Category Archives: Religion


Armenian Genocide?

Hillary Clinton went from calling it genocide in 2008 to calling it an “atrocity” in more recent years. In contrast, Pope Francis isn’t afraid to call a mass killing a genocide.

The Turkish government responded to the pope’s comments by recalling its ambassador to the Vatican, and summoned the Vatican’s ambassador in Ankara to express its “great disappointment and sadness.”

It’s okay, Turkey, I get disappointed when people bring up my horrendous crimes against humanity too.

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First Halloween?

cat bat

In the 5th Century BC in Ireland, October 31 was seen as the divide between summer and winter and was called Samhain (pronounced sow-han because after a few days of partying, you have a really hard time pronouncing the letter “m” – not really, it’s just that their language is weird like that).

It was the night that the spirits of the dead could walk the Earth. To encourage the spirits not to linger, people would put out the fires in their homes (to make it cold and unwelcoming) and dress as demons, goblins, and witches. They would parade through the houses, making as much noise as possible. (Parents of small children can relate.)

Then they would gather outside the village where the druid priests would light huge bonfires. The fires were a tribute to the sun god in thankfulness for the crops they had grown. It was also meant to frighten away spirits who might want to inhabit a villager’s body over the next year. Sometimes, if someone seemed to be already possessed, that person was thrown onto the fire. (The 5th Century BC was not a high point in caring for the mentally ill.) This was to warn off other spirits from trying to take over any of the other villagers.

The festivities changed some over the years. The Romans came and banned burning the crazies possessed, and burned effigies instead. The Christians came and the holiday began losing its connection to the old religion. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as All Saints Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs. Church sanctioned holidays were moving in on the holidays of the old gods and taking over their festivities.

People probably didn’t care much. They still got bonfires and a night of partying. While churches in other parts of the world had All Saints Day on November 1, not much was going on for All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) until the potato famine forced Irish immigrants to come to the United States. America in the 1840s discovered Mischief Night where young people in costumes would go out and destroy stuff (knock over outhouses, for example). They also brought the custom of trick-or-treating.

Even in the 1880s people were already talking about making the holiday less frightening so as not to upset the children. Now, a little over a century later we’re just trying to take away the fun and creativity. The only appropriate costumes anymore are generic store-bought ones that are guaranteed not to offend anyone – funny how most of them are licensed comic book or movie characters. (But the change isn’t for profit, it’s for the Chiiiiilllldddrrreeennnn!)

At least we can still dress our pets up in weird costumes.

cat lobster

charity and sylvia

First Same Sex Marriage in the U.S.?

1806. Or if not the first, one of the first. People didn’t generally talk about what they thought two spinsters, or two bachelors, who lived together did in the bedroom so there isn’t much in the historical records about it. This is a story of an exception to that, a marriage that was acknowledged by their neighbors and families.

While it was obviously a couple of hundred years before same sex marriage started becoming legal in some states, Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant met, fell in love, and spent the rest of their lives together.

The lived and worked together as tailors in Weybridge, VT. They shared a bed, combined their incomes, tithed to the church, led charitable organizations, and lived as any other married couple. They had enough business that they could take in other young women as apprentices for periods of time and teach them how to make men’s clothing.

While we might be surprised at how accepting the town was, for that time, it was also not that simple. The women had to work at being valuable members of the community. Along with their charitable activities, they were active members of their church (Sylvia also taught Sunday school), and helped their nieces and nephews pay for their educations.

They are buried together in Weybridge Hill Cemetery.

charity&sylvia burial

If you’re interested in reading more about Charity and Sylvia, there’s a book about them, Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachael Hope Cleves.


First Miracle Jesus Performed?

John 2:1 – 11 describes the first miracle:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Weddings were followed by feasts which could last for several days. It was a point of pride in Middle Eastern cultures then, as it is now, for the host to be able to provide plentiful food and wine for their guests. Running out of wine while the party is still going strong would have brought dishonor on the family even if it wasn’t due to their poor planning or lack of funds. Maybe they had enough before, but then Jesus decided to invite his disciple bros. Not a problem, a few more are always welcome.

Mary decides to state what is obviously obvious.* “They have no wine.” He might tease her a bit, but he’ll still provide the wine to make his mom happy. She’s confident that he can do something about the lack of wine. Does this mean she knows he can perform miracles? The Koran (3:49) says:

And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission; and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses. Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers.

But this story is originally from the Gospel of Thomas, written about 140 AD. It is not a part of the official Christian canon and earlier miracles would conflict with the statement that the miracle of the wine was “the first of his signs”.

*Dads tell dad jokes, moms state the obvious. Parents act like parents no matter the place or time. What would be a dad joke in Jesus’s case? The platypus?

field of poppies

Riot Act?

What is the riot act? Did your mother ever say, “If you come home past curfew, your father is going to read you the riot act!”? Or a friend said, “Remember that time we sneaked a goat into the teachers lounge? The principal sure read us the riot act.”?

Now it usually is used to mean a harsh scolding that enumerates all your current misdeeds. If you also get a list of everything you’ve done wrong in forever, that means you’ve married a wife with an excellent memory.

Where did this come from? Well, in 1714 the British Parliament passed a law that would allow the local constabulary to disperse a crowd of 12 or more people in order to prevent “tumults and riotous assemblies”. First they would be read a proclamation that they must break up the group, within an hour, on pain of death.

Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!

The riots were serious business. It was a clash of politics and religion – the Whigs vs. the Tories. At that time, the Whigs were Scottish Presbyterians and the Tories were Irish Catholics. The Whigs were wanted primacy of Parliament over the King and the Tories said, “That will only happen on opposite day, and that’s not today!” (That quotation of the Tories may not be exactly, completely, historically accurate. Feel free to disregard that and just assume they said something boring about wanting the King to be over Parliament.)

Have you noticed that the difference between Riot Act and Patriot Act is just one little “pat”? Probably the one they give you going through airport security.

If you want to read the text of the Riot Act, you may do so on Project Gutenberg. If that’s too tl;dr for you, you can listen to it on LibriVox.

You can find a lot more about Whigs and Tories on this George Mason University page, Historical Outline of Restoration and 18th Century British Literature.

Instead of posting a picture of a riot, I posted a field of flowers. You’re welcome.