WWJD in the War Against Christmas?

Because so many people are outraged that other people are saying things like, “Happy Holidays,” or that stores have signs which say “Xmas", I asked myself: What would Jesus do?

war-on-christmasAlthough not a Christian myself, I have read the New Testament several times. (Sound moral thinking is sound moral thinking, regardless of whether or not I agree with the direct divinity of the source.)  So I tried to imagine someone going up to Him and expressing anger that others weren’t calling the day of His birth by the right name. I like to think of Him pausing while washing the feet of the poor or feeding the hungry or befriending the most despised people in society and looking at the person with His infinite patience, “Oh, that’s too bad. Excuse me, I have important work to do.” And with that he would get back to preventing a crowd from stoning a woman to death or comforting the sick or teaching about the importance of having no God before God or treating your fellow human as if you thought they were also humans.

Whenever I hear someone say, “There’s no X in Christmas,” I am always tempted to ask, “But is there any Christ in Christmas?” I do not, because to do so would be to give in to my own ego and not treat that person with the love and patience he or she deserves. There are many great places to learn that and, while my personal preference is Buddhist,  it is also laid out very well in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Good texts, all.

Another fine take on this issue can be found at the website DefendChristmas.com:

We assert there is a war on Christmas. It is an old and unsettled debate. But it has nothing to do with television pundits, school grounds, city parks or Supreme Courts. The war on Christmas is fought in the home and in the heart.

The site’s mission is,  “to referee the passionate-though-misguided combatants in the War on Christmas. If we have to discuss these things — and evidently we do — then we will be a voice of reason for both sides of the debate and serve to provide simple reminders of “peace on Earth, goodwill to all men”. Amen to that.

BTW, if you are interested in a very good and very well informed discussion about how Dec. 25th came to be the approved date for His birth, please see this fine article from The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Concerning the date of Christ’s birth the Gospels give no help; upon their data contradictory arguments are based. The censuswould have been impossible in winter: a whole population could not then be put in motion. Again, in winter it must have been; then only field labour was suspended. But Rome was not thus considerate. Authorities moreover differ as to whether shepherds could or would keep flocks exposed during the nights of the rainy season.


10 Worst Marketing Blunders of 2009


Edsel … New Coke … Lenovision.

NBC has joined the immortals of marketing stupidity. This year the molting peacock network and president Jeff “Have They Fired Me Yet?” Zucker decided to turn five of the primest pieces of prime-time real estate — the hour between 10 and 11 PM from Monday through Friday — into the Jay Leno hour.

The result? A 28% drop in viewership (through mid-November). This has not only killed network revenues but done in affiliates who have no lead-in for their late news casts.

Despite this, Jeff “10% Of Americans Are Unemployed and I’m Not?” Zucker recently said that all is going according to plan. “Right now, in terms of its performance on the television network, at NBC, in terms of ratings it’s doing exactly what we thought it would do.” Comcast recently bought NBC in what must have been an attempt to copy the government’s cash for clunkers program. Comcast shareholders can now only hope they are being lied to. The worst case scenario is that Mr. Z believes what he is saying.

On the plus side:

  1. It is now possible to buy every ad slot during the Leno show for less than the cost of a house in Detroit.
  2. The federal witness protection program is using guest slots to hide people.


(Originally #9 — Who knew?)

Because I have a really limited imagination I thought the big celeb marketing mishap story of the year would be Michael Vick’s failed attempt to become a spokesperson for PETA. Then along came Tiger who prefers women with bad nose jobs to the Swedish bikini model he is actually married to. The story broke on Nov. 27th, when Mrs. Woods apparently decided to prove her own golfing expertise. This was unfortunate for Accenture which two days earlier had kicked off its annual Tiger campaign. A print ad which ran in the Nov. 30th Wall Street Journal featured Tiger Woods walking in the rough under the headline: “The road to high performance isn’t always paved.” And watch out for the trees and fire hydrants. Accenture has since declawed its Tiger connection.

UPDATE: File this under “Pull the other one, it’s made of wood.”

“We decided several months ago to discontinue Gatorade Tiger Focus, along with some other products to make room for our planned series of innovative products in 2010,” Gatorade spokeswoman Jennifer Schmit said in an e-mailed statement.


First the banking industry made a big show of cutting the obscene bonuses it was paying itself for going on the dole. Meanwhile they hoped no one would notice the allegedly eliminated bonuses were now being paid as plain old salary.

But wait … that’s not all!

Apparently still feeling that their efforts to destroys the economy were still underappreciated, bankers started claiming Jesus wanted them to do it.

“The injunc­tion of Jesus to love others as our­selves is an endorse­ment of self-​interest,” Goldman’s [inter­na­tional adviser Brian] Grif­fiths said Oct. 20, his voice echo­ing around the gold-​mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathe­dral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s finan­cial dis­trict. “We have to tol­er­ate the inequal­ity as a way to achiev­ing greater pros­per­ity and oppor­tu­nity for all.”

How much LSD do you have to take to interpret Scripture this way? However much it is, it is certainly being passed out at all the best financial institutions. Two weeks later, Barclays CEO John Varley spoke at the venerable St. Martin-in-the-Fields and tried to wrap the Bible around his bonus.

“There is no conflict between doing business in an ethical and responsible way and making money. We make our biggest contribution to society by being good at what we do. Profit is not satanic.”

I guess it all depends on who gets to determine how we define ethical and responsible. Perhaps Varley could have gotten away with this specious argument had he not added this gloss to the text after the service: “Is Christianity and banking compatible? Yes. And is Christianity and fair reward compatible? Yes.” (Not a good sign when a banker can’t even get his verb and subject numbers to add up.) Hey John, can we parse the word “fair” for a moment?

I believe the renowned 20th century theologian Ray Price put it best when he asked, “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?”


In the face of the greatest single corporate collapse in the history of the world, GM rolled out an ad that inadvertently explains the company’s failure.

It is a veritable symphony of weasel words.

Let’s be completely honest, no company wants to go through this.

