Reflections on the Lake of Fire at the End of the World: Eschaton 2012

http://eschaton2012.ca

WAHHHH! IT’S OVER!

But I get to go home and see my Mary! HORRAY!

I wrote this sitting on the plane coming back from Eschaton 2012. I’m at Chili’s Grill at the Calgary Airport now, waiting for my connection.S0, some reflections on the event and I’m posting a few pictures from my PowerPoint presentation just for laughs and giggles.

The first job is to thank everyone associated with Eschaton and CFI Ottawa, it was great time, and I met some very interesting and intelligent folk. Particular mention must be made of Marlowe Filippov, Seanna Watson and Evan Frank. Also very grateful to Ania Bula driving me to the airport at 5:45 am.

 

It was quite an honour to be on the bill as Eugenie Scott and the closet cat-lover PZ Myers. Myers did not attend my presentation, which is just as well, as I made this in his honour:

There were a number of good sessions. Mine was the first of the day and ran at the same time as Eugenie Scott’s so we didn’t get much of an audience. Steven Tomlins spoke right before me on Saturday morning. Steve is  PhD candidate at the U of Ottawa and he did a very good job explaining Religious Studies to the crowd. His own research is on atheist communities and so I feel very well ethnologized. I also owe Steven an apology because I got all muddled and paranoid that my PowerPoint presentation would not work, while another fellow was worried about the projector switching off (we had a hassle getting it to talk to my Mac). He went to adjust the machine while Steven was talking, and I touched the mac to make sure hadn’t died and on went my looping introduction… Very bad form.

 

Steven and I were also on a panel with an ex-Anglican minister, Eric MacDonald who is now an activist for assisted suicide, and Vickie Garrison, a mother of many who escaped the evangelical Christian “Quiverful” movement and now helps other women do the same. The panel was labeled “Scholarship vs. Faith” but none of us really had a clear idea of what we should be doing. Anyway, Steven and I raised a hackle or two and we had some disagreements with Eric MacDonald and some audience members about what religion really is. Poor Vickie was kind left out of the picture.

 

I felt kind of bad for Vicky. Here she was, a recovering victim of grotesque patriarchal privilege  and she gets put on a panel with 3 guys who get into an debate about how to conceptualize religion and she really doesn’t have a horse in the race.  Her own presentation about the Quiverful movement and the work she does was fascinating, and it really did open my eyes about how abusive that whole movement is: the wrecked health of these women who have to keep pushing out the babies, the shame if they don’t push out enough babies, (think of the LAUNDRY cause by various pushing outs of babies)! the homeschooling chores, and, of course, the poverty. Vicky left when she realized the effect of this on her kids.

Alas. According to Dawkins’ anthropological studies of religion amount to a catalogue of “human gullibility”. But as I’ve said elsewhere, a history of democracy, advertising, or college students’ mating rituals can do the same.

I’m sorry to have missed Ian Cromwell’s (Crommunist Manifesto) presentation on “Discussing race and racism in the zombie apocalypse” but I did see him on a panel on Godless Ethics and Godless Communities with Chris DiCarlo (cdicarlo.com, author of How to be a Really Good Pain in the Ass), Udo Schuklenk, and Hank Fox.

As we know, today’s unbelievers would never vilify Muslims and Arabs, or boast of shrugging off old “religious” stereotypes while verbally assaulting and threatening atheist women who call attention to sexism in the atheist community… That was sarcasm…

There was a session on Islam that was pretty good. Anila Ashgar from McGill University surveyed some of her research into teaching Evolution in Muslim communities. I thought this was really interesting. As in Christianity, there is a debate as whether Islam is compatible with Evolution. She showed a list of over sixty institutions in predominantly Muslim countries in which Evolution is taught as the ONLY explanation for speciation, although in very many cases there is also a recognition of Allah’s role in creating the system. In some instances textbooks include Qur’an passages that are interpreted in a way to show that evolution is an Islamic principle. It was a great presentation that really undermined the Western atheist stereotype of Islam as utter opposed to science and education. Heina Badabhoy (one of the Skepchic bloggers) is an ex-Muslin and her story of her leaving the faith and her family’s reactions was fascinating.

