What Do the Man Who Played Forrest Gump and the Author of ‘The Idiot’ Have in Common?

They are going to be promoting Orthodoxy on billboards across Russia and neighboring countries.

You see, it’s like this: Tom Hanks converted to Orthodoxy when he married Rita Wilson, who is Greek Orthodox. Marriage conversions are not uncommon. Hanks, it seems, went through an evangelical “phase” in his teens (see his Wiki page), which he pretty much shucked off once he started dressing like a lady person, because, well, you know how evangelicals are. They like their women straight. (So to speak.)

Now it’s fun to see Orthodoxy waking from its slumbers and promoting its unique traditions and long history. If Lutherans are a sleepy bunch compared with, say, Baptists, the Orthodox are comatose.

Tom Hanks is to appear on posters promoting Orthodox Christianity in Russia and neighboring states alongside prominent local cultural and sports figures.

The Russian Orthodox youth movement Soboryane said it is launching a massive poster campaign during a missionary event entitled “My Pravoslavnye” (“We Are Orthodox Christians”) on October 13 and 14 in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

The poster featuring Hanks has his quote taken from an interview the actor gave the Russian newspaper Argumenty I Fakty back in 2009. “I realize how important and beautiful it is to have the opportunity to go to church and reflect on important questions that Orthodox Christianity asks you and answers it offers,” it reads in translation back to English.

I would love to know if the journalist interviewing him at the time asked about his decision to lend his considerable star power to the Da Vinci Code movies. Because, had I not just read that quote, I would have figured he believed in God sorta kinda and went to church on Christmas/Pascha to be with his family but was not really Orthodox in the way you think of Martin Sheen or Jim Caviezel as being Catholic, if you know what I mean.

But perhaps Hanks keeps his faith to himself and is more devoted to the church than we know. And if so, I apologize a hundred and eleven times for even insinuating otherwise.

Here’s a clip from Bosom Buddies, which featured Rita Wilson as “a daughter of Satan.” (Would I make that up? Well, I’m not…)

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The Inhumanity of the Humanists and the Narcissism of Small Differences

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O my my my my my. What do we have here? Michael Ruse, a British philosopher of biology, has an essay in the Guardian (aka the Ministry of Propaganda for Anglophone materialists) in which he takes on — wait for it — the New Atheists, whom he alternately describes as “humanists,” albeit of the most inhumane variety. What’s gotten Ruse’s goat? Dawkins, Coynes, et al. are behaving as particularly intolerant heresy hunters of a new religion:

Humanism in its most virulent form tries to make science into a religion. It is awash with the intolerance of enthusiasm. For a start, there is the near-hysterical repudiation of religion….

There are other aspects of the new atheist movement that remind me of religion. One is the adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement: it is not just a matter of agreement or respect but also of a kind of worship. This certainly surrounds Dawkins, who is admittedly charismatic.

Freud describes a phenomenon that he calls “the narcissism of small differences”, in which groups feud over distinctions that, to the outside, seem totally trivial. The new atheists show this phenomenon more than any group I have encountered.

Lest anyone think Mr. Ruse is a closet Jesus freak or on the Canterbury Trail or something—

Dawkins has said that on a scale from zero to seven, from belief to non-belief, he scores about 6.9. I am even a tad higher than that. I am a true non-believer. I am also a fanatical Darwinian – more so even than Dawkins, because I think that when it comes to culture, genes do much that he hands over to his own special cultural notion of “memes”. I have written many books about the implications of Darwinian thinking for epistemology and ethics.

What’s more, I think that religion has done and continues to do much harm to society. In the blog I write for the Chronicle of Higher Education I have taken on the Catholics, the Calvinists, the Mormons (that got me into hot water), and even the dear old Quakers (perhaps a bit Oedipal, because I was raised a Quaker). I was the expert witness in philosophy in Arkansas when the American Civil Liberties Union successfully fought against a law requiring the teaching of so-called “creation science” (aka biblical literalism) in the publicly supported schools of that state. I have been a vocal opponent of creationism for many years.

Gotcha. But apparently, this is not enough for the doyens of Darwinism:

And yet I, and others like me, am reviled in terms far harsher than those kept for real opponents like creationists. We are labelled “accommodationists” for our willingness to give religion a space not occupied by science. We are put down in terms that denote strong emotion, way beyond reason. In The God Delusion, I am likened to Neville Chamberlain, the pusillanimous appeaser of Hitler. Jerry Coyne, author of both the book and the blog Why Evolution is True and an ardent groupie of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, wrote about one of my books in terms used by George Orwell: “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

The Minnesota biologist PZ Myers, who writes the blog Pharyngula, has referred to me as a “clueless gobshite”.

