There is a small minority, for example, that believes that bad weather comes from bad thoughts. This is a rather mystical approach to the question, for it implies that thoughts can be translated directly into events in the physical world. According to them, when you think a dark or pessimistic thought, it produces a cloud in the sky. If enough people are thinking gloomy thoughts at once, then rain will begin to fall. That is the reason for all the startling shifts in the weather, they claim, and the reason why no one has been able to give a scientific explanation of our bizarre climate. Their solution is to maintain a steadfast cheerfulness, no matter how dismal the conditions around them. No frowns, no deep sighs, no tears. These people are known as the Smilers, and no sect in the city is more innocent or childlike. If a majority of the population could be converted to their beliefs, they are convinced the weather would at last begin to stabilize and that life would then improve. They are therefore always proselytizing, continually looking for new adherents, but the mildness of the manner they have imposed on themselves makes them feeble persuaders. They rarely succeed in winning anyone over, and consequently their ideas have never been put to the test-for without a great number of believers, there will not be enough good thoughts to make a difference. But this lack of proof only makes them more stubborn in their faith. (…)

By contrast, there is another group called the Crawlers. These people believe that conditions will go on worsening until we demonstrate-in a utterly persuasive manner-how ashamed we are of how we lived in the past. their solution is to prostrate themselves on the ground and refuse to stand up until some sign is given to them that their penance has been deemed sufficient. what this sign is supposed to be is the subject of long theoretical debates. Some say a month of rain, others say a month of fair weather, and still others say they will not know until it is revealed to them in their hearts. There are two principal factions in this sect-the Dogs and the Snakes. The first contend that crawling on hands and knees shows adequate contrition, whereas the second hold that nothing short of moving on one’s belly is good enough. Bloody fights often break out between the two groups-each vying for control of the other-but neither faction has gained much of a following, and by now I believe the sect is on the verge of dying out. (…)

If you happen to get wet in the rain, you’re unlucky, and that’s all there is to it. If you happen to stay dry, then so much the better. But it has nothing to do with your attitudes or your beliefs. The rain make no distinctions. At one time or another, it falls on everyone, and when it falls, everyone is equal to everyone else- no one better, no one worse, everyone equal and the same.

Paul Auster, “In the Country of Last Things.”


Sin discutir ahora cuáles son los fundamentos metafísicos, ya de la religión, ya de una religión en especial, basta con que, comprobada como está por los sociólogos la necesidad humana del fenómeno religioso para disciplina y orientación de las sociedades, consignemos, a modo de corolario, que más disciplinará y orientará a las sociedades aquella religión que más cerca esté de la Naturaleza. Esa religión, por estar más cerca de la Naturaleza, más directamente puede actuar sobre los hombres, más les puede influir en el sentido de que no se desvíen de las leyes naturales que fundamentalmente rigen a la vida humana, porque a toda vida más pueden estimular y dirigir las actividades del espíritu humano, porque menos traba a las otras, dejando por ello más libres a éstas.

Sentado esto, puede demostrarse con facilidad que la religión llamada pagana es la más natural de todas.

Se apoya esta demostración fácil en tres razonamientos sencillos.

La religión pagana es politeísta. Ahora bien, la naturaleza es plural. La naturaleza, naturalmente, no se nos aparece como un conjunto, sino como “muchas cosas”. No podemos afirmar positivamente, sin el auxilio de un raciocinio mediador, sin la intervención de la inteligencia en la experiencia directa, que exista, de verdad, un conjunto llamado Universo, que haya una unidad, una cosa que sea una, designable por naturaleza. La realidad, para nosotros, se nos aparece directamente plural. El hecho de que refiramos todas nuestras sensaciones a nuestra conciencia individual es el que impone una unificación falsa (experimentalmente falsa) a la pluralidad con que nos manifiestan las cosas. Ahora bien, la religión se nos manifiesta, se nos presenta como realidad exterior. Debe por lo tanto responder a lo distintivo fundamental de la realidad exterior. Este distintivo es la pluralidad de las cosas. La pluralidad de dioses, en consecuencia, es el primer distintivo emblemático de una religión que sea natural.

La religión pagana es humana. Los actos de los dioses paganos son actos de los hombres magnificados; son del mismo género, pero a escala mayor, a escala divina. Los dioses no se salen de la humanidad rechazándola, sino excediéndola, como los semidioses. La naturaleza divina, para el pagano, no es antihumana al mismo tiempo que sobrehumana: es simplemente sobrehumana. Así, sobre estar de acuerdo con la naturaleza en cuanto puro mundo exterior, la religión pagana está de acuerdo con la naturaleza en cuanto humanidad.

