Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

The Holidays are here and they are a busy time for many people, including me. Since the Welcome to Winter Festival of which I blogged about on the weekend of December 10th, it seems I've had little time to write much of anything. Between baking Christmas goodies, shopping, helping out friends and neighbors, Christmas caroling, attending Christmas concerts, and everything else that comes with this time of year, I -- probably like many writers -- have just not had the "time" to write. Yes, time: it flies when you're having fun. And this busy time of year has been fun thus far, with I hope will continue for the 12 days of Christmas which begins tonight.

Christmas is a busy season, but what better way to remain busy than doing things for others? Helping out people in need; spending quality time with those who normally don't have any "time" at all, and just being -- yes, just being in the moment is what Christmas should be about. Yet, every other season of the year should be about these things too. Why aren't they? It's a question I'm going to ask myself and yes, try and improve upon from this moment forward. Will I fail? Probably, but then that is also an important aspect of Christmas -- that God comes to us in our weakness and helps us to live better and more full lives.

I hope I can continue to learn and grow during this Christmas season, and keep that feeling throughout the year.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Local winter festival kicks off season of fun!!!

Since I created this blog a few months ago I have generally written about current events in politics, religion or both; however, my personal motto means that "everything is material" and I do mean everything! While I generally find inspiration to write from the world of politics and religion, I personally find so many other things enjoyable and inspiring that to not write about them as well is to cheat myself (and others) out of the larger world which exists beyond the "forbidden" topics. And so with that said, this blog post will have nothing to do with politics or religion. As it turns out there are far "crazier" things in the world -- like winter camping!

The last couple of weeks have been extremely hectic in my neck of the woods -- which are literally the Northwoods of Northern Wisconsin. Last minute efforts have been made to prepare for the coming Winter: putting up the last cord of firewood (for next year, as it's best to be a year ahead so one will always have dry seasoned wood to burn), putting away the last of the summer tools, and of course in the Northwoods searching for that 8 point buck. Of course, I'm not a hunter myself, but hunting is as much a part of living "Up North" as wearing multiple layers of clothes is -- which we do just to go to the grocery store!

But why do we all prepare for winter in such a way? Is it to hunker down for the next 4 months never to be seen again until spring? Well, there are some who live up North who do just that, but personally I like to think most of us who choose to live here are a little more adventurous than that. In fact, many of us do all of these last minute chores in preparation for winter just so we can have more time to get out and enjoy winter. Ice fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, snow tubing, snow sledding, and good old fashioned snowball fights are just some of the winter activities many of us enjoy.

Some are even crazy enough to try their hands at winter camping. Yes, winter camping! In fact this weekend the local hardware store (which is more than a hardware store) is having their second annual Welcome to Winter Festival. Yes those are real tents, and even though our low temperature this morning was 2 below zero (-2 degrees F), believe it or not they are warm and toasty inside. Of course that's because of the wood stoves keeping things at a comfortable 65 to 70 degrees but hey, it beats camping without one. Thanks to Snowtrekker Tents, people who would have never imagined doing anything as crazy as camping in the winter have been introduced to traditional winter camping and yes, they have come to enjoy it.

Yes -- winter camping may just sound crazy to some of my readers -- but then many of us think that a low temperature of 2 below zero is "not bad." In fact, some of us are so crazy for winter that all day today the Welcome to Winter Festival kicks off the winter season with a bonfire (15 feet high), music, food, and -- at 7pm -- a fantastic fireworks display courtesy of Lottig Pyrotechnics. The fireworks holds special interest for me because I am a pyro-assistant and the official videographer for Lottig Pyrotechnics. So if you're local (which up here is anything under 60 miles away) come on out to the Solon Springs Mercantile for food, fun, and fireworks. If you're not local, then some of the links I've posted will give you a taste of what us Northerners do to welcome in "old man winter," and if you think us Northerners are crazy -- well, you may just be right, and that's just how we like it!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Moving beyond "race" -- to boldly go where no one has gone before!

For centuries mankind has asked the profound question: “are we alone?” While some may see this as a religious question, most today understand it as a question pertaining to the existence of extraterrestrial life (i.e., does E.T. exist?). The question is not merely the product of the modern age, for it has been pondered by many religious thinkers and philosophers throughout the ages. What's surprising to some is that many of these ancient thinkers found no contradiction between their faith and the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

For example, the Jewish Talmud speculates that there are as many as 18,000 worlds where some form of intelligent life may exist. Hinduism also embraces the idea of “other worlds,” and even other universes. Christianity's view is a bit more fuzzy, but a a number of recent statements made by the Vatican and it's representatives, along with 2009's week long study on astrobiology hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, seems to indicate that even conservative forms of Christianity accept, at least the possibility, of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.

These statements by Christian leaders are quite timely given that modern astrobiology consists of very real science with very real scientific data. In our galaxy alone there are over 200 million stars and upwards of 50 billion planets, 500 million of which fall into the Goldilocks (not too hot, not to cold, but just right for life) zone in their respective solar systems. And that's just in the Milky Way galaxy. There are at least 100 billion Galaxies throughout the entire known and observable universe. The likelihood of extraterrestrial life is a very real possibility which much of Christianity is beginning to come to terms with.

Yet with mainstream Christianity's new acceptance of scientific realities, it was just a matter of time before some Christian Churches began making declarations not in favor of, but in opposition to our celestial neighbors. This week, it was reported that a Baptist Church in rural Kentucky, in a nine to six vote had banned interracial couples from Church membership and worship ministries. Of course this seems a bit premature since the last time I checked (a few hours ago) aliens hadn't visited Earth yet, but I suppose this little Church in Kentucky is simply hedging its bets. There probably are other races of beings out there in the universe (just like in Star Trek) so we best forbid these interracial couples from attending Church services and participating as active worship leaders. Such blatant racism seems counter productive to the message of Christ and may possibly lead to an intergalactic war, but I guess E.T. was a scary movie for these folks!

Oh wait, I just double checked my facts. Apparently I misunderstood this Church's intention. The Church's ban wasn't directed at “interracial” couples at all (i.e., marrying a non-human, like a Klingon or Vulcan) but at members of the same race (human beings, descendants of Adam and Eve) who just happen have a different skin color from one another and/or come from strange and far away lands – like anywhere you're not from! The ban is not an “interracial” ban, but an “intraracial” one, seeing as all human beings are made up of the same race.

Just when I thought Christianity was about to enter the 23rd century and boldly go where no one has gone before, it turns out that at least nine Christians in Kentucky want to take Christianity back to the 18th century and boldly go where humanity should never have gone in the first place – a world where we ignore the words of St. Paul who wrote that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, KJV). Ouch! That's a pretty rough statement to hear – if you're someone who thinks banning “interracial” couples is a good way of preserving Church unity! An even more difficult verse must be Galatians 3:29: “And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (KJV). Got that? If you're a Christian, Paul (a Jew) says that you're actually the seed of Abraham (the father of the Jews) who – in case you didn't know -- wasn't from Kentucky, didn't have European ancestry and was actually from what is today known as modern day Iraq!

