Sunday, December 31, 2006


Well, if this isn't your first visit to The Last Debate, presumably you've noticed some changes to the template. These aren't necessarily final changes, so feel free to tell me what you think. I like that the new Blogger gives you these options, but I hope with time there are even more options (especially fonts, hello).

I intend for 2007 to be a year of major change for me. It's going to be scary. Looks like I'm going to end up leaping and hoping the net appears. Who knows where I will be a year from now? Will I be happier? Or will I have just moved my neuroses and anxieties to a different coast? Am I just trading one set of problems for another?

Don't worry, there will still be lots of cat pictures.

Best wishes to each and every one of you for this coming year.

I will leave 2006 behind and look forward to 2007 with the song "Only If..." by Enya:

When there's a shadow near, reach for the sun

When there is love in you, look for the one

And for the promises, there is the sky

And for the heavens are those who can fly

If you really want to, you can hear me say

Only if you want to will you find a way

If you really want to you can seize the day

Only if you want to will you fly

When there's a journey here follow the star

When there's an ocean here sail to far

And for the broken hearts there is the sky

And for tomorrow are those who can Fly

Friday, December 29, 2006

I Heart New York

For its year-end double issue, New York Magazine’s cover story was “Reasons to Love New York Right Now.” This feature was, in a word, retarded. I wrote an entire post in response entitled “Reasons to Leave New York,” but then I decided it didn’t accurately represent my relationship with this city.

New York drives me nuts, sometimes literally. And the reasons given for loving New York in this magazine are so vapid and so far removed from anything resembling my life here that it temporarily made me hate New York even more. When I’ve been standing for 20 minutes in a dingy, filthy, smelly, rat-infested subway station waiting for a packed train on which I will uncomfortably stand for the hour-long ride home with 100 or more other similarly irritated people, I am not particularly comforted by the idea that New York has “Four, Yes Four, Presidential Wannabes” (Clinton, Giuliani, Pataki and Bloomberg). And I’m sorry, I can’t look on the bright side and consider my “Daily Commute A Fashion Show.” The A train is more derelicte than Gaultier.

What to make of a magazine that zealously boasts “We Can Be Defiantly Deluded”? Who says, “I love New Yorkers; they’re so…like, defiantly deluded”? What to make of a feature whose longest section, at three pages, is about looking through your neighbors’ windows? And who the hell is Zani Gugelmann?

Yes, I’ve pretty much resolved to leave The Big Apple sometime this year. Living here wears me out. Still, I love New York.

I love Central Park in the snow. I love the path along the south side of The Pond, with its lazy sunbathing turtles.

I love piping hot fresh bagels on Broadway, latkes on 2nd Avenue, samosas on 6th Street, cannoli on Bleecker, and char siu bao on Canal.

I love the Thursday night classic films at the Clearview on 23rd Street.

I love Freudian Sips, Psychotic Episodes and Daddy Complexes on West 52nd.

I love the young Orthodox Jewish man on the A train who offered his seat to a young Muslim woman last week.

I love the view of Manhattan from the Triboro Bridge. I love the view down 59th Street from the balcony at the TimeWarner Building.

I love Long Island accents.

I love the coffee at Samad’s and the espresso at CafĂ© Reggio.

I love the Temple of Dendur and Hudson River School collection, and I love this painting.

I love New York.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Matt, presumably the only elected official in the world who reads my blog, has tagged me to confess five odd things about myself.

Only 5?

Ohkay, here we go.

1. Last night before going to bed, I read this book in the tub. (Expect some apocalyptic posts in the new year!) My cats Rocky and Starbuck like to sit on the rim of the tub and let their tails rest in the water while I am bathing. I can't lock them out; they'll scratch on the door and meow loudly until I let them in.

2. In my bathroom I have a clock which is basically a diorama of two squirrels in a pine tree.

3. I have lived in New York City for 13 years, but have never been to Madison Square Garden.

4. There were two seasons in a row at the Metropolitan Opera where I saw every single production, and even went back for significant cast changes, which necessitated about 1 trip to the opera per week every week from October - May. All in all, I have attended well over 200 performances at the Met. (I stopped keeping track a few years ago, unfortunately.)

