Dr. Jim’s Pedagogical Pride and Joy: Research in Religious Studies Conference

This past week I had to write a history of the Research in Religious Studies Conference for the University of Lethbridge’s new president. I started reflecting on how much it really means to me, so rather than write a post bitching about things or poking fun at something (i.e., the usual Thinking Shop fare), I would share that history here as it really is the one thing that I’ve done academically that has probably touched the greatest number of people in a possible way (besides just lecturing or marking papers and exams).

The conference started back in 2003 and is now going into its 9th season. It is open to undergraduates and Masters students (we will accept PhD papers, but doctoral candidates would probably be better off trying to get into professional meetings) with papers on any academic subject pertaining to religion. The diversity we get is tremendous. The conference is modelled after the regional American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature meetings: sessions of 3 or 4 papers of half an hour each, including about 10 minutes of discussion after each. The main difference comes in applying. We found that it is impossible to designate sessions ahead of time. The reason is that one can never be sure what upper level seminars are being conducted in various universities, so most pre-planning will probably come to naught. Also, students are quite nervous and are typically unsure if their papers will “fit” any pre-arranged theme. Many of the most interesting papers cut across boundaries anyway, and so we will take whatever papers that sound well researched. We make up the sessions after. It is often a chore as there is always one that doesn’t fit, but we always make them fit in somewhere, and it usually works quite well. Many students comment on the nice mix of papers.

We also have a policy of accepting any paper whose abstract indicated a good level of thought and a good methodology. There is, therefore, no upper limit to the number of paper. Since the conference is intended to be pedagogical, proposals that leave us with some reservation will often not be rejected outright but returned for further clarification. Often, students simply cannot write a good abstract while the paper itself is quite acceptable. Some proposals, however, are rejected.

My first attempt at organizing a student conference was back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Alberta. My firend Aaron Hughes and I thought it would be a good idea. Our few presenters and somewhat skeptical but supportive professors all thought it a great success although, unfortunately, it lasted only one year after we graduated. During my time at the U. of A., however, I was encouraged attend professesional conferences as well, and even had two papers accepted for presentation at the annual meetings of the Pacific Northwest Region of the Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion (PNW-AAR/SBL, covering Alberta, B. C., Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington).

This left a great impression on me, so when I joined the faculty of the U. of L. in 2002 I proposed such conference. At a meeting in September of that year, many students expressed an interest and also concerns of the quality of their degree in comparison with the programs of larger departments of Religious Studies, such as that at the University of Alberta and especially Calgary (one of the largest departments in Canada).

Our first meeting was in early May 2003, when a handful of students presented papers to a small body of their peers, parents and a few professors in early May, 2003. The next year twelve papers were presented and in 2005 we advertised the conference at the University of Calgary where some of our former students were continuing their studies. A strong showing from there brought our total to over twenty presenters. Needless to say, our undergraduates clearly showed they could hold their own against their counterparts from other universities.

In subsequent years, Calgary proved to be our greatest supporter and we began pulling in presenters from further afield. In 2006 well over forty papers were presented by students from Alberta, British Columbi., Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and even Vanderbilt University in Nashville (by a Calgary alumnus). With this response, we were quickly forced to extend the meeting to over two days and have simultaneous sessions, a format that we retain. The succeeding year our meeting was as large and held immediately prior to the PNW-AAR/SBL conference which we also hosted. This time we included participants from Ontario, Washington, Tennessee Alabama, and Oregon. The many faculty who stayed for both meetings all expressed very positive reactions to the quality of research and presentation skills and the tremendous pedagogical benefit of the meeting.

The 2008 and 2009 meetings were smaller althoughboth drew contributors from near and far. These lower numbers seemed due to the economic downturn as many students were forced to cancel their plans to attend as their universities could no longer cover their travel expenses. Coming at the very end of the school term, many students are hard-pressed to fund such excursions on their own.

There have been some notable successes for our undergraduate presenters from the U. of L. Both Chelsea Masterman and Natasha Fairweather (nee Elder) presented on a number of occassions and the student’s research journal, Axis Mundi (peer reviewed by graduate students) accepted two of their conference papers; Natasha’s  Effing the Ineffable: Demystifying the Muhammad Cartoon Controversy and Chelsea’s A Mutual Advantage: Interreligious Dialogue and the Discipline of Religious Studies. Natasha was also asked to join the editorial board despite being still an undergraduate.

