A Biblical Harold Camping?

Harold Camping expected a spectacular death. He thought he would see horses and towering flames. Instead Harold Camping fell down at home last month at the age of 92 and never got up again.

Judgment Day is upon us, the radio evangelist proclaimed a few years ago, setting May 21, 2011 as the date. All across America, billboards became Camping advertisements for Apocalypse. “Cry mightily unto GOD for HIS Mercy” was one suggestion, “Joy to the World” claimed another. All across the nation, there were Americans who laughed, and those who readied themselves. Camping’s believers stopped paying their credit cards, quit their jobs, said farewell to friends. Some spent their life’s savings in preparation for the End — some spent it on the Rapture campaign itself.

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has… More…

Performance art or pointless?

In the spring of 1914, Mary Wood entered the Royal Academy of Art’s summer exhibition with her shawl and a meat cleaver. Wood, described by news reports as a woman of “distinctively peaceable appearance,” stood in front of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the writer Henry James, took out her cleaver, and hacked the work with three quick swings, shouting, “Votes for women!” This is how the Sun newspaper reported what happened next:

The visitors to the gallery turned suddenly in the direction from which the shout came but were too late to prevent the mischief. They saw a middle-aged woman hacking the picture with a cleaver. The first jab broke the glass and cut the canvas. The second blow damaged the canvas still further, and although the woman was then seized by a detective, she succeeded in delivering a third blow.

Such “mischief” was decried in press reports, even… More…

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I wrote a little essay about Christmas for The Smart Set in December of 2007. It began with the sentence, “In defending Christmas I have nothing to say about Jesus Christ, a terrifying and influential historical figure who, I confess, has had little impact on my life.” An amusing enough line for an atheist with no great hostility to Christianity or any other religion.

Then a funny thing happened. In the intervening years, I became a Catholic. Currently, I go to Mass every morning at Saint Mary’s in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. That “terrifying and influential historical figure” has managed, after all, to have quite an impact on my life. That’s the danger every writer faces. Publish your thoughts for long enough and they will eventually come back to haunt you. This can be painful. But it can be a hot and cleansing pain. We write in order to project our… More…

Or religious propaganda?

This year, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, affords another opportunity to mourn the death of an optimistic, can-do America. America today is hobbled by schism and ineptitude. But then, as the many books about JFK released this year make clear, Camelot wasn’t what it was cracked up to be either. That’s part of the point. In a postmodern age, you can’t look at the world without irony — even when looking back on it. Everything, even our history, seems soiled.

But visit The World of Coca Cola at Pemberton Place in Atlanta for a taste, figuratively and literally, of an un-ironic America. It’s significant that you can’t tell a Coke slogan from 1924 (“Refresh yourself”) from one from 2010 (“Twist the Cap to Refreshment”) and whenever politics gets hinted at it is mostly to underline how apolitical Coca Cola is. Consider: “The Great National Temperance Beverage” (1906)… More…

Shame, shame!

“Lord, give me chastity and self-control — but not yet.” — Prayer of the young Saint Augustine, c.380 A.D.

 

 

The scandals may be coming thick and strong from the Vatican at the moment, but the Church has always waged a losing battle with its own vice-ridden staff. The problem was that transgressions from official policy often began at the top. Fellow priests put one of the first popes, Sixtus III (432-40), on trial for seducing a nun. He was acquitted after quoting from Christ in his defense: “Let you who are without sin cast the first stone.” In the centuries to follow, political skullduggery and a corrupt election process thrust one improbable candidate after another into the position as god-fearing believers looked on in impotent horror. In fact, so many Vicars of Christ have been denounced as… More…

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In the past year I’ve reviewed books on what I thought were diverse topics: the philosophy of time, neurobiology, writing, happiness, mental illness. It turns out they were all about the same subject: how to live. Many of the books thought they had it all figured out. The problem is cell phones! No, wait, it’s our ambition! All we need are fish oils and Vitamin D! Or a hug, how about a hug? And I can’t even count how many of them included the words “money does not make a person happy.” The world does seem to be reordering itself — with or without our permission — and everyone is trying to make sense of it, from philosophers to scientists, theologians to poets.

The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy by Franco Berardi. 192 pages. Semiotext(e). $14.95.

I… More…

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I had a dream, which was not all a dream. James Wood and Zadie Smith were doing battle in the sky. James was in silver armor and upon it the starlight did twinkle so. Zadie was in flowing white gowns. Her face was aglow with what I can only describe as a honey radiance. Still, I could see her freckles, which, I recall, pleased me to no end even as the terrible battle raged on and on. Twice, James smote her a heavy blow. Twice, Zadie raised herself up and hurled herself back upon him with swirling gowns and not an infrequent flash of thigh. Then the heavens went dark again and these two titans were seen to retire, he to one side of the galaxy and she to another. I thought I saw them both smile as the dream dissolved and the reality of a new day roused me… More…

...centuries of relic fervor.

 

 

The veneration of holy relics has long been an easy target for Protestants, atheists, and just about anyone who didn’t fall into the hardcore Catholic fold. Even the Church itself has downplayed the role of relics since the Vatican II reforms in the early 1960s. But odd as it may be, relics are making a comeback. Don’t believe me? You should have witnessed the masses in England who turned out two months ago to pray in front of the bones of St. Therese of Lisieux that were touring the country, or the crowds who gathered to see the bones of Mary Magdalene last month, taken on a U.S. tour by a French monk.

Today we may have health care, the lottery, and recreational drugs to help us get by. But for the typical Christian… More…

What’s the meaning of life? — Alicia Well, I would say it’s to write as many good poems as possible, but that’s way too predictable of me, isn’t it? That statement is true for me, or at least it fits into my own unique equation along with other variables. The meaning of life is different for each person on this planet. People who think of themselves as poets, generally speaking, want to leave a legacy, great or small. We want future generations to read our work, whether it’s one poem or 10 books of poems. Sometimes we project our meaning of life onto other beings:

Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

They didn’t have much trouble teaching the ape to write poems: first they strapped him into the chair, then tied the pencil around his hand (the paper had already been nailed down). Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder… More…

One of many technologies serving one of the world's many Gods.

“Employ these new technologies to make the Gospel known, so that the Good News of God’s infinite love for all people will resound in new ways across our increasingly technological world!”

These could have been the words of Johannes Gutenberg or Billy Graham. In fact, they belong to the current pope, Benedict XVI. He spoke them last month in anticipation of World Social Communication Day, an annual event intended to spread the Good News of God’s infinite love using mass media outlets. The message this year was mostly for the kids: “Young people in particular, I appeal to you: Bear witness to your faith through the digital world!”

Catholics aren’t the only Christians connecting on the Web. When it was created in 2007, GodTube — an alternative to YouTube created for Christians and since renamed tangle — was the fastest-growing website in the U.S. Two years later, it’s… More…