All Your Smartz is Belongs to Me!
Everybody has guilty pleasures. Mine happens to be watching B-movies. B rated movies are rated “B” because of their “badness.” As far as film making goes as an art, B-movies are the best of the worst. They have horrible scripts, bad acting, and usually generic special effects. Often times, however, they are so awful that they make you laugh out loud.
Recently, I was pointed to an opinion piece posted on FoxNews.com which was so awful, so painfully ignorant, so utterly ridiculous as to constitute the best of the worst of news articles I have ever read. And I thought I would critique it here, if not to correct the misinformation, then as a way to show that given a little incentive, one can track down the truth and find the answers to the questions they have. Opinions are, as the saying goes, like assholes. Everyone has one. And like assholes uneducated opinions usually stink. Needless to say, the article “Does the Bible Matter In the 21st Century” by Vishal Mangalwadi is a real stinker.
Vishal Mangalwadi (from here on referred to as VM) seems to be living in a strange parallel dimension where logic does not apply, where facts do not exist, and where people will believe anything you say simply because you say it. VM’s essay is so loaded with socio-political gerrymandering, discombobulated moral views, unreasoned statements, and poorly researched subject matter that it barely reads as coherent. It’s that barely part which, admittedly, makes reading it a guilty pleasure.
The Discombobulation Prognostication
I shall now go through the article line by line, paragraph by paragraph, and correct the misconceptions, address the faulty reasoning, and take issue with everything which is wrong with the piece. VM begins, as all right wing nut jobs are want to do, by talking a whole bunch of nonsense and making much to do about nothing.
“In his quest to change oppressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush argued, “Everyone desires freedom.” True. Everyone also desires a happy marriage: can everyone therefore have one?”
To answer VM’s question, I feel obliged to quote the 80’s rock band Journey, who wisely offered the advice that “Some were born to win and some to lose; others were born to sing the blues.” What should not escape our attention though, is that VM misses the point. Freedom is a basic, inalienable, human right. Marriage is a social construct. The two are quite different. Freedom is a human rights issue whereas marriage is a privilege of those who decide to practice such a social custom.
His next sentence baffles me, as it does not connect to the prior sentence or the following, and although it mentions freedom I don’t know what he means by it. He mentions “secular ideologues” should be warned that “freedom does not flow from the barrel of a gun.” Okay, sound advice. But what does he mean by secular ideologues, is what I’d like to know. In passing VM mentions Afghanistan, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, and Libya, so perhaps he is thinking of failed regimes run into the ground by corrupt dictators. But an ideologue is merely a person who prescribes to some sort of dogma, just as it seems our author does. At any rate, the sentence is largely incoherent, so we’ll stop trying to make sense of it and move on.
You Want Me to Kiss Your…What?!
VM next asks us, “Why do most American presidents place a hand on the Bible to take the oath of office?” Although there is a very obvious answer to this, let’s see where he takes it first.
“Secular education has made that a meaningless tradition, but the tradition exists because the Bible is the secret of America’s freedom.”
Actually, that’s the wrong answer. The reason most American Presidents place their hands on the Bible is because it was a tradition started by George Washington. However, Washington didn’t place his hand on the Bible—he kissed it! The customary tradition of kissing the Bible was broken by Dwight D. Eisenhower (1969) who opted to say a personal prayer instead of making out with the King James Bible. Meanwhile, VM’s comment that the Bible is the secret of America’s freedom is awfully dubious at best. Many of America’s founding fathers weren’t even Christian. The most notorious of them were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. All of them were strictly deists, but in the case of Thomas Jefferson I am willing to argue that he probably viewed himself as more of an atheist, just like Abraham Lincoln did, even though such a term carried heavy baggage back then and so was prudently avoided.
Personally I wouldn’t say secular tradition has made the gesture of placing the hand on the Bible meaningless—any more so than putting your lips on the Bible is meaningless. The fact that much of the Bible has been relegated to a meaningless status by Christians, who tend to ignore the majority of its teachings anyway, suggest that the reason the Bible has been devalued is that there has been a shift in the religious attitudes about the relevance of the Bible.[i] Secular opinion has largely remained the same, so could hardly be to blame.