What's even more bizarre about a Church banning humans from marrying other humans based on the shade of their skin is that we're now closer to the world envisioned by Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek (often cited as the show where the first interracial kiss took place on U.S. television) than we are to the “good old days” where being dark skinned in a light skinned world would get you banned – from Church! I mean come on, banned from Church? What happened to the idea that Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14)? Maybe these good folks need to go back and read all of Galatians again. Or perhaps they need to read the entire Bible which is filled with “interracial” marriages and relationships of all kinds (Song of Songs anyone?).

If and when we ever do encounter an extraterrestrial intelligence, and if and when our relations with these lifeforms grow strong enough to seriously consider true interracial marriage (marrying someone not a part of the human race), hopefully by then we will have outgrown our race's childish ethnic and religious tribalism, and realize that the human race may come in various shades, styles, and flavors but we are one species and one race: the human race, and nothing short of that realization is worthy of humanity or anything we should dare call Christian.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yes Virginia . . . there are Orthodox Traditionalists

Since The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy has been released I've heard from many people both praising and criticizing the book. Some “get it” while others do not. I've heard most of the typical “defenses” of the type of Orthodox Traditionalism which I address in the book (note: I'm not talking about ALL Traditionalists, and 4 out of 17 of the chapters should make this quite clear). Most of the “defenses” of the Canons of the Church I fully anticipated. I have heard, and even used most of the standard “defenses” of the “Canons are holy” party line long before writing The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy. I had a pretty good feel for how people would “object” to the book and it turns out, that for the most part, I was right. For those who've read the book, you can actually see this demonstrated very clearly when certain Traditionalists “defend” the Canons in exactly the manner in which I claimed they would – which is the perfect demonstration that they've not even read the thing!

However, one of the defenses of Canon law and Traditionalism which I admit I was unprepared for was the surprising claim that Orthodox Traditionalists (of the type I address) don't even exist! That's right. My points would be okay, except for the fact that the radical and fringe Traditionalists (who believe Canon law is divine and/or should be enforced in the modern world) aren't a part of modern day reality. In other words, I'm just making all of this up! (Funny that my publisher didn't think that.)

The claim that “Traditionalists don't exist” actually comes in two versions. The first comes from very genuine Orthodox Christians who honestly have never met any Traditionalists, nor have they read any of their books, websites, and thankfully don't know anyone who has been abused by Traditionalism. Generally these Orthodox Christians live in the largest and most multicultural parts of the country. Places like San Fransisco, Boston, and Atlanta are – as they should be – places of sanity where the people I'm referring to seem so outlandish that my arguments appear to be all for nothing. People tend to think that there may be 5 guys living somewhere in Arkansas who believe this stuff, but that doesn't make them a “movement” which must be “addressed.” If I had this view, I would agree too! And I respect this view and those who hold it because these types of responses to the book are always cordial and genuine. The reader just cannot understand why I'm making an issue out of nothing.

Again, I understand this view but let us for a moment assume that the Traditionalism I'm referring to doesn't exist. As a lover of history, I still find the fact that such people once existed in the Church – even if it was over 1000 years ago – an intriguing and fascinating issue. Isn't it worth knowing how the Church once viewed women? Slavery? The importance of the pecking order within the hierarchy? To me, even if Orthodox Traditionalism didn't exist today, these Canons are still a fascinating and sometimes disturbing part of our Church history which is worth exploring and beginning a conversation about.

And  these views were still held by the compilers of The Rudder, which was first published just over 200 years ago. In Eastern Orthodox time, that's like last weekend! it's not like these beliefs died out in the 8th century. If they died out, they only did so very recently (post Enlightenment). It may very well be true that if you're living in NYC you probably have never encountered the people I'm referring to in the book. Yet they do exist. They are not 5 guys in Nebraska, nor are they limited to a couple of practical jokers posting on blogs. Nor are they confined to the so called Ephraimite Monasteries which have become such a troublesome issue within the heartland of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (though that's probably where the heart of the problem lies at the moment). I know people on the East Coast who have no clue as to what this troublesome issue even is, yet it exists (see: and it is in part a product of the type of “Traditionalism” and view of the Canons which my book addresses. Traditionalists are not limited to Greek Churches, nor are they limited to America. In fact, I have personally corresponded with someone from England who has also had her own problems with Traditionalists for a number of years. (And no, please don't email me and ask me to give you her name, address and telephone number, if she wants a date -- she'll email you herself!)

These Traditionalists do exist – and ironically the second version of the “Traditionalists don't exist” argument comes not from the good people at great Churches like St. Sophia Cathedral in LA, or St. Mary's in the Twin Cities (if all Churches were like that, I wouldn't even have written a book) but from the Traditionalists themselves. I've gotten emails telling me that no such fanatics exist -- or so they tell me right before they explain that I'm committing blasphemy, cursing God, and that I'm going to hell! After all, what's fanatical about condemning someone (me) to hell for criticizing something I'm told doesn't even exist? That's perfectly sane! I've also been told that the Canons are but man made tools -- but questioning them is blasphemous! Makes perfect sense, right?

My intention is not to refute “the Canons” per se but a very specific misunderstanding of them: that being that they cannot change and that God had something to do with writing them. This makes people uncomfortable but it is what it is and I stand by my arguments, and more importantly I stand by the fact that there ARE Traditionalists who do claim that Canon law is on par with Scripture – in fact it is part of “Sacred Tradition,” (see: which for my non-Orthodox readers means it came from God the Holy Spirit). These are not the claims of a couple of people posting on the internet which we can write off because – well, it's the internet. Yes, apparently some people still think the internet is still an obscure upstart fad and not the modern world's fastest and most efficient method of communication.(Welcome to the 21st century!)

So finally, what is my proof for the existence of a “problem”?  Well, other than my book's Bibliography and the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew felt the need to actually release an encyclical addressing it in 2010 I've selected just a few websites to post here. A few of these appear in my Bibliography, most do not. These only scratch the surface of the Traditionalist world -- which as I explain in the book is NOT all bad -- but it does have a more disturbing form which, not only exists, but does hurt the Orthodox Church today in many different ways.

A couple of more scholarly works on THE RUDDER:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy is now available on Kindle!

I just received word from my publisher that The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy is now available for purchase on Kindle. So for all those who were asking and waiting for a Kindle Edition, it's been made available a lot sooner than the publisher anticipated.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Please stop speaking for God!