If one day, owing to some internal revolution, I found myself losing my faith in God, I believe that all I’d have to do is remind myself of the likes of PZ Myers and that alone would be enough to snatch me from the abyss.

This is why when the New Atheists or the New Humanists (both of whom are really just the Old Jacobins whom the culture has for the time being deprived of sharp objects) start jabbering about religious wars or fanaticism or bigotry aimed at nonbelievers, it’s like duck off a Frenchman’s bib — history has shown, and modern rhetoric reiterates, what a monstrous army of warlords these “Brights” would make.

Now, before we wallow in Schadenfreude (and if you have to look it up, you can’t afford it), we should take a moment and think about that aforementioned “narcissism of small differences.” Christians have demonstrated throughout the ages and across denominational factions that despite all the defenses we make of certain literal readings of Scripture — whether it’s creation in six days, “this is my body,” “baptism now saves you,” meeting the Lord in the air, “Esau is an hairy man,” etc. — we draw the line at most of the things Jesus said, which we qualify the hell out of. “Turn the other cheek,” “give him also your shirt,” “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the hellfire” — and most important, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We’ve rarely if ever done this on a large or sustained scale, and never will. Because while we like to reference all the things we may have in common, sectarians will always write certain groups out of the faith altogether. Many if not most Baptists, and most if not all Reformed Baptists, do not consider Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy Christian, for example. But we all put up walls of one kind or another, and even if we do consider the Methodist or Presbyterian or Catholic next door a “Christian,” we simultaneously extend the right foot of this close and no closer.

In short, we cling to our traditions because we believe they’re closer to the proper construal of the faith than the next guy’s. Even nondenoms and emergers who hate “religion” and “confessions” and “creeds” and just want to cultivate followers of Jesus must apply Wite-Out to 2,000 years of doctrinal wrangling. Can they help but view confessional Christians who “cling” to their religion with more than a hint of condescension?

And we all do it for the same reason: in the name of either a pure Gospel or a pure Church.

If you think I have a solution, you’re so wrong you have just used up your right to be wrong about anything else for the next ten years. Listening to Jesus sure hasn’t worked. I imagine a communist revolution would help, but only until the counterrevolution (see how the Orthodox in Russia have worked to suppress Protestant churches). An invasion from Plutron would only have us blaming each other for inviting the unwanted attentions of the Armies of Zog (which, of course, like the Babylonians, are merely agents of divine wrath).

And I’m no one to talk. I’m as guilty as anyone of stirring the pot when it comes to controverted doctrines. (Sure, I’m right about everything — but do I have to flaunt it the way I do?)

I think the best any of us can do is be aware of how this looks to a watching world. It looks like, well, read Ruse’s article.

6,000 Choose Christ at Joyce Meyer Conference! In Other News, Jimmy Hoffa Found in Detroit Driveway!

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Wow! Six thousand! That’s more than Jesus fed with the loaves and fishes! Wow!

Joyce Meyer Ministries celebrated the 30th anniversary of its “Love Life Women’s Conference” in St. Louis, Mo., this past weekend, showcasing keynote speakers such as Joel Osteen and Christine Caine at the event where an estimated 6,000 women converted to Christianity.

“Teachings by Christine Caine made them laugh. Dave Meyer got them fired up on America and attendees saw a different side to Joel Osteen when he cried,” Joyce Meyers Ministries shared in a press release after the three-day conference.

The conference, which took place from Sept. 20-22 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, was described as by the ministry as a “celebration of the power of hope.”

The Examiner reports that of the estimated [27,000] women who attended, close to 6,000 women “committed their life to Christ during the conference.”

Wow! Listen up, you loser pastors! Six thousand in one take! You get fifty on a decent Sunday who don’t walk out during the reciting of the Creed, and you think you’re God’s gift to the universe! But these conference hosts managed to get 6,000 women to choose Jesus! Not pie or Manolo Blahniks—Jesus!

Joyce Meyer was filled with the Holy Spirit as God showed up in this place.

If spiritual renewal is found in weekend retreats, this women’s conference takes top honors.