Beware the Nazi Curse!
“Forget the Bible and America will go the way of the first Protestant nation—Nazi Germany.”
If by this our author means that because Germany was a Christian nation it was therefore prone to all the Christian follies, then he is correct. Indeed, it was because of Hitler’s devout upbringing and conviction in Jesus Christ which helped breed an unhealthy Anti-Semitism.[ii] Adolf Hitler was a devout Catholic who felt he was obliged to rid the world of Jews because they condemned Christ to death. In a speech given on April 12, 1922, Adolf Hitler had this to say:
My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison and as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people. (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20. Oxford University Press, 1942).
Nevertheless, what we have here is Hitler’s own testimony to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ! VM’s is distinctly a religious attempt, once again, to tie all things secular to the atrocities of Adolf Hitler rather than the religious beliefs directly compelling his depraved ideology. If you’re under the impression that Hitler wasn’t, as he himself claims to be, a pious Christian—then you are mistaken. Obviously Christians have every right to feel uncomfortable with the admission that Hitler was one of them, after all, he was a dogmatic, zealous, evil, psychopathic, theocratic bastard.
As controversial as it is though: 1) Hitler was raised a devout Catholic, attended Catholic school in a Benedictine cloister in Lembach, and even sang in the church choir; 2) The Nazi party prescribed to Positive Christianity (as Point 24 in the Nazi Party Program indicates) and held to an age old Christian tradition of Anti-Judaism; 3) The Nazi plan for Jews is nearly identical to Martin Luther’s seven-point plan to rid the world of Jews in his (extremely sinister) essay On the Jews and Their Lies, and moreover, Luther’s anti-Jewish tract was the basis for anti-Jewish policies implemented by Nazi Germany (which even leading Lutheran scholars agree, e.g., Martin H. Bertram); 4) Hitler praised Martin Luther (who’s theology initiated the Reformation) in Mein Kampf as one of his three main influences; 5) Many of Hitler’s speeches pay lip service to the Christian God and the savior Jesus Christ, and often mimics the Jewish extermination rhetoric of Pope Innocent III; 6) On April 26, 1933 in a conversation with the bishop of Osnabruck, Hermann Wilhelm Berning, Hitler stated he believed he was doing a continuation of what Catholic policy had done for 1,500 years, something which Holocaust historian, Geunter Lewy, has also keenly pointed out; 7) Hitler cited the 1933 Concordat between the Catholic Church and the Nazi Party as helping to further his cause; 8) I refer you previous quote in which Hitler calls himself a Christian and references the Bible for support (a habit most Christians have); 9) Regardless of what anyone may think, by any other definition, Hitler was a believing Christian; 10) On top of this, the old canard that Hitler was following out an atheistic or Social Darwinist agenda is patently false. Hitler never once mentions Darwin (or any of Darwin’s works) in any of his speeches, writings, or dinner conversations which rule out any ties to Darwinism, meaning that Christianity was most likely the main contributing force behind Hitler’s superstitious reasoning and religious ideologies.[iii]
Hitler was a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and anybody who contends otherwise must have some pretty swaying evidence—evidence which I am completely unaware of. The excuse I hear is most often is the refrain that since Christians are supposed to be caring, compassionate, loving and any Christian who doesn’t show compassion towards others isn’t a real Christian. However, this is not a valid rebuttal. After all, history if chock-full of the exploits of appalling Christians—Hitler was simply echoing the long standing tradition of the Christian “sinner.”
I know it’s a lot of information to take in, but I just wanted to correct VM’s misconception that if you didn’t have a Bible you’d automatically turn into a Nazi, or something. It seems that most Nazis did read their Bibles, in fact, the Nazis wore belt buckles emblazoned with professions of Christian faith, which read “Gott Mit Uns” which means “God With Us.”