The confidence that comes from having their papers accepted for our conference has led to some students presenting papers at professional conferences. Chelsea Masterman presented  her paper at the meeting of the (PNW-AAR/SBL, in Seattle. Sarah Ginn-Christianson) delivered a fine paper on Shakespeare’s allusions to the Reformation at our meeting in 2009. On the encouragement of myself and some of the faculty from other institutions who heard it, she submitted it to the PNW-AAR/SBL undergraduate essay contest and we were pleased to hear that she won.

Perhaps the greatest signs of the impact of the conference on its participants is the fact that every year there are repeat presenters and with every new call for papers issued I receive numerous emails for past participants reaffirming the positive impact of the conference on their academic careers and expressing their regrets that they cannot take part this time around.

We are hoping the conference grows and we are looking towards starting an online venue for publishing the proceedings and other good student papers in religious studies.

Here are a few of the papaer abstracts from last year:

Raj Balkaran, University of Toronto “Virtue and Valour in the Vālmīki Rāmāyana: The Dance of  War and Peace”

Is violence ever justified? While modern Just War doctrine, evolved from Roman and early Christian thinkers, stipulate criteria where forceful means is legitimized, how applicable is that ideology to the discourse on violence of ancient India? Vālmīki’s monumental Sanskrit epic, Rāmāyaṇa, has functioned as a repository of Hindu values for over two millennia. Despite its vast receptive history, the epic’s moral themes remain vital aspects of modern Hindu thought and culture. What, then, does the Rāmāyaṇa have to say about the legitimization of force? Through careful textual analysis, this twofold study firstly demonstrates the distinct presence of all seven modern Just War criteria within the text, including: (1) Just Cause; (2) Right Intent; (3) Legitimate Authority; (4) Net Benefit; (5) Last Resort; (6) Proportionality of Means; and, lastly, (7) Right Conduct. As such, this study enables unprecedented dialogue between Hinduism and Christian Just War ideology. While Vālmīki says much about just warfare, he also has much to say about nonviolence (ahiṃsā). Therefore, this study secondarily demonstrates that although just war ideology is useful in examining the epic’s legitimization of force, it is insufficient in accommodating the Rāmāyaṇa’s complex attitudes towards peace. By analyzing the significance of nonviolence throughout the epic; particularly as it manifests as the tension between the opposed values of kingship and asceticism  I challenge the extent to which the Rāmāyaṇa ultimately valorizes the duty of the warrior, arguing that although thetale glorifies the ideal warrior waging a righteous war, it nevertheless critiques the very enterprise of warfare. Vālmīki accords nonviolence with so lofty a status as to ethically blemish even righteous warfare, demanding that we question whether violence is ever justified. The tension between the sociopolitical necessity of violence (the duty of the king) and moral imperative of nonviolence (the duty of the ascetic) is a lasting one within the Hindu religious tradition, one remaining as irreconcilable in the Rāmāyaṇa as in the religious culture which continues to cherish it.

Lauren Chomyn, University of Alberta “Violence as Beauty in Trito-Isaiah”

While it is often referred to as the book of comfort, Isaiah’s infamous utopian visions of a peaceful new heavens and new earth, in which the wolf and the lamb will graze together, are evenly matched with scenes of horror and violence (Isaiah 65: 25). Violence is not only the defining characteristic of the Israelites’ chaotic post-exilic state from which they hope YHWH will deliver them, but paradoxically, violence is also the tool by which Trito-Isaish hopes that God will establish and maintain a new and peaceful world. Isaiah’s tendency to mix violence and beauty in both its utopian visions and in its characterization of God, I suggest, are based on an ancient near eastern creation theology, by which violence not only is the means through which beauty is produced, but is itself a component of beauty.

Lara deBeyer, University of Victoria “Islanded in a Stream of Stars: Sacred Space and Sacred Time in Battlestar Galactica”

In the 2004 re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica (BSG), the remnants of humanity wander the cosmos in search of Earth, the mythical homeland of one of their ancestral tribes. Following a trail left behind thousands of years previous, they search for the way to this world mentioned only in religious scripture. They seek refuge from the Cylons, the race of robots that wiped out the majority of the human population. BSG, as science fiction, sets out to do what few oeuvres in the genre have done before: address religious belief not as a cult or a misunderstanding of natural phenomenon but as a part of daily life. The search of Earth is both a practical search for a new home and a spiritual quest for those who undertake it. According to John Gillis, [t]he sacredness of a place is directly proportional to the effort it takes to reach it. The journey to the landscapes of the holy is always a ritualized ordeal.  The nature of the quest in this space-scape is one of both mythical and quotidian
proportions, without replaying the old binary of “sacred” and “profane”. Using research by John Gillis and Mircea Eliade as a starting point, I hope to show how BSG reframes the ancient notion of the spiritual quest in the desert or at sea by transposing it into the 21st century unknown, outer space, and thus reinvigorates the inherited notion of humanity’s nostalgia for paradise.

