy surrounding Noah:

…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.

And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.

…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.

Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.

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Glenn Beck, The Church & the Real Secret to Disney’s Success

Monday, March 24th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

BeckDisney

Last week, alternative media mogul Glenn Beck announced that he was going to focus on “taking back” American culture through the power of nostalgia:

In the future, Glenn Beck’s focus is going to be more on influencing culture and less on politics and news. After all, news is only “what the culture allows,” he said in a recent interview with National Review’s Eliana Johnson.

…“Beck is nostalgic for an America of decades past, and his cultural projects will aim to resurrect and revive it,” Johnson writes. “It’s an America where duty trumped desire and Americans were bound together by a sort of civic religion created by that sense of duty. ‘I want to impact the culture in the way that people see good again,’ [Glenn] says.”

Beck’s goal is admirable, to a fault. The period he seeks to resurrect was one in which concepts like “good” and “duty” were defined by a Biblical religion, not a civic one. Any history student will tell you that Marx had his own take on the American Revolution; you can show someone Frank Capra movies until you’re blue in the face and they’re still going to see Mr. Smith as the ultimate community organizer if that’s their moral outlook.

As Amy Kenyon notes, there are pitfalls to what passes for nostalgia these days:

…the historical meanings and usages associated with nostalgia were finally mangled beyond recognition until its chief purpose became the performance of sentimentalism, the parceling out of discount memory via television, advertising, heritage theme parks, and souvenir markets, all aspects of what we might call the “nostalgia industry.” As such, nostalgia became kitsch, trivial and reactionary: hardly the stuff of a meaningful engagement with the past or the workings of memory.

Simply put: Glenn Beck needs to do more than embrace the facade of America, circa 1940. Beck needs to dig deeper, to America’s Biblical heritage, to understand what re-taking the culture truly means.

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The Latest Outbreak of Golden Calf Syndrome

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

goldencalf

There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.

Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.

Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”

One comment, however, caught my eye.

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5 Mysterious Bible Passages Worth Pondering For Lent or Anytime You Need Stimulation

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Now that the Lenten Season is upon us and the 40 day countdown to Easter has begun, this is good time to review some fascinating Bible stories that are worth knowing and pondering for their deeper meaning.

The three stories selected are personal favorites because they are filled with supernatural mystery and many unanswered questions that baffle Bible scholars to this day.

In all cases Bible quotes are italicized and taken from the widely used New International Version. (NIV)

1. Job 1: 6-12  

This is what happened when God and Satan had a little chat.

Job, the main character in the Old Testament Book of Job, was wealthy and richly blessed. He had a wife, ten children, many servants and numerous flocks. The second sentence in verse 1:1 described him as: “The man was blameless and upright he feared God and shunned evil.”

Job’s celebrity status was further described in verse 1:3,

“He was the greatest man of all the people in the East.” 

Unfortunately, being THAT awesome landed Job in the middle of a famous (and ultimately very painful) smack-down between God and Satan.

Artist: William Blake

Artist: William Blake of Satan tormenting Job

 

In verses 1: 7-8, Satan, along with other angels presented himself to God. When God asked Satan where he has came from, Satan replied, “roaming through the earth and going back and forth from it.”

Then, because Job was the equivalent of God’s “teacher’s pet,” God bragged about Job to Satan saying,

“Have you considered my servant Job?”

(God is then quoted as saying what was previously stated in verse 1:1)  “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

However, Satan was not impressed because Satan thought Job’s faithfulness to God was a result of Job living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Thus, Satan asked God in verse 1:9, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”

Satan explained to God his theory that if Job’s good fortunes were to suddenly disappear then Job would turn away from God.

“But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:11)

Satan’s words set in motion a classic conflict between good and evil, faith and non-faith. Poor Job was about to get zapped with God’s permission.

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Thank God! Who Is He, Again?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Matthew McConaughey thanked God for his Oscar win last night and the conservative crowd went wild.

McConaughey’s speech sparked a feeding frenzy for conservatives to outdo each other when it came to applauding him, while simultaneously taking shots at liberals. Rick Perry tweeted Monday morning, saying, “Texas boy counting his blessing.” His tweet linked to a Breitbart piece titled “Matthew McConaughey Praises God in Acceptance Speech, Hollywood Crowd Grows Quiet.” On Twitchy, Michelle Malkin’s site, the speech ran as “Matthew McConaughey rattles Oscar crowd, wins hearts by thanking God.” Fox News got in the game with the headline, “Matthew McConaughey one of few to thank God in Oscar acceptance speech.” And so on.

