Jeffrey Weiss

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COMMENTARY: Jamie Coots' Snake Theology Was Not that Crazy

by Jeffrey Weiss 02-18-2014

Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, Ky. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel / RNS

The death of Jamie Coots could be read as just another bit of evidence that the universe doesn’t much care what you believe. Physics, biology, geology — all perk along with or without our assent.

Coots may have been the most famous of America’s snake-handling Pentecostal preachers. He was featured last year in a reality show called Snake Salvation. He died after being bitten by a rattlesnake during the regular Saturday service.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, this was the ninth time he’d been bitten.

The Lego Movie's Got Religion

by Jeffrey Weiss 02-12-2014

“The Lego Movie” poster courtesy of © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Via RNS

Legos got religion? Who knew?

The Lego Movie, well-reviewed and making money by the brickyard, builds its story upon religious and moral themes. They don’t all snap together securely, but that’s in keeping with the rest of the film.

Spoiler alert: I’ll give away nothing that you wouldn’t get from the reviews. There’s a late plot twist, however, that affects everything we thought we understood about the story. Anybody who reveals that twist, at least in the first few weeks, deserves to be extruded in molten plastic. I’ll tip as little as possible.

Right off the bat: It’s as good as the reviews say. The story takes elements from The MatrixHarry PotterKung Fu PandaLord of the Rings, the good Star Wars movies, Toy Story 2 and other recent cultural touchstones and blends them into plot slurry. Which is not all that surprising for a modern kids’ movie.

An Abyss of Historical Ignorance

by Jeffrey Weiss 01-31-2014

A boy cleans the street after Kristallnacht in November 1938. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain. Via RNS

Demonstrating that a truly ill wind blows no good, The Wall Street Journal proved this week that Holocaust education programs deserve society’s continued support.

The evidence started with a letter to the editor from venture capitalist Tom Perkins under the headline “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” He wrote: “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’”

A few days later, the editorial board of the Journal backed Perkins for what may have been the most-read letter to the editor in the paper’s history.

‘Gravity’ and the Unanswered Questions of Unbelief

by Jeffrey Weiss 10-07-2013
Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in  'Gravity.' Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in 'Gravity.' Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Reviews of the new hit movie Gravity note that it’s an unusually fine science fiction film. What they don’t mention is that the main character represents an increasingly common theme in American religion: The spiritual “none of the above.”

Yes, the special effects are splendid. And I’ll take the word of astronauts who say the visuals capture amazingly well what it’s like to work in the microgravity of near-Earth orbit.

But there are moments where spiritual and philosophical themes take center stage.

(Spoiler alert: I’ll give no more away than I’ve seen in most reviews, but if you really want to know nothing about the movie, see it first.)

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Burning Qurans

by Jeffrey Weiss 09-09-2013
Screenshot from Mike Ghouse's video.

Screenshot from Mike Ghouse's video.

Three years ago, a nobody from nowhere got famous for doing something unpleasant.

The self-ordained pastor of an unknown Florida church threatened to burn a Quran. And then he did it. And then others with their own intentions picked up the story and used it to inflame Muslims in several nations.

The result: At least 50 people were killed, including seven United Nations employees.

Now that nobody is back, threatening to burn 3,000 Qurans on Wednesday as a “memorial” to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

You may have noticed I’ve not named the man. That’s not an accident. Publicity is what he wants and I had decided that my small protest against him would be to not contribute to it. While I defend his legal right to do this, nobody needs to add to his spotlight.

And then I heard about a planned counterdemonstration by a Muslim interfaith activist, Mike Ghouse, who’s been plugging away at his cause for years. This year he’s bringing his 10th annual “Unity Day USA” to the same Florida town where the pastor has threatened to burn the Qurans.

Steve Jobs: Prophet of a New Religion

by Jeffrey Weiss 08-21-2013
Steve Jobs The Economist cover, via Bill So / Flickr.com

Steve Jobs The Economist cover, via Bill So / Flickr.com

The new movie about Steve Jobs is short on anything explicitly religious. Like its main character, however, it’s got a thread of transcendence running through it.

The truth about Jobs and religion may be that, in this arena as in others, he was ahead of the cutting edge.

The film isn’t making the purists happy, in part because it takes too many liberties with history. But it’s not a documentary. I’ll go against many of the reviews and say that Ashton Kutcher does a pretty good job at representing the personality found in Jobs’ speeches and in what has been written about Jobs — particularly in the massive authorized biography by Walter Isaacson.

One quote in that book, from one of Jobs’ old girlfriends, pretty much captures the character in the film: “He was an enlightened being who was cruel,” she told Isaacson. “That’s a strange combination.”

Pope Francis: the Improbable Pop Culture Icon

by Jeffrey Weiss 08-07-2013
Cardinals stand nearby as Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass of World Yout

Cardinals stand nearby as Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. Photo via RNS.

In the wake of Pope Francis’ triumphant visit to Brazil, writers for the rival National Catholic Register and National Catholic Reporter were left debating whether he’s “a gift to the church” or a “revolutionary.”

The Italian edition of Vanity Fair has named him Man of the Year. The Washington Post Wonkblog, of all places, quotes him in a post on forgiveness. Ross Douthat in The New York Times nods approvingly at a piece in The Telegraph that says Francis has “decontaminated the Catholic brand.”

And so on and so on.

Not bad for four months on the job. 

A History of Discrimination Earns President Obama a Right to Speak

by Jeffrey Weiss 07-22-2013
RNS photo by Pete Souza/The White House.

President Obama tours the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, RNS photo by Pete Souza/The White House.

 I first learned about President Obama’s comments about racism and the Trayvon Martin case last week when a Facebook friend posted a link with this comment:

“Full text of the American President’s divisive and racist remarks today. He moves smoothly into his new role as race-baiter in chief.”

My friend’s anger was matched by many others from PowerLine to Breitbart. But what I read seems to me as controversial as tomorrow’s sunrise and incendiary as wet newspaper.

Let me try an analogy.

Imagine that Joe Lieberman had been elected our first Jewish president. And that in a moment of crisis, he felt compelled to explain that some reaction to even the hint of anti-Semitism is partly explained by the Jewish cultural memory of the Holocaust. And he included personal anecdotes about growing up Jewish in America.

Would he be accused of being divisive and guilty of whatever the Jewish equivalent of “race-baiting” might be?

REVIEW: ‘The Lone Ranger’ Remake Thrashes Christianity

by Jeffrey Weiss 07-09-2013
Photo courtesy RNS/disney.com.

Lone Ranger movie. Photo courtesy RNS/disney.com.

Producers of the latest reboot of the Superman franchise famously marketed the movie to Christian audiences. Makers of the new Lone Ranger movie, not so much.

There’s a reason for that. If Man of Steel panders to Christians, in The Lone Ranger, Christians are portrayed as unattractive, ineffectual, hateful or flat-out hypocritically evil.

Like so much in this mess of a movie, it’s an ingredient that doesn’t make a ton of sense.

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