Michael Kok, University of Alberta “The True Covenant People:� Ethnic Reasoning in the Epistle of Barnabas”

There was no abstract conception of “religion” in antiquity, but ethnicity and cult were intertwined. Building on Denise Buell’s thesis, I investigate the use of ethnic reasoning in Christian identity  formation in the epistle of Barnabas. Barnabas utilizes ethnic reasoning and re-appropriates Israel’s epic to construct a distinct Christian ethnic identity with pure origins and represent the Judaean as an adversarial foil.

Ali Ahmad Rasekh, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec) “Messianism and Power: the Prerequisites of Mahdi’s Advent in Shiism”

In Shiite thought, the return of a messianic figure, called Mahdi “rightly guided-among people” occupies a central locus. In the rule established by the Twelfth Imam of the Shiites, peaceful, just, and righteous values overcome values represented and established by the demonic and cruel forces. The creation of such a society is a utopian idea.

The time of the Imam’s returning is not indicated, but it will happen before the world comes to an end, based on the Shiite thought. There are two sides here. On one side is the Imam, whose advent and rule will be an answer to the human being’s needs at that time. The date of his returning is known out of his follower’s control; an issue recognized by them. On the other side, however, is the society or, more precisely, the Imam’s followers during the time of his Occultation. This paper searches the task or, even, the responsibility of Shiite community during the absence of their leader from community. From the Shiite perspective, the time of the Imam’s advent is not in his adherents’ hands, but they might delay or hasten his coming by their behaviour. What kind of behavior and responsibilities must they commit themselves to?

The Shiites have taken two fundamentally different positions. One of these views argues for active participation in socio-political life and battling against unjust ruling power holders, while the second position invites people to take a passive position towards political affairs even when they are corrupt.

We can find representatives of these two opposing views in Twentieth Century Iran. Their rationales, social status, and connection to political power can be analyzed in this paper.

Peter Sabo, University of Alberta “The Dream and the Text: Reading Isaiah 66: 7-16 as Wish Fulfillment”

This paper attempts to read Isaiah 66: 7-16 from a Freudian perspective, specifically that of wish fulfillment. On the one hand it is clear that Jerusalem is personified as the perfect mother in this text and thus operates as the ultimate object of desire in replacement of the poet’s (pre)Oedipal mother. Yet, the portrayal of Yahweh seems to flip back and forth between fatherly (masculine) and motherly (feminine) imagery, which could be interpreted as a sign of dream censorship.
This censorship is not only present in the text, but can also be seen in the way that several biblical scholars interpret the text by cautioning against too strong of an association between Yahweh and motherhood.

Jessica Swann, University of Lethbridge “Was Pope Pius XII Anti-Semitic? An Analysis of a Man bothChampioned and Condemned”

The actions of Pope Pius XII before, during and concluding the Holocaust will be analyzed in order to come to a conclusion on the often debated accusation that the Pope was anti-Semitic because he failed to intervene to save and support European Jews using what his detractors argue was his substantial power to do so. The examples often given in favour of Pope Pius XII being anti-Semitic will be analyzed, such as his notable silence, as well as those who oppose the accusation with both sides motivations being examined. An attempt to conclude if he was acting in the norm of the time will be made through an analysis of the actions of other spiritual leaders and authorities of the same time, such as Protestant groups, in order to see if the actions of the Pope were drastically different. Even into the twentieth century anti-Semitism was often the norm, even if current Western societies choose not to acknowledge it. It is possible for Pope Pius XII to have been considered an ally of the Jewish at the time, as he did privately condemn Nazi Germany. An examination of the pope’s actions following the Holocaust will be done to further understand his previous motivations and overall character.� Finally, a look at the Catholic Church’s current stance on both Pope Pius XII and Judaism will be analyzed in order to help answer the heated question “Was the Pope Anti-Semitic” in terms of the current understanding of the word and also in regards to the norms of his time.

Anyway, the whole thing is a load of fun and it is great to end the academic year hearing well done student papers! And I learn a lot too!

And the Winner is…

Yes, voting is officially closed for the Lolcat Jim West Contest! And we have a winner and a prize! Go Contest Page for the results!