As the Daily Beast points out, McConaughey’s God-nod was most likely reassuring to a Christian population that’s been ostracized more than not:

In recent decades, religious figures are often found more often in niche movies, wrote Cieply, or if they are in major pictures, they “are often hypocrites and villains, driving plot lines that make, at best, a token bow toward the virtues of a faith-based life.”

One need look no further than a recent episode of the hit Scandal, in which the evangelical female vice president who murdered her gay husband claims she is not culpable because the devil made her do it.

Fair enough. I’m sure the Son of God giddiness also contributed to the Tweetfest, despite the fact that McConaughey never did specifically go beyond the name “God,” let alone drop “Jesus” during the speech. He did, however, express conviction that Miller Lite is served in heaven, which I’m sure won over the Duck Dynasty crowd.

What most conservative Oscar watchers failed to lavish with praise wasn’t the mere thanking of God, but the praising of Him by singer Darlene Love. The career backup singer celebrated 20 Feet From Stardom’s Best Documentary win by singing the refrain from the hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow:

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

The refreshingly simple, faith-laced, joyful lyrics made up the majority of her acceptance “speech” and were received with a full-house standing ovation led by an incredibly enthusiastic, non-religious Bill Murray. Where’s the barrage of Tweets about that?

McConaughey returned to his pot-smoking, bongo-banging self by the end of his speech, concluding with:

…whatever we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to and whoever it is we’re chasing — to that I say, alright, alright, alright. And then I say, just keep livin’.

It’s a generic statement that illustrates God is “whatever” and “whoever” and, therefore, “alright, alright, alright.” I have yet to read a conservative commentary that points out the many ways this level of ambiguity has eroded our nation’s ability to put faith in the God of our ancestors, let alone have faith in ourselves, both as a free nation and as individuals with free will. But hey, that’s cool; an actor said the G-word on stage and it got captured by social media, which makes it count.

Alright, alright, alright.

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Noah Flooded with Potential for Interfaith Battle

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

All week I’ve been seeing anti-Noah posts popping up on Facebook from Christian friends who are convinced that the not-yet-released Darren Aronofsky epic must be a liberal, secularist perversion of the biblical story, morphing Noah into a drunk and spouting an anti-human, pro-environmentalist message. Where’d the controversy come from? According to Jordan Hoffman at the Times of Israel, entertainment trade mag Variety needed to drum up readership on a slow news day:

A strange agenda group for “faith driven consumers” sent out a push-poll asking if people who hadn’t yet seen the film if they were “satisfied with a biblically themed film… which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”

In other words, a bunch of opt-in Christians were asked if they were ready to see what some scarf-wearing artiste from Jew York City had cooked up with his liberal and probably homosexual friends when, you know, they weren’t drinking blood and hoarding gold. Some 98% of respondents said that, no, they were not satisfied.

It would have been a nothing story had the press release not been picked up by Variety (one of the main entertainment trade publications) on a particularly slow news day. The Internet ran with headlines that basically read “98% of Christian audiences are enraged by ‘Noah!’” forcing Paramount, which has already had plenty of tsuris with this film, to issue an explanatory press release of their own.

The stereotypes Hoffman plays with in his commentary entertainingly highlight the unspoken rift between Jews and Christians when it comes to biblical epics. We, for the most part, stand back while Christians re-interpret our history, our people, our nation, and our sacred text in light of their own slightly Aryan (why are ancient Israelis consistently blue-eyed Brits?) Sunday School memories. This time, however, a Jewish writer/director has paired with a Jewish writer to bring a Torah story to the silver screen. That interpretation has caused Christian uproar, something the filmmakers prepared for when they sought out production partner Rob Moore, who is both a vice chair at Paramount and a devout Christian who supports the film.

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Paul, George, Ringo & the Prophet John

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The Beatles Generation in the #USSR #socialism #music #beatles

As the world mourned the loss of Soviet evangelist Pete Seeger last week, I encountered stories of real Soviets who found God, not in the hammer and sickle of the USSR, but in the smuggled bootleg lyrics of the Beatles.

How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is a fascinating narrative detailing Soviet Baby Boomers’ covert love affair with the Fab Four. Interviewing a variety of Russian Beatlemaniacs, including many post-Communist music scene movers and shakers, over the course of nearly two decades, British filmmaker Leslie Woodhead discovered that The Beatles were much more than a band in the U.S.S.R. For many Soviet teens, The Beatles were a glimpse at independence, freedom, and even God.

