Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Fast of ’Ester and miscellany

Jewish date:  13 ’Adhar 5772 (Parashath Ki Thissa’).

Today’s holidays:  Fast of ’Ester (Judaism), Feast Day of Perpetua and Felicity (Roman Catholicism), Bahá’í Month of Fasting (Bahá’í Faith), Feast Day of St. Barbara Eden.


Current holiday alert:  The Purim season is upon us.  Today is the Fast of ’Ester, which commemorates the fasting by ’Ester and the rest of the Jewish people preceding her approaching the Persian king ’Aḥashwerosh to save them from the machinations of the evil Haman.  Tomorrow is Purim and the day after that Purim Shushan, which celebrate the victory of the Jews over their enemies.  The story is recounted in the Book of Esther.

I have decided to take advantage of the fast day to note a few items from the news recently.

1) “Doctors 'should have the right to kill unwanted or disabled babies at birth as they are not a real person' claims Oxford academic”:  This is an example of why I did not go into bioethics, considering it a field of non-problems.  As I noted in my review of Atlas Shrugged, morality is a matter of opinion.  The bioethicist in question is of the opinion that newborn babies do not qualify as people and thus killing handicapped or unwanted babies is not murder.  While she is entitled to her opinion, her arguments are doomed to fall on deaf ears unless she can either justify them to others in terms of their own moral systems or convince others that hers is right.  The reported reactions strongly suggest she has failed horribly.

2) “The Middle East’s real apartheid”:  A piece on the hypocrisy of how the term “apartheid” is used by anti-Semites, noting the severe discrimination in Arab/Muslim countries.

3) “Witnessing 'child witch' exorcism in the DR Congo”:  This is an illustration of why beliefs need to have some basis in reality.  The results of believing that children are possessed can be disastrously cruel.

4) “Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with ‘myth’ billboards in Arabic and Hebrew”:  Yes, the militant atheist PR machine is at it again.  And now they’re putting up billboards in and around New York City proclaiming to Jews and Muslims in Hebrew and Arabic about their gods “You know it’s a myth… and you have a choice.”  This itself is a mistake, as not everyone knows that YHWH and ’Allāh are myths, and those who believe in these gods are quite likely to wonder the people running these ads are thinking.  (A billboard is not a good medium to make even a half-decent argument for practically anything.)  The article gives some idea what the atheist PR machine is thinking:

Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said the signs are intended to reach atheists in the Muslim and Jewish enclaves who may feel isolated because they are surrounded by believers.
“Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks,” he says. “If there are atheists in those communities, we are reaching out to them. We are letting them know that we see them, we acknowledge them and they don't have to live that way if they don’t want to.”

I get the impression that Mr. Silverman is living in a fantasy world.  In the United States, nonbelievers can—and do—leave their belief communities.  No one is stopping atheists from leaving the Jewish and Muslim communities.  No one is even stopping them from expressing atheistic beliefs or remaining in their communities if they do so.  And if the American Atheists are trying to reach nonbelievers who have trouble getting out, they should be advertising in more isolated places, such as Kiryas Joel and New Square.

Peace, and have an easy fast and a happy Purim.


Friday, March 2, 2012

The writers for Glee fail exegesis forever

Jewish date:  8 ’Adhar 5772 (Parashath Teṣawweh).

Today’s holidays:  Friday of the First Week of Lent (Roman Catholicism), Bahá’í Month of Fasting (Bahá’í Faith), Feast Day of St. Wonder Woman (Church of the SubGenius).


The goal of this project is the examination of religious fallacies and misinformation.  This happens a lot in popular culture, and one of the shows I am monitoring, Glee, seems particularly prone to this problem whenever it deals with religion.  One of its recent episodes, “Heart”, shows especially bad religious reasoning that is going to annoy me until I report on it.

