Racism and Intelligence

April 26, 2016

I wish that I could say that I was much surprised  by this article in the Christian Science Monitor titled The Surprising Relationship between Intelligence and Racism, but while the results of the survey mentioned were somewhat interesting, the conclusions drawn by the the author are entirely predictable. Smart people do not seem to be as overtly racist as less intelligent people, because they are better at hiding their racism.

Are smart people less racist than their less-intelligent peers?

That was the question asked in a new study that examined the relationship between verbal intelligence and attitudes on race and racial policies.

The findings may surprise some: While people who score higher on intelligence tests are less likely to hold racist stereotypes (such as imagining that people of another race are lazy or unintelligent), they’re no more likely to support government policies that aim to reduce racial inequality. For example, while 95 percent of study participants who scored higher on the intelligence test said that black and white children should attend the same schools, only 22 percent support school-busing programs.

By highlighting the disconnect between Americans’ attitudes on race and their support for policies that remediate inequality, the study, published in the Oxford University Press, may reveal how deeply entrenched certain forms of racism actually are in society.

For Lori Brown, professor of sociology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., the findings aren’t surprising because race is a complex issue that involves more than intellect.

“Prejudice involves what we believe to be true, affective feelings [like] likes and dislikes,” and instinctive needs, whereby “some people ‘need’ to be prejudiced [because] they feel so bad about themselves it makes them feel better to hate others,” Prof. Brown explains. “So, better educated or ‘smart’ people may know facts but may still not like people who are different.”

For the study, Geoffrey Wodtke, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, examined three decades of data from the General Social Survey, which has periodically measured Americans’ attitudes on a wide range of topics since 1972. The survey includes a short vocabulary test, considered to be a good indicator of verbal intelligence. Prof. Wodtke isolated the results of some 45,000 Caucasians and compared their verbal intelligence with their attitudes on race.

He found that the group that scored higher on the test were less likely to hold racist beliefs than their lower-performing counterparts. For example, among those who did well on the verbal test, 29 percent said blacks were lazy and 13 percent said they were unintelligent. By contrast, among those who performed poorly on the intelligence test, 46 percent described blacks as lazy and 23 described them as unintelligent.

 

The conclusion that Wodtke draws is that both the high and low scorers on the tests may have racist attitudes, but the high scorers “are simply more sophisticated racists.”

Why are whites judged to be more intelligent than their peers – who research has shown, are more likely to support liberal politics and policies – no more likely to support policies designed to improve racial equality?

Racism is defined as:

1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usu. involving the idea that one’s own race is superior.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based on such a doctrine.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
In other words, racism is the belief that race matters most in human affairs and that what you are, in terms of race, is more important that who you are as an individual. A person who believes that Blacks are inherently inferior in intelligence than Whites is a racist. A person who believes that Blacks should be held in an inferior place in society is a racist. However, a person who is opposed to “policies designed to improve racial equality” is not a racist just because they oppose such policies. One may agree with the idea that racism is a bad thing, but believe that policies designed to improve racial equality are not an effective means of reducing racism, and by promoting division and race consciousness, may actually make the problem worse. In any case, if the goal is to create a color blind society in which race doesn’t matter, making race matter more is a strange way to go about it
You see the rhetorical trick that is being played here. The writers are defining racism not only as an overt belief that a certain race is superior to another, but also as opposition to policies that they suppose fight racism. In this way, they do not have to defend the policies they seem to favor, but can simply label any opposition as based on racism.
The article concludes:

The findings reveal how entrenched some forms of racism and white privilege are in society, says Wodtke.

“More intelligent members of the dominant group are just better at legitimizing and protecting their privileged position than less intelligent members. In modern America, where blacks are mobilized to challenge racial inequality, this means that intelligent whites say – and may in fact truly believe – all the right things about racial equality in principle, but they just don’t actually do anything that would eliminate the privileges to which they have become accustomed,” he said in a statement.

“In many cases, they have become so accustomed to these privileges that they become ‘invisible,’ and any effort to point these privileges out or to eliminate them strikes intelligent whites as a grave injustice.”

People on the left are emotionally invested int he idea that America is an irredeemably racist country, as if they are caught in some time warp in which George Wallace is forever standing on the courthouse steps shouting, “Segregation forever!!!”. We have made considerable progress in race relations since those days. Racism of the old kind is all but extinct in our public discourse. Certainly there are prejudiced people still around, and many Blacks do not have all the opportunities they should, but the fact that we have to search for invisible White privilege says something about the vast changes in society over the last few decades. In the good old days, the privileges that Whites held over Blacks was obvious to everyone, and few believe that it should be otherwise. Liberals are always talking about having a great discussion on race, by which they mean they get to hector the rest of us and call us racists, but I think that the best thing we could do for race relations would be to stop talking about race and just try to be good to one another.  At least we should stop wasting time and money on worthless studies like this one.

