Archives For Bible

On Friday, March 28, Paramount Pictures will release Noah into U.S. theaters after a flood of controversy. Noah, dubbed a biblical blockbuster, was co-written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, the award winning director oBlack Swan (2010.) Noah has an all-star cast including Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connolley and Emma Watson.

Almost any time a biblical story is adapted to film, there will be controversy. Does the movie adhere to the original narrative? Does it represent its characters and thematics accurately?  Are the creative elements born of the spirit in the original text? These are some of the questions that circle around all biblical films. Realistically these are the same questions that arise with the adaptation of any famous text. However when religion is the story’s birth-mother and caretaker, the questions are far more poignant and the debate more heated.

“Noah’s Ark” is arguably one of the most well-known Old Testament stories and is often used as a children’s tale. It has been re-told in so many formats that it almost transcends its biblical roots becoming a mythical story in our over culture. “Noah’s Ark” has even found its way into the whimsical world of Disney cartoons (Fantasia 2000) and Broadway musicals (Two By Two).

Considering the amount of creative license needed to produce a Broadway or Disney rendition of the story, it may seem surprising that anyone would consider protesting a live-action adaptation by an award-winning director. However that is exactly what has been happening.

To date the film is banned in four Islamic countries (UAE, Indonesia, Bahrain and Qatar) and is expected to be banned in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait. Their objections are based upon the Islamic rejection of “any acts depicting the messengers and prophets of God.” as reported by Reuters.  Paramount expected these bans.

Paramount Films Noah 2014

Paramount Films Noah 2014

Back here in the U.S. viewer complaints center mostly on Noah’s characterization as well as its sub-themes. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a group of Christian viewers invited to test market the film “questioned [its] adherence to the Bible story and reacted negatively to the intensity and darkness of the lead character.” One interviewee described Noah as a “crazy, irrational, religious nut who is fixated on modern-day problems like overpopulation and environmental degradation.” In response, Russell Crowe  has told an ABC interviewer, “This is a dude who stood by and watched the entire population of the planet perish. He’s not benevolent. He’s not even nice.”

Similar complaints have been pouring in since the movie’s inception. In 2012 Brian Godawa coined the now famous title “Noah: Environmentalist Wacko.” After reading the script, he wrote “This movie will be rejected by millions of devoted Bible readers worldwide because once again it subverts their own sacred narrative with a political agenda of pagan earth religion.” Godawa has also been quoted  as saying, “the director had transformed a scriptural story into ‘environmental paganism’ by blaming the great flood on man’s “disrespect” for the environment.”

It is no secret that Hollywood breathes contemporary issues into its adaptations. Was this film project born after an executive finished reading a report on global warming and the potential drowning of populated coastal areas? It is conceivable. The international media has billed Noah as “the original disaster story.” Interestingly enough, a 1928 Warner Brothers version of Noah’s Ark is largely considered the first melodramatic Hollywood disaster movie. There is an undeniable narrative correlation and, realistically, disaster movies are hot box office fodder.

Returning to 2014, Aronofsky’s Noah is just that: Aronofksy’s Noah. As filming progressed, Paramount became increasingly nervous that his creative license would not appeal to its target audience – conservative Christians. They began to test market various cuts of the film at the risk of straining the producer-director relationship. In the end, Paramount has opted to release the director’s cut despite viewer concerns.

According to the Washington Times, Aronofsky calls his film a mythic,“dark parable of sin, justice and mercy.” He also said it is the “least biblical Bible film ever made” calling Noah the “first environmentalist.” However Aronofsky also notes that biblically-based details directly informed the film’s development including the shape of the Ark and Noah’s drinking bout. In a recent ABC interview he said, “You don’t want to mess with it [the story]. You just want to bring it to life and … breathe life into it.”

Although Paramount will be releasing Aronofsky’s version, they are doing so with the following message attached:

The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.

Paramount’s decision to add this disclaimer was based upon a request from the National Religious Broadcasters, “a non-partisan international association of …Christian communicators coming together to spread the life-changing Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through every electronic medium available.” Having spent a reported $130 million on the biblical blockbuster, Paramount felt the disclaimer was fiscally prudent.

There are many Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders who have come out in support of the film. Most recently, the Pope himself granted Crowe an audience after three requests.  According to several reports, he blessed the film’s release.

