Every so often while sifting through the corrugated rubble of history, one lands upon a figure who is a trifle harder to figure out than the rest. Whatever may have spirited his soul this way or that gets lost in the grey ink of facts and dates, leaving (for those of us who care) a certain freedom for speculation.
Was Gilbert Gifford an English hero? Was he a traitor? A coward? His actions directly led to one of British history’s most infamous executions, but the footsteps that led him there may have been driven by precisely the opposite intent. Such is the riddle that four centuries of dust and distortion have thrown across his legacy.
I’d like to paint Gilbert with passionate swirls – not moved by an allegiance to politic or royal hullabaloo, but by the colors of his faith. Not his faith in Catholic dogma, though undoubtedly that old rhythm spent a considerable amount of time tip-tapping upon the inside of his skull. I’m talking about his faith in flesh, in love, and in the non-negotiable immediate.
In short, Gilbert danced to his own boogie.
The 16th century was a sketchy time to be religious in Europe. If you were Catholic, you kept your mouth shut around Protestants and vice-versa. Gilbert Gifford was born to a recusant Catholic landowner in Staffordshire. This label of ‘recusancy’ was given to those who continued to wear their Catholic jerseys long past the time when the Church of England (Anglicanism as we know it today) was chosen to be the home team. It took a certain amount of guts on the part of John Gifford, and to some extent that chutzpah was carried on by his son. Read more…
“If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
So sayeth the big book of unspoken laws – the same book that also condemns hack writers who open articles with unattributed clichés, tagged with stupid quotation marks that indicate that the words have been spoken, though in this case only within the writer’s mind. Hey, sometimes I’m lazy. But at least I’m honest about it.
Sometimes – and this pops up most frequently when an occasion forces me to try dancing without a sufficient dosage of alcohol to abuse my bloodstream – I’m downright incompetent. That’s not a crime; we all take a stumbling stroll through the courtyard of fuckuptitude now and then. The key is not to be incompetent when it really counts. Like when you’re meeting your in-laws. Or performing a recital. Or trying to kill somebody.
That’s a big one. Screw up an assassination attempt and you’ll be plopped into history’s laughing bin , filed under ‘G’ for Gut-Bustingly Idiotic. These five would-be snuffers of life weren’t out for notoriety, and the failure of their mission, though it opened them up for mockery galore, did little to sway whatever kooky inspiration had fuelled them past the checkpoint of legality into the realm of the fiercely wicked. But at that point, who cared?
Get your pointing finger ready and cue up your next laugh. These folks have earned it.
When a white man fatally shot the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in April of 1968, it stuck a searing needle into race relations. But King had been targeted before – in this instance by a black woman in September of 1958 – and the end result was actually more encouraging than divisive. Izola Curry’s beef with the Reverend was not so much issues-based as it was wacko-nutjob-based. She met Dr. King at a Harlem book signing, and proceeded to jab a steel letter opener into his chest. Read more…
Presently, our only tangible research into the cultural and societal impacts of extra-terrestrial life arriving on Earth seems limited to the fanciful concoctions from the Hollywood daydream machine. Will aliens greet us with a peaceful hand-gesture like they did to that pig-owner guy in the Star Trek movie? Will they fire up the blasters and devastate our cities like that movie where the Fresh Prince teams up with that jazz singer?
Actually, people – and I’m talking about educated people who probably wear business attire to work – have put time and effort into calculating precisely how our society would react to a party of interstellar visitors. Given the unlikelihood of this ever occurring, one could make the argument that the dude who stacks salad plates at your local Sizzler is contributing more to the smooth functioning of society than these educated folks, but I’m not here to make that argument. I’m just the messenger.
When it comes to the purported existence of our little green friends, I find it unfathomably selfish to believe we’re the only slabs of meat who have put together a society in this vast universe. I also believe it likely that someone else has fashioned some sort of tin can (or whatever they have in place of tin) and blasted into space. But to believe they’ll stumble upon us, or even care to say hi if they do? That’s where my credulity glides off the track. Still, it’s fun to daydream.
And always smart to keep some just-in-case signage lying around.
For thirty years, the SETI Institute (that’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence for you acronym-lovers) has been using science, research and speculation to look into the likelihood and nature of possible ETs who might drop by unannounced. The first part of the discussion centers around how they contact us. Do they send us a coded message like the ones we’ve launched into deep space? Do they take over our computer systems and implant a digital hello on Google’s front page? Or will they do a pop-in, no prior call, completely oblivious to the fact that we already made plans to watch the game with some old friends from college? Read more…
And so it was said in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (known as much for their spiritual pluck as their fine leather upholstery) that a woman’s body belongs not to her, but was purchased by Jesus through the sacrifice of his crucifixion. Which is shocking, because as a Jew you’d think Jesus could have finagled himself a better deal.
