Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Four Flags

Not that it matters greatly beyond the shores of Aotearoa, but the four contenders for the new national flag of New Zealand have been selected, the winner to be determined by referendum, then a final choice between the pretender and the current flag.

There's an irony in the much repeated complaint about our flag looking too much like Australia's. The Kiwi flag was in fact first off the block, with the Ockers - as they so often do - snatching it (with modifications) for their own. Pavlova, Phar Lap... it's a common thread in the relationship with that noisy, big island to our west. And of course the confusion cuts both ways. The Canadians once raised the NZ flag for former Aussie Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Personally I'm fond of the original, but would have been happy to go with the original United Tribes flag which preceded British annexation and is still proudly displayed by Maori in Northland.

Out of the new designs I prefer - I think - the red, white and blue fern and stars design.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Dr Bob on the Historical Bejeezus and more

You can probably hear the screams of outrage from certain religious studies departments already. Robert M. Price features on the latest Religion for Life podcast.
One of the most interesting (and entertaining) scholars with two Ph. D.'s, Robert M. Price, talks with [John Shuck] about three books: The Historical Bejeezus: What A Long Strange Quest It Has Been, The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul, and Preaching Deconstruction: Sermons Employing the Deconstructive Philosophy of Jacques Derrida and The Death of God Theology of Thomas J. J. Altizer. The question is: how critical can you go? Taking critical methods of interpreting scripture and turning over every dogmatic stone, Robert M. Price exposes Jesus and Paul as composite literary characters. If Jesus of the gospels is mythical all the way down and Paul's letters were written by a patchwork of authors, what is one to preach? Why the liberation of deconstruction, of course. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The problem with The Good News magazine

Of all the major Armstrong splinters, the United Church of God is probably the most balanced. But unfortunately that's not saying a lot, as the current issue of The Good News clearly demonstrates.

Two articles particularly stand out. The Iranian Nuclear Deal & Bible Prophecy, and The Gay Agenda Blueprint: A Plan to transform America.

In the first Tom Robinson rants about what a bad thing the Iranian accord is:
The appeasement of evil has sunk to new levels with the stunning nuclear agreement with Iran. Be warned: Terrible times lie ahead.
Not exactly temperate language.   
As of this writing, the U.S. Congress still has the opportunity to stop this agreement. But that may prove difficult.
These developments touch on Bible prophecy in a number of ways.
Robinson quotes conservative commentators and politicians, including Ted Cruz, to back his view and then - surprise! - leaps off into a discussion of prophecy larded with British Israel nonsense.
Then, horrifyingly, God foretells something like nuclear war or worse—with cities in America and other British-descended nations ravaged and destroyed. As Ezekiel 6:6 states, “In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste.”
What's that got to do with Iran?
Iran could also play a part in the rise of the end-time “king of the South” in the prophecy of Daniel 11. This chapter principally concerns an age-old conflict between powers to the north and south of the Holy Land...
Could? There's the key world that indicates he's daydreaming, and nothing more.

Which leads to this:
There is really no way to successfully negotiate with such people. Whatever they agree to is merely to buy time to prepare for the needed world conflagration.
UCG Iran "expert" Robinson
Where's the balance here? This is a petulant piece by a man with - please correct me if I'm wrong - zero expertise in this subject, and who has one suspects been spending far too much time on the sofa with Fox News and WND.

What's the allure of this kind of rant? Why won't the GN provide some sort of sane overview of the situation - which is what it would claim to be doing but clearly is not. Why are they incapable of even hinting at an optimistic assessment of the Iran deal... even if only to provide some much needed balance.

It just doesn't fit the narrative.

The narrative, based on a profound ignorance of what the Bible is (and isn't) has the world going into an irrecoverable tail spin. Things might look bad right now but they're going to get worse. And there's nothing you can do about it but belly-ache and moan. This constitutes "warning the world", which (don't laugh!) constitutes preaching the gospel. You couldn't get a clearer example of this kind of warped narrative than these words from Darris McNeely on page 4 of the same issue.
Europe is in crisis. Russia steadily extends its influence and power as it modernizes its military forces. China is likewise expanding its power and pushing its influence and control over regions once protected by the United States. 
America is being pushed back in its historic role as a global military, economic and political superpower—while within American culture we see the traditional roles and rules of marriage, family and sexual identity going through radical redefinition. 
What does it all mean? Where is God in all this? And what is He doing in today’s world?
The Good News is incapable of balanced commentary because it is in thrall to a myopic apocalyptic ideology. The UCG has a constituency that has largely bought into this anti-life narrative built on suspicion of all human progress and optimism. This is its heritage from Armstrongism, and the bad news is that other sects in that tradition are even worse. It explains why these groups can't resist the temptation to stick their thumbs into the most extreme of conservative political stews.