Paramount Pictures Noah (2014)  Starring: Russell Crowe

Paramount Pictures Noah (2014) Starring: Russell Crowe

Despite Papal approval, viewer objections still haunt the film. Creationist Ken Ham has asked his followers to see Ray Comfort’s Noah film, being released the same day, “instead of wasting money by supporting a pagan Hollywood Noah movie that really makes a mockery of the account of Noah, the Ark and the Flood.”

Once again the primary accusation is one of fostering “paganism” (lowercase intended.)  In most cases, the word is simply used to refer to “secularism or environmentalism.”  However in many of these reviews, the writers are in fact referring to what they call “pagan earth religions.”

This begs the question: Does the film have Pagan themes?  After hearing such complaints, did Paramount ask the opinion of people practicing “Earth Religions?” If so there are no such indications or media reports.

Will you go see the film? Pagan blogger Jonathan Korman is looking forward to its release. He wrote, “I have been joking that Darren Aronofsky’s forthcoming film Noah is a film for which I may be the only audience. I’m ethnically Jewish, a former atheist, and a Modern Pagan, with a fascination with the whole range of religions and myth.”

He may be right in its very eclectic appeal. Compressing the flurry of mainstream articles and reviews, here’s a glimpse at the global scope that has and still is surrounding the film and its production. In the mythic style of Lord of the Rings, Aronofsky’s Noah is a creative retelling of a beloved biblical story written and directed by Jews; containing contemporary Pagan Earth Religion themes; marketed specifically to a conservative Christian audience and banned by the world’s Islamic community.

And they call Hollywood secular.

Last night the Buncombe County School Board in North Carolina unanimously passed a policy regarding prayer, religious activities, and the distribution of religious materials by students in their schools. It was the culmination of months of activism that began when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog, who has covered previous meetings on this issue, has posted her impression of last night’s events.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

“When it came time to vote everyone was on edge. I can only imagine this is what it’s like in a murder trial or something. The board got hung up about the word neutrality and whether or not it should be replaced with the word unbiased. The Fundies were clapping and whooping because I think they thought the vote would get tabled again. Honestly, I am not sure what they were excited about because the Americans United rep said that the words meant the same thing and wouldn’t change the policy in any way. Personally I thought they might table it again too the way they were hung up on one dang word and I was panicking a bit. Fortunately they voted. And it passed unanimously.

So what does this mean? As of now school officials have to remain neutral in regards to religion. They can still have their prayer over their lunch, wear religious jewelry, and have awesome bumper stickers on their cars. They cannot lead children in prayer (it must be student led), no distribution of materials, and no promotion of any specific religion. There is still more work to be done with the policy, including implementing the policy, but for now we can take a deep breath and move on to the next bit of work. I think I am going to request being a volunteer with the County schools acting as a consultant in regards to religions in the schools. There was something said about that at a meeting with Mountain Area Interfaith Forum.”

At the Strivelli Family Support Page on Facebook, Ginger Strivelli, expressed that there were “lots of loopholes” in the policy, and that concerned citizens would “have to stay on watch forever to keep them honest.” This sentiment was also expressed by Byron Ballard, who posted at her Citizen-Times blog the night before the vote.

“Sadly, even if the board approves the two policies tomorrow night, it still won’t be over. We will have to police the system for years to come, calling, demanding, emailing. Every time a child whose parents practice a minority religion is othered or belittled or otherwise bullied because of that–someone will have to contact the system and demand that something be done.”

Missing from the policies passed last night were guidelines on the distribution of religious materials by outside groups, the issue that initially sparked this saga. That matter won’t be taken up formally until next year, when the board will consider allowing a yearly religions fair open to all faiths. It is assumed that until then, distribution of religious materials by any group won’t be allowed, though Strivelli and Ballard’s calls for constant vigilance will no doubt be required to make sure that remains the case. We’ll keep you updated of future developments in this matter when they arise.

student says kids have told her they can't sit near her or be her friend because she is pagan. #avlgov
@APippinger
Angela Pippinger

For Pagans and other adherents to esoteric, indigenous, or non-Christian minority faiths, what has happened in Buncombe County should be an object lesson in the importance of being vocal, engaged, and active in supporting our equal treatment. Ginger Strivelli has risked personal attacks, a death threat, and ostracization in the name of protecting her children, and making sure local government works for the benefit of all citizens, not just the Christian ones. Modern Pagans have come very far since we first emerged into the public eye back in the 1950s and 60s, but we still have a long way to go. Even in seemingly cosmopolitan enclaves, many hold misconceptions about what our religions are like. This is why it’s so important to stand behind these brave individuals when they step up, in addition to supporting organizations like the Lady Liberty League who provide on-the-ground assistance and advice. Together, we can slowly change our culture into one that is open and welcoming to modern Pagans.

