Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

For those perhaps seeking an ardent defence for your right to put up inflatable Christmas decorations (can we even call them decorations?) on your lawn, or festooning thousands of gaudy icicle lights from your roof, or otherwise uglying up the holidays with your over-the-top ornaments, I’m sorry to say, you won’t find it here.

That being said, nor will you find here an impassioned case for the traditional religious definition of Christmas, one that decries the consumer driven focus on Santa Claus instead of remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, mourning the fact that the  true meaning of Christmas may very well be lost forever.

Instead this post is a simple counterpoint to a holiday themed issue I raised last year, the issue of the changing language of Christmas; where it’s taking us, and whether or not we should be worried about it.

While I concluded last year that Christmas was, for better or worse, no longer a religious holiday, but instead a generic cultural holiday, as many diverse minorities choose to celebrate it in their own unique ways, I do believe that our culture has taken its rejection of the original roots of Christmas just a little too far.

In fact, one might go as far as to say that the language in both the public and private spheres this holiday is an example of cultural and religious tolerance run amuck, a veritable mine field of talking points that one should avoid lest they have some sort of holiday faux pas blow up in their faces.



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Over the past week I’ve taken some time to decompress and reflect on the epic tale of Lost that many of us have enjoyed over the past six years, and what I’ve come to realize is that while Lost may have left some dissatisfied, a point I’m sure won’t disappear anytime soon, it has attempted to do something that few shows have tried before, and clearly it has left the public wanting more.

One needs to look no further than the amazing amount of speculation and controversy surrounding the final credits of the finale, a sweeping shot of the airplane wreckage on the beach, a scene that sparked off an avalanche of speculation that the wreckage was really meant to tell us that the passengers of Oceanic flight 815 were dead all along.

However, with an ABC spokesperson crushing any and all speculation over the credits, we are now left with the question, what do we do now? Certainly some other show will come along that will attempt to fill our voracious appetite for conspiracy theories and our underlying quest to find the deeper meaning of our existence, but I doubt it’ll ever see the same success that Lost achieved.

The impression of Lost that I’m left with is not that I watched a show that entertained millions around the world for the past half-dozen years, but I was able to witness a show that got more people talking about religion, the afterlife, philosophy, and the meaning of existence than any religious institution, philosophy class, or new age yoga seminar ever could.

But this got me thinking.  Is that a good thing?


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The eye, what has become a powerful metaphor symbolizing not only fear and confusion but also redemption and enlightenment, slowly closes, the life ebbs from our reluctant hero Jack Shephard, and the screen fades to black. Despite the strong bittersweet taste left in my mouth at the closing of the show, few can deny that this was a fitting—if not somewhat predictable—end to the epically brilliant six year saga known as Lost.

While I don’t normally write about movies or TV shows, when a show with the breadth and depth of Lost offers a tantalizing embodiment of the name Passport for the Soul, I just have to write about it.

The brilliance of the show, for me, lay not only in the strong character development, which through its analysis of these disparate individuals gave all viewers an unexpectedly deep look into the human condition as a whole, but also in its laudable attempt at incorporating deeper religious, philosophical, and metaphysical themes into its weekly plot lines. While one of my observations has always been that Lost handles these deep philosophical truths in the same way a baby handles a rattle, unskilled and imprecise, the fact that it ventures into that sort of territory at all sets it far above its competition.

That being said, if you were waiting for some of the deeper mysteries of the Island to be revealed in the show’s series finale, you were no doubt left wanting, as the creators of the show chose to take a strong character driven approach to the finale instead of one focused on wrapping up loose ends.

What I find the most disappointing of all is not that Lost left us with so many unanswered questions, but the fact that the show seemed to shy away from answering or explaining any of the vital why conundrums. Sure, throughout the final season many of the what questions were explained—What is the smoke monster? What is Jacob? What are these particular people doing on this island? But rarely did I see the show attempt to explain its own mythology.

Sure we know that the Island can travel through time, but I wouldn’t have minded if the show would have taken a second or two to explain to me why the Island travels through time. How does that connect to its role as the paradisiacal battleground between good and evil? Why did the Man in Black become the smoke monster? That sort of thing.