Finalmente, la religión pagana es política. Es decir, es parte de la vida de la ciudad o del estado, no tiene por fin un universalismo. No trata de imponerse a otros pueblos, sino de recibir de ellos. Está, así, de acuerdo con el principio esencial de la civilización que es la síntesis, en una nación, de todas las posibles influencias de todas las demás naciones-criterio del que sólo se apartan los criterios estrechamente nacionalistas, que son el provincianismo de la cultura, y los criterios imperialistas, que pertenecen a la decadencia-. Nunca se ha visto a una nación fuerte ser conservadora, ni a una nación sana ser imperialista. Quiere imponerse quien no puede ya transformase. Quiere dar quien no puede recibir. Pero quien no puede transformarse se ha paralizado en verdad; y quien no puede recibir se ha paralizado también.

En consecuencia, la religión pagana se halla en armonía con los tres puntos naturales en que incide la humanidad: con la propia esencia experimental de la naturaleza entera, con la propia esencia de la naturaleza humana y con la propia esencia de la naturaleza humana en marcha (en marcha social), es decir, de la naturaleza humana civilizada, es decir, de la civilización.

Fernando Pessoa, El regreso de los dioses.

Cuestión de fe.

The talking back started soon after I’d read his book Hawk-Occupation: Skateboarder. I sort of knew what he sounded like then, and some of the things he’d say. To be honest, I sort of knew all the things he’d say when he talked to me, because they came out of his book. (…)

After a while, I started talking to Tony Hawk about other things-about school, Mum, Alicia, whatever, and I found that she had something to say about those things too. His words still came from his book, but the book is about his life, not just skating, so not everything he says is about sacktaps and shove-its. (…)

Not everything Tony Hawk said was that helpful, to tell the truth, but it wasn’t his fault. If there was nothing in the book that was exactly right, then I had to make some of the sentences fit as best I could. And the amazing thing was that, once you made them fit, they always made sense if you thought about what he said hard enough.

Nick Hornby, Slam.

Persecución religiosa.

‘We are hounded on all sides, but they can’t deal with us,’ the Archbishop of Pamplona, Fernando Sebastián told a congress of Catholic lay people held in Madrid in 2004. ‘We are persecuted, but we shall never be annihilated.’

This is rethorical nonsense. For a start, the Church- diminished thought it may be-is a very large institution and one with the means to exert a huge influence on what Spaniards think. The Bishop’s Conference owns a 50 per cent stake in one of the country’s main radio networks, Cadena Cope, and one Spanish children in every seven goes to a school owned by a religious order or association. Most importantly of all, perhaps, the Church oversees religious education in all of Spain’s schools, including even those it does not own.

As a result of its influences, Spanish society is shot through with instinctively Catholic attitudes, just as the Spanish language us crammed with phrases drawn from Catholic practice and dogma. When, for example, a Spaniard wants to convey the idea that something or somebody is reliable, trustworthy, ‘OK’ in the widest sense, he or she will say that that person or thing ‘va a misa‘ (‘goes to Mass’). When some terrible thing like multiple sclerosis or nuclear war is mentioned in conversation, in circumstances where and English-speaker might say, ‘It doesn’t bear thinking about’, a Spaniard-even an ostensibly irreligious one-will often say, ‘Que Dios noso coja confesados‘ )’Let’s hope God catches us confessed’). And wheb the first baby to be conceived through in vitro fertilization was born, that eminently secular periodical Cambio 16 headlined its report with the words ‘Born without Original Sin’.

Far from being persecuted, the Church is merely starting to get a measure of normal treatment after centuries of being showered with privileges. As the reconquista pushed forward the limits of Christian Spain, the Church acquired inmense tracts of land, especially in the southern half of the peninsula. No sooner were the confiscated in the 1830s than it was felt that the state had to make amends. In a pact, or Concordat, drawn between Madrid and the Vatican in 1851, the government undertook by way of indemnity to pay the clergy’s salaries and meet the cost of administering the sacraments. This extraordinary commitment was honoured by every government until 1931, when it was renounced by the authors of the Republican constitution. But two years later, when a conservative government came to power, the subsidy was resumed.