Tonight, the Buncombe County School Board in North Carolina is scheduled to vote on a new policy regarding the distribution of religious material in public schools. This vote, if it happens, will be the culmination of controversy that began this past December, when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible.

At the time, the school defended their policy of distribution for religious materials, saying it was open and neutral, but when tested with Pagan books the school’s tune quickly changed. The Buncombe County School Board now said their policy was under review, while Strivelli received a death threat for speaking out. On February 2nd, the school board held a meeting to unveil (but not vote on) a new distribution policy for religious materials. In a packed room, a climate of fear and anger held sway, according to Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture.

All through this we quietly sat and allowed people to speak their minds. While I fully support freedom of speech, this was quite difficult. It was off topic. It was all about the “us vs them” mentality. I wanted to speak because it had been so long since anyone from the pagan community spoke. But I was scared. Yep, you read that right. The hostility was so thick that I wasn’t sure that I could handle standing before those people and be subject to a possible attack. When Ginger spoke about her feelings of being bullied and that she was the only one brave enough to stand up to the masses, the crowd rebuked her. The same crowd we respectfully allowed to speak their minds now could not handle her speaking her own. I will speak at the next meeting. I have things to say and I need to stand by my desire for a strong interfaith world by standing up and speaking.”

That entire contentious meeting was recorded by the school board, and you can listen to it in short excerpts if you’d like to wade through it all. Regarding the proposed policy that will be voted on tonight, it states that school officials  “while acting in their official capacities shall not use their positions to endorse, promote, or disparage a particular religious belief, viewpoint or practice.” It also requires ongoing training to staff, and to have principals consult the superintendent over any instance that might violate the Constitution. Ginger Strivelli, and local Pagan activists, will be in attendance to speak up in favor of the new policy, and document the proceedings. Local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard posted yesterday about the preparations she is making, and what she plans to say at tonight’s meeting.

“…maybe I’ll talk about bullies and bullying because we had plenty of examples of that at the last meeting. And maybe I’ll talk about how deeply ashamed I am of grownups who use their religion as an excuse to dominate and intimidate children. How humiliating it is for me–as a parent, as a mountain woman–to hear a young child say to an adult: You are going to burn in Hell. We used to have good manners here. We used to respect our elders–even when they didn’t earn it.”

Meanwhile, Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog will be live-tweeting the meeting.

I am excited and yet still nervous. I guess that's normal when you feel like walking into the lion's den.
@APippinger
Angela Pippinger

“I have spoken with the Communications committee at the BoE and I will be taking my laptop and will be able to live tweet the event. Please follow my Twitter account or follow the hashtag #avlgov to watch the public commentary portion of the meeting as well as the outcome of the vote. During the live tweeting I will not be able to respond to tweets but if you use the hashtag, you can freely discuss amongst yourselves what is happening. Depending on my ability to plug the laptop in the while will dictate how long I can tweet for. I simply won’t do it from my phone during public commentary, my thumbs were killing me last time. If I cannot plug in, I will tweet the public commentary as long as my battery will hold out.  I will tweet from my phone the outcome of the vote. I won’t leave anyone hanging!”

Finally, Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League has sent out a blessing to Strivelli and her supporters.

“Lady Liberty’s Flame of Freedom & the Strength of the Sacred Oak be with you during Tonight’s meeting & in times to come in this quest for upholding separation of church & state and for fair & equal treatment of those of differing religions & belief in the Buncombe County, NC public school system!”

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our Pagan brothers and sisters fighting the good fight in North Carolina, and all those who would stand with them in the name of equality and upholding the separation of church and state. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30pm EST tonight, so tune in to Angela Pippinger’s Twitter feed for the latest word. We will update this post once we have word of the vote.

ADDENDUM: Angela Pippinger’s account of last night’s meeting is now up. In short, the board postponed the vote for another month, so it was another round of public comments.