By the end of that first sentence it is clear this ad has no intention whatsoever of living up to that initial clause. You can tell because the final pronoun is never made specific. That “this” covers billions of sins. It implies we all know what has happened without saying what that was. It is everything to everyone and thus means nothing. Is “this” an utter failure of leadership? Or is it an inability to have even the vaguest understanding of the needs of the marketplace? Sadly, I suspect “this” is “an economic calamity no one could have foreseen” – the preferred phrase of everyone from Alan Greenspan to, well, the Detroit-based car makers. There is no taking responsibility anywhere in this ad just as there has been no taking responsibility at GM for decades. (Read more here)


Vogue The October issue of French Vogue had a photo spread of the very Caucasian Lara Stone painted head to toe in dark make-up. Vogue went with the old “I’m sorry if you found my words insulting” defense and told the Daily Mail “it was unaware it had caused offence, but said it could not give any further comment.” (Worth noting: Italian Vogue’s issue for the same month was filled with actual Black women.) In a keeping up with the KKK move inflight magazine EasyJet ran a photo spread featuring brooding generic models dressed in black POSING IN FRONT OF BERLIN’S HOLOCAUST MONUMENT.

Fortunately for me marketers just can’t seem to figure out that Nazi = Bad. This years examples:

LATE BREAKING STUPIDITY UPDATE: NYT runs gift guide with special section devoted to:

“Somali fashion, do-it-yourself henna kits, children’s books that draw inspiration from the lives of Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor: it’s not hard to find gifts created for and by people of color this holiday season.” (emphasis added)

Why it’s almost like they’re real people!


CandyExpress said its commemorative Barack Obama heads would only be available for a limited time, unfortunately it wasn’t limited enough. Off the top of my head I would say there are three things Mr. Obama should not be used to advertise: Chocolate, fried chicken (a German company did it), watermelon (that’s a yet). However, the Russians came up with a bunch of things I’d never thought of. They used our President to advertise a tanning salon, a dental clinic and pre-packaged ice cream with the slogan “Everyone’s talking about it: dark inside white!” The bars have a chocolate-flavored center embedded in a layer of vanilla.

Obama Daughters DollsHowever these are just idiocy, the sheer stupidity award goes to Beanie Baby maker Ty. First they decided to sell two new dolls named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia. Then they tried to deny they were named after America’s First Kids.

“[We] chose the dolls’ names because “they are beautiful names,” not because of any resemblance to President Obama’s daughters, said spokeswoman Tania Lundeen. “There’s nothing on the dolls that refers to the Obama girls,” Lundeen said. “It would not be fair to say they are exact replications of these girls. They are not.”

Sorry dear, but in order to get away with a lie like that you have to be a bank.


The word of the year really should have been app. The ubiquitous iPhone has spawned an industry of companies trying to market their wares by providing allegedly useful and/or humorous apps. To paraphrase Pogo, this confronted Pepsi with an insurmountable opportunity. The company released an app called Before You Score for its Mountain Dew AMP brand. The app gives you 24 different types of women (sorority girl, etc.) and offers “appropriate” pick-up lines for each type and other similar information.

Not to be outdone, LawFirms.com, a legal referral site, decided to get attention with a campaign featuring the (fictitious) app iCoyote. It “packs all of the features of a real immigrant smuggler into the iPhone. Using GPS, navigate through the patrol packed desert without worrying about that pesky Border Patrol.”

The app included a variety of features such as:

  • iWife. It “will take care of finding marriage prospects for you. Aggregating and analyzing data from a variety of online sources [to] match you up with only the most promising US Citizen candidates.”
  • iLawyer. “Homeland Security is Cracking down. Not to worry. With iLawyer, you can find an attorney to convince the immigration court to grant Asylum Protection. A Green Card is a finger swipe away.”
  • Weather Monitors. “The desert can get hot, and trying to cross it when it’s 120 degrees is not fun. Get up-to-date weather forecasts to pick the right time and ensure your trip to the US is comfortable and fun-packed.”
  • City Statistics. “San Antonio? Albuquerque? Tucson? San Diego? Not sure which is best? Get unemployment statistics, current average wages, cost of living expenses and more. Get the job you want, at the right wage, tax free!”


Your child can learn that the homeless are just like real people once you spend $95 to buy her a “less fortunate” playmate for her other American Girl doll(s). The latest addition to the American Girl line of how-do-you-justify-it-ly expensive dolls is Gwen Thompson. Ms. Thompson

wheelchair and her mother Janine fell on hard times when her father lost his job; they later lost the house as they were unable to keep up payments. Soon after, Gwen’s father left them and they became homeless the fall before the start of the book’s events. Initially, Gwen’s mother has them live in their car until the winter comes; she then takes them to Sunrise House, a place for homeless women and children. Sunrise House helps them get on their feet and eventually get a new apartment.

And should you also want to teach the kid that the disabled are people too, American Girl also sells a wheelchair for $30.


Why would you pay to have Oprah endorse your product if you didn’t know what the result be? In May the chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken paid Ms. Winfrey to discuss its new grilled chicken on her show. (This is part of an ongoing effort to rebrand KFC as someplace that serves something besides FC. By the time it’s over KFC will be Rhode Island Clam Shack. But I digress.) In addition to giving product to her audience — and how pissed were they? Other folks got a new car and they get a food experiment – viewers could go to a website and download a coupon for up to four free two-piece chicken meals with two sides and a biscuit. If there’s one thing the US loves more than Oprah, it’s Oprah and free food.

You’ll never guess what happened. OK, so maybe you will.

Several bajillion people downloaded the coupon and sprinted to the nearest KFC. Well, the food disappeared faster than a dollar bill on the floor of the Senate. As a result somefranchisees started refusing to accept the coupon, some told people the promotion was over for the day, some quickly pointed to the “while supplies last” clause, the more creative said that coupons with barcode numbers ending in “1234” are not valid. Look closely at the barcode below to see what that meant.

All this brought new meaning to the chain’s horrible new tagline: “Unthink What You Thought About KFC.”

