Sister Novena's PortaPulpit
freedom, liberalism, movies, and truth

Saturday, December 25, 2004
Beat It Like A Guvmint Yule

Back on Halloween, regular readers will recall, I called for the screwing of Christmas on the grounds that there was "plenty of time for that later." Of course, it now is later -- which is to say Christmas -- so I guess the time for a discussion on the subject is at hand.

The great thing about Christmas is that it really can be everything to everyone.No matter what your current political / philosophical / theological / spiritual obsession is, Christmas has got the goods. The flip side of that coin, of course, is that everybody comes to Christmas with an agenda. And I, gracious reader, am no different.

I don't generally post about my own religious opinions on this blog -- strange, I know, for someone who advertises themselves as a "sister" and identifies with the image of a stern-looking nun. Not long ago I even had a commenter doubt the veracity of my nun-fu... someone actually came here an insinuated that I might not, in fact, be an actual nun. (And to him I say, I've been nunning myself out for some years now; "to whom" is a question that is readily answered on this page if you will only open your eyes and see.)

But it's been a hard holiday for folks like me -- the conservative howl of victimization this year was about the deeply offensive way in which some people prefer to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." (Yes, that's the whole controversy. I know, it's crazy. That's modern America for you -- and old America as well, apparently.) Down here in the darkest south, one of the more common seasonal platitudes is, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Thing is, I'm not so sure he really is.

Think about it: Christmas existed long before Jesus came on the scene (albeit by a different name.) Whether you favor Saturnalia or Yule as the more likely proto-Christmas (looks like a bit of both to me), it's readily apparent that there isn't a whole lot about Christmas that wasn't already happening before the Christ part came into play. Oh, sure, there's all that nativity stuff -- virgin birth, magi, shepherds tending their sheep by night, wandering star, etc. etc. etc. -- but all of that's pretty demonstrably false (unless you're a fundie, in which case I'll leave you to your destructive delusions if you'll leave me to mine.) Virgin births, of course, were all the rage in the centuries and millenia preceding Jesus' birth; one of the major hallmarks of the modern era is the decided lack of miraculous virgin births -- might explain why we don't have real heroes anymore, since a virgin birth has always been de rigeur for any self-respecting god-among-men. But I digress.

No, I think that generally speaking, Jesus isn't, and never has been, the main "reason for the season," except in the fevered imaginations of his purported "followers." He's our current excuse, and not bad as an excuse for a party goes, but people were doing Christmas long before anyone had ever heard of either Christ or mass. Even the early Christians didn't celebrate Christmas; that was one of Constantine's ideas. It's not that I don't value the Jesus part of the holiday -- it's actually one of my favorite elements of the psychodrama that is our modern Christmas. It's just that, for me, the image of baby Jesus as part-time manipulative image and full-time lamb-to-the-slaughter doesn't do justice to the beauty of the nativity. I have never been able to stomach the ripped-flesh, Mel Gibson suffering Christ; I don't comprehend the view that looks only at the beginning and end of Jesus' life, but never at anything in between.

For me, Christmas is largely a reflection on one thing: Jesus as a representation of all of humanity. The nativity and its associations -- the angels, the wise men, the adoration, the hope and promise of grace contained in a new life -- is the kind of beginning that every newborn baby deserves, even if only one was ever deemed worthy by the theologians. And every newborn baby -- and thus every person everywhere -- ultimately contains the same potential. Jesus was an expression of the divinity that resides in every one of us; Christmas, therefore, is about recognizing the value not only of our own lives, but of the lives of everyone else as well. Peace on earth, good will to men, for on this day a child is born unto you, lying in a pile of rubble in someplace like Fallujah or Gaza or Mogadishu...

I know, I know... that's a pretty liberal interpretation. But Jesus was the first liberal, and it's high time those of us who still care about the things he cared about -- whether we consider ourselves Christians or not -- started to point that out. Fortunately, lots of people are doing exactly that -- Sojourners, a slew of progressive religious authors, even Thomas Jefferson and Kurt Vonnegut have a few words to add:

How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

Anyway, that's what I think. And I promise, no more religion on this blog for a long time (unless it's to ridicule fundamentalists, which I can never resist.) I'm going to bed now, to wake up tomorrow and open presents in the name of Jesus.