“Now I am sure you all are curious as to the outcome of the voting. Well. There was no vote. Chairperson Rhinehart stated that they wanted to work on the policy a bit more and create procedure for handling religious literature specifically. They felt that it would be better to vote on a policy and procedure instead of handling this matter in bits and pieces. To be honest, this didn’t thrill me too much. It felt more like a stonewalling move than an actual step forward. Perhaps I am wrong.

The next meeting will be held on April 12 and they are supposed to vote that night. Initially I panicked because it falls on the last week of tax season and I am afraid I won’t be able to go. But really, I can’t not go at this point so I will be there again. I may or may not speak, will depend on the amount of stress I am under at that time. I will be live tweeting the event, it’s too important of an issue.”

I highly recommend reading her entire account. You may also want to check out Patti Wigington’s blog at About.com, as she was also at the meeting.

This past December, North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. The school claimed their policy of distribution for religious materials was open and neutral, but when tested with Pagan books the school’s tune quickly changed. The Buncombe County School Board now said their policy was under review, while Strivelli received a death threat for speaking out. Last night, the school board held a meeting to unveil (but not vote on) a new distribution policy for religious materials. In a packed room, a climate of fear and anger held sway, according to Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture.

All through this we quietly sat and allowed people to speak their minds. While I fully support freedom of speech, this was quite difficult. It was off topic. It was all about the “us vs them” mentality. I wanted to speak because it had been so long since anyone from the pagan community spoke. But I was scared. Yep, you read that right. The hostility was so thick that I wasn’t sure that I could handle standing before those people and be subject to a possible attack. When Ginger spoke about her feelings of being bullied and that she was the only one brave enough to stand up to the masses, the crowd rebuked her. The same crowd we respectfully allowed to speak their minds now could not handle her speaking her own. I will speak at the next meeting. I have things to say and I need to stand by my desire for a strong interfaith world by standing up and speaking.”

Ginger pointed out that she has felt bullied. Crowd told her she didn't have to be here.
@APippinger
Angela Pippinger

Regarding the proposed policy, it states that school officials  “while acting in their official capacities shall not use their positions to endorse, promote, or disparage a particular religious belief, viewpoint or practice.” It also requires ongoing training to staff, and to have principals consult the superintendent over any instance that might violate the Constitution. Local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard called the proposed policy “fair,” but also commented on the atmosphere of the meeting, saying it “was like an audition for preachers,” and that many in attendance seemed “desperate and fearful.”

As for Ginger Strivelli, she bravely faced the crowd, telling them that “I am the only one who is courageous enough to stand up to your bullying,” and that “this is not a church […] this is a public school board meeting.” What she is doing is not easy, but her work, along with the work of Byron Ballard, is slowly changing the culture in Buncombe County. Next month the school board will likely vote on the new rule, Byron Ballard suggests sending them an email of support.

@ You could send them an email of support. Put "I support Policy 652" in the subject line. http://t.co/B5xhhxOt
@ByronBallard
Byron Ballard

I am expecting an official response from Ginger and Byron’s media liaison on last night’s events, and I will post that here as an update once I receive it. You can be sure I will be keeping an eye on this situation, and will report on any progress or developments.

UPDATE: The Lady Liberty League’s Education Task Force has issued a press release with statements from Selena Fox, Byron Ballard, Ginger Strivelli, Lady Miraselena, and Lady Arsinoe Meri Ma’at. Here’s Selena Fox’s statement on behalf of the Lady Liberty League:

“Having liberty and justice for all in this country may be in the Pledge of Allegiance, but it is not an automatic reality. The large volume and intensity of sectarian religious rhetoric in the February 2nd meeting proves the necessity to have a religiously neutral public school policy, It also demonstrates that, all of us, need to be vigilant and willing to work together to make this happen wherever discrimination occurs. And, we have been very pleased to see that Pagans and those of other beliefs have been collaborating, networking, and speaking out in favor of the separation of church and state in this Buncombe County public school situation. We ask that you continue to send support to Ginger, Byron, and others who are on the front lines of this quest. We will post any updates on the Strivelli Family Support and Lady Liberty League Facebook pages.

In her statement, Ginger Strivelli simply adds: “Thanks to everyone who has been giving us support.”