Franco not only continued to pay it, he also provided government money to rebuilt churches damaged or destroyed in the civil war and passed a series of measures bringing the law of Spain into line with the teachings of the Church. Divorce, which has been legal under the Republic, was abolished; the sale (but not, for some reasons, the manufacture) of contraceptives was banned, and the Roman Catholic religious instructions was made compulsory in public as well as private education at every level.

In return the Vatican granted Franco something that Spanish rulers had been seeking for centuries: effective control over the appointment of bishops. Cooperation between the Church and the regime became even closer after the end of the Second World War when Franco needed to turn a non-fascist face to the world. Several prominent Catholic laymen were included in the cabinet and one of them, Alberto Martín Artajo, succeeded in negotiating a new Concordant in Rome.

Signed in 1953, it ended the diplomatic isolation to which Spain had been subjected ever since the Allied victory, Franco was happy to make whatever concessions were necessary to clinch it. The Church was exempted from taxation and offered grants with which to construct churches and other religious buildings. It acquired the right to ask for material it found offensive to be withdrawn from sale, yet in owns publications were freed from censorship. Canonical marriage was recognized as the only valid from for Catholics. The Church was given the opportunity to found universities, run radio stations and own newspapers and magazines. The police were forbidden to enter churches except in cases of ‘urgency necessity’. The clergy could not be charged with criminal offences except with the permission of their diocesan bishop (in the case of priest) or the Holy See itself (in the case of bishops).


In the meantime, preparations had been made for a revision of the Concordat. In 1976, King Juan Carlos had unilaterally renounced the privilege of being able to name Spain’s bishops and in August of that year an agreement was signed formally restoring to the Church the power to appoint its own leaders in Spain. In December 1979 a partial revision of the Concordat appeared to prepare the ground for a financial separation between Church and state. Referring to the state’s lengthy atonement for the confiscations of the previous century, it was agreed that ‘the state can neither ignore nor prolong indefinitely juridical obligations acquired in the past’. So, tacitly acknowledging that the Church was incapable of going it alone overnight, the agreement proposed a transitional period of six years divided into two three-years stages. During stage one, the government would continue to pay the usual subsidy. But during stage two there would be a new system of finance. Taxpayers would be able to state on their returns whether they wished a small percentage of their taxes to go to the Church and the government would then hand over the resulting sum to the bishops. The press immediately dubbed it the impuesto religioso (religious tax), but this was a rather inaccurate label since it was never conceived of as a separate or additional charge. Whatever the individual taxpayer decided would make no difference to the size of his or her tax bill.

And not only that. Under the revised Concordat, the state undertook to ensure that during this second phase of the transition to self-financing the Church would get ‘resources of similar quantity’ to those it was already receiving. However few or many taxpayers expressed a desire to help the Church, therefore, it would make no difference to what it obtained from the state.


In fact, the arrangements in the Concordat have been only partially, and belatedly, implemented. Stage one lasted, not for three years, but for nine. It was not until 1988 that taxpayers were asked to decide whether they wanted a share of their contribution to be given to the Church or spent on ‘objectives of social interest’.


If Roman Catholicism is in poor shape in Spain then it is certainly not because the Church is in some way being hamstrung by politicians, but because it is failing to offer people a form of religion with which they wish to associate.
John Hooper, The New Spaniards.

Dios belicoso.

Dios de las venganzas, Yahveh,
Dios de las venganzas, manifiéstate.
Levántate, el que gobiernas en la
da su merecido a los soberbios.

¿Hasta cuándo los impíos, oh Señor,
hasta cuándo los impíos triunfarán?
Van, con lenguas arrogantes, provocando
y jactándose todos los fautores de
A tu pueblo, Señor, están pisando,
humillando tu heredad.
Asesinan viuda y extranjero
y al huérfano dan muerte,
diciéndose: “Yahveh no lo verá,
el Dios de Jacob no se da cuenta”(…)
Él conoce los planes de los hombres,
que en verdad son vanidad (…)

Salmo 94.

Es curiosa la forma selectiva con la que las religiones leen sus propios textos sagrados.

In God we trust (el amigo invisible y el del dólar)

The God of Victory.

