The Saint

Is there anything that speaks as directly and conclusively to the credibility of the church as the fact that the wife of Nicholas II, Alexandra, has been made a “saint” by the Russian Orthodox Church?

In 1981 Alexandra and her family were acknowledged by The Russian Orthodox Church as martyrs, and in 2000, Empress Alexandra was made a saint by the church. She was canonized as both a saint and as a passion bearer.  From Here.  Don’t click on it: it’s one of those awful click-bait Facebook links.


Can we, in the future, expect to see “Saint” Diana?  Why not? Let’s see: she was famous.  She was rich.  She was vain and self-serving.  She was  a consummate narcissist.   Do we even have to wait for a miracle?

I will concede that she appears to have been faithful to her husband, and she volunteered for nursing duty during the war, along with her daughters.  She didn’t commit any mass slaughters like Olga of Kiev.  But she also may have been at least partly responsible for bringing on the Russian Revolution with her irrational attachment to Rasputin and her belief that he could heal Alexey’s hemophilia– at least, temporarily.  When it was apparent to all of the Czar’s advisers and ministers that Rasputin was widely hated among the populace, she and Nicholas refused to disassociate themselves from him.  When Prime-Minister Stolypin reported in more detail on Rasputin’s lecherous behaviour, he had him exiled but Alexandra persuaded him to allow back.  With the survival of the entire government at stake, it was left to the husband of one of Nicholas’ nephews,  Prince Feliks Yusopov, to try to save the Czar from himself by assassinating him.  As it turns out, it was too late.

Can you imagine some sequence of thought or imagination in which a genuinely spiritual person in a Church based on the gospel of Jesus Christ has an authentic experience of encountering qualities in  the story of Alexandra that would inspire you to exclaim, “what a saint!  What a model and paragon of Christian virtue and humility!  What an inspiration to all of mankind!  Think of all the suffering she alleviated!  Think of her purity and modesty!  Think of how constantly she placed others ahead of herself!”

But then, we are talking about a movement–I do mean broadly, Christianity itself– that bloviated constantly about purity and humility and spirituality and service to mankind and truth and dignity… and then voted– overwhelmingly– for Donald Trump in a real election.

How can anything said by its adherents be taken seriously anymore?

And to those who rejected Donald Trump but insist they are Christians, I cannot imagine how you rationalize a faith that itself proclaims that you can and should judge people by their fruits.


Justin Alexander’s Bid for Authenticity

In the first post on his travel blog, Adventures of Justin, he wrote: “I am running from a life that isn’t authentic…I’m running away from monotony and towards novelty; towards wonder, awe, and the things that make me feel vibrantly alive.”  Outside Online

I am always deeply impressed and disturbed by men like Justin Alexander who embark on quests for “authenticity”, and always disappointed in their inability to relate the “authentic” to me in comprehensible English.

They try, and they are often quite eloquent, but not about what matters most.  This is partly because what matters to them is something that is very hard to describe or explain.  But, like Christopher McCandless, they often scrap and scrape and flourish phrases and ideas and images before you without connecting all the dots.  McCandless ended up dying, stupidly, alone, in an abandoned bus in Alaska, just a short trek from help because he didn’t really know the terrain or the challenges of living in the wild.  He thought he was on to some incredibly valuable insight into the purpose of life but didn’t even take good hiking boots with him (a truck-driver who gave him a ride gave him his boots, out of pity).

He starved to death.

Countless others have died on mountains or in obscure, remote regions.  Justin Alexander is another.  No one knows what happened to him.

There’s not point pitying these men: they took responsibility for themselves and made choices that mattered to them and probably accepted that they might pay a price for it.  In a way, I do admire them, because they are largely right about the predictability and mediocrity of life in the modern suburbs.

The one thing these people don’t seem to really consider is that, just as they might have some secret insight that sets them apart from mainstream society, mainstream society might have some secret insight that keeps them from wandering into the bush or the wild mountains and starving to death.

And yet some of them might have lives that are rich and rewarding and meaningful.

Lonely Wooden Tower

The CBC discovers that Leonard Cohen used religious imagery in his songs.


I did a presentation on Leonard Cohen in grade 12 at Beacon Christian High School.  I played several songs, including “Suzanne” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” and even “Diamonds in the Mine” and read some of his poems and some passages from “Beautiful Losers”, his novel.  And one of my key points was this:  we have been taught since we were little that to be “good” means denying the flesh and living a spiritual life of self-denial, and to shun sins of the flesh because it blinds us to the gospel truth.    But “Suzanne” brings the two together, Jesus the sailor in his lonely wooden tower, and Suzanne with her tea and oranges, and the two belong together because they both address the same essential spiritual longing in the individual. They are not at war, but in harmony, because the longing for Suzanne is a response to the fact that we are all sailors, all “drowning”, and that’s how we see Christ on “his lonely wooden tower”.  And we are made perfect not in self-denial but in desire.