It’s Greek to Me
Our intrepid philosopher of many blinkered insights then ventures into the classics, asserting:
“Plato saw Greek democracy first hand and condemned it as the worst of all political systems. That’s why the spread of the Greek culture, called “Hellenization,” did not stir a struggle for democracy. In AD 798, the English scholar Alcuin summed up the then European wisdom to Emperor Charlemagne: “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.” Indeed, the voice of a corrupt people is often the devil’s voice.”
VM might as well be speaking Greek, or more precisely Latin, because much of what he says just doesn’t make any sense. Plato wrote a small, yet important, book called The Republic, which outlines his opinion on democratic thought. Plato didn’t condemn the Greek ecclesia, or democratic assembly, per se. Plato rejected the idea of democratic rule, as he felt that only a few are fit to rule, stating that reason and wisdom should govern.
“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils… nor, I think, will the human race.” (Republic 473c-d)
Basically, Plato disagreed with the Greek ecllesia, which was open to all citizens in Athens—at least all male citizens older than 18 that is—who could vote for electing officials, going to war, and various reforms. At its best it was a mess, where 43,000 members gathered in assembly every month to vote, but Plato thought this disorganized and ultimately dangerous—as uneducated farmers and peasants may not know what is in the best interest for the state. In essence, Plato was calling for localized government at a state level.
It wasn’t that Plato condemned democracy—he wanted a better democracy—a Republic lead by competent leaders who were educated and wise. In other words, he was arguing for a system that resembles the modern day U.S.—a federal constitutional republic comprised of fifty states—this was the Republic Plato dreamed of. Thus, it appears VM isn’t aware of the histiography of the term democracy, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have actually read Plato, otherwise he wouldn’t have mistaken the sort of antiquated democracy of Athens during its “Golden Age” (480-404 BCE) for the sort of Democracy the United Sates was founded upon—because both are entirely different forms of democracy.
The Devil Made Me Do It!
VM’s quote by Alcuin is off topic and out of place. Worse than this, however, is that our author reveals himself to be frighteningly delusional when he states that “the voice of a corrupt people is often the devil’s voice.” I don’t think he is speaking metaphorically here. It sounds as if he literally means the devil’s voice has misguided the people—thus driven them to corruption and madness. VM actually believes a little red man, from an alternate dimension, with a pitch fork and pointy tail is causing people to go wrong.[iv] I don’t know about you, but I find the fact that people can believe this sort of nonsense a little off-putting, to say the least. At the same time, I absolutely delight in the fact that I don’t have to work to discredit VM because he does such a good job of doing it himself.
The School of Spirituality: How I Gained My PhD in Political Science
Our author’s next quote is a really exasperating series of jumbled thoughts, full of digressions and faulty reasoning, and is completely unrelated to his title “Does the Bible Matter in the 21st Century?” Even so, the next paragraph is so poorly written that I have to break it down line by line.
“The cancer at the heart of America’s political economy is cultural.”
Okay, fair enough, but perhaps an explication instead of a band wagon appeal is required here. Instead of just asserting his opinion, VM might want to try backing it up with some basic data and hard won evidence. I know, I know, this means doing real research. But what can I say, if you want to convince me of your truths, let alone want to get me to listen to them, they have to be supported first. VM’s statement may not be wrong, for all I know it could very well be correct, but the point is there is nothing to qualify it as being correct—as it is, it’s entirely unfounded—therefore specious.
“This great nation was built by an ethic—a spirituality that taught citizens to work, earn, save, invest, and use their wealth to serve their neighbors.”
Strange, it seems to me, that a nation’s ethical values could be built by a school of spirituality. Although I think I get the gist of what he’s trying to say (sort of). But he’s wrong primarily for two reasons. 1) VM probably doesn’t know what he’s trying to say any more than I do. 2) In the following sentence he refers to this ethic of working hard, earning, saving, investing, and using one’s wealth to help others as a “biblical ethic.” I can only assume he means the Christian ethic—as derived from the teachings of Christ (since that is mainly what it means to be a Christian—a follower of Christ)—but he’s wrong precisely because Christ never taught these things—he preached the exact opposite!
