The presidential election this year is shaping up on several fronts. The economy is up and down, and where it lands in November will be a big factor in determining a lot of swing votes.
However, the issue of how religion factors into the election has been downplayed considerably so far.
This is partly due to journalists not wanting to be seen to be attacking "religion", and also perhaps not wanting to mix religion wih politics (as if!) or not feeling entirely comfortable attacking Romney more directly on his Mormon beliefs and the wacky excesses of the Mormon church in general.
Whatever the reason, Romney has a religion gap, particularly in the South with evangelicals, most of whom will vote for Anyone But Obama, but feel queasy about voting for a Mormon. Romney's speech at Liberty University was a hint at his approach - talk about all those conservative social values we have in common while leaving out the part where he thinks their religion lives in apostasy.
And while we had Rick Santorum to kick around, there was the Mormon-Catholic gap - how would conservative Catholics feel about voting for a Mormon?
So here we are - three major "conservative" religious groups, sort of banding together to get Anyone But Obama into the White House - Mormons (overwhelmingly in favor of Romney), Evangelicals (overwhelmingly in favor of ABO), conservative Catholics (also favoring ABO).
But this is a coalition forged in the depths of wretched compromise, and if you delve into the beliefs of each group, you see how tenuous this is, and why it is that it's best for them not to ask too many questions.
First, Mormons. What do they (and by "they" I mean the public position of the church) think of oher religions, including Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism?
Joseph Smith decalred that Chrisitanity had been apostate since the death of the last Apostle in 70 AD, so that basicall says that they regard all branches of Christianity today as apostate. No ifs ands or buts. That probably goes double for the Catholics because they've presided over the last two millennia pretty badly. Smith did have a sort of kind word or two to say about Calvin and Luther, so maybe the Evangelicals get a tiny break, but not much.
Now publicly, the Mormon hierarchy tends to downplay this as much as possible - they try to pull off the "Aw shucks, we're just trying to get along...", but make no mistake, they official church position is that they despise everything that every other church and religion stands for.
What about Catholics?
Well, conservative Catholics are more likely beholden to the Pope for their beliefs, so their view of other religions and branches of Christianity is a poorly disguised contempt. Oh, there's a faint diplomatic veneer of tolerance, but make no doubt about it, if there was a sheep and goats moment, everyone not on the good ship Vatican is going goat-side.
And Evangelicals, what about them?
This may be a surprise, but Evangelicals are perhaps the most tolerant of the three groups. The surprise comes because the public pronouncements of Evangelical leaders are actually much more in line with their beliefs - they tend to say what they mean and believe, which is, in many ways, admirable. You may not like it, but you usually don't have to guess what they're getting at. In Eveangelical land, there is deep rooted suspicion of Mormons. They see Mormonism as a cult (which in many ways it is).
They are less suspicious of Catholics, because they've been around longer and are, in many senses, the root church of Evangelicals, whether they like it or not. However, huge differences exist in practice between the two groups. Meditation, icons, dress-up robes, incense, the Apocrypha are all items of which Evangelicals are very suspicious.
So to summarize:
Mormons -> Catholics = apostate
Mormons -> Evangelicals = slightly less apostate
Catholics -> Mormons = not a real religion
Catholics -> Evangelicals = not true Christianity, tolerated but just
Evangelics -> Mormons = cult
Evangelicals -> Catholics = lost the plot, out of touch, borderline apostate
So there you are - an alliance that would make Machiavelli proud. And the only candidate they can agree on is Anyone But Obama...
As I have noted previously, there is much to be bemused at in Mormonry. Tons of stuff. More than you can shake a stick at. Several sticks, even.
The baptizing of the long-dead is just one of them, but it is a very strange one. Obsession with genealogy, OK. But when the primary purpose is to go back and baptize millions of the long-dead it kind of crosses the line into batshit crazy. It's creepy and it's disrespectful of the dead and their families. Wait, disrespectful doesn't even begin to describe how awful this is. The Mormons have been told in no uncertain terms to knock it off in the past, but they continue right on doing it.