On December 20th, I reported that a Pagan, Ginger Strivelli, was challenging her son’s school in Buncombe County, North Carolina on allowing the distribution of Bibles, claiming that the manner of distribution crossed the line into unconstitutional endorsement. Strivelli, and noted North Carolina Pagan activist Byron Ballard, decided they would test the supposedly open-door policy for the distribution of religious materials as asserted by principal Jackie Byerly of North Windy Ridge school.

“Jackie Byerly, principal at North Windy Ridge, defended the availability of the Bibles. She said they were not handed out, and students had the option to take them. She checked with Superintendent Tony Baldwin and was given permission to make them available. She said the Bibles arrived Monday morning from a local group of Gideons International, and the box containing the books was opened in the main office. Byerly said the students picked them up during their break time. “If another group wishes to do the same, I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this,” she said.”

So, how did North Windy Ridge school do when presented with boxes of Pagan literature free for the taking? According to Ballard, their tune had suddenly changed when it came to non-Biblical text distribution.

Ginger Strivelli with her rejected Pagan books.

Ginger Strivelli with her rejected Pagan books.

“We were there to deliver the materials that she was assured would be “made available” in the same way the Gideon material was, right before the winter break. No surprise to find that, in consultation with the system’s superintendent Dr. Baldwin, the principal Jackie Byerly and asst principal Danny Fusco couldn’t do that at all because the central office was reviewing its policy regarding religious materials in schools. They suggested that they would “hold onto” the books, in case the school system needed to review them for appropriate content, once the policy was vetted.”

Local news outlets are now reporting on the sudden change of heart, with the Asheville Citizen Times getting Jan Blunt, spokeswoman for Buncombe County Schools, to entertain the idea that perhaps their method of distributing Bibles in a public school wasn’t altogether legal after all.

“This whole thing has raised an issue of were we in compliance with any laws or were we not,” Blunt said. “There’s a lot of gray area. Perhaps we were in the wrong, and that’s why we’re going to review.”

Blunt also noted that a group in New York offered to send them 500 Qurans, and that feedback on their policy has been “mixed.” As for Ginger Strivelli and Byron Ballard, they are vowing to continue fighting and see this through till the end.

“The Earth religions community is frankly tired of dealing with this every few years. As long as any child in a public school system is bullied, coerced or ostracized for the spiritual path of their family and themselves, the situation is not fixed and the school environment is not safe. There will be more media, more “good Christian” people threatening violence, more bullying and “othering” before this is settled. But settled it will be. Of this you can be certain.”

Again and again it seem like certain Christian activists love the idea of inserting religion into the public sphere until it’s made plain that other, competing, ideas will be allowed as well. Then, the value of secularism suddenly reveals itself, at least until the law, or the demographics, change enough to allow them complete religious hegemony.  Pagans (and other minority religions) it seems, are either being invoked to test the resolve of supposedly “open” programs of religious activities that receive governmental funding, or used to prove how open a program is to avoid litigation. As non-Christian practices and beliefs become more and more common, I think we’ll start to see some realignment on the question of religion in public school or local government, until then, local Pagans continue to fight for true equal treatment and inclusion.

A North Carolina Pagan, Ginger Strivelli, is challenging her son’s school on allowing the distribution of Bibles, something the school said is perfectly acceptable since they didn’t actively hand them out.

"Oh look, a Bible, you shouldn't have."

"Oh look, a Bible, you shouldn't have."

“Jackie Byerly, principal at North Windy Ridge, defended the availability of the Bibles. She said they were not handed out, and students had the option to take them. She checked with Superintendent Tony Baldwin and was given permission to make them available. She said the Bibles arrived Monday morning from a local group of Gideons International, and the box containing the books was opened in the main office. Byerly said the students picked them up during their break time. “If another group wishes to do the same, I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this,” she said.”

But Strivelli’s son said that the “break time” was constructed especially for picking up a Bible, that all the students went, and that copies were distributed to the children by a teacher. Strivelli called the incident “totally inappropriate” while local Pagan leader (and blogger) Byron Ballard called the distribution “problematic,” and “potentially illegal.”

“Byron Ballard, an active Pagan in Asheville and freedom of religion advocate, said the situation is “terribly inappropriate.” She said she plans to contact the school system’s legal department and the local American Civil Liberties Union.”

