Begun, the Lunar New Year Wars Have

Well, we’ve come to the end of the Chinese Lunar New Year season, a time of heartwarming traditions. As a young girl I always looked forward to getting red packets, having dinner with dad’s family, getting red packets, having dinner with mom’s side, getting red packets, etc. It’s far less fun when you’re a married adult and have to do the cooking and giving money and such, but I became a nun to avoid all that. You’ve also got your fireworks, dragon dances, and – if you’re a Mainlander – CCTV’s regular New Year’s Eve Gala cum minstrel show

This year’s festivities were an especially welcome sign that this stupid pandemic is finally over nobody cares about covid anymore, with the Reds finally throwing in the towel. But we seem to have added a new tradition to LNY – online nationist bickering! Let’s see what happened when Disneyland tried to celebrate the occassion, shall we?:

Mercy me! Cultural appropriation indeed! Or maybe it’s unappropriation in this case? Anyway, how dare they use generic astronomical language to describe a date based on an astronomical event! Oh, but Disney wasn’t the worst offender, no no. The British Museum had the gall to call it Korean New Year. It doesn’t matter that it related specifically to a Korean-themed event. Call it by it’s proper name! And what is that proper name, you ask? Let ’em hear it, dear sir:

Oh…er…take that, then! It’s Spring Festival you sinophobes! Don’t like that the Chinese declare the start of spring when it’s still cold as the coldest Buddhist hell? Well, deal with it!

But in all seriousness, this is a very stupid controversy. I mean, the Dragon Boat thing is silly fun, but here we have a culture trying to lay claim to the lunar cycle. Yes, its true that the Chinese, developed the calendar and probably pioneered the whole festival thing – that’s the case for a lot of East Asian culture. But other countries and culures have put their own spin on it. We don’t call it “Greek” or “Roman Christmas,” do we?

I guess since the Chinese are still around (unlike ancient Rome) and can push their weight around (LOL Greece) that gives them more saying power. But the funny thing is that not even the CCP cares enough to wolf warrior this crap and call it “Chinese New Year”; the nitpicking is almost all completely online. 

That probably means we can ignore the whole thing as a limited movement of superpatriots and tankies, quite of few of whom may actually be bots. Still, it bears repeating: nationalism over festivals is stupid. 


Whatever Happened with that NY Hasidic School Controversy?

You might recall that, back in September, Orthodox Twitter had been up in arms about a recent New York Times article on the poor academic performance of Hasidic yeshivot. Among other things, G-d-awful test scores were highlighted:

Credit: NY Times

And as many pointed out, other Jewish schools fared little better, supporting the well-tested theory that religious education in general quite simply sucks. It would be unfair to single out the Hasidim for what is systemic problem in US education. It’s also somewhat understandable that the community would be a bit sensitive given the heightened negative attention on them in recent years, especially on TV. There’s certainly more nuance to Orthodox Judaism than what you see in Unorthodox or My Unorthodox Life. The gender norms suck and the fashion is terrible, but embracing such religious traditions are – for better or worse – the choices of consenting adults (we hope). However, the Times investigation fundamentally deals with the well-being of children, who have little freedom to choose.  

Say what you will about the tone of the original piece, the evidence it lays out is convincing. The clear lack of knowledge and skills in the secular sciences is absolutely damning; Hasidic children are not being given the skills they need to thrive in the modern world. But it also reveals a policy problem: the state government has to enforce higher standards, but it is politically difficult for NY politicians to do so given the importance of the Hasidic community’s vote.

It’s been four months, so let’s check back in with the whole controversy. Did tensions cool? LOL no. The NY Times investigation (rightfully) continues, having now uncovered possibly fraudulant use of state special eduction funds. This is now the subject of a Federal investigation, though notably not a state one.

Naturally, some Hasidim continue to react with about as much composure as you would expect of the super religious, having put up Three Billboards Outside Upper Lower Manhattan, NY complaining about the newspaper. We get it! It’s fun to rag on the Times these days, especially with their god-awful political “bothsidesisms” an excrutiating opinion pieces. But they’re hardly being anti-Semitic in investigating how these communities are potentially breaking the law and failing their youth, are they?

Some may make the argument that not learning science and math is simply a part of Haredi tradition that should be respected. However, it is not a violation of religious freedom to ensure the youth are given the skills they need to thrive in modern society, and – better yet – contribute to said society.