The latest outrage is courtesy of the BBC
Mormons baptise parents of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal
The Mormon Church has apologised for posthumously baptising the parents of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal were baptised in proxy ceremonies by church members in the US states of Arizona and Utah in January, records show.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Michael Purdy said the Church' s leaders "sincerely regret" the actions of "an individual member".
Now, don't take that sincerely regretting too seriously. It's not like this is an isolated mistake.
An agreement in 1995 was supposed to ban the practice of baptising by proxy Holocaust victims, after it was discovered the names of hundreds of thousands of those who died had been entered into Mormon records.
Hundreds of thousands. That's a lot of people. And the Mormons' official position has usually been that the deceased have "the right to choose" whether to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Except that that means something a whole different to them than it does to actual Christians. And something a whole lot more offensive to Jews.
Evidence that Wiesenthal's parents had been baptised was found by Helen Radkey, a researcher and former Mormon, AP reported.
She regularly checks the Church' s database, and also recently found the names of Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and several family members on the Mormon list.
"None of the three names were submitted for baptism and they would not have been under the Church' s guidelines and procedures," said Mr Purdy, the Mormon Church spokesman said.
Rabbi Cooper said any further discussion of the problem was useless.
"The only way such insensitive practices would finally stop is if church leaders finally decided to change their practices and policies on posthumous baptisms, a move which this latest outrage proves that they are unwilling to do," he said.
They are so bad that people have to devote their lives to checking up on them. We can go back to January, just before the Florida primary. Here's a Huffington Post headline:
Hmm, it apparently didn't worry them too much, but it might have if the following (from his 2007 run at the presidency) had been more widely disseminated:
When Newsweek magazine asked Romney if he personally had performed posthumous baptisms on anyone, author Jonathan Darman wrote, "he looked slightly startled and answered, 'I have in my life, but I haven't recently.'
Thanks to Romney, there's been much talk lately about the mainstreaming of Mormonism, including this BBC article from last October. An excerpt:
"I think there is still some separation, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about Mormons," says another, "but I think people are more and more starting to notice us and starting to realise that we are normal people".
Um, no you're not. Baptizing millions of dead people into your "faith" posthumously, including hundreds of thousands of Jews, makes you decidedly not normal.
It seems to me there's a pretty fine, barely distinguishable line between this weird posthumous baptizing and voodoo. And I'm pretty sure there's no way the US is nominating a voodoo priest for the presidency.
With Mitt Romney looking to grab the Republican nomination for president there has been much written about his Mormon faith and how it impacts his electability. The vast majority of what has been written has been about understanding Mormons, and exploring how much non-Mormons are biased against Mormons.
A recent Pew Research article says that 46% of Mormons believe there is a lot of discrimination against them, and 68% believe that the American people do not see Mormons as part of mainstream American society. There's an awful lot of "yes we are really Christians!" and hurt tones in all of this, too. But really, what has been conspicuous by its absence in all this debate has been the fact that the Mormon church thinks your church (any kind of Chirsitan church) sucks. They just don't come right out and tell you that.
Setting aside the fact that their beliefs about the nature of God and the church are actually at odds with any mainstream Christian interpretation, the magic underwear, the secrecy and the baptising of dead non-Mormons into the Mormon church, I think the main problem with seeing the Mormon church as any part of "true" Christianity lies in what they believe about actual Christian churches.
The Mormon's own website lays it all out for you in their discussion of the restoration of the church.
If I may sum up their position in my own words:
a) It all went to hell in a handbasket in 70 AD when the last apostle was killed. This, in their words, is the beginning of the Great Apostasy.
b) Luther and Calvin kind of paved the way for a sort of religious tolerance (that's almost funny when you consider Calvin...) that opened the door for Joseph Smith to save the day. From that same page:
Joseph had to decide which of the many Christian denominations to join. After careful study, Joseph Smith still felt confused as to which Christian church he should join. He later wrote, “So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10).