5. In the spirit of five things, here are the five wackiest playlists on my iPod:

  • Early Music: European music from about the 9th century (Gregorian chant) up to about 1600, everything from troubadour songs to early Flemish polyphony to Italian lute songs and renaissance dances.
  • God: Standard stuff like Gregorian chant, the Mozart c-minor Mass, and The Messiah, but also Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi chant...and Madonna's "Like a Prayer." Seriously.
  • Musical Monday: Named for the theme night at SBNY, all my Broadway music.
  • Venice: 170 pieces all composed in Venice.
  • Wake-Up: An assortment of all my favorite, up-tempo songs across all genres to get me going on those darker mornings, everything from Ghena Dimitrova singing Abigaille's cabaletta to Kelly Clarkson's "Since u been gone." (And of course, Barbra's "Don't Rain on my Parade.")

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: Meowy Christmas!

The short-lived, ill-fated Christmas Tree of 2006.

My patented anti-cat system. I didn't think anything was gonna bring this tree down.
I locked them in the bathroom while I put the tree up and then took a picture of their first reaction to the tree.

Uh-oh. "Aren't there supposed to be presents under this thing?"
Yeah, I think this was a sign.
Uh-huh. Go ahead and keep checking, honey, but I'm pretty sure that knocking over the Christmas Tree puts you on Santa's shitlist.

I'm not sure whether they're caroling, or plotting.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Just checking how to post pictures using the new Blogger, since BloggerBot has been axed, apparently.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Nativity Story?

In the 2003 film Love Actually, Emma Thompson’s character is surprised to learn that her daughter has been cast as the “First Lobster” in a nativity play. “There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?” she asks. “Duh,” replies her daughter.

I think many of us would share her shock. After all, even non-churchy types know the cast of the Nativity, from the dioramas that appear as centerpieces of First Amendment controversies about this time every year: there’s Mary and Joseph and the Holy Infant, of course, plus some shepherds and the three wise men. That’s how the Bible describes it, right?

Not exactly. Rather, the Bible presents us with two versions of the birth of Jesus. The Gospels of Mark and John don’t discuss it at all, but Matthew and Luke present two competing stories that over time have been morphed into a single familiar narrative.

The two versions aren’t just minor variations on details and wording, like so many other discrepancies in the Gospels. They are wholly separate stories. Only Matthew gives us three wise men and a star; only Luke gives us no room at the inn and a manger in a stable.

These stories present problems for Christians who insist the Bible is historically accurate. To make that assertion, one must piece together independent details not corroborated by any other source and make a claim for a textual unity that simply does not exist, and do so by deliberately ignoring elements of the story that are contradictory.

For example, everyone knows that Joseph and the pregnant Mary had to travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth to register for the census, and that because there was no room at the inn, Jesus was born in a manger in a stable. But Matthew doesn’t mention a census, and gives every indication that Jesus was simply born at home, though both agree Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Luke tells us, after Jesus’ circumcision and presentation at the temple, that “they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” But Matthew says they fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s massacre of all children “in and around Bethlehem,” and that they only returned after Herod’s death. Because Joseph was afraid of the new ruler, Archelaus, “he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth.”

So the next time you see a nativity scene that includes the Three Wise Men, you may perhaps want to point out that there is every bit as much scriptural support for their inclusion as there would be for a lobster, or even this particular variation.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

On Cat Poo

How can something that smells so horrendous come out of something so adorable?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

coffee, please

Okay, so I just shouted loudly at work, "ARGGGGH, MY MESS IS SUCH A DESK!!!"


Monday, December 18, 2006

The Episcopal Schism

As has been widely reported, this weekend two large and affluent Virginia dioceses voted to leave the Episcopal Church and instead place themselves under the authority of Archbishop Peter J. Akinola of Nigeria.

In prior drafts of this post, I made a vain attempt to give background on the history, theology and governance of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, but it ran awfully long despite being oversimplified and was probably of zero interest to anyone who reads this blog. All of that is readily available elsewhere, anyway.

Instead, I want to talk about this word “Communion.” The “Anglican Communion” is the second largest body of Christians in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church. Traditionally it has sought a “middle way” between Catholicism and the more severe Protestant ideas.

“Communion” is a sacrament; it is the ceremonial distribution of wine mixed with water, representing the Blood of Christ, and unleavened bread, representing the Body of Christ. Christians believe that on the night before he died, Jesus celebrated the Passover (which itself commemorates God’s liberation of people from bondage) with his disciples, and he gave them wine and bread and instructed them always to eat and drink “in remembrance of me.”