Now, Strivelli plans to see if Jackie Byerly is true to her word and will handle the distribution of other religious material in the same fashion, of if the Christian Bible will be privileged in a public school.

“I have 2 lovely Pagan Authors already promising me copies of their books…and I need to contact the Editor who used my Chapter in her book, surely she can chip in some for my work on that book for her….and dropping all those and more off Jan 3rd I hope..but asap for sure…WE WILL SEE how equally they ‘make them available’.”

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that a similar test was given to another school district in North Carolina, and they didn’t exactly pass with flying colors.

The Brunswick County Board of Education in North Carolina.

The Brunswick County Board of Education in North Carolina.

“Way back in 2006, the Brunswick County Board of Education in North Carolina was on track to approve a controversial and vaguely-worded policy that would allow for the distribution of religious materials on school grounds. Legal threats didn’t seem to faze them until Llewellyn Worldwide offered to distribute free books on Wicca and Paganism to school children. Faster than you could say “Galloping Gideons”, the Brunswick board backed down from their plan, and someone fortuitously caught that delicious moment in a photo.”

Is Buncombe County ready for its “Pagan moment,” or will they blink the face of true equal treatment?

Top Story: If you’ve been following the legal saga of Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who is fighting to have California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy overturned, you’re going to want to listen to Anne Hill’s hour-long radio discussion with McCollum concerning the case.

“Today I sat in for my friend and colleague Peter Laufer on his Sunday morning KOWS radio show, which gave me the opportunity to interview Patrick on the air about his case. If you have not educated yourself about the case and what is at stake, now is your chance to listen to Patrick explain it in his own words.”

If you aren’t already outraged by this case, you may well be after hearing this interview. You can listen via an audio stream at Anne’s site, or download an MP3 of the entire discussion. For my complete coverage of this case, click here.

In Other News:

Starhawk in Milwaukee: OnMilwaukee interviews Pagan activist and author Starhawk on the occasion of her visit for a series of talks and workshops at a local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

“When I talk or give workshops I try to provide a sense of hope or empowerment regarding what can be done on a personal level, so we’re listening and learning how to be an advocate on a larger level. And how to make our voices heard. But most of all, we create ritual and sacred space and hopefully people walk away feeling like they had a lot of fun.”

Starhawk also discusses her new children’s book, and why connecting with the natural world is important. For a regular dose of Starhawk-related content, check out her personal blog, and her ongoing participation as a panelist at the On Faith site.

Entering the “ex” Industry: After mentioning professional “ex” William Schnoebelen (he’s an ex-Wiccan/Satanist/Mason/Mormon/Vampire) in Saturday’s post about vampires, I’ve come across another looking to get into the “ex” business, Kristine McGuire, who’s releasing a new book entitled “Escaping the Cauldron”.

“What would prompt a woman who had been a Christian for twenty-nine years to abandon her faith and embrace the occult; becoming a witch, medium, and ghost hunter for eight years?  Escaping the Cauldron: What You Should Know about the Occult details the personal journey of Kristine McGuire and how God restored her to faith in Jesus Christ. The book also examines the current upswing of interest in the paranormal and its effect on Christians. The first book in the Escaping the Cauldron series, this book will give the reader insight into the occult from the vantage point of a former insider.”

McGuire’s “hook” is that she wasn’t a Wiccan, but was instead a “Christian Witch” and ghost hunter who has now seen the light and is going steady with Jesus. In all honesty, McGuire seems like a nice enough person. She doesn’t tell giant lies about Pagan faiths like Schnoebelen and other “ex” authors do, but she’s yet another person hoping to sell her experience with the occult, and parlay that into speaking engagements and, I assume, a career as a professional “ex”. I do question her assertion that she was an “insider” to our culture, as it seem rather plain from her writings that she stayed on the margins, but perhaps that’s just copy to sell more books. Oh, and her site disables right-clicking and copying text, which is really annoying, and isn’t the protection against copyright infringement some seem to think it is.

James Arthur Ray Update: The New Age guru who led a “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge that ended up killing three people, and who is now in custody after being charged with three counts of manslaughter, claims that he’s broke and can’t pay the $5 million dollar bail.