I certainly sympathize with Joseph. Even today the plethora of denominations is confusing. What the Mormon website omits is the conclusion of that Joseph Smith dilemma (from the very same book):
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt . . ." (Joseph Smith, "History of the Church, Vol. 1, page 5-6.)
So Joseph's answer to too much choice was to create yet one more choice. One full of fictitious ancient civilizations that colonized America then disappeared without trace, among other quaint notions.
c) Meanwhile, that Great Apostasy? It's still around, and your church is still in that handbasket.
So while the Mormon church decries any effort to paint them as non-Christian, not only are they not Christian, they despise the very basis of the faith of the mainstream Christian church.
So how much does this or should this affect the electability of Mitt Romney?
Well, it's your vote and you get to decide.
I've been reading a book over the last few months called Wqatching the English by Kate Fox, and English anthropologist. It's been both insightful and frustrating - seeing both the best and worst of English culture, and seeing which parts I've left behind and what has stayed with me - a maddening mix of both the good and the bad.
The Church of England, though, is reserved for the end, almost an afterthought or epilogue in itself. Her observations, culled from observing all manner of English people, ring so true it's startling. They come down to these three passages:
I’ve called this chapter Rites of Passage, rather than Religion, because religion as such is largely irrelevant to the lives of most English people nowadays, but the rituals to which Church of England vicars irreverently refer as ‘hatchings, matchings and dispatchings’, and other less momentous transitions, are still important. Most honest Anglican clerics will readily admit that the rites de passage of marriage, death, and to a lesser extent birth, are now their only point of contact with the majority of their parishioners. Some of us might attend a service at Christmas, and an even smaller number at Easter, but for most, church attendance is limited to weddings, funerals, and perhaps christenings.
Fox, Kate (2008). Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (p. 353). Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Kindle Edition.
In any case, the Church of England is the least religious church on Earth. It is notoriously woolly-minded, tolerant to a fault and amiably non-prescriptive. To put yourself down as ‘C of E’ (we prefer to use this abbreviation whenever possible, in speech as well as on forms, as the word ‘church’ sounds a bit religious, and ‘England’ might seem a bit patriotic) on a census or application form, as is customary, does not imply any religious observance or beliefs whatsoever – not even a belief in the existence of God. Alan Bennett once observed, in a speech to the Prayer Book Society, that in the Anglican Church ‘whether or not one believes in God tends to be sidestepped. It’s not quite in good taste. Someone said that the Church of England is so constituted that its members can really believe anything at all, but of course almost none of them do’.
ibid (p. 354).
It is hard to find anyone who takes the Church of England seriously – even among its own ranks. In 1991, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said: ‘I see it as an elderly lady, who mutters away to herself in a corner, ignored most of the time’. And this typically Eeyorish comment was in an interview immediately following his appointment to the most exalted position in this Church. If the Archbishop of Canterbury himself likens his church to an irrelevant senile old biddy, it is hardly surprising that the rest of us feel free to ignore it. Sure enough, in a sermon almost a decade later, he bemoaned the fact that ‘A tacit atheism prevails’. Well, really – what did he expect?
ibid (p. 354).
All of which makes me wonder why anyone cares about whether or not one is affiliated with the organization on the personal or corporate level.
Wow, occupying Edmonton, Alberta in winter seems like a shockingly bad idea, but hey, that's their right, I guess. The Occupy movement lacks focus, clues, many things (except Occupy Toilets, which is very focused on just one thing), but not Occupy Edmonton. They have come up with a starter list of 8 things they want.
8 things we need to see in order for us to leave willingly:
1. We want to see our government officials actually come and participate in general assemblies and the occupation. We want to see them interact with our movement rather than try to ignore, disregard or actively try to undermine it. (Hint: It's their right not to.)