The particularly bittersweet part, for me at least, is that I think I know the answer to my own questions. The producers of Lost left these sorts of why questions unanswered because they didn’t want to ruin the enduring mythology by pinpointing it with concrete answers. Lost, to be sure, has clearly become something different for almost all of its loyal viewers, and to give decisive answers would be to only ruin that sort of engaging ambiguity that always kept us coming back week after week.

In the end, the finale clearly had it moments. It was certainly a surprise to learn that despite our ongoing assumptions that the utopian sideways timeline was some alternate reality, that really all the characters were reliving the most important days of their lives in some sort of purgative spiritual Matrix-like state, having died presumably years earlier, and, the revelation that Hurley, not Jack, took over as the caretaker of the Island.

But despite all that, there simply wasn’t enough there for me to feel satisfied, evidenced by the fact that I’m sitting awake in the middle of the night with an enduring feeling of disappointment gnawing at my brain, and much like the characters of the show I find myself in Limbo, caught in the in-between. The only difference, however, is that the characters got to walk into the light, whereas I’m doomed to the eternal darkness of confusion and ignorance over the real answers to the deeper questions of Lost.

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Your days are numbered! That is, if the prophecies of ancient oracles, soothsayers, sages, and the Hollywood blockbuster 2012 are too be believed. For those who haven’t heard, we’ve got a little over two years left as the lifespan for civilization as we know it is quickly ticking down to zero.  

The 2012 phenomenon encompasses a wide range of eschatological, or end times, beliefs about the cataclysmic or world altering events that will occur on either December 21st or December 23rd of that year. While those dates don’t immediately strike anyone as important, they are believed to mark the end of the 5,125 year-long cycle of what is known as the Mayan Long-Count calendar.

Further, many other groups have taken up the 2012 cause, coalescing the Mayan calendar with their own prophecies or interpretations of other prophecies. One need only to turn on the TV on Sunday morning and listen to any number of babbling televangelists prattle on and on about how 2012 may be the date that everything changes; not necessarily the return of Jesus, but perhaps some other major transformative event that will certainly mark the beginning of the end for existence as we know it.

If televangelists aren’t your thing (and who’s thing are they really?) then perhaps a trip to the Discovery channel will suffice. What you’ll find there week after week is a bevy of programs articulating the findings of the scholars of Nostradamus, of the medieval Merlin, of the Chinese I Ching, of some crazy lady in a cave in England, and of course the Mayans, all of which now point to this date in history as the end of civilization.

The problem with prophecy, however, is that it requires so much interpretation to understand it, and even then it’s a little hazy. Would any of these scholars have predicted the year 2012 through their interpretations even a mere ten years ago? Or do these prophecies now suddenly make sense because someone else got the prophetic ball rolling?

What’s clear to me is that the Mayans knew as much about our planet’s future demise as I know about advanced particle physics, namely…nothing. The Mayans were not prophets; they were not even able to predict their own cultural extinction. While they were clearly accomplished mathematicians and noted sky watchers, they were also a violent tribal group with an archaic and primitive understanding of the universe, subscribing to barbaric practices of blood-letting and human sacrifice. If their prophetic skills didn’t work on predicting their own demise, it’s a safe bet to assume they won’t work on predicting ours.

Their magical long-count calendar began on the day 3114 BC, a day that they believed marked the creation moment of the universe. Now, in order for the end of the subsequent 5,125 year cycle to mean anything, it would seem that we would need to also believe that something special happened on that day over 5000 years ago. However, since even young earth theorists, those that believe in a literal account of the book of Genesis for instance, believe the earth to be at least a few thousands years older than that, I would wager that almost no one outside the Mayan tradition believes the earth is simply that young.

From televangelists to Hollywood (or are they the same thing?) fear mongering has always been the order of day, drawing upon speculative research and interpretation to articulate this sort of impending doom. Why? Because fear sells. But the question we have to ask ourselves is, is there any real reason to be concerned of 2012? Absolutely not! Now where did I leave that Y2K preparedness kit?