The idea that a rock and roll band could provoke the understanding of the intertwining of God and freedom, let alone inspire a search for the divine, is one that is largely lost on an American audience. After all, as Soviet teens risked Kremlin hellfire to listen to Beatles tracks, their American counterparts in the Bible Belt were throwing their records on bonfires, forced by a religious hierarchy that saw John Lennon and his band as a threat to Christ. Rock music then became the stuff of hippies, the class that scoffed at religious institutions and, like The Beatles, sought divine encounters and self-empowerment through eastern religions.

Arguably, the advocates of Beatles burnings did more to harm Christ’s reputation and following than John Lennon ever could. After all, as he explained, his ironic quip about Jesus was more of a warning than a declaration:

“I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I’m sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. From what I’ve read, or observed, Christianity just seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”

Ironically, it’s a warning that post-Soviet leaders like Vladimir Putin have heeded with their own political purposes in mind.

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Are These Signs Of the Messiah Coming in 2014?

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014 - by Myra Adams
Kaduri

Israeli Rabbi Kaduri predicted in 2005 that the Messiah would return “soon” after the death of Ariel Sharon who died on January 11, 2014.

Anytime you want to start a lively discussion among Christians just ask the question, “Will Jesus return in your lifetime?”

Then of course, some Bible thumper will immediately quote the famous scripture verse from Matthew 24:36:

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (New Living Translation)

Mindful that believers can never know, but only speculate about the exact date of the “Second Coming” – here are some interesting facts enfolding in 2014 relating to events on earth and in the sky.

First, let’s begin with the earthly facts concerning an Orthodox Israeli Rabbi named Yitzhak Kaduri who died on January 28, 2006 at over 100 years of age. (There is debate over Kaduri’s exact age at his death ranging from 108 to 104.)

From this short video you will learn about Rabbi Kaduri and the mysteries that are still swirling around him eight years after his death.

YouTube Preview Image

As mentioned in the video, Rabbi Kaduri publicly stated in a sermon that the Messiah, who Kaduri said had revealed himself to him, was going to appear to Israel “soon” after the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Not mentioned was Kaduri gave the sermon in 2005 on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays when Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel.

At the time this video was produced Sharon was still “alive” but in a coma, after suffering a massive stroke on January 4, 2006.

Then on January 11, 2014 Sharon finally died after eight years in a coma and his obituary from the Washington Post stated the following:

The man who chose the title “Warrior” for his autobiography was for much of his career the darling of the Israeli right, which chanted “Arik, King of Israel!” invoking his nickname and comparing him to the legendary biblical King David.

Is it coincidental that Jesus is also often referred to as “The King of Israel?”

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 13: Freedom

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

wildflowers

Well, here we are at the end of our series exploring Judeo-Christian ideas and themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ 2012 album Oceania. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them, Throughout this series, we’ve dug into the concepts of the seekerthe sacred Name of Godwisdomunfaithfulnesshopeunfailing loverepentancethe wayfaith, contentment, and the parable of the Lost Son. Last week, we delved into Track 12, “Inkless,” and the notion of being in the presence of God.

This week to close out the series, we’re looking at the album’s 13th and closing cut, “Wildflower.” This song has a subdued, hymnlike quality – vocals and strings dominate, along with a lead guitar line. The image of a wildflower itself conjures up ideas of a certain type of freedom, and the lyrics suggest freedom in their own way as well:

I trim the wick so fine
To carry forth your light
Comfort me
What will leave will leave

[...]

Wildflower in the wilderness outside
Take your chance with love and laughter
And every word I write, yeah

Of course, the concept of freedom shows up throughout the Bible. The Old Testament book of Exodus tells how God gave the Israelites literal physical freedom from slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. Centuries later, God allowed other nations to subdue Israel and take His chosen people into exile as discipline for their disobedience and turning away from Him. However, He released them from exile and paved the way for their return to the land He promised them.

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 12: In The Presence Of God

Sunday, December 15th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Presence of God

Here we are in Week 12 of my series exploring Judeo-Christian themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ album Oceania. Over the last 11 weeks we’ve explored the concepts of the seeker, the sacred Name of Godwisdomunfaithfulnesshopeunfailing loverepentancethe wayfaith, and contentment. Last week we looked at Jesus’ parable of the Lost Son in Track 9, “Pale Horse.”

