Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel rides into eternity

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Evel Knievel is dead.

That sentence probably should have been written in 1968, when Knievel crashed his motorcycle spectacularly as he jumped the fountains at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and wound up in a coma.

It probably should have been written in 1974, when his rocket-powered cycle failed as he tried to jump the Snake River Canyon and he almost landed in the raging water. Or the numerous other times when, while trying to jump something bigger than ever, he splattered.

Instead, it was written Friday. Natural causes. Age 69.

"It's been coming for years, but you just don't expect it. Superman just doesn't die, right?" said longtime friend and promoter Billy Rundle.
It's amazing he was only 69. Photos show a man much older. But then again, few lived life harder than Evel Knievel. The women, the alcohol, the broken bones.

Last Easter, Evel told the masses at Crystal Cathedral that he'd had a middle-of-the-night encounter with God.
"I don't know what in the world happened," Robert "Evel" Knievel said. "I don't know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but it just reached out, either while I was driving or walking down the sidewalk or sleeping, and it just—the power of God in Jesus just grabbed me. … All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him! … I rose up in bed and, I was by myself, and I said, 'Devil, Devil, you bastard you, get away from me. I cast you out of my life.' … I just got on my knees and prayed that God would put his arms around me and never, ever, ever let me go."

Not a real atheist?

Intra-faith divisions are certainly among the most dangerous elements of religion. Sunnis vs. Shiites. Catholics vs. Protestants. Orthodox Jews vs. secular ones. To outsiders, these factions look at best shortsighted and at worst fundamentally flawed.

I have heard several people who identify themselves as Christians say that because other people who identify themselves as Christians do not believe in such and such, or don’t agree with so and so, or haven’t done whatever, that they are not really Christians, and some even contend that these counterfeit or phony or somehow not qualified “Christians” (with their scare quotes) will burn in hell. Sometimes the differences they cite sound at least theologically significant, sometimes it’s too subtle or esoteric for me to fathom, and sometimes it sounds like they just don’t go to the same particular church.

To me as an outsider this is bizarre and ridiculous. On the news I hear Muslims dismissing other Muslims as “not good Muslims,” or “not true Muslims” for disparities only they can comprehend. How can theists of any flavor ever hope to attract outsiders when so many differences are cited as disqualifying all the others but their specific variety of religion, differences that seem indistinguishable to anyone not already inside their camp? From the eyes of the uninitiated, their micro-controversies discredit them all as a whole.

That's from Richard Wade at the Friendly Athiest. The question, Wade asks, is whether this is happening to non-theists amid the push for evangelical atheism.
We have several terms that non-god-believing folks use to identify themselves to emphasize other aspects they feel are important. Is there a looking down the nose from those using one term toward those using another? Do humanists look askance at freethinkers? Do skeptics roll their eyes about brights?

Has anyone ever been accused of not being a true atheist by another person calling himself or herself an atheist?

'A horrible example of Jews gone bad'

My post Sunday about why I work at The Jewish Journal got some traction in the blogosphere, much to Paul Almond's dismay. Almond was the name attached to at least one of the comments and, based on the writing style and substance, is presumably the identity of Jewboy. And he was none too pleased to learn that The Forward interviewed me last summer about my Christian beliefs and Jewish background.
paul almond said:

Great - first the "Jewish Journal" and now the Forward put forward this Christian with Jewish parents as someone to be lauded by the Jewish community, instead of someone who is a horrible example of Jews gone bad. I expect the next story will feature a JforJ type who is really a very good person and should be idolized by the Jewish community. Barf

To reiterate what I told The Forward last summer:
No, I’m not involved in Jews for Jesus. No, they have not slipped a mole into the Jewish Journal. I don’t have a special calling to baptize all of “those pagan Jews.” I think when people understand who I am, when they see the sensitivity of my reporting, and the fact that I am just a really curious journalist who does care about this community and is interested in the stories that are affecting it, I think it breaks down those walls.

Santa Claus, Harry Potter and Baby Jesus

Sometimes being politically correct is just so wrong:
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The annual Nativity creche on the Walton County Courthouse lawn will look a little different this year.

The County Commission decided this week to include secular items such as a snowman to the display after Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent the county a letter in July claiming that the creche is unconstitutional.
The article states that a snowman or Santa Claus might be added to the display. I see that, and raise the Walton County weaklings one Harry Potter statue, the complete cast of "Golden Compass" and Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.

(Hat tip: DMN religion blog)

New Yorker on megachurches

The current issue of The New Yorker, which is always late to arrive at my place, has a story about one of the few New England megachurches. This is a photo of Faith Church from The New Yorker's online slideshow. The full article is not available yet.

Previously, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the success of the cellular church, the Orange County behemoth led by Rick Warren.

The religion of Dennis Kucinich

"I can only guarantee you five minutes."

In the middle of a park in Sierra Madre, on an absolutely perfect fall Sunday morning, Sharon Jimenez, senior adviser on the West Coast for U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich’s campaign for president, is laying down some ground rules. We are surrounded by volunteers, who busily set up chairs, sort placards and stack fliers for the congressman’s speech and fund-raiser. Twenty feet away, at a lopsided picnic table beneath a lopsided tree, sits Kucinich, wearing a ginger-colored blazer that immediately makes me wonder how many Winnie-the-Poohs had to die to make it. With his familiar squint and little-boy haircut that always appears as if it has been combed with a hot buttered roll, he nods in response to the conclusions of a Pasadena Weekly reporter.

“I thought you were going to get me a ride-along with him to the airport,” I say to Jimenez.

“Oh, well,” she says, smiling and shrugging her massive shoulder pads.

“But I don’t have any five-minute questions,” I say, holding up my notebook. “All my questions are conversational — they’re Bill Moyer questions.”

“Like I said, I can only guarantee you five minutes,” she says, looking at her watch. “The congressman goes on in about eight minutes, and then he has to be in San Mateo for a straw poll at 2.”

Jimenez’s uncanny resemblance to the band manager and lovable curmudgeon of The Partridge Family, Rubin Kincaid, allows me the grace to forgive her persnickety manner as having less to do with me and more to do with the character that I imagine her to be playing.

“Which airport is he going to?” I ask. “LAX?”

“No, Burbank,” she says, drastically shortening even the drive time I was hoping to get.