2. If the City of Edmonton can give over $100 million in subsidies to a billionaire conglomerate, we should also be able to invest in City services, not cut them. We would like to see the $10.5 million in City service cuts eliminated and the property-tax hike apply not only to Edmontonians, but to the Katz group as well. (Hint: You weren't elected to anything. Run for office, vote people out, but you don;'t get to dictate public policy.)
3. We want to see an end to the corporate influence over our democratic process. In Alberta this means ending the cozy relationship the government has with the oil industry. We want independent monitoring, a fair royalty regime, and an end to the open-door policy that the government has with oil representatives. We want a government, not a public relations firm. (As unverifiable as Saddam Hussein's WMDs)
4. We want to see wages, pensions, employment insurance, social assistance, workers compensation, AISH and disability benefits at minimum indexed to the average increases in salary and bonuses for the top ten CEOs in this country. We also want to see the gap between the richest 100 Canadian CEO salaries ($6.6 million in 2009) and the minimum wage decrease. (Good luck with that - and finding the money to do it with. Hint: Learn math. And run for office if you want to dictate public policy.)
5. We want to see fully funded public health care and pharmacare programs.(More free money...)
6. We want to see free post-secondary education. Education is a right and anyone that has the desire to better themselves by going to college or University should be able to do so regardless of income and without being saddled with a huge student debt. (Even more free money!!! Where do you guys think that will come from?)
7. We want to see all Free Trade agreements adhere to the country with the most stringent environmental and labour laws, not the worst. (For example,NAFTA’s Chapter 11, giving corporations in one country the right to sue a foreign government over ‘potential loss of profits’, regardless of the environmental consequences, should be abolished.) (More dictating foreign and trade policies. Get elected, then you get to handle these things.)
8. Canada signed the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples; now we want our government to implement it by giving our First Peoples all the rights contained within it, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent on all energy developments on Indigenous Territory. (Once again, get elected and all this becomes easy.)
This is not a comprehensive list of what we want, or what we need, but it is a
start. (Not a comprehensive list? Wow.)
Wow, to paraphrase - "We, who have not been elected so much as school crossing attendant, want to dictate public policy because we're sitting in a park outside in the cold, and damn the democratic process."
Now, there are many ways the democratic process is screwed up, but you don't get to circumvent it just because you camp out and give up showering for a few weeks.
So good luck with that. You'll be out in your tents until hell freezes over. Oh wait, in Edmonton it probably already has...
Here's a suggestion: Run for public office - school board, local council, dog catcher, whatever.
But then maybe you're afraid you'll find out just how much of the 99% you really represent.
My first expericence with a Mac was in 1985 when my work group at Boeing Helicopters got a Mac II. Color! 13" monitor! Next to the monochrome early PCs it was a piece of beautiful genius. It took a few years before I got my own Mac at home - a Macintosh LC, and I was a Mac diehard for all of the nineties. It was in 2002 that I was due to replace my five year old Power Mac 6400 and just couldn't see the Apple product that was going to get me what I wanted for less than twice the price of a top end PC. I ended up buying a Sony desktop machine and that started a 7 year hiatus from Apple products.
Well, not entirely true, because I did buy several iPods over that time. Oh, and an iPhone 3GS eventually. It was when I decided to dabble with writing iOS apps that I got back into Apple computing hardware, as that's kind of necessary the way Apple works. I ended up buying a Mac Mini, which is possibly one of the most underrated and understated pieces of hardware around. I bought the slick bluetooth keyboard and the magic trackpad and that is just a beautiful system.
Then, when the old Dell laptop was due for replacement last year I ended up buying a 2nd generation Macbook Air, which is just amazingly beautiful and oh so functional.
Steve Jobs was brilliant. He had a knack for figuring out ways to get a hand in your wallet and your pocket no matter what and make you enjoy the experience. iPods? Sell 'em for we premium and keep milking it with iTunes. iOS - sell the iPhones/iPods/iPads for a premium and cream 30% off the app store revenue.