“Despite misconceptions perpetrated in the media, Mr. Ray is not a man of significant assets and certainly not the millions reported in the press,” his attorneys wrote in documents obtained by The Associated Press from the court. The documents are now officially sealed. Ray himself has touted his wealth and success in numerous media interviews and on his Web site, including an estimated $10 million in revenue in 2009 and a seven-figure advance for his book, “Harmonic Wealth” that hit the New York Times Best Sellers List in May 2008.

The article points out that Ray’s company “James Ray International” is not listed as an asset, and it’s very likely he could be using the business as a shield for the sizable wealth he claims to have amassed (and now claims doesn’t exist) over the years. Whether a judge buys the “poor Ray” argument and lowers his bail remains to be seen.

Bible Study: In a final note, Kentucky is moving to join Texas and Tennessee in establishing guidelines for elective Bible literacy courses in public schools. While supporters of the new guidelines say it would teach the Bible as a “historical document”, and would not proselytize, comments from sponsoring lawmakers paint an entirely different scenario.

“Sen. Elizabeth Tori, R-Radcliff, told co-sponsors Boswell and Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, that “an angel was sent down on your shoulders” prompting “you to put this bill together.” “I‘ve said for many years that until we put God back into our households, things in society will not change for the better,” Tori said. “Your bill is the first step to that change.” The measure passed 12-0, but comments by the bill’s co-sponsor, and other senators prompted concern from a few committee members.”

Personally, they can have their elective “Bible literacy” courses so long as they also institute an elective “Classics literacy” course that would teach kids about Homer, Plato, Socrates, Greek history, and other enriching topics. These would be taught as “historical texts” naturally, and I doubt it would lead kids to become polytheists, or major in philosophy. In fact, didn’t restoring the classics to the curriculum used to be a conservative action item? I guess that was before Bible fever hit the movement.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

The Los Angeles Times interviews Harold Ramis who directs the upcoming film “Year One” starring Jack Black and Michael Cera. Ramis, who was behind comedic hits like “Groundhog Day” and “Ghostbusters”,  explains how he is (hopefully) avoiding offending Christians, Jews, and Muslims in a slapstick Old Testament road-trip film.


“Post-9/11, religious differences were tearing the world apart. Every religion preaches tolerance, yet people were destroying [one another] wholesale,” said Ramis, who co-wrote the script. But how to go about making his point about religious extremism without alienating audiences? “I started thinking, ‘You can’t attack Christianity, Islam or Judaism. But nobody cares if you go after a dead pagan religion.’ “

Now, obviously Ramis may just be joking here, he is a comedian after all. But later in the interview Ramis does take care to mention that he’s getting the film screened by the Anti-Defamation League before it’s released in theatres.

Aware his irreverent take might irk some who take the Old Testament at its word — particularly certain of its promises — Ramis said with some trepidation the Anti-Defamation League would be having a peek soon. “I’m Jewish; that gives me a lot of room to play. Liberal Jews tend to enjoy self-mockery. All it’s saying is that this notion of being chosen or being given land by God is a hard one for people to swallow,” he said. “So the circumcision jokes, I know they’ll be able to take. I think the land joke is the one that might be more offensive.” Ramis is careful to point out the movie is “not an attack on religion; it’s an attack on mindless fundamentalism.” He relates an exchange as it was scripted in an early draft: ” ‘You burn virgins so it rains?’ ‘Duh. Where do you think rain comes from? Clouds?’ “

You see? Attacking the “mindless fundamentalism” of “pagans” who “burn virgins” is funny stuff! Monotheist claims that God granted them certain lands? Not so much. Or at least you have to be sure you couch it in a disclaimer and run it by an anti-defamation group first.

Now, I’m not getting bent out of shape about this, religion (and the human foibles attached to religion) has been a comedy goldmine since the days of Lucius Apuleius Platonicus. Only humourless extremists can’t laugh about their faith, or tolerate a joke told by someone else about your belief system, so don’t expect any calls to protest or complain about “Year One” from me (heck, considering some of the talent involved, I may go see it in the theatres). But I do think it is extremely telling that we have reached a point where certain segments of the dominant monotheisms are so insecure and reactionary that film-makers wanting to skewer the Bible have to deflect barbs onto pre-Christian religions in order to avoid controversy. As I’ve said before, modern Pagans (who look to the pre-Christian religions that Ramis satirizes) should fight genuine hate-speech but avoid the tone-deaf excesses of some “rights” groups.

