Today I embraced the Lord Jesus Christ

APRIL FOOLS’! Well, you knew that was coming, right? Now I’m going to enrich that predictably adolescent gag with a tidbit of extra trivia. “April Fools'” is called “Pesce d’aprile” in Italy – “April Fish.” I can only imagine it has something to do with this:

 

Fooled ya!

There’s a sucker born every minute. Save yourself; be skeptical.

Raising the Dead: Absolute Bullshit

Here is a video of a guy who tells of his “experiences” raising the dead. You don’t need an “ultimate super-level of hyperfaith” to do it, either. Apparently, you just need to command the dead to sit or stand up – in the name of Jesus, of course – and they do. Sometimes they even steal your money and begin to run away.

If you catch them, be sure to give the delinquent zombies a good old Christian-style whippin’. Then convert them.

A Bible in Every Home

The Klansmen up north now want to make sure every home has a bible in it, at least in their jurisdiction. Re-christianization? You’d think there were menorahs in every public place and synagogues a-go-go, or perhaps the piercing cry of a muezzin penetrating the whine of the baby Jesus on Christmas day. Just what are these people fighting for, and against? They already live in a society that protects their religion on a silver platter, with a separate clause in the Constitution just for them. Now they want to throw out all the immigrants (non-Christians, or just “non-whites?”) and enrich the bookshelves of those allowed to stay with a book they probably haven’t even read themselves.

I agree that every person should read the bible at least once. Only then can they grasp the madness that drives such crusades as this.

It’s Going to Be a Very White Christmas

Northern mythologies

Some people are saying it’s a bit early to start worrying about Christmas. In the US, ’tis the season to be merry as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey exits the small intestine (or is it the large one?). In Italy, people begin bustling on December 9, the day after they celebrate the Immaculate Conception (“immaculate”, that is, since Dec. 8, 1854 when that rogue Pius IX said so). What was it before, I wonder? Just another normal, sex-begotten conception methinks. You can only undo that with dogma.

But that’s not the point of this post. I’m not even baptized, so none of this theological hemming and hawing means much to me anyway. Besides, anyone who reads this blog is aware that virgin births, transsubstantiated wafers, celestial voyages of the dead and stigmata are not “my kink” (as they say in the world of sex-blogging). Though I admit I find them fascinating and relevant to understanding the passions and prejudices of my fellow citizens and – in some cases – family members.

“White Christmas”, in fact, is the name given to an anti-immigrant movement in Northern Italy. Yes, it’s those Ku Kluxers again, the Northern League, who are behind this. The “white” in White Christmas – as I hope you guessed – doesn’t refer to snow or the snowy purity of the baby Jesus on his (sic) birthday, but rather to the milky complexion of the militant Christians that inhabit certain regions of the chilly Lombard north. And they don’t like immigrants at their eggnog parties, either.

So they are taking to the streets this Christmas season in pure holiday spirit: by sending the cops around to immigrants’ homes to make sure their papers are in order. If not, they are to be thrown out (yes, on Christmas, if that wasn’t yet clear). One might imagine that such a violation of Christian “DNA” might get these rogues excommunicated, but one would be wrong. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, reportedly gave them but a little slap on the wrist.

Yet another marriage between church and state, as this crusading has been approved – and is being copied in other townships – by the local government. No cross, no crown?

Is this really the way to deal with immigration in a country with no real assimilation program for immigrants? Not even the all-encompassing, all-accepting, all-loving representatives of God on earth are raising their powerful finger in protest? I mean, we’re not talking about Muslims or Jews, or even atheists (boy, I’d hate to have to rely on them to get me out of a jam), but fellow Christians. Is this really the best the Vatican can do to spread its message of universal love and the transcendent power of suffering?

Here’s another tempting thought: immigrants without papers don’t vote, now – do they?

The Crucifix Debates: No End in Sight

Can it be uprooted?

In 2003, the year I moved to Italy, I witnessed my first “crucifix debate” on television. Adel Smith, the controversial protagonist of that episode and the founder of the Italian Islamic Party, had caused a stink by demanding that all crucifixes be removed from public buildings in Italy. They apparently offended him, though he was raised as a Catholic. He even threw one out the window of his mother’s hospital room. Religious conversion is strong medicine.

Six years later, the debate is back. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France has ruled that crucifixes in Italian schools violate the religious and educational freedom of children. At the center of the debate this time is a non-religious Italian family who don’t want their children to be conditioned by religious symbolism in what is nominally a public classroom.

Some readers might be asking themselves, “But why are there crucifixes in public schools in the first place?!” To an American, this is unthinkable. But the Vatican is not in New York City. And it’s where the trouble began more than 80 years ago with what is known as the Lateran Treaty.