The unpleasantness and contradictions found in the Bible’s portrayals of Yahweh reflect one peoples’ handling of the contradictions of life that are still with us. Are we fooling ourselves if we think that the Israelites were utterly unlike us? Moreover, the folks who put the now biblical literature together probably never herded a goat in their lives. They were scribes, the egghead scholars of the day, writing elitist literature for an elitist audience. What Terry Pratchett says of Priests also goes for these Temple Scribes: “Many feel they are called to the priesthood, but what they really hear is an inner voice saying, ‘It’s indoor work with no heavy lifting.’”

I had a nice little chat with Eugenie Scott who is one of the most pleasant people on the planet. Had a little chat with PZ Myers about his coming to Lethbridge. Hopefully schedules etc. will work out. His own keynote address at the Ottawa Museum of Nature (which is a fantastic place) was fun: “Chance in Evolution” and educational.

It was nice to meet Veronica Abbas who blogs at Canadian Atheist.ca and to hear about her attempt to get the Scarborough city council to drop its “invitiation” to recite the Lord’s Prayer before meetings.  I also met Dan Mayo, her lawyer, who does that kind of thing. They are seeking an injunction and the decision should be made sometime in January.

I also  met Jack Laughlin from the University of Sudbury, another Religious Studies geek, and we drank way too much at the reception, which we closed down ca. 1:00 AM. We then found a bar, which we closed down about 2 hours later. Basically Jack was haranguing a fellow from Toronto on the nature of religion. I forget this fellow’s name but he was cheery enough.

 

All in all, it was a great time. Very glad I went.

All the talks I believe will be up on the Internets at some point, I think. “Atheist TV” filmed them all.

Alive and Well at the End of World! (Turn left at the end of your tether…)

I finally made it to Ottawa and Eschaton 2012! HORRAY!

 

NOV. 30-DEC 2

My paper:

Reclaiming the Fairy Tales of Bronze-Age Goat-Herders:
On the Virtues of Giving the Devil His Due.

It was a frustrating trip. Had to leave (many things undone) and get to the airport after my last Thursday class, not time to go home and say goodbye to my lovely Mary. Air Canada decided that my little bag had to be checked which was a bummer.

The flight to Calgary was fine, but when I got there my Ottawa flight, which was supposed to leave only about 50 minutes later, was already  marked as being 40 minutes late, so I sat. And sat, An hour after the scheduled time we boarded, and sat there for 30-40 minutes while they fussed with an electrical problem. They then declared that the thing was broken.

So I suddenly remembered I have to phone the number Evan Frank in Ottawa gave me, since there was supposed to be someone to pick me up at the airport (my plane was supposed to get in just before midnight anyway). After a bit of a muddle with poor Seanna Watson whose number it actually was, and then playing phone tag with Evan (who is a travel agent) I found out that Air Canada was bringing in a new plane and that it would leave at 9:50. I found that out from a guy in Ottawa before Air Canada told us anything! Evan also contacted the hotel and I just got in the door and the desk clerk said “Ah, you must be Mr Linville. You finally made it.”

So at around 11:30 we started boarding the damn thing but then had to wait ages for it to be de-iced. The first 30-40 minutes of the ride was pretty bumpy.

After that all went smoothly. Got to Ottawa alive and healthy but very tired, and made it to the hotel about 5:30 (3:30 Lethbridge time). The Hotel is right close buy the Rideau Canal and is a wonderfully clean place so now I’m all cheery!

 So a GREAT thanks for Evan and Seann, for being such great hosts and remaining cheery though out my troubles (haven’t actually met them yet)  I’m really looking forward to this!

