Friday, May 05, 2006

Theocrats on the move- watch the subtext

Via this diary by Susan G. on Kos, I learn of some marathon bible reading stunt at the Capitol to achieve a theocratic agenda.

It's important to have the event so close to the Capitol, says co-director Terry Shaffer Hall, citing Biblical accounts of the reading aloud of sacred texts at times of national renewal. "Most of the foreign visitors who join us for the reading can't read the Bible from the seat of their own government. It's precious to do it here," she says.

Starting with the book of Genesis, the Marathon will end with the reading in unison of the last two chapters of the book of Revelation. Organizers extended hours for this year's event, "so that the children who participate don't have to read so fast," Ms. Hall adds.

(I'm sorry but here's a brief tangent. I wonder if they ever thought of setting their bible reading to John Cage's "As Slow as Possible.")

It turns out they're planning to be playing that tune in Germany for the next 600+ years...

HALBERSTADT, Germany, May 4 — If you miss Friday's musical happening at St. Burchardi Church in this eastern German town, no worries. There is always 2008. And the next year. And the one after that.

In fact, you have about six more centuries to hear developments in the work being performed, a version of a composition by John Cage called "As Slow as Possible." A group of musicians and town boosters has given the title a ridiculously extreme interpretation, by stretching the performance to 639 years...

The only limitations on the length of the performance are the durability of the organ and the will of future generations.

For anyone keeping records, the performance is probably already the world's longest, even though it has barely begun. The organ's bellows began their whoosh on Sept. 5, 2001, on what would have been Cage's 89th birthday. But nothing was heard because the musical arrangement begins with a rest — of 20 months. It was only on Feb. 5, 2003, that the first chord, two G sharps and a B in between, was struck. Notes are sounding or ceasing once or twice a year — sometimes at even longer intervals — always on the fifth day of the month, to honor Cage, who died in 1992.

There are eight movements, and Cage specified that at least one be repeated. Each movement lasts roughly 71 years, just four years shy of the life expectancy of the average German male. There is no need to wait for the end of a movement for late seating: St. Burchardi is open six days a week, and the notes have been sounding continuously.

So it'd be a good thing if they wanted to read their bibles that long, as long as they didn't do it on public property.

At any rate a couple of things in the first article on the bible readers struck me:

"I'm concerned that the Capitol not be presented as a purely secular building," says David Barton, the founder of WallBuilders, a Texas-based group committed to "educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country." Also the No. 2 in the Texas Republican Party, Mr. Barton drafted a 20-page memo refuting points in the draft text for the Capitol Visitors Center. Circulated by then-majority leader Tom DeLay, the memo became a flashpoint in the final deliberations over the language of the exhibition.

"The Bible had a huge impact on the signers of the Constitution," says Barton, who says he has led hundreds of members of Congress on his Spiritual Heritage Tour of the Capitol. With the change in House leadership from Tom DeLay to Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, "I'm not sure how many of our ideas will be included," he adds.

Striking a balance between a glowing personal faith and respect for the beliefs (or nonbeliefs) of others is a theme of much current scholarship.

"For American politics, the KJV, either quoted directly or as a model of discourse, could not be more significant," said conservative theologian Mark Noll, in Washington last month for a talk at the Library of Congress on "The King James Version of the Bible in American History."

"When the language of the KJV was everywhere the common public language, it was very easy to bestow a sacred aura on public discourse," he says. "Politicizing the Bible can be a risk both for politicians and the faithful," he adds. But "if the Bible gets out of the public square, it's left entirely to the Internet and movies and TV - the lowest common denominator."

David Barton for the longest time has been caught in the religious revisionism movement. The now defunct "Institute for First Amendment Studies" used to have good dirt on him, and the intrepid may still find that.

But what really struck me was the last bit: the internet is the "lowest common denominator?" Think about that...

Where the hell else can you read translations of ancient, medieval, East Asian and other sources?

Where else can you read about real Information Theory, rather than the crackpot stuff cooked up by creatonists?

Where else can you read about how the internet works?

Where else can you learn what's taught at MIT , for free?

Where else can you see, whenever you want, what they do at the Shaolin Temple Overseas Headquarters?

Where else can you translate any word you want virtually into Japanese without paying anything more than for access?

Where else can you read good translations of Buddhist writings for free?

Where else can you watch videos on the Japanese relocation of WWII?

Really, people go to the internet because there's more information there.

The real reason folks like Mark Noll disparage the internet is that they don't want to share attention with anyone or anything, in my opinion.

Got any other off-the beaten track links? Put 'em below.

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