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Thursday: Relative

Did this Melanesian get the blonde hair from the Denisovian side of the family?

There isn’t much time left before the big day!  Yep, before you know it, the Republicans will have full control of the House.  What, you thought I was talking about Christmas.

Here’s a frightening cautionary tale: The town of Pritchard in Alabama was warned for years that it wasn’t setting enough money aside to pay for pensions.  Right on schedule, the pension money ran out in 2009 and the town stopped sending checks to its retired public servants.  Some of them have since died destitute.  Others have had to file for bankruptcy.  This is what you get when you don’t fulfill your obligations to the employees who deferred some of their compensation for their retirement.  And Congress has no excuse in the future to say, “Oh, we didn’t know.  who could have predicted that not raising taxes on the wealthy would result in a shortfall in Social Security when we decided to cut everyone a 2% break on their payroll taxes in 2010?”  From the NYTimes article on Pritchard:

It is not just the pensioners who suffer when a pension fund runs dry. If a city tried to follow the law and pay its pensioners with money from its annual operating budget, it would probably have to adopt large tax increases, or make huge service cuts, to come up with the money.

We all know what’s coming because this president and his cowardly Congressional Democrats didn’t have the balls to challenge Republicans when they had a chance.  Instead of throwing the drowning Republicans an anchor, they’ve thrown them a cruise ship and their own private island.  Thanks for the coal, Dems.

Speaking of Christmas, you’ll have to put down another place setting for the newest relative on the evolutionary family tree. It turns out that one of our long lost cousins, the Denisovians, was discovered in a cave in Siberia. We’re only distantly related.  The Denisovians left traces of their presence in the Melanesians of the South Pacific and New Guinea where as much as 4% of their DNA can still be found among the island populations.  The Denisovians are from the Neanderthal side of the family.  Really, they’re more like in-laws.  Fascinating.  We’ll have to see what those 4% residual genes are good for.

Ross Douthat, true believer is feeling repressed:

The first is “American Grace,” co-written by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of “Bowling Alone” fame) and Notre Dame’s David Campbell, which examines the role that religion plays in binding up the nation’s social fabric. Over all, they argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides. Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities. Yet at the same time, thanks to Americans’ ever-increasing tolerance, we’ve been spared the kind of sectarian conflict that often accompanies religious zeal.

But for Christians, this sunny story has a dark side. Religious faith looks more socially beneficial to America than ever, but the institutional Christianity that’s historically generated most of those benefits seems to be gradually losing its appeal.

{{Snort!}}  Yes, all that sunshine must be positively blinding to the millions of child brides around the world who are benefitting from our Christian brothers who are withholding aid because they may get information about abortion in their health care services.  Peace on earth, good will to men!

By the way, Ross, that altruistic spirit of churchgoers is beaten to a pulp by the Atheists on the Kiva site where the non-believers out raise the Christians by a HUGE margin.  So, you don’t have to go to church to feel empathy for your fellow man or woman.  In fact, it looks like not going to church may lead to a more generous spirit.  But I guess if you have a column in the NYTimes, you can say whatever you like.  It doesn’t have to be true.

Ross continues:

Thanks in part to this bunker mentality, American Christianity has become what Hunter calls a “weak culture” — one that mobilizes but doesn’t convert, alienates rather than seduces, and looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future. In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the “peripheral areas” of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight.

Is he serious???  Where was Ross when Catholic bishops forced American women into Catholicism during last year’s healthcare reform debate?  If that wasn’t the single most successful example of conversion, I don’t know what was.

But it turns out that Ross is partially right.  The number of people rejecting creationism is creeping up.  It must give the fundagelical holdouts the willies.  Soon, in maybe a century or so, we Darwinists will win out and those true believers will be forced to add the Denisovians to their prayer lists.  Bwahahahahah!!!

Actually, if anyone has a right to feel repressed at Christmas time, it’s not the Christians.  It’s people like me.  My ancestors in the British Isles looked forward to the solstices to mark the passage of time and to honor their dead.  To my people 6000 years ago, the winter solstice must have been a frightening thing.  The sun goes south, the days shorten, the nights lengthen, it’s cold, nothing grows.  Oh, sure, the sun always comes back but what if it doesn’t this time?  The return of the sun on the days following solstice must have been a joyous occasion marked with feasting on the past harvest, lighting of fires and gathering up as much greenery as possible.  It was a simple time back then.  No crass commercialism.  No materialism.  And then the Christians co-opt Saturnalia and force everyone to go to church.  They’ve got some nerve.

If the Christians were really playing Christmas straight, they wouldn’t be celebrating in December.  We know that the New Testament writers fudged the nativity story to make the dates fit.  Jesus wasn’t born in December.  And from what I’ve read, he probably wasn’t crucified on Easter either.  All that Hosanna stuff and palm waving when Jesus rode to Jerusalem on the donkey was associated with Sukkot, a Jewish holiday celebrated in autumn.  So, why don’t the Christians come clean about Christmas?  They don’t have any special claim to the dates.  Late December is recognized by many faiths from around the world going back millenia.  It’s a time to gather together, keep warm, enjoy the glow of the fire, taste the fullness of fat on your tongue, the last you might have for months to come, and to await the return of the warmth of the sun on the land and in ourselves.

Jesus would approve.