Monthly Archives: August 2011

For Prophet & Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia

Robert D. Crews, For Prophet & Tsar:  Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 2006).

@ for $14.13 (480 pages)

In today’s political climate, much emphasis is put on the tense relationship between Christian and Islamic states.  Events such as those on September 11, 2001, spurred research into the history of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and Christianity.  Robert Crews’s For Prophet and Tsar challenges this paradigm, which implies that the relationship between the two world religions is one of confrontation and one in which toleration is not possible.  In this book, Crews focuses on the Orthodox Christian Russian Empire and its interactions with the nearly twenty million Muslims within its borders.  Perhaps surprisingly for anyone not well versed in Russian history, his book reveals a story not of incessant contention, but instead of imperial toleration.

The opening of governmental archives after the fall of the Soviet Union granted scholars like Crews access to a wide range of new resources on Russia’s past, such as church records, imperial documents, petitions, and police records.  The past that is revealed by these sources, Crews argues, is not one plagued by ideological difference and ceaseless violence such has oftentimes been portrayed.  Instead, the sources reveal an imperial Russia that, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, had an official policy of toleration against all non-Christians living within its domain.  While official Russian attitudes toward Muslims began to shift under Peter the Great, it was Catherine II who ushered in imperial reform with her policy of toleration.  Crews points out that this toleration of non-Christian peoples was somewhat affected by the ideas of the French Enlightenment, but it was the teaching of German camerilists that had the most influence on the Russian empress.  Camerilst theory emphasized what Christianity and Islam (as well as Judaism) had in common instead of highlighting the religions’ doctrinal differences.  However, Crews is quick to show that the motivation behind Catherine’s toleration was not exactly a philosophical respect for religious difference.  Instead, Catherine understood that toleration of the multiple religions in Russia’s vast territory could be used as an instrument of the state to bring order to the empire.

In an attempt to both compete with the Ottoman Empire for the loyalty of Muslims living on the border and to institutionalize toleration and become “the House of Islam”, the Orenburg Assembly was founded in 1788.  A single mufti, or Islamic scholar, presided over the Orenburg Assembly, which was to act as the mediator between the imperial capital in St. Petersburg and the local Muslim leaders in the eastern provinces.  St. Petersburg and the Orenburg Assembly attempted to create the structured hierarchy of the Orthodox Church in the Muslim provinces by building more mosques and encouraging the formation of a Muslim clergy.  Despite the fact that such a clergy had not existed in Islamic culture, a body of government licensed Islamic holy men emerged to lead local parishes.

Through these licenses and appointments, the Orenburg Assembly and the tsarist government were able to penetrate into the lives of locals living in the furthest corners of the empire.  Yet, Crews asserts that the tsarist presence in Islamic culture was not completely the result of coercion.  A system of appellate courts also accompanied the introduction of Islamic clerics.  Crews claims that, according to the petitions and court records, a majority of the laity welcomed the avenue to challenge the decisions of local holy men, and thus the chance to help interpret Shari’a law.  The people would also use the courts and the Orenburg Assembly to settle disagreements within the family such as divorce cases or disputed inheritances.  Islamic clerics would often call on the Assembly to help resolve differences in ways of praying.  Crews’s point in providing such examples is clear: the tsarist presence in Islamic communities was not completely forced, nor was the relationship between government and subject completely one-sided; the government was granted peaceful entrance into its Muslim subjects’ daily lives and the Muslim community gained an outside mediator to reconcile local problems.

It is important to note, as Crews does, that imperial toleration of Muslims did not translate into full equality.  Members of the Orthodox clergy still enjoyed certain privileges that their Muslim counterparts did not.  Official toleration also did not extend to all of the varied branches of Islam.  In an effort to make governability more efficient, the imperial state only supported what its own experts (usually European) in the Orenburg Assembly codified and defined as orthodox Islam.  This standardized view of Islam and the central role of the Orenburg Assembly were important factors in imperial Russia’s rule over its Muslim subjects because while Muslims ran the Assembly and led local Muslim communities, both the appellate courts and the Assembly itself relied on the state to enforce their decisions.  Seen in this light, toleration did not bestow privileges or rights onto people, but instead was a way of policing diverse populations.