The Greek term for this sacrament, still in use, is “Eucharist,” which means “thanksgiving.” “Communion” is of Latin origin, the same root as “community,” meaning “to share.” Along with baptism, this idea of a shared community meal in remembrance of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has been a pillar of Christian practice since the earliest days of the faith.

Christians refer to “The Lord’s Table” when they speak of the sacrament of Communion. Unlike Catholics, Anglicans don’t accord themselves authority over who is invited to the meal. In Catholic Churches, only Catholics may partake of the sacrament, and priests have the power to excommunicate – disinvite anyone to God’s meal; in most Protestant churches, any baptized Christian may come. At the church I am attending, anyone, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey, is welcome. We don’t believe in putting barriers between seekers and the God they are searching for. We believe that everyone is invited.

Throughout the Gospels, there are many references to meals and banquets. Jesus’ first miracle is turning water to wine at a wedding party. Matthew gives us the parable of the king who gave wedding banquet for his son, but the invited guests did not show up; so the king sent his servants out into the streets to invite everyone they saw, “both good and bad.” Luke tells us about the dinner where the Pharisee decided Jesus could not be a prophet, because he allowed a sinner to anoint him. In Matthew, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with sinners?”

The point is, in the Anglican view, it is Jesus’ invitation to a party to which all are welcome. Let Jesus do the healing, if healing needs to be done.

The churches in Truro and Falls Church, Virginia, have gotten up and left the table.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: Cascade Head

This series has a few more pictures than I usually include, but the scenery was so spectacular. This photo was taken at the mouth of the Salmon River in Oregon, where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. The summit to the right is Cascade Head, 1200 feet above the ocean. Doesn't look so high from here... Posted by Picasa

D'oh, a deer! Posted by Picasa

This is why when Oregonians say they are going to the beach they often bring a sweater and a camera instead of sunscreen and a towel. Posted by Picasa

Climbing through the spruce forest on the way up. I just loved this shot. Posted by Picasa

D'oh! an elk herd! Posted by Picasa

See, down there at the flat part by the river? That's where I parked. Ow. Posted by Picasa

The view from the top: the mouth of the Salmon River and the Pacific Ocean. Just over the bluff there is Lincoln City. Posted by Picasa

Even though I am a sweaty, nasty MESS in this picture, I have to say, it felt good getting up there! (No, I was alone -- I put the camera on top of a pole that marks the summit.) Posted by Picasa

I love the way the sun is breaking through the cloudcover like a spotlight over the ocean -- it was thrilling. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 15, 2006

And with that...

...Battlestar Galactica COMPLETELY made up for the boxing episode. we forgive those who pull down our Christmas trees

How can I stay mad at a cat who manages to get caught in the footrest of the recliner? Posted by Picasa

bad day

Please note the time of this post.

When my alarm clock went off this morning -- well, yesterday, now -- I had this premonition of dread. I was actually half an hour late to work because I lay there thinking, "I really wish I could stay home today...this isn't going to be good."

First, the copier on my floor, which also serves as the network printer for most of our employees there, crashed and wouldn't do anything. (The copier itself is another story I can't get into right now.) The circuit board is fried and has to be replaced, which will take a few days because our machine is so old and obsolete that they have to search for this particular part. (Why don't you just replace the machine? you might be asking. That's the story I can't get into. Apparently, according to the decision makers, the thing works fine. ARGH. But I digress.)

So now we have to go downstairs to copy (to a machine that is actually even older and suckier than ours...but I'm *told* that one works just fine, too!) and we're all sharing a printer way the hell the other side of the floor.

Then the switchboard short-circuited. (Apparently dumping a glass of tea on it isn't good for it. Who knew? No -- it wasn't me.) Anyway, so we had to use a regular office phone which can only handle two lines. This, while the press department was preparing for a major story. Fun!

Then the internet went down for a while. There was some other stuff I can't get into. Let's just say it was a thoroughly aggravating day.

Then we had our staff holiday party. Fortunately I had an excuse for leaving early. I won a gift certificate to Border's, so I guess the day wasn't a total loss.

So I came home and eventually made my way into bed. Had trouble falling asleep.

Woke up at 12:58 a.m. to a loud crash.

The Christmas tree was on the floor.