Jesus and his disciples were infamous for their loitering about—while most of them were fishermen, none held traditional jobs. In reality Jesus wasn’t even a carpenter, this is merely a misappropriation of an Aramaic term which gets confused due to its resemblance to the Jewish term tekton (contractor). According to Biblical scholar Geza Vermes, the identification of Jesus as a carpenter was an early error. Stanley E. Porter has informed, “the Greek word for ‘caprenter’ in the gospels actually stands for an underlying Aramaic term that is used metaphorically in the Talmud to denote a scholar.” New Testament scholar Robert M. Price concurs, stating it was a “Gentile misunderstanding of the Jewish acclamation that he [Jesus] was an erudite rabbi, skilled in scripture exposition.”
On top of all this Jesus did not advise his followers to save, rather, he taught “sell everything you own and give to the poor” (Mark 10:17-22). Nor did Jesus instruct his followers to invest, as he explicitly says “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19). In fact, Jesus condemned the wealthy altogether, stating “Woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6:24) yet this hasn’t deterred Christian leaders from declaring a tax exempt status and becoming some of the wealthiest charlatans ever to populate the face of the Earth—from the Pope on down to the mega-church pastors like Rick Warren.
“This biblical ethic has been replaced by secularism’s entitlement culture that teaches people that they have a right to this, that and the other without corresponding obligations to work, save, and serve.”
Actually, as we saw above, this is blatantly false. Moreover, this so-called ‘entitlement culture’ sounds more like the elite status of the religious Oligarchy and Demagogues than it does the average hard working blue collar American. While my mother, a working class Christian, strives from paycheck to paycheck trying to make ends meet, the Pope owns his very own country and lives in a veritable palace paid for by truer Christians than he (i.e., Christians who are, in fact, giving all they can so that he may live like a king of kings). Frankly, I don’t see how secularism even enters the equation. Most secular models of economics are based on political science, organizational theory, and cater largely to the overarching capitalism we are accustomed to. There is no such thing as a “Christian Capitalism” any more than there is such a thing as a “Christian bicycle” so I fail to see how a secular position connotes any anti-conservative right wing agenda. It seems our author simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“This new culture forces the state to take from productive citizens or borrow from other nations and spend it on manmade rights.”
This sentence is incoherent. What does manmade rights mean? What new culture is he speaking of? What is being borrowed from other nations and what does this have to do with taking from productive citizens?
“This corruption of character is destroying the world’s greatest economy, but can democracy allow leaders to go against the voter’s voice?”
I don’t presume to know what this corruption is, as it hasn’t been clearly described, or how it is destroying the world’s greatest economy, but to answer the last question about whether or not a democracy can allow leaders to go against the voter’s voice, the answer, as Plato would have it, is yes. If the average voter is as uneducated and incapable as our author, then this is a good thing. Why? Because as Plato affirmed, it is better to have wise and educated leaders than let the country go to ruin because you gave an idiot too much power. Ironically enough, in Athens the Greek word idiotes was a derogatory term for someone who did not vote—probably because they were politically ignorant. It now refers to someone who is just plain ole ignorant.
The Theology of a Xenophobe
Next our author moves onto discuss some history and theology.
“The people’s voice began to be honored as God’s voice only because the sixteenth century biblical Reformation began saturating the hearts and minds of the people with the Word of God.”
Actually, the reformation was due in part because Martin Luther disagreed with the Church on the matter of the sale of indulgences. Meanwhile, the reason it saturated the hearts and minds of the people is because of Luther’s translation of the Bible into German (1522-34) he made the Holy Bible accessible to the layman. Until this time the people never actually heard God’s voice, but only heard from the holy sanctioned spokespeople of God, the Papacy.
