Hip-Gnosis: April 2006: Archives

April 28, 2006

Bill Maher: "War On Christians?" genre: Hip-Gnosis & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

Daniel DiRito | April 28, 2006 | 9:45 AM | link | Comments (0)
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April 27, 2006

The War On Obscenity: "Project Vegga-Ban" genre: Hip-Gnosis & Tongue-In-Cheek

Rep. Ralph Davenport [R]

A South Carolina Republican is proposing legislation to ban the sale of devices that can be used for sexual stimulation. Digby has comments here, and the full article can be found here.

An unnamed source with Rep. Davenport's office has told Thought Theater that this piece of legislation is simply the tip (woops...my bad) of the iceberg. Davenport believes that in addition to the items found in these adult oriented stores, there is also a larger and more pervasive nationwide vegetable sex cult. The source indicates that a larger plan to attack this widespread obscene activity is in the works. The initiative is tentatively being called "Project Vegga-Ban".

The ambitious project seeks to completely eradicate all inappropriately shaped vegetables. The program will not stop with phallic shaped vegetables...melons, tomatoes and other such lewd and offensive shapes will not be tolerated. When Thought Theater pressed the source for enforcement details, we were told that Representative Davenport felt the first step would logically be to ban such vegetables from grocery stores.

When asked about plans to monitor large scale farming operations and backyard gardening, the source indicated the intention to place the Project under the oversight of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Davenport believes the Department's experience in illicit drug crop eradication will allow Project Vegga-Ban to quickly mobilize. The source admitted that it will be complicated to monitor the home gardener given the difficulty in confiscating the large supply of vegetable seeds. Few other details were made available.

Some excerpts from the article:

COLUMBIA — Lucy’s Love Shop employee Wanda Gillespie said she was flabbergasted that South Carolina’s Legislature is considering outlawing sex toys.

But banning the sale of sex toys is actually quite common in some Southern states.

The South Carolina bill, proposed by Republican Rep. Ralph Davenport, would make it a felony to sell devices used primarily for sexual stimulation and allow law enforcement to seize sex toys from raided businesses.

Rep. Davenport, who is from Spartanburg County, did not return several messages Friday to talk about his bill, which was introduced last month. No other legislator has signed on as a co-sponsor and its passage this year seems unlikely.

Daniel DiRito | April 27, 2006 | 11:54 AM | link | Comments (0)
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April 26, 2006

Michael Shermer: Former Born-Again genre: Hip-Gnosis

Michael Shermer is a former born again Christian and founder of the Skeptics Society and editor of Skeptic Magazine. He explains his transition to skepticism as follows:

"I used to be a born-again Christian. Now you could say I'm a born-again atheist. But they are both articles of faith, so the correct term would be to say that I'm nontheistic, because a belief that there is no God is not the same as to have no belief in God."

He was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in The News-Sentinel, a Knight Ridder Newspaper. You can find the full article here. He is opposed to teaching Intelligent Design as a scientific theory. He's especially interesting given his born-again Christian background. If you get a chance, check out the whole article and his book, "Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown". The following are excerpts from the article.

Shermer is also a contributing editor and columnist for Scientific American.

In high school, at a friend's urging, Shermer became a born-again Christian, eventually teaching Bible study courses. But after enrolling in Pepperdine University to study theology, he gravitated toward science.

A former professor, Shermer is a science historian and author who has questioned psychics, recovered memories, near-death experiences and creationism. He advocates keeping intelligent design - the origins of life theory endorsed by creationists - out of the schools, saying it's not science.

His recent book, "Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown," is a series of essays about evolution, the intelligent design debate and virtues of science, among other subjects.

Q: Is there anything in science that you're particularly skeptical about?

A: I was, for the longest time, skeptical of most environmental claims. But global warming is obviously real - you can measure the warming change. The question is what's the cause? Is it part of the normal fluctuation, up and down, are there some natural causes over an extended period of time or is there a human trigger of global warming?

Q: You write a lot about why there shouldn't be equal time for intelligent design (with evolution). Should teachers be allowed to say, "Other people think something else, but we're not going to go into it" or just not mention it at all?

A: Since it's in popular culture and students have heard about it and probably will know something about it, I think it's perfectly okay for teachers to bring it up at the beginning of class. The problem with a science class is there's already not enough time to teach science, so when are you going to get to that lesson plan?

Daniel DiRito | April 26, 2006 | 2:02 PM | link | Comments (0)
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April 24, 2006

Bill Maher: Intelligent Design Smackdown genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

Daniel DiRito | April 24, 2006 | 4:45 PM | link | Comments (0)
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April 13, 2006

Us vs. Them: The Root Of Conflict genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad

Generally, definitions are used to distinguish the meaning of one word from another. They tell us what a word means and in so doing they should likely, by omission, tell us what a word doesn't mean. While a dictionary is an invaluable tool, sometimes the meaning of words cannot be understood by simply reading the definition. Occasionally it requires looking at the underlying differences or similarities with other words.