“Burbank?” I flip through my notes, looking for short-answer questions, wondering if I’m wasting my time and trying to remember why I came in the first place.
I can't tell you how many times I have been here lately -- not in a park waiting to interview the man-less-likely-than-Alan-Keyes-to-be-president, but at an event of my own choosing where all I am wondering is how I recover the half day I just wasted.

Though it seems for Mr. Fish, the reporter giving the first-person here, waiting for Kucinich wasn't such a waste of time. The resulting story is the cover of the current LA Weekly, and it offers some illuminating passages on America's wackiest politician. This one is particularly enjoyable.
“All right,” he says, looking at his watch again. “We got five minutes — do you have a short question?”

“Sure,” I say, taking a second to turn on my tape recorder. “What nonpolitical source material informs your idealism?”

I smile, waiting. He doesn’t answer me. “In other words,” I try again, “a lot of your ideas seem to stress the importance of peace and humanitarianism and, certainly, you can talk about those things as political ideals, but politics doesn’t really offer the best insight into those subjects. It’s like Richard Nixon’s peace sign, for example, meant something entirely different from John Lennon’s. Most people don’t look to politics to help them sustain their understanding of humanitarianism — they usually look to art and poetry and literature and philosophy. What are your cultural reference points?”

“Well, you know,” begins Kucinich, hunching forward with the melancholy of somebody who has just been handed cotton candy and asked to knit a cake, “you can talk about the 20th century and look at the writings of Erich Fromm, the work of Carl Rogers, [Abraham] Maslow, the humanistic psychologists. You can look at the English Romantic poets from centuries ago who had a sense of the perfectibility of humankind, of our deep connection to nature, of the importance of upholding a natural world. You can come back to Walden Pond, to Thoreau, to Emerson, to their understanding of intellectual integrity and of freedom. But you could go back thousands of years, too, to the basic structure of moral law that’s reflected in the teachings of all the great religions.” He stops. I wait. He stays stopped.

“What about more-modern influences?” I say. “Are you in touch with any of the artistic or cultural movements that are contemporary; ideas and artistic trends that excite and motivate people, particularly young people, to view humanity as a whole rather than as incongruent pieces, which is more what politics tends to do? I don’t guess that all the values that inform your political identity are as antiquated or esoteric as Thoreau or the Bible — you were a product of the ’60s, right?”

“Look,” he says, “my philosophical underpinnings relate to concepts that are really timeless, that go back to 2,000 years of Christianity, thousands of years of the Hindu religion, that go to the tradition of Buddhism, to the moral teachings of Judaism, to the peaceful expressions of Islam. All of these are tributaries of a spiritual understanding that I have.”

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Muslim rumors hurt Obama

The Forward reported this month that presidential candidates and major Muslim American organizations were keeping each other at arms' length. Today, The Washington Post says questions about Islam keep dogging Barack Obama, who, in fact, is a member of an ultra-liberal Christian church.
In his speeches and often on the Internet, the part of Sen. Barack Obama's biography that gets the most attention is not his race but his connections to the Muslim world.

Since declaring his candidacy for president in February, Obama, a member of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Chicago, has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim or that he had received training in Islam in Indonesia, where he lived from ages 6 to 10. While his father was an atheist and his mother did not practice religion, Obama's stepfather did occasionally attend services at a mosque there.

Despite his denials, rumors and e-mails circulating on the Internet continue to allege that Obama (D-Ill.) is a Muslim, a "Muslim plant" in a conspiracy against America, and that, if elected president, he would take the oath of office using a Koran, rather than a Bible, as did Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the only Muslim in Congress, when he was sworn in earlier this year.

In campaign appearances, Obama regularly mentions his time living and attending school in Indonesia, and the fact that his paternal grandfather, a Kenyan farmer, was a Muslim. Obama invokes these facts as part of his case that he is prepared to handle foreign policy, despite having been in the Senate for only three years, and that he would literally bring a new face to parts of the world where the United States is not popular.

The son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, Obama was born and spent much of his childhood in Hawaii, and he talks more about his multicultural background than he does about the possibility of being the first African American president, in marked contrast to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who mentions in most of her stump speeches the prospect of her becoming the first woman to serve as president.

"A lot of my knowledge about foreign affairs is not what I just studied in school. It's actually having the knowledge of how ordinary people in these other countries live," he said earlier this month in Clarion, Iowa.

"The day I'm inaugurated, I think this country looks at itself differently, but the world also looks at America differently," he told another Iowa crowd. "Because I've got a grandmother who lives in a little village in Africa without running water or electricity; because I grew up for part of my formative years in Southeast Asia in the largest Muslim country on Earth."

While considerable attention during the campaign has focused on the anti-Mormon feelings aroused by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), polls have also shown rising hostility toward Muslims in politics. It is not clear whether that negative sentiment will affect someone who has lived in a Muslim country but does not practice Islam.

Why one UCLA soldier went to war

Lt. Mark Daily was the first UCLA alum to be killed in Iraq. (A plaque was recently hung in his honor in front of the Student Activities Center off of Bruin Plaza.) His death touched thousands upon thousands not simply because he was young and it was tragic, but because of the writings he left behind and a story in the LA Times that was e-mailed around the world.

One recipient was Christopher Hitchens, the atheist superstar and author who Daily credited with convincing him of the moral imperative of the war. In this month's Vanity Fair, Hitchens describes feeling ill upon learning this and seeking out Daily's family to clear his conscience.

In his brilliant book What Is History?, Professor E. H. Carr asked about ultimate causation. Take the case of a man who drinks a bit too much, gets behind the wheel of a car with defective brakes, drives it round a blind corner, and hits another man, who is crossing the road to buy cigarettes. Who is the one responsible? The man who had one drink too many, the lax inspector of brakes, the local authorities who didn't straighten out a dangerous bend, or the smoker who chose to dash across the road to satisfy his bad habit? So, was Mark Daily killed by the Ba'thist and bin Ladenist riffraff who place bombs where they will do the most harm? Or by the Rumsfeld doctrine, which sent American soldiers to Iraq in insufficient numbers and with inadequate equipment? Or by the Bush administration, which thought Iraq would be easily pacified? Or by the previous Bush administration, which left Saddam Hussein in power in 1991 and fatally postponed the time of reckoning?