“…the last thing I want to see is for Pagans to adopt the tactics of groups like the Catholic League. Constantly scanning the news looking for the next outrage, the next rallying cry for those who believe some great religious conflict is brewing. I don’t want us to become unable to laugh off something stupid, I don’t want us to become unable to tell the difference between an innocuous trifle, and real anti-Pagan hate speech.”

Ancient pagan religions may be easy to joke about, but let’s hope Ramis doesn’t use that as an excuse to de-fang his Biblical satire in “Year One”. After all, the only safe way to avoid offending a specific group in comedy is to be an equal-opportunity offender.

Several blogs, and a couple fine souls, have alerted me to this story. I don’t think I can really improve on the blistering, soul-destroying irony on display here. So I’ll let you, dear readers, append your own punchline in the comments.


Exodus, Chapter 32.

“For these and other reasons Cindy [Jacobs] is calling for a Day of Prayer for the World’s Economies on Wednesday, October 29, 2008. They are calling for prayer for the stock markets, banks, and financial institutions of the world on the date the stock market crashed in 1929. They are meeting at the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank, and its 12 principal branches around the US that day. “We are going to intercede at the site of the statue of the bull on Wall Street to ask God to begin a shift from the bull and bear markets to what we feel will be the ‘Lion’s Market,’ or God’s control over the economic systems,” she said.”

If the economy does any worse, we may just see some temples to Pluto, Kubera, and Lu Hsing pop up soon.

Ah Texas, outside of South Carolina, it is hard to think of a state with more percolating church-state issues. Their judges sanction religiously-motivated torture of teenage girls, they pass laws that their own research tells them will privilege Christian expression, and they aren’t too keen on the religious freedom of non-Christian faiths. So is it any wonder that they passed a controversial law mandating a Bible-study elective in their public schools, or that schools taking advantage of this new freedom are abusing it?

“Mark Chancey, associate professor in religious studies at Southern Methodist University, has studied Bible classes already offered in about 25 districts for the Texas Freedom Network. The study found most of the courses were explicitly devotional with almost exclusively Christian, usually Protestant, perspectives. It also found that most were taught by teachers with no academic training in biblical, religious or theological studies and who were not familiar with the issues of separation of church and state. ‘Some classes promote creation science. Some classes denigrate Judaism. Some classes explicitly encourage students to convert to Christianity or to adopt Christian devotional practices,’ Chancey said. ‘This is all well documented, and the board knows it.'”

You can read Mark Chancey’s full report, here. The Texas Freedom Network, far from being an atheist organization, actually supported the legislation that allowed for Bible-based electives. Their problem is that the Texas State Board of Education passed implementation guidelines that they claim throws school districts and teachers “under the bus” due to vague language that will put schools on a collision course for multiple lawsuits.

“The board majority then rammed through a set of vague standards that fail to offer a shred of guidance about the specific content that should be in these courses. Based on extensive research, we know for a fact that classes already based on these general standards in Texas school districts fail to meet even minimal standards for academic rigor. Even worse, those public school districts — sometimes unknowingly — create courses that promote the religious beliefs of the teacher and outside religious groups over those of the students, their families and other taxpayers.”

Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott seems rather unconcerned about these implementation guidelines, saying they “pass constitutional muster”. Though it is hard to see how he could know that, since classes developed under the new guidelines haven’t been submitted, or tested in a court of law.

The real problem with this law, these guidelines, and “elective Bible study” is that they weren’t created in good faith. They were simply another salvo in the ongoing “culture war” between the forces of “godless secularism” and those batting for team Jesus. A real alternative to this conflict would have been to replace “Bible study” with a general religious education course. Spanning history, and including texts as varied as the Iliad & Odyssey, the Bhagavad Gita, the Talmud, the Qur’an, the Tripi?aka, and the Bible. Favoring none, and exploring how these different texts have shaped history, art, and culture.

Instead of a true learning experience concerning religion, we have instead a powder keg of potential lawsuits, sectarian Christian teachers using already existing classes as a cudgel, and students having to pick between no exploration of religion at all, or thinly veiled Christian indoctrination. Religious minorities, as per the usual, are all but silenced in this debate. This is a clear example of why exclusively Bible-oriented classes need to be opposed. Not because we fear the Bible, or hate Christianity, be because such policies almost always lead to abuses, and allow the Christian majority to run roughshod over the freedoms of non-Christians.