Overall, the purpose of Crews’s work is to show that, while there was violence and tension in the Christian-Muslim relations of imperial Russia, the intricate policies of toleration were much more widespread than is traditionally believed, and furthermore, official toleration was a necessity for the empire’s longevity.  Crews tells this story in a clear fashion that allows readers who are not historians of Russia to fully understand the material.  He also ends each chapter with a succinct summary, making sure that readers take away the most important points of the topic.

Criticism of For Prophet and Tsar is limited.  While Crews uses a variety of sources in many different languages, the majority of the source material comes from the imperial government.  Therefore, readers may ask if it is possible to take the information within the documents at face value or whether more material from the local towns and villages should also be utilized as a way to gain a broader perspective.  This criticism aside, Robert Crews’s book is well written and an important contribution to Russian history by showing how religious toleration was used as a tool of the tsarist state to establish social order throughout the empire.

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Fear of the TwitterBook

I’ll go ahead and say in advance – being that the new academic year has started, I will have less and less time to do any actual writing of my own for this site, which means that more and more of the content will be random tid-bits of the Net, or articles that I have come across during the day.

Maybe you’ll find them as interesting as I do.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about technology (It’s a Small World After All).  This NPR article goes hand in hand with that one.

And it makes me think of a little bit of info that I learned in my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course several years ago.  It is a phenomenon called habitus.  Essentially (if I remember it correctly), it is the brain rewiring (“softly”…as in it doesn’t necessarily become “hard”wired) itself to accommodate learned actions.  Let me explain:  there are some things that are hard-wired into our brains:  breathing, or ducking when a baseball is coming at our face, for example.  But there are other “reflexes” that can actually be learned.  We aren’t born with the knowledge of using a remote, yet our thumbs know just the right spot to hit (once they’ve been taught).  Another example:  keyboards.  Once you teach yourself where the keys are, your brain can “softly” rewire itself to accommodate that action.  But it’s more than just learning an action.  To your brain it’s almost as if typing on a keyboard is a reflex, because it has set itself up that way.  So, typing actually becomes like second nature to you.

This is an example of culture (outside) affecting neurology (inside).

Now, for the NPR article.  It has nothing to do with habitus directly – but it does have to do with the relationship between technology and culture.  (For example, how the invention of the clock made everyone “aware” of time – that is, they constantly thought about minutes and seconds and hours – whereas before, such concepts of “on time” “late”, or even minutes, and seconds and hours, meant nothing.)


I may not have invented the Internet but it’s possible I was the first guy to find out he was gonna be a dad through it. (It’s a long, 1980s NSFnet kind of story.) I was also, without a doubt, the first guy in Nerdville with a PalmPilot. My whole professional life has demanded early tech adoption: everything from file-transfer software to 3-D visualization to mobile computing. It was, however, only a week or so ago that I sent my first tweet.

I held off for a long time on Facebook and Twitter. Now that I’m getting deep into both, I have to ask: Why did I wait so long? More broadly and more importantly, what takes any culture or any individual “so long” in adopting new technologies?

For a world both blessed and battered by innovation what forces govern the adoption of new technologies? What leads us, as individuals, to opt into new technological modalities at particular moments in their development curve, from “hot new thing” to “everyone has one”?

And what about opting out? What happens when individuals decide to completely step away from a technological modality the rest of the culture has embraced? And how about cultures as a whole? Have entire societies ever completely dismissed a burgeoning new technological capacity?

Sometimes a technology sweeps across culture with a force that simply cannot be avoided. The first public mechanical clockappeared in Orvieto, Italy, in 1307. One hundred years later public clocks had evolved into the standard even in smaller settlements. The human experience and organization of time had become wedded to the new technology of mechanical time metering and the world was never the same.