God showed up at that place! And He was supposed to be in Cleveland! And top honors! Wow! Why would teachings by Christine Caine make them laugh?! Isn’t her ministry about ending abuse and human trafficking?! I don’t get why any of that is funny! But I guess you had to be there! And I can’t stop yelling!

Wow! Six thousand! So many books and CDs! So little time!

UPDATE: The original Christian Post report, culled from the Examiner article, included a typo. It stated that out of 2,700 attendees, 6,000 converted, which, as Steve in the combox notes, truly would be a miracle worthy of the loaves and fishes. In fact, 27,000 attended over several days. Which gives an ROI of 22.22%, which most people would take on their savings account, no?

IN OTHER NEWS: The body of now-legendary Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, whose final resting place has long been a mystery, may finally have been found—in a Detroit driveway.

Hoffa was last seen on July 30, 1975, outside a suburban Detroit restaurant where he was supposed to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain. His body has not been found despite a number of searches over the years.

Innumerable theories about the demise of the union boss have surfaced over time. Among them: He was entombed in concrete at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, ground up and thrown in a Florida swamp or obliterated in a mob-owned fat-rendering plant. The search has continued under a backyard pool north of Detroit in 2003, under the floor of a Detroit home in 2004 and at a horse farm northwest of Detroit in 2006.

Note to self: Never meet with a Detroit Mafia “captain.” Stick with noncommissioned officers.

Oh, and stay out of Detroit:

Producer of ‘Atlas Shrugged Part II: More Shrugging, Less Hugging’ Says Christians and Randians Should Unite to Save Capitalism

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John Aglialoro, one of the producers who have fought for years to bring Ayn Rand’s 37,000-page Objectivist manifesto Atlas Shrugged to the Big Screen, says socially conservative Christians should make common cause with socially liberal libertarians and Randians to save capitalism from the depredations of miserable filthy communists.

The Christian Post spoke with Aglialoro, who is busy promoting his new film, Atlas Shrugged Part II, not to be confused with Part I, which enjoyed a short run in theaters last year and grossed less than $5 million.

“Frankly, I’m a liberal when it comes to sexuality and drug laws,” Aglialoro clarified.

Rand’s philosophy has been a subject of scrutiny recently because of the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. Ryan is a fan of Rand’s fictional works but, as a Catholic, disagrees with her atheism.

I think Paul Ryan, rightfully, because it’s his beliefs, said, ‘hey I am a Catholic, I am not an atheist, I reject Ayn Rand’s philosophy relative to atheism, but I endorse her sense that there’s a moral basis for capitalism,'” Aglialoro said.

Aglialoro also noted that his step-son, Mark Henderson, is an evangelical Christian who has written about where he believes Rand’s philosophy overlaps with Christianity. His blog is called The Soul of Atlas: An Objectivist-Christian Conversation.

If you would like to see Atlas Shrugged Part II, you can reserve tickets here. I saw Part One. It was not terrible. But I like films about ideas. And I hate all forms of collectivism. So perhaps I was primed to at least give it a chance. Virtually none of the actors, however, from that  film will be returning to Part Two. If you think it’s owing to a fear for their careers, bigger, more recognizable names have taken their places. For example, Samantha Mathis (Broken Arrow) is now playing Dagny Taggart, whereas Taylor Schilling (not a damn thing worth mentioning) played her in the first. Esai Morales (La Bamba) now plays D’Anconia (I’m assuming you’ve read the book), and D.B. Sweeney (Eight Men Out) is playing Galt. Go figure.

IN OTHER NEWS: There’s a bacon shortage. Now that’s something Christians and Randians should be worrying about.

When Will These Atheists Stop Bickering Among Themselves and Start Acting Like Good Christians?

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Oh, wait. They already are.

In the passionate world of American atheism, the venom usually directed at believers has now been turned against the wrong kind of atheists.

The cause of this freethinking furore? A new movement called Atheism+. According to its website, “Atheism+ is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime.”

A+ was born when Freethought blogger Jen McCreight (the mind behind Boobquake) made a passionate call for a “third wave” of atheism, one that extends atheist activism into progressive politics and calls for a part of the movement to be one where women can exist free from the harassment that has plagued women publicly involved in the atheist movement.