 

Here is a preview of my presentation which will deal a little with some ancient scribes:

blah

SBL Aftermath

Well, I lived and made it home safe and sound.

My two papers went well, even though I left home with them both being about 40% too long. Here is a tip:

NEVER DO MORE THAN ONE PAPER PER CONFERENCE

Both papers were for the new “Metacriticizing Biblical Scholarship” section, which I now find myself to be co-chair (with Rebecca Raphael). Rebecca presided over our first session in Chicago, after Stephanie Louise Fisher had to cancel (oh glum…). The first paper was “The Royal Scam: Josiah, Joseph Smith and Believing One’s Own Pious Fraud.”  Diana Edelman was a kind and merciful respondent. It ended up being about Josiah, the law book that was completely by accident found in his temple, and Joseph Smith and his forgery, the totally legitimate Book of Mormon. There was also a bit about “Fakelore” (i.e., invented heritage of “ancient” tradition and another bit about fraud being the modus 0perandi of religion, which I kind of qualified a little.

I might try to get the paper published (after some needed revision and expansion), so I won’t post it here, but here is the opening epigram and a couple of excerpts:

“Oh look, I found a book telling me not to bear false witness”  (2 Kgs 22:8 Revised Wiseguy Version)

Although it is employed in many apparently secular classrooms, Barry Bandstra’s Reading the Old Testament is not shy of analyzing the biblical material from expressly religious categories. Bandstra writes:

The critical issues of precisely when and where the book was written should not overshadow the overall impression that the book embodies a genuine testimony of Mosaic faith. Admittedly, the seventh-century BCE writer shaped that testimony, being sensitive to the issues of faith and life in the Judah of his time. Nonetheless, he felt he was presenting the essential thrust of Moses’ message. While shaping the words he put in Moses’ mouth, he certainly felt he was representing the Mosaic tradition faithfully. (4th edn. p. 183).

This is astounding. What is a “genuine testimony” as opposed to a false one? Can we tell the difference? Even if we agree that the story’s author genuinely thought he was representing the authentic mosaic tradition, it is a different thing entirely to say that the book achieves this goal without supposing we can sit in judgment on the authenticity of that! There is a tendency for biblical scholars to actually like the Bible for a variety of reasons—usually religious ones—and so the expression “genuine testimony” carries its own legitimizing implications. As a thought experiment to dismantle that, let’s take the example of an obviously forged book I think we can all agree is despicable in its intent and horrific in its implications: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here the malicious forgery and plagiarism are obvious. Yet, were Sergei Nilus and the others involved in its production and expansion into countless versions not “true believers” in the wickedness and machinations of Jews? Does their “genuine faith” in the myth of a Jewish conspiracy legitimize or excuse their actions, or make the accusation of forgery and deceit irrelevant?   Certainly not.

 …

 Richard Bushman comments that newer historians of LDS history survey Smith’s miracle reports but tend not to not pass judgment. Bushman says that he was unwilling to follow the path of the “skeptical historian [who] has to make up a story with no factual support” in producing his own biography of Smith. He avoids the problem of the miracles by writing from the point of view of the participants and their experiences: which seem to me to be merely retelling a story with no factual support. Bushman writes, “If Smith was a charlatan, everyone who followed him was deluded—including myself and my Mormon friends.” Philip Barlow maintains that Smith’s writings reveal him to be “a man of genuine religious convictions.”  Well, so be it. 100,000 Elvis fans can be wrong, as can 12 million Mormons, one billion Muslims, two billion Christians and seven billion humans of all sorts of different persuasions. Belief is not evidence and neither is belief in other people’s belief. It is properly the subject, and not the premise, of critical scholarship of religion.