Part of the issue is that the idea of an exclusive, non-modern religious community in the middle of a big city is quite silly, when you think about it (the Amish get away with their collective ignorance because they live in the boonies). The fact is that unskilled male theologians, put-upon wives, and dumb children cannot survive in New York City (or London, or Jerusalem, etc.) without massive special treatment and corruption. I know this because I am also an unskilled male theologian living in a city.

NY politicians should expect Hasidic communities to give something back besides votes, which means the children need to be learning something besides the damn Torah or Home Ec. But more fundamentally, it’s unfair for their kids to not have access to the same subpar math and science education as gentiles. Even if it isn’t part of Hasidic tradition, not offering it deprives them of the freedom to make their own choices later in life, including the choice of whether to leave their closed religious community.

Lunar 2021 Was a Bad Year for Chinese Statues

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you’re probably aware that China has a thing for building huge and/or tall things. The skyscrapers have gotten the most attention, but did you know there had also been a massive boom in statuary? The Buddha (in the myriad forms) is the most popular choice, in keeping with the country’s resiliant Buddhist heritage, though the trend has certainly pushed the boundaries of good taste/spending. But all of the usual Chinese suspects are represented: Kum Yam, Tin Hau/Mazu, Guan Yu, etc. And of course, you’ve got the old guard resurrecting Mao here and there

Many are built with the money and initiate of local and business leaders. Unfortunately, they don’t always get all their Peking Ducks in a row (please laugh); if the eyesores generate too much negative press, the State has to step in and rectify matters. I give you exhibit B:

Just FYI, “didn’t get government approval” usually means “it no longer has approval.” The latest deity to run afoul of regulations is Guan Di, aka Guan Yu, famed Chinese God of War and Dynasty Warriors main. You can find him pretty much everywhere in Greater China. He oversees most small businesses in Hong Kong, his fierce visage apparently a better guarantor of success and prosperity than even the God of Wealth. Heck, he is venerated by both law enforcement and criminals. He is super popualr, and the good folks of Jingzhou, Hubei just wanted to give him his due five years ago with this gloriousness: 

chinese warrior god Guan Yu
Photo: Handout, Source: SCMP

Tragically, it was too awesome for many to handle, so last fall they began the government-ordered multi-million dollar process of disassembling and relocating it.

Relocation project of the controversial giant bronze statue of Guan Gong (or Guan Yu) in Jingzhou, Central China's Hubei Province, has been launched in September 2021. Photo: VCG
Photo: VCG, Source: Global Times (unfortunately)

But Lord Guan is lucky to have somewhere else to go to. The fate of other Chinese statues in the Year of the Ox 2021 was much more ambiguous. A different sort of politics led to the dismantling of the “Pillar of Shame” in Hong Kong. It was a bit grisly for my delicate tastes, but it was nonetheless an important symbol of the freedoms the city once possessed:

Photo: Moi

Other symbols were taken down the very next day, and now sit in legal limbo in shipping containers somewhere. My beloved Hong Kong has born the brunt of the CCP’s wrath this past year, but other regions have suffered too. Mosques and cemetaries (and people) are disappearing in Xinjiang, and the authorities are allegedly dismantling Tibetan Buddhist statues in Sichuan as well

So it’s been a bad year for statuary and other forms 3D expression in the Chinese world. The stated reasons for demolition/removal vary – poor taste, cost, horizonal obstruction, etc. – but they all imply an increasing trend of ideological  control and micromanagement in the PRC. It’s truly sad, because a vibrant religious and political culture is being eroded, both literally and figuratively. If we cannot celebrate our deities with maximalist gusto, then we abdicate our precious soft power to Japanese gaming.

Cool Pope Steps in It

If he’s not ticking off conservatives, he’s ticking off woke liberals. In a recent sermon on St. Joseph, our dear Pontifex said that not wanting kids was selfish.  He even went so far as to include “humor,” deriding those who use pets as surrogate children.

True, it is selfish. The Lord explicitly asks us to get busy (Gen 1.28) and developed nations are today facing severely low birth rates. Western Catholics are not producing enough children to overcome millenial ennui and disillusionment with the Faith (Thank heaves for the rest of the world). Have we become too adept at the ol’ “rhythm method?” Or have we been breaking natural law with latex? Either way, the Pope is right to be concerned about demographics. 