The Treaty was devised under the Fascist government of the 1920s, and it stated that Catholicism was the sole state religion. Part of the agreement stipulated the presence of the crucifix in all Italian schools and public buildings, where they remain to this day, and “religion hour” — the teaching of the Catholic religion in all public schools. The religion teachers are handpicked by the Vatican and paid for by the state. Roll over, Thomas Jefferson.

All of this flies in the face of the Risorgimento, of course. Italy, as an autonomous nation, was founded in direct opposition to the Church. The integralist Pope Pius IX famously referred to himself as a “prisoner of the Vatican,” and no pope after him — until the agreements with Mussolini’s government — would set foot on Italian soil. In a country proud to have moved past the Fascist era (there is even a national holiday to this effect), it is perhaps anachronistic that Article 7 of the Constitution proclaims: “relations [between the Catholic Church and the State] are regulated by the Lateran Treaty.” Why not overhaul that as well, one wonders?

What we have on our hands is essentially a human rights issue. Is there a place for religion in the public sphere of a secular democracy in the 21st century? Religious apologists have remarked that we might as well tear up the Union Jack and the Finnish flag (and the Danish one, I suppose, that bastion of secularism), all of which have crosses. They’ve also suggested that the flag of the European Union has an encrypted Madonna and child among its 12 stars. Or that Europe has non-negotiable “Christian roots.” In these claims one hears the pronounced voices of reactionary bishops more than those of civil servants in a modern democracy. Yet Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini and Italian Senator Rocco Buttiglione all made them, among others. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa, topping them all, said recently that the EU court could “…go to hell. We’ll never take down the crucifixes.”

Even more telling are the attempts made by some Catholics to separate the crucifix from its religious context. As the Italian Bishop’s Conference put it, “The multiple significance of the crucifix, which is not just a religious symbol but a cultural sign, has been either ignored or overlooked.” Which raises the question: what culture are they referring to?

Italian culture is, like all other cultures in all other times, a grab-bag of goodies. Of the 3,000 or so years of recorded Italian history, Christianity has decidedly marked the last 2,000. But Judaism, it is often pointed out, has a longer history on the peninsula than the offshoot sect. Should Jews then insist mezuzahs be nailed to every doorpost of every public building from Bolzano to Syracuse? They have as good a case as anyone.

Of course, no one will take my little provocation seriously. After all, there are Jewish schools that cater to the needs of religious Jews. The same should be expected of Catholics.

Public spaces are for everyone. They are not Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan or Buddhist. Taking crucifixes off the walls (Buttiglione comically suggests that a plethora of symbols should go up instead — a solution even more risible than their elimination) does not condemn Catholics to atheism. This conveniently misses the point. Religious freedom includes freedom from religion as well as the freedom of religious affiliation. People in their homes may display any symbols they desire, or even a multitude of them. They may frequent any house of worship or none at all. They may read the Gospels or the speeches of Robert Ingersoll. On this, I think, we all agree.

The promotion of the crucifix from a strictly Catholic religious symbol (Protestants don’t use it) to a “universal” symbol of inclusion and suffering is dishonest sidestepping. The conflation is simply insulting. Nothing could be less universal than a religion, especially one with an unbroken tradition of obscurantism, religious warfare, persecution and anti-modern policies. Besides, nearly all Catholics in the developed world flout Catholic dogma when it contradicts their immediate personal interests — without so much as flinching before the eternal fires of hell.

What more proof do we need that the European Union is bound by the modern secular principles of human rights and not the by cross (much less the crucifix)? Why not cut the head off the bull, as they say here in Italy, and abrogate the Lateran Treaty once and for all?

Published in The American

Go to Hell! We’ll Never Take Down Our Crucifixes!

Italy’s getting scary again.

Ignazio La Russa, who has no degree in science and is therefore unworthy of having views on religion, went off his nut on Italian tv the other evening. The debate over the EU court’s judgement that crucifixes in public classrooms are a bad idea is off and running. Berlusconi has said that Italy will defy the court and the EU, and that no crosses are coming off the walls of any classrooms.

His position was backed up by the homophobic, conservative Catholic politician Rocco Buttiglione. Buttiglione’s brilliant solution to the problem of religious symbols contaminating public spaces is apparently to multiply them. The more, the merrier, he said. Just don’t take down them crosses! Perhaps my mezuzah proposal wasn’t too radical, after all.

Even if you don’t understand a word of Italian, you can grasp the meaning of what La Russa is getting at here. He calls Piergiorgio Odifreddi, a well-known mathematician and one of Italy’s only public atheists, a man without a degree (!) who “puts up and takes down crucifixes as if they were bath towels.” He then castigates the show’s host for not standing up for the dignity of the cross, telling him he is beyond absolution for his sin of silence.

Of course, he’s no Christian integralist, an afterthought he throws in as a final consolation. In case you thought maybe he got off on the wrong foot. “They (the EU?) can go to hell! Well never take down our crosses!!”

“Atheist Piece of S*%t!”