It's funny how Christians – and devout believers of many religions – proclaim that God is an indescribable mystery, beyond comprehension, ineffable and beyond human understanding, while in the same breath feel the need (as well as qualified) to tell you exactly what “God says,” thinks and wants – about you! This certitude is especially ironic within Christianity because whenever a particular doctrine is called into question, for example the Trinity, apologists will proceed to tell you to not take things so literally. They'll claim that if there is a God, He would be a contradiction wrapped up in an enigma. Well the doctrine of Trinity is certainly that.

I actually have no problem with saying that God must be so “other” that He/She/It may very well be best described with language that would look and sound like the doctrine of the Trinity. To me, it makes sense that any God who was really God (and not merely an alien intelligence pretending to be God like in Stargate SG-1) would be utterly confusing. 3 equals one, and one equals three. Makes sense? Of course it doesn't make sense. But if God exists, it makes sense that God wouldn't make sense. Got it? Well, I kind of do.

What I don't get is how Christians can go from the “God is a mystery and beyond human understanding” to the very explicit proclamations directed at other people -- usually in judgment against them -- all in the name of God.

How many Christians rail against other Christians? You're not a Trinitarian? Whoops! Well, guess where you're headed? You don't “believe” in the infallibility of the Pope of Rome? Uh uh – you better pack some dry ice in a very large cooler. You believe that Christianity isn't perfect (based on multitudes of evidence) well, God says otherwise. Exactly how do these people know the mind of an “ineffable” God? Oh yes, they have God's personal cell phone number! I'm sorry. I only have the 800 number which everyone else on earth has access to. Somehow though, a select few have some secret knowledge which qualifies them to speak not only their opinions, but exactly what God thinks. But don't forget, God is a mystery!

Yes, I'm aware that we have the Bible. But as anyone who has their brain switched to the on position will tell you, the Bible isn't quite as conclusive as many Christians would have us believe. Does God think it's okay to stone disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-19) or not? How about the prohibition against allowing “witches” and those who practice sorcery to live (Deuteronomy 22:18)? Does God still think we should be killing Harry Potter and Gandalf?

Yes, I'm aware of all of the “arguments” used to defend this verse. One of these defenses tries to say that sorcery in the ancient world was “really” the practice of mixing dangerous potions (which were essentially drugs). In the modern context it might be a prohibition against Meth labs. A good prohibition if not for the KILLING part. Another defense – probably more accurate – is that in the ancient world “witches” were believed to have powers to mix potions which would actually curse people. Yeah. We surely can't have that. Oh wait – that's right, we don't have it because there are no such things as magical curses! Did God not know that there are no such thing as magical curses? Of course GOD knew, but the men who wrote the Bible didn't. Admitting this doesn't mean the Bible is worthless. nor does it mean we should stop drawing inferences from the Bible. Logical inferences are a necessity of life, the key word being logical.

I don't want Christians to stop searching for truth, the Bible history, or being Christians. Christians do need to stop "speaking for God" though. Christians should stop telling others that God hates them (like the Westboro Baptists nuts do at military funerals), and they should stop using the Bible to defend their own personal prejudices, like many do with homosexuality. Christians should be able to voice their opinions -- this is a free country, and I believe God doesn't want us to suppress out minds. However when Christians begin speaking in absolutes red flags go up. And the truth is, that even if Pat Robertson, John Hagee or Harold Camping really did know exactly what God thinks, the rest of us have no access to the same information which they do. The best the rest of us less enlightened people could ever do would be to take what these men of certitude have to say on "faith." Well forgive me, but I will not have "faith" in other men, the Bible, or even the Church. I have faith in God -- and if that's not enough, then so be it!

Saturday, November 12, 2011 shuts down!

While this won't mean a whole lot to my non-Orthodox readers and followers, I still must write about it. The website Orthodox Christians for Accountability ( as of November 9, 2011 has shut down. Why is this a big deal you ask? Well, because was one of the very few Orthodox websites that did exactly what it set out to do -- be a catalyst for change within the Eastern Orthodox Church.

For those unfamiliar, if you think the Roman Catholic Church is slow to change, wait until you become familiar with Orthodoxy. Practically nothing has changed in over 1000 years. It's adherence to tradition is in many ways good, but in other ways quite bad. The Church's structure is top down and the average pew potato has very little power to invoke change or to call the Church to accountability when and if it needs it. quite successfully did just that. Not just once, but on numerous occasions. It was a bastion of dialogue, debate, as well the one place where Orthodox Christians  could consistently get their news from. News that ranged from financial scandals involving Church leaders of the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) ( to sexual misconduct allegations which lead to the dismissal of still other Church leaders, as well as still other scandals involving the Antiochian Archdiocese of America ( not to mention all of the "small" scandals and controversies involving power plays, politics, and Bishops jockeying to be the next "top man."

CNN and Fox News never picked up any of these stories which surely would have taken up weeks of prime time television had they taken place in the Roman Catholic or Southern Baptists Church. There are blessings to being a small religious minority in this country, and there are also curses. The curse is that no matter how corrupt any particular Church member or leader becomes, there is little we can do because we're not "big enough" to garner a slot on Anderson Cooper or the CBS Evening News. In other words, no one cares because we're irrelevant to society, which should say a lot about the state of our Church.

The founder of Mark Stokoe was a tireless worker and for 6 years he dedicated himself and a huge part of his life to devoted service to his Church, his faith, and his belief that accountability is not something we should just hope for in the next life, but something which is our duty to struggle and fight for in this life!

Thanks you Mark! I hope others will take up the mantle which you started and continue to call the Church to accountability and honesty.

The final news posting can be found here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A brief story!

I'd like to tell a little story.

Imagine yourself a bachelor. You don't like “cleaning” your house very much, but it must be done. Or does it? Perhaps you could "sort of " clean house. Yeah, that'll do it! So you begin "cleaning" your house in a new manner -- by sweeping all the dirt, mud, and dried dog food under your living room rug – for a year! No one will know the “truth” that your house is filled with dirt. After all, no one is going to look under that rug, are they? The house “looks” just fine, and that's what's important! Appearances are what matters -- after all, all the men's magazines say so!

Now, let us jump ahead one year. It's Thanksgiving and your entire family comes over. Things actually go pretty well. You all have a great meal, drink some wine, and maybe sit down to watch a movie. The kids are stretched out on the living room rug and then you're caught off guard – one of the kids lifts up the rug revealing a year's worth of filth to your entire family. “Ew,” one of the kids says, “that dog food has turned green!” One of your sarcastic family members, in an attempt to ease the uncomfortable nature of this ugly truth chimes in, “Geez . . . you know, that's a LOT of dirt. What do you do, just sweep it under the rug?” Everyone laughs – but you! You're angry. You're angry not because you're a crappy house keeper. You're angry at those stupid kids and that smart ass relative for pointing out the mere fact that there is a pile of dirt under the living room rug.