Track 12, “Inkless,” is the shortest song on the album, and it is the one that sounds most like the Smashing Pumpkin’s 1990s output. The title conjures up images of a blank page with plenty of possibilities – or, to better suit our purposes, “Inkless” sounds like a description of someone whose sins have been washed away by a sacrifice. Some of the lyrics suggest a journey with God:

The stars are out for us
And what you feel for me rides beside you
Just take me home, take me home

[...]

But drive me home the right way
We’ll uncover there’s no other faith but us
A faith in love unseen
Trace the face of love unseen
Don’t shadow up what we mean
Uncover what were meant to be
And come unlace your light
The stars are out tonight

Throughout the Bible, we read about different people who experienced God’s presence directly. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve encountered God directly in the Garden of Eden, but their sin drove God to separate mankind from his perfect presence. In Exodus 33, Moses had direct conversations in God’s presence:

8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

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Why So Courteous?

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

Why So Courteous

This will come across sanctimonious, like I’m trying to flaunt how good of a person I am. So let me start by offering the assurance that I prove no more courteous than anyone else, and may even be a bit below average. I use an example of my own courtesy because I remain well-informed as to its motivation.

I went to the gas station the other day to pick up a couple of snacks which I should not be eating. I was in no hurry. It was one of those meandering stops where you spend more time than you really need applying more thought than is rationally due to whether you should experiment with a new flavor of Combos.

When I finally completed my selection, I made my way to the register, where I stood in line behind one other person. A women rushed in from the arctic weather (uncharacteristically cold for this time of year, even in Minnesota) clasping onto a ten dollar bill and signaling without any sense of entitlement that she was in a hurry.

I stood next to be served and could have taken that privilege without objection. But I made the decision to yield my place in line to her. She paid her ten dollars for pump four and went on her way, delaying me mere seconds as opposed to the minute or so I may have delayed her.

As I left, seven layer dip tortilla Combos in hand, I pondered why I had stepped aside. Here I am, an admirer of Ayn Rand, an advocate of individual rights, frequently evoking rational self-interest in my analysis of politics and culture. Was my tiny act of courtesy a violation of that principle? Did I fail to act in my own rational self-interest by allowing a stranger to take my place in line? Did I sacrifice something of value for something of lesser or no value?

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Satanists Want A Monument In Oklahoma Alongside 10 Commandments

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Satan goes after the Ten Commandments

Jews and Christians have this crazy tendency to make themselves lighting rods for criticism and attack when they make their beliefs public. People really take offense to dangerous values like “Don’t murder” and “Don’t steal.” From militant atheists clamping down on anything related to Christmas and Hanukkah to leftists developing Kwanzaa as an alternative to the Judeo-Christian holidays to the seemingly endless lawsuits surrounding displays of the Ten Commandments, the Left never tires of making a reality of Jesus’ warning that the world would hate His followers.

These days, the Satanists have decided to take a different approach – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. In Oklahoma, where the legislature has erected a Ten Commandments monument, a group of Satanists (based in New York, naturally) have expressed their desire to put up their own monument next to it.

It notified the state’s Capitol Preservation Commission that it wants to donate a monument and plans to submit one of several possible designs this month, said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple.

“We believe that all monuments should be in good taste and consistent with community standards,” Greaves wrote in letter to state officials. “Our proposed monument, as an homage to the historic/literary Satan, will certainly abide by these guidelines.”

Greaves said one potential design involves a pentagram, a satanic symbol, while another is meant to be an interactive display for children. He said he expects the monument, if approved by Oklahoma officials, would cost about $20,000.

I don’t see why Oklahoma officials wouldn’t approve an interactive display for children on the, um, values of Satanism, would you? Greaves – whose name sounds like a Satanist’s name if anyone’s does – believes that the monument would help spread the word about the Prince of Darkness.

You don’t walk around and see too many satanic temples around, but when you open the door to public spaces for us, that’s when you’re going to see us.

As expected, the Oklahoma ACLU has jumped into the fray. Its director, Brady Henderson, weighed in:

…if the Ten Commandments, with its overtly Christian message, is allowed to stay at the Capitol, the Satanic Temple’s proposed monument cannot be rejected because of its different religious viewpoint.

What values would the monument promote? What would the slogan be: “The Devil Made Me Do It”? What do you think? Is the controversy all a bunch of nothing, or do the Satanists have a beef? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments below. All I know is that some stories are too bizarre not to be made up. This is one of them.