Corriere della Sera ran a story today on the family whose case went up to the European court in Strasbourg, resulting in a ruling unfavorable to the Vatican, yet quite favorable to all Italian passport-holders.

Sami, whose parents are at the helm of the controversy, told the Italian daily that at one point during the proceedings (which began in 2002 – seven years ago!) he was surrounded by his classmates and beaten up to the tune of “Atheist piece of s*%t!”  Mighty Christian of them, eh?

So much for those “universal values” of Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone. The crucifix, even at the scholasic level, encourages irrepressible division between Catholic students and those who don’t wish to see a crucified Jesus every time they turn their heads in class. Archbishop Bertone made a hilarious comment that the EU was going to take away Italy’s dearest symbols (crucifix) and replace them with Halloween pumpkins. To appreciate Bertone’s sense of humor, it’s worth noting that Halloween is not a recognized holiday by the Catholic church. It’s even considered spooky.

If they refuse to take down the crosses, I think we should begin a campaign to put up mezuzahs on every doorpost in every public structure in Italy. It’s only fair, after all, as the Jewish people have been here since before Jesus was, well…circumcised.

Why Are We Still Arguing About This?

Today the European court made an important ruling against the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools, saying that “the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and education freedoms.” Right. But the Vatican doesn’t see it that way. In fact, they (and most Italian politicians who either believe this hooey or don’t have the balls to stick up for their country against the bishops) are even trying to twist the crucifix into a universal, non-denominational “cultural” symbol. As Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini puts it:

”In our country nobody wants to impose the Catholic religion, let alone with a crucifix, but it is not by eliminating the traditions of individual countries that a united Europe is built.”

The Bishops’ Conference added:

”The multiple significance of the crucifix, which is not just a religious symbol but a cultural sign, has been either ignored or overlooked.”

Don’t be fooled. Europe is no more united by the crucifix than the United States are by the Ten Commandments. In fact, if anything unites the countries of the Euopean Union, it is a collective desire to get beyond the stifling, warring factionalism of inter-Christian warfare. The Catholic church imposed itself on Europe (and much of the rest of the Christianized world) largely through religious war and political domination, extirpating all other religious denominations except for Judaism, which was left to suffer beneath the heel of the Church as a “living witness” to Christ. Ghettoized, expelled, forced to convert, stripped of their rights and property, they were prepared for the slaughter of crusades, pogroms and – given enough time – the unprecedented carnage of the Shoah. This is the legacy of the Christianization of Europe and the universal values of the Catholic church.

It’s time Europe left them behind for good, making Christianity just another one of the many competing religious and non-religious identities on the continent. Everyone has the right to choose a religion and practice it, believe in it and love it. But no one has the right to impose that religion (yes, Christianity is a religion) on anyone else. Italy is a secular country, born in strict opposition to the totalitarian dogma of the late 19th century church (infallibility, et al). Under Mussolini, the church was given new life as a de facto state religion. The Italian constitution has upheld these agreements to this day.

The time has come for them to be abrogated in the name of humanism and a pluralistic, secular Italian state with freedom of religion for all and privilege for none.

The Year of Living Jesusly

There is a new book out by Rev. Ed Dobson, who tried to live like Jesus for a year. Apparently the question WWJD was unanswerable, so he decided to take the matter into his own hands. Of course the good Rev. is following in the wake of A.J. Jacobs’s Year of Living Biblically and Benyamin Cohen’s My Jesus Year, both wholehearted attempts (well, not exactly) to come to grips with the “reality” of the Bible and/or its most famous son in the twenty-first century. I read Jacobs’s book, which was at times funny, insightful and gratifying – enough so that I feel I can skip the other two and any others that might crop up in their wake.

Anyway, this book has some pretty poorly researched marketing. Read on: “Live one year as Jesus lived. Eat as Jesus ate. Pray as Jesus prayed. Observe the sabbath as Jesus observed. Attend the Jewish festivals as Jesus attended. Read the Gospels every week.”

Read the Gospels? Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t the whole point of the Gospels that, by the time they were written, Jesus was already dead? Or does Jesus read them in heaven? If so, I hope he’s learned Greek by now.

Well, I’m saving up my energy for my first book, My Year of Impersonating Muhammad. I hope nobody’s thought of that one yet. It should be a wild romp!

True Fighting Words

Susan Jacoby, in her book Freethinkers, takes on Glenn Beck’s beloved Battle Hymn of the Republic:

The Battle Hymn, one of the most powerful calls to arms ever set to music, was not only religious but Christian to the core. The last verse…as well known during the war as the famous first verse is today, explicitly articulates the song’s Christian doctrinal basis and emotional appeal…But what was a devout Christian from the North, fightling under instructions from his God, to make of an equally devout Southern cousin whose God–ostensibly the same God–had handed down a contradictory set of instructions?

Clearly food for thought, but does Beck think?