Religious choral music

Kazim here. I know I’ve mentioned before that I sing in the Austin Community Chorus, and that we do a lot of religious music. I did a whole show about justified acknowledgment of religion in art and education a while back. The fact is that historically, MOST classical music (along with other forms of art) was sponsored by the church. So in general, if a song is much more than a hundred years old and has words, there’s a fairly high chance that it will have something to do with Jesus.

This doesn’t stop the music from being very uplifting and well written. A couple of years ago I was doing Bach’s “Saint Matthew Passion,” which ranks high among the best music I’ve ever heard from any era. Of course, the words are in Latin, so it’s easy to just ignore what you’re saying unless you grew up Catholic, which I didn’t.

This season we’re doing a piece called Saint Paul by Felix Mendelssohn. I’m not familiar with very much Mendelssohn. I’ve heard the overture he wrote for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it’s fine. Apparently, this upcoming performance is a fairly big deal. Mendelssohn originally wrote the piece in English but then later translated it back into his native German, and the German version became the standard while the English got lost to history.

Apparently some music historian dug up the original English lyrics and republished it. There have been other translations before, but our concert will feature the world debut of THESE PARTICULAR English lyrics, or something like that. Musicians get excited about the weirdest things.

Anyway, my point in writing this is that I don’t particularly like it. The music doesn’t really do it for me, but singing the English words just makes it generally much more unpleasant. The story is the most tedious kind of apologetics. It is all about how Saint Paul used to persecute Christians, then was blinded and visited by Jesus. He converted to Christianity and then went on to write most of the most awful sexually repressed parts of the Bible. (Okay, that last part isn’t in the piece, it’s just my spin.)

Probably my least favorite passage is when he’s condemning a Christian to death. The basses chant “Stone him to death!” and then the tenors (that’s me) join in “Stone him to death!” and then the altos and then the sopranos, and so everybody is yelling in unison. Frankly, it’s a little bit creepy and uncomfortable. Supposedly it’s about the Jewish power structure persecuting the Christians, but I can’t help flashing forward on the Spanish Inquisition and other acts of atrocity, as well as the modern reconstructionist movement, who ironically want to bring back exactly the punishment that is used to portray Paul as a bad guy. It kind of feels like being part of a lynch mob.

Much of the rest of the piece follows the kind of simpering glurginess that you often hear in praise of Christianity. It’s a lot of “Oh blessed are they who have endured” and even something that goes like (paraphrasing because I don’t have the score) “You are so grand and mysterious that you are beyond our comprehension.” Bleah.

Next season, though, we get Beethoven’s Ninth (Ode to Joy). Now that’s something worth sticking around for.

Mid-week schadenfreude

And another lying fundagelical scumbag goes down! Daniel Thompson ran a video store and online video club called Clean Flix, where people could rent “family friendly” versions of R-rated movies that Thompson had personally edited the sex and profanity out of. Thompson had already raised the ire of Hollywood for possible copyright violations in doing that. Now he’s charged with paying a 14-year-old girl for sex and has further embarrassed his supporters following the discovery of — all together now — a massive stash of porn he kept tucked away in his “family friendly” store. Police are now investigating whether the whole Clean Flix thing was a bogus front for distributing porn all along.

Chuckle along with the video report here.

Update: It gets nastier. According to the news item on IMDb, Thompson allegedly told one of the girls (there were two) that he and a buddy are charged with raping that “his business was actually a cover for a pornography studio and asked them to participate in making a porn movie.” Awesome.

Nothing but liars

Those of you who were, like me, children of the 80’s might remember that song by Thompson Twins: “Lies lies lies yeah…” Here it is in all its 80’s cheesy retro glory. With a chorus like that, they might as well have been writing about creationists.

There are three certainties in this life: death, taxes, and that when a creationist opens his mouth a flood of lies will pour out. Their lie du jour at the moment appears to be trying to link Charles Darwin and evolution to racism and Nazi ideologies. Even for born pathological liars like creationists, it’s pretty low to stoop. Over at the Texas Citizens for Science site, Steve Schafersman has published a handsome rebuttal to this calumny, so the next time you hear this bullshit from some creo swine, kick his lying ass over there for some schooling.