And the winner  can now claim to be is a total bitchin’ rockstar from Mars!

Teacher Cat Teaches

Or at least tries to.

A Post

Click on the pic! Vote for my lolhorse!

And check out my my lolcatty

12 Reasons why Cats are Better than God

5 Reasons Why Meoweh is Better than Yahweh

Some More Lolcats here.


on the February Top Biblioblogger, Alexa Blog Ranking List

So to help the non-unevil Dr. Jim celebrate, it’s time to


To see all the entries and the poll, go to:


I will keep the poll open until the weekend, and that should give me time to get down town to pickup the secret prize I was planning on getting.


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Judean Myth and Hebrew Mythology: SBL abstract

Well, I got my paper abstract for the November meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature off yesterday. And two days before the deadline! I ROCK! Hopefully it will get the green light and I will finally get to see San Francisco! Anyway, here it is:

Judaean Mythology and Hebrew Myth

An excessive reductionism has long marked much scholarly discussion of myth and the Hebrew Bible. This reductionism is based on a strict delineation of myth as a formal genre and the dominance of ANE cosmogonic and cosmological mythology as exemplars of myth against which biblical materials are analyzed. Moreover, vestiges of the theological and ethnocentric denigration of mythology vis-a-vis history remain.

Specialized work on select books and passages in the Hebrew Bible have successfully avoided these pitfalls. The field as a whole, however, requires the consolidation of these advances and reframing the boundaries of ancient Judean mythology  as distinct from the various mythologies of surrounding peoples (as all forms of mythology are culturally specific).

This paper argues that diverse subfields within Hebrew Bible studies could benefit from reforming around theories and insights into religious, political, ethnic, and national mythology from around the world and the various functions and contexts for such myths. These sub-disciplines include, but are not restricted to diachronic studies, the roles and status of historical narrative for social and religious identity, and the rhetorical dynamics and ritual functions of text such as numerous psalms that appeal to past divine actions.

What happens when creationism is allowed in science classes

Explained via the art of interpretative washing machines.

The whole thing goes to hell.

Categories: Fun


The Scooter Shooter!

Helping men suffering from penis envy since 1952!

It’s apparently a Vespa with a recoilless rifle made for service in France’s colonial wars in the 1950s. I wonder if anyone ever fired it on the move. Must have shut up the heckling from the Harley crowd, though.

Brotherly Lolcat

My bother Allen seems to have discovered the joys of making lolcats.

Here is one that speaks of his own experiences…

Teachers Convene to hear about Creationism: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Today (Feb 26) the Lethbridge Herald reported on the South Western Alberta Teachers Convention held Feb 24 and 25 at the University of Lethbridge. This is not the cause of the huge amounts of profanity, all caps and bolded text in what will follow. That the article, written by Caroline Zentner, only reported on one speaker’s contribution to the convention says something non-profanity worthy about either her reporting or the quality of the convention, or both. That the content of that contribution was about the compatibility of Catholicism and evolution is politely noteworthy: perhaps  it a slow news day, or the Herald was deliberately pandering to the anti-intellectuals amongst its readership). No, what worth swearing about is that the Teachers Association tolerated such a talk at their convention in the first place. It  is (irony intended) God-damn absurd. Moreover, the speaker’s ideas as reported in the article are totally FUCKED! What a load  pure unadulterated bullshit. There, that felt good.

Here is the dissection.

Zentner writes about the presentation by Carl Fakeley, “an English and Religious Studies teacher at Notre Dame High School”, a Catholic school in Red Deer.

So, the convention organizers couldn’t even find a science teacher to talk about science? What a bunch of morons! Why is it that so many people think that being religious gives one credentials to talk about science? Or is it FAKEley’s English qualifications that let him talk about evolution? Hell, that’s more likely to do the trick than theology. Fuck, (oh crap, there I go again) I probably know more about science than he does.

Friday he gave a presentation at the annual teachers’ convention which outlined the discussion. The big bang theory and evolution and the biblical story of creation in Genesis are not mutually exclusive topics. Can a Catholic believe in evolution? Fakeley’s answer is yes.

“Creation tells us where matter came from and evolution tells us how it developed to become what it is today,” he said. “Evolution is a theory about how things perhaps evolved once the creation took place. Evolutionary theories can’t tell us the origin of matter, just how matter developed after it was created.”

