Thursday, 18 December 2014

New Issue of The Journal

I'm not sure I should even try to offer any comment or opinion on the latest issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God lest I unwittingly end up again in the Letters to the Editor section. Anyway the link is above so, if you are interested in the shards of COGdom, you can click across.

Monday, 1 December 2014

No Mo?

Moses more myth than man.

An article from this morning's NZ Herald (sourced from the Observer) that's worth a read.
There is no historical figure of Moses, and no reason from archaeology or history to suppose any of the exodus story is true.
[T]he absence of evidence outside the Bible story is potentially embarrassing, says Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who leads Reform Judaism in Britain. "You have to distinguish between truth and historicity," she said.
Truth and historicity? Hmm.
"Moses himself has about as much historic reality as King Arthur," archaeologist Philip Davies famously concluded. A more moderate conclusion comes from the historian Tom Holland: "The likelihood that the biblical story records an actual event is fairly small."
Oh dear, can't you just hear the choking sounds from the fundagelical fringe?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Don't hold back Bob!

What does Bob Price have in common with Martin Luther?

They both got more crotchety as they aged.

Luther wasn't one to hold back the venom when it came to political dissidents and Jewish culture. As he got older he became thoroughly splenetic. The churches that bear his name have long since apologised for his acerbic polemic.

"What?" you might cry. "Are you accusing Bob of the similitude of Luther's afflictions?"

Well, thou mayest judge for thine own self. Bob has a new blog entry up on Islam entitled (with brilliant word play) I Slam Islam.

Truth to tell, most of us walk on eggshells when it comes to Islam. We refrain from plain talking criticism (the sort we might freely offer if talking about any of the sects of Christendom) because it reeks of narrow intolerance.

So here cometh the prophet Bob to disturb our sanguinity.

As you might already suspect, I'm I big fan of Bob (Dr. Robert M. Price). Not of his politics, I hasten to add, but of his honesty, directness and humour in his chosen field of biblical studies. Again, not that I agree with him on everything, but his 'take' on the Bible and religion is always worth considering. He's not called "the Bible Geek" for nothing.

My favourite line in I Slam Islam is his description of Martin E. Marty as "the very poster-boy for namby-pamby, “standing for nothing, offending no one” liberal Protestantism".

And there's much more polemic where that comes from.

Bob is of course a thorough conservative when it comes to politics, somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, which bizarrely puts him at the other end of the spectrum to most of his admirers in the world of atheistic biblical study.

Here's an excerpt.
Today, when Multiculturalist apologists (excuse-makers) for Islam hurl accusations of “Islamophobia” against anyone who dares to criticize Islam, they try to discount Islamic savagery as some kind of distortion of “true Islam” (as witness our theologian-in-chief: “ISIS is not Islamic.”). No, they say, “real” Muslims are gentle folk quietly running falafel stands on your local street corner. This is of course itself an essentialist argument. Consistent essentialists say there simply is no “true Islam,” but this is really saying the same thing: that you can’t condemn “Islam” since there is no such thing. Sure, there are mass-murdering rapists who carry a pocket edition of the Koran in their ammunition belt, but that’s pretty much a coincidence. You wouldn’t want to “profile” Muslims as terrorists—or terrorists as Muslims!
What gives the lie to this nonsense is the dynamic of assimilation-and-reaction. Religions moderate by virtue of assimilation and accommodation. In other words, jettisoning their original principles, no longer being true to themselves. That’s the whole point of it!
Moderate Muslims in America (like the innocuous, head scarf wearing teenager in the i-phone commercial, or smiling giant Shaquille O’Neill hawking Gold Bond, whatever the hell that is) are good Americans precisely insofar as they take Islam less seriously. Just read the damn Koran. Look at Islamic origins and history. When mealy-mouthed “moderate Muslims” tell us that jihad has nothing to do with killing infidels but refers only to the pious individual’s spiritual struggle, we are hearing either disingenuous spin (cynical PR worthy of Josh Ernest and Jay Carney) or hopelessly na├»ve ignorance.
Luther, one suspects, would have applauded.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

So very sad

A disturbing story with a COG connection appeared on the New Zealand Herald website today. The named individual was a prominent member of the Worldwide Church of God in Auckland, often playing the piano to accompany hymns at services and presenting "special music". In recent times he has been Fred Coulter's representative in the country.

It is with some hesitation that I post this link. My first reaction is simply how very sad this all is. I took into account that at least one family member of this individual has already reposted the item and obviously wishes this information to be known. Please be advised that any comments on this item will be heavily moderated.

Addendum: Gary Leonard has just posted on this matter and linked to a version of the same story appearing on the Daily Mail website in the UK.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Journal Bites Back

Back in September I vented about a cartoon that appeared in The Journal. Much to my surprise it appears again - with top billing! - as a letter to the editor on page 2 of the latest issue.