Not sure I phrased it quite that elegantly in Grade 12 but I remember that I expected the teacher, John Vriend, to object to that part of my presentation and was surprised when he did not.  He kind of nodded and thanked me (it wasn’t an assignment– I had offered to do it and Vriend, tacitly acknowledging that he knew very little about Cohen, except that he was a respected poet, accepted my offer).

I have never forgotten the strangeness of the ending of my presentation.  At that time, nobody was listening to Cohen– nobody.  I’m not sure what I expected– a round of applause?  Disapproval?  Argument?  But it was very quiet.  I had thought I might get some ridicule from my class-mates who were more into top-40 music, and some disapproval from the puritans, but it was just quiet, as if I was in a large cave and there was no echo.  I wondered where the “hello” went.

Note: I’m more than happy to admit that my memories are never 100% accurate.  That’s the best I can do about this particular moment.  I am most certain about the quiet at the end because that is something have never not remembered about it.

Divine Incest

The Vatican announced on Wednesday that Pope John Paul I, the Italian pontiff who reigned for only 33 days before his death in 1978, will be beatified after a miracle was attributed to him, bringing him one step closer to sainthood.   Ny Times – The Vatican announced …

What is this bullshit?  Did anyone tell the Roman Catholic Church that it is 2021 now?  The witches are gone, the Inquisition is gone, the miracles are gone, the magic is not afoot.

Pope Francis has authorized this step, adding to my disappointment with his appointment.

A sick young girl in Argentina was allegedly healed mysteriously by an “invocation of the Venerable John Paul I” according to the chief miracle detectors and busters office of the Vatican, the “Congregation for the Causes of the Saints”.   Any hospital could point you to dozens of similar “miracles”– unexplained sudden recoveries.

Make sure, Pope Francis, that you appoint your friends to this august body: that’s how it works.  That’s how you ensure that you too will reach the pinnacle.

And popes are not saints.  Saints are not saints.  Olga of Kiev, who brutally murdered thousands of Drevlians (a tribe living in what is now the Ukraine) is not a saint.  But the Catholic Church thinks she is.

What we have is this: each pope for the last 50 years has come to realize that his own canonization depends on establishing a precedent or model that will provide the framework for his own beatification.   I predict that every single pope from now to eternity will be Canonized.  It’s like sports halls of fame: every chief executive in the league offices has arranged it so that his own induction will seem inevitable, by establishing the kind of vague, loosely defined criteria that can be buffed and customized to suit any succeeding executive even if he is as mediocre a person as Gary Bettman.

It’s almost as bad as Franklin Graham inheriting his father’s divine mandate to lecture us all on how Donald Trump is really Jesus.


And Then the Angels Came

Kristy Money, a psychologist who works with sex offenders and is a Mormon in good standing, applauded church authorities for their transparency in coming clean on Smith. But she criticized the men who guide the faith for not condemning the founder’s behavior. At the very least, she wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune, the church should make it clear that religious leaders cannot have sex with young girls just because an angel told them it was O.K. to do so. NY Times, 2014-11-30

This comment perplexed me. If an angel told you to do something, wouldn’t you do it, the earthly authorities be damned? This is God speaking, after all. No earthy ruler outranks him. If you really believed that you were looking at or hearing an emissary of God (that’s what an angel is, after all), and he or she told you to marry a 13-year-old, I would think you would believe you must obey. That’s what Joseph Smith did. His earthy reward was lavish.

So, instead of telling church authorities to make it clear that even the angels must obey the law, perhaps it would make more sense to hold that the church should make it clear to these religious leaders that there are no angels.

Ah– but then, you see the problem.

Is the real problem here that Kristy Money– amazing name, especially for a psychologist– is “a Mormon in good standing” and, therefore, cannot just come out and deny that any of these leaders ever spoke to an angel at all? Because then you might be implying that Joseph Smith was a sex abuser?

Ah– but then you see the problem.

Surely, as a psychologist, Money understands that religion is a delusion. Belief in a literal god or a literal devil or literal angels is the result of childhood conditioning, not empirical knowledge. But as a Mormon, of course, she does believe. So how does she manage to practice a profession that is deeply and fundamentally founded upon assumptions about human nature that she cannot possibly subscribe to, as a member of the Mormon church, in good standing?

Without writing a book about it, in my opinion, the claims that the field of psychology makes about the human mind cannot ever be reconciled with religious belief. You can’t just pick the fruit and deny that the tree exists.