Another chain, El Pollo Loco, moved smart and fast and sent out a twitter saying they’d accept the coupons on Mother’s Day. Soon Oprah was having to apologize for the stupidity and KFC issued rain checks to the disgruntled.

All of which goes to prove that whatever you have to pay Oprah, the ROI is REAL!


  • In an attempt to change all the nasty connotations that go along with being mercenaries, Blackwater Worldwide changed its name to Xe. That’s pronounced zee, as in “zee idiots in marketing thought of it.”

Blackwater president Gary Jackson said in a memo to employees the new name reflects the change in company focus away from the business of providing private security. “The volume of changes over the past half-year have taken the company to an exciting place and we are now ready for two of the final, and most obvious changes,” Jackson said in the note.

That exciting place seems to include a lot of lawsuits.

“At international airports, in trains, in shopping malls, and almost everywhere, every Nigerian is a marked person,” Dora Akunyili, information minister and self-styled chief image maker said at the launch of the re-branding campaign this week. “We are pulled aside for questioning. We are seen as potential drug pushers or fraudsters. We are unfortunately denied the benefit of the doubt.”

  • Swine flu is no laughing matter. Especially if you’re the American Pork Association. They went into overdrive screaming about how it was hurting their sales and enlisted Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin who constantly referred to the “so-called swine flu.” Unfortunately humor trumps branding every time. Thus we got headlines like:

“We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

CIO writer and friend Al Sacco came up with this: Swine flu isn’t a scary enough name. It needs a slogan, too: “Pork Plague, the (Other) White Death,” for example.



The online retailer blamed an “employee in France” for a “software glitch” which oddly delisted gay and lesbian themed books from its search listings. (Example: Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain vanished, but not her book The Shipping News in which all the sex is hetero.)

Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as “adult,” the source said.


“I would not describe any section of our site as ’sex related,’ ” [Craigslist CEO Jim] Buckmaster wrote in response to a series of e-mailed questions from the Globe. He acknowledged that Craigslist offers an “erotic services” section that should not include more than “legitimate escort services, sensual massage, exotic dancers, etc.,” but said that offers to exchange sexual favors for money are “strictly prohibited” and removed from the site.


had to change its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin


BONUS: A few other totally wrong products from the year

German churches hot about Chocolate Jesus

chocolate-jesusGermany’s churches criticized a businessman for selling thousands of Jesus chocolates. Frank Oynhausen set up his “Sweet Lord” chocolate Jesus-making business saying he wanted to restore some traditional religious values to Christmas in Germany.

So remember: Representations of The Savior in bread or wine form are OK, just don’t serve Him as dessert. However, is it OK to eat a cookie with a picture of Jesus on it? There’s a woman in the UK for whom this is not a theoretical question.

You really owe it to yourself to checkout the website for The Original Chocolate GoldJesus®. Best line: “No Santa Claus, especially no chocolate Santa Claus, could ever substitute for Jesus.” I know someone who’s getting coal this in his stocking!

Worth noting that chocolate crosses and such have long been sold in many places (even Wal Mart!). They seem to have started as a Hispanic tradition and spread from there.

Press release of the day: “Film Sets New Christian Comedy Trend”

Back in the immoral age of comics, Christian comedians seemed out of place in any other venue besides a church.

Some would argue that the only thing that goes on in a church is comedy, but that would be going for the cheap laugh and I would never do that.

Or how about: “Three comedians walk into a church. Only one of them knows he’s a comedian.”

Aren’t all comedians Immoral? (“deliberately violating accepted principles of right and wrong“)  The basic job definition is holding up a fun-house mirror to society & letting people consider ideas that they would never think of otherwise.

It would be hard to come up with a bigger violation of currently accepted principles of right and wrong than humbly pursuing your faith, loving your God and your fellow man even over the pursuit of material gain. Thus Christianity can be pretty damn immoral. When the late Mr. Carlin went on about the seven dirty words that you can’t say on television he was making a point about the unpleasantness of swearing serving to distract us from the true obscenities of the world like poverty, war, bigotry. For me that’s a very Christian message.

I actually have a bunch of God related material in my act. “Two phrases I hate: ‘person of faith’ and ‘faith-based organization.’ Please do not insult my belief that way. Cubs fans are a people of faith and support a faith-based organization. Me, I believe in God.” (The way things are going I’m going to have another patsy organization. GM? The Knicks? The Fed?)

In case you were wondering what the hell: “Enter Ron Pearson, a Christian who is explicit about his faith yet is one of the top secular comics in the business. … Pearson’s latest project, Apostles of Comedy; The Movie, is a masterpiece that’s sure to set a new trend in both the Christian and secular comedy world. The film fuses 4 award – winning comedians that spotlights not only the quirks but explores their private lives as they share their journeys of love, faith, hope and forgiveness. You’ll see famed comedians Pearson, Anthony Griffith, Brad Stine and Jeff Allen as you’ve never seen them.”

“As you’ve never seen them?” Well, that’s setting the bar pretty low. How about as you’ve never heard of them?

And just FYI: Bob Newhart is GOD!

Punk god illustration by George Coghill.

Press release of the day: “Pope’s Cologne Provides Solace to Grieving Widow”

Found at the ChristianNewsWire — where satirist’s prayers are answered.

Shortly after Mother’s Day I received the following letter from a lady in Florida who had purchased The Pope’s Cologne for gifts. I felt strangely and deeply touched by it and debated about sharing its’ content.* I decided that I should. I think that you will see what I mean. This is the letter:

Dear Dr. Hass,
I needed to give you the feedback I got from “The Pope’s Cologne”. I ordered two dozen (24) to give out as gifts on Mothers Day. I came up with the idea after your interview at the “Sunday Morning” show, since my mother is a devoted Roman Catholic, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate gift for her and the rest of the mothers. We all had brunch that Sunday, 6 mothers in total, and I placed the colognes on each one of the mothers place seating. My mother was speechless and very grateful for the cologne and immediately opened it and placed a few drops on her forehead (as she was making the sign of the cross) and behind her wrist. She said; “it has a delicious and peaceful fragrance to it, I love it, very unique” and she proceeded to rub the small bottle as if it had magical powers. Through out the Brunch she was inhaling the aroma from her wrist and you could see in her eyes how much she enjoyed it.

