Manifestly Unserious

That’s how Steve Bennen described McCain’s pick for vice-president and I think, aside from anything else (and I’ll get to Palin’s whackaloon religious affiliations in due course, I promise), that it’s an extremely cogent point to make with respect the choice of a person that a number of respected presidential scholars say is “the least experienced, least credentialed person to join a major-party ticket in the modern era” (McCain’s campaign dismisses them all, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, who we’re terribly fond of, as nothing but “Democratic partisans”).

Surely it has to be apparent, even to ardent McCain’s supporters, that to date he’s been running “a palpably unserious campaign,” as Kevin Drum says. McCain’s campaign director he contends “…seems solely interested in winning the daily news cycle; his staff spends its time gleefully churning out juvenile attack videos; McCain himself has retreated into robotic incantations of simpleminded talking points; and now he’s chosen a manifestly unqualified VP that he knows nothing about.” It is indeed truly astounding to see how the “Straight Talk Express” has shifted down to the lowest gears, intellectually speaking, over the past month or so.

Andrew Sullivan sums up the problem by stating that Palin isn’t the issue, McCain’s judgment is, calling it “completely off the wall” and seriously wondering if there’s “something wrong with him” (mentally, I suppose he means). As I’ve said before, that’s not an altogether unfair or unreasonable thing to suggest, after all, in case you hadn’t heard, he was a POW you know.

Update: I’m just watching various Republican spokesbots spinning furiously on the Sunday morning yak shows talking about Palin and how her experience as Governor amply qualifies her to be the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency. With that in mind, this recent opinion by Karl Rove on the matter is absolutely hilarious.

Update2: Maybe McCain should have asked the folks at dKos to handle the vetting job for him. The dirt on Sarah Palin is piling up faster than manure from a hog slaughtering plant. BTW, I’ll try to get to that “Dominionist stalking horse” allegation later tonight in the broader context of Ur fascism. I’m just not in the mood for it right now.

Update3: The hilarity rolls on. It doesn’t take a body language expert to figure out what’s going on here.

“An Army of Locusts”

It’s stunning to me that in a world where radical jihadists “inspired by God” can send planes hurtling into skyscrapers killing thousands of innocent civilians and setting off a deadly so-called global war against terrorism, where intractable inter-religious conflicts have raged in recent years (and continue to be fought in many cases) in Bosnia, Chechnya, Côte d’Ivoire, East Timor, Kosovo, Indonesia, Palestine, Sri Lanka, and numerous other places around the globe, that anyone could regard religion as anything but “dangerous nonsense” as Richard Dawkins has so rightly labeled it.

And yet, we non-believers are steadfastly assured by people of faith that our concerns about religion are needlessly strident, hysterical, and completely without foundation, and at the very least, they most certainly shouldn’t be applied in any way to Christianity which, we’re repeatedly told, is a loving and beneficent faith.

Well, we’ll see about that. Meet Todd Bentley, a 32-year-old, prodigiously tattooed, body-pierced, shaved-head Canadian preacher who’s been leading a continuous “supernatural healing revival” in Lakeland, Florida, a city of half a million located smack-dab in the middle of the panhandle, that its 19th century founder Abraham Munn had originally thought of naming “Red Bug” for some curious reason.

Bentley himself has temporarily stepped down from his position with the Abbotsford, B.C. based Freshfire Ministries and his role as main attraction at the “Lakeland Outpouring” as it’s called due to the fact that he “entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff,” as ministry officials put it in a recent press release. What’s of far more concern than another hypocritical charlatan like Bentley claiming to be a prophet (there never seems to be any shortage of those in the world), or the laughable fraudulence of his faith-healing shakedown, is the truly disturbing ideological movement behind it, as outlined in this eye-opening article by Casey Sanchez of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to Bentley and a handful of other “hyper-charismatic” preachers advancing the same agenda, Joel’s Army is prophesied to become an Armageddon-ready military force of young people with a divine mandate to physically impose Christian “dominion” on non-believers.