In fact, you stand up and shout, “how dare you point our that filth under my rug! You're such a jerk!”

The family begins to squirm and just then, one of the kids asks their parents, “Mom, dad. Why can't I clean my room by just pushing stuff under my bed?”

If you know the answer to that question, then you know why I wrote The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy.

PS: Please keep in mind this is meant to be funny folks! I mean, what else do single guys do with dirt, other than sweep it under the rug?

PPS: Actually I don't sweep dirt under the rug -- I just toss it in the wood stove.

PPPS: The wood stove comment has no "hidden message" at all -- I was just lighting the wood stove as I pondered this little tale!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Being critical of books you've never read!

Well, I  knew this was coming, but the critics of The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy are starting to get a bit louder in the last day or two. What really amazes me is that most of these critics freely admit that they have not, and in fact will not read the book. Yet they feel 100% qualified to pontificate about a number of issues which they cannot possibly be qualified to comment on.

A.) The first issue many critics seem to find annoying are the chapter titles. People claim that they are terribly offended by them and in fact are even blasphemous! Now wait a second. Are people so dense that when they read a chapter titled "What do Orthodox Traditionalists and Star Trek fans have in common?" they actually don't "get" that the book is a freaking satire? My God. What more could I have done? Insisted that the publisher put "for all the people with no sense of humor -- this is a SATIRE!" on the cover? Yes, it deals with serious issues, but come on? Star Trek?

B.) Of course that's not all. Critics of the book also feel 100% qualified to comment, quite negatively, on my personal spiritual life. Of course they somehow know, (by reading the blurb on the publisher's website no less) that my spiritual life is quite poor, that I'm a raving madman and am out to destroy the "truth" of Orthodoxy!

C.) Other people claim that I have no idea what it is that I'm actually talking about. I'm not a priest or a monk and so I couldn't possibly know anything about Canon law or Orthodox Christian theology. Yet of  course all these critics are not priests either but are somehow perfectly qualified to explain the "real" meaning of Orthodoxy and the Church Canons. Interesting.

D.) They dredge up the "historical context" argument to "defend" the Canons of the Church. They could simply save themselves the trouble of using this argument to criticize the book since I address it at length in the book. What's worse (as I point out in the book) is that these historical contexts, as true as they are, don't get the Canons or the Church "off the hook." Just because "everyone" 200 years ago was a racist, doesn't make racism right. Yes indeed, "everyone" in the Middle Ages thought miscarriages were caused by sins -- and everyone was WRONG!

E.) Some people actually pretend that "no one" believes that Canon law is divine or inspired by the Holy Spirit! Well, the first Canon of the 7th Ecumenical Council claims the Canons are inspired -- case closed. (See chapter 3 of The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy.)

 F.) Others actually claim (just as I predict in the book) that only people who have the "mind of the Fathers" and those who are humble and tuned in with the will of God can "truly" understand the Canons. That rules out those of us who use the critical historical method -- and turns Canons into a matter of faith. Correction -- it turns them into a matter of Gnostic faith.

Finally seeing that these critics have not read the book, they descend to attacking me personally. Again, I've been called a fanatic, "just a convert" of "only" eight years. And of course because I didn't spend 50 years in a monastery gaining secret wisdom from the the saints I can't possibly have any idea what I'm talking about. Their criticisms are not based on any of my arguments but only on the fact the title is provocative and "offensive."

Oh yes, the most bizarre statement I've read is that people might be turned off of Orthodoxy based on this book. Hmmm. Somehow this is MY fault and not the Church which wrote the laws to begin with.Talk about shooting the messenger.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I now have my author's copies in hand -- it now feels official!

My author's copies of The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy arrived yesterday. As a first time author I must admit that the fact that I had been published by a legitimate and well known publishing house didn't feel 100% real until yesterday afternoon. That was when I was able to hold a copy of my book in my hands for the first time. It's amazing how the tactile experience of holding a book, flipping through the pages, and yes -- even smelling that "fresh from the presses" scent of the paper made everything seem so official.

Of course, it was all made official long before now, particularly when I signed my contract. It felt even more real when I first saw the artwork the great graphic designers at Regina Orthodox Press had put together. Then when it was officially released on October 28th it really felt real. But, actually holding the book; seeing it and even reading it (or at least the first eight chapters) made it all so final. Yes of course, I've read the book before. I wrote it. In fact, as I went through the editing process I got sick of reading it. But now it has been sometime since I read it, and having an actual book makes all the hard work, months of research, and even criticisms worth it.

The journey I've been on in the process of writing The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy was a long, tough and at times disturbing one. Yet if this book helps people to think just a little outside of their theological boxes, it will be worth it. Even though the book has not even been out one week yet, I still get feedback (especially via facebook) which assumes the worst about me. What were my intentions? Why am I dredging up things like this? One person on an online Orthodox Christian forum even implied that exposing such archaic laws might cause someone to not come to Orthodoxy who otherwise might. I find that a strange argument to make. Would we really rather be dishonest and deceptive just to gain converts? Should we ignore our dark past and pretend it doesn't exist? Is that really the Gospel we believe in? Well, for me it's not. For me, truth is more important that reputation. And finally having my own copy in hand makes the whole journey -- up until now, because it is far from over -- quite a worthy experience.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Who am I and why did I write The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy?

Recently I received an email from one of my readers who asked about my personal spiritual journey. He wanted to know why I became Eastern Orthodox even though I seem to be so critical of it. To be honest, I hadn't considered that anyone would ever be interested in my spiritual path. Why would they? I've simply written a book which, though contains my views, has very little to do with me.. I saw myself as a voice of dialogue and education. I saw myself as a way of communicating topics people are often unaware of in great part because the Church doesn't want them to know. Little did I realize that even a few people would want to know about me, but apparently they do. And so I feel compelled to post a bit about me and my spiritual journey. Not because I want to, but because I'm sure I'll be asked these questions again. So about me. . . .

My blog's bio says that I was raised nominally Roman Catholic. This is true, and yet nominally is the key word. I was baptized Roman Catholic, and that was pretty much it. My parents wanted me to decide what faith I belonged to on my own, so any “Church stuff” we did was very limited. I was raised as a believer in God and Jesus, but we weren't Church goers per se. Did I know much about my Catholicism? Very little. I was raised in Vandalia, a suburb of Dayton Ohio, which many may already know is a very Catholic city. Yet southern Ohio in general is also quite Protestant. I don't recall any of my childhood friends or their families making a huge deal out of their faith though. Some of them did what they did, others didn't do much, but in both cases it was more about living faith, than proclaiming it. To be truthful, with but one exception, I can't even recall what denomination ANY of my friends growing up actually were. In that way I was fortunate to grow up in a melting pot of faith. Some of the devout my find this way of life “un-Christian” or too “secular” but I feel fortunate to have been raised in such a manner. 