These grand, overarching questions cannot obscure, at least for me, the plain fact that Mark Daily felt himself to be morally committed. I discovered this in his life story and in his surviving writings. Again, not to romanticize him overmuch, but this is the boy who would not let others be bullied in school, who stuck up for his younger siblings, who was briefly a vegetarian and Green Party member because he couldn't stand cruelty to animals or to the environment, a student who loudly defended Native American rights and who challenged a MySpace neo-Nazi in an online debate in which the swastika-displaying antagonist finally admitted that he needed to rethink things. If I give the impression of a slight nerd here I do an injustice. Everything that Mark wrote was imbued with a great spirit of humor and tough-mindedness. Here's an excerpt from his "Why I Joined" statement:

Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me).… Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.

Rodney King shot

"Just wait. Every few years Rodney King gets in trouble."

That was my first city editor's response when I started working at The Sun in San Bernardino and discovered King was a down-and-out resident of Rialto. I too was a resident of the forlorn industrial town wedged between Muscoy and Fontana, and I wanted to write about my most notable neighbor.

I moved out of Rialto and off that beat, and later left the paper, before King made headlines (aside from this Charlie LeDuff piece). He's back with this one today:
One of Rialto's most well-known residents, Rodney King, was shot sometime around midnight.

San Bernardino Police Lt. Scott Paterson said the details were still fuzzy but that King may have gunshot pellets in his arm and back area. The wounds are not considered life-threatening.

"Early indications are that it very possibly could have been a domestic dispute," Paterson said.

San Bernardino police are still investigating what exactly happened and where, he said.

Rialto Police Sgt. Tim Lane said police logs showed the incident took place at 5th Street and Meridian Avenue in San Bernardino near the border of Rialto and San Bernardino. Lane said King made it back to his house in the 1100 block of East Jackson Street before calling police.

Do GOP candidates believe every word of the Bible?

Joseph Dearing, 24, of Dallas says you can tell everything you need to know about a person by what he or she thinks of the Bible.

He got a chance to get some answers during Wednesday's GOP CNN/YouTube debate when his question, No. 20, was asked: Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?

Dearing wasn't happy with the responses he got from any of the candidates, not Giuliani or Romney or even his homeboy Ron Paul. He felt they all answered, in this video, around the question.

'Stalking celebrities in LA's churches'

One of my favorite memories of living in Los Angeles was seeing David Hasselhoff looking for a seat at church. I attend Bel Air Presbyterian, where ever few months it seems Britney Spears is rumored to have been seen and where I once turned around during the greeting and shook hands with a pre-Newlyweds Jessica Simpson. Al from "Step by Step," aka Christine Lakin, also joined my college group on a trip to Mammoth and Ryan Starr -- OK, not a celebrity -- hung around for a little while.

But, really, it's a little sick to think about church hopping in hopes of another celebrity sighting. Still, in LA there is something for everyone, and Gridskipper has the dish:

1. Christian Science Church of Brentwood
2. Crystal Cathedral (think Evel Knievel)
3. Good Shepherd Catholic Church (beware the Hilton sisters)
4. Sinai Temple (Kirk Douglas, among other Jewish luminaries)
5. St. Monica's Catholic Church (the governor)
6. St. Nicolas Greek Orthodox Church
7. West Angeles Church of God (Denzel and Stevie)

They left a handful of good celebrity-sighting churches and synagogues off this list. But the list was stupid to begin with, so I'm not going to add to it.

(Hat tip: LAObserved)

'Refighting the Wars of Religion'

Pegged to the ascendancy of The New Atheists and Mark Lilla's "The Stillborn God," the current issue of Commentary looks at "Refighting the Wars of Religion":
The liberal Protestant cave-in to Prussian militarism and German nationalism in turn triggered a messianic or apocalyptic reaction among religious thinkers in the interwar period—a period deeply marked, Lilla reminds us, by a thoroughgoing disgust with modernity and a new quest for authenticity among many European intellectuals. Some, like the Jewish thinkers Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, and the Christian theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pulled up on the reins before they came to the political brink. But others soon found a vessel for their fantasies in the man whom Winston Churchill once described as “a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corroded the human breast—Corporal Hitler.”

This whole sorry history, Lilla concludes, “served to confirm Hobbes’s iron law: messianic theology eventually breeds messianic politics.” The Great Separation, to which we owe our very lives as the beneficiaries of liberal democracy, can never be taken for granted; and neither can the liberal-democratic order itself. Lilla formulates the task before us in terms different from those proposed by the new atheists but tacitly in tune with their agenda:

Rousseau was on to something: we seem to be theotropic creatures, yearning to connect our mundane lives, in some way, to the beyond. That urge can be suppressed, new habits learned, but the challenge of political theology will never fully disappear as long as the urge to connect survives.

So we are heirs to the Great Separation only if we wish to be, if we make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. . . . This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness. We must never forget that there was nothing inevitable about our Great Separation, that it was and remains an experiment.

The article, by George Weigel, also adds another voice to the discussion, that of Remi Brague, whose "The Law of God" was recently published:

Like Mark Lilla, Rémi Brague is concerned about the fragility of our present political arrangements, about the protection of basic human rights, and about the future of the rule of law, democratically deliberated. But he will not concede that an effective defense of the Western democratic project requires the canonization of Thomas Hobbes and his Great Separation. Indeed, he points out that we might well wonder “whether that separation, which has received so much praise, . . . ever actually took place,” if for no other reason than that the “two institutions . . . never formed a unit.” Brague writes:

The political and the religious are two independent sources of authority; they have crossed one another’s paths more than once, but they never have merged in spite of efforts to fit them together, sometimes to the advantage of one, sometimes to that of the other. Although there has been cooperation between the two, there has never been confusion about which is which.

And if Brague parts company with Lilla on historical grounds, he also parts company on theological and anthropological grounds. Lilla and Brague have very different ideas of God and His revelation, and very different ideas of us; and in each case, the ideas are inextricably intertwined. Lilla urges unending vigilance in public life against the religious fevers that still inflame and infect our minds. Brague, at the end of The Law of God, suggests the conditions for a more modest approach to the “theoi-political problem”:

In the Bible and in Christianity . . . the presence of the divine does not comport an immediate demand for obedience. . . . The divine shows itself, or rather gives itself, before asking anything of us and instead of asking. . . . Although God does indeed expect something of his creatures (that we develop according to our own logic), He does not, in fact, demand anything, or rather, He asks nothing more than His gift already asks, thanks to the simple fact that it is given: [namely,] to be received. In the case of man, that reception does not require anything but humanity.