A few minutes before the brunch ended we got the bad news that a friend of my parents for over 50 years had just died. He was struggling with cancer but did not win the battle, he was 76 years old. The following morning we assisted the wake and as my mother hugged his widow she mentioned how pleasant her fragrance was. My mom proceeded to explain to her that it was a mother’s day gift given to her by one of her daughters. His widow expressed a feeling of peace and comfort as she was hugging my mom, and that it was the fragrance that made her feel this way.

My mom tells me with tears in her eyes the widows comment and if she only knew the cologne was going to have this effect on her, she would have brought hers to passed it on to the widow. I remembered I had extra colognes in my car and I gave my mom one to give to her.

What I experienced later will be a sight I will never forget!!! The widow used the cologne to “anoint” her husband EVERY 20 minutes. She would sprinkle it on his hands, his head, his forehead, and his neck. You could see in her eyes she had found a way of redemption through the cologne. Everyone was asking about the cologne and its origin. Everyone that came in to give her their condolences could not stop asking about the pleasant aroma they were experiencing. Everyone was quiet and in awe for hours. She also kept on rubbing the bottle as if it was some sort of amulet or charm.

My mother called her this morning to see how she was doing. She said: “I am at peace and calm because every time I smell the cologne I remember his life not his death….Thank you for such an amazing gesture of God….!!!”

I am sure you Never expected your cologne to touch so many people in soooooo many different ways.

Thank you

Alejandra Lamas


At last we have an answer to What Would Jesus Spritz? $156 for a dozen 2 oz. bottles.

*Why do I have my doubts as to the length of the debate over using this letter?)

God’s chosen racing team finishes 14th at Indy 500

Kingdom Racing was founded last year “to win on the race track, create value for sponsors, and to change people’s lives through on-track ministry events.” Despite this divine mission, driver Davey Hamilton was afflicted with an “under steer in the car” (don’t ask me) which caused him to finish 14th at this year’s Indy 500. Chalk it up to free will I guess. In words that echoed either The Book of Job or Dale Earnhardt Sr., Hamilton said, “This is the toughest race I’ve ever been in.”

As with all 14th place finishes, this was a team achievement.* The Kingdom Racing team is lead by Houston businessman George Del Canto who said, “The team’s vision is to deliver the word of God through Motor Sports. To reach this goal, we must field a championship caliber race team, as only front-runners earn credibility and deliver value to the sponsors’ investment.” (There has been considerable theological debate over whether credibility is earned through acts on the race track or by the grace of The Sponsor. The debate was eventually settled at the Wittenberg Raceway in what has come to be known as the Martin Luther 95.)

Del Canto says the idea for Kingdom Racing came to him, “Three years ago, after studying Awaken the Leader Within, a book that challenged Christians to have a “blow your socks off” vision for the kingdom of God, I said I was going to build an Indy race team to deliver God’s word through motor sports.”

We can only hope that — unlike Saul on the road to Damascus — none of Kingdom Racing’s drivers are blinded by this “blow your socks off” vision.

*Or maybe, as some have long suspected, God really is a NASCAR fan.

Why are Easter chocolates Kosher?

Annette asks this key question in response to my post People for the Ethical Treatment of Candy Animals.

I noticed many of the easter chocolate (crosses! In chocolate!!!) have a kosher seal on them. Why?????????

Judging from her entertaining blog Fun With Play Dough, Ms. van de Kamp-Wright is Jewish and totally perplexed by this and other issues around Easter.

But Easter? How do Christians explain to their children about somebody who was murdered by being nailed to a cross, was buried in a cave, and came back as if he was the villain in a horror movie who just won’t die?

While I do not disagree with Ms. van de Kamp-Wright’s characterization of the holiday (indeed I thought the line about the horror movie villain was both insulting to Christians and hysterically funny), I do not agree with it either. I must say that I have yet to encounter any religion whose ideas and holidays are in any way, shape or form rational. Mormons? Christian Scientists? Zoroastrians? They worship a bowl of fire instead of somebody who was murdered by being nailed to a cross, was buried in a cave, and came back as if he was the villain in a horror movie who just won’t die? How odd.

Is this story really any more or less difficult to explain then God sending an angel to kill all the first born of Egypt? “Oh honey, G-d who has promised to send a messiah, decided to execute thousands of children just to give Moses a chance to get lost in the desert for four decades.”

Turning water into wine is neither more or less absurd than the Almighty communicating via a shrubbery that is set on fire. My own faith is neither Christian nor Jewish but essentially Deist. Although I am a sect of one, my beliefs are deeply heart-felt and I practice them (pardoned the phrase) religiously. Undoubtedly I have practices and tenets that others would think certifiably loony. That is, after all, the nature of faith. If it were based on reason, we wouldn’t be called believers. People who worship in glass churches/temples/groves, etc. should not throw stones.

None of which answers Annette’s wonderful question.

Stores nailed for selling Jesus-branded cosmetics

JC bath soapComplaints from irate Catholics (is that a new denomination?) have forced a chain of stores in Singapore to pull all of the “Lookin’ Good For Jesus” line of cosmetics.

Nick Chui, 27, a Catholic, spotted the items in a Topshop outlet and then wrote a letter to [its owners] saying that the products trivialised Jesus Christ and Christianity. “There are also sexual innuendoes in the messages and the way Jesus is portrayed in these products,” the Singapore Straits Times quoted Chui as saying.

The cosmetics and toiletries are made by the Massachusetts company Blue Q. The company is actually pretty catholic in its brands, which include “Wash Away Your Sins,” and “Cute as Hell.” They also make “Believe In God” & “Convert to Judaism” breath sprays and “Jesus Saves” & “Jesus Rocks” car air fresheners.

We know He can turn water into wine, but can He turn controversy into sales.