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 11: The Lost Son

Sunday, December 8th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

prodigal-son

Welcome to Week 11 of my series exploring Judeo-Christian themes in the Smashing Pumpkin’s 2012 album Oceania. If you’ve been following this series, you know that we’ve looked at the themes of the seeker, the sacred Name of God, wisdom, unfaithfulness, hope, unfailing love, repentance, the way, and faith. Last week, we looked at the concept of contentment in the lyrics to Track 11, “Glissandra.”

This week, we’re looking at Track 9, “Pale Horse,” which is a mid-tempo rocker with a steady rhythm. In the lyrics, Corgan signs to someone who is separated from him. (References to the antipsychotic drug Thorazine and the line “When they locked you up they shut me out” suggest that the song refers to someone in a mental institution.)

I’ll admit that I had some trouble seeing anything in the lyrics that I could write about, so I skipped past it for a couple of weeks. But this week, as I was preparing to write this post, certain lyrics made me think of one of the most poignant stories in the Bible:

If I was to listen, I’d turn back
Give up on my reasons
Forgive up the past
You think I’d swallow that?

[...]

There’ll be no others
There’ll be no long lost friends
Empty on the insides
Empty of a last pretense
To stand by on feeling of the end
So many lives
A runaway life
So many lies

[...]

So many lives
A runaway life
Please come back
Please come back

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 9: Faith

Sunday, November 24th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Faith

Welcome to Week 9 of my series exploring Judeo-Christian themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ 2012 album OceaniaCheck out the previous posts if you want to catch up. Last week we talked about the concept of  The Way in Track 8, the title track. This week, I’ve pressed the skip button to check out Track 10, “The Chimera.”

“The Chimera” is a driving, straight-ahead rocker. I have a lot of fun listening to it, and I imagine Billy Corgan enjoyed the recording process as well. Upbeat yet edgy guitars and pounding drums drive the track, and Corgan sings with abandon.

I can’t really tell what the song is about exactly – the titular creature, a mythical combination of a lion, a goat, and a snake – doesn’t appear anywhere in the lyrics. Some of the lyrics sound as if they come from the perspective of someone who is discovering faith and perhaps even singing to God.

I’ll take you with me where I climb
In my mind, oh my mind

[...]

I’ll take you with me where I keep
In my sleep, oh in my sleep
And if I’m wrong, I’m right
I’m never gonna lose you
If I’m wrong, I’m right
Take me to your life
All you need is you, lover
All you need is you
All you need is you, lover
So please need me too
What you need is love, stranger
What you need is love
When your love needs its danger
Please let me through when I’ve got you

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 8: The Way

Sunday, November 17th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

This Way

Here we are in Week 8 of my series looking at Judeo-Christian themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ brilliant 2012 album Oceania. Check out the previous posts if you want to catch up.

Track 8 on Oceania is the title track, and it’s more of a challenge musically or lyrically than any of the previous songs. “Oceania” is a nine-minute opus that shifts time signatures and tempos reminiscent of progressive rock. I’ll confess that I had a difficult time figuring out the lyrics and finding something worth writing about – until my mind stuck on the last few lines. You can’t really call it a stanza or verse, since the song doesn’t have a traditional structure, but in these lyrics Corgan tries to convince another person to:

Try the way

Skirt the cliffs of your illusion

Find the faith of me

My mistake as the last remaining soldier

Was to take the place of you

Love the way

Love the way and learn

Try the way

Cast off your indecision

Corgan sounds as though he’s found something truly life-changing and wants to share it with the woman to whom he’s singing.

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 7: Repentance

Sunday, November 10th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

U-Turn

Welcome back to my series on Judeo-Christian themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ 2012 release Oceania. I can’t believe we’re just over halfway through the album! If you’re just joining me, I hope you’ll seek out my other posts in the series.

Last week we looked at Track 6, “One Diamond, One Heart,” and the concept of God’s unfailing love. Now we’ll move on to Track 7 – “Pinwheels.” The song starts out in an unusual way – nearly half the song is an instrumental intro, driven by a synth and guitar riff. Nearly three minutes in, Corgan begins strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a love song. In the chorus, he sings:

Floating away I think I’ll stay, as refused
Floating away I think I’ll stay blue, black
Floating away I think I’ll change next to you
Finding a way to make the loss seem new
‘Cause you don’t deserve me, but I deserve you

Clearly, the lover to whom Corgan sings is above someone like him. She doesn’t deserve to have to put up with a man who is bruised and in need of change. If we look at these line in a more metaphorical sense, they suggest someone who wants to turn from his ways and start anew. In Biblical terms, this act is called repentance.