However, I think we need to accept that parenthood is simply not for everyone (see: my family). Career-minded Catholics ought to be able to contribute to the Glory of the God’s Creation in other ways besides procreation. Self-interest is important for individual and social well-being, and it’s simply wrong to imply that people who don’t parent are “less human.” There are other ways to find meaning in life besides cranky, waddling money pits and disease vectors. Children are cute and full of personality but they are also disgusting. Worse, after the cute years they depreciate very quickly into overall disappointments who spend your hard-earned money on meme stocks.

And to put it more bluntly, Catholic clergy haven’t much of a leg to stand on when it comes to procreation. “Hanky-panky for thee, not for me.” Say what you will about Protestant clergymen, they at least put in the work (sperm).

Francis would be less of a hypocrite if he got around to changing the unsexy parts of Canon Law.  Such reforms are generally popular, and could mitigate our clerical shortages. We already know there are thousands of horny clergy out there. Wouldn’t it be nice to direct those energies toward consenting adults for a change?

Religionists Behaving Badly: Mid-Autumn Report

Credit: Fox Animation. Which is Disney now we guess.

Lot’s of bad behavior going on lately. Here’s just a snippet:

  1. Rightfully J’Accused – this scandal, covering hundreds of thousands of victims over a seventy year period, was kinda baked-in, but it’s only now that we are hearing the full extent thanks to an independent commision. Yes, it’s bad, and yes, it further adds to the miles-long list of malfeasance that the world’s biggest and oldest Christian community must reckon with. The only really good news is the the Church is starting to reckon with it (hence the commision) but Woke Pope has got his hands full.
  2. Dipshittery Down Under – Meanwhile in Protestantdom, Aussie God-powerhouse Hillsong has somehow managed cultivate every kind of major scandal, including the sexual kind. It had already lost the Beebz, but more recently it’s founder Brian Houston is being accused of covering up his own father’s sexual abuse. Pentecostal Frank Houston founded the Sydney Christian Life Center, a precursor of Hillsong.
  3. Burmese Python on the Loose – One tiny but terrible thing that we missed last month in Myanmar is that Wirathu, the batshit anti-Muslim Buddhist monk, has been released back into the wild to advocate for his uniquely genocidal form of non-violence. We can only guess this is due to his friendly relationship with the junta that overthrew the civilian government in February.

One good thing to leave you with: Don’t get too disheartened. There’s always this awesome Rabbi evacuating Afghans


A Definitive Ranking of Religions’ Responses to Covid-19: From Least to Most Terrible

Ok, so we are still dealing with this bug, and likely will be for quite some time. BUT, we are also incredibly impatient and quite done with all this nonsense, thank you very much, and would very much like to bring some closure to it. At least before the Sigma strain or whatever kills us all. We figure that by now we’ve probably got enough HARD DATA to make a completely subjective ranking of how well the various world religions have managed this whole thing. Or rather, who did the LEAST BAD. This isn’t to make light of a very, very shitty situation, but to have an honest gut check of where we can all do better. So here goes… 