By widening the historical lens, Brague also reminds us that the Western accomplishment of distinguishing in both theory and practice between religious authority and political authority, sacerdotium and regnum, was in fact a Christian accomplishment, which in turn drew on ancient Jewish convictions about the dangers inherent in the idolatry of the political. Without question, both the European wars of religion and the Enlightenment played crucial roles in creating the modern political forms by which we acknowledge the distinction between religious and political authority. But the arguments for such a distinction had been made long before, and in explicitly theological terms, by Augustine, Aquinas, and many others standing in the biblical tradition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

'Like hearing a well-dressed boardwalk preacher shouting that the world will end at midnight'

So USC is threatening to leave the crumbling Coliseum for the beautiful Rose Bowl unless they are offered a more favorable deal. I pray the Trojans do not come to call Pasadena home; that is our house, even if we couldn't beat hapless Notre Dame there. Weighing in on the likelihood of this happening, Bill Plaschke nails it with an apocalyptic analogy:
Hearing USC's threat to move its football team from the Coliseum to the Rose Bowl is like hearing a well-dressed boardwalk preacher shouting that the world will end at midnight.

You walk past, you shake your head, you know it's baloney.

But later that night, if only for a moment, you quietly check your watch.

Gangster Jews and the bid to defy weakness

A few weeks ago, I finished reading "Blood Relation," Eric Konigsberg's fascinating account of the mobster life of Uncle Heshy. The author's family was Jewish, so the murdering and racketeering of his uncle, Harold "Kayo" Konigsberg, was sort of frowned upon.

But, then again, Jewish mobsters have always had a taboo appeal -- think Murder Inc., Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky.

Barney Frank, a Massachusetts congressman who grew up with Kayo, voices this sentiment.
"We loved the fact that he was one of us. I mean, here's a guy who had -- you know, he wasn't just an accountant like Meyer Lansky. I remember teasing one of your father's cousins about him. She'd get upset, but most of the Jewish kids I knew were sort of worshipful of Kayo."
Anyway, the LA Daily News ran a story today from the Chronicles of Jewish mobsters. Only, this one, written by Tony Castro (Luke Ford's source on the Mayor Villaraigosa marriage split), is about a gangster who survived the Holocaust before getting caught up in organized crime.

"Spielberg! You've got to get me Spielberg!" Paul Gelb slurred as he bit off the words with the insistence of a Hollywood studio head.

"Spielberg has to come here. If he's a good Jew, he'll come here to see me. Do you know if he speaks Yiddish?

"And I need to talk to a rabbi. I'd like that. But a rabbi who speaks Yiddish.

"I need to see both of them before I die, ... and I'm dying."

But then, Gelb, 83, has been dying since he was 15 and was sent to a series of Nazi concentration camps with his family.

He survived the Holocaust, which is why he is so insistent this day on seeing director Steven Spielberg, who has created an archive of living testimony of survivors in the wake of his Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List."

"I'll bet you," Gelb says, "that Spielberg doesn't have a story like mine."

That's because to survive in America, Gelb became involved with the Mafia, running New York strip joints and a money-skimming operation that ultimately landed him in a California federal prison in the 1990s.


For Gelb, the ultimate irony was having survived a Nazi concentration camp to wind up half a century later in a minimum-security federal prison camp in California, where he was inmate 10945-054, according to a federal report.

"There were no bars, no fences there, no gas chambers, no ovens," he says. "Some people tried to compare my experience in a concentration camp and prison, and I told them, `Don't even try to compare it. One was hell on Earth.' Prison wasn't heaven, but I'm not ready to go there yet, anyway!"

Christians who haven't seen the movies or read the books they profess to be evil

The "controversy" -- and I use that word very lightly -- over the unholy nature of "The Golden Compass" is heating up nicely.

Thought Harry Potter was blasphemous? That was kids' stuff compared to the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, in which God is an imposter, angels are sexually ambiguous and the Church kidnaps, tortures and assassinates to achieve its goals, one of which is stealing children's souls.

But try as the filmmakers might to take religion out of the equation in the first installment — "The Golden Compass," due December 7 — Christian groups are gearing up to protest and fans are urging New Line not to water down the provocative material in remaining films.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which most recently protested a picture of Britney Spears sitting provocatively in a priest's lap — the image appears in her new album, Blackout — takes this issue a little more seriously. The anti-defamation group accuses the film of "selling atheism to kids" and has produced its own booklet in response, "The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked," which it's been distributing to churches and other Christian groups.

The evangelical-activist group Focus on the Family, which plans to release a statement about the film early next week, says it's in agreement with Christian leaders and organizations on the issue. Adam Holz, associate editor of Focus on the Family's Plugged In magazine, told MTV News he fears the movie would "plant seeds" to "ultimately encourage some fans to reject God."

Also,, which typically debunks urban legends, claims that the assertion that the film has "anti-religious" themes is "true."
If the controversy economy remains strong, I might actually end up seeing this flick. The funny thing is that most those criticizing the movie won't.

Here, Religion News Service talks to a bunch of parents who are afraid the anti-religious movie will kidnap their kids' minds if not souls, and Bruce Tomaso of the DMN religion blog responds with three thoughts that just as easily could have been in reference to "Harry Potter":

1. I was struck by the fact that none of the people in the story who criticize the movie have seen it.

2. There is far more crap than wholesome entertainment produced by Hollywood, and one movie, more or less, isn't going to tip the balance appreciably.

3. I seriously doubt that watching "The Chronicles of Narnia" produced a single new Christian, and I doubt that watching this movie will turn anyone into an atheist.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Hook-nosed, bloodstained Jews out to trick peaceful Arabs at Annapolis summit'

This is from my colleague Dennis Wilen, who runs and the blog Funny, you don't look bloggish:

OK, Olmert says it's no big deal the Saudis and their pals won't 'shake hands' with the Jews at the conference; at least they won't be trotting out shopworn stereotypes about conniving Jews hoodwinking the Arab world and the international community, right?

Or will they?

Yes they will, according to this batch of editorial cartoons from Mideast newspapers compiled by the Anti-Defamation League.
There was obviously far more from today's peace conference. Start here with the Jerusalem Post's home page. The liberal daily Haaretz also has wall-to-wall coverage, and American papers like the Washington Post and NY Times did their thing.