Imagine living a life in which you cannot help but lie all the time, a life in which reality itself must be fought and warred with and denied all the time. Really, if creationists didn’t sicken me so, I’d pity them.

Shalini just e-mailed

It’s bad like a very bad thing.

No details are allowable right now, other than I can assure anyone worried she may have come to physical harm that this is not so. Until such time as she is ready to make her own announcement, we’ll let it lie.

What a Nuckolhead!

There’s this homeschooled scientific illiterate named Dan Nuckols who’s got a blog where he offers dippy anti-science cartoons like this one, amongst other twaddle. Pharyngula readers have been having good fun today knocking the poor dope around, and I, being the mischievous little scamp I am, decided to fuck with him via email. Here’s the email exchange in progress, starting with my response to the linked cartoon.

Subject: I wuz robbed!
You mean I’ve been an atheist evilutionist all this time, and nobody told me about the porn and the sacks of money!? What a ripoff!

Dan: Dude, you are robbed. Of eternal life. Repent and Trust Jesus.

MW: But the Flying Spaghetti Monster hath touched me with his noodly appendage, granting me not only eternal life but all the pizza I can eat without getting fat, and free digital cable! Plus I don’t have to go to Sunday School. Just seemed like the better deal to me all around.

Thanks though. Tell Jesus I suggested he offer some additional perks to the eternal life deal. Say, NBA seasons passes or something. Otherwise eternity can get awful boring without anything to do!

Update: Hours and hours later, and no followup? How pathetic. Maybe this is another example of what Stephen Rogers was calling half-hearted evangelism.

Johnny B. Goode Stoopid: the Discovery Institute keeps the laffs coming!

They can’t offer any peer-reviewed research, but they can publish indignant tirades against “Darwinism” in various forms, the latest of which is a sure-to-be-laff-a-minute diatribe entitled Darwin Day in America, written by John G. West. West’s main schtick is to attack evolution by Godwinizing it; i.e., blaming it for eugenics and, in turn, the Nazis. An indication of the emotionalist, rhetorical word salad this book is sure to be is suggested by the wording of its online press release, a paragraph from which is excerpted below. And remember, when dealing with creationists, you can always expect at least one 20-megaton irony blast; I have highlighted it.

Based on extensive research with primary sources and archival materials, John G. West’s captivating Darwin Day in America tells the story of how American politics and culture have been corrupted by scientistic ideology. Marshaling fascinating anecdotes and damning quotations, West’s narrative explores the far-reaching consequences for society when scientists and politicians deny the essential differences between human beings and the rest of nature. It also exposes the disastrous results that ensue when experts claiming to speak for science turn out to be wrong. West concludes with a plea for the restoration of democratic accountability in an age of experts.

Don’t you just love that highlighted bit? Especially coming from a clown who’s been a poli-sci and history professor, and never, you know, a biology professor. I can’t think of anything similarly head-smackingly dishonest, except for the day O.J. got acquitted, and immediately announced he was going to launch a search for “the real killers.”

But get a load of the sentence after the highlighted one. Another of West’s obsessions is that he cannot stand that there are people in the world who are “experts” in a field, who have an annoying tendency to correct uninformed regular folks who just want everything to be “fair and balanced.” When West makes “a plea for the restoration of democratic accountability in an age of experts,” he is essentially admitting that he is not an expert in the field he has decided to criticize, and his only way of dealing with this is to try and discredit the idea that there can or should be any experts at all, and that “democracy” ought to reign. And by “democracy” he means, like all religious ideologues, “mob rule,” the idea that if the majority doesn’t like how reality works, they can just vote it different.

Bad news, Johnny. Science is not a democracy. Facts are what they are, and they don’t care what you believe or what ideology, religious or political, you’ve chosen to embrace. None of the experts whose expertise you resent (because you lack it) deny that evolution takes place, any more than they would deny the sun rises in the east. And tell me, if evolution is “racist,” why is it, I wonder, that the KKK burns Christian crosses instead of, say, giant wooden Darwin fish or effigies of the double helix? Why do white supremacists call themselves things like “World Church of the Creator” and “Church of Jesus Christ, Christian,” instead of “Darwin’s Badasses” or “Chuck D.’s Master Race Society”? Why is it that Darwin’s works were banned in the Third Reich, as we see in this list from 1935 (scroll down the page), in which, among works promoting pacifism, bolshevism, communism, and liberal democracy, the Nazis also gave the thumbs-down to…

Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).