Such is the case in a current issue that may have more global significance than any we have witnessed in a number of decades. The backdrop to this issue is religious beliefs. The conflict is being played out across a huge theater that spans multiple continents and involves numerous countries. At the same time, the battle lines cannot be distinguished by continent or country...or for that matter by city or community. This issue can best be seen in two defining conflicts. They are the 'war on terror' and the 'culture war'. The following definitions are essential to defining the conflict, and more importantly, to begin exploring the solutions. I've gathered this information from Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster OnLine.


An educated Muslim trained in traditional religious law and doctrine and usually holding an official post. Mullahs are seen to be able to give direction and make judgments based on their religious studies. Mullahs have frequently been involved in politics, but only recently have they actually taken power. Mullahs seized power in Iran in 1979, and later, in Afghanistan under the Taliban.


An evangelist is a person who preaches the Christian Gospel. Generally, evangelists are Protestants, and lead meetings known as revivals, harvest meetings or evangelistic crusades.


Evangelism is the preaching of the Christian Gospel or, by extension, any other form of preaching or proselytizing. Evangelicals generally hold that the Bible is uniquely the supreme revelation of God. The Protestant canon of the Bible is the primary, or only, source of religious authority, as God's revelation to humanity.


A madrassa is an Islamic religious school. Many of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan that teach Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam which is rooted in Saudi Arabia. Although these institutions are academically assigned to provide general education, they also feel obliged to teach their students about the fundamentals of their religion.

Home Schooling:

In the United States, home schooling is the focus of a substantial movement among parents who wish to provide their children with a custom or more complete education, which they feel is unattainable in most private schools or the state governments' public schools systems. In many instances one motivation is to provide religious education along with education on traditional subjects; religious education would not be available in a public school setting, and the available private schools may be of different faiths than the family, thus making them unattractive. Some of those who home school are religious conservatives who see non-religious education as contrary to their moral or religious systems.


It is increasingly a modern phenomenon, characterized by a sense of embattled alienation in the midst of the surrounding culture, even where the culture may be nominally influenced by the adherents' religion. The term can also refer specifically to the belief that one's religious texts are infallible and historically accurate, despite possible contradiction of these claims by modern scholarship. Many groups described as fundamentalist often strongly object to this term because of the negative connotations it carries, or because it implies a similarity between themselves and other groups, which they find objectionable.


Islamism is defined as, "a political ideology that adherents would apply to contemporary governance and politics, and which they propagate through political and social activism. The 'difference' between "Islam" and "Islamism" is not always distinct. For example, most followers of Islam would consider themselves "fundamentalists", insofar as believing in Islam means believing in its fundamental tenets and the authenticity of its truth claims. Similarly, Islam also promotes a vision of society and provides guidelines for social life (in much the same way as other religions).

As I view this information collectively, what strike me are the similarities rather than the differences. What is similar is the absolute nature of the beliefs and the assertion by both sides that their beliefs are indisputable. All that is different is the source of the beliefs and the conclusions made by both sides that their beliefs trump those of the opposition. From this point forward, little common ground can be found or negotiated. Both sides point out the transgressions of the other in a never ending battle to justify their actions and reach the expected, although not always logical, conclusion...the opposition must be stopped and to do so is righteous and good.

Fortunately, there is another word that exists to counteract this dilemma. Perhaps it is the only definition needed at this point. To accept this would require modifying the above definitions. It's a difficult obstacle to overcome but it may soon be our only viable alternative.


Sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own. Tolerance is a social, cultural and religious term applied to the collective and individual practice of not persecuting those who may believe, behave or act in ways of which one may not approve. It is usually applied to non-violent, consensual behavior, often involving religion, sex, or politics. It rarely permits violent behavior.

Daniel DiRito | April 13, 2006 | 1:38 PM | link | Comments (0)
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April 12, 2006

Theocracy Watch genre: Hip-Gnosis

"Theocracy Watch" is a recurring posting here at Thought Theater. The intention of the category 'Hip-Gnosis" is to provide information about God, religion, and faith from various perspectives. The postings will attempt to provide the reader with interesting and provocative thoughts and theories that stir debate and discussion. While I have my own beliefs about these topics, I'm always curious to know what others think and the basis upon which they form their own opinions and beliefs.