Wrongo. Evolution does not say a thing about what happened to matter after “creation”. Evolution is about speciation, not physics, cosmology or anything like that. And it does not imply creation as Fakeley construes it. He can’t get his sciences in order and imposes his own religious world view to define the limits of said misunderstood science. Pathetic. And remember, this took place in a university. What would happen if one of Fakely’s unfortunate students got admitted to the U. of L., enrolled in an astrophysics class, and then wondered aloud about why the text book didn’t have any pictures of dinosaurs? Let’s get one thing straight:


Hell, I’m in the humanities and at least I know that much!

The article observes how students learn about evolution just when they are beginning their teenage rebellions against their parents. There is a quick solution: begin to teach evolution in the first grade when telling the kids about dinosaurs. And keep telling them, even if their parents’ heads explode. And get rid of that bullshit Bill 44 which lets parents pull their kids out of school classes on religious grounds. Parents who object to the content should be forced to attend and then fined if they interrupt the proceedings.

Students sometimes become automatic skeptics in religion class, saying science has proof but religion doesn’t. Fakeley asks students what belief is.
“Most of what we believe we believe on faith,” he said. “In that realm of what we say we know, there are very few things that we know firsthand.”

And besides, kids SHOULD become skeptics in school. That is what an education is for. Sure, there is a subjectivity to the production of knowledge, but the kind of knowledge attained through scientific means is of a fundamentally different order than that generated by religious belief. And there ISN’T any proof for the essential doctrines of religions but proof is the essence of what a scientific approach to reality is all about. Fakeley also BADLY oversimplifies the issue of science and religion.

There are two sides to the argument, with the one side starting from the premise that God doesn’t exist and the other (literal creation theory) starting from the premise that God does exist.


Unless he was misquoted here, I would like to remind him that besides agnosticism, there are countless different religious views that humans have invented, besides the myriad of invented Christian theologies. Fakely’s false dichotomy ignores all of these other religious explanations for the cause of the universe and the development of life and badly misrepresents the empiricism behind science as simply an alternative to his own religious beliefs. Good thing he doesn’t teach science. Or philosophy.

“The creationists will find all of the evidence that can point in their direction. The evolutionists find the evidence that points in their direction,” he said. “And so, in a sense, both are really practising bad science. Good science says, ‘Hey, let’s look at the data. What does the data tell us?'”

WHAT THE FUCK? What data is Fakeley even talking about, here? And how does Fakeley propose to analyze what “the data tells us” after he has called into question any epistemology? He simply assumes a “common sense” one. But why were biblical creation myths abandoned as reasonable positions if people didn’t start looking at data from observations of the natural world? What of the “evidence” found by creationists (young or old earth varieties). Where is it?

Macleod Cartoons: Well worth multiple visits!

Too bad Fakeley claims to be a “religious studies” teacher. He seems to ignore most religions ever invented. About the only sensible thing he was quoted as saying is this:

The Bible was never intended to be used as a science textbook and a science text is not meant to be used as the Bible.

So why bother even giving the Bible ANY kind of credence when trying to understand how the universe works? He goes on:

“We can glean things from them but that isn’t their express purpose,” he said.
If the big bang and evolution theories are both true, that still doesn’t affect a Catholic’s faith.
“Neither theory comments one way or another about God’s existence,” Fakeley said. “Our faith is based on the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ.”

The Big Bang and Evolution (here he seems to recognize these two different fields of scientific research), actually DO imply a lot about the Christian god since neither theory actually need that deity (or any other) to work. And what of this Christ? How the hell can faith be based on the resurrection of some executed Jewish carpenter’s kid? The resurrection is part of the content of faith, not what makes faith reasonable or viable. Many fields of critical research can and do call much of the Bible’s Jesus into question. Did the guy even exist to die in the first place? And if so, what were the events of his life? How like or unlike the biblical accounts was he? Biblical scholarship has many unanswered questions about these issues but there sure seems to have been a lot of fallible human input into the creation of the myth of this Christ and the production of the world’s many bibles. And the biological sciences might have a lot to say about the reality of the resurrection!

The texts that tell us of such miracles have their own histories as do the ideological institutions that claim these texts were written or inspired by some god. The timeless truths of the Catholic Church have a sordid history of invention and reinvention that can be fully explained by human creativity in response to changing intellectual and political circumstances. Hell, that’s the way we explain the shifting (and often self-serving) histories of other religions.