Hmm. Could it be, John, that you are simply full of shit? Why, I think it could!

But hey, writing this crap is at least easier than actually producing research that offers scientific (or is that “scientistic”) evidence for intelligent design, right?

For more debunking of nonsensical creationist attempts to link Darwin (who opposed slavery, for instance) to the Nazis, here’s some worthwhile reading over at Panda’s Thumb.

American Idol beats up defenseless Christian virgin!

Over at Christian website, they’re all in a kerfuffle over how mean the judges and host of American Idol were to poor Bruce Dickson, a 19-year-old from Bastrop (about half an hour from here) who, when asked to tell something about himself, admitted that he had never even kissed a girl.

“What?” Randy Jackson asked. “On purpose?”

“On purpose,” Dickson said. “On my wedding day, that will be my first kiss.”

Jackson’s advice to Dickson after the judges sent him packing: “Go kiss some girls.”

Simon Cowell, eyebrows raised, told him: “Avoid Ryan (Seacrest) on the way out.”

Seacrest himself ended the segment featuring Dickson with these words: “Maybe next year he’ll come back less a boy and more a man.”

Dickson, of course, didn’t take the ribbing well and went into full persecution mode.

“I respect women and don’t think of them as a sexual object, and I’m the freak?” Dickson said.

Dude, fer fuck’s sake! There’s such a thing as being a sleazebag who sexually objectifies women…and then there’s kissing a girl, something that is widely done by most heterosexual males at some point in their developmental cycle, and is not only not considered disrespectful (unless you’re forcing it upon an unwilling kissee) but entirely healthy, normal, and — you’d better sit down for this — fun to boot!

I cannot help but notice that there’s a big distinction to be made between the idea — perfectly sensible and sane — that you are the master of your own body and it’s up to you what happens to it, especially sexually, and the way in which Christianity reframes and sells this message, heaped with great globs of guilt and fear-mongering designed to make young people think the proper way to confront their budding sexuality is to consider it “sinful,” and suppress it until the magical day of your wedding, at which point everything bad about your body becomes good and holy and you can touch your pee-pee without fear of a lightning bolt up the back door.

There’s a healthy way to promote abstinence, and it’s not the way it’s promoted in Christianity. Rather, what Christianity sells are some bitterly unrealistic expectations of marriage. I mean, what do Christians think they’re protecting here? Do Christians really believe that if they remain virginal — and not just virginal, but refrain from any physical contact with the opposite sex at all — until holy matrimony, that this will have some kind of talismanic effect upon their marriages, rendering them perfect and idyllic in every way? No arguments, no financial strain, 100% contentment and happiness, and angelic obedient children? Well, it wouldn’t be the first foolish thing Christians have chosen to believe, I suppose.

If you’re looking for reasons why the divorce rate among Christians is so much higher — especially among Bible Belt Baptists — than any other demographic group, you might look to these “sexual purity” programs. These aren’t about giving young people healthy, sex-positive messages that incorporate abstinence at all. It’s about plugging this concept of “purity,” which comes, naturally, with the inevitable view that failure to live up to purity’s criteria means that you are impure and probably in danger of hellfire and damnation. Attaching the baggage of sin to sex is a recipe for some pretty debilitating neuroses.

Of course, a Christian reading this would offer the obvious false dilemma as a retort: “So what, I should just go out and have sex with everyone I see?” No, just be aware that your sexuality is part of you, and a good part of you, not something the Devil scotch-taped to your crotch in order to lure you into a fall from grace. Realize that part of acknowledging and growing in your sexuality means that it’s something you control. The choice to take command of your body and not engage in sex until you’re emotionally ready for it is a rational decision, and shouldn’t be one based on hangups over your body and fear of God’s punishment.

As for young master Dickson, well, if he finds it hard to get over Ryan Seacrest’s taunts, I suspect he can always find a sympathetic shoulder to cry on over at Clay Aiken’s place. Malicious rumors suggest he’s not all that into kissing girls either.