Well, you cherry pick. And why not? That’s what many people do about many intellectual conundrums: you pick the solutions you like and discard the ones you don’t like, which means, you are essentially making it up as you go along and creating an elegant mask of intellectual consistency and respectability to hold in front of your face as you make pronouncements.

I find this issue troubling only when I hear about “court-ordered psychiatric assessments” or any other application of force to apply an intellectual framework that I believe to be as magical and arbitrary as Mormonism and angels.

If I was a criminal and the judge started leaning towards ordering a psychiatric assessment, I would demand that any psychiatrist chosen for this task should first have to prove his competence by performing a miracle.

The Unfaithful NIV

N. T. Wright has written of previous NIV editions:

When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses…. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said…. [I]f a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.[18]
(From Wikipedia, on the NIV

And that’s that. I don’t have too much to add, except that, now that I am older, I wonder just how responsible we should hold parents and church leaders for the deception. It’s not as if this is an accident. And it’s not as if they don’t think they have a higher calling than to ensure that the cornerstone of their faith is translated without deceit. It’s this casual, thoughtless adherence to the principles of propaganda. And how can you not wonder in what other localities of faith and sacrament and ritual they are lying?

Is There Some Confusion Out There?

I just realized that a lot of Americans seem to believe that Mormonism is, like Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism, a variation of Christianity, and, therefore, we don’t need to worry about Mitt Romney’s ultimate loyalties, the way we needed to worry about an Islamic Barack Obama. Or Tom Cruise or John Travolta.

Never assume anything. Here’s the hilarious part– liberals, who never felt it was right to raise questions about Obama’s religion anyway– don’t want to raise the issue of Mormonism against Romney.

Why not? Mormonism is not a religion: it is a demented cult. I define a cult as a set of beliefs that deliberately tries to exclude rational examination of it’s preconceptions and assumptions. Like Scientology. And the Tea Party. And I define “demented cult” as the same thing as “cult” but with silly narratives.

I have no problem with a Roman Catholic president: Catholicism is a deeply sophisticated, well-developed, and fearless set of beliefs which I disagree with, respectfully. Well, all right, the Catholics have moments of silliness too– check out Lourdes, or the pope-mobile. But I have a problem with someone who believes in the words of a man (Joseph Smith) described accurately, in my opinion, as “a fraud and conjurer” by Slate.

This is a man capable of rational analysis? Of weighing the facts and the issues and coming to wise decision? More importantly, can this man choose smart, rational people to head departments and offer sound advice?

I don’t think so.

The Sentinelese: Leave us Alone

The Sentinelese live on an island at the west-ward tip of the Great Andaman Archipelago, which is in the Bay of Bengal, due east from India. You do not want to visit this place.

They don’t want us and they won’t have us. It is rather shocking to read, in this day and age, that there is yet an aboriginal culture that resists homogenization. Homogenization? They don’t even want to get to know us. When a pair of fisherman inadvertently drifted into their waters, the Sentinelese killed them. A helicopter was sent to retrieve their bodies: the Sentinelese drove it off with bows and arrows. Go away. The bodies remain unrecovered.

I find the existence of the Sentinelese reassuring. I don’t like the thought of travelling to the most obscure, distant corner of the earth, slashing my way through dense jungle, climbing through volcanic rock and vale, only to come upon a native child wearing a Nike swoosh and listening to music on his headphones, watching survivor on his portable satellite TV. The Sentinelese, surprisingly, don’t want any contact with our culture. Even more surprising is the fact that India, which has nominal control over the islands, has chosen not to press the point. This is in utter defiance of the sad, long history of encounters between different cultures, one of which is powerful and rich. Usually, we want to kill and enslave them.

They tried. They left gifts of cocoanuts. The Sentinelse accepted the gifts and refused to act grateful.

It was when they killed the fishermen and drove off the helicopter that the Indian government decided it was best to leave them alone. I think they should get some kind of big international prize for this decision.

They don’t want our medicine, our appliances, our toys, not even our agriculture (they fish and harvest native fruits from trees). They don’t want us to enlighten or frighten or amuse or confuse them.

They want to be left in peace.

Exquisitely, Completely, Consummately Irreligious American Exceptionalism

The world looked at America, and lo, it saw this: obese children suckling mega-super-ultra-gigantic soft drinks and fries; men in camouflage shooting at helpless animals and beer cans; a city drowning in floods while the government stumbled around like drunken blind crippled men; children on motorized off-road vehicles tearing into the hillsides; cities draining; farmers growing gas; cosmetic surgeries; abandoned factories; Koran-burning pastors; pyramid marketing materialists; bunker-bussing survivalists; drug pushers on the streets; drug-pushers in the doctors offices; poverty and indifference to poverty; screaming hatred at “town hall” meetings.