Moreover, when creationists see a debate between Genesis 1 and science, they are turning a blind eye to inconsistencies in their own body of data by ignoring more of the Bible than they are willing to deal with. The Bible itself has MULTIPLE creation myths:

1) The Creation Week in Gen. 1:1-2:4, in which humanity was created last

2) The Garden of Eden story that follows immediately on the previous. Here humanity is created BEFORE the plants and animals. Any attempt to harmonize the two goes against the natural reading of the Hebrew.

3) God’s primeval battles with Chaos & the defeat of the Sea (e.g.,  Psalm 74, 89)

4) Creation through wisdom (Proverbs 8)

5) Creation through Christ (John 1).

Can these ALL be true in any reasonable sense of the word “true”? To make them all work requires such a process of book-cooking rationalization that, in a manner of speaking one is just inventing up a NEW revelation about creation, and, metaphorically speaking, a new Bible. If one is to give one or more of the myths up, which ones, and why? Human reason is behind the interpretation of the Bible as well as its production. None of it requires a god. Why should critical thinkers cut it any slack at all?

The Bible’s mythical worlds are as much products of fantasy and imagination as are those of the Greeks, Hindus, Norsemen andScientologists. If the Bible has some “hidden” truths behind its depiction of a flat earth with pillars hold up a 6000 year old heavens, then how can people know they have uncovered them successfully? Where does the allegories stop and the Bible start talking plainly? Is there a sure-fire formula for knowing this that does not rely on further claims of revelation or other esoteric knowledge? Allegorical and selective biblical interpretation to allow for science is simply an after-the-fact special pleading to preserve a special status for a human invention.



What place can science have for revelation? And if there is to be an allowance for revelation, why must it be CHRISTIAN revelation? More special pleading in protection of Christianity’s priviledged social position in western world. That is pretty much all there is to support of sectarian schools allowing “teachers” like Fakeley to spew his nonsense. Let the Church fund the Church. Education taxes should be spent on Sunday Schools.

Fakeley seems to rely on some version of Gould’s bullshit notion of “non-overlapping magisteria”, NOMA, in which science and religion talk about completely different things (science the empirical world; religion, the non-empirical) so there is no fundamental contradiction between them. It seems to be totally deficient in its understanding of religion which is very often deeply concerned with describing the empirical world. More than just ascribing a spiritual value, religion often describes empirical reality, and its to ignore such claims is simple book-cooking to arrive at a favourable conclusion. To say religion’s claims about the empirical world are inconsequential to the core of what religion is amounts to saying that literally MILLIONS if not BILLIONS of religious people have totally missed the point of their own tradition.

Moreover, even if we allow that ,as Fakeley claims, evolution and the big bang theories (or all the other sciences and critical disciplines, for that matter) do not affect faith then what we have is not a protected space for faith but a question of human psychology and the dissonance of holding mutually exclusive beliefs. NOr do we have a protected space for scientific thought. We can compartmentalize to some extent, but there is a lot overlap that should not be denied when it comes to science and the content of Christianity or other religions.

Dead people do not resurrect. Water cannot instantaneously be turned into water. The sun cannot stand still in the sky. Demons do not cause diseases, axes don’t float in water, snakes and donkeys don’t talk. Miracles that depend on God requires suspension of the natural laws. These things have no place in a rational world. Yet, this is the content of many Christian’s beliefs as descriptions of the history of the real, lived world. By holding them apart NOMA denies the religious reality of many people and, what is worse, supposes to know best about what religious people SHOULD believe.

NOMA is just Gould’s way of saying Gould doesn’t think too critically about religion. It is his adaptation of an ad hoc Christian apologetic position (indeed, he borrowed much of it from the Pope) that pays lip-service to critical thought while protecting itself from such criticism.

And religion itself is a valid topic for critical research. Rather than have ill-educated teachers pontificate about science in a fit of Christian apologetics, students should be taught to examine religion in the same way they are taught to pull apart other historically contingent ideologies. Its high time REAL Religious Studies courses were mandatory in schools, dammit.

Why MUST part of the universe be regarded as off limits to rational, scientific exploration? Science can carve out a space for religious myth only by sacrificing part of itself. Christians only know of “creation” through doctrines derived from reading the Bible, which itself can be demonstrated to be a product of its own cultural setting in the ancient Near East. This is hardly an excuse for explaining away its inconsistencies and non-scientific conceptions as is often done.

Public schools should not include any sectarian religious instruction. Students should learn about religions, but not their “truths” and doctrines as alternatives to science. Rather, religion should be taught as the product of human culture. It’s time to abolish sectarian schools and unqualified tpreachers bullshitting students on the public purse.

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