Now...I was in bed, and there aren't any witnesses. (If there are, they're not talking.) So it would be wrong of me to accuse a certain pair of four-footed feline roommates. But the likelihood that this was a cat-related disaster remains high, I'd say.

I actually had tied the tree to the table this year. (It's fake.) I lashed it down good. Even if the cats did have a paw in the catastrophe, it's still partly the tree's fault: the base broke and it could no longer stand up. Not salvageable.

So, I tossed the cats in the bathroom because I really didn't want their "help" with this particular project. "Meow! Meow! Meaaaaaaooouuuuuuwwwww!" Swell.

Then I spent the next hour undecorating my tree, just a mere 10 days before Christmas. I'd say that's a little earlier than I normally get around to taking it down. Fortunately, I did not lose any ornaments, which I consider a miracle.

Have you ever tried to take the lights off a tree that can't stand up? Fun, fun!

Now that I am wide awake and angry, I'm going to hop in the shower, go back to bed and try not to think about everything I have to do tomorrow on four hours of sleep.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Somewhere, over the...where'd it go?

If you look closely, you can see a rainbow over the field. It didn't show up in the picture as clearly as I hoped, but it was spectacular in person. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Union New Jersey

“If terms be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.” - Confucius

Tomorrow the New Jersey Legislature is expected to vote on a bill establishing civil unions for same-sex couples, which would grant them all the same rights, privileges and protections as opposite-sex marriages. All except one.

In late October, the Supreme Court of New Jesey ruled that “the State must provide to committed same-sex couples, on equal terms, the full rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples” and gave the legislature 180 days in which to comply. Still, the majority left it to lawmakers to determine whether civil recognition for same sex relationships can be called “marriage” or should be set up under a “parallel statutory structure,” citing customary judicial deference, and also arguing that while the New Jersey constitution compels equality, it does not require same-sex “marriage.”

Does it matter? What is the difference between a civil union and a marriage, if the civil union entails “the full rights and benefits” of marriage? The answer lies in the question itself. Calling this package of rights “marriage” for one group and “civil unions” for another group implies that the second group is not entitled to the preferred term; it implies that the term “marriage” is itself a right, which under the court’s own reasoning must therefore be extended to same-sex couples as required by New Jersey’s equal protection laws.

All three same-sex marriage rulings this year in New York, New Jersey and Washington State, as well as Massachusetts in 2003, recognized that “marriage” includes tangible as well as intangible benefits. Indeed, the Massachusetts court concluded, “[M]arriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity and family….Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

The court added, "The dissimilitude between the terms ‘civil marriage’ and ‘civil union’ is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex couples to second-class status."

As one of the plaintiffs in the New Jersey case wrote to the court, “When I am asked about my relationship, I want my words to match my life, so I want to say I am married and know that my relationship is immediately understood, and after that nothing more needs be explained.”

The New Jersey Legislature should reject the civil union bill tomorrow and hold out for a marriage bill that will fulfill its constitutional obligations to same sex couples.

Monday, December 11, 2006


“Unconscionable,” said Janice Shaw Crouse last week of Mary Cheney’s decision to have a baby. But in a piece she wrote on the issue for, she demonstrated that she’s the one without a conscience.

“Mary Cheney’s pregnancy poses problems not just for her child, but also for all Americans,” argues Crouse. According to her, 37 percent of American children are born to “fatherless families,” and “Mary Cheney is contributing to [the] trend…of women who don’t want a man in the picture, but want to have a baby.”

I am baffled. Either – there’s no charitable way to put this – Crouse is a moron of the first degree, or she thinks her readers are. The statistics are those of heterosexual single parent families, women who have gotten pregnant outside of committed relationships or who have been abandoned by men who didn’t want the responsibility (or, perhaps, are already committed elsewhere).

This is a serious issue, but I am at a loss to understand how two educated, professional women who have been in a committed partnership for 15 years (and, I presume, would be married if only the law allowed) and who have made the conscious decision to raise a child together serve as inspiration for heterosexual women to become single mothers.

Crouse engages in all manner of speculative, amateur psychological quackery, with a heavy dose of sleight-of-hand. “Too often,” she writes, “children in single-mother households end up angry at their absent fathers.” But Cheney’s child won’t be in a “single-mother” household, it will be a “double-mother” household. And children are often angry at their absent father because he made a choice not to be a meaningful part of their lives. Here, there’s simply no father, but there are two loving parents. “Fatherless children tend to have trouble dealing with male authority figures,” she claims. I don’t think Cheney is planning on whisking her child off to be raised by the Amazons; certainly with Grandpa Dick and his friends around, the child will have more than its share of male authority figures with which to contend.