Jumping a head about twenty years, my first devout communal experience as a Christian was within the Evangelical world. I was “born again” at 19, and funneled through several different belief systems within the Evangelical world, but I always considered myself a “non-denominational, born again, Bible believing, Christian.” I was very devout, tried to convert my friends and at least one of my parents and I learned, via Televangelists, popular authors, and Christian study Bible to hate the Catholic Church. I loved John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, as well as the more moderate voices like Billy Graham (of course), Charles Stanley and Jack Hayford (I still have my “Spirit Filled Life Bible”).

During my early twenties, I became interested, even obsessed with Church history, the history of the Bible, and 2nd Temple Judaism. I became intrigued by the “Jewish roots of Christianity” and like many Evangelical Protestants, longed to be a part of the “One True Church.” I also began reading Biblical scholarship for the first time about 12 years ago. I started with the Evangelical scholars (yes they do exist) but began reading more and more so called radical (or so I thought at the time) Bible scholars like Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. At first I was offended – terribly offended, but as the years went on I realized I loved Biblical scholarship and the critical study of Church history and that there was nothing radical about what they said -- they were simply scholars. In fact, it was Church history and my personal study of Biblical scholarship which first introduced me to Eastern Orthodoxy. I began reading everything I could get my hands on about Church history, the history of doctrines, and the Anti-Nicene Fathers (Christian writers pre-325 A.D.).

What ultimately drew me to Orthodoxy? What was the clincher? No one thing – the ancient worship of the Church was a biggie though, and still is. I like stability, Liturgy, and it's history going back into antiquity. I had a couple of amazing examples of Orthodox Christians, and they were a big influence on me; however, I cannot pin point it down to one or two things. I did become convinced that it was the “One True Church” that I had so longed for, though this was not an easy journey. It was an emotional hell because everything I had been taught was being overturned. (The early Church did have Sacraments, did have Confession, etc). In fact, I think that may be the biggest stumbling block for people who read this book – everything you thought you knew about “the holy Canons” will be overturned.

As my “journey east” continued, I began attending my “local” Eastern Orthodox parish, which at the time was 120 miles away. Yes, I drove 120 miles one way, every Sunday. I eventually joined the Eastern Orthodox Church in early 2003, and have had some great experiences. Unfortunately things aren't always greener on the other side. As my zeal from my conversion began to wane over the years, I began to realize that Eastern Orthodoxy has it's flaws just like every other Church. There is nothing “one” or united about Orthodoxy – no single person or group is in control. No single belief (short of the Nicene Creed) is a “test” of one's Orthodoxy. As a popular joke goes, “I'm not part of an organized religion . . . I'm Eastern Orthodox.” :)

I find this disorganization both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it prevents the Church from getting too much power, as in the “good old days” when we had Roman Emperors controlling the Church, and dictating Church Councils – and yes, this did happen! It is also a curse because it's hard to reign in fringe movements which call for the adherence of every ancient Church tradition and law in the modern world. The belief that Canon law is somehow “inspired” or written by God ala the Bible is, in my opinion, an Evangelical Protestantizing trend within the Church. I'm actually not anti-Protestant as I was when I first became Orthodox. (Triumphalism among Eastern Orthodox converts is very real and I was a good (or bad) example of that.

I did everything I could to debate Protestants (and Catholics) and wanted them to “convert” to the “true faith.” I became a Church apologist on the internet and thought I knew everything. I also believed that Orthodoxy should remain unchanged. We should add nothing to, or remove anything from our Church's Faith. Orthodoxy was pure – not the people, not the organization, but the Faith was perfect. I had faith in “The Faith” of Orthodoxy. All converts to any new religious expression go through this early enthusiasm of converts. Yet it eventually moderates and people grow out of their childhood and begin to see that they don't know everything they thought they knew. I know realize not only did I not know everything, but even what I think I might have known, I didn't know.

For me, this realization began in early 2006 when I began to struggle with a serious illness – actually, several serious illnesses. Several undiagnosed to this day (though I know how to manage them), food allergies (or intolerance) that developed out of thin air, and two years of fighting DVTs or deep vein blood clots in my left leg. This period of poor health – not to mention facing what I surely thought was going to be my death on two separate occasions gave me a new perspective on life. No, not the “I'm alive, Hallelujah!” kind, but a new perspective on my faith – not just with my Church, but also with my Christian faith altogether. Without dredging on and on (I know, too late, right?) or getting too personal, let me say that over the last five years I've gone from a “devout” Traditionalist leaning Orthodox believer who thought all of ancient Church tradition was “holy” and inspired by God, to someone who isn't even sure there is a God. Big change? You bet!

Through all of my health issues I continued to read, read, and read even more. I read all the New Atheists. I read many of the “rebuttals” from what I term the “New Apologists” and everything in between. I've read more Church history than many people will ever read and from many different perspectives. I've also researched other religions, not from the Christian POV, but from the the POV of adherents of those religions. I've read extensively on Hinduism, Judaism, some Buddhism, Taoism, and Paganism. I've listened to thousands of debates and lectures on the history of religion, atheism, belief, unbelief, agnosticism, skepticism, creationism, and apologetics. I've “graduated” in my personal Biblical scholarship from Crossan Borg, and Ehrman, to Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, F.C. Baur, Friedrich Schleiermacher, GA Wells, Robert M. Price, and Margaret Barker (though Crossan remains my personal favorite.)

Thankfully I am no longer anti-Protestant (or anti-Catholic) either. In fact, I have many Protestant friends and have found a new respect for the original tenants of the Reformation and attend a Lutheran Bible Study every week. Why do I do this? Well, besides the fact my Orthodox parish is 35 miles away and the Lutheran Church is 3 blocks away, I see nothing wrong with attending a group of people who love God, the Bible and like all the rest of us, do their best in a confusing world. I also no longer thing that Orthodoxy is perfect, and I especially take issue with the idea that Orthodox Canon law was written or inspired by God. It is not changeless, not eternal, and Canon law did not help create the universe. The problem of course is that most people think Canon law merely consists of issues related to Liturgical functions or Christian piety: fasting, priests wearing robes (which I actually think should be the norm, but not because “the Canons say so”), or how many candles should sit upon the Altar.

Yes, these sorts of things do make up Canon law and holy tradition, yet as the book illustrates, it also consist of laws which call for the excommunication of women for having a miscarriage! Did God write that? Or the Canon which forbids Christians from having Jewish doctors or even eating Matzoh bread. Does God think debating Canons about who sits at the head a table at a Church Synod is more important that following Jesus Christ? I don't think so, and I actually don't think most people think so – they're just unaware that the Church contains this “crazy” stuff as well. That's the intention of my book – to bring to light what has for so long remained in darkness. How do I know this about Canon law? Because I've been researching it for over two years – that's how. Not only that, but Canon law in the Eastern Church is far more straight forward than in the Western Church – which is why the term “law” is rarely applied to it, but rather “the tradition of the holy Canons” or some other similarly styled expression is used.