I’m always conflicted when it comes to the topic of religious humor. I know a bunch of Jesus jokes (that’s bad, right?) and I learned most of them from a priest (which makes them good, right?). For reasons I am still unclear on, a lot of them involve JC playing golf.

Not all, however.

Jesus walks into a hotel, places three nails on the counter and says, “Can you put me up for the night?”

That’s bad.

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Jesus is still hot … in chocolate, plastic, CDs and Elvis

In case you had any doubts JC the First is still a bankable concept for moving product.

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The one true Jesus MP3 player has been revealed

Cross MP3 playerYou can have your Jesus Phone, from now on I will be listening to all my stolen gospel music on this. HA HA. Special props to OhGizmo for dubbing it the iJesus. BTW, the iJesus is very affordable: 4GB for only $48. Discounts if you buy enough for the whole flock.

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Sex, violence and religion: Churches use Halo 3 and porn to attract customers

Everyone else is doing it, so why not them?

The computer game Halo is hot so:

Acts of GodAcross the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.

Pornography, of course, is always popular so:

The Crux, a Fishers church, joined a nationwide movement Sunday to address the issue, a day they called “Porn Sunday,” WRTV-TV in Indianapolis reported. Across the country, hundreds of churches talked about what some call America’s dirty little secret. An estimated 40 million people visit porn sites daily, generating an estimated $6.2 billion for porn purveyors in the United States alone, according to Porn Sunday’s organizers. Porn Sunday is a movement started by two pastors from California who formed a church called xxxchurch.com, dubbed a Christian porn site.

And to think people once got upset because Vatican II switched the Catholic Church from Latin to the vernacular. (Cue Tom Lehrer.) All of this goes a long way to explain why the Night of Joy Christian music event at Walt Disney World is considered the rowdiest, most debauched event in the Happiest Place on Earth:

. . . some who have attended previous NOJ festivals, as well as Cast Members who’ve worked it, claim that of all the separate-ticket events held at the Magic Kingdom, it’s the most unruly. Tales abound of the Magic Kingdom overrun by mobs of drunken teens, petty thievery in the shops, as well as an overworked security dealing with fights among the crowds of young concert attendees.

(Maybe it’s just the context but doesn’t Night of Joy sound a little dirty?)

It’s actually disingenuous of me to criticize this behavior. I mean if you read the source material … aka The BIBLE … it’s just filled with this stuff.

But that’s all in the Old (fun) Testament, the New Testament’s stories offer far less in the way of how people do act and more in the way of how it is hoped they will act. Because of this I think it’s OK for Catholic Bishops in Belgium to complain about a TV ad depicting a pot-bellied, hippy Jesus performing miracles and picking up scantily-clad girls up in a nightclub.

God Ad

According to the texts I’ve read (and I haven’t finished The Gnostic Gospels yet) while Jesus did meet “fallen women” he put a premium on helping them back up. It’s important to show the full story.

(Acts of God image courtesy of GreatCosmicHappyAss.com which has a bunch of other funny God cards.)

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A little sympathy for Jeffrey Toobin

The wonderful writer for the New Yorker and legal affairs analyst for CNN was thoroughly in the wrong place today — caught covering the Michael Vick non-event on the same day as Alberto Gonzales resigned. Watched Toobin briefly on CNN and could tell by the look in his eyes that he knew he was missing THE story.

I am fascinated to see who the White House comes up with for a replacement for Gonzales. It has been a post continually filled by the 2nd dimmest bulb in the administration. One person on meeting Mr. Ashcroft was shocked at how dumb he was, to which another person said, “Well, don’t forget he did lose an election to a dead guy.” To give Mr. Ashcroft his due, though, the more we find out about his refusal to renew secret wire-tapping efforts the more he seems like a truly stand-up guy.

In Re: Mr. Vick

Gotta say the most irritating thing about his little non confession was the literal “come to Jesus” moment.

Michael Vick, speaking to the media in Richmond, says he has found Jesus and turned his life over to God.

Even if he has done so there’s no way this announcement made on the day he is pleading guilty to a felony can be perceived as anything but spin. I hope Mr. Vick has indeed found a moral guide, whomever that may be. But a suggestion to all those celebs who are seeking actual redemption and not just redemption in the public eye: keep it to yourself until we can see actions that show you really are practicing what He preached.

Praise God, “Holy Land Experience” has found a financial savior

Next time you are in Orlando, FL, and seeking a break from all things Mouse, I suggest you wander over to Holy Land Experience — a place where the thrill rides are entirely intellectual.

For those of you who, unlike me, haven’t visited HLE a word of explanation is in order:

For six years, Holy Land has quietly been recreating the Jerusalem of Biblical times, without any publicity, relying instead on word of mouth. However, it ran into trouble two years ago after its preacher founder, the Rev. Marvin Rosenthal, left the project. But now a saviour has been found in the form of a Christian empire, Trinity Broadcasting Network, based in California. They took over the park’s $5.3 million mortgage and are celebrating a 25 per cent rise in ticket sales after advertising on their channels. Bosses prefer to call Holy Land a “living Biblical museum” rather than a theme park. Instead of rides, there are lectures and tours of a recreated Jerusalem and the garden tomb where Jesus was buried.

Herewith is an unfinished essay I wrote about HLE when I visited it shortly after it opened:

HLE LogoThey make a lousy falafel sandwich in The Holy Land. The signature ingredient is chewy and flavorless, lacking the crisp shell and garlicky overtones you can find in any decent mid-eastern greasy spoon. The pita is no better than what’s inside: Its thick rubbery consistency has more in common with Dunkin Donuts’ version of a bagel than the pleasant, thin bread you can get at any decent grocery store.
The Holy Land which attempts and fails this classic Arabic dish is not the Levantine area where Jews and Muslims have been at odds with each other for, oh, forever, but The Holy Land Experience, an Orlando, Fla., theme park where Jews and Christians, Christians and Christians and the IRS have been at odds with each other since it opened in February.
In many ways the park is typical for the Orlando area, a region that is to theme parks as Rome is to churches.