Phony Psychic

April 18, 2016

In Gulliver’s Travels Gulliver describes the customs and laws of the tiny Lilliputians, and mentions that they consider fraud to be a worse crime than theft.

They look upon fraud as a greater crime than theft, and therefore seldom fail to punish it with death; for they allege, that care and vigilance, with a very common understanding, may preserve a man’s goods from thieves, but honesty has no defence against superior cunning; and, since it is necessary that there should be a perpetual intercourse of buying and selling, and dealing upon credit, where fraud is permitted and connived at, or has no law to punish it, the honest dealer is always undone, and the knave gets the advantage.  I remember, when I was once interceding with the emperor for a criminal who had wronged his master of a great sum of money, which he had received by order and ran away with; and happening to tell his majesty, by way of extenuation, that it was only a breach of trust, the emperor thought it monstrous in me to offer as a defence the greatest aggravation of the crime; and truly I had little to say in return, farther than the common answer, that different nations had different customs; for, I confess, I was heartily ashamed.

We generally regard violent crimes as worse than non violent crimes like fraud, since with non-violent crimes no one is physically harmed, but I think I agree with the Lilliputian view. A murder or theft might perhaps injure or kill a handful of people in his criminal career, but a swindler undermines the bonds of trust that holds a society together. Any society more complex than a band of hunter-gatherers depends on people being able to trust that other people, including strangers they will never meet, are doing their part to keep things working. Societies in which these bonds are weak or in which each person feels they can only rely on their own relatives or members of their own subgroup tend not to work very well. The con artist takes advantage of people’s’ trust and so weakens the ability of people to continue to trust one another. As Gulliver puts it, commerce depends on trust and if fraud is not regarded seriously enough, the honest are at the mercy of the knaves, and worse, the honest are obliged to become knaves in order to protect themselves.

In my opinion, the lowest of the low as far, as the fraudulent are concerned, are those people who take advantage of grieving persons who have a loved one missing by pretending to be able to determine whether the missing person is alive and where they can be found using their purported psychic powers, or even worse, impede police investigations by providing tips allegedly gained through their clairvoyance. It is with particular pleasure, then, that I present this video of one of these con artists getting something of what she deserves.

 

Here is the story that comes with this video.

Do you believe that psychics have the ability to assist families and the police in finding missing persons or solving murder cases?

Each year, countless desperate families turn to so-called psychics looking for information and leads. Sadly, psychic detectives are often selling false hope to the anguished and distraught instead of actually helping them unravel the mysteries.

Psychic detectives are known to prey on victims’ families, using vague, contradictory and useless information to convince them of their validity. They hardly ever offer answers or comfort to the grieving, sending police on an endless manhunt.

In the video above, Inside Edition exposes a phony psychic and her abilities.

When Laurie McQuary is asked about a missing girl, she claims that her “sixth sense” told her that she was brutally murdered. Interestingly enough, the photo she was shown was actually a childhood photo of the show’s Chief Investigative Correspondent, Lisa Guerrero.

As you can imagine, McQuary had no idea she was about to be exposed, and immediately excused herself from the interview after playing dumb.

I don’t much care for the description of this woman as a “phony psychic” since that seems to imply that there are real psychics out there, but perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much, since the reporter states more than once that there are no known cases in which a psychic detective was able to solve a case. I am glad Inside Edition ran this story, and I wish there were more like it. All too often, supposed psychics are promoted and celebrated in the media and not debunked, getting their own television shows, or appearing on talk shows in which their abilities are accepted without question or challenge. Psychics are good entertainment and no one seems to want to spoil the fun by actually examining their claims, even if they are cruelly taking advantage of people at their most vulnerable.

I wonder why these psychics are never prosecuted for fraud. It would seem to be an easy case for any competent prosecutor. These people are making a claim that they possess a power that they do not actually have and they are asking for money to use this power. How is this not fraud and why are they not punished?

