Tag Archives: religion

Fuel for the Millennium

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I’m sure there are pole barns in heaven, but I don’t know about Faith Channel ministers. That might be a bit of a stretch. 

Obviously, Bonnie Jo did not write this story in order to explain how Donald Trump got elected, because American Salvage was published in 2009, but…I think this story kind of explains how Donald Trump got elected.

There’s not a lot of story in the story—it’s almost more of a character sketch, and it tells you, very concisely, about the kind of person who believes whatever the minister on the Faith Channel says and acts accordingly. Hal Little is not a bad guy; he’s a pretty decent guy who likes babies and birdsong and whose prejudices aren’t his own, but things he’s picked up from the people he trusts. His father taught him to have faith in his religious leaders, and so he does. So much faith that he’s destroyed his life.

“Fuel for the Millennium” is like the flip side of “World of Gas.” Hal is one of the guys driving Susan crazy with his crazy intention to control the uncontrollable. And then, what happened to these dudes after midnight on New Year’s Eve? Some of them ended up like Tiny in “Blood Work, 1999″ and I guess the rest of them became doomsday preppers. What else could they do? Nobody’s going to pay them enough money for their pole barns and windmills that they can buy back their houses in town. Plus it would be embarrassing to admit that they were wrong, so they just doubled down and kept predicting crisis at a later dater, and then they voted the crisis into office because the ministers on the Faith Channel told them to.

I chose the classic image of Jimmy Stewart calming the citizens of Bedford Falls at the start of the Great Depression because it’s the most recognizable depiction of a bank run, but also because the idea of a bank runs seems ridiculous in the 21st century. Let me put it this way: if civilization collapses, do you really think your little green pieces of paper are going to have value? Almost everybody’s money is all electronic now, and we know that it’s only our collective belief in the reality of that money that makes it real. If the sort of thing that Hal describes in this story actually happened, the chickens would be the most valuable thing you could have.

I’m pretty pleased with that chicken, as well as the drawing of the raptured pole barn.

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Know Your Federally-Sanctioned Deities

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As television taught me as a child, the more you know…

I can’t take credit for “School (TM),” which is, of course, from M. T. Anderson’s dark future YA novel, Feed. At “School (TM),” the protagonist and his friends learn valuable lessons in consumerism, primarily concerning how to get the best deals online and buy more things. The phrase “make a little birdhouse in your soul” is from They Might Be Giants album, Flood.

There can be no doubt now that, with the exception of a few holdouts, the federal government’s agenda is to pillage and plunder the country, extracting non-renewable resources for personal gain while also appropriating public funds into their own coffers and charging the American people to spread their own narrow worldview. And unless you have a couple million to spare, you are going to find yourself crushed under the gouty foot of their insatiable greed. If you don’t understand, I recommend a Dr. Seuss’s seminal treatise on the results of unchecked growth in business without some sort of agency for the protection of the environment.

And speaking of money, let me do my civic duty by reminding readers that they can participate in the national past time of capitalism AND support a struggling artist by buying my book, shopping in my online store, or donating directly to my Patreon. If you enjoy my content, believe in freedom of speech, and have a job, please vote with your wallet and kick a few dollars my way. I’m not too greedy, but I could use new socks and underwear, and would like a pair of jeans with no holes.

Notes from the Age of Enlightenment

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If your official position is that your neighbor’s made a deal with the devil in order to cause your sheep to have a weird looking baby, you probably aren’t interested in reason or enlightenment.

Clearly, there’s no point in quoting John Adams: “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Or James Madison: “The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.” Or Noah Webster: “[E]very preference given to any religious denomination, is so far slavery and bigotry.” Or any one of the men who dreamed of democracy in America during the American Revolution. The people who believe that their religious prejudices should influence federal policy don’t care that imposing your religious beliefs on others is wholly unAmerican.

Yesterday, the Owl asked me to try to contact the junior senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, because she had heard that he was persuadable in the matter of Betsy DeVos’s confirmation. I had not heard that, and I could not get through to any of his offices, or even his voice mailbox, presumably because everyone else in the state was trying to beg him not to confirm her. But he did tweet “Lest there be any doubt about how I’m voting on Betsy DeVos she had me at ‘school choice’ years ago… ” The last I looked, the vote was tied 50-50, and, as you know, in the event of a tie in the Senate, the Vice President gets to cast the deciding vote. Something tells me Mike Pence will be happy to install a Secretary of Education who believes that the purpose of schools is to “advance God’s kingdom.”