Now, let's see where this goes ...

Romney doesn't want a Muslim Cabinet official

Like I've said here and here andhere and here and here and here and etc., Americans have become far to fixated on religious representation in politics. From the blog that tells us all about God talk on the presidential campaign trail:
Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate most disadvantaged by his personal religious faith, said earlier this month that "based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified."

"But of course," Romney continued. "I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

You can read all about Romney's remarks today's Christian Science Monitor, in a not-to-be-missed op-ed by Mansoor Ijaz, a Muslim investor who asked Romney about Muslim appointees at a fundraiser earlier this month. Here's the Romney team's response.

Ijaz does a perfectly good job refuting Romney himself, so God-o-Meter will only state the obvious. How can a presidential candidate whose Mormon faith accounts for just 2-percent of the American population rule out a Muslim in his cabinet on the basis that Islam has too few American adherents?

Borat does Poland

Well, apparently American cultural phenomenons arrive in Poland quite late. But it's still comical to think of a half-naked irreverent Jewish comedian flaunting it on a billboard above an old Communist building.

I plugged the text into InterTran and it came up with this: "wherebyprzez co ubaw, this when armpits."

Thanks to David A. Lehrer, father of Jonah and president of Community Advocates Inc., for snapping the photo.

Hamsters as symbols of anti-Semitism?

The Philadelphia Weekly messed up on this cover image for it's holiday gift guide.

The only rodent in the entire spread is the critter on the cover.

Tim Whitaker, editor of PW, said that "it never occurred to us" that the front page could have been seen as offensive. Originally, he said, the idea was to use the dog on the sleigh as the lead image -- that is, until the hamster one was presented.

That animal is the pet of Liz Spikol, the newspaper's senior contributing editor.

Spikol said that once it was decided to have "cuteness" as the theme for this year's guide, cute animals came to mind. She immediately thought of her male hamster, whose name is, coincidentally, Tinsel, and whom she described as "super cute."

But why dress him as an Orthodox Jew? Why the overtly Jewish symbols to highlight the least religious of the religion's holidays?

Spikol said that the paper's art director created the "hat ensemble" for Tinsel to wear; it was geared to be "more graphically appealing" and "to make it readable as a Jewish observance."

She added that, as a Jew herself, she doesn't find the image offensive, and she doesn't "understand why Orthodoxy would be offensive."

"I just thought it was a fun image in context of our theme," said Spikol.

A rodent as a symbol for the Jew has a long and notorious history, which becomes apparent even if you do a rudimentary search on the Internet.

Nazi propaganda throughout the 1930s -- films, posters and other images -- depicted Jews as rats and other vermin; the point was to portray Jews as subhuman creatures who were unclean and in need of extermination.

The rodent family is a large and varied class of animals, replied Spikol. There is a huge difference, she added, between a rat and a hamster -- and hamsters, she said, were never used in Nazi propaganda.

Despite Spikol's reasoning, some are upset with the cover.

"Where did your art director receive her training?" wrote Solomon Moses in an angry letter he sent to PW and then forwarded to the Exponent. "At the Heinrich Himmler Academy of Design?"

(Hat tip: Bintel Blog)

'Abortion isn't a religious issue'

Gary Wills, whose book "Head and Heart: American Christianities" was just published, recently had an opinion piece in the LA Times arguing that "abortion isn't a religious issue."
But is abortion murder? Most people think not. Evangelicals may argue that most people in Germany thought it was all right to kill Jews. But the parallel is not valid. Killing Jews was killing persons. It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons. Not even evangelicals act as if it were. If so, a woman seeking an abortion would be the most culpable person. She is killing her own child. But the evangelical community does not call for her execution.

About 10% of evangelicals, according to polls, allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. But the circumstances of conception should not change the nature of the thing conceived. If it is a human person, killing it is punishing it for something it had nothing to do with. We do not kill people because they had a criminal parent.

Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial. That was never the practice. And no wonder. The subject of abortion is not scriptural. For those who make it so central to religion, this seems an odd omission. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments -- or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount -- or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.
What surprises me is not that Wills, who is Catholic, believes abortion doesn't constitute murder, but that the LA Times would publish such an ancient argument and couch it as a fresh opinion. Wills' position is one of two long held on abortion: either life begins at conception and abortion is murder or fetuses are not yet people so it's permissable.

Also just because the church had a history of doing things one way or because 10 percent of evangelicals would allow abortion under certain circumstances doesn't mean they are in line or out of line with Christian teaching.

Wills is certainly an accomplished author and historian (I can only hope to be so lucky one day); it's just that I find this argument so weak and the topic so stale. For a more compelling read on choice, look to Dan Neil.

And let me know not whether you think abortion is a religious issue, but whether it should be.

(Hat tip: DMN religion blog)

$100 Chanukah gelt box

No joke.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Peace: Now or never?

Regarding the Annapolis peace summit, which will be held tomorrow, Time magazine reports:
When Middle East adversaries meet in Annapolis this week, will it be a peace conference, or rather a conference that ends all peace? Nearly 60 years since the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli conflict, that may well be the stark choice that awaits the conference's participants.

Doomsday predictions, of course, have long been a staple of Middle East commentary. Every negotiation seems to be the "last chance" for peace. Every crisis seems to threaten the outbreak of a major war, if not the great apocalypse. But there's reason to pay attention to the warnings this time. The 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel planted the seed for resolving the core of the conflict: the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Arab territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. But if the Annapolis conference fails to provide urgently needed nourishment, the two-state solution and its hope of peace may die forever.

'Personal foul, 69, offense; he was giving him the business'

Is this for real!?!

Friedlander's Holocaust memories

Saul Friedlånder, whom some have called a genius, has written an acclaimed two-volume tome on the Holocaust. It's a personal story for Friedlander, and one I'm eager to read, whenever I can carve out the time for some 1,360 pages.

Recently honored with Germany's highest literary award, the Holocaust orphan and UCLA professor was interviewed in Frankfurt by the LA Weekly. Not that revealing, but nonetheless:
You went from fighting with the Irgun [a quasi-terrorist Zionist paramilitary group] to joining the Israeli movement Peace Now. Many Germans feel inhibited when discussing Israel’s behavior vis-à-vis the Palestinians, while others believe that embracing Palestinian rights masks a latent anti-Semitism. What’s your take?

