Friday, January 14, 2005


We hear a lot in the mainstream media about how religious contemporary Americans are, a sentiment often backed up by polling numbers showing an unprecedented percentage of Americans who identify themselves with one religious organization or another (by comparison the fledgling Americans of 1776 were barely religious at all). But what does "religious" actually mean to those who identify themeslves as such? Here's a quote I came across in The New Yorker this week that's well worth pondering:

"The Davinci Code" [Dan Brown's mega-Bestselling book] is plain burn-at-the-stake blasphemous: its entire point is that Christianity as it is understood is a fraud put over by Constantine, and that Jesus, far from being divine, is a human being who fathered children. (The murder mystery [at the heart of the novel] rests on the premise that the Catholic Church, through the Opus Dei, sends out hit men to kill people who know the truth.) A cultural anthropologist, a hundred years from now, will doubtless find , in the unprecedented success of "The Da Vinci Code" during the time of a supposed religious revival, some clear sign that, in the Elvis mode, what a lot of Americans mean by spirituality is simply an immense openness to occult superstitions of all kinds. --Adam Gopnik

I would add to these "superstitions of all kinds" major and minor prejudices of all kinds entertained and validated under this same umbrella "religion." As I tried to explain in my piece on Jesus and Christianity, this doesn't mean that religion is of no value to democratic people, it just means that "religious" is a vague and not very helpful adjective, a catch-all term which people use, these days, to flatter whatever belief system they happen to hold.

It also may suggest that Christianity as a specific, complex system of belief is actually *waning* rather than growing. The number of Catholics I know who have read and loved the Da Vinci Code is extraordinary. At Christmas Mass this year, the priest mentioned that there were 17 million lapsed Catholics in the United States. As the church emptied out I couldn't help singing, in the melody of the old jingle, "Seventeen million strong, and growing!" I then endured an hour of freezing temperatures as more than a dozen Christians entering the next sheduled mass refused to help me jump my car (we'd left the lights on) despite the fact that my wife and two little girls were in it. I suppose a "religious" person could surmise that God was punishing me for my joke. Indeed, this was probably the easiest onclusion to draw.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Well, I’ve been completely off the radar these last few weeks. First came the holidays. And then, I’m very sad to report, my mother-in-law Barbara Rissberger had a very serious heart attack. She’s recovering slowly and in fits and starts. I know all your prayers are with us.

I’m going to make a few brief comments and observations here now and will do more as time allows. I want to at least keep some dialogue going so as always feel free to chime in at the website


Well, this is something I wish I had time to argue in detail myself, but as usual People for the American Way has done an excellent. Here’s a great explanation for why Alberto Gonzales is a DISASTROUS choice to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General. Please do take the time to read it. This is surely one of the 2 or 3 most important and consequential events of the Bush presidency:


Best, and most surprising, quote of the week had to be Mel Gibson speaking about Michael Moore:

"I feel a strange kinship with Michael. They're trying to pit us against each other in the press, but it's a hologram. They really have got nothing to do with one another. It's just some kind of device, some left-right. He makes some salient points. There was some very expert, elliptical editing going on. However, what the hell are we doing in Iraq? No one can explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can accept why we're there, why we went there, and why we're still there."

Wow, when Mel Gibson abandons your war you KNOW you’ve bungled it pretty bad. I agree, Mel, what the hell ARE we doing in Iraq?


As always you should be catching up on your Talking Points Memo:


In the category of “too strange to be made up”:

“The Department of Education used $240,000 in tax dollars to hire right-wing pundit Armstrong Williams to promote controversial Bush education policy.” This is the same Armstrong Williams who settled a sexual harassment suit with a male employee who rejected his unwanted fondlings in 1997 (and the same Armstrong Williams who, in true closeted Republican fashion, is virulently homophobic in his public pronouncements). As usual, Team Bush is more than happy to “love the sinner” (in this case to the tune of a quarter million bucks) as long as that sinner is “hating the sin” and doing White House bidding on CNN.


Okay, that’s all for now.