Of course I've been told that the Canons have an “historical context.” Yes, I know. One doesn't go about writing a book of this nature without realizing that! I address many of these so called “contexts” in my book and I try to do so fairly, albeit in a humorous style. I find humor to be a moderating force as well as a coping mechanism when dealing with difficult subjects. The book is a critique from within and if there is one “theme” of the book it is that the Church does make mistakes, sometimes terrible, immoral mistakes, and we must admit this, and admitting to this is okay. It seems to me, that claiming that something is “divine” because it is old is untenable. If it was, we'd still be having 5 hour Liturgies every Sunday.

Allow me to give a brief excerpt from near the end of Chapter Four (which looks at the Canon calling for the excommunication of women for having a miscarriage):

“The Christian Church learns and grows in knowledge because human beings, which make up the Christian Church, learn and grow in knowledge. Does God want His people to be stupid? There should be no shame in admitting that the Church makes mistakes, because it is we human beings who make those mistakes, not God.

Of course some people just cannot bring themselves to admit that the Church can and does make mistakes. They fear that by admitting that a particular Council, Father, or decision was wrong on a single point such as this, leaves the proverbial door open for all of the Church’s decisions to be questioned. They may be right. But questioning is a risk worth taking because Truth is more important than tradition. Or put it this way: do we worship a book or books if you include the Canons, or God?”

In the book I admit I'm harsh on the Canons, but all for a reason which I explain in the final two chapters. This book took two years of research and has in great part influenced my opinions. I didn't become Mr. “anti-Tradition” and then find Canons to support my views. I researched what the Canons say which then forced me to alter my views. My spiritual journey over the last few years has been – interesting to say the least. Even in this lengthy blog post, I've left out of LOT stuff that people who know me will be aware of very quickly. However, for some reason, a number of people (Orthodox Christians) seem to want to know why I wrote this book and why it seems too critical. Essentially it's the same reason anyone would criticize their own country, town, city, or family – because I care. I would not have written this book if I didn't love my Church and feared for some of the things going on within it. I realize that not everyone has come across the “Traditionalists” many of us have, but that's the point. People need to know what is going on. (BTW in Chapter one I distinguish between Old Calendar Traditionalists like ROCOR, and the Traditionalists which the book addresses, because they are not the same.)

I don't know if this adequately answers the question “who am I?” and “why this book?” Perhaps it doesn't. However this is really the best that I can do on a blog and in public. If you want to know more about my views, get the book and read it. Or get to know me for me. I have only posted this because several people have contacted me and wanted to know about me and why I wrote the book. This I felt was the best method in which to answer those questions. If, like those who have emailed me, you still want to know about me, feel free to email me. I encourage it. So far, most of emails have been civil and polite and I greatly appreciate that for those who have done so. In fact, I want to heard from my readers. I want feed back. I'm not afraid of feedback or dialogue or passionate debate. However for the sake of not having to repeat myself in subsequent conversations I'm blogging this post and I hope it will give a glimpse into my life and the purpose of The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The consistency is inconsistency

What is the one consistent thing about American politics? That's right: inconsistency!

Check out the Superior Telegram for my latest political ponderings.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy is officially available!

My first book, The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy is now officially available from Regina Orthodox Press. Talked to the publisher Friday afternoon and my author copies have been shipped out as well. I should have my copies available something this coming week, so friends, family, and local purchasers the wait is almost over!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy now available for pre-order!

Big news everyone! My first book The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy: How Traditionalist Ideology and “Changeless” Canons Hurt the Orthodox Church is now available for pre-order from the publisher's website. The blurb from the publisher states that The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy is an amusing yet poignant critique of the so-called Traditionalist Movement. It examines this modern day phenomenon by looking at the more outlandish Canons that traditionalists insist all Orthodox Christians embrace. Many of these supposedly changeless laws - from priests having ever longer beards to saying that all the Canons are "divinely inspired" - are silly, or even barbaric.”

Barbaric? Yes! That is, if you think excommunicating women for having a miscarriage and claiming that rape victims may have secretly wanted to be raped, barbaric. Contrary to popular opinion, Church law doesn't merely consist of a collection of ecclesiastical regulations which apply only to Liturgical rites and functions, like determining how many candles should sit upon the altar of a Christian Church. Canon law also consists of archaic and controversial laws which allows Christians to own slaves, forbids Christians from eating Matzo bread, and claims that masturbation is the work of Satan. While such Church laws find their origins in the Church of the Middle (or Dark) Ages, they actually remain on the books and enforceable within the second largest Christian Church on earth: the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy seeks to expose these Church laws to the light of day and encourages all Christians to not run from Christianity's dark past, but to learn from and move beyond its ancient prejudices and superstitions.

While the book focuses upon Eastern Orthodoxy's modern day struggle between conservatives and progressives, it also helps bring into focus the fact that Christianity is not, nor has ever been perfect. I argue that old is not always better and that traditions are made to be broken, just as they have always been, from the very beginnings of Christianity itself. After all, a religion founded by a poor Jewish peasant who challenged and questioned religious leaders' hypocrisy, became a religion where religious leaders were to be obeyed without question in the course of just a few generations. The teachings ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth were lost in the shuffle of man made customs and regulations which have their origin not in Jesus the man, but in ancient Roman culture. The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy will give you a new perspective on the ecclesiastical regulations commonly known as Canon law, which is often far more entertaining and hilarious than most people could ever imagine.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My first book -- due out later this year!

My first book, The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy: How Traditionalist Ideology and “Changeless” Canons Hurt the Orthodox Church is tentatively schedules for publication by the end of 2011. The book is a satirical expose on ancient Christian laws which you've probably never heard of – like how having a Jewish doctor could get you excommunicated! It is also an intra-Orthodox refutation of what is known as the “Orthodox Traditionalist movement.” What's that you ask? Well it is basically the Eastern Orthodox version of Protestant Fundamentalism and “back to the Bible” ideology, but instead of getting “back to the Bible” we're told we must “get back to the ancient Canons.” Those of us in the Orthodox world are told the Church must do this because these ancient Canons were actually “inspired” by the Holy Spirit are are eternally binding.