What you’re talking about is more pronounced in Great Britain or France than in Germany. Criticism is legitimate. But what bothers me at times is a shrillness that gives you a feeling that it is not only based on an analysis of policy but on some deeper emotions — I don’t want to say hatred — which comes through acceptable political pretext.

What did the fall of the Berlin Wall add to Holocaust research?

A lot. The opening of Soviet archives gave us an enormous amount of new material because they were keeping for themselves a lot of German documents. Of course, it also exposed the tendency to say, “Look, we spoke enough about Nazis, now let’s see about the second barbarian system in the world, communism and communist dictatorship.” They are so concentrated on their own dictatorship experience that the past before that is already ancient history. It is often a kind of unintentional layering of the other past. So the answer is that you have to study this and you have to study that. You can’t replace one with the other.

I hear people say that if fascism ever came back to Germany, it would target the Muslims and not the Jews. Do you agree?

Well, it will not come again to Germany. Of that, I am almost sure. But it’s true there’s a kind of xenophobia and hatred, possibly more in the former East Germany than in the West, of minorities coming in, mainly from Turkey.

Do you think the U.S. is embracing fascism?

No. That’s Philip Roth’s book The Plot Against America, where Lindbergh was a metaphor, I think, for President Bush. I like Roth a lot and I am critical of the U.S. as well, but that’s much too overstated.
For more from the LA Weekly's Holocaust files, there is a story in the paper this week about accusations that famed Los Angeles author Charles Bukowski was a Nazi. Sunday, LA Times book editor David L. Ulin says he was just a bad writer.

Quote of the day

"Seventy-eight percent of all statistics are made up by pastors on the spot."
-- The Rev. Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian said that during his sermon last night.

My chance at stardom

Jonah Hill got the cover of Heeb magazine this fall, but it looks like I could have had it if I had played my cards right.

Jewfro -- check
Comic foil appeal -- check
Lumberjack beard -- check ... wait ... just shaved ... uncheck
Lubed bagel -- ummm, pass

More significantly, Hill says he met his sort-of sugar daddy Seth Rogen while sitting behind him during "The Life Aquatic" at The Grove. I was at that movie, at that theater, but probably not on the same night.

Oh well. I hated "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" anyway.

(For those doubting my cred, check out my "dancing" in N.E.R.D.'s "Rockstar" video.)

'Giving makes you rich'

This week I am going to try to post some of the stories I've had sitting in the queue for a little while. This piece from Portfolio is apt for the holiday season and plays into the idea of the prosperity gospel, meaning that the more you give, the more God gives you.
In John Bunyan’s 1684 classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Old Honest poses this riddle to the innkeeper Gaius: “A man there was, tho’ some did count him mad, / The more he cast away, the more he had.” Gaius solves the riddle thus: “He that bestows his Goods upon the Poor / Shall have as much again, and ten times more.”

Less poetically, the idea is this: Giving makes you rich. A lovely sentiment, to be sure, but quite backward-sounding to an economist. You obviously have to have money before you can give it away, right? Or in the pithy words of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions—he had money too.”

Well, it turns out that Gaius was right, and new economic research backs him up.
The rest of the article by economist Arthur C. Brooks reads somewhat like a balance sheet, but in it he explains that people aren't just giving more because they make more, but that evidence shows people give more before they become wealthier. In essence, the egg is laying the chicken.

This is a good thing, and a good reminder that charity does pay (oddly, it appears, literally). There could be a biblical explanation for this: If you give your resources back to God, He will reward you with even more.

But the gospel of wealth, something televangelists love to trumpet, takes this too far. Yes, I believe God wants us to give back (at least 10 percent), and yes, I have faith that I will never be fully without means (though I'm uncomfortable with the idea of being rich in spirit and poor in the world). But there is a difference between a place to sleep and a house in the Hollywood Hills. The church is not an investment plan.
Ole E. Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation in Dallas, a televangelist watchdog, said he knew people who had given the last of their savings to TV preachers, hoping for a windfall that never came.

"The people on TBN are living the lifestyle of fabulous wealth on the backs of the poorest and most desperate people in our society," Anthony said. "People have lost their faith in God because they believe they weren't worthy after not receiving their financial blessing."

Thomas D. Horne, of Williford, Ark., a disabled Vietnam-era veteran, said that in 1994 he was swept away by the rhetoric of TBN pastors and donated about $6,000 in disability benefits.

Time went by and he did not receive the promised surfeit of money. Last year, he found out that TBN had purchased a Newport Beach mansion overlooking the Pacific. He wrote to the network, asking for his money back.

"I want to recoup my hard-earned disability money I sent to these despicable people," said Horne. He said he has received no reply.

Philip McPeake is another donor for whom God's economy of giving did not deliver. Out of work and out of luck in November 1998, McPeake heard the Rev. R.W. Schambach make an impassioned plea for donations on TBN's Kansas City television station, KTAJ.

Schambach promised that if viewers sent $200 as a down payment on a $2,000 pledge, God would give them the rest within 90 days - with a bonus to follow.

McPeake sent in his money and waited for his luck to change. When it didn't, he complained to the Missouri state attorney general's office and the Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites). TBN refunded his donation.
To see how the gospel of wealth can support the luxurious living of those at the top, read this and this.
"Mansions, big planes, money, fame. That's what it's all about now," said the Rev. Hector Gomez, a former Without Walls staff member who left in 2000. "There are prophets for God, and there are prophets for profit. That's the category they fit in."


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saving Israel from Annapolis

Robert Avrech at Seraphic Secret has posted an impassioned piece about saving Israel from the Israeli prime minister and the peace summit he will attend with Arab leaders Monday.

Annapolis is coming up tomorrow and a stew of Judenrein Arab countries are going to show up in order to pressure Israel to, well, cease to exist.

Yep, let's face it, that is the end game.

Look, our friends the Saudis won't even shake hands with Jews. Now that's how to negotiate. And the left are so desperate for petro-approval they are willing to hand over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, expel something like 85,000 Jews from their homes, hey Gaza Redux, that worked out really well, and offer citizenship to like a zillion jihadist Arabs—all for a handshake, and some vague promises of recognition.

Gee, what a bargain.

If I was offered a deal like that in Hollywood—I'd fire my agent.