In our technology saturated world however innovations come and go. Some, such as email and iPods, spread with the speed of an epidemic and alter the genetic (mememic) code of culture. Others, like MySpace or Sony’s failed mini-disk, flare and fade, or just fail entirely. But what is the role of individual choice embedded, as it is, in its cultural background of adoption or dismissal? What price do we pay as individuals if we decide to never pick up a technology, or to opt out once it has risen to prominence? What reasons shape these choices?

The “videophone” presents an interesting on-going example of adoption/opt-out. Pairing video and voice communication seemed the pinnacle of future-tech in Stanley Kubrick’s film2001: A Space Oddessy. Now, in 2011, the technological capacity for video calls has existed for years. As super-cool as the idea appears, the reality is that people remain luke-warm about its use. Skype and other platforms have made the service insanely simple. Still, many folks simply don’t want to be “seen” on every call and won’t use the technology unless forced into it (such as in work-related video conferencing where you are supposed to look nice anyway).

At some point video calls may become so prevalent that rejecting one will seem as Luddite as not having a telephone in your house was 30 years ago. But at this moment in videophone history, it is still possible to opt out.

Which brings me back to my avoidance of Facebook. To be honest I may have held back because of tech snobbery. I can still remember how horrified I was back in 1992 when I saw .comappearing at the end of a Web address. “You can’t use the Internet to sell things,” I thought. “It’s for learning!” (Obviously you don’t want me as your investment advisor). And to be truthful I may have avoided it (and Twitter) because, at 49, I am just getting old and crusty. But in reality, I stayed away because I did not see the point. Overwhelmed with email and texts and my omnipresent iPhone, I could not see why I wanted another node of electronic contact. And Twitter? 140 Characters? Really?

But my kids forced me onto Facebook a year ago (I demanded they friend me in the name of transparency) and my publisher pushed me to Twitter as part of my part of the launch of my new book (shameless plug here). In both cases I could immediately see I had blinded myself to how and why these platforms had launched such powerful reconfigurations of the tech-enabled cultural imagination. As my editor at NPR, Wright Bryan, puts it: “It’s the insane flexibility of these platforms that gives them so much power.”

It is the open-ended brilliance of Facebook and (as I am learning) Twitter in creating ever-shifting, ever-nested webs of connection that take them beyond themselves. Both sites may eventually be replaced by something newer. But by creating technological norms for a particular kind of connectivity, the electronic social networks they embody are transforming our historical moment as completely as mechanical time metering changed life in 15th century.

Culture sees itself and the cosmos as a whole through the lens of its technological capabilities. That fact may explain when adoption grows beyond mere choice. Once a technology settles in to the point where it begins shaping the dominant metaphors of a society (the 17th century’s “clockwork universe” for example), then there is no going back, no opting out. You and everyone you know will be assimilated.

Until that moment, however, you may still have time to hit “delete all” and quietly walk away.

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What Would It Look Like?

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the world would be like if we really did something to stop greed and violence, hatred and pollution?   To wonder what would happen if we, as humans, reached our full potential?  I know you have.  Millions day dream about it at some point in their lives.  And then we usually wisk it away, feeling that it’s just that: a daydream.

The folks over at the GlobalOnenessProject have asked that same question in their 25 minute mini-film, “What Would It Look Like?”  Writer and Producer Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee interviews 9 people, and they discuss the need – and even the possibility – of a peaceful, more eco-minded world.  The peace that’s needed comes not from lack on conflict because we have all become one, but a peace born from respect of our differences.  A world in which we realize that we must cooperate with Mother Nature, not master her.

“We can split the atom…we can go to the moon,” one interviewee says.  “This is the imagination.  We can do even more with the power of Love.”

What would it look like?  It would be a world without boundaries, but still with diversity and flavor.  It would be a world in which we would share – share our resources, our knowledge, our patience, and our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of contentment.  “When we don’t want to share the world,” one interviewee warns us, “all that’s left is fundamentalism.”

“Let’s stop a moment and look at our lives from a broader perspective.  Then we will realize that there are more important things in life than spending the whole weekend in the supermarket trying to buy everything we can so that we can experience momentary satisfaction.”