My piece was entitled The World as it seems in Texas. In its latest incarnation it has been rechristened The World as it seems in New Zealand.


Now I probably deserve to be soundly whacked across the chops on this one. It was a cheeky piece. Clearly I stomped over someone's toes in the process.

And, viewing the toon on the iPad it seems I misread the artist's cognomen as Clayton rather than Cayton which, mea culpa, was just plain sloppy.

The editorial comment beneath my now retreaded blog piece notes that Mr Cayton hails from San Francisco, not Texas. Well, OK, but my unkind and intemperate reference to the Lone Star State was related to The Journal itself, which is published in Big Sandy.

It's also inferred that I suffer from a surfeit of "political correctness" in finding Mr Cayton's humor inappropriate - if not downright offensive - in this context.


Now I don't want to bring down the ire of the proud citizens of a great state. And for the record, I'm very fond of older renditions of "The Yellow Rose of Texas".

But there's a question of political impartiality in any publication that seeks to credibly inform a broad readership.

Please don't misunderstand. As I've said a number of times in the past (and been roundly derided by some readers for doing so) I actually quite like The Journal. Many of its lead articles over the years have been textbook examples of balanced journalism, studiously respectful to all parties. Much of the credit for that goes to Dixon Cartwright who treads the path between the various factions with great aplomb.

But the point made is still relevant. Wingnut political vitriol of this sort is a nasty business best left to Fox, WND and prophecy panders.

Having got that off my chest, you can download the full PDF for yourself from The Journal website. Among other worthwhile features there's an interesting article on the Hammer family's history in regard to the WCG, and a tribute to the late Shirley Armstrong, widow of Garner Ted.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Of Pumpkins and Castle Doors

Yesterday was Halloween, the one evening of the year when the front door gets barricaded against marauding bands of munchkins on a demonic sugar fix.

And it's also Reformation Day, commemorating the day in 1517 that Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. It is a public holiday in 5 of the German states, Slovenia and - go figure - Chile.

Gene Veith is a conservative Lutheran of the LCMS persuasion. An excerpt from his commentary, posted on the Cranach blog, is "nailed up" below.

Luther's theology played second fiddle to the sense of moral outrage he tapped into. Luther is one of those fascinating characters full of self-contradictions. The bombastic peasant, German nationalist, beer connoisseur, scatological humorist, gifted translator, biblical scholar and change-agent with an unshakeable commitment to the oppressive political power structures of his day. Perhaps it's those very human contradictions that enabled him to break the monolithic Western church apart where others (think Jan Hus) had failed.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Grinch puts his case

As all Dr Seuss fans, past and present, know; it was the Grinch who stole Christmas.

But there have always been oddball Christians, usually inheritors of thin-lipped, bloodless Puritanism, who have condemned the seasonal frivolities. Then there are literal-minded folk for whom Christmas is not so much frivolous in the Scrooge sense, but just plain pagan to the core.

Amongst these sects, the various Sabbath-keeping Churches of God stand out. Unlike Jehovah's Witnesses these bodies (there are a plethora of feuding variations) have substituted faux Old Testament Holy Days - radically re-engineered from their Hebrew roots - for the traditional liturgical calendar that includes Easter (pagan!), Lent (pagan!) and, of course, Christmas.

Selling an anti-Xmas message is no easy thing. It's a bit like making nasty comments about "Mom and apple pie". But it does serve a very real social function in putting real kinship ties under pressure (yup, that's 'Mom' and the extended family outside the faith community) and shoring up the fictive kinship bonds among insiders -  'the brethren'. No more exchanging gifts or taking the kids around to the grandparent's place on Xmas Day. No special Christmas meals, coloured lights, Secret Santa, decorations or greeting cards. Pagan!

(And considering today is October 31, let's not even get started on what these folk make of Halloween!)

So how do you put a positive spin on something like that? The current issue of Discern - published by one of the more hardline COG sects - tackles the task manfully.

Other competing COG ministries will very soon be joining in the yowling Grinch-like chorus if past years are anything to go by.

Of course much of the commercial Christmas experience is kitschy, and there's no doubt that a lot of people get sucked into a debt vortex by unnecessary seasonal expenses. And, at the risk of sounding like a Discern article, a lot of the religious trappings aren't much better. 

Kilough and Jones will make those same points, but that's not their chief beef with Xmas. They're against it in principle because they read the Bible like Auntie Ruby reads the assembly instructions for Ikea furniture. 

The thing is, those so-called 'biblical festivals' which Clyde and Erik champion have their roots in Near Eastern agricultural fertility festivals that pre-date the oldest parts of the Bible. They were adapted into Second Temple Judaism in the same way similarly colourful European customs were later reinvented as Christian celebrations.

And so, you've got to ask, why not eggnog? What's the difference?