After some meaningless professions of faith, which have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of his article, or the content for that matter, our author adds:
“Not Just Islamic, but every culture that rejects the kingdom of God condemns itself to be ruled exclusively by sinful men.”
This sentences is not only uninformed, it’s rude, as it is meant to denigrate Muslims. Little does our author know, however, he has completely misrepresented the religion of Islam. Muslims believe whole heartedly in the kingdom of God, and they worship Allah (the Arabic word for God) above all things. In fact, their faith in God rivals that of any Christian, past or present, and so it seems more than a little disparaging to imply that Muslims are condemned to be ruled exclusively by sinful men. Is this what our author really wishes? Is it what he really believes? I can’t help but feel this sentence shows a pent up xenophobia seeping out of our author’s bloated ego.
The Ramblings of a Chauvinistic Egoist Know-Nothing-Know-It-All
As hurtful and insensitive as his Islamaphobic comments are above, he now turns his attention to the fairer gender, women. It should come as no surprise that after disparaging other cultures, races, and worldviews that VM would, predictably enough, finally make his way to disparaging women too.
“Almost everyone desires a happy marriage, but without the Bible, America cannot even define, let alone sustain marriage as one man-one woman, exclusive, and life-long relationship. The West became great because biblical monogamy harnessed sexual energy to build strong families, women, children, and men.”
I shall first address his misconceptions about marriage. Traditionally, marriage was not meant as a means to happiness. In the Biblical sense, marriage was a means to an end. Women were views as chattel, property of the man, to be sold and bartered with. This enterprise ensured that the household would remain strong, and marriage was usually a political means to ensure the economic stability of the household and the continued existence of the family. Hence women were viewed as chattel, dowries were bartered, organized marriages were arranged, and bargains were struck.
When it comes to Christian marriage and other forms of marriage, what we need to realize is there is relatively little difference. China had dowries and arranged marriages the same as Jews did. Women, regardless of where they were born, were the unlucky heirs to a patriarchal tradition.
Christianity has a long sordid history with oppressing women and suppressing women’s rights. Annie Laurie Gaylor, feminist crusader and co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, reminds us that:
“The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from women’s right to speak in public, to the use of anesthesia in childbirth (since the bible says women must suffer in childbirth) and woman’s suffrage. Today the most organized and formidable opponent of women’s social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion.”[v]
I need not remind you of the Biblical passages which enslave a defiled woman to her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). God even allowed his people to practice human trafficking and own sex-slaves (Exodus 21:7-11). And on occasion God even commanded the rape of women (Zechariah 14:1-2).
The New Testament regard of women is not improved much from the Old Testament. According to the NT women should cover their heads, be subservient to the man, and must be abused if she fails to exhibit the utmost docile commitment and humility to her superiors (1 Corinthians 11). Women must not be allowed to teach, for like a viper she cannot be trusted, her ideas and opinions are the cause of all treachery (according to 1 Timothy 2). Wives are the “weaker” partner, not equal to their husbands, and must be treated accordingly (what patronizing condescension! 1 Peter 3). Wives, under all circumstances, must submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5).
Paula Kirby has written a wonderful piece in the Washington Post in which she affirms, “This is the highest ideal to which a Christian woman may aspire: a cardboard cut-out of womanhood, a mere handmaid, silent, submissive, a vessel for the production of babies, passively and gratefully accepting her fate.”
A 2009 study at Baylor University showed that women are still made the sexual targets of male clergy and of faith leaders in general. Christianity’s regard for women hasn’t improved much since biblical times. In 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention made the decree stating “wives should submit graciously to their husbands.” To this day women are not allowed to be pastors, ministers, or priests in most Christian churches. Perhaps more controversial still, according to a 2008 Barna report, Christians have higher divorce rates than atheists and other non-believing secularists. Maybe these Christian women just weren’t submitting enough to their husbands? Maybe this religious demand for the woman to be a submissive trophy wife is driving her away? Regardless, all this seems to suggest that we should perhaps take it with a grain of salt whenever a Christian starts talking about the “sanctity of marriage.”