Perhaps there is a certain reluctance to punish psychics because it seems to be too close to religious persecution. If a psychic can be prosecuted, why not a faith healer? And then, why not any religious leader who proclaims himself a  prophet?  I think a clear distinction can be made between matters of faith and practices that are fraudulent. If someone preaches that Jesus is the only way to get to Heaven, this is strictly a matter of faith. That preacher’s claims cannot be verified and it is likely that he believes it. If a preacher states that prayer can cure illnesses, that also is a matter of faith. If, however, the preacher states that he can heal people and will do so for a donation, that is closer to being fraud. The ability to instantly cure diseases and injuries at a prayer meeting can be verified and if it can be shown that he cannot actually perform such miraculous cures, the preacher is a fraud. If someone claims to be a psychic who can speak to the dead, that may also be a matter of faith, but if the psychic claims to know the fate of a missing person, and it is shown that he does not, in fact, have that knowledge, than he is a fraud.

If we can’t prosecute psychics, I wish that at least there would be more shows that expose them for the charlatans they are, and maybe better education in critical thinking. It would be the least anyone could do.

The Czars

April 11, 2016

There is a tendency, when writing of the history of a nation, to focus on the actions of rulers of that nation. American history books tend to divide American history by presidents, while British books differentiate the eras of British history by kings and queens, and later prime ministers, Chinese by dynasties, and so on. This approach is understandable since while kings and emperors may not have as much control over the events of the nations they rule as they would like, their reigns do give convenient dividing points between periods and eras. Still, there is often a lot going on that has little to do with the actions of any rulers and a history focused on the ruling class risks overlooking many factors and events in the country’s history.

This approach may be more justified in the case of Russian history, than in the histories of most other nations. For much of its history, Russia has been ruled by a strong, centralised government with political power vested in one man or woman, the Czar. The personality of Russia’s Czar was the most powerful influence on the development of the Russian nation. Russia only became a unified nation when the earliest Czars were able to establish control over the unruly boards and the Orthodox Church, become strong enough to defeat the invading Mongols, Poles and Lithuanians and take the title of Czar. The history of Russia is the history of its Czars.

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The Czars by James P. Duffy and Vincent L. Ricci tells the story of Russia’s czars, from their messy beginnings as the Vikings who raided, traded, and then settled the vast Russian lands to the murder of Nicholas II at the hands of the Bolshevik revolutionaries. It is a fascinating story, well told by the two authors. They give a biography of every Czar, the early and obscure princes of Kiev and Muscovy no less than such titanic rulers as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, giving something of the personalities and lives of each Czar as well as the historical circumstances of their reigns. I found the early history of the unification of Russia to be particularly interesting as this was a period that I didn’t know much about. Most histories of Russia seem to cover this time in the first chapter before quickly moving on to Ivan the Great and his son Ivan the Terrible.

The only fault that I can find with The Czars is the absence of maps. A map of the Ukraine and the European part of Russia would have been very handy, especially if it included all the little principalities and cities that were absorbed by the growing Russian state in its earliest years. I found myself having to consult Google maps to get some idea of where the various regions of European Russia were in relation to each other and where the battles against the Mongols and the Poles took place. A genealogy of the two Russian dynasties, the Ruriks and the Romanovs would also have been useful, especially with the early Ruriks who had not yet established the tradition of handing down power from father to son, and with the more tumultuous times of trouble in which several short-lived and distantly related Czars followed one another in succession. Despite these shortcoming, I still found the Czars to be interesting and informative.

Who is the Extremist?

April 4, 2016

Bernie Sanders is calling Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker an extremist.

David—

When our campaign first set foot in Wisconsin this past summer, we got a very warm welcome from the people of Wisconsin. I spoke to more than 10,000 people in Madison about our corrupt political system, our broken economy, and how our political revolution can take back our country from people like the Koch brothers and the billionaire class.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican party weren’t as happy to see me. Gov. Walker, who has been helped throughout his career by the Koch brothers, issued statements against us, and the GOP even put up billboards calling me an “extremist.”

Well, let’s talk about extremism. Scott Walker has attacked the minimum wage, gutted unions, made it much harder to vote, and restricted access to abortion. That is extremism.

I can think of no better place for our political revolution to continue its momentum than in Wisconsin. The latest poll has us down just a few points, and I know that if we work together right now, we can pull off a huge victory.

With a huge FEC fundraising deadline on Thursday at midnight, there has not been a more important time for you to support our campaign.

Click here to make a $2.70 contribution to our campaign and MoveOn’s efforts to help us win before Thursday night’s deadline—and we can shock the political establishment with a victory in Wisconsin.