As with its more secular neighbors—Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World—Holy Land’s foliage is richly green and its fountain blasts away all day, which is notable because Florida is in the third year of a drought. Also like its neighbors, Holy Land’s exhibitions are painted and polished to look hyper-real. At HLE that means everything has a glossy patina of dirt and a “worn” look to make the new buildings look old, but in a shiny brand-new kind of way. However, unlike other area competitors for your leisure time dollar whose bland self-descriptive phrases (“Adventureland makes a fitting home for The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, filled with the wonder of genies, flying carpets, magic lamps and Middle East mystique”) serve as cover for unrepentant capitalism, The Holy Land’s bland self-serving phrases (“Its unique combination of sights, sounds and tastes stimulate your senses and blend together to create a spectacular, new experience”) serve as cover for a fascinating, reactionary religious outreach effort.

Describing Holy Land Experience as a theme park is both linguistically accurate and technically inaccurate. In amusement industry argot, The Land is a second tier tourist attraction—because it’s small and has no rides. But to any visitor it is quite definitely a theme park. The entire idea behind a theme park is to create a simulacrum of something familiar yet vaguely exotic in a very non-threatening way. Where Disney World, for example, seeks to place patrons in settings modeled on its cartoons, Holy Land’s beige buildings carefully imitate the post-and-stucco style of architecture we are all familiar with from countless biblical epics. At the same time, like any such park, it seeks to shield its patrons from anything potentially unsettling. For Disney, that means carefully avoiding any depictions of natural unpleasantness—in a Lion King puppet show the “Circle of Life” is shown without disclosing that predators eat other cute furry animals. For The Holy Land, that means avoiding any historically accurate unpleasantness — there is no dung in the streets, no slaves, no blood. It also means toning down the explicit anti-Semitism that has marked some Christian versions of life in Jerusalem in the centuries before and after the life of Jesus.

Anti-Semitism is a particularly sensitive issue at The Holy Land because the park was founded by Rev. Marvin Rosenthal as an offshoot of his Zion’s Hope Ministry. As might be surmised from his name, Rosenthal converted from Judaism to Christianity and, as might be surmised from its name, Zion’s Hope’s chief goal is to get other Jews to do the same. When the park opened it was, not surprisingly, subjected to a barrage of criticism from local and national Jewish leaders who objected to both Rosenthal’s plans to funnel any park profits to Zion’s Hope and to the park’s use of Jewish symbols and prayers. But, as the Kosher set realized the more they protested the more publicity the park garnered, they found themselves dropping the protests and doing some resolute harrumphing instead.

Not only has The Holy Land managed to piss off the religion Rev. Rosenthal left, but the one he joined isn’t so crazy about it either. Turns out you have to be the “right kind” of Christian to get a job in the blessed theme park. Surprisingly that doesn’t mean lefty Lutherans or people espousing liberation theology are excluded, it means no charismatic or evangelical Christians need apply. Anyone applying for a job at the park must sign a “doctrinal statement” of belief, which excludes Pentecostal Christians—who believe in such forms of worship as “speaking in tongues,” faith healing and spontaneous prophecy. “We are not charismatics,” Rosenthal told the Orlando Sentinel. “We love them. We appreciate them. But we would not offer them a job.”

Even though the Land’s doctrinal statement of belief doesn’t mention people who believe in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, it doesn’t really have to. One of the souvenir shops played a video called “The Forbidden Book.” The blurb on its cover says that, “During the dark ages, superstition and ignorance controlled the minds of the masses. A few brave men obeyed God and brought the Scriptures to the world.” Watching the video you find out that those purveyors of superstition and ignorance were not pagans or people selling snake-oil cures but—and this is emphasized quite heavily—the corrupt Catholic Church seeking to suppress the translating of the Bible into the vernacular. Add to that the lecturer at the Jerusalem diorama saying repeatedly that “We don’t worship Mary,” and even a former Catholic such as myself began to take umbrage.

If the ban on born again employees has irritated many area charismatic Christians (and they are legion—Orlando is home to dozens of evangelical organizations, international ministries and seminaries), it hasn’t hurt business. The park has been averaging 2,000 people a day—about twice the business it had been expected to do before it opened. Despite facing the ire of many Jews and some Christians, the largest problem that the park seems to be facing now is where to put all the cars. On a Saturday in March many customers wound up parking on some of the attraction’s formerly well-manicured lawns.

HLE is an odd, modest place. At 15 acres it is perhaps the size of a half of one of the larger “Lands” in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom—so not even the size of a decent sub-theme park. (By comparison, The World, as it is known, occupies 47.5 square miles of what is now prime real estate.) The Holy Land has no rides just a recreation of a “typical” mid-eastern street, a “multi-media” presentation about ancient Jewish religious ceremonies, a diorama of all of Jerusalem circa 600 AD, an imitation of the tomb of Jesus, a movie of His crucifixion and a museum of Biblical artifacts.

Whether or not all this makes it a theme park is a point of some contention. Rev. Rosenthal, fearing an annual tax bill of more than $300,000 is lobbying to have it classified as a non-profit, “living museum,” rather than a tourist attraction. The tax folks, who classify these things on their use rather than on who owns them, says that it will have to render unto Caesar just as any other tourist attraction does. Rev. Rosenthal is appealing the ruling.

Regardless of whether it’s park or museum, The Land is a treat for those who mammon has not blessed, a daily ticket goes for $17, about a third of what it costs to enter any one part of The World.