 My other paper, “On the Fairytales of Bronze Age Goat Herders: Ancient Israel as the New Atheists’ Foil” was lots of fun, and Mark S. Smith, the respondent, thought so too. Again, some tweaking here and there is needed. The paper simply asked what secular biblical critics should do about the New Atheists’ portrayal of ancient Israel and the origins of the Bible, which is, for the sake of the fight with religious conservatives, is quite inaccurate. I complained about the “Bronze Age Goat Herders Syndrome” that really goes beyond casting the Bible’s creators as a kind of immoral unsophisticated straw men and polarizes humanity into the “religious” and “reasonable”.

On the other hand I argued that biblical scholars should speak out for accuracy but not to the point of turning away from the skeptical, secular activists as they are actually getting an audience and challenging the privilege religion enjoys. I also argued that what is at stake is the further diminution of the humanities and social sciences as the New Atheist discourses tend to champion science over most other disciplines. That leaves so much of the human experience unexplained in any kind of real sense.  One snippet:

Of course, there is some overlap between the kind of secular world the New Atheists value and the intellectual space in which secular biblical criticism takes place. As is well known, Syro-Palestinian archaeologists and historians frequently bewail the sensationalism of media reports about new discoveries that cater to religious conservatives and those to whom we give the academically useful, if still poorly theorized, label, “religious nut-case”.

 Our discipline has pronounced political implication. The purely academic scholarly wrangling over how the Bible’s origins has been misappropriated into the intractable Israeli/Palestinian situation. As Davies and other so-called “minimalists” have found out, to attach the biblical mythology of Israel is to attract accusations of anti-Semitism while a number of Palestinian leaders say that “Historical Israel” never existed. Then there is the political wrangling over science and religion; evolution vs. creationists waging their own mythic battle with the demonic forces of a bibleless and godless society. Various moralists affirm the Bible as the one true basis for a just society. As many scholars have noted, when the press needs an expert opinion on the Bible or ancient Israel they often don’t recognize that there is a difference between the secular and the confessional biblical scholar, or that secular scholarship even exists.

NOV. 30-DEC 2

On Dec 1. I will be presenting that paper’s companion piece at Eschaton 2012 in Ottawa, “Reclaiming the Fairy Tales of Bronze Age Goat Herders: On the Virtues of the Giving the Devil His Dues” arguing that secularists should pay attention to more modern biblical scholarship and to pay a little more attention to the actual origins of the Bible. They will end up with a stronger case for secularism, and find that in some ways, the problems faced by the writers of the Bible in dealing with an often cruel, unfair world were not unlike our own. I hope I don’t get burned at the stake…

SBL UPDATE 2

I am very, very hungover.

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SBL UPDATE

I am very, very drunk..

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Well, I’m in Chicago and I did my first bit of official SBL business.

Yup, I got the tote-bag!

I arrived Thursday evening after a few small misadventures. First, I forgot to fill out the online travel registry with the US dept. of Homeland paranoia, so they didn’t have a record of where I was staying. Got through the security et. al.,  but the United Airline guy got stroppy and wanted to see my Green Card…

Anyway, that wasn’t much of a delay, and all my flights were on time, but the United flight to Chicago from Calgary had the cabin temperature up around 90F. Major headache developed.

I got to the hotel alright, Hyatt Regency McCormick Place (by the convention center), but they said my reservation was for the OTHER Hyatt 3 miles away. It was not. I checked about 10 times when I made the reservation. Anyway, they changed it back so here I am.

Then this morning I had a weird dream that someone kept taking flash pictures which was very annoying. I woke up to find that the  fire alarm flashing light was going off (no audible alarm, though). One near epileptic fit later, I called the front desk who reassured my that all was well.

So, I started working on my two papers, actually both needed to be shorted drastically. I also translated them into something approaching English (broadly conceived). Went for a little walk around, got the tote-bag, and then had a good “Metacriticizing Biblical Scholarship Progam Unit Steering Committee” meeting with Hector Avalos, Rebecca Raphael and John Kutzko (Executive Director of SBL). It was quite productive. John told us about some of the things that go into organizing an event as big as SBL and all the different sorts of people he has to meet with, from event organizers of all sorts to representatives from the host city, hotels, buses, etc. etc. etc.. I can honestly say that I do NOT want his job! Somehow he seemed rather cheery. Suspicious… Anyway, he wins a lolcat for general heroics.