Not only has Governor Walker been helped throughout his career by huge financial support from the Koch Brothers, but he has enacted their ideology while in office.

When you deny the right of workers to come together in collective bargaining, that’s extremism.

When you tell a woman that she cannot control her own body, that’s extremism.

When you give tax breaks to billionaires and refuse to raise the minimum wage, that’s extremism.

Our views, which represent the views of the vast majority of the American people, are different. We believe that the time has come for the people of Wisconsin and all over the country to create a movement that tells the billionaire class: YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL!

And what we are saying to the Koch brothers and Scott Walker is that this great country belongs to everybody, and not just a handful of very wealthy people.

Contribute $2.70 to our campaign and MoveOn right now to say you stand with our political revolution—and help us win in Wisconsin next week.

When the people stand together against the Koch Brothers and the billionaire class, we can win.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, extremism is defined as:

belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable

Are the positions held by Governor Walker really very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable? Well, about half the people in this country take a pro-life position in which they believe that abortion is morally wrong and should be restricted or outlawed altogether. Even many people who identify as pro-choice on the abortion issue do not consider abortion to be a good thing in itself. They are simply reluctant to force their personal views on others and many would favor at least some restrictions on abortion, particularly abortions performed in the third trimester. Relatively few people support the idea of abortion completely unrestricted up to the moment of birth. That would be the extreme position.

I have not heard that Governor Scott wished to abolish the minimum wage altogether. That would be an extreme position, although there are libertarian economists who hold that any minimum wage is an unreasonable restriction on the free market that increases unemployment. If Scott Walker opposes more than doubling the minimum wage to $15 per hour, he is in agreement with his party and large number of people, including most economists. This idea of raising the minimum wage to make young persons or people with few skills unemployable ought to be considered the extreme position, although since there are a large number of ignorant people who vote Democrat, but I repeat myself, who think it is a good idea, doubling the minimum wage is not as extreme as it ought to be.

As far as I know, Governor Scott does not seek to eliminate the rights of workers t0 join labor unions, although considering that only 7% of private sector workers belong to a union, being anti-union is far from extreme. Walker has fought the public sector unions in Wisconsin. These unions are widely believed to have colluded with state and local politicians to secure for themselves salaries, benefits and pensions that are not sustainable. Walker is not the only governor who has discovered that these obligations have become greater than the state government’s ability to meet. He has been more effective than many in seeking to limit the influence of the public sector unions in an attempt to balance his state’s budget.

The people of Wisconsin do not seem to consider Scott Walker’s ideas far from what is considered correct or reasonable. He was elected governor in 2010, survived an attempt to recall him in 2012, and was reelected in 2014. If Walker were really the extremist Bernie Sanders portrays him as being. surely he would have been thrown out to office years ago. Of course, Sanders might state that dark money from the nefarious Koch Brothers has been keeping Scott Walker in office, but all the money in the world is not going to help a candidate who the voters view as a crazed extremist. If money really had as much influence on politics as Sanders believes, then Jeb Bush would have gottenthe Republican nomination instead of being forced to withdraw, and Hilary Clinton would be sailing her way to the Democratic convention. Money does matter, but not as much as some believe.

Speaking of which, Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with members of the billionaire class who support the Democratic Party and progressive causes, such as George Soros. But that is another post.

I would say that Bernie Sanders is more of an extremist than anyone else of national prominence, being the only openly socialist member of Congress. He supports extreme left-wing ideas which have not worked anywhere else they have been tried and will not work here in the U.S. The fact that he is not seen as an extremist by many is an indictment of our dumbed down media and education.

Return of the Baron

March 28, 2016

Baron Hill was the Congressional Representative for the ninth Congressional district of Indiana, the district I happen to live in, from 1999 to 2005 and 2007 to 2011. Now he wants to be one of Indiana’s Senators.

David,

I have known Baron Hill a long time. I worked to get him elected to Congress and was honored to serve as his Chief of Staff — and I am thrilled the Indiana Democratic Party has endorsed him to be our next U.S. Senator.

Baron is the just the kind of man we need in Washington. He will start fixing problems again in Washington instead of playing political games that we see coming out of the Republican majorities right now.

Will you add your name to let Baron know he has your support in 2016?

Baron’s roots in this great state go deep. He grew up in Seymour as the youngest of seven kids, played basketball at Seymour High, and worked in his family’s small business. He’s seen firsthand the changes the past many years have brought to Indiana.

Baron knows we are at a turning point. Inequality is growing as working families are getting left behind. Special interests have a voice in Washington, but what about regular people?