Click on the picture below to watch the 25 minute video.  It’s a beautiful picture that is painted.  Studying history, I sometimes resign myself to the fact that humans will always exploit each other, war with each other, and draw lines between ourselves.  But this movie gives me hope.

It may be just idealistic.  But then again, what’s wrong with being idealistic?   

From the website:

“What if the world embodied our highest potential? What would it look like? As the structures of modern society crumble, is it enough to respond with the same tired solutions?

Or are we being called to question a set of unexamined assumptions that form the very basis of our civilization?

This 25-minute retrospective asks us to reflect on the state of the world and ourselves, and to listen more closely to what is being asked of us at this time of unprecedented global transformation.”

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Sunday Sermon: Working Together

A Ramadan Story of Two Faiths Bound in Friendship 

by NPR staff; original article here


It’s Ramadan, the month-long holiday when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk as a way to cleanse the soul and reflect on their relationship with God. The faithful usually flock to their local mosques for prayer during the holiday, but last year, the Muslims of Cordova, Tenn., just outside Memphis, didn’t have a place to go.

That’s when Pastor Steve Stone put an unusual sign outside his church.

“It said, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood, Memphis Islamic Center,'” he laughs. “It’s been seen all over the world, now.”

Stone invited the Muslim community to celebrate their holiday inside his church while their own cultural center was under construction nearby. It was the beginning of an unusual alliance that’s still strong a year later.

“Obviously we were taken aback, but in a very positive way,” says Danish Siddiqui, a board member of the Memphis Islamic Center. “Muslims, we tend to think of ourselves as good neighbors,” he tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan, “but Steve beat us to the punch and put up that sign — and all we had to do was knock on the door and introduce ourselves.”

The Muslim community was building a new mosque, but it was a delicate time. Proposed Islamic centers were kicking up controversy from New York to Murfreesboro — another Tennessee town just 200 miles away from Cordova.

“We were looking at some close-by halls and rental spaces and none of them were available,” Siddiqui says. They asked Stone if they could borrow a small space inside his Heartsong Church. “He said, ‘No. You’re going to pray in our main worship space.'”

“We were so honored to be asked, because we knew that if they ever had any thought that we would say no, they would not have asked us,” Stone says.

Not everyone was as thrilled as Stone however. He received criticism from colleagues — and even members of his own church — who felt that he was blending Christianity and Islam. Ultimately, 20 members left his church, out of a congregation of 550.

“We had tried to work with them and think their way through it,” Stone says, “but at the end of the day, if they really believed what they said they believed, we’re kind of glad they left, because we didn’t want them going out into the community and saying, ‘We have these hateful feelings and we go to Heartsong Church.'”

Although the Memphis Islamic Center is now complete, the Muslim community keeps a strong relationship with Stone and Heartsong’s members. Once a month, they get together to help the homeless in their neighborhood, and there are also plans to build a new park that would sit on both congregations’ property.

“We have different faith traditions,” Siddiqui says. “But at the same time, we know that we can get along, we know that we can work together. And we have respect for one another, because we are people of faith.”







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Omnino: An Undergraduate Research Journal

My alma mater, Valdosta State University, recently decided to start publishing its own academic journal.  Because I was active in presenting my research at the university’s annual symposium on undergraduate research, I got an invitation to apply.  So I sent in a copy of my favorite undergraduate paper with all of the paper work.

A couple of months later, I got an email from the editor, informing me that my article had been accepted for publication!  So, then we began the negotiating process – I had to change some things (including the title), while I insisted that some parts had to stay.

That was several months ago.  But I was just informed that the journal is finally finished and has been launched online.  I’m really excited about it – 1) because I’m glad that VSU is expanding and now publishing its own journal, in which the research of its students can be showcased.  2) the OMNINO isn’t just a history journal – it’s for the entire university, so it’s interdisciplinary.  That means that this premier issue has articles from history (four of ’em actually!), english/literature, economics, and political science.  I think that’s awesome.  Be sure to check out the “Contributer’s Notes” section at the very end to get a short bio of all the authors.