“An end-time army has one common purpose — to aggressively take ground for the kingdom of God under the authority of Jesus Christ, the Dread Champion,” Bentley declares on the website for his ministry school in British Columbia, Canada. “The trumpet is sounding, calling on-fire, revolutionary believers to enlist in Joel’s Army. … Many are now ready to be mobilized to establish and advance God’s kingdom on earth.”

Joel’s Army followers, many of them teenagers and young adults who believe they’re members of the final generation to come of age before the end of the world, are breaking away in droves from mainline Pentecostal churches. Numbering in the tens of thousands, they base their beliefs on an esoteric reading of the second chapter of the Old Testament Book of Joel, in which an avenging swarm of locusts attacks Israel. In their view, the locusts are a metaphor for Joel’s Army.

Nothing to worry about when it comes to Christians, huh? But wait, it gets much, much better.

Joel’s Army believers are hard-core Christian dominionists, meaning they believe that America, along with the rest of the world, should be governed by conservative Christians and a conservative Christian interpretation of biblical law. There is no room in their doctrine for democracy or pluralism.

Dominionism’s original branch is Christian Reconstructionism, a grim, Calvinist call to theocracy that, as Reconstructionist writer Gary North describes, wants to “get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”


Rick Joyner, a pastor whose books, The Harvest and The Call, helped popularize Joel’s Army theology by selling more than a million copies each, goes the furthest on Elijah’s List in pushing the hardliner approach. In 2006, he posted a sermon called “The Warrior Nation — The New Sound of the Church,” in which he claimed that a last-day army is now gathering and called believers “freedom fighters.”

“As the church begins to take on this resolve, they [Joel’s Army churches] will start to be thought of more as military bases, and they will begin to take on the characteristics of military bases for training, equipping, and deploying effective spiritual forces,” Joyner wrote. “In time, the church will actually be organized more as a military force with an army, navy, air force, etc.”

In a sort of disclaimer, Joyner writes at one point that God’s army “will bring love, peace and stability wherever they go.” But several of his books narrate with glee what he describes as “a coming civil war within the church.” In his 1997 book The Harvest he writes: “Some pastors and leaders who continue to resist this tide of unity will be removed from their place. Some will become so hardened they will become opposers and resist God to the end.”

Two years later, in his book The Final Quest, Joyner described a vision (taken as prophecy in the Joel’s Army world, where Joyner is considered an “apostle”) of the coming Christian Civil War in which demon-possessed Christian soldiers enslave other, weaker Christians who resist them. He also describes how the hero of the novel — himself — ascends a “Holy Mountain” in order to learn new truths and to acquire new, magic weapons.

If, as Dawkins asserts that religion is a “virus of the mind,” then it has to be said that the Joel’s Army theology is an intensely noxious strain of it.

Sukkot This

It’s hardly a secret that I take a generally dim view of religion, so it should come as no surprise that it strikes me as a little irksome that the timing of Stephen Harper’s upcoming “Fixed Election Spectacular” might be postponed by the griping of a religious minority group.

As reported in Globe & Mail today, the Canadian Jewish Congress has written a letter to His Portliness complaining that holding an election during Sukkot would make it difficult for some Jews to get to the polls and would rob political parties of workers. For fellow gentiles unfamiliar with the holiday, Sukkot is kind of like Jewish Thanksgiving that pays homage to a group of people back in the Bronze Age who, according to the Old Testament, had to live in lean-to shelters for a week.

Look, I know that it’s always like venturing into a minefield (yes, bad analogy) whenever dealing with an issue involving Jews, but it seems fair to ask whether a vitally important election that’s urgently needed to break the critical impasse resulting from the “dysfunctional” parliament that Stephen Harper has decided lacks confidence in his supreme powers of statecraft, should be delayed for who knows how long, simply out of politically-correct deference to a religious minority group that would rather be spending their time improvising unsightly sukkas or parading around with a bunch of symbolic twigs and sticks in Great Hosanna thanking their otherwise wrathful sky god for providing some primitive camping supplies on their ahistorical flight from Egypt thousands of years ago.

By the way, it’s perhaps a little ironic that an election might be put off by a holiday that’s also known as the “Feast of Booths.”