And lo, America looked at itself in the mirror and did not see what the world saw. America looked at itself and saw that it was EXCEPTIONAL. And that the rules of the world, of fair play and mutual respect and cooperation, did not apply to them, for America was EXCEPTIONAL. And America was chosen by God to be the vessel of his or her grace, for America was EXCEPTIONAL. And he who does not embrace this ideology shall be accused of not loving America and if he does not embrace it, America will hold its breath until it turns blue in the face.

What is truly exceptional is how American politicians like Newt Gingrich have managed to take “I’m better than you are and I can do whatever I want to do because I’m special” and repackaged it as some kind of weird religious-patriotic mishmash expressed in a harmless sounding euphemism: “exceptionalism”.

It’s code. “Manifest Destiny” is back. Look out, boys. This time, they’re after your oil, your fish, and your water. And they’ve invented a new kind of morality to make it right. And they’ll kill you if you stand in their way.

Newt Gingrich has written an entire book which essentially argues that America, the exceptional, is like some titled noble to whom the rest of the world, a collection of lesser nobles, peasants, and slaves, must kowtow.

No, of course he doesn’t put it that way. They never do, do they? But no one should mistake the meaning of “exceptional” for anything else: we get to make our own rules and we have special access to the world’s wealth and resources because God said so.

Newt Gangrene: America, America, America

“In America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life.”

Never imagine that any kind of scurrilous, scumbag, divisive politics is beneath a Republican. Newt Gingrich has found Jesus. Just in time for 2012. Do even fellow Republicans buy this? Does anyone in the Republican Party ever acknowledge that the movement itself would be better off if it sounded a little less cynical and opportunistic?

Is there anything more that anyone needs to know about Newt Gingrich than that he is willing to stand in front of a crowd of Republicans and make the statement he made above, (at a gathering of the Ohio Right to Life) February 28, 2011?

Nobody can seriously believe that Newt actually believes this. If he does, America is far worse off than even I imagined. But it does magnify something that has become more apparent since 9/11: he doesn’t even care if you believe he believes it or not. It doesn’t matter.

How does one avoid being rude when observing what should be obvious but obviously isn’t? That New Gingrich, ready to make another run at the presidency, studied the polls and decided that Americans– actually, Republicans who vote in the primaries– want a leader with genuine religious convictions so, all right, we can do that. Here’s how: you say “In America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life.” You say this in front of “Ohio Right to Life”. Just drink in the applause. Ahhhh. Feels good. It’s so easy. And the money keeps rolling in. And James Dobson is already behind you, on his knees, lips puckered.

It’s like “fiscal responsibility” and “no new taxes” and “strong military” and anything with “America” in the title, on a book– not that anyone will actually read it. They just need to know that you, like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and everyone else out there on the right, has not only read at least one book in your life but has also written one. Something like “Fighting for America”. Or “Finding the Real America”. Or, “America– the America of Americas”. Or “God and America”. Or “How Immigration is Ruining America” by Nancy McDougal and Sid Hofstetter.

Not that you could actually have ever been bothered to actually write the book. Gosh, that’s not time well-spent for God’s appointed leaders– that’s hack work, for what’s-his-name– the elite intellectual snob we hired just for this kind of work.

But conservatives don’t give a flying leap about whether you actually wrote a book you “authored”. That’s for those effeminate, liberal, snobbish eastern elites. People like Al Gore and Barack Obama. No, by God, a real leader just puts his name on it. Nor do they seem to give a damn about the rankest hypocrisy imaginable (see sidebar).

I suppose people should be reassured that Gingrich has discovered, thrillingly, if belatedly, that 2+2=4. We all look forward to the next miracle: how he will balance the budget, cut taxes for the rich, and increase military spending, without cutting any programs.

Aside from all that, isn’t Gingrich more or less openly saying that America should become a Christian Theocracy? If not, then what is he saying?

It’s really the Christians who have fallen down on this. Where are the church leaders who have any real religion? They would be standing up now, declaring that Christianity should not be exploited and tricked out in this way, and that politicians like Gingrich do more harm than good to real spirituality.

A lot of harm

Do Republicans ever hold any of themselves accountable for anything:

He [Newt Gingrich] also acknowledged having an extramarital affair with Callista Bisek, then a House staff member, while leading impeachment proceedings against Mr. Clinton for lying about his own sexual transgressions. NY Times, 2011-02-28

I don’t think they do hold themselves accountable. I think they believe they are special, touched by god, with wisdom so sublime and transcendent that mortal men cannot even begin to apprehend the audaciousness of their wisdom.

When you think you are so right that those who disagree with you are not mere political opponents but enemies of the state– nay, enemies of God!– foreigners, and subversives, consistency is truly the hobgoblin of little minds.