This is a Valentine’s Day episode.  Among other things, the “God Squad”, a sort of Christian religious club in the high school, decides to raise money by selling “singing Valentines”.  The God Squad has a new member who is a sort of goth until-recently-homeschooled Christian and who notes that Valentine’s Day is a religious holiday.  (It least it was a Catholic holiday.)  Meanwhile, a “Bible thumper” complains to the principal about Santana and Brittany kissing at school, leading him to be paranoid about homosexual public displays of affection.  (Cliché 1:  Thinking one has a right to keep anyone from doing anything which might offend them.)  Santana is understandably annoyed at this, and so she hires the God Squad to give a “singing Valentine” to Brittany.  (Cliché 2:  Petty revenge, the pettiness being that Santana has no evidence that any of the God Squad complained to the principal in the first place.)  The God Squad then discusses among themselves about whether they will actually sing to gay people.  Distressingly, none of them shows any decent understanding of how to interpret the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, jumping immediately into stereotypes and atrocious excuses for reasoning:

1) Mercedes:  Since one in ten people is supposed to be gay, one of the 12 Apostles might have been gay, presumably Simon since he has the “gayest” name.  This assumes that the Apostles were sexually normal, not a foregone assumption.  Also not forgone assumptions are that the incidence of homosexuality in Second Temple Period Israel is the same as in 2012 America and that there is no distinction between having homosexual desires and practicing homosexuality.  Not to mention that the presumed gayness of any Apostle is purely hypothetical, not something actually known.  Thus Mercedes has no argument.

2) Sam:  It is (purportedly) an abomination for a man to lay down with another man.  This is actually a misinterpretation of Leviticus 18:22, which prohibits male homosexuality, but a man simply lying next to another man is not prohibited.  Sam, however, grossly misinterprets this as banning sharing a tent in the Cub Scouts.  Thus he starts off with one of the few sources actually relevant to the question of homosexuality in Christianity and then shoots himself in the foot rhetorically when he has no reason to do so.

3) Quinn, trying to counter Sam:  Other abominations (purportedly) include eating lobster, planting different crops in the same field, and giving someone a proud look—but not slavery, and Jesus never mentions slavery.  The prohibition of eating lobster (along with all water-dwelling animals which do not have fins and platelike scales) is Leviticus 11:10, which uses a different term of disapproval, sheqeṣ, than that used for male homosexuality, to‘evah.  The prohibition of planting two different species of seed together is found in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9; in neither verse is it referred a to‘evah or sheqeṣ or any other term of disgust.  I have no idea where Quinn got this alleged prohibition of giving someone a proud look.  Slavery is never called a to‘evah or sheqeṣ by the Hebrew Bible or mentioned by Jesus.  (Paul is a different matter.)  None of this, however, is relevant in the least to question of homosexuality in Christianity.  This is pure rhetoric, not reasoning, and to make things worse, it is clichéd rhetoric.  At best, there is an implied argument that since modern Christians do not think they are bound to keep the Torah, they should not be forbidden to commit homosexuality, which among males is explicitly prohibited by the Torah.  However, none of the characters has the sense to cite even Paul’s specious antinomian arguments.

4) Sam:  Perhaps Jesus was trying no spare Simon’s feelings.  This is just an assumption that there was a gay Apostle.  There could have just as easily been no gay Apostle, so there is no real argument here.

5) Mercedes:  Given that everyone in the God Squad really sucks when it comes to exegesis, Mercedes says she does not want to hurt Santana’s feelings or make anyone do anything they are not comfortable with.  The other members of the God Squad can accept this, but this does not solve the problem of whether to deliver the “singing Valentine” or not.

What do they eventually decide to do?  They deliver the “singing Valentine” on the basis that “Love is love.”  Is there any source for this in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament?  No.  The God Squad may have satisfied Santana, but their rationale is poorly justified.  The writers could have done much, much better than this.

Anyone writing about homosexuality, please, please, please do not do anything as lame as what the writers for Glee did.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.