Next we turn to Matthew 4:19, when Jesus said unto a pair of fishermen that he would make them “fishers of men”. This was the Biblical snippet passed on to the women of the Children of God, a.k.a. The Family International, a cultish bastard-child spin-off of Christianity in which women were at one time encouraged to seduce men into the faith, using their charm, their guile, and their humptastic bedroom skills. They called it ‘Flirty Fishing’, and their pimps – sorry, their mostly male spiritual leaders – claimed it worked.
The Children of God parlayed the hippie sensibility for metaphysical exploration, along with the cultural acceptance of free-form boning of the Sexual Revolution, into a twisted garble of quasi-religious teachings. And somehow they have been able to pull this off and stay viable for over 45 years.
David Berg, also known as Moses David because it looks better on a cult leader’s business card, hooked up with Karen Zerby in 1968 to form the Children of God. They boasted the flavors of the day: free love, communal living and a rejection of authoritarian rhetoric. But members also needed to souse their snouts in the primordial goop of religion, subscribing not only to the most finger-wagging tenets of Christianity – along with a healthy sprinkling of apocalyptic doom – but also to the teachings of Moses David and his spouse. Read more…
Any responsible parent already knows that their children are but a wayward blink away from an eternity of fiery evil. It seems that every fad, trend or popular pastime of the past half-century has fallen beneath the dusty scrutiny of some religious group or another, damning the activity as Satanic, amoral or corrupting (or all three for the really fun stuff). Your kid’s into Pokemon? Those monsters are an affront to God. He likes reading about Harry Potter? Just a bunch of liberal brainwashing with a firm footprint in the occult. Really into chess? Only God can steer horses along an L-shaped path.
But Dungeons & Dragons was an easy target. You’ve got a cast of creatures from Tolkien’s nightmares dotting the landscape, and children who immerse themselves into a godless world of fantasy and imagination. Since the game rose toward the mainstream of geekdom in the 1970’s – back when geekdom was a truly excluded sub-clique and not the faux-aspiration of every duck-faced twit looking for chic value because they’ve seen a Marvel movie or two – it has been under attack by the ever-threatened right.
I’m not certain why there appears to be a significant link between the devout adherence to religion and the desire to protest and/or ban things, but it’s there. Gary Gygax and the creative team behind Dungeons & Dragons had to see this coming when they first hammered out the game’s rules. But they probably didn’t expect a response like this.
Any game with Super Punchy Lion-Dude must be an insult to God.
When young Irving Pulling shot himself in the chest one day in 1982, it was nothing short of a tragedy. Teen suicide leaves a wake of anguish and confusion, and often a heap of unanswerable questions that will plague his or her surviving friends and families for decades. Patricia Pulling – the grieving mother – felt she had the answers she needed. Irving was an avid player of D&D, and Patricia believed his suicide had something to do with the game. I’ll point out here that Patricia was also a fundamentalist Christian, though I think that will become evident as I tell the story. Read more…
One day in the mid-1570’s, a Calabrian doctor named Aloysius Lilius deduced precisely how grotesquely wrong our calendar was. We had spent centuries dragging along this defective Ancient Roman relic known as the Julian calendar, completely mucking up the proper documentation of history. Easter wasn’t landing where it was supposed to, according to the original blueprints laid out by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and the spring solstice was showing up around March 11. Everything was, to put it in the parlance of the times, wack.
Lilius was given the thumbs-up from Pope Gregory XIII to sink his knuckles into the pasty goo of calendar reform. This was a huge deal, big-picture-wise, though its impact on the general populace was minor enough that a change was feasible. Folks weren’t as clingy to their calendars as we are today. Adjusting the calendar system wouldn’t affect prime-time television schedules, Super Bowl year numberings or even milk expiry dates (since at the time, the expiry date for most any perishable item was “right fucking away”).
And so began the most radical tweak of our datebooks in over a millennium, the last major adjustment to be overseen by the church and possibly the final and most accurate solution we’ll ever see. Possibly. But I don’t know if we want to go through something like this again.