The problem of course is that the Traditionalist movement believes these Canons are simply Liturgical in nature, like telling priests to grow long beards, or how many candles should be set upon an altar. They don't realize Canon law also declares that suffering a miscarriage, being raped, and having a Jewish doctor are “crimes” worthy of excommunication. Yes, the Christian Church really was (is?) that stupid. While most of Christendom has grown up and realized such laws are crazy and therefore have written them off the books, they actually remain on the books in Eastern Orthodoxy. That's right, technically speaking, Orthodox Christians in the 21st century could get excommunicated for the “crime” of having a Jewish doctor – but not for the immoral act of owning slaves.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and a former Orthodox (as well as Protestant) Fundamentalist myself, I believe that these laws are crazy. Yet I also believe that such Fundamentalism can be refuted by illustrating the ridiculous implications involved with excommunicating people who eat Matzo bread, dance at weddings, or become “whoremasters” – okay that last one isn’t so ridiculous, but the rest are quite insane.

My basic argument is that the Christian Church, with all its varieties, both ancient and modern, is simply an imperfect human institution, and that Christians must move beyond blind Fundamentalist appeals to ancient authorities (which unwittingly calls for the excommunication of Jesus, the Matzo bread eating Jew!) and into a new kind of faith, which focuses more on God and neighbor, rather than sacred texts, traditions, and beliefs. I don't think Christians should be afraid to ask questions, question authority, and yes even your own Church. By the way, non-Orthodox Christians shouldn't feel too cocky because for the first 1000 years of Church history these laws were universal within Christendom. So just be thankful you weren't born during a time when it was illegal for a Christian to attend a Bar Mitvah – or you could just be thankful you're not part of a denomination where it is still illegal! And if you're not a Christian or not a believer at all I think you'll get a kick out of this book too – after all, some aspects of religion really are crazy – and Canon law is certainly one of them.

The book is being published by Regina Orthodox Press (Salisbury MA), though it's not up on their website yet, but I will continue to keep you posted. When I know more, so will you.

Middle ground: The way for the middle class

Check out my newly published article Middle ground: The way for the middle class in The Superior Telegram, or you can read the article online: 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Target website crashes, bigger news that 100,000 acre forest fire

What kind of world do we live in when the "news" of the Target website crashing makes the national morning news broadcasts, but the second largest fire in Minnesota history (soon to be largest) doesn't? If that's not enough of a shock, the 100,000 acre forest fire also happens to be burning on the largest designated non-Motorized Wilderness Area in the entire nation: the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Target selling some new fad product makes one of the top 3 news stories, but the Governor of MN calling out the national guard to fight the forest fire doesn't? What is going on?

The news organizations I speak of are supposed to be the "liberal/tree-hugging" media, why weren't they reporting that one of the most pristine Wildernesses on earth is awash in flames? Northeastern Minnesota is suffering from a severe drought and the fire is so large that the only thing that is likely to control it is the onset of Winter.

I've been to the BWCAW countless times. My family has owned property in Cook County Minnesota since the 60's (just a plot of wild acreage, 12 miles from power lines, and a mile from the nearest road), I even lived in both Ely and Grand Marais for a time. Though I don't live there anymore, but live in beautiful Solon Springs Wisconsin, in so many ways I still call the BWCAW area "home". And no one, except the local media (and the weather channel) seems to care.

Please send your thoughts, wishes, prayers (or whatever way you hope for a good outcome) towards the firefighters, the locals in the BWCAW area, and the land itself. I know fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, however I personally believe that the current drought in the area is far from "natural" and is at least partially enhanced by global climate change. Even if it's not, it's still going to be sad to know that so much of the Superior National Forest will never look the same in my lifetime -- a pain which would be easier to embrace if someone beyond the borders of Minnesota and Wisconsin seemed to care.

Where has the middle gone?

   On last Wednesday night's MSNBC Republican debate, a “get the government out of my hair” sentiment seemed to be one of the major themes of the evening. Should the government force people to give their children life saving vaccines? No! Should the government force industries to adhere to safety standards? No! Should we have a government at all? Well, if the candidates themselves weren't all running to be the head of an entire branch of government, I would almost believe that their answer to that would be no as well.
    Most Americans, even us “evil” progressives and moderates, really do know that government is not the answer to all, or even many of this country's problems. In fact, government can be, and often is a cause of our problems; however, the way in which government has been demonized by the political pundits as of late, is nothing more than a cynical play on the American people's emotions. When the American people hear about General Electric not paying taxes last year, or read about the obscene amounts of money which will be funneled through the political campaigns over the next 14 months, they are reviled by such facts and really do wish government could be put on a leash. Yes government can be bad, we get it – but it can also good, as the President pointed out on in is speech to Congress, and the Nation, on Thursday night.
    The GI Bill, Medicare, Social Security, and job safety regulations are also a part of government. I would also throw in a few others examples, like public libraries and schools, police departments, financial aid and feeding and clothing people flooded out of their homes are all ways in which government succeeds and contributes to our society. Why not also throw in the moon landings while we're at it since that too was the “evil” government at work.
   Of course even the most anti-government politicians don't really dislike “all” government. They only dislike the parts which are politically expedient for them to dislike at the moment. For example, Governor Perry doesn't like government run Social Security, but apparently has no problem with the government enforcing life saving vaccinations. Senator Bachmann doesn't like government when it tells energy companies and “big oil” to not do things like pollute the environment, or poison our water supplies, but she really seems to like the military – which of course is also a wing of the government.
   Ron Paul is really the only Republican who is truly consistent. In fact he is so consistent as to unwittingly illustrate what the the country might look like if we took the anti-government approach to it's extreme conclusion. Safety standards for the auto industry? Who needs that! The American people are smart enough to not buy a dangerous vehicle. Of course without government enforced safety standards, all cars would be equally dangerous, seeing as how they wouldn't even have seat belts.
    The President's speech, was a direct attack on this extreme anti-government ideology. It will undoubtedly draw much anger and opposition by the Republicans, Tea Party members, and radio and TV pundits. He called the anti-government crowd's bluff. Now we'll have to wait and see if they really think it politically beneficial to continue to argue that we should have a government which cannot tell a huge corporation not to dump toxic waste in our back yards and rivers, cannot pass safety laws in the work place, or one which cannot send returning veterans to college.
    Do most Americans really want a government which can do nothing – bad or good? Or do they simply want government to be restrained? Ultimately it will be up to the American people to decide; however, the political battle lines have been drawn, and for the first time in his Presidency, Barack Obama seems to have finally realized that for him to have any chance of accomplishing anything of consequence, he has to be the one who actually draws the proverbial line in the sand, rather than continue to allow his opposition to do so. Will it make any difference to Americans? Only time will tell.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Politicians and double speak

This past weekend, Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann “answered” a question about her stance on homosexuality by declaring: “I’m running for the Presidency!” Then on Wednesday’s August 17th edition of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell, when asked about her position on homosexual marriage, claimed that the question was “rude,” and then (at the urging of some mysterious shadowy figure off camera) took off her microphone and walked off the show. I mean the nerve of some journalists, asking a politician a political question. Just who does he think he is anyway?