Into the Shadowlands

In his seminal work The Hollow Men, the great poet T.S. Elliot alluded to what he called the “shadow” that dispiritingly falls between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, the conception and creation, the potency and the existence, and so on. That same metaphor could be could well be applied to politics being as it is an intellectual realm largely populated by phantom concepts and idealistic objectives that, in practical terms, never seem to fully materialize as they were originally conceived of or imagined.

In this regard, every government that ever was can be held to account for their own “shadow” measured in terms of the discrepancies between promises made and programs delivered or results achieved. As always, the devil is in the details and the way in which grand initiatives are implemented is arguably the pervasive “shadow” that Elliot spoke of. Without even needing to recount the specifics, a casual glance back at the rather dismal track record of previous Liberal governments concerning the environment illustrates the point quite dramatically, so it has to be said that Harper’s Conservatives are hardly exceptional when it comes to glaring disparities between their lofty or tough-talking rhetoric and actual delivery.

In the case of “Arctic sovereignty” for example — an issue that Stephen Harper has worked hard at trying to make one of his signature achievements (or is that Accomplishments®?) — the scales seem to have fallen, or at least slipped just a little bit, from the eyes of a least one “Blogging Tory”; that being Mark C. at “Daimnation!” who’s written a couple of vaguely skeptical pieces in recent days about the “posturing” of the Harper government in this regard.

As pointed out here earlier in the week, the announcement that the government intends to enforce Canadian sovereignty over an additional half a million square kilometers of Arctic ocean under Harper’s soul-stirring new plan rings fairly hollow considering this territory is already within the scope of our “exclusive economic zone” and that our ability to actually police the area in question is dubious at best in light of our overstressed fleet of aging icebreakers coupled with the fact that the new patrol boats (aka “slushbreakers”) promised for the Coast Guard won’t be in service for at least another five years. Yes, feel free to blame previous Liberal governments for the current predicament, but that’s really another argument altogether…

After alluding to the above without however actually stating anything of substance, in a subsequent update, Mark pointed to a piece in the flag-waving “Torch” that noted with great disgust that the “CCGS Louis St. Laurent will be almost 50 years old before it’s replaced by the John G. Diefenbaker,” and had this to say:

“A name is not a vessel on the sea. Are these guys posturing or serious? Sometimes one does despair. I thought one of the Conservatives’ basic positions was to make sure that the federal government actually does well those things that are its constitutional responsibility.”

Today, for reasons unknown, it seems to have just suddenly occurred to Mark that there’s a difference between promising and, you know, actually doing things. Pointing to what he refers to as the “fine print” of Harper’s statements about “strengthening Arctic maritime sovereignty” he notes that this is really nothing more than an “intention” bolstered by a several “proposed amendments” to the current regime whereby foreign vessels transiting the Northwest Passage must report to Canadian authorities. Well, good for Mark that he’s seen fit to rightly express some degree of justifiable skepticism about the Harper government’s apparently empty “posturing” on this issue, but I wonder how many other “Blogging Tories” will similarly hold them to account. Almost none would be my bet.

Likewise, I doubt that too many (if any) “Libloggers” will point out the laughable contradiction presented by the case of some Liberal MPs now hoping to make last-minute “adjustments” to the “Green Shift” carbon tax plan based on the feedback and input of constituents as part of the “dialog” with Canadians that Dion promised at the beginning of the summer now apparently being abruptly rebuffed by Dion. As reported in the Globe & Mail the other day, insiders say that Dion rejected any criticism of the plan, insisting “there will be no changes, not a comma.” If that’s actually true, then either the “dialog” was a disingenuous sham or Dion is simply being obdurately dogmatic about his plan.

At the risk of appearing to be sermonizing, the point of my little ramble is that heading into what looks to be an inevitable election, as bloggers we could all be providing a much more worthwhile service in my opinion if we were perhaps somewhat less blindly partisan in our views and more rigorously objective and harshly critical of all the political parties — both the one(s) we ostensibly support for whatever reason and those we oppose — rather than simply choosing to lazily indulge exclusively in what’s imagined to please the presumed conceits of our readers or assuringly coddle our own hopelessly biased prejudices.