Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Interpretative Dance Theocrats

If there were ever a time to laugh so hard that you can no longer control certain bodily functions, then that time has arrived! You've gotta read the following post by "Holy Office" from I've reproduced the content below, but follow the link above when you're done 'cause the comments left by others on his site are also hilarious!



The Interpretative Dance Theocrats

There is an unintentionally hilarious excerpt in Salon today from Michelle Goldberg's new book, "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism." In it, Goldberg casts doubt on her ability to serve as a reliable guide by repeatedly confusing premillenialism with rapture theology, by confusing the Weimar-era "conservative revolution" in Germany with Nazism, and by apparently believing that Leviticus was a person.

It also opens with a portentous description of an interpretative dance performance regarding the removal of Roy Moore's 10 Commandments monument from an Alabama courthouse. Apparently, Goldberg intends this to be menacing, but it's hard to be frightened by any group that communicates its message through dance. Goldberg draws explicit parallels between today's Christians and the Nazis of 1920s Germany, which only makes the whole thing more ridiculous: my own, admittedly non-intensive, study of the Third Reich has convinced me that ballet was generally low on the list of Stormtroopers' tactics.

This underscores that while many people in America are scared silly of Christianity, many of the most frightened know very little about it. Terms like "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" are thrown around with very little concern about their actual meaning, and this is before entering the dark thicket of Preterists, Amillenialists, Prelapsarian Arminian Claims Adjusters, etc.

To be fair to these perplexed and terrified people, Christians are not easy to understand. To begin with, there are roughly 2,000 years of history to grasp, and certainly more denominations and subdivisions than that to take on board. For people who were raised secular, I imagine it's like trying to understand an opera after coming in halfway before the end: the stage is crowded with people, two of them seem to be dead, a woman is wearing a hat with horns, and everyone is making a terrible racket.

The time has come for some kind of crib sheet for the confused and frightened, a handy, easy-to-use reference guide for identifying some of the key denominations, terms, and concepts in Christianity. This is intended a simple "cheat sheet" for those confused and worried about the place of Christianity in America and, to a lesser extent, the contemporary world. It's not intended to be a comprehensive guide, only to help my secular friends as they navigate the confused waters of the world's largest religion.

Let's start with some of the terms that got Goldberg confused:

This is the belief among some Christians that, ever since Jan. 1, 2000, it has no longer been possible, in the words of the Prince song, "to party like it's 1999." Postmillenialists are those Christians who believe that it will always be possible to do so, while Amillenialists believe that in this context, "1999" cannot be understood literally, but must be read as an allegorical term roughly meaning "a time at which it is especially appropriate to party."

This was a #1 hit in 1980 for Blondie (#5 in the UK), from the otherwise underwhelming "Autoamerican" album. Many Christians now concede that the then-pioneering use of rap in the song sounds a little lame in retrospect. In their best-selling series of books about the song, "Left Behind (Parallel Lines)," Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye defend the rap verse's hip references to Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy, and maintain that when Jesus returns, all believers will be united in accepting that Blondie's cover of "The Tide Is High" is better than the original.

The Pope
The Pope is the President of Christianity. He is elected every four years by the Congress of Cardinals, which is divided into the Senate and the Holy House of Representatives. As president, the pope can veto important pieces of legislation, which he tends to do. The pope is also magical, and cannot be seen with the naked eye except for one hour on Christmas Eve every year.

The Bible
The Bible was written by God as a merchandising tie-in to His blockbuster film "The Ten Commandments." Each book of the Bible is named after a person who features prominently in it, for example, the Book of Numbers, which is named after Herschel Numbers, who invented numerals. The Bible was so successful that God wrote a sequel, "Bible II: On to Rome," now generally called "The New Testament." Protestants believe the Bible is literal and exactly true in every detail except the description of the Eucharist, while Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible.

Catholics are the New York Yankees of Christianity. They are the biggest and wealthiest team, and their owner is intensely controversial (this makes St. Francis of Assisi the Derek Jeter of Catholicism: discuss). Catholics all wear matching uniforms, and are divided into "parishes," or "squadrons," to make choosing softball teams easier. Catholics are rigidly controlled by a hidebound hierarchy that starts with priests and ends with priests' housekeepers. Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible, eat meat, or refrain from worshipping statues.

