a pop quiz on campus health insurance.

You attend a Catholic university.

Your university offers a health plan that covers everything but contraceptives and abortions.

The current administration pushes legislation through Congress that requires all health plans to cover contraceptives.

Your school decides that rather than making their health plan compliant with the law, they’ll drop it altogether.

Has the legislation in question improved your access to health care, or hurt it?

(Disclaimer: I am not a Catholic—or a Christian of any flavor—and I have my problems with the Church’s hostility to contraceptives. But I knew that stance ahead of time, and that’s one of the reasons why I chose not to attend a Catholic university.)

(Via Popehat.)

a few words on harry potter, storytelling, and christianity.

A few days ago, I finally had a chance to watch the last of the Harry Potter movies, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″. The movies run the range from excellent (Deathly Hallows Pt.2, Half-Blood Prince) to competent (the first two movies, directed by Chris Columbus) to odd and head-scratchingly inconsistent with the characters of the novel in places (Azkaban). Overall, however, they’re a remarkable achievement because they manage to replicate in movie form what makes the books so unique: they progress and grow with the characters through seven years.

After I finished Deathly Hallows, I had the impulse to read the books and watch all the movies again from the beginning because I was sad to see the story end. This is what makes great storytelling to me–when you feel a nostalgia and sense of loss for a world that never existed except in your head and that of the author. it also reaffirmed my personal theory of storytelling: that a novel ultimately stands and falls with the author’s ability to make us care about the characters. Ideally, a good novel has both great characters and a great plot, but a novel with a humdrum plot can still be great if we care enough about the characters and the world in which they move. On the obverse, the best and most airtight plot will not save a novel with bland and uninteresting characters. If we don’t care about the people in it, the story becomes uninteresting even when the author is firmly in command of the plot and throws in narrative razzle-dazzle.

Harry Potter isn’t about witchcraft and wizardry. Those are the dressing on the salad, the tinsel on the tree, the swirl on the pastry. Harry Potter is about friendship and love and loyalty, about family and the nature of life and death, and about what’s truly important in life, the qualities that define us as human beings. That’s why the criticism of the series from certain segments of Christianity is not only misguided, but profoundly unfair. So much of the Harry Potter books could actually serve as Christian allegory (and far more effectively than C.S. Lewis’ heavy-handed pap in the Narnia books) that people who accuse Harry Potter of being the Devil’s work only show that they either don’t have a clue what the books are about (and many haven’t even read them), or that their version of Christianity is a particularly loveless and grim one.

I know that most Christians don’t have a problem with Harry Potter. Most of the Christians I know, for example, read the books and let their children read them, simply because they’re good entertainment that ultimately champions good values. But I have come to understand why some Christians reject the books, and why they’re invariably members of the inflexible and fundamental branches of Christianity. You see, the Christians I know and get along with have an understanding that books are a way to make us understand our nature and our place in the world, and that nothing is literal in fiction. They apply this attitude to the Bible as well–Jesus speaks in parables, the lessons of the New Testament are to be seen in context, and the spirit of the book is in the totality of its message.

There’s another kind of Christian, though, and they treat the Bible differently. For them, the important thing is that parts of it have lists of black-and-white rules, lots of “Thou shalt not” and so on. They are the ones who see the Bible as literal truth. What’s important is not the message or the intent or the spirit of the book, but the lists of printed rules that can be followed. They absolve the believer from having to apply their own judgment, from having to examine an issue from all sides and see it both in the context of human experience and the spirit of the book’s message. That would require having to attempt to understand the issue, when it’s much easier to hold it up against the go/no-go gauge of Leviticus et. al.  The Bible says “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, Harry Potter talks of witches and wizards, ergo Harry Potter is anti-Biblical and therefore un-Christian. It doesn’t require understanding, or exercising judgment, or even reading the books in question. In reality, Harry and his friends embody values that Christianity claims as virtuous. They are kind, fair, loyal, and concerned with the suffering of others. They face evil with courage even at the risk of their own lives. Most importantly, they love each other and remain loyal to friends and family even in the face of persecution. Those are all professed Christian virtues, aren’t they? I mean, if you’re going to encourage your kid to read, isn’t that the kind of stuff a Christian would want their kid to read and like? When it comes to moral lessons in literature, you could do a lot worse than Harry Potter.

Do I believe in the literal truth of Harry Potter, that reading the books will make my kid turn to witchcraft? Not any more than I believe in the existence of God or gods or divinity in general. I don’t believe that I can point a wand at an object and make it levitate by saying “Wingardium Leviosa”. But I do believe in the power of love and friendship and beauty, the things that elevate us above just being meat–and those are the essence of the Harry Potter books, not wands and spells and witchcraft.

aw, jeez….not this shit again.

In a spectacular display of Not Getting It, some of the Republicans in the Live Free Or Die State are getting cocky about having a supermajority in the NH House and Senate again…and they’re trying to use it to roll back the gay marriage law.  Of all the issues on the table, they make gay cooties a priority once again.