    1. `Muslims: Gotta tell you, y’all really knocked this one out of the park. There are many reasons this could have gone badly: the concentration of Muslims in poorer, developing countries; the large number of public rituals; and, of course, the conservative mindset of many communities. It certainly wasn’t perfect. Indonesia dealt with a bit of a flare up, as did Malaysia. And we don’t really have a super-accurate picture of the Covid situation in places like Afghanistan, which, as you know, has been going through some shit. It probably hasn’t been great, and will likely get worse, but that’s more to do with basic government dysfunction than religion. When push came to shove, folks did the right thing, keeping Eid pretty safe, and putting off the Hajj for another year. All things considered, the Ummah has done well.
    2. Buddhists: Normally we wouldn’t lump all of you together, but we are lazy and there’s really no reason to do a breakdown here. For the most part, most of y’all are in EAST ASIA, and EAST ASIA has mostly done gangbusters, despite the fact that ONE (OR SEVERAL) OF YOU unleashed this Hell upon us. Well ok, patient zero may not have been Buddhist, but whatever. Either way, the very “Buddhist” countries of China, Japan, Taiwan blah, blah, blah have done very well. Of course, that may not have as much to do with religion as with their more communitarian cultures and SARS experience. In fact, certain traditional elements may have impeded an acceptence of Western medicinal solutions. This is supported by the fact that everybody adopted masks very quickly, but were much slower to get vaxxed.
    3. Reformed Jews: By one metric, y’all could be first or second, but we gotta factor in some of the advantages: high educational background, liberalism, Jewish moms, etc. And then there is the fact that most of you’uns live in well-functioning polities, i.e. New York City and Israel. Now the latter has had a bit of a Delta spell as of late, but so has everyone, so that shouldn’t count against you.
    4. Organized Atheists/Secular Humanists/Whatever the Fuck We Are Supposed to Call You: It’s hard to measure such a small-yet-loud demographic, but most of you blowhards are pretty scientific. Then again, the WHO (full of science nerds) did massively fuck up this whole thing, so we are putting you squarely in the middle rankings. Go soak your heads.
    5. Catholicists: Decent showing, and the Pope was an early vaxx bro,  but not all of you have handled it well. But hey, that still makes you #1 among Trinitarians!
    6. Liberal-Mainline Protestants: Ya’ll are still a bit too touchy-feely and singy to be the best at warding off an airborne scourge, so that land’s you at #6 instead of #5. And as better as you think you may be than #8 on this list, you weren’t that much better. 
    7. Hasidic Jews: It has not gone well, what more can we say? Cramped conditions make any virus happy, but fears of the gentile sciences, an insistence on keeping the normal communal rituals, and general narrow-mindedness have made the ultra-Orthodox a bit susceptible to Trumpitis. Like most, y’all have improved, but those viral hotspots in Brooklyn and Bnei Brak in the early phases of the pandemic count against your overall score, sorry. 
    8. Conservative Protestants: It’s not just that you insisted on doing Jesus crap when you didn’t have to. It’s that you insisted on doing Jesus crap that many of you wouldn’t have done had you not been told not to. But let’s be honest, it’s not so much a religious thing than “owning the libs.” Then again, these things are kinda indistiguishable these days. Sure, plenty of evangelical leaders accept basic epidemiology (if not other branches of science), and have vaxxed themselves, but also helped create this monster of vicious stupidity that has ended up killing their own flock.
    9. Hindus: Yeah, it’s been an absolute clusterf–k. Plenty of you behaved, but 3 million of you did not. Sure, subcontinental politics and poverty has a lot to do with it, but sometimes you just need to skip the big festivals, especially if it is taking place on one of the most polluted sacred rivers in the world. 

Let’s try and do better people.

Nice. Now Catholics Get to Argue Over Liturgy.

The catholicity of the Catholic Church is already being tested by the usual hot-button chestnuts (sex, gender, etc.), but now there is a new, stupider controversy. Recently, Pope Francis restored the restrictions on the use of the Latin Mass, and it now requires episcopal permission. This is a reversal of Benedict XVI’s 2007 “olive branch” to traditionalists in Summorum Pontificum, which allowed priests to celebrate the 1962 Missal freely.

Some believe that the move is a defining moment in the good kind of way. From this perspective, Summorum Pontificum only heightened the polarization between progressives and traditionalists, with Tridentine masses serving as rally-points for reactionary Catholicism and Vatican II denialism. Some Bishops are definitely worried about this; Francis’ decision came as a result of their responses to a questionnaire on Pontificum’s effects.

So there is certainly a connection between the “extraordinary” Mass and hard-right shennanigans, but is this true of all parishes? Ritual traditionalism is not just a bitter, rightwing thing; it is what attracts many to Catholicism. The Church should not close off liturgical pathways to reaching today’s youth, a large number of whom are oddly fascinated with the old-timey stuff. 

Roman-stans form a small part of Global Catholicism, so this could just be a big nothing-burger. But it is worth reflecting, along with Hong Kong’s Cardinal Zen, about whether liturgical restrictions are really a solution to what is undoubtedly a deeper problem in the Church. Even though it’s likely that most Bishops will continue to allow the Latin Mass, taking away a community’s freedom to their preferred style of worship (and during a pandemic, no less) risks greater disunity.



Your Sunday Semi-Regular Spiritual Roundup


So what’s new this week month? Nothing good, as usual, though are working harder to more regularly get you the good content that other people have already discussed more thoroughly on legitimate websites. But hey, we can try and aggragate some of that crap here. That’s something!