Elaine Pagels

Elaine PagelsThis first entry is primarily informational. The material below the fold is from Wikipedia and it profiles Elaine Pagels, a scholar and author I once heard interviewed on National Public Radio as well as on a subsequent CNN piece discussing religion. What strikes me most about her is the apparent sincerity by which she seeks to explore and understand religion. Her writings reflect extensive research and she endeavors to present facts without ideologically leaning conclusons. Anyone interested in historical data about religion would find her appealing and refreshing. I wholeheartedly recommend reading any of her books.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Elaine Pagels (née Hiesey, born February 13, 1943), is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She was born in California, graduated from Stanford University (B.A. 1964, M.A. 1965) and, after briefly studying dance at Martha Graham's studio, began studying for her Ph.D. at Harvard University. She married theoretical physicist Heinz Pagels in 1969.

At Harvard, she was part of a team studying the Nag Hammadi library scrolls. Upon finishing her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1970, she joined the faculty at Barnard College, where she headed the department of religion from 1974. Her study of the Nag Hammadi scrolls was the basis for The Gnostic Gospels (1979), a popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi library. The bestselling book won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award and was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best books of the 20th Century. In the book she argued that the Christian church was founded in a society espousing a number of contradictory viewpoints. Gnosticism as a movement was not very coherent and there were several areas of disagreement between different factions. Gnosticism attracted women in particular because of its egalitarian perspective which allowed their participation in sacred rites.

In 1982, Pagels joined Princeton University as a professor of early Christian history. Aided by a MacArthur fellowship (1980–85), she researched and wrote Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, which examines the creation myth and its role in the development of sexual attitudes in the Christian West. In both The Gnostic Gospels and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Elaine Pagels examines the way that women have been viewed in Christian history, and thus these texts have been important in the feminist study of religion.

In 1987, Pagels's son Mark died, after four years of illness, and the following year her husband, theoretical physicist Heinz Pagels, died in a hiking accident. In part out of those experiences, she began working on the research leading to The Origin of Satan. This book shows the way that the figure Satan became a way for Christians to demonize their religious opponents, the Jews and the unorthodox Christians.

In 1992, after studying the Pauline Epistles and comparing them to Gnosticism and the early church, Pagels wrote the book The Gnostic Paul. This book expounds the theory that Paul of Tarsus was a gnostic whose influence on the direction of the early Christian church was great enough for the creation of forged additions such as the pastoral epistles (those to Timothy and Titus) to make it appear as if Paul supported their interpretation rather than gnosticism.

Her New York Times bestseller, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), focuses on religious claims to possessing the ultimate truth. In this book, she contrasts the Gospel of Thomas with the Gospel of John. A close reading of these Gospels shows that, while John emphasizes that Jesus is the "light of the world", Thomas teaches individuals that "there is a light within each person, and it lights up the whole universe. If it does not shine, there is darkness." Thomas also shares with other supposed secret teachings a belief that Jesus is not God but, rather, is a teacher who seeks to uncover the divine light in all human beings. Pagels argues that the Gospel of John was written as a reaction to the Gospel of Thomas, as a rebuttal to it. Thomas is portrayed in John as a disciple of little faith who cannot believe without seeing, and very strong emphasis is put on accepting Jesus as the center of belief. During the time of persecution of Christians, the church fathers constructed the canon, creed and hierarchy, suppressing some of its spiritual resources in the process, in order to avoid conflict with Roman law and religion.

In addition to the MacArthur award, Professor Pagels is also a recipient of the Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships.

Daniel DiRito | April 12, 2006 | 12:43 PM | link | Comments (0)
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April 11, 2006

Biblically Speaking genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is the talk radio personality who offers advice (and opinions) to people who call into her radio show. She has been quite vocal in her criticism of the homosexual lifestyle. In one of her programs she said that homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and that it therefore must not be condoned under any circumstances. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura that was posted on the internet. It’s funny as well as informative. It does a good job of pointing out the selective use of Biblical quotations used by individuals with particular agendas.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them.

1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev 1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev 15:19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. Lev 25:44 states that I may indeed posses slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev 11:10 it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

7. Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20 or is there some wiggle room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blends). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them - Lev 24:10-16? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws – Lev 20:14?

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Daniel DiRito | April 11, 2006 | 8:26 AM | link | Comments (0)
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April 6, 2006

The Big Fish Found genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

It was announced yesterday that a key find in the long sought evolutionary link may have been discovered. Scientists in the Canadian arctic discovered several intact specimens of large fishlike fossils that have what appear to be the precursor characteristics of walking appendages. The fossils are believed to be some 375 million years old and they actually provide the second known transitional creature. The first discovered was Archaeopteryx, a whale that was found to be a land animal.

For evolutionists, the discovery is another significant piece in the well established scientific arsenal. This discovery solidifies one of the few remaining vulnerabilities of the theory of evolution that is routinely met by the skepticism of creationists. Despite the finding, creationists consulted about the finding continued to express doubt in the validity of the theory.