OMNINO:  an Undergraduate Research Journal of Valdosta State University 

Once you’re brought to the site, you should be able to click on “click to read” and the reader will open up the document full screen, like a magazine.  And then you can just either click on the arrows on either side, or use your left and right arrow buttons to flip the pages.  My article, “The Submerged Tenth” is on page 143… just click here (but you really should take the time to look at it from the very beginning too, and read the editor’s notes).

I hope you enjoy my first published article!

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Changing Demographics

I was looking through my bookmarks and found this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and thought it was worth sharing.  

South:  First U.S. Region with Majority Low-Income and Minority Students

by Maureen Downey – January 6, 2010.

In a new report released today, the Southern Education Foundation declares the South the first region in the country in which more than half of public school students are poor and more than half are minorities.

By the end of the 2009 school year, African-American, Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, American Indian and multi-racial children constituted a little more than half of all students attending public schools in the 15 states of the South.

That demographic change will create strains on educators still grappling with how to teach disadvantaged students. It could also increase the move to privatization in Georgia if middle-class parents begin to feel that public schools are overwhelmed by the challenges of poor students.

Among the highlights of the report:

For the first time in the nation’s history, children “of color” constitute a new diverse majority of those enrolled in the South’s public schools. This shift is largely due to a dramatic increase of Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, and other population groups in the region. Most students in this new majority are also low income. These transformations establish the South as the first and only region in the nation ever to have both a majority of low income students and a majority of students of color enrolled in public schools. Four Southern states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia) now have a majority of both low income students and students of color.

Long the region with the most egregious record of depriving African Americans of access to equal, high-quality public education, the South now faces a problem of education inequality and underdevelopment of its human capital of unparalleled dimension. If the South and the nation fail to come to terms with the educational needs of the new majority of diverse public school students described in this report, the impact on the region’s and nation’s economy, global competitiveness, quality of life, and democratic institutions, will be catastrophic. This is not hyperbole.

Already the South is home to 40 percent of the nation’s low income people and has among the lowest educational achievement and attainment levels in the nation. Class and race are more often than not accurate indicators of the quality of public education afforded to students.

The number of students of color has grown more rapidly in public schools in the South than in any other region. In 2000, African American, Latino, and other non-White students made up 44 percent of the public school’s student body in the South. In 2008, this number had grown to 50 percent. In 2009, students of color constituted 51 percent of the South’s public schoolchildren. The rise in the number of students of color in the South is the result of a growing Latino population and a reversal of the historical decline in the number of Blacks. In 1980, less than six percent of the South’s residents were Hispanic.

By 1990, this percentage grew to about eight percent. In 2000, Latinos made up slightly more than 11 percent of the South’s population—almost double the region’s percentage of Hispanic population 20 years earlier. In 2008, 14.9 percent of the South’s population was Hispanic.

From 2000-2008, the Latino population increased faster in the South than in any other region. Higher rates of birth among the South’s Hispanic and African American populations in recent years explain a significant part of the increase in school enrollment. In 2007, women of color outside the 15 states of the South accounted for 44 percent of live births, while in the Southern states, half of all births were to women of color. Five of the six Southern states with a majority of students of color in the public schools in 2009 also were the states where a majority of births in 2007 were to women of color.

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Sunday Sermon…on Monday

So, I’m a day late with my weekly Sunday sermon.  And I didn’t even write this one.  But I came across it, and like last week’s (that pointed out the importance of knowing the history behind our holy texts), this one makes us take a minute or two to find out what’s actually in the Bible.

Actually, that’s not in the Bible

by: John Blake, CNN

NFL legend Mike Ditka was giving a news conference one day after being fired as the coach of the Chicago Bears when he decided to quote the Bible.

“Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka said after leading his team to only five wins during the previous season.  “This, too, shall pass.”

Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ditka was quoting a phantom scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.

Ditka’s biblical blunder is as common as preachers delivering long-winded public prayers. The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches – all types of people  – quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.

These phantom passages include:

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

And there is this often-cited paraphrase: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

None of those passages appear in the Bible, and one is actually anti-biblical, scholars say.

But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

“In my college religion classes, I sometimes quote 2 Hesitations 4:3 (‘There are no internal combustion engines in heaven’),” Bouma-Prediger says. “I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse.