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I seem to find myself offended or embarrassed whenever Pat Robertson opens his mouth. During a recent segment of his show The 700 Club, aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network, the influential televangelist stated that the recent disaster in Haiti is merely a continuation of a long line of misfortunes that have plagued the country since its people reportedly made a pact with the Devil. The transcript reads:

They [the Haitians] were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another…

Needless to say, these insensitive remarks have stirred up quite a controversy around the world amidst the urgent assembly of aid packages en route to the Caribbean country to support the Haitians through this devastating time. But what are we to make of comments such as this? Does Pat Robertson really offer biblical insights into the Haitian earthquake? If he does, he should really check his facts first.

Robertson states that the Haitians were “under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever,” when in fact the Haitian revolution successfully overthrew their French colonial masters in 1804, during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, forty-four years before the reign of Napoleon III. Its disconcerting that someone who many revere and depend on to disseminate truth would make such a blunder nonchalantly and communicate it as a ‘true story.’

It’s embarrassing enough to state such glaring historical inaccuracies as fact, but the question remains, where does this reported ‘true story’ of the pact with the devil come from? In 1793 the French, inspired by their own revolution and hoping to endear themselves to their colonial servants, the Haitians, and gain valuable allies against the Spanish and the British, abolished slavery in that colony, an act that soon spread to all French colonies. However, in the years following, Napoleon reconsidered the freedom he had granted to Haiti, no doubt buoyed by the thoughts of the money he could gain be retaking control of Haiti’s wealthy sugar and coffee plantations. Robertson’s tale stems from a legend that Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led the Haitian revolution against the French, entered into a pact with Satan disguised as a voodoo deity in exchange for a military victory over the invading French.

The truth of the tale, however, is that the French army lost a vast majority of its soldiers to yellow fever, and many others, sympathetic to the native Haitian’s cause, joined the Haitian army, leaving the final battle a relatively anticlimactic defeat of a beleaguered and decimated French army. The French, still licking their wounds after suffering the first (and only) successful slave-led revolution for independence in history, constructed a story about sacrifices to Satan. Apparently, French eye-witnesses reported the sacrifice of a pig during a voodoo ceremony, intended to assist in the revolt against the Haitian’s colonial masters. For those that don’t know, voodoo is a syncretistic religious system, developed by African slaves that combines Roman Catholicism with traditional African tribal religious practices. It is certainly a non-traditional Christian offshoot, and there are indeed ceremonies within voodoo that involve animal sacrifice, but does that warrant the label ‘demonic,’ and is voodoo the cause of the continued troubles in Haiti? I sincerely doubt it. Looking back on the event in question, the French army was defeated by plague, famine, and desertion; if that was an act of the devil, Robertson needs to explain how that particular situation was different from the hundreds of similar miraculous events that have taken place throughout history, many of which were achieved after similar ceremonies and sacrifices to a plethora of gods in cultures that are now flourishing–not to mention that the credibility of the French sources for Robertson’s ‘true story’ remains dubious at best.

In reference to the current maladies of the Haitian people, UCLA anthropologist Andrew Apter argues, “The reason Haiti is poor is because Europe imposed a blockade on trade after the slave revolt in 1804, and you have an extremely polarized class structure in which a few families stepped into the positions of the former colonial plantation owners. There has been a horrible cycle of plundering and autocracy within Haitian leadership.” It the end, if the devil played a part in Haiti’s history of misfortune, it seems only as the inspiration for French slave-drivers, greedy colonial capitalists, and bitter European powers that have never allowed the Haitians to get back to their feet. And if Pat Robertson needs more explanation for the continued misfortunes of the Haitian people, perhaps he doesn’t need to look any further than America’s inglorious role in that country’s history….

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It’s an all out war on Christmas! Or at least that’s what many Christians in North America would have you believe. In a humorous (and not to mention heretical) episode of South Park (<– If you click on this link, prepare to be offended), this very point is put to the test in an epic battle for Christmas superiority. In one corner, Santa Claus! the jolly old fat man in a red suit; and in the other, Jesus Christ! the son of God and saviour of humanity…


While the idea of an actual duel between these icons of Christmas may seem offensive to many (and don’t worry, it’s certainly offensive) it draws attention to a very real issue for many Christians (and other traditionalists) throughout North America. Over the past several years there has been a distinct change in the language of Christmas.