Lately, there seems to be a growing trend among politicians to not only “double talk” their way around answering questions (as they’ve always done), but to flat out ignore the actual question, and instead answer a completely different question. “What do you think about homosexuality? – I’m running for President.” Uh, Mrs. Bachmann, that wasn’t the question. We already know you’re running for President. We want to know whether or not you still believe homosexuals are satanic. Apparently Mrs. Bachmann was suffering from some sort of hearing problem that Sunday morning.

In those moments just before a politician attempts to “answer” a hard question – when they’re frozen like a deer in the headlights – what do you suppose is actually going through their minds? Are they thinking, “I hope I don’t look as freaked out as I feel?”, or maybe, “If I answer an unrelated question, will it appear as though I am prescient of a question which the journalist is going to ask me two minutes from now?” In fact, one wonders if they’re thinking of anything other that how to get themselves out of a jam.

As for Ms. O’Donnell’s actions, I think we should actually give her some credit. At least she didn’t pretend she was hard of hearing and answer an unrelated question. She simply claimed that a journalist shouldn’t ask a politician politically relevant questions, because it’s rude, and then walked off the set. Some people might feel as though Ms. O’Donnell’s actions were a bit cowardly, but I think they were quite brave. She simply had the “courage” to do what Mrs. Bachmann didn’t, but probably wanted to: tell all of those mean journalists that she didn’t want to answer hard questions, because hard questions just aren’t fair!

Journalists for a number of years have increasingly allowed politicians to get away with this sort of question dodging. With the recent behavior of some politicians, one begins to wonder whether or not most politicians today simply assume that they shouldn’t be asked difficult questions at all. Thanks to Ms. O’Donnell, we don’t even have to wonder because she publically professed to Piers Morgan, that as an invited guest she should only be asked questions which she wants to answer.

We shouldn’t blame Ms. O’Donnell though. In fact, we should thank her for exposing what are the likely expectations and desires of most politicians today. Ms. O’Donnell’s only fault is that she wears her heart on her sleeve. She is at least genuine in her opinions and was honest to say she believed hard questions were unfair. Ms. O’Donnell has done us all a favor by unwittingly exposing the politician’s mindset, which is the direct result of the vast majority of American journalists allowing politicians to get away with not answering questions for at least the last decade. Most journalists no longer push politicians to get the tough answers because they want people to like them.

If journalists continue to allow politicians to believe that an interview is merely a platform, for them to give book recommendations or to espouse their religious beliefs free from criticism, someday Americans won’t be electing Presidents based on a candidate’s policy stances, ability to work with others, and other relevant qualifications (since they won’t be talking about those things), but we’ll be deciding whom to vote for based on more trivial matters, like who has the nicest smile, the best hair, the coolest accent, or what religion they’re affiliated with – oh wait – that kind of sounds like how we’re doing things today, doesn’t it? Oh well, at least we can thank Miss O’Donnell for pointing out that the future is already here. - (Written August 18, 2011)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Michelle Bachmann is "running for the presidency."

When Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann was recently asked to explain her past statements on homosexuality, she insisted that she is “running for the presidency of the United States!” Well, that certainly clears up her position on homosexuality, doesn’t it? Is there anyone out there, who is actually paying attention to the world around them, that didn’t know that Mrs. Bachmann was running for President? I didn’t think so.   

It’s quite amazing how politicians can so readily be asked such clear, straight forward questions, and then so blatantly refuse to answer them. Even more amazing is how journalists these days actually allow politicians to get away with such question dodging, as if they were thinking to themselves “Oh you don’t want to answer that question? That’s fine by me, it’s not as though I’m supposed to be asking tough questions or anything.” 
Bachmann’s answer that she is “only” running for President, and not some sort of moral judge, seems to have satisfied a great many people. As long as she doesn’t “judge them” what’s the big deal, right?

After all, even if she really does believe that homosexuals are in “personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement” (as she told the EdWatch National Education Conference in 2004), these are her own “personal” religious beliefs which have nothing to do with her ability to do the job which she is applying for.
This argument seems pretty sound – if you’re applying for a job at Wal-Mart! Mrs. Bachmann however is not applying for a job at Wal-Mart, where her personal religious beliefs wouldn’t affect her ability to stock shelves, ring the register, or sell flat screen TVs; she is applying for a job which would make her the most powerful human being on earth.

It’s true that America has no religious test for public office. This is one of the great founding principles of our nation; however, this doesn’t mean that within the realm of public opinion there isn’t an “unofficial” religious test. Don’t believe me? Just ask President Barack Obama, who was written off by many people as being “unqualified” because he was a “secret Muslim.” Of course no one ever produced any evidence for this claim, but since when do Americans need evidence to make outrageous claims? The 9/11 “Truthers” certainly don’t.

Anyone, regardless of their beliefs and religious or non-religious affiliations, should be able to run for president. That’s just a given. However, this doesn’t mean that we, the American public, have to buy into those beliefs or let politicians off the hook when we find out that what they profess is seemingly absurd. If you want to run for President, but worship the Klingon Messiah Kahless, that’s just fine; it is your right to worship a fictional, non-existent, galactic savior. However, if as a believer in Kahless, you also believe that several thousand years ago he personally handed down a collection of “infallible” holy texts to some ancient desert dwelling nomads, and that these texts instruct his followers to burn all homosexuals at the stake – by default, your personal beliefs have just become a part of public discourse.

If that’s not a “realistic” enough scenario for you, try and imagine a white Southerner running for President, who for decades claimed that the institution of slavery should be brought back because, like St. Augustine of Hippo, he believes that slavery is a part of God’s punishment for “the Fall” of Adam and Eve. Would you really buy into his “new” explanation that he is merely “running for President,” and that such beliefs would have no bearing on his job performance as the most powerful man on earth? Or try and imagine a guy running for President who had on multiple occasions claimed that women could only be “saved” by remaining barefoot and pregnant, as the New Testament epistle of 1st Timothy (2:12-15) declares. Would people brush off these statements as quickly as they have done with Bachmann’s position on homosexuality?

A Presidential candidate’s personal religious beliefs can be as rational or as outrageous as they wish, but when those religious beliefs cross the line from merely being personal beliefs, into beliefs that might affect other human beings in the form of public policy, then those beliefs become fair game for any criticism that the news media, journalists, skeptics, believers, and the voting public can throw at them.

Mrs. Bachmann is free to believe anything she wants. She can believe that the Klingon Messiah Kahless will return one day and set the galaxy free from tyranny. She can believe that Jesus is her own personal savior, and she can even believe that being gay is satanic; she just shouldn’t expect the voting public to believe that her “personal” beliefs don’t play a role in her ability to govern a nation of 300,000 million Americans. (Written on August 16, 2011.)