He was no saint - he did kill off all the corporate philanthropy programs at Apple when he came back in the 90's (then again, I'm not a big fan of corporations playing fairy godmother anyway, so it would be interesting to discover his motives for that). He was a bit of a tyrant by all accounts, but he did lead an insanely great company to dizzying heights.
I think all the hand-wringing about the future of Apple is misplaced - Jobs needed lots of talent around him to do what he did, and that is still in place. Just don't screw it up...
Remember the last time we had a Texas governor for President? Didn't that go well?
Well, let's not repeat that egregious misstep.
Rick Perry has opined about many things and shown himself to be less than smart, but his latest tirade attempts to blame the current president (in office 2 years and 6 months) for decisions that are the result of decades of poor political leadership on space issues and gross mismanagement at NASA.
"Forty-two years ago yesterday, America captured the world's imagination by putting a man on the moon, highlighting an era of excellence in space exploration. Unfortunately, with the final landing of the Shuttle Atlantis and no indication of plans for future missions, this administration has set a significantly different milestone by shutting down our nation's legacy of leadership in human spaceflight and exploration, leaving American astronauts with no alternative but to hitchhike into space.
"The Obama Administration continues to lead federal agencies and programs astray, this time forcing NASA away from its original purpose of space exploration, and ignoring its groundbreaking past and enormous future potential. It is time to restore NASA to its core purpose of manned space exploration, and to define our vision for 21st Century space exploration, not in terms of what we cannot do, but instead in terms of what we will do."
Yes, how dare President Obama shut down a shuttle program (photo: Shuttle re-entry to earth taken from the ISS) that features hardware that was conceptualized in the 60's, designed and built in the 70's and flown for 30 years! The flight computers on the shuttle are less powerful than a Commodore 64. They are barely better than a four function calculator. When you consider all the other systems on the airplane that cost a fortune to maintain and the fragility of the shuttle overall, it's remarkable that it has been as successful as it has been and that it lasted so long.
Is Rick Perry driving a 1981 Chevy Monte Carlo with a tank of rocket fuel in the trunk that could explode any minute? I don't think so.
Programs like the Space Shuttle take 20 years to come to fruition, so the time to be working on it was... 1990. Even 1980. But was it? Hell no. The political process gets worse and worse for pushing through visionary programs that look ahead decades. In retrospect it's amazing the shuttle managed to stay funded through the turmoil of the seventies.
So if there's blame to be laid at anyone's feet it should be laid at the feet of Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. and the Congressional members of the same era for 20 years of a spectacular collective failure to see a way forward and fund it. It wouldn't have hurt them to appoint NASA amdinistrators who weren't political flacks either.
And let's not forget where NASA Mission Control is located... Pork barrel politics coninues unabated.
Interesting reactions around the world. Predictable hand-wringing from the "there's no such thing as bad people, just bad actions" liberal crowd, who somehow think if we'd only been more understanding that all of this could have ended in a few verses of Kumbaya around the camp fire. On the other hand, the beer-swilling frat boy approach to celebration is equally predictable and just slightly more deplorable, albeit less dangerous to global stability.
The fact is there are sociopaths in the world who will do bad things. Very bad things. And they don't give a rip what people think of them. They surround themselves with almost equally fanatical sycophants and just do whatever they want. It's not really political or religious - they are just the convenient excuses they use that the rest of the world understands.
Irredeemable? Probably. And that small chance they aren't isn't worth giving them any leeway whatsoever.
What about the future of al Qaeda? One common argument is that cutting off the head will only spawn more retaliation and some other schmoe will take over. In this case, though, bin Laden was clearly head and shoulders in cunning and ruthlessness above the vast majority of his terrorist peers of the last fifty years or so. He will be hard to replace, although rumor has it Robert Mugabe may be looking for a new job soon. I wonder how that interview would go...
Finally, for the not so faint of heart, the Team America theme song (warning, explicit language...)