PS: Thanks to Dave and others for tipping me to several of the sources cited in this post.
1:40 AM ::
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Thursday, December 23, 2004
God Bless Us, Every One

Sorry if the blog's a bit slow for a few days... it's Christmas, after all.

Happy Holidays to everybody, everywhere. Even George Fucking W. Bush.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004
A Lump Of Coal For George

Last year's "early Christmas present" was pulling Saddam from a hole; it was supposed to be the end of the insurgency, according to supporters of the war.

This year's early Christmas present is a mess-tent bomb that killed 22:

"I can't hear! I can't hear!" one female soldier cried as a friend hugged her.

Near the front entrance to the chow hall, troops tended a soldier with a gaping head wound. Within minutes, they zipped him into a black body bag. Three more bodies were in the parking lot then.

Soldiers scrambled back into the hall to check for more wounded. The explosions blew out a huge hole in the roof of the tent. Puddles of bright red blood, lunch trays and overturned tables and chairs covered the floor.

(source)


Of course, the Iraqis have been getting christmas presents like this for going on two years now...

It's going to be a bad Christmas for an awful lot of people.
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Monday, December 20, 2004
Bush's Baby

Newly Obtained FBI Records Call Defense Department's Methods "Torture," Express Concerns Over "Cover-Up" That May Leave FBI "Holding the Bag" for Abuses

NEW YORK -- A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.

"These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers."

(...)

The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

(source)


If there is one silver lining to our loss in 2004, it's that Bush now owns all the messes he's spent four years making. The shitty economy, the totalitarian leanings of the creeping religious right, the many sprouting scandals (Plame, Ohio, Kerik, DeLay, etc. ), and the twin disasters that are the war on terror and the war in Iraq (and their sub-disaster, the shameful lack of practical support for the military)-- it's all his now. They can't blame it on Clinton anymore, they can't stick Kerry with the tab, their attempts to blame the Democrats are a visibly pathetic attempt to deflect blame when they control all three branches of government. The reason high-ranking Republicans are starting to come out against the Bush administration is that they've caught the whiff of approaching disgrace, and they want to establish credible deniability for themselves and their respective roles in what's been happening under their watch.

You remember a few days ago I predicted that Rumsfeld would be out of the administration within a year? That's becoming a more likely possibility with every passing day. But the torture tarbaby's already got Gee Dubya in its grasp, and even Rumsfeld's departure isn't going to remove the sticky residue of Bush's foray into the pursuit of hearts and minds. No, I don't think this email is going to change everything, but it does point to the underlying reality: it was never a matter of a few bad apples, the guys at the top knew what was up. The stink coming from the White House is so strong I can smell it from Memphis.

Ten years from now you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who ever supported Bush.

PS: Here's the actual email in question (pdf file). Read it for yourself. The methods specifically listed as covered by an executive order signed by Bush -- hooding, sleep deprivation, "stress positions," dogs -- are all understood to be violations of both the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter, both of which the United States has signed; furthermore, those same methods have been characterized as torture by the United States in cases of other countries using them.

George W. Bush is a war criminal.

PS: In related news: FBI Claims More Arab Prisoners Abused.

WASHINGTON -- FBI agents are increasingly complaining about what they consider abusive physical and mental torture by military officials against prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba, including lighted cigarettes stuck in detainees' ears and Arab captives being humiliated with Israeli flags wrapped around them, according to new documents released today.

The FBI records are the latest set of documents obtained by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the federal government and include instances in which bureau officials were disgusted that military interrogators pretended to be FBI agents and used the scheme as a "ruse" to glean intelligence information from prisoners.

In addition, the FBI complained that military interrogators have gone far beyond the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture and have followed an apparently new executive order from President Bush that permits the use of dogs and other techniques to harass prisoners.
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