The founders of Atheism+ say clearly that “divisiveness” is not their aim, but looking through the blogs and voluminous comments in the two weeks since A+ was mooted, trenches have been dug, beliefs stated, positions staked out and abuse thrown. A dissenting tweeter is “full of shit”, while, according to one supporter, daring to disagree with Atheism+’s definition of progressive issues and not picking their side makes you an “asshole and a douchebag”.

It took 700 years from Constantine renaming Byzantium in his own honour to papal legates circulating letters of anathema that split the Roman and Orthodox churches. Atheism, in its public, online life, has started exchanging internet anathemas — perhaps we should call them inathemas — in little more than a decade.

Well, they do fashion themselves progressive—and so, they’re progressing apace.

It can’t be easy deciding what not to believe in. So many things to reject, so little time. And who is to decide what’s not true and what’s merely a matter of negative conjecture? How skeptical is one allowed to be about skepticism before one has transgressed the boundaries of orthodox nonbelief?

For example, if I say I do not believe in God, does that mean I do not believe in the God other people who believe in God believe in? Or does it mean I do not believe in God the way some people believe in Barack Obama or the infield fly rule? Or does it mean I believe there is no God, which makes me a believer in something, namely, that there is no God. But doesn’t that require proof of a negative?

And the crapulous tone of some of their tonier crap!

Fellow Freethought blogger Richard Carrier goes further. When one commentator suggests “atheism does not have the luxury of kicking people out of its movement”, Carrier gives him a rare old quilting in most splendid prose:

“Yes, it does. Atheism+ is our movement. We will not consider you a part of it, we will not work with you, we will not befriend you. We will heretofore denounce you as the irrational or immoral scum you are (if such you are). If you reject these values, then you are no longer one of us. And we will now say so, publicly and repeatedly. You are hereby disowned.”

Disowned? Oh the humanity…to be displaced when one is already lost in the cosmos. Where does that leave one? Trapped in humanism’s cecum awaiting expulsion like yesterday’s fajita.

Before these amateur Übermenschen start engaging in some Great Purge, I suggest they hold a council of some kind and choose a “universal atheist” to have final say on contentious issues, like whether to treat women badly at conventions, or whether to use only unionized labor when building labor camps for the heterodox.

You know, stuff like that.

I would spare my atheist friends the tumult of a full-blown civil war. Because, as the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. Only foxes. But that’s sexist.

Sigmund Freud, C.S. Lewis, and a World of Hurt

Check out some scenes from the long-running off-Broadway play Freud’s Last Sessionwritten by Mark St. Germain, whose credits include (for TV) The Cosby Show and the soap As the World Turns, and stageplays such as The God Committee (about the politics of organ donation), Camping with Henry and Tom (that would be Henry Ford and Thomas Edison), and most recently The Best of Enemies. He also cowrote The Gift of the Magi, a musical, for The Lamb’s Theatre in New York.

St. Germain has also written and directed a documentary entitled My Dog, about celebrities and their love affairs with their dogs.

Well, no one is perfect.

If these clips are any indication, St. Germain seems to have given all the best lines to Freud. As did Milton with Satan. So I will reserve judgment until I can either see or read the play.

H/T: Justin Taylor 

How Does Mr. Bean Find Vicars? He Turns Left at the Millennium Bridge.

Rowan Atkinson, of Blackadder, Mr. Bean, and Johnny English fame, is not known for doing many interviews, so when he finally does relent, fans pick over the syllables for something revealing or amusing.

Well, Atkinson spoke with the Times of London recently and had this to say about Church of England vicars:

I used to think that the vicars that I played . . . were unreasonable satires on well-meaning individuals but, actually, so many of the clerics that I’ve met, particularly the Church of England clerics, are people of such extra­ordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extra­ordin­arily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society. Increasingly, I believe that all the mud that Richard Curtis and I threw at them through endless sketches that we’ve done is more than deserved.

Now I think Atkinson’s a brilliant comic actor, and his Thin Blue Line remains an all-time favorite. But Rowan, come back to us: What is the bloody point of being C of E if you can’t be smug, arrogant, and conceited? What were you expecting? Charity, humility, and circumspection? Those are the Methodists, you silly git!

I mean…

I did like one of the replies to Atkinson’s critique:

The Priest-in-Charge of Mr Atkinson’s parish in Northampton­shire is the Rt Revd John Flack. He said on Wednesday that he had never seen the comedian in church, and that to visit him would be difficult, as he lives behind high-security gates. “But I have written, inviting him to have a talk. I look forward to hearing from him.”

And good luck with that.