The biggest problem with the Julian Calendar was its inaccurate calculation of the year’s length. 365.25 days is an easy and pretty number to use; it gives us a leap year every four years and that’s that. Except the equinoxes weren’t behaving. Lilius determined that the year is actually 365.2524 days long, and he proposed a rather elegant solution. In order to account for the 0.002% correction necessary to keep the equinoxes where they’re supposed to be, we’d just skip leap day (February 29) on years ending in a ‘00’, except for every 400 years. The elimination of those three days every four centuries would keep the system working. This is why there was no February 29 in 1900, but there was one in 2000. Read more…
People often ask me whether or not I worry about running out of interesting topics before this thousand days is up. My response is always the same. “Of course not,” I tell them. “I haven’t yet written about toilet gods.”
Well, today I throw caution at the swirling fan and cash in on one of our species’ most notably bizarre predilections: assigning a higher power to the place where we poop.
Modern religions have spent too long on the proverbial fence, blindly adhering to its monotheistic principles and paying no mind to our spiritual doody needs. There is no patron saint of having eaten too many spicy enchiladas last night, nor am I aware of any Hebrew or Muslim prayer to combat lactose intolerance. We must look to the faiths of the ancients for this.
In old-timey Japan, bodily waste wasn’t buried underground and forgotten. It would be collected and spread around the fields, acting as a fertilizer and completing that grand circle of life that most of us would rather not think about. For this reason, the kawaya kami (toilet god) was a god of fertility. Not the fun kind of fertility that we usually (but not always) reserve for another room in the house, but the food/crop sort of fertility. Sometimes family members would sit in front of the toilet and eat a bowl of rice in order to appease the god.
The other big plus in praying to kawaya kami was for protection. Collecting fertilizer material from toilet basins was dirty work, but also a bit on the dangerous side. There was the risk of tumbling into the muck and drowning, which is probably the worst way to die this side of inhaling next to Ann Coulter. Kawaya kami – if properly appeased by your consumption of malodorous rice – can save you from such a fetid fate. Read more…
Stargazers with a curious mind, a tolerance for late night wakefulness and who weren’t locked beneath the astronomical cock-block of an overcast sky got to witness a spectacular lunar eclipse last week. It was a crimson marvel, a humbling reminder of a universe beyond petulant cat videos and the frustrating television antics of Jon Cryer, Ashton Kutcher and the Halfling they keep chained up in their basement (I’ve never actually seen the show). But was it simply a glorious spectacle, or did it *mean* something?
If you’ve spent any time among the amply-zealotted nutjob crowd then you know that someone must have ascribed some catastrophic significance to the eclipse, in particular because it was the first in a tetrad – a quartet of full-on lunar eclipses that will take place between now and September 2015.
Four full eclipses in two years? Surely that must be an occurrence so fantastically rare that even the most jaded and skeptical among us should pull ourselves up from our hearty breakfast of Sugar-Frosted Reason-O’s and smoked logic-sausage and take note, right?
Actually, there will be eight tetrads occurring throughout the 21st century. But once you slap the obsidian tarp of unflinching dogma overtop these eclipses, it’s easy to spot the deeper meaning.
Also, it’s a good excuse to get funky with Photoshop.
If you’re the type who believes our species should be beyond ascribing prophecies to the fact that shorter light wavelengths get dispersed while longer ones refract through the earth’s atmosphere to cast a red glow on an eclipsed moon, then congratulations! You have a firmer grasp on logic than pastors John Hagee and Mark Biltz. Read more…
For those who dance the steps of atheism, agnosticism, Jediism and so on, this world has always been a precarious place. It seems odd that one person’s lack of belief in an established monotheistic principle – even if that person is an otherwise caring, giving, deep-down good dude – can lead to such harsh hatred and judgment by the alleged “moral” majority.
It’s not a big deal these days to forsake the Biblical tenets held dear by so many of this country’s founders. We have lived through the 60’s, through new-age mysticism, through wacky spiritual hoodoo and comet-worshipping cults. To most everyone, a stranger’s religion is not a big deal anymore. But leap back in time to just over a century ago and you’ll find that the best a non-Christian could hope for in this part of the world was tolerance. Not acceptance, not a back-slapping welcome into the community, just tolerance.
One man decided to fight back. He created his own community, a land where atheism was to be the norm and where people could pontificate amid boundless intellectualism. John Lennon said, “Imagine no religion.” 91 years earlier, George Walser made it happen, cranking up the volume on atheism until it achieved the same intolerant, finger-pointing cacophony he had spent his entire life rallying against.
Welcome to Liberal, Missouri.
George Walser was a successful lawyer, a devoted agnostic, and by 1880 he had developed into a staunch anti-religionist. To George, it was offensive for those who do not follow the Christian faith to be branded as amoral, societally detrimental and the cause of all the world’s ills. He yearned for a utopian escape, a place where like-minded folk could go on about their lives without being persecuted by Christians. His solution? Persecute the Christians. Read more…