He is going to be a voice for all Hoosiers — our voice. He’ll fight for an economy that works for everyone. He’ll work to grow our local businesses and make college affordable for our kids.

Baron knows Indiana is worth fighting for. But he needs us standing with him.

Will you add your name to show you’re on Baron’s team in 2016?

Baron Hill will do the job he is elected to do in the U.S. Senate, and he needs your help today.

Thank you for all you do.

John Zody
Chairman
Indiana Democratic Party

I remember Baron Hill very well. It’s not likely that anyone outside of the state of Indiana would know anything about Mr. Hill, although he did receive a certain amount of national attention before his defeat in the 2010 election. Here are a few videos to remind the viewer who Baron Hill is and why he doesn’t belong in the Senate

 

The political terrorists he refers to are his own constituents who happened to object to his vote supporting Obamacare. Because they were actually challenging him over his vote, he considered them to be the same as al-Qaeda.

Here is another.

 

This isn’t a town meeting in which the representative of the people of the ninth Congressional district responds to the concerns of the people, but an audience in which the Baron deigns to speak to his subjects.

There are a lot more videos of Baron Hill being dismissive or rude to his constituents at town hall meetings, etc. He is apparently something of a sore loser as well, if the people in this video are correct.

This is why Baron Hill was defeated in 2010. His name, Baron, seems to fit him very well. He acts with all the arrogance and condescension to his “inferiors” as some medieval baron. He is part of the problem of an arrogant and unresponsive political elite that is causing Americans to turn to outsiders for leadership, even such obviously unqualified candidates as Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Baron Hill is the last person I would want to see in the Senate.

Easter

March 27, 2016

We left the story of Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. He had been executed in the most painful and degrading way possible. His closest followers were disperse and in hiding. It must have seemed that Jesus and his movement had ended in utter failure. But then, something remarkable happened. This something is commemorated by the Easter holiday. Although Christmas is the more popular Christian holiday, Easter is actually the most important holiday in the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is theologically more important than his Nativity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Gospel of Mark has the most concise account on what happened that first Easter.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these sign swill accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:1-20)

Mark 16:9-20 seems to be a later addition. At any rate, the earliest manuscripts do not have those verses. Whether the original ending has been lost or Mark intended to end his account so abruptly is unknown.

Matthew has more details.

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:1-20)

Luke and John have more to say of Jesus after His resurrection but I won’t quote them here.

The date of Easter has been a matter of some controversy in past centuries. The date of Easter is related to the date of Passover. The calculations on which the date of Easter is determined is based on a lunisolar cycle like the date of Passover but the cycle is not the Hebrew calendar. Generally Easter falls about a week after Passover but it occurs about a month later in three years of the nineteen year cycle. Various groups of Christians have had different methods of calculating Easter over the years and these differences have led to bitter disputes. There is still a different date for Easter among the Eastern churches since they use the Julian calendar for the liturgical year while Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar.

Among Catholics and some Protestants, Easter is generally celebrated by an Easter vigil beginning the previous evening. At dawn, a mass or service begins, etc.

And, of course, many people celebrate Easter by finding Easter eggs and eating candy delivered by the Easter Bunny.

 

Good Friday

March 25, 2016

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

Jesus Before Pilate

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believe Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

crucifxion

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

The end?

The end?

 

Betting on the Devil

March 23, 2016

South Park is a vulgar show. The characters, especially the children, routinely use foul language. (The creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker insist that children really talk like that and that only hippies and Democrats believe children to be sweet and innocent. Judging from my own memories of childhood, I am inclined to believe that they are right.) There are crude sexual situations and toilet humor in many episodes, and more than a little violence. The show is irreverent and even blasphemous and they is nothing that Parker and Stone won’t made fun of. One might think that South Park is a show with no redeeming features at all.

I disagree. I wasn’t actually aware that South Park was still on television after nineteen seasons, since I do not get cable, but last year, I began to see praise for the nineteenth season’s take down of political correctness and I started to watch the latest episodes online. I found, to my amazement, that South Park was as funny and relevant as ever. I started to see that South Park is actually a very good show, perhaps the best on television right now. It has characters you can come to care about, interesting plots, including the multi-episode arc this season and even some well thought out lessons, for those who care to look. Despite the vulgarity, the essential values of South Park are surprisingly wholesome, even, believe it or not, Christian. This is all the more remarkable considering that Parker and Stone are agnostics.