In past elections, I’ve voted for a few Republicans for local office–whenever there wasn’t a Libertarian running, or whenever the Democrat on the ballot was more of a douche than the Republican.  Should the NH Republicans be successful in getting our gay marriage law repealed, I will never again vote for another Republican in this state.  I’m sick and tired of the debate.  We shouldn’t have it in a state that has LIVE FREE OR DIE as its motto.  We shouldn’t have it because the straight majority shouldn’t be able to vote itself special rights they can deny to gays, or blacks, or Jews, or Christians, or left-handed people.  We shouldn’t have that debate anymore for much the same reason why we shouldn’t have a debate about reintroducing miscegenation laws. This particular culture war is pretty much over.  There are just too many people nowadays, both liberal and conservative, who recognize that the state should have precisely fuck-all to do with licensing, condoning, or promoting marriage between two consenting adults.

Now, I realize that I’m once again poking the hornet’s nest with a stick by talking about homosexuality, and inviting certain commenters to leave their feces-obsessed ramblings all over this here Interblog.  I do, however, want to put a theory out there:

Most opposition to, disgust with, and fear of homosexuality in this country is simply male discomfort at the thought of male homosexuality. The arguments against homosexuality and gay marriage come wrapped in convenient religious or pseudo-biological arguments, but to me, it looks like it’s simply a moral cloak wrapped around the fact that a lot of straight American males are grossed out at the idea of two men having sex.  (Note the relative popularity of lesbian vs. gay porn among straight males—ask a college frat brother what he thinks of two hot chicks getting it on, and he’s much more likely to give that a thumbs-up than the idea of two hot guys getting it on.)

On a side note—I throw up a little in my mouth whenever I hear someone referring to the Defense of Marriage act.  Talk about a positively Newspeak name for a piece of legislature.  How do you defend something by making sure there’s less of it?  How does it “defend” my marriage when my home state doesn’t let a gay couple get the same legal benefits my wife and I enjoy?  And do come back to me when the straight marriages in this country don’t have a 50% divorce rate.  If social conservatives wanted to defend the institution of marriage, they should start with the straight folks first.  But I’m utterly convinced that most of the anti-gay marriage hullabaloo is just personal disgust and discomfort packaged in convenient selective bits of Scripture.

(And lest anyone accuse me of “being hostile toward religion” again…I have an awful lot of friends who are a.) Christian, b.) good people, and c.) in favor of equal marriage rights.  Keeping marriage and government apart isn’t exactly a new-fangled radical idea.  Render unto Caesar, and all that.)

a poll concerning reader demographics.

This is an anonymous poll. If you choose to participate, nobody will be able to see which option you picked.

i’ll start respecting them when they start burning piles of money instead.

In my humble opinion, there are only a few reasons why anyone would stage a public burning of some other peoples’ holy book:

  1. They want to show in public how pious they are.
  2. They want to score some brownie points with God.
  3. They want to blow raspberries at Team Not Us.
  4. They want to generate publicity to expand their congregation, go on the Tee Vee, and do something to improve the fill ratio of their collection baskets.

Which one of those reasons listed above would Jesus approve?

Every time I hear of a book burning somewhere, I think of this quote:

“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings, too.”  –Heinrich Heine, Almansor (1821)

Do they have the right to do it?  Sure.  Is it a good idea, especially when the U.S. commander on the ground in Team Not Us Land says that it would endanger our troops?  Probably not.

(And the people in the Comments section who say that they’re Christians and they wouldn’t care if someone burned the Bible are very much missing the point.  To Muslims, the Koran is the literal, physical word of God in a way the Bible isn’t to Christians.  To them, it’s a sacrilege to defile one.  It’s like…oh, there’s no real analogy in Christianity I can think of.  Maybe taking a leak on the Shroud of Turin just for kicks, or picking your teeth with a splinter from the One True Cross, perhaps.)

Book burnings–not just burnings of someone’s holy texts, but the burning of any book–are an affront to humanity, culture, and civilization.  There’s no good or right reason to burn any book, anywhere, at any time.  People who do it anyway are illiterate, unenlightened savages, whatever their motivation.

jesus would kick you in the head.

Haiti has been hit by a major earthquake. Port-au-Prince is destroyed.  The local government estimates a possible 100,000 casualties. The dead are still buried under the rubble, and the dust hasn’t even cleared yet, but Pat Robertson already knows that the Haitians “have been cursed”, and that God got his smite on because Haiti “swore a pact to the Devil”.

Gah.  I swear, when I think of a good and admirable Christian who lives up to the professed ideals of their faith, I picture Pat Robertson…and then imagine his polar opposite.

one last thing for today.

I won’t say much about the shooting of the abortion doctor yesterday, because that subject makes religious debate seem downright reasonable and pleasant by comparison, and I have no interest in kicking over that particular bucket of ill-tempered worms.

I will, however, say this:

A genuine apology doesn’t have a “but” in it.  When you say, “I’m sorry, but…”, you automatically negate the apology.  You’re either sorry, or you’re not, and when you try to justify yourself in the same sentence as your apology, you’re not really apologizing.

On the same note, when you say “I’m sorry/appalled that he was shot to death, but…”, you render everything you said before the “but” invalid.