I've always been one to look for consistency in the positions of particular groups of people. To that end, one could assume that many creationists are supporters of the Bush administration given their similar religious leanings. One might also assume they supported the President in his justifications for the Iraq war and remain committed to that position despite the fact that there were no WMD's, no link to 9/11, and no indications that Hussein was integrally involved with Al Qaeda. They likely criticize the media for failing to report the 'good news' in Iraq and they likely doubt that Iraq is closer to civil war than to democratic civility.

If we take the creationists position on evolution together with the fact that I may be correct in my assumptions about their position on Iraq, a few things become apparent. First, I'll grant them the consistency of their steadfast convictions. But more importantly and more telling is the fact that the means taken to reach these convictions are wholly inconsistent. The mindset that requires indisputable evidence in order to accept the theory of evolution would logically bring this same skepticism to other complex and controversial issues (i.e. Iraq) if it were an innate characteristic or a principled posture. Faith in what one simply chooses to believe is an insult to the construct of faith. When faith is blind, the path to one's chosen destiny must be traveled in darkness...and that path will necessarily be absent the clear and credible markers that will lead, firstly, to the penultimate salvation...truth. If faith is allowed to subvert truth, the destination may be final...but it is ultimately not salvation.

Daniel DiRito | April 6, 2006 | 8:29 AM | link | Comments (0)
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April 4, 2006

My Imaginary Friends genre: Hip-Gnosis

Santa Claus and God have a lot in common. Their existence is hard to prove yet everybody seemingly starts out believing. Both persist despite doubts to the contrary and they live on because their underlying messages of kindness and goodness remain timeless and true. However, they begin to diverge as judgments are made about people who no longer believe in God's existence. Little analysis is given to whether these non-believers keep his spirit and his message alive and pass it forward like they do with Santa Claus. It's an essential consideration, yet one all too often ignored.

My first notion of God was that he was the reason I had to wake up early on Sundays and go to church when I preferred to sleep. He was a nuisance who provided an obstacle to overcome. Over time, I figured out a number of ways to avoid going to mass. Obviously, God and I weren't on the best of terms.

We had many other encounters. Growing up on a farm brought us together as I sought to understand the random nature of life. My first vivid recollection is about a calf named Buttercup. Raising orphaned calves meant there were always health issues. It was a risky proposition. Buttercup was one of the unlucky ones. She was small and lovable but her gentle demeanor and lack of aggressiveness made her vulnerable.

She soon took ill and we struggled to save her life. I remember boiling the syringe and needles in order to sanitize them for her next shot. At the same time, I prayed for God to save Buttercup, but in the end she died. Others followed, but she was the first to capture my attention and affections and to facilitate my frequent conversations with God.

The most memorable was a baby pig named Matilda. The night she arrived, she had the misfortune of finding her way into a pen with much larger pigs where she was seriously injured. The vet was doubtful she would survive but I refused to accept that death was her fate. In a box in our basement, she remained recumbent for a number of days. All the while I prayed that she would live. I placed my St. Francis medal on Matilda while asking God's help. Her recovery was long, but she survived and I thanked God as we grew to be better friends.

It wasn't long before I realized I was gay. I wanted it to go away but it became a constant torment. Night after night I asked God to let me wake up a changed person. I wanted to be like everyone else. I proffered God many promises while hoping he would grant my wish but it didn't happen and our relationship waned. We still had conversations but they diminished as church teachings left me feeling increasingly disconnected from him. When we did speak, I often asked him to help others through difficulties. My own cause felt lost but I still hoped God would help those I loved.

As I grew older, my feelings towards God and, more directly, the church were defined by anger. Over time, I learned it was foolish and fruitless to be angry at God. His legacy, like Santa's, remained valuable regardless of his existence. My relationship with both need not be defined by or dependent upon others. I could still believe in the principles they represented and that I had integrated into my own values. Today's culture wars seemingly ignore these nuances. For many, values have become an all or nothing equation.

We've all had a relationship with God and Santa Claus. Mine were both meaningful. Belief doesn't necessarily portend goodness and doubt need not predict evil. Whether we created God or God created us is irrelevant. Beliefs are simply that...but actions are tangible and measurable. What I took from these relationships is what's important. Empathy for humanity is the origin of goodness and it's a choice we each make. Whatever we believe, whatever we are, goodness is measured the same. Treating others with dignity and respect is necessary regardless of belief. When we choose it, we pass it on. I learned that lesson from a couple exemplary old friends. Their legacies live on in every deliberate good deed.

Daniel DiRito | April 4, 2006 | 7:39 AM | link | Comments (0)
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