 

 

I win the Internet AGAIN!

Yippee!

Another of my captioned critters has hit the front page of the I Can Has Cheezeburger site! Here it is:

http://cheezburger.com/6628192256

So, time for some MUSIC!

Oh what the heck, here is my NEW Kitty! Go and vote for her!

Vote for me! I wanna be elected!
http://cheezburger.com/6708295680

I Don’t Always Comment On Romney & Ryan’s Missing Platform Full of Charitable Binder-Women

 But when I do, it looks a bit like this:

Vote for my monkeys at http://cheezburger.com/6683790592

 

http://cheezburger.com/6686751744

Jesus, Mo, and More, literally (figuratively speaking).

Freaking Hillarious!

http://www.jesusandmo.net

And while we are on the subject:

 

 

Research in Religious Studies Conference for Students 2013 Call for Papers!

The University of Lethbridge is pleased to announce the Call for Papers for

http://www.uleth.ca/artsci/religious-studies/research-religious-studies-conference-university-lethbridge

11th Annual

RESEARCH IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES CONFERENCE

May 4-5, 2013

University of Lethbridge 

The conference provides undergraduate and graduate level students with the opportunity to present papers on the history, belief, practices, cultural contexts, and artistic or literary expressions of any religious tradition.  Proposals for papers from any discipline within the academic fields of the humanities and social science are welcome.

The conference is open to students from any educational institute at any point in their educational career.  Although we encourage PhD students to attend, we are particularly seeking papers by undergraduate and masters level students.

Papers will be selected on basis of abstracts submitted.  We have a policy of accepting every good proposal so participation is not limited to a select few! If you have a good paper, we want it

We deleted our old conference blog and now all of our information is up on our department website, including the advice on submitting abstracts, the registration forms, etc.

I would encourage readers attached to Religious Studies or related university departments repost or advertise the conference, especially if they are located in or near the Pacific Northwest region of the AAR / SBL. We have had students come from much further, some intrepid souls even ventured form the Eastern most corners of Canada and up from Vanderbilt in Tennessee! It is a great experience for students to show off their work and to see what other excellent students are working on. Great practice for grad. school and especially for presenting at professional conferences!

For each of the past few years, we’ve had between 45 and 50 papers presented from students all over Western Canada and beyond, including Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, the Maritimes and even some folks from U.S. universities.

Here is a sample of the some the papers presented last year!

“’Authentically’ Christian: Missions, Conversion, and the Diversification of Evangelical Ethnicity in America,” Saliha Chattoo, Wilfrid Laurier University

“Virtuous Vampires: Religion and Agency in the Twilight Series,” Brooke Brassard, University of Victoria

“Sacred Space: There’s An App For That,” Alex Tkach, University of Regina

“’In Columbia we are free:’ The Hope and Failure of Religious Freedom for Mormons in Western Canada,” James Forbes, University of Lethbridge

“Minkisi: Stewards of the Kongo,” Jenny Davison, Mount Saint Vincent University

“‘I Want What She Has!': An Exploration of the Sororal Rivalry Between Rachel and Leah,” Fong H. Lopaschuk, University of Alberta

“Revelation, Classification, and Redescription: Tenable Futures for the Study of Religion,” Jesse Bailey, University of Regina

“The “Ninja” Women in the “Other’s” Side: Depictions of Muslim Women in North American Political Cartoons,” Erendira Cervantes-Altamirano, University of Alberta

“Transformative Sounds: A Comparison of Tibetan Buddhist Mantra & the Icaros of the Peruvian Mestizo Ayhuasceros,” Matthew Koczkur, University of Calgary

“Speak of the Devil and the Pharisees Appear: An Examination of “Satan” within the Gospel of Matthew,” Allan Wright, University of Regina