No handshake to the infidel Jooz. Not surprising from a country—well not really a country—more like a massively corrupt family corporation that officially does not allow Jews to set foot on its soil, and soaks its people in the most ghastly Jew-hatred imaginable.

But the Saudis have a peace plan.

These people who condemn a gang rape victim to be whipped .

Yes, we're supposed to listen to their geo-political wisdom.

Who else is coming to Annapolis?


Oh goody. Now there's a model of state craft. Not a Jew left in Algeria. You know why? Because after the blood-soaked Algerian revolution against France the Muslims murdered or expelled the entire ancient Algerian Jewish community. Any reparations ever paid for property and money stolen?

You have to be kidding.

Who else is coming to Annapolis?

He goes on to discuss Yemen, Syria and Sudan, and suggests that PM Ehud Olmert "can be counted on to give away everything but a strategic coffee shop or two in Tel Aviv."

Regardless of what Olmert offers, it's unlikely he or his equally unpopular Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, can implement anything.

On my employment at The Jewish Journal *

There have been a flurry of comments here lately attacking The "Jewish" Journal for employing a Christian to write about Judaism. The comments, which are coming from a few people, don't bother me. I have no delusions regarding my insider-outsider role in the LA Jewish community. But they warrant some clarification.

1. I was not hired to educate Jewish people about Judaism. Amy Klein, our religion editor, reports on that. I cover stories that affect the Jewish community, but often are more about Jewishness than Judaism. Think Commentary incarnate.

2. Secondly, Judaism is not a monolith. Particularly in the United States. And while I don't stake a claim to being a religious Jew, the ethnic history of the Jewish people is as much my family's story as it is for most other Jews.

3. I am not at The Jewish Journal to fulfill a Christian mission.

Because many of these comments have come from anonymous users, I have adjusted the settings to only allow comments from registered users. (Sorry, Siamang. I always appreciate your insights and hope you'll register.)

Additionally, I'd like to ask that comments remain germane to the post they are augmenting. If the business ethics of Thomas Kinkade spur you to write a nasty letter about how out of touch the JJ is with the Jewish community, please send it to

* Update: LAObserved linked to this post this morning, and when I read it I felt like I had left something out. So I sent Kevin Roderick this addendum:
One thing I probably should have added is that most people in the Jewish community are not concerned with my religious affiliation. It strikes many as a bit odd -- indeed, The Forward interviewed me about it for a Q&A this summer -- but, as a journalist would expect, most of the people I interact with are more concerned with the relevancy and accuracy of my reporting than with where I pray. For a few others, my employment has been an itchy scab.

'Only positive thing about Hitler's time on earth'

Whether we print journalists like it or not, we bloggers are here to stay. Here, Bill Conlin, a sportwriters for the Philadelphia Daily News, makes the mistake of trading ugly e-mails with a blogger.
The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth -- I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers.
Bad call Bill on any Nazi nostalgia. He continues:
In Colonial times, bloggers were called “Pamphleteers.” They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO. Shakespeare accidentally summed up the genre best with these words from a MacBeth soliloquy: “. . .a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. . .”

Time to hang the Christmas lights

Not for me, because there are scant places to string lights outside an apartment. But I know it is that time of year because "National Lampoon's: Christmas Vacation" was on TV all weekend. Let me know if you pull off a light show like this.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's not about ethics, it's business

Everyone's favorite Jewish ice cream entrepreneurs, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield -- yes, that Ben and Jerry -- are currently locked up in a bitter battle with soured franchisees.

No religion angle here, except the shirt shopowner Alan Sherman is wearing in Newsweek's photo (right). But this reminds me of a story I wrote last year about accusations that Thomas Kinkade, the self-styled "Painter of Light," had used his Christian faith to defraud investors.
Controversy has surrounded Kinkade for the past four years, after stock of the company he took public (Media Arts Group) plummeted from a high of $23 a share to less than $3. In 2004, he bought the company back at about $4 a share. Kinkade is now the sole owner.

His paintings are known for their vibrant colors and idyllic settings, their country cottages, chilly creeks, and glowing clouds. "The critics may not endorse me," the artist told CT in 2000. "But I own the hearts of the people."

Individual investors run some 500 Kinkade galleries worldwide, with the overwhelming majority in the United States. Signature Galleries, which sell only Kinkade art, cost upwards of $50,000 to open. Media Arts Group required that new owners attend a training conference called "Thomas Kinkade University." Yatooma said this is where his clients drank "the Kinkade Kool-Aid."

"Thomas Kinkade University had a revival-like atmosphere. They would close in prayer and join together in worship. Everybody would leave with their head spinning—now sign the dotted line," Yatooma said. "They thought they were going to make money by sharing the light."
Other investors told me that was nonsense, "comical" even, because they opened Kinkade galleries to make money, not spread the gospel. Which reminds me of that Mafioso axiom: It's not personal, it's business.

Two side notes:

According to my friends at Reel Intelligence, Kinkade's inspirations may soon be, ehem, gracing, the big screen. Or, because the movie is "Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas" and a release date has yet to be set, maybe they won't.

Anyway, my favorite flavor is far and away Half Baked.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nice try Rudy, but you're no Jewliani

Loyal readers know I'm no fan of Rudy Giuliani. Sure he has been masterful at bridging the divide between liberal New Yorkers and social conservatives, both of whom agree the Republican front-runner is scarier them President Bush. And though Catholic, Giuliani has been trying to play up his Jewishness. But I'm not the only one not buying this schlock.
According to Ken Kurson, a top Giuliani aide, if Bill Clinton was considered America's "first Black president," then Giuliani would be the first Jewish one.

While Giuliani did make an appearance on Seinfeld, and although one could argue that for years his comb-over served as a decent makeshift yarmulke, he screwed up a key component of being Jewish: We want to marry our mothers not our cousins.

Vatican ambassador on Israel: 'Better when there were no diplomatic relations'

The Vatican's former ambassador to Israel has some frank words about his faith in relations with the Jewish state.
Italians have a wonderful phrase they use when things don’t work out as they had hoped: “It was better when it was worse.”

That was the thrust of controversial comments about the Catholic Church’s relations with Israel by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, currently the Vatican’s nuncio (ambassador) to the United States and formerly the papal envoy to the Jewish state.