Gone are the choruses of “Merry Christmas” sung or said at every public gathering, replaced by the ubiquitous “Happy Holidays,” or the nebulous “The Best of the Season to You.” (which season would that be? Winter?) For many Christians, this alteration of Christmas greetings is tantamount to declaring war on Christian beliefs, and this issue has ignited significant amounts of indignation and resistance from Christians struggling to retain their traditional cultural and religious identities. The fear, it seems, is that if Christians let the non-religious language of Christmas overtake the traditional holiday vernacular, the true meaning of Christmas will be lost forever.

 The question becomes, “Should Christians be concerned about this apparent loss of meaning at Christmas?” Is there reason to be concerned about store policies that forbid employees to wish customers “Merry Christmas,” or reason to decry the focus on Santa Claus and Rudolph as opposed to the birth of Jesus Christ? There are many reasons to resist this change in language and focus; but there are even stronger arguments for embracing it.


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As the sweet scent of incense swirled around my head and the rhythmic chants of the Buddhist monks filled my ears, I began to feel terribly uncomfortable. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with throngs of devout Buddhists in a small temple in Bangkok, many of them deep in prayer and meditation. However, it wasn’t the devotees, their chants, their smells, or my lack of personal space I found unsettling, rather, it was the incessant gaze of the large, solid-gold Buddha that towered over me. While the statue aroused feelings of awe and wonderment in my soul, those feelings paled in comparison to the pain and sympathy I felt for the crowd of beggars I waded through outside the temple doors. The statue quickly became, for me, just another example of the misappropriation of religious resources, the investment in icons at the expense of people.

On Saturday, Dec, 19, CNN aired an interesting and provocative program titled, “In God We Trust: Faith & Money in America,” focusing on the governing influence of religion over how people spend their money. While it was nice to see representatives from all major American religious groups—although I could have done without the perma-grin, super pastor Joel Osteen—the conclusions were anything but revolutionary. In America, as one might expect, capitalism is often preached from the pulpit, and during this recession many influential pastors, imams, priests, and gurus have done their part in helping minimize economic despair and encouraging their parishioners to continue to spend within their means. The unexpected result for me, however, in watching this program was not these capitalist conclusions, but how it got me thinking again about how institutionalized religions use their many resources.

One of the primary motivations for my incessant traveling has been to observe and encounter religions in other countries; to learn what those people believe and to see how it affects their day-to-day existence. Surprisingly, the one aspect that I have noticed the world over is that religions—all religions—tend to focus disproportionately on investing in religious iconography, often at the expense of assisting the poor and marginalized among the religious population. That is, money is often spent on mega-churches, soaring cathedrals, towering minarets, statues, or other religious objects, while beggars continue to die right outside the doors.

This is not to say that religions, in general, don’t have an interest in caring for the poor. I have witnessed great compassion and support for marginalized populations inspired by religious devotion. Furthermore, I do understand the role of religious objects/buildings etc… in offering hope, support, and belonging. These religious icons are part of people’s cultural identity, a visible reminder that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Nevertheless, my point remains simply this: couldn’t we find a better use for the estimated $160 million dollars worth of gold used to make that single Buddha statue in Bangkok, or the reported $1.245 billion dollars worth of gold in Vatican holdings, or the $1.2 billion dollar investment that prosperity-peddling pastor Joel Osteen poured into a new mega-church/stadium in 2005 (that his church is struggling to pay off)? I can only imagine the impact on world hunger, on the development of third-world economies, or on the reduction of unnecessary poverty-related deaths that could have been prevented with investing even a portion of this money into human wellbeing.

So”, as Kent Brockman says in one of the funniest Simpsons quotes of all time, “While you’re home today eating your sweet, sweet holiday turkey, I hope you’ll all choke … just a little bit.

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