Shalini in some kind of trouble?

Shalini Sehkar, whose blog Scientia Natura is full of hilariously foul-mouthed rants against “theistards” (she certainly embraces the “bad cop” role in atheist blogging with gusto), has been locked out — see for yourself — and some commenters over at Larry Moran’s Sandwalk are indicating that some theists have allegedly gone off the deep end at last and are doing things to make her life miserable. As always, the lack of details being offered means the rumor mill is going to be churning overtime, and it would be nice to nip that in the bud if possible. So if anyone knows any real details (of the kind that can actually be spoken of, in the likelihood there are legal issues in play here), and how we can help her out if possible, please let us know.

(flat, deadpan voice) …wow man that’s just like so totally cool

Toddling along on the intarweebs tonight, trying to find some equilibrium between this week’s dose of sad (poor old Heath) and glad (looks like the HD format war is over!), I came upon this enlightening press release about a new website at, which offers apparel for young Christians “with a message that it is cool to be Christian… Some of the messages on the clothing are intentionally ambiguous, fun and often with an ironic twist.”

But hey, don’t just take their word for it! Want to see just how cool they really are? Check the logo!

There. If that isn’t officially the coolest thing ever, I’ll eat my copy of Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood. I mean, shit, the fact that the fish has got shades would have been enough to make me want to be him in the worst possible way. But look! The motherfucker’s got shades and a goatee! Damn, dawg! Creamed jeans are made of this! Even James Bond is gonna have to pack up his license to kill and go home, now the fish is in the house. Finally I see what I’ve been doing wrong all these years. If I’d known about the tsunami-like levels of mad cool that just radiates from the shades/goatee combination, damn, I bet by now I would have already worked my way through the waitstaff of every Hooter’s in town and would be halfway through the Texas Bikini Team. But no, the best I ever managed to figure out on my own was a pair of my dad’s old bifocals and a Charlie Chan moustache. Clearly, coolness has eluded me as a concept. Where have you been all this time when I needed guidance, Mr. Hipsterbeatnikfish?

Thing is, though, I looked at some of this apparel on the site itself. And, well, I don’t see that it’s really as cool as all that. I mean, it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing the fish would wear, you know, if he was gonna represent. And some of them don’t seem especially Christian, either. Like, there are these designs promoting Intelligent Design, for one thing. And as we keep being told by its proponents, Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion. Right? So I guess I’m confused about that. I’m also confused by shirts that say things like “thump thump” with no explanation. And the explanation the website gives me doesn’t help to clear anything up.

Who’s that knocking and what do they want?

We think it might be God trying to get our attention. He just might have something to say to us. Do you think we would respond better if we actually heard the knocking or, um, thumping?

What is a thump? Is it the sound your heart makes? A peck on the shoulder to get you to notice something? A knock on the door? The bass note in a great song? Granted it’s a shirt that will get a lot of attention and more than a few questions.

I’m still not sure if that’s an actual explanation of what the shirt means, or an exercise in free verse. I’m even more baffled by the shirt that says “splat!”, whose meaning is explained in this way: “What is the sound of creation? When God creates someone, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Uh…what? Is this like Zen Christianity now? And are they referring to God, the act of creation, or the created someone by the word “it”? And are they really telling us that the creation of the universe was accompanied by the monumental sound of a splat? Are they replacing the Big Bang theory with the Big Dump theory? Or is this, like, a joke, and is that what makes it “cool”?

I have so much to learn!

Really, I have to admire the way the gang at Nicthus went about their, um, market research. You know, for how to appeal to 21st century youth by being all “humorous, edgy, thought-provoking,” and “stylish.” I don’t see how you could fail with a campaign like this:

…the brand name Nicthus was formed from a combination of the words ‘beatnik’ for young, hip and cool, and ‘icthus.’ The beatnik was an icon of the “cool” generation in the 1950s…

An icon of the 1950’s!

That is sooo fucking 2008, dudes! What an ironic twist!

Irrefutable proof there is no God

The immensely talented actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment today of what appears to be a drug overdose.

In related news, Britney Spears is reportedly still alive.