Please, instead, let’s make the function of school to advance the ability of our population to think critically. Or, if you insist on a regressive government, let’s go back all the way to the best intentions of the Enlightenment, when faith was a private mystery and reason a guiding light.

A Multitude of Sins

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Those are some extremely nasty feet.

Admittedly, the interpretation, “She doesn’t need religion anymore,” has been filtered through my experience, but this is the only story in the book that really depends on religious references to forward the plot*, and it doesn’t look good for Christianity. The idea that a man could spend an entire marriage physically, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusing his wife, and then be worthy of heaven because his fear of the flames of hell caused him to seek Jesus while lying delirious in his deathbed, is sort of deplorable to me. I know plenty of Christians who believe the way to heaven is good works, and that people of any denomination will be rewarded if they live righteous lives, but I probably know more who cry and pray over perfectly wonderful human beings who don’t happen to be saved, and are therefore damned.

By this metric, the Dalai Lama is damned, but Jeffrey Dahmer is in heaven. Chew on that. Or don’t, if you find jokes about cannibalism in poor taste. Whoops, I did it again. I am also damned. I think Mark Twain summed it up best in Huck Finn when Huck says that if Tom Sawyer isn’t going to heaven, he doesn’t want to go either.

The thing about her identity is unquestionable, though. One really cool technique that Bonnie Jo uses in this story is to offer clues in the form of nomenclature. To wit, in the exposition at the beginning of the story, the main character is referred to as “the wife.” Then, as she starts to react to her situation instead of lying back and taking it, she becomes “Mrs. Betcher.” Finally, at the very end of the story, when she ignores the preacher to work on the fascinating theater curtain (a project her husband would have never allowed her to take for pecuniary reasons) she is “Mary” at last. This may be why Bonnie Jo has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and I have not. But I guess the fact that I can point this out is why I’m drawing these comics, and everyone else is not. I bet I could write a 2000 word essay just on the use of this naming convention in “A Multitude of Sins,” but I guess I’ll leave that to people who write more conventional and less personal literary criticism.

*In some ways the Corinthians quote in “Somewhere Warm” could be the flip side to the terrifying Revelation visions in “A Multitude of Sins,” but religion plays a very different and less prominent role in that story, whereas this one even takes its title from the New Testament.

Oppression

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Next thing you know they’ll be telling us we can’t ostracize and castigate those who are different!

Whenever I read about censorship attempts made against really intelligent books, my brain screams in terror. This comic is based on a challenge that came out recently in Michigan, regarding a book called Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. As it turned out, I recently read this book to my group of 40-odd kinders, and I thought it was a great story for little kids.

To the best of my recollection, the story is as follows: Morris is a regular kid who likes drawing and playing with his friends. He also likes putting on an orange dress in his classroom’s dress-up center. He likes the dress because it is the color of “tigers, the sun, and his mother’s hair.” Some of the kids tell him that boys can’t wear dresses and also that if he wears that dress he can’t do boy things, like pretend to be an astronaut. Morris thinks about it for a while and then decides those other kids can suck it. He informs them that he is a boy regardless of what he is wearing, and that anyone can pretend to be an astronaut, and then he takes them on a great make-believe astronaut adventure while wearing the dress.

I’d like to add that, following my reading of this book to 2 classrooms of 5-year-olds, not a single child died, became a drag queen, or suddenly found themselves “confused” about their identity.

As the author points out in the article, there’s absolutely nothing in the story to indicate that Morris is queer or trans or questioning or anything other than a little boy who has fun putting on a costume. The book is about bullying, and about why it’s not OK to exclude people because they’re different. But someone managed to take offense at that premise and assert their right to torment and denigrate people who are different. Can’t have our kids tolerating, you know. Our beliefs don’t allow us to tolerate.

Here’s a hint: if schools, businesses, and public offices are closed for your religion’s major holiday, you are not in a minority, and your beliefs are not under attack. If you know that the majority of people you see on TV, in the movies, and in your daily life are familiar with your religious traditions, you are not in a minority, and your beliefs are not under attack. If anyone has ever felt justifiable outraged because a coffee chain did not print symbols of your religion on their cups, you are not in a minority, and your beliefs are not under attack.

If someone says something you disagree with, you are not under attack.

On the other hand, if anyone has ever suggested that your very existence is “wrong,” “against god,” or  “a scathing indictment of the breakdown of American morality…literally celebrating perversion,” then you are probably an oppressed minority marginalized by the dominant culture, and it’s probably in your best interest if public schools teach that it’s OK for you to be yourself and it’s not OK for people to attack you for it.