Sambi, who was nuncio in Israel from 1998-2005, could not have been clearer about his discontent: “If I must be frank, relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were no diplomaticrelations.”

He goes on in a long interview with www., an Italian on-line publication of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. FaithWorld has more of his opinions in English.

I want to pause here and note how easy it would be to turn this into a watershed moment for Catholic-Jewish relations, a revert back to 1960 or, worse, 1492. Sambi, it seems, is not trying to incite a pogrom or propagating the blood libel. He is reflecting on his experience with the Israeli government. (Yes, this is certainly questionable timing considering the peace summit at Annapolis next week.)

The Catholic culture regarding Jews has significantly improved during the last two papacies. Pope John Paul II was, of course, beloved by Jewish leaders, not least for his memorable visit in 2000 to Israel and the Western Wall. The German-born Pope Benedict XVI, who served in the Hitler Youth, also has proven a better friend of world Jewry than many expected.

The concious rock

I have been fascinated by the relationship between neuroscience and the existence of God since reading Jonah Lehrer's "Proust was a Neuroscientist." Sunday, the New York Times added to this inner dialogue my mind has been having with the self. The article was titled "Mind of a Rock," and, no, it was not a profile of, say, Keanu Reeves.
How could the electrochemical processes in the lump of gray matter that is our brain give rise to — or, even more mysteriously, be — the dazzling technicolor play of consciousness, with its transports of joy, its stabs of anguish and its stretches of mild contentment alternating with boredom? This has been called “the most important problem in the biological sciences” and even “the last frontier of science.” It engrosses the intellectual energies of a worldwide community of brain scientists, psychologists, philosophers, physicists, computer scientists and even, from time to time, the Dalai Lama.

So vexing has the problem of consciousness proved that some of these thinkers have been driven to a hypothesis that sounds desperate, if not downright crazy. Perhaps, they say, mind is not limited to the brains of some animals. Perhaps it is ubiquitous, present in every bit of matter, all the way up to galaxies, all the way down to electrons and neutrinos, not excluding medium-size things like a glass of water or a potted plant. Moreover, it did not suddenly arise when some physical particles on a certain planet chanced to come into the right configuration; rather, there has been consciousness in the cosmos from the very beginning of time.

The doctrine that the stuff of the world is fundamentally mind-stuff goes by the name of panpsychism. A few decades ago, the American philosopher Thomas Nagel showed that it is an inescapable consequence of some quite reasonable premises. First, our brains consist of material particles. Second, these particles, in certain arrangements, produce subjective thoughts and feelings. Third, physical properties alone cannot account for subjectivity. (How could the ineffable experience of tasting a strawberry ever arise from the equations of physics?) Now, Nagel reasoned, the properties of a complex system like the brain don’t just pop into existence from nowhere; they must derive from the properties of that system’s ultimate constituents. Those ultimate constituents must therefore have subjective features themselves — features that, in the right combinations, add up to our inner thoughts and feelings. But the electrons, protons and neutrons making up our brains are no different from those making up the rest of the world. So the entire universe must consist of little bits of consciousness.

Nagel himself stopped short of embracing panpsychism, but today it is enjoying something of a vogue.


If you are poetically inclined, you might think of the rock as a purely contemplative being. And you might draw the moral that the universe is, and always has been, saturated with mind, even though we snobbish Darwinian-replicating latecomers are too blinkered to notice.

'Seinfeld' auditions

Because of the writers' strike, which may or may not be a Jewish issue, there have been no new episodes of the Daily Show or Leno or Conan. So here's one from the Conan O'Brien archives.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Is there really a superior race?

Last month, James Watson, the legendary biologist, was condemned and forced into retirement after claiming that African intelligence wasn't "the same as ours." "Racist, vicious and unsupported by science," said the Federation of American Scientists. "Utterly unsupported by scientific evidence," declared the U.S. government's supervisor of genetic research. The New York Times told readers that when Watson implied "that black Africans are less intelligent than whites, he hadn't a scientific leg to stand on."

I wish these assurances were true. They aren't.
Gulp. Those are two powerful yet common words. And, man, Slate's William Saletan has some chutzpah for being able to write such a politically uncomfortable, if not incorrect, article. But facts are facts. And Saletan has sort of been down this road before with 'Jewgenics.'
More importantly, he isn't using this as a platform to bash blacks.

Tests do show an IQ deficit, not just for Africans relative to Europeans, but for Europeans relative to Asians. Economic and cultural theories have failed to explain most of the pattern, and there's strong preliminary evidence that part of it is genetic. It's time to prepare for the possibility that equality of intelligence, in the sense of racial averages on tests, will turn out not to be true. If this suggestion makes you angry—if you find the idea of genetic racial advantages outrageous, socially corrosive, and unthinkable—you're not the first to feel that way.
He relates the mental-visceral struggle over racial genetics to the challenges Christians faced a century ago as Darwin's theory of evolution became the scientific standard.

Evolution forced Christians to bend or break. They could insist on the Bible's literal truth and deny the facts, as Bryan did. Or they could seek a subtler account of creation and human dignity. Today, the dilemma is yours. You can try to reconcile evidence of racial differences with a more sophisticated understanding of equality and opportunity. Or you can fight the evidence and hope it doesn't break your faith.

I'm for reconciliation. Later this week, I'll make that case. But if you choose to fight the evidence, here's what you're up against. Among white Americans, the average IQ, as of a decade or so ago, was 103. Among Asian-Americans, it was 106. Among Jewish Americans, it was 113. Among Latino Americans, it was 89. Among African-Americans, it was 85. Around the world, studies find the same general pattern: whites 100, East Asians 106, sub-Sarahan Africans 70.
The article continues with more studies, more evidence and an explanation. It gets a bit boring at that point, especially because I couldn't stop wondering whether God would actually not create all men equally. Maybe.

The Bible states that we are made in God's image, but we are all different-- physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. -- so clearly there is no standard. I just don't know the answer to this.

Today, Saletan offered his third article on this topic, a breakdown of what the evidence of intellectual inequality teaches us and what we can do to close the gap.

Don't tell me those Nigerian babies aren't cognitively disadvantaged. Don't tell me it isn't genetic. Don't tell me it's God's will. And in the age of genetic modification, don't tell me we can't do anything about it.

No, we are not created equal. But we are endowed by our Creator with the ideal of equality, and the intelligence to finish the job.