British Methodists Enter 21st Century: The John Bulls beat us to the punch again! This month, the UK Methodist Conference reaffirmed their 2019 vote, and will now allow same-sex couples to be married on church premises (gasp) by Methodist clergy (double gasp). Meanwhile the Yanks are stuck in a holding pattern while they try and figure out the best way to schism themselves.

Southern Baptists Avoid Disaster: Last month, the SBC managed to forstall the complete trumpification of their leadership. That doesn’t solve their problems, Oh LAWD no, but it does mean that as an “institution” they will continue to be just regular religious bigots, rather than fascistic religious bigots. They will also likely be able to hold onto to their five remaining Black members. And there’s more good news!…

White Christian Genocide Tapers Off: Great news, assholes! It seems your share of the Hellscape has stopped shrinking for the moment. White Evangelicals are still really struggling to get young blood into their churches. ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE WHY. Will progressive churches find a way to take advantage of millenial agnosticism? Is the Pope Mormon? Speaking of whom…

Pope Not Dead: Well Franco’s intestines seem to be recovering nicely. Still wonder why they insist on electing old guys to do this job when Jude Law already convinced us that 40-somethings could be just as out-of-touch.

Other Stuff Probably Happening In Other Religions Elsewhere: We are sure other religious stuff is happening elsewhere. The Earth is a big place, with regions like the Middle East, where things happen all the time! We encourage you to go look this stuff up. 

Happy Boatless Tuen Ng!

Once again, we are left bereft of our dragon boat races. It’s not a total wash; folks over in Tai O did their usual thing, towing their deities around the waterways. I did not get out there this time because that lovely little metallic Venice is inconveniently located and I am just as lazy as everyone else who works for this website.

But I think my “explainer” from last year was pretty good, so please click here to learn about this lovely tradition that everyone claims as their own.

Noted Insurrectionist Josh Hawley Punches Down at Pelagius

Credit: Francis Chung/AP (well, half of it)

Lost amidst all the rebellion of the past few weeks was a charming theological nugget that resurfaced from well over a year ago. We almost missed it ourselves! Josh Hawley, last seen avoiding Mittens’ gaze, wrote a lovely little tome back in the good, pre-pandemic times, blaming all of America’s liberal failures on Pelagius, the mortal nemesis of none other than St. Augustine. When he got caught up in the most recent shenanigans, the NYT decided to revisit his theology in a profile linking him to Bill Barr and the other greats of Christian Nationalism.

Pelagius, for the laity, was the great patristic pitchman of human freedom. For him, free will was a gift of Grace, and human beings ought to make full use of it- with God’s help and Christ’s guidance of course! Admittedly, Augustine was a bit overzealous in the takedown of the man; his polemics are why some folks today wrongly assume Pelagius believed that human beings were capable of perfection completely on their own. Really, Pelagius’ biggest sin was underestimating sin itself, as he did not agree with Ol’ Hippo’s understanding of the Fall. But to be completely fair to the poor Irishman, Original Sin was not yet doctrine at the time.

Now we certainly know better today, but any good Catholic will tell you that the inherent sinfulness of man is no reason to poo-poo the good works of free will, even if it needs a touch o’ Grace to set in the right direction. Nor is it any reason to blame Pelagius for his wrong ideas, especially since no one friggin’ knows who he is. Well, outside patristics nerds – they certainly had a good day on Twitter:

If Hawley wants a real antagonist, he should look closer to home. The dear Senator was apparently raised Methodist, where he was undoubtedly was exposed to the *gasp* horrors of John Wesley and his Arminian notions of sanctification. Indeed, Jacobus Arminius is the greater, more relavent instigator of human freedom in faith. Perhaps that’s why poor young Joshua had to flee to the safety of the Evangelicalisms…which are premised the fundamental choice of accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior or not. Whoops.

Pelagius was just a straw man for Augustine’s theology, just as he is a straw man for Hawley’s social conservatism-cum-White Christian nationalism. Hawley’s theology makes zero sense. For all their faults, neither Pelagian nor Arminian freedom necessarily led to moral relativism. Our free choices are always meant to be guided by a principle of goodness! What Hawley really has a problem with is that other people – and other Christians – have different understandings of the “good life,” and they choose to live accordingly. Hey, we totally sympathize, Joshua! We’ve been dealing with Christian pluralism since 1517.