“Only a few catch on.”

Few catch on because they don’t want to – people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, a Bible professor says.

“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who once had to persuade a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University that the saying “this dog won’t hunt” doesn’t appear in the Book of Proverbs.

“They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in,” he says, “but they ignore the vast majority of the text.”

Phantom biblical passages work in mysterious ways

Ignorance isn’t the only cause for phantom Bible verses. Confusion is another.

Some of the most popular faux verses are pithy paraphrases of biblical concepts or bits of folk wisdom.

Consider these two:

“God works in mysterious ways.”

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Both sound as if they are taken from the Bible, but they’re not. The first is a paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).

The “cleanliness” passage was coined by John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism,  says Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.

“No matter if John Wesley or someone else came up with a wise saying – if it sounds proverbish, people figure it must come from the Bible,” Kidd says.

Our fondness for the short and tweet-worthy may also explain our fondness for phantom biblical phrases. The pseudo-verses function like theological tweets: They’re pithy summarizations of biblical concepts.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” falls into that category. It’s a popular verse – and painful for many kids. Could some enterprising kid avoid the rod by pointing out to his mother that it’s not in the Bible?

It’s doubtful. Her possible retort: The popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

Another saying that sounds Bible-worthy: “Pride goes before a fall.” But its approximation, Proverbs 16:18, is actually written: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

There are some phantom biblical verses for which no excuse can be offered. The speaker goofed.

That’s what Bruce Wells, a theology professor, thinks happened to Ditka, the former NFL coach, when he strayed from the gridiron to biblical commentary during his 1993 press conference in Chicago.

Wells watched Ditka’s biblical blunder on local television when he lived in Chicago. After Ditka cited the mysterious passage, reporters scrambled unsuccessfully the next day to find the biblical source.

They should have consulted Wells, who is now director of the ancient studies program at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. Wells says Ditka’s error probably came from a peculiar feature of the King James Bible.

“My hunch on the Ditka quote is that it comes from a quirk of the King James translation,” Wells says. “Ancient Hebrew had a particular way of saying things like, ‘and the next thing that happened was…’ The King James translators of the Old Testament consistently rendered this as ‘and it came to pass.’ ’’

When phantom Bible passages turn dangerous

People may get verses wrong, but they also mangle plenty of well-known biblical stories as well.

Two examples: The scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, nor did any New Testament passages say that three wise men visited baby Jesus, scholars say.

Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.

Most people know the popular version – Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.

But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.

“Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.

Getting biblical scriptures and stories wrong may not seem significant, but it can become dangerous, one scholar says.

Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It’s actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

Where do these phantom passages come from?

It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries.

Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists.

If, say, you were an anonymous artist painting the Garden of Eden during the Renaissance, why not portray the serpent as the devil to give some punch to your creation? And if you’re a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn’t it just sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, not a “great fish”?

Others blame the spread of phantom Bible passages on King James, or more specifically the declining popularity of the King James translation of the Bible.

That translation, which marks 400 years of existence this year, had a near monopoly on the Bible market as recently as 50 years ago, says Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

“If you quoted the Bible and got it wrong then, people were more likely to notice because there was only one text,” he says. “Today, so many different translations are used that almost no one can tell for sure if something supposedly from the Bible is being quoted accurately or not.”

Others blame the spread of phantom biblical verses on Martin Luther, the German monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the massive “protest” against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the formation of Protestant church denominations.

“It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone – milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper – to be able to pick up the Bible and read for herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text,” says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California.

But often the milkmaid, the cobbler – and the NFL coach – start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says.

“You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, ‘What does this text mean to you?’’’ Hazen says.

“Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”

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Winston Whateverhisface

Lamebook is a website that scours Facebook and finds the lamest and most ridiculous posts and then shares them so that all of us can laugh at the imbeciles out there.

Someone shared this one today.  Maybe I take this one particularly hard because I’m a history student.  But still, come on people, really????

Categories: Humor | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Movie Time!

Heading to the movies tonight.