We can find plenty of scriptures about repentance in the Bible – in fact, you could say the book’s entire narrative is the story of fallen mankind turning from sin and back to God. In the Old Testament, God’s chosen people turned away and then back to Him over and over again. God spoke frequently on the need to repent:

21 But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. 22 None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. (Ezekiel 18:21-22)

…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:22)

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 6: Unfailing Love

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Unconditional Love

Welcome to the sixth week of my series exploring Judeo-Christian themes in the songs from the album Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins. After six weeks of digging in, we’re still discovering some fascinating connections between Billy Corgan’s lyrics and concepts in the Bible.

This week’s song, “One Diamond, One Heart” stands in direct contract musically from the track before it, “My Love Is Winter.” Instead of the driving rock of the latter track – and all the other previous cuts on the album, really – in “One Diamond, One Heart” Corgan backs himself with synthesizers, and the song carries more of a pop feel than the others.

Also, in contrast to the heartbreak and despair of earlier tracks, “One Diamond, One Heart” takes a different tone – Corgan sings of a rare love, one that does not fail:

I’m not here to hold your hand
I’m just here to understand
If you’re feeling low I can help
I’m always on your side
Forever near your light
I’m always on your side
However you must fight
Within your darkest night
I’m always on your side

[...]

They won’t rush you from me
‘Cause here I’ll always be
I’m always on your side
Forever near your light

The concept of unfailing love often seems like a pipe dream or fairy tale. We might associate this idea with that of a parent’s love, or even a couple who have been married for a long time. But the truth of the matter is that the God of the Bible is the only One whose love absolutely does not fail.

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 5: Hope From Despair

Sunday, October 27th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

flowers-in-snow

Welcome to Week 5 of my exploration of Judeo-Christian ideas in the Smashing Pumpkin’ album Oceania. It’s hard to believe we’re already up to Track 5: “My Love Is Winter.”

You can probably guess the tone of the song from its title. For centuries, writers have used the winter season as a metaphor for despair and gloom, and it’s no wonder – short cold days, long colder nights, treeless landscapes. So chances are a song with winter in its title isn’t going to bring much warmth and happiness.

“My Love Is Winter” fits the winter metaphor nicely, at least in places. A minor key melody, combined with cold, detached synthesizer riffs set a certain tone throughout. The lyrics detail a relationship that seems to have dried up like the leaves on the trees:

Lonely draw
Sides grow dimmer
Spellbound all
I waste the hour
My love is winter
My love is lost

Silent fog
Let’s pass and wither
From the cold that saws me flat
My love is winter
My love is lost

However, the lyrics of the chorus take a turn for the better, suggesting that love isn’t really lost:

There is love enough for the both of us
There is more than prayers made to be with you

The refrain repeats several times at the end, closing the song on a more hopeful (though still minor-key) note:

There is love enough for the both of us
There is love enough
There is love
There is love enough for the both of us
There is love enough
There is love

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Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 4: The Unfaithful Lover

Sunday, October 20th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

infidelity

Welcome back to our series on Judeo-Christian themes and values in the Smashing Pumpkins’ 2012 album Oceania. If you haven’t been following this series, here’s a quick recap, along with links to the prior posts. We’ve looked at the concept of the seeker of God in “Panopticon,” at the Sacred Name of God in “Quasar,” and at the idea of sharing wisdom in “The Celestials” (and of course I was on vacation last week).

This week, we’re checking out track 4, “Violet Rays.” This track doesn’t rock as much as the prior songs — in fact, it’s downright subdued by comparison. Over a 6/8 time signature and a haunting beat, Corgan sings from the point of view of a lover with a wandering eye and heart.

Faithless moors
Pulling up your oars
From rivers I have crossed
In magic no heart’s lost

And I’ll leave with anyone this night
And I’ll kiss anyone tonight

Am I the only one you see?
Raised from the path of revelry

Spells fall frail
Webs catching sail
In eternal eternities
Divine purpose catching free

And I’ll leave with anyone this night
And I’ll kiss anyone tonight

Clearly, this person is looking to cheat or has cheated — or both. I’ve read suggestions that Corgan wrote this song about a girlfriend who cheated on him, but he has apparently refused to confirm or deny.

Interestingly enough, the Bible employs the metaphor of the unfaithful lover to describe God’s people — particularly the nation of Israel — as they wander and stray from Him.

In Deuteronomy 30, as the Israelites are on the verge of taking the Promised Land, God warns the nation of the consequences of both faithfulness and unfaithfuness to Him:

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

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