The UCG's constituency no doubt laps this up. The GN isn't interested in stretching and challenging its readership. That would upset the tithe-cart. But good journalism, including church journalism, does just that. That's how people grow.

The real "good news" is that the world is changing out from under groups like UCG. That they are still promoting a 19th century variety of British Israelism in the second decade of the twenty-first century is a damning indication that they are set on going the way of the dinosaurs, and no amount of repackaging of the old product will change that.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Feast of Tabernacles - Church of God version

Many [FOT] observances this year will fall from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5. The Feast is eight full days, counting the last day, but falls on nine days or partial days on the Gregorian calendar. (The Journal, July 31)
If you have a background in the Churches of God - a Sabbatarian fundamentalist movement originating in the ministry of Herbert Armstrong (1892-1986) - you'll know exactly what this is all about. If you don't, it'll be a bit of a mystery, so here's the "skinny".

Florida feast site for the 2nd largest Armstrong splinter, the Living Church of God
The Feast of Tabernacles is based on the Jewish feast of the same name - also known as the Feast of Booths or Sukkot. In the Armstrong tradition members and their families head to a "feast site" with (if they follow the recommended practice) ten percent of their annual income - yup, a full tithe - to spend on travel, accommodation, meals and liquid libations (which is why it is sometimes jokingly referred to as "the Feast of Booze"). During the day they attend church services lasting around two hours - one hour set aside for the major sermon, often on prophecy, preceded by hymns, announcements and a 15-minute warm-up sermon known as a sermonette. On the most important days (Holy Days) they double-dose: AM and PM services with the added bonus of Holy Day Offerings (separate from the festival tithe, naturally).

As a week-long bonding activity it's pretty powerful. People have been known to quit jobs to attend the feast when an employer refuses leave. There are a variety of social activities. Oh and that tithe (called "second tithe" - don't even ask about "third tithe") is supposed to be spent during those eight days exclusively, with any "excess" handed in at the end. Eight days high on the hog and then back to grim reality; COG members tend not to be in a wealthy demographic.

The Feast is interpreted - with the thinnest of foundations - as being a foretaste of the millennium, the coming kingdom of God (or in COG parlance "the world tomorrow") when Christ has returned to reign over the Earth. Jewish people would find this an interesting deviation from the norm.

But the origin of the Feast goes well back beyond the texts in the Hebrew Bible. COG leaders are invariably keen to point out the "pagan origins" and trappings of standard Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter, but seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the alternate festivals they have appropriated from the Old Testament.
"The Jewish festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread, which later became the Christian Easter, originated as early spring festivals celebrating the resurrection of nature to new life after the death of winter. The Feast of Pentecost originated as the early harvest festival. The Jewish Feast of Booths originated in the vintage festival." (Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God, p.229)
Put another way, Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and Tabernacles - all festivals celebrated in the Churches of God unto this very day - began as nature festivals... or fertility festivals. Tabernacles was the vintage festival, which perhaps adds to the irony of the "Feast of Booze" pun.

Kind of takes the sting out of the rhetoric about the evils of the Easter Bunny.

For those well advanced in their preparations for the 2015 FOT, I really hope you have a great time. Just remember not to uncritically swallow everything - hook, line and sinker - that you hear. And for those of us who no longer perform the annual trek to "the place God has set his name", enjoy spending (or saving!) that hard-earned "second tithe" in a more considered way.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Fitzgerald vs Gullotta - Discussing Jesus

The "disdate" between Daniel Gullotta and David Fitzgerald is now available on the Miami Valley Skeptics podcast. It's not a great debate, but still manages to be interesting - if a bit earnest - presuming you're into that kind of thing. It's also available on iTunes.

It's a polite affair. Who "won"? I give the debate to Fitzgerald - which has nothing to do with my own views which lean slightly in the other direction. Gullotta tends to over-talk and slip into a pontifical style, a lot of which is marginal to the discussion. His overuse of the word "I" can also be irritating.

One of the assumptions voiced on the podcast by Gullotta (and agreed to by Fitzgerald) was that only atheists take a mythicist position and that no Christians are mythicists: i.e. "all mythicists are atheists". That's just flat out wrong, as anyone familiar with the work of Thomas L. Brodie knows.

But what the heck!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Seed Faith

This is hardly news to those of you in the US, but for those of us in alternate parts of the English-speaking world, it's quite an eye-opener. It's not that we haven't heard of Oliver - he spent three hilarious minutes recently, for example, offering cogent comment on the drive by New Zealand's "Dear Leader" to change our flag. This segment, however, hasn't had much publicity here in the Antipodes.

I'd love to see local pseudo-Christian channel Shine screen this. Not much chance!