“When fatherless children get to be teens, the girls tend to start looking for love in all the wrong places and the boys tend to find as their role model the bad-boy celebrities.” My, how conventional wisdom changes! I thought when boys had an absent father and a dominant mother, they grew up to worship Judy Garland.

To support her contentions, Crouse is able to cite not one study or professional by name. Instead she vaguely refers to “top experts,” as well as “a Georgia high school principal” -- because, as we all know, Georgia high schools are being overrun by pregnant lesbians -- and “an assistant principal in a junior high.”

The real threat posed by Mary Cheney’s pregnancy is that it will force people like Crouse to acknowledge that many gay people are stable, commitment-oriented family types. (Some of us go to church weekly, and apparently some of us are even Republicans!) Being a devoted, responsible, loving parent has absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: An Oregon Thanksgiving

It's been a while since I did a Sunday photopost; my family traditionally spends Thanksgiving with friends who have restored a 129-year old farmhouse near the border of Washington and Yamhill counties in Oregon. This is the view of the neighbor's house through the parlor window. Posted by Picasa

The "back yard." Posted by Picasa

A beautiful Thanksgiving table. Posted by Picasa

One thing I noticed on this trip was that even when the weather was pretty gloomy, the sky was usually dramatic and interesting. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blowing the Case for Faith

The fourth chapter of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith opens -- as all discourses on Biblical inerrancy must -- by bringing up the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal before introducing us to “one of the most well-known and effective defenders of Christianity in the world” who will explain for us why, if God is so wonderful, he slaughtered so many people.

Strobel pauses only to inform us that his subject, Norman Geisler of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, is “dressed in a multicolored sweater over a blue button-down shirt” before delving into some of the most difficult questions Christians must face about the authority of the book that guides them.

“Isn’t the Bible chock full of contradictions and inconsistencies that undermine its reliability?” Strobel wants to know.

“I’ve made a hobby of collecting alleged discrepancies, inaccuracies, and conflicting statements in the Bible. I have a list of about 800 of them,” says Dr. Geisler. “Of the 800 allegations I’ve studied, I haven’t found one single error in the Bible.”

Referring to the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Geisler says, “Here you have an impeccable historian, who has been proven right in hundreds of details and never proven wrong, writing the whole history of Jesus and the early church.”

It is true that many of the details contained in Luke-Acts with regard to geography and history are accurate. But on the other hand, if I wrote a novel set in Manhattan, after 13 years of living here I would be unlikely to get the details wrong. (See Left Behind’s vision of post-Rapture New York.) Geisler’s argument is a little bit like historians finding the novel Gone With the Wind 3,000 years from now, doing some research and discovering there actually was a city called Atlanta in a country called America which in fact had a civil war right at the time the book claims it did, and then concluding that Scarlett O’Hara was a historical person.

Luke tells us Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem in order to register for the census which was ordered by the Roman governor of Syria, Quirinius. Now, history shows that there really was a Publius Sulpicius Quirinius who was the Roman proconsul in Damascus and he did, in fact, order a registration for the purpose of taxation. The problem is that both Luke and Matthew insist Herod the Great was king at the time of Christ’s birth, and we know that Quirinius came to Syria a decade after Herod’s death. Does this muddle have major theological implications? Not necessarily. But it’s a lie – in other words, a sin – to claim there are no historical errors in Luke.

Matthew and Luke-Acts agree on a great many things, but one of the places where they significantly disagree is on the fate of Judas. After the arrest of Christ, Matthew says Judas went back to the temple and threw the thirty pieces of silver on the ground before he went and hanged himself. Acts says Judas used the money to buy a field, and falling headlong, he burst asunder and all his entrails spilled out. How does Geisler address these differing accounts?

“Somebody came along later, found his body, cut the rope, and the bloated body fell onto the rocks. What happens? The bowels gush out, just as the Bible says. They’re not contradictory, they’re complementary.”

In response to this act of theological cowardice, Strobel writes, “I had to admit, Geisler was on track.”