When VM talks about “harnessing sexual energy” I can only assume he means abstinence only policies which promote the notion of chastity until marriage. One of Christianity’s biggest experiments in trying to curb the human biological urge to mate with multiple partners has been an abstinence only policy—but a 2008 study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management found that there was no significant impact of abstinence only policies on teen sexual activity. Additionally, a similar report by the U.S. Mathematica Policy Research showed that abstinence only policies are not only an abysmal failure—but it also found that youth in these programs were no more likely to have unprotected sex. None-the-less, Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family continue to push abstinence only problems—and continue to put their children at risk by doing so.
The Bible is an artifact of Bronze aged mindset, which has fossilized the chauvinistic attitudes of a God appointed patriarchy, and this is the setting for which our author believes one woman must be put into bondage to one man for as long as she can muster breath to serve him (after all, that’s what life-long means). Yet what kind of marriage is this? There could be no more sinister a agenda than to deprive women of the same rights given to men. Opportunities such as education, independence, leadership, control over her own body, and so on should not be the business of Churches but solely the personal affairs of the woman—and to deprive her of this or any other prerogative is a form of subjugation and is criminal. It is obvious that the Biblical concept of marriage is not at all compatible with our civilized, modern, Western notions of marriage. In today’s societies women enjoy the free choice to marry whom they wish, out of love, not out of paternal obligation. Women are free to be sexual and sleep with whoever whenever they please.[vi] It not only seems we have redefined marriage as a more egalitarian custom, but it seems that in order to allot the respect women deserve, we have no choice but to purge ourselves of the failed biblical ethics and stop adhering to religious customs which seek to impoverish, enslave, oppress, and hinder a woman while continually restricting her basic human rights. In this sense, the Bible is out-dated, a shoddy relic from a Bronze Age long ago forgot, and has no precedence in the 21st century.
Vishal Mangalwadi is living in an upside down world, one which is morbid, depraved, and iniquitous. Vishal Mangalwadi appears to be deeply disturbed, deranged, and/or deluded. These are not meant as ad hominems, they are not attacks on Mangalwadi’s character, they are simply observations of his character. Although we can simply laugh off the imbecilic comments and poke fun at his narrow-minded worldview, we cannot be aware of how dangerous this sort of thinking is.
Whoever allowed this opinion editorial to be published, in my opinion, ought to be fired. First since one of the jobs of an editor is to make sure there is a certain level of political correctness to a piece. However, this article was not only defamatory, it was also inflammatory, and many of the author’s opinions pushed the boundaries of what it means to be controversial. Whether or not he was aware of the finer nuances of what he was advocating, is beside the point.
The bottom line is, Mangalwadi attacked other cultures, races, religious beliefs, worldviews with an uncouthness that was astounding, to say the least. His values are wanting. Mangalwadi ends with a subtle, yet not entirely hidden, chauvinism toward women while sponsoring an archaic form of Biblical sexism. The insinuation that the Bible provides the only valid definition of marriage should tip us off to this fact. I for one feel that the Bible provides a very poor model for marriage, one both wholly unfeasible and obsolete, and another thing we can be sure about is that it’s not at all concerned with the happiness of women. Furthermore, the actual topic of the article, if you haven’t already forgotten, was supposed to be about whether or not the Bible is still relevant in the Twenty-first century. This was never addressed. But I guess Fox news was just trying to be “fair and balanced.” After all, the nutters and religious wackos have opinions too.
[iv] According to a 2009 Barna poll just over one-quarter (26%) of American Christians believe in Satan.
[v] Annie Laurie Gaylor, Nontract #10, “Why Women Need Freedom From Religion,” available online.
[vi] Healthy and mature sex education does improve our sexual understanding and views sex in a positive light, thus reducing the guilt related to the heavily stigmatized religious premarital “sex is sin” myth, which runs unchecked in Christianity, and often stunts or cripples a person’s sexual maturity.