For many years, American scholars believed the Orthodox were, like leprechauns, unicorns, and Eskimos, purely the product of the fanciful imaginations of medieval writers. Recent evidence leads us to tentatively conclude, however, that Eastern Orthodoxy may have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million adherents. Protestants tend to see the Orthodox as "Catholics with beards," while Catholics confess to a haunting sense that they are simply "Orthodox without beards."

The Protestant Reformation
This is the name historians give to a major labor dispute that erupted in Germany in 1517 when a group of monks hammered a proposed union contract to the door of the pope's house, requesting a 95 percent pay raise. The pope refused to negotiate with the monks union until it agreed to pay to have the door fixed, and the result was the world's longest-running strike. For nearly 500 years, a huge portion of Christians have been on strike from being Catholic, saying they are "justified" in their work stoppage because the pope won't expand the number of indulgences they get per year. Currently, the matter is in arbitration.

This theory was worked out by the French theologian and fashion designer John Calvin Klein, who argued that some people are predestined to be glamorous while others are doomed to be plain. America was founded by Calvinists, who sought to establish a country where they could pursue their belief that buckled hats were fashionable.


The belief that basic elements of play - like passing, ball handling, and defense - are the essential building blocks of a winning basketball team is generally referred to as "fundamentalism." The fundamentalists formulated their doctrine in the 1980s against the showy, heretical play of Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers. Leading fundamentalist institutions include Bob Jones University and Syracuse. Larry Brown's failure to get the Knicks into the playoffs has been seen as a major setback for the cause of fundamentalism.

Baptists are Christians who believe God can only be accessed by means of a swimming pool or, in some cases, a shallow outdoor stream. The first Baptist was John the Baptist, who was said to eat locusts and honey, although contemporary Baptists generally prefer barbecue. "Baptism" is also the term used to describe a key Christian ceremony, in which prospective members of the church are either initiated actually (Catholics, Orthodox, confused Protestants) or symbolically (Protestants, confused Catholics, religious studies professors). Catholics believe that anyone can perform a valid baptism, Orthodox believe that any Christian can, while Baptists, paradoxically, believe that only they can.

The Emerging Church

This is a term that refers to churches attended exclusively by white people in their 20s and 30s who have at least one tattoo or body piercing. Their distinguishing characteristics are a refreshing, "up to date" interpretation of Christianity, and a reluctance to directly answer questions.

The Nicene Creed
This statement of faith is the Christian Pledge of Allegiance, recited every Sunday in squadron meetings by Christians all over the globe. Adopted in the 4th century at the behest of Emperor Constantinople, it was designed to counter the influence of the Aryans, who argued that Jesus was German.

Touchdown Jesus
When professional athletes thank Jesus for helping them win a game, this is the Jesus they're referring to.

The Trinity

This is the Christian expression of God, who Christians say is personified by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not all Christians accept this: Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and some Pentecostals reject trinitarianism, as do Muslims. Interestingly, while this does not mean Pentecostals are Muslim, it does mean that Muslims are Jehovah's Witnesses. St. Augustine famously summed up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity when he recounted a dream in which a small boy told him he would need a bigger bucket if he wanted to bail out the ocean.

Christians are not permitted to have sex. This unpopular doctrine was formulated by Pope Lactose LX at the Council of Disney in 1439. Despite this restriction, Christians have managed to increase their ranks to the point where there are roughly 2 billion of them. Scholars attribute this to the competitive health benefits and generous "flex time" arrangements offered by Christianity.

Heaven is a term referring to the ultimate destiny of a certain number of souls. Depending on who you listen to, heaven is either: where all of us will end up (Origen); where many of us will end up (St. Gregory of Nyssa); where some of us will end up (John Calvin); where a small portion of us have, in some sense, already ended up (John of Leyden); where precisely 144,000 of us will end up (Charles Taze Russell); or where Jack Chick will end up (Jack Chick). Theologian Belinda Carlisle once posited that "Ooh, baby, heaven is a place on earth," but explorers combing the globe have yet to confirm this.

The Devil
Although the Devil - also known as Satan, Lucifer, the Father of Lies, and, to his friends, "Hef" - is mentioned numerous times in Bible II, most Christians today are uncomfortable with belief in a literal, personal demonic entity. Instead, they prefer to think of the Devil primarily as the potential for wickedness that exists within all human beings or, in some cases, as an especially unreasonable landlord.

I hope this helps clear up some easily-made misconceptions about Christianity. If there are any questions about other doctrines or concepts, please don't hesitate to ask.

By Holy Office

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