To enter you go not like Our Lord to the Jerusalem Gate but just to the right of it where—in an clash of the pseudo-ancient and the security minded—a woman wearing a beige tunic and burnoose and a black telephone headset sits behind security glass and a post-and-stucco façade to sells you your ticket. While standing in line we were approached by a man dressed as a Roman soldier who cheerfully told us that the ATMs were located in the Guest Services office therefore, I guess, keeping the money lenders a safe way from the Temple (of The Great King). The woman in beige’s first word to me—as, it turns out, it is any time a “cast member” (which is theme-park industry slang for employee) speaks to a customer—is “Shalom.”

jesusAfter getting my ticket, I then passed through the Jerusalem Gate, sans Ass or Palms, and wandered straight into a recreation of a Jerusalem street market which might easily be confused with a souvenir shop. The tchotchkes offered here and at various carts around the park are all Old Testament: a variety of shofars, several types of menorahs and jet black yarmulkes (suffice to say this selection of keepsakes has done nothing to soothe Jewish feelings about the park). The day I was there there was only one depiction of Jesus to be seen: a standard-issue, saccharine painting of an Anglicized Him meeting the woman at the well. All other paintings feature either Moses or Abraham. Indeed this lack of Christian imagery is ubiquitous throughout the park and on its customers. I didn’t see a single cross on anyone inside of the park. The only cross I did see was a small and relatively discrete one in The Land’s logo: It takes the place of a star in the sky over a silhouette of the old Jerusalem skyline. Admittedly that logo is on everything from key chains to tote bags to t-shirts but compared to the trifurcated circles of Mickey Mouse which are incorporated into buildings, landscaping and food at Disney World, The Holy Land is a model of restraint. (Indeed after visiting The Land, I was keenly aware of what it meant to have Disney’s corporate logo offered to me in cookies, ice cream and cakes of butter. Body of Mickey, anyone?)

What the park lacks in New Testament iconography, it more than makes up in for in the literature and videos offered for sale. There are workbooks to help the more scholarly learn New Testament Greek in 30 minutes a day—apparently no one is trying to recreate the original Aramaic—but most of the items emphasize Revelation and other apocrypha, with books featuring titles like The Prewrath Rapture Position Explained, The Rapture Question Answered and Imminency: The Phantom Doctrine and even one of the many popular novels about the post-rapture world called The Fourth Reich.

Exiting the souvenir shop, I strolled down the redundantly named Via Dolorosa Path to the Millstone Garden and thence to the Calvary’s Garden Tomb, to see for myself where He was risen from. While no one is exactly sure how long original Way of The Cross was (to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Boffin and some of the others visited Jerusalem for the express purpose of obtaining the exact measurements, but unfortunately, though each claimed to be correct, there is an extraordinary divergence between some of them.”), at 30 seconds from start to finish, this one seemed a bit brief. Even had I been recently scourged and carrying a cross, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have taken more than a couple of minutes to perambulate and I could have done it without falling three times, let alone getting some wayward Cyrene to lend me a hand.

This version of Christ’s tomb is no more impressive than the walk to it: It is a large hollowed out blob of sprayed and weathered cement, colored in various shades of tan. Inside, the tomb has an un-made bed feel to it, as if Our Lord were less profane than your average college student (no posters of members of the opposite sex) but every bit as messy. (In Manhattan it would probably rent for about $1500 depending on the neighborhood). Following this splash of the New Testament, I headed towards the Wilderness Tabernacle past the as-yet-unopened “Qumran Dead Sea Caves”—which the park’s literature promises will be a creation of “the same caves where, in 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd boy discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. These amazing scrolls would confirm the extraordinary accuracy of the Holy Scriptures.”

Consider this about those two quoted sentences: A) while it’s good copy, most of the Scrolls were discovered during the ‘50s and ‘60s by people other than that unnamed Bedouin; and B) as to confirming the accuracy of Holy Scripture, well to use the ugly neologism of our most recent former President, it depends on what you mean by “confirm” and “Holy Scripture.”

The Scrolls are believed to have been written between 200 BC to 68 C.E./AD by a fundamentalist Jewish sect called the Essenes who believed in: (a) baptizing people, (b) that the Messiah either had or was about to come, (c) that the apocalypse was right behind Him, (d) that the covenant of the Old Testament had ended and that a new covenant—including the forgiving of sins—was in place. They were led by a priest they called the “Teacher of Righteousness,” who was opposed and possibly killed by the establishment priesthood in Jerusalem. (Stop me if this is beginning to sound familiar.) The Essenes, who were mentioned by some writers of the time like Pliny the Elder, are not referred to anywhere in what is popularly known as the New Testament and the favor is returned: there is no reference to Jesus, His disciples or His actions, anywhere in the Scrolls. The Scripture thus “confirmed” by the Scrolls is the Old Testament, and it is confirmed only in that they contain older and more complete copies of the Torah than had previously come to light. The Scrolls also confirm Jesus wasn’t the only one running around with these particular ideas at that particular time, but I suspect that’s not the conclusion The Holy Land wants you to draw.

That said, it should be noted that these are points highly subject to interpretation and The Land’s version of The Scrolls and what they contain is far from an extreme one. And this showcases The Land’s real thrill ride and what it offers that none of its competitors do: Something to think about. Pardon me Ms. Stein, but there is a there there. Whether you agree with its progenitors or not, The Land is actually about something. By comparison, The World offers no concept more challenging than “Progress is Good” and they’re pretty much willing to back off that if it bothers you. And Disney’s history is much, much more questionable than The Land’s. For example, Epcot Center’s Spaceship Earth ride, which claims to show you the history of human communications, is so Euro-centric as to be laughable—according to the ride’s narrative there wasn’t a single Asian or African contribution to the progress of human communication. In fact, so tenuous is Disney’s belief that progress is good that they haven’t figured out how to update Epcot Center from when it was opened in the 1970s and have turned Tomorrow Land into a giant retro, kitsch display probably out of the reasonable belief that even seven-year-olds aren’t going to buy the idea that there is a utopia anywhere in their future.

But I digress.

A far better and weirder display of historical research was performed at The Holy Land’s Wilderness Tabernacle. Before entering, the audience is told repeatedly that we will be seeing ceremonies witnessed only by the priests, including actually entering the room with the Ark of the Covenant, which could be done only by the High Priest on one specific day of the year. The net effect of these announcements was to give me a frisson of excitement from this chance to collaborate in a little cultural desecration.