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Temple Grandin

This summer I came across an awesome movie made by HBO.  Temple Grandin is the true story of a woman, Temple Grandin (played in the movie by Claire Danes), who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4.  Blamed by the doctor for her daughter’s condition, Temple’s mother (played by Julia Ormond), with firm consistency, affection and tested patience, pushes Temple to learn to talk, read, and interact with others.  The mother’s consistency (added to Temple’s own almost bull-headed determination) pays off, and Temple goes on to complete high school, college, and finishes grad school with both a master’s and doctorate degree.

Throughout the film, Temple reminds herself (as her mother did many times before) that yes, she is different than other people.  But, different, not less.  Through Temple’s high school science teacher, the movie also shows us the importance of educators in providing inspiration and impetus in our lives.  Temple soon realizes that her autism allows her to experience reality in a way that is much different than people without the condition.  Instead of viewing it as a handicapped, she harnesses her autism (and the abilities that come with it such as being able to recall most anything that she’s ever seen) as a tool and gift.  By the end of the film, Temple – operating with the ideology that Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be – revolutionized the systems used to prepare cows for slaughter, as well as the design of the slaughterhouses themselves.

It really is a great movie, made even more so by the fact that it is a true story.  And while all of the actors do a superb job, Danes as Temple steals the show.

Available for purchase at (103 minutes) (new=$12.99)


About the Real Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin


By:  Megan Driscoll

In 2010, Dr. Temple Grandin was named one of ‘Time’ magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for her work in animal – and human – rights. Learn how Dr. Grandin not only overcame but harnessed her autism to become an award-winning animal scientist and a passionate advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Dr. Temple Grandin holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and both a master’s and doctorate in animal science. She has published several books, been inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and was named a ‘hero’ in the 2010 Time magazine list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

She’s also a high-functioning autistic. But Dr. Grandin doesn’t see her autism as an obstacle to her achievements. In her 1996 book, Thinking in Pictures, she famously asserted, ‘If I could snap my fingers and be nonautistic, I would not. Autism is part of what I am.’

Advocating for Autism

Dr. Grandin became known early in her career as an advocate for autism. She first spoke in public on the subject in the mid-1980s, when she was still a student. Dr. Ruth Sullivan, founder of the Autism Society of America (ASA), invited Dr. Grandin (then Ms. Grandin) to speak at one of the ASA conferences.

Because Ms. Grandin had already spent years working to learn to communicate with ‘neurotypical’ people, she was able to convey from personal experience what many people suffering from autism cannot: What it’s like to live inside the mind of an autistic person. This made her both an important advocate for the autistic community and an invaluable resource for families hoping to learn more about what their loved ones were going through.

Over the years, Dr. Grandin has published five books on autism, both describing her own experience and offering advice for adolescents and young adults with high functioning autism. She also invented the ‘hug machine,’ otherwise known as the squeeze machine, all the way back in 1965. The hug machine is a deep pressure device designed to relieve anxiety in hypersensitive individuals who are over-stimulated by being held by other people. She developed it for her own use, and a number of subsequent studies have found that using the machine can reduce tension and sometimes stress in children with autism.

A Hero to Animals

Dr. Grandin’s heroism doesn’t stop with human beings. She is equally well regarded for her advocacy for animals, and livestock research has been her life’s work.

Dr. Grandin’s research in animal science has led her to develop a number of types of humane livestock facilities and animal handling equipment, which has won her several industry awards. And in addition to her books on autism, Dr. Grandin has published two books about animals. Her work is widely cited in the animal welfare community, due in part to her argument that, although animals are technically property, they must be afforded ethical treatment that isn’t required for things.

Dr. Grandin attributes her insights into animal needs to her unusual ways of thinking and perspective on the world. She has a profound understanding of how it feels to be constantly threatened by one’s surroundings and has worked tirelessly to help keep animals out of these conditions.

Dr. Grandin is currently a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, where she teaches courses on livestock facility design and livestock behavior. She also consults with the meat industry on livestock handling, animal welfare and the design of humane livestock facilities.

Categories: Entertainment | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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