If someone forces you to DO something that goes against your morality, then you have a lawsuit. If someone TELLS your child something you disagree with, you can politely disagree. People imparting information that does not jibe with your beliefs is not a crime. If it were, guess what: all the Jewish and Muslim and Pagan and Shinto and Hindu and traditional Native American families in America would sue any school district where kids were expected to learn Christmas carols or even hear the word “Santa” spoken.

There are about 9 million Jews in America, most of whom grew up being forced to learn someone else’s traditions in public schools. (All of them were laughing their heads off when your kids talked about Santa, because they knew those kids were being duped. And we sang your terrible Christmas music anyway.) And allow me to point out that, historically, Christian beliefs are much more threatening to Jewish people than gender nonconformity is to Christian people. Historically, Christian people are much more threatening to gender nonconforming people than gender nonconforming people are to Christian people. Do you know what the murder rate for the average American is? About 1 in 6000. Do you know what the murder rate is for gender nonconforming people? About 1 in 12. Maybe, if you’re against murder, you can accept that it might be necessary to teach people not to hate those who are different?

Here’s another thing: if your beliefs are so fragile that they can be shattered by reading about someone who thinks differently, maybe your beliefs aren’t really that strong. I know plenty of Christians who are loving and accepting and full of tolerance and live by the words of their book, and reactionary nut jobs are making them look bad.

Scientists Adjust Their Beliefs According to Evidence

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And yes, I know it’s more responsible to say “we share between 40 and 50% DNA with cabbages” but it’s much funnier to say 42. Trust me. It’s a reasonable conclusion

Today has been an angry day. There are ridiculous fools spouting untenable propositions everywhere I go on the Internet. My outrage isn’t really about people who deny science, even though they are trying. It’s just about people who think they know everything, and who honestly believe that their personal opinion must be undisputed fact, and that therefore everyone who disagrees with them must be wrong. Also, the punchline is something I like to say whenever people bring up the subject of what percentage DNA humans have in common with vegetables, and sometimes I just draw a comic because I have a joke.

I do happen to know something about science and religion, because my father holds a PhD in chemistry and strong religious views, so I was raised to read the Bible but to also apply the scientific method, and to understand the difference between spiritual truth and objective truth. My dad was a research scientist for 30 years, but he transitioned into education late in life, and now he teaches science in religious schools, where his work is not always appreciated. It’s hard for me to believe that these people really, truly exist, but they do. He had a class where kids were literally sticking their fingers in their ears so as not to hear a lesson about evolution. Sure, they’re kids, but at the same time, what an apt metaphor for the young earth creationists, the climate change deniers, the anti-vaxxers, and of course, most perplexingly, the chemtrail believers in our midst.

But, like good old Neil DeGrasse Tyson said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” Your opinion that one particular book written by people whose technological advances never went beyond blacksmithing is the only legitimate reference work on the planet doesn’t changes the observations of natural phenomenon made by people who actually wanted to learn the truth about their world. Whether it’s a statement that runs counter to your religious belief or your personal view of yourself, sticking your fingers in your ears and humming loudly doesn’t change reality.

I will refrain from discussion modern physics’ take on the nature of reality.

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What can I say? The Man is very fond of his vacuum cleaners.

What can I say? The Man is very fond of his vacuum cleaners.

Like most normal human beings, I really do not appreciate strangers attempting to corral me into a discussion of their philosophical beliefs. I assure you, it’s 2014 and if I have any questions about a particular book or its interpretation, I will most certainly Google it to learn more. I am not waiting around for random people to offer their opinions. Whether or not I’m in my house, I don’t want to be approached by strangers trying to sell me things, even intangible things.

I did have a friend who welcomed a certain type of witness into his home. A certain denomination sent a few young and attractive girls out to knock on doors and ask random people if they wanted to talk about their very particular spiritual beliefs. My friend was sufficiently interested in religion to keep the conversation going, but I gather he was far more interested in the fact of these girls being young and attractive. They asked if they could return to continue the discussion, to which he gladly agreed. They showed up a few more times before their supervisors correctly gleaned that my friend had no interest in converting, at which point, they assigned him some male visitors, after which he was no longer interested in discussing their religion.

Anyway, in reality The Man does seem to have a powerful attachment to that Dyson. Those things are powerful. I have no doubt a Dyson could contain an incorporeal spirit, although I find the idea of a haunted vacuum cleaner pretty frightening. Can you imagine if it just turned itself on and started roaring around your house at night? That’s a heart attack right there.

Have a great weekend!