The Wilderness Tabernacle is billed as a multi-media event and it is, in that it combines blurry laser imagery, portentous narration, gold-painted props, and some scrim. For reasons best known by whomever conceived of this demonstration, mundane acts like the washing of hands and the slaughter of animals are performed in pantomime (presumably because the simulation of the death of a sheep would be found upsetting by people today), while the manifestation of God, an event so fantastic it beggars the imagination, is rendered literally with “CO2 and water/glycol based ‘fog juice,’ blasted into the air at speeds of up to 40 mph.” Lacking in funds and technical facility, the Land’s rendering of the All Mighty’s emergence from the Ark of the Covenant is an unconvincing simulacrum of what audiences have been conditioned to expect from Steven Spielberg and Indiana Jones. (The chubby “Jewish” priest in his white robe and toque evokes another cultural referent: Chef Boy-ar-dee. So one gets the feeling that instead of being in a place of reverent awe you are about to be hit up by the kind of corporate spoke-symbol that litters the exhibitions at Disney’s Epcot Center.) The entire event is narrated from the point of view of a member of the priestly class and his text wouldn’t seem out of place in a Discovery Channel re-creation until the final minute when the priest voices a postscript of doubt that questions the ceremony we had just witnessed and portends of more important religious events yet to come.

With that odd bit of anti-Semitism rattling around my head, I exited to the Temple of The Great King, an imitation of part of the Great or Herodian Temple in Jerusalem. where a multiracial group of five singers were exulting the crowd with an up-beat song about renouncing self-seeking and materialism. It was a bracing moment and discordant, not so much in The Land, but in Orlando as a whole which is as impressive and overt a monument to self-seeking and materialism as can be found outside of the Trump Tower or Bill Gate’s mansion.

Because it was lunch time and the line to watch a filmed re-enactment of Jesus’ execution was long, I made my way to The Palm Oasis Café which, as it turns out, is a wannabe kosher eatery. The Jewish dietary laws are followed—attempts to order dairy with meat are rebuffed with more of a smile than you will ever encounter at Katz’s Deli in Manhattan and signs everywhere inform you that the hot dogs are Hebrew National—but given the anti-Semitism of the place not even the most reformed rabbinical authority would ever certify the kitchens. It is practically a manifestation of the old Woody Allen line about Jews who are so reformed that they were Nazis. In addition to featuring such items as Goliath and Goliath Junior Burgers, Milk and Honey Ice Cream and a Thirsty Camel Cooler, the Café also featured the only “cast members” who were also people of color. With the exception of some of the food servers, the cast are the palest, least Semitic looking people to don burnoose and sandals since T.E. Lawrence went to Arabia. (The customers, however, were much more diverse. The predominantly Anglo crowd was well leavened with people of various skin colors, speaking a variety of different languages.)

After lunch, with the faithful still swarming to witness God being nailed to some wood, I made my way over to what is billed as Jerusalem Model A.D. 66. The 45-foot diorama has been well rendered and gives you a much better feel for what a small town Jerusalem was. What makes it a must visit exhibit, though, is the accompanying lecture done the day I was there by a man named Clint Brown. He stood carefully in the diorama, a genial, balding colossus wearing a suit and tie, not the usual park mufti. Jones said he was a minister and from his presentation there was no reason to doubt him. His knowledge of who built what building when and where it was referred to in the Bible was clearly too deep for him to have just memorized a text.

Brown’s explanation of the many architectural peculiarities and how they came to be incorporated in the Scriptures was truly illuminating. For example, when Jesus exhorted His followers to shout the good news from the roof tops, it turns out this was neither revolutionary nor metaphorical but the result of an architectural condition that exists in many overly warm cities. Jerusalemites, whose houses by and large had flat roofs, frequently took to the roof tops in the evenings to escape the heat and, not surprisingly, shouted to the neighbors to communicate. Today the equivalent exhortation might be “Send it by e-mail!”

Brown could be faulted for saying with too much certainty that Golgotha is located on a hill called Gordon’s Calvary (this is the location preferred by the Protestant denominations) and not on the area occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the location preferred by Roman Catholic and Orthodox religions). Even the Catholic Encyclopedia, which presents a surprisingly strong case for the Protestant site in its pages, has the intellectual rigor to say of either location that “until documents are produced to confirm them, they must inevitably fall short as proof of facts.”

But what really makes Rev. Brown’s lecture a must-hear event is where it diverges from mere historical interpretation into prophecy. Since the dot-com bubble burst, I am not regularly around people who believe that Paradise is nigh—but listen to Rev. Brown rhapsodize on the coming Rapture takes you right back to those heady days of a year ago when there was no such thing as bad news.

(This is where there should be some sort of thing like a conclusion. Sorry.)

The Da Vinci news

To pretty much no one’s surprise, reviews for the “Code” are in and are tepid at best (OK, so this one is from the “Catholic News Service,” you don’t think they’d hold a grudge do you?). Imagine my surprise. That said there is some actual news relating to the book that makes Tom Clancy look like a good writer:

  1. “Da Vinci” unites Indian Muslims and Christians In India, “Islamic clerics promised to help Christian groups launch protests if the authorities did not ban the screening of the controversial film.” Let’s try to show it in Iraq and see if that does any good. Can’t really make things worse. I for one am willing to join any protest over the quality of the writing in the book. And Tom Hank’s hair.
  2. Reading “Da Vinci Code” does alter beliefs: surveyThe Da Vinci Code has undermined faith in the Roman Catholic Church and badly damaged its credibility, a survey of British readers of Dan Brown’s bestseller showed on Tuesday.” Reading a book will change your beliefs? Somewhere Martin Luther is laughing his anti-Semitic butt off.

People are now twice as likely to believe Jesus Christ fathered children after reading the Dan Brown blockbuster and four times as likely to think the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei is a murderous sect.

Well, it has certainly altered my faith. My faith in the fact that I had a rough idea of how credulous people are.

“Don’t you think that I know that walking on water won’t make me a miracle man” — Elvis Costello

More on the religion front … scientists have come up with an "explanation" for JC tiptoeing on the tides: "Rare conditions could have conspired to create hard-to-see ice on the Sea of Galilee that a person could have walked on back when Jesus is said to have walked on water, a scientist said." OK, but being able to walk on water-covered ice without slipping seems pretty miraculous to me.