The whole chapter is full of outrageous nonsense like this. It’s no wonder skeptics are sure Christianity is an intellectual wasteland, when we address glaring inconsistencies by insisting, under the banner of literal inerrancy, that the Bible doesn’t really say what it plainly says. Questions about the historical accuracy of scripture and the picture it paints of God are serious and deserve serious answers. Evangelicals believe they have a duty to bring people to the faith, but if they’re going to respond to legitimate concerns by asking us not to look behind the curtain, they’re only going to continue to drive people away.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mazel Tov Cocktail

Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary has announced that she is pregnant and expecting a child in the spring. (I am enjoying the timely irony that the media is focusing on the announcement of a fatherless pregnancy of a woman named Mary, which has thrown Christian conservatives into a tizzy.)

Cheney, 37, lives with her partner, Heather Poe, in Virginia, a state with some of the most radical anti-gay laws. As Family Pride Executive Director Jennifer Chisler put it, "Heather will never be able to have a legal relationship with her child."

"Unconscionable!" exclaims Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America. "It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father."

Never mind the millions of heterosexuals who through irresponsibility unintentionally bring children into single-parent households. Never mind that Mary's father pushed for a war that has created thousands upon thousands of orphans, both in Iraq and here in America. Never mind that nearly half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce.

Speaking on behalf of James Dobson's organization Focus on the Family, Carrie Gordon Earll explains, "Love can't replace a mother and a father."

To Earll, the gender of the parents is more important than love or their desire or ability to care for a child.

We don't need to go very far to find opposite-sex couples, married or not, who are absolutely lousy parents. Just open the newspaper or turn on any afternoon talkshow. Instead, we have a committed couple of 15 years (the average duration of a heterosexual marriage is 11 years) who have gone to presumably extraordinary lengths to have a biological child; they have demonstrated their commitment to each other through the test of time and the conscious decision to have a family, and yet in the eyes of the conservatives, this pair does not deserve the same legal privileges and protections as -- sorry to drag her into this again, but she's a classic example -- Britney Spears, whose second marriage of two years and two children ended in a divorce (by text message) which had only just barely left the headlines before she (and her vagina) was photographed out and about on the late-night party circuit.


In other good gay news today, Conservative Judaism has approved a legal opinion allowing for the ordination of gay rabbis and the celebration of same-sex (but not interfaith) relationships. The new understanding allows synagogues to follow their own collective consciences and understandings of scripture to prayerfully reach correct and meaningful decisions. The implications, however, that members of the top centrist body of Judaism have found that homosexual ordination and relationships can be "justified according to Jewish law" are enormous.

(I tried to find this opinion on line, but I guess it is not publicly available yet. If anyone knows where I can get it, I would really be interested in reading it.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Book Review: The Case for Faith

While I was on vacation in Oregon and perusing my favorite store in the world, I came across a book, The Case For Faith, by Lee Strobel. I was intrigued by the cover: “A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity.”

I bought the book because each chapter dealt directly with objections that I hear on a nearly daily basis, either from the blogosphere or from my friends, or even from myself. I was curious to see if the book addressed these questions with intellectual rigor, and whether it might be useful for future debates.

Yes and no.

The questions Strobel asks are:

  1. If God exists, why does he permit suffering in the world?
  2. Are there such things as miracles?
  3. Does evolution disprove God?
  4. Why does God kill innocent children?
  5. Is it offensive to say Christianity is the only true religion?
  6. If he's truly a loving, forgiving God, how can there be a hell?
  7. What does the oppressive and violent history of religion say about God?
  8. Can you have faith if you still have doubts?

Admittedly, the book is a Christian apology, and the arguments skew in Christianity’s favor. That’s a perfectly legitimate rhetorical strategy, but it’s not really “journalism.” Pointedly, the experts Strobel interviews are exclusively male, and predominately from the evangelical tradition. A broader diversity of sources would have increased credibility, and, in my opinion, probably the sophistication of the arguments.

Strobel also feels a bizarre compulsion to tell us what each interview subject is wearing. Maybe we are meant to feel more at ease hearing theological arguments from a man “dressed casually in a short-sleeve shirt, shorts and deck shoes without socks” than, say, a man in Prada shoes and a pointy hat.

The strongest and most provocative chapters were on suffering, creation, and doubt.

In the first chapter, I found the following points significant: a) man has free will, therefore even if there is a God, most of the world’s suffering is man’s own fault; b) since we generally believe that adversity builds character, wouldn’t a life without suffering be dull and meaningless? c) God wants to ask how you can permit all the suffering and injustice in the world.