As evidence for this startling assertion, I would like to go all the way back to the first season of South Park to an episode titled Damien. In this episode there is a new kid, named Damien attending South Park Elementary who happens to be the son of the Devil.

Damien

Damien

He is in South Park to deliver a challenge from his father to Jesus, depicted as hosting a public access cable show, Jesus and Pals. Satan wants to meet Jesus for the final confrontation in the boxing ring.

South Park Jesus

South Park Jesus

At first, all the residents of South Park are certain that Jesus will easily defeat the Devil and place bets on Jesus. Then Satan appears in South Park. While Jesus is a 135 pound weakling, Satan is a muscular 350 pounds. There seems to be no way Jesus can possibly beat Satan.

Satan

Satan

 

Everyone in South Park rushes to their bookies to change their bets to Satan winning the fight. In fact, only one person bets on Jesus. Jesus warns the residents of South Park not to bet on the Devil, but no one listens. The day of the fight arrives and the two combatants meet in the ring. Satan pounds away at Jesus, taunting Him all the while and daring Jesus to hit him. Finally Jesus manages to get a blow in and Satan is immediately knocked out, or so it seems. It turns out that Satan has thrown the fight. It was his plan to lose to Jesus all along and he was the one person who bet on Jesus to win. Satan taunts the people of South Park for their foolishness and then returns to Hell wealthier from his winnings.

This is a silly story and the portrayals of both Jesus and Satan owe more to popular culture conceptions than to Christian scripture or traditions. After all, Jesus was a carpenter by trade and his associates were working class men. He was hardly likely to be the effeminate wimp that He is all too often imagined to be. The episode does have a moral that Christians ought to consider. A lot of times, people are betting on the Devil to win.

The final conflict between the forces of good and evil is not going to be in a boxing ring and Satan is not going to take a dive. The book of Revelation is full of confusing symbolism that Christians have been arguing about for centuries, but the end is quite clear, Jesus wins.

The real Jesus

The real Jesus

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave,great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev. 19:11-20:3)

When I say that there are many Christians who are betting on the Devil to win, I do not mean, of course, that there are people who believe that Satan is going to defeat Heaven and rule the universe. I am referring to a certain lack of faith that God will overcome all of our difficulties in the end. People who are worried about the economy or terrorism, or declining morals, or even their own personal problems , are, in a way, betting that the Devil is winning. We must have faith that God as the Author of history has a plan for the world and for each one of us. Whatever our personal or national difficulties, we must not lose faith that Jesus will win in the end and His will will be done. As Jesus himself has commanded us.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

So stop worrying and betting on the Devil.

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2016

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

Beware the Ides of March

March 15, 2016

That is what a soothsayer says to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play. Caesar had reason to be wary of that particular date since that was the day the conspirators planned to assassinate him. Caesar ignored the warning, either out of fatalism or foolhardiness, and his assassination began the course of events that led to the rise of his grand-nephew Augustus and the end of the Roman Republic.

But what are the ides anyway? The Roman calendar was somewhat complicated and was reformed several times in the history of the Republic, until Julius Caesar straighten things out with his Julian calendar. Originally, the Roman calendar seems to have been a lunar calendar with the months corresponding to the lunar cycle. Thus each month began with the New Moon. The Romans did not count days from the beginning of the month, as we do, but instead counted before and after certain key days perhaps corresponding with the phases of the moon. The first day of the month corresponding with the new moon was called the Kalends, from which our word calendar is derived. The ides of the month was the day in the middle of the month, corresponding to the full moon. The ides was either on the thirteenth or fifteenth day depending on whether the month was a long or short one. The nones was eight days before the ides and corresponds to the half moon or first quarter. I would think that they would also make the third quarter of the moon one of the special days but it doesn’t seem to have been.

The day before the kalends, nones, or ides was referred to as the pridie, or the day before in Latin. So, yesterday, March 14, was pridie ides March. Other dates were simply counted back from the nearest reference day. So March 12 would be the the fourth day, ( the reference days were counted) before the ides of March, or a.d. (ante diem) IV id March. March 2 was six days before the nones or a. d VI non. March 25 would be 8 days before the kalends of April, or a. d. VIII kal. This seems to be a rather cumbersome system, having to remember how many days between the kalends and ides, etc, but I suppose the Romans were used to it, and maybe it wasn’t much worse than having to remember which months have thirty or thirty-one days. I’m glad we don’t do that though.

In any case, today is the Ides of March, so if you happen to be Julius Caesar, watch out.


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