The chapters on creation, evolution and miracles expose the hypocrisy of the secular fundamentalists, as they, just like the proponents of intelligent design, draw non-scientific conclusions from scientific research and automatically discount the possibility of God even as they rely on theories of the origin of the universe that are equally statistically improbable. In a wonderful analogy, Walter Bradley suggests that if we were walking down the street and heard a loud explosion and you said, “Hey, what caused that big bang?” and I said, “Nothing, it just happened,” you would rightly assume I’m crazy. This is the proposition that evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins ask us to accept.

Another example: “If you took all the carbon in the universe and put it on the face of the earth, allowed it to chemically react at the most rapid rate possible, and left it for a billion years, the odds of creating just one functional protein molecule would be one chance in a 10 with 60 zeroes after it.” Bill Craig cites Stephen Hawking: “If the universe’s expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have collapsed into a fireball.” Does this prove that there’s a God? Certainly not. But it reveals that atheists are clinging to a possibility (random chance) no less remote than the possibility of God.

Overall, it’s a thought-provoking read, if not wholly convincing. There was one chapter in particular, on the accuracy and reliability of the Bible, that was so weak and ludicrous it will receive its own subsequent post.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Independent Knowledge of God

Most of us are familiar with the old children's song, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Though I suppose it should long have been obvious, recently I discovered that I have a radically different relationship to God and the Bible than many Christians. I know God exists because of my personal spiritual experiences, and as I read the Bible, I find confirmation that others across the centuries have also similarly experienced God. I do not believe God is there simply because the Bible says so.

The Bible channels my beliefs toward Christian doctrine. I could not, of course, have independent knowledge of the resurrection. What validates the Bible for me is the litany of shared experiences and sentiments that are found throughout scripture.

This approach liberates me to read the Bible critically. I am not concerned that scientific, historical or archaeological discoveries challenge or seem to contradict the literal veracity of ancient texts. If God is ultimate truth -- and the Bible says he is! (wink wink) -- then all truth brings us closer to God. And while I believe that all of scripture was written in good faith and is divinely inspired, I don't believe that's at all the same thing as inerrancy.

That means I can view certain passages as historically significant yet in moral conflict with the Gospel. It means I can find truth in Genesis without needing to believe there was ever actually an Adam and an Eve, and believe that God is responsible for all creation no matter how long it took.

This has also allowed me to find God and truth in other traditions. I'm still a Christian, but I'm not prepared to discard the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the teachings of Buddha and the songs of U2 as categorically wrong or devil-inspired. Like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (though she was referring to studying international law), "I'll take enlightenment wherever I can get it."

Jesus loves me, this I know, because of the countless manifestations of divine grace and mercy present in this world, not because some guy 2000 years ago said so. I just agree with him.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Miscellanea

Okay, wow, things have been super busy since I got back. Several different ideas rolling around in my head that will probably find their way here sooner or later.

While I was on vacation, I steadfastly refused to watch or read any news. Since I've been back, I haven't had time to. I have no idea what is going on in the world. I assume since Democrats are back in charge of Congress that everything is fine, right?

Aaaaaaaaah, it's December!

By the way, it's going to be 70 degrees in New York today. (We'll discuss global warming another time. Actually, if you want to talk global warming, I can enthusiastically refer you Future Geek.) My point is, no one knows how to dress. It's December. It's also dark and gloomy out. It looks like it should be 30-something, but it's 70. I came to work today in a t-shirt with no jacket. Did I mention it's December in the American northeast? People are walking around outside in coats and scarves, sweating and looking confused.

I'm taking a course on religion and critical thinking at my church. Last night's topic was baptism. I think I ruffled some feathers by saying I'm not convinced baptizing infants is a good idea. I was worried I might be too progressive for even this progressive congregation...and then I realized that, actually, no, my position is way old-school. Pre-Augustine, even. It was explained to me that the church believes in an ontological shift...okay, topic for another blog.

My point -- and I do have one -- is, don't you hate it when people in classes ask questions, not because they have something they want to know but because they want to impress the teacher and the class with the sophistication of their questions? Gag me.

Okay, I need to get on with my extremely busy workday. However, I did want to close by saying I'm about halfway through Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. Awesome.