There is nothing to mark Osteen’s Lakewood Church, which I visited in the summer of 2008, as sanctified territory-no crosses, no stained glass windows, no images of Jesus. From my hotel room window, just across a six-lane highway from the church, it’s a squat, warehouselike structure completely at home among the high-rise office buildings surrounding it. In fact, it used to be the Compaq Center, home of the Houston Rockets, until Osteen acquired it in 1999 and transormed the interior into a 16,000-seat megachurch. Entering through and underground parking lot, I arrive in a cheery child-area decorated with cartoon figures and lacking only popcorn to complete the resemblance to a suburban multiplex theatre. Even the sanctuary, the former basketball court, carries on this godless way. Instead of an altar, there is a stage featuring a rotating globe and flanked by artificial rocks enlivened with streams or what appears, at least, to be flowing water. I can find nothing suggestive of Christianity until I ascend to the second-floor bookstore- a sort of denatures and heavily censored version of Barnes and Noble, prominently displaying Joel Osteen’s works, along with scores of products like scented candles and dinnerware embossed with scriptural quotes. Here, at last, are the crosses-large ones for wall hanging and discreet ones on vases, key chains, and mugs or stitched into ties and argyll socks.

The Osteens- Joel and his copastor and wife, Victoria- when they step forth on the stage for Sunday service to a standing ovation, are an attractive couple in their forties, but Joel is not quite the “walking advertisement for the success creed” I have read him described as. He is shorter than she is, although on his book cover he appears at least two inches taller; his suit seems too large; and, what is also not evident in the book jacket photos, his curly, heavily gelled black hair has been styled into a definite mullet. She wears a ruffled white blouse with a black vest and slacks that do not quite mesh together at the waist, leaving a distracting white gap. In one way, the two of them seem perfectly matched, or at least symmetrical: his mouth is locked into the inverted triangle of his trademark smile, while her heavy dark brows stamp her face with angry tension, even when the mouth is smiling.

The production values are more sophisticated than the pastors themselves. Live music, extremely loud Christian rock devoid of any remotely African-derived beat, alternates with short burst of speech in a carefully choreographed pattern. Joel, Victoria, or a senior pastor speaks for three to five minutes-their faces hugely amplified on the three large video screens above and lead singers move to center stage. All the white lights on the ceiling change color, dim and brighten, and occasionally flash, strobelike, to the beat. It’s not stand-up-boogie music, but most of the congregation at least stands, sways, and raises an arm or two during the musical interludes, perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves on the video screens as the cameras pan the audience. “Disney”, mutters the friend who has accompanied me, the wife of a local Baptist minister. But this is just a taping, and the twelve thousand or so of us in the sanctuary (the seats do not fill at either Sunday morning service) are only a studio audience. The real show, and edited version of what we are watching, will reach about seven million television viewers.

Inadvertently, I have come on a Sunday of immense importance to the Osteens, one of the greatest turning points, they aver, in their lives. In the preceding week, a court had dismissed charges against Victoria for assaulting and injuring a flight attendant. The incident occurred in 2005, when they boarded the first-class cabin of a flight bound for Vail, the ski resort, only to leave-or be thrown off-the plane after Victoria raised a fuss over a small “stain” or “spill” on the armrest of her seat. She demanded that the flight attendant remove the stain immediately, and when the flight attendant refused because she was busy helping other passengers board, Victoria insisted, allegedly attempting to enter the cockpit and complain to the pilots. Victoria ended up paying a $3,000 fine imposed by the FAA, and the matter would have ended there if the recalcitrant flight attendant had not brought suit demanding 10 per cent of Victoria Osteen’s net worth in compensation for alleged injuries, including haemorrhoids and a “loss of faith” due to her mistreatment by a leading evangelist.

My friend’s husband, the Baptist minister, had predicted when we had coffee on Saturday that the Osteen’s Sunday service would make no mention of the whole ugly business. Why would they want to revive the image of Victoria behaving, as another attendant on the plane has testified, like a “combative diva”? He was wrong. Both Sunday services are given over Victoria’s “victory” in court. When Joel steps forth at the beginning of the service, he covers his face with hands, peekaboo fashion, for several seconds, and when he removes them his eyes are red and his smile is in temporary remission. He then takes a large white handkerchief from his pocket and rubs his eyes vigorously, although no tears are visible on his magnified video image. “It’s not just a victory for us”, he announces. “It’s a victory for God’s kingdom,” hence the entire service will be a “celebration.” As the service proceeds, he tells us that he spent his time at the trial writing out scriptural quotes and shows us the yellow legal pad he used. He shares a long, muddled anecdote about how he had ended up wearing the suit he intended to testify in although he hadn’t known he was going to testify on that particular day, because he couldn’t “find another suit”, leaving us to think that he owns no more than two. More ominously, he tells us that God “is against those who are against us.”

When Victoria takes center stage, she’s a triunphant as David doing his victory dance though the streets of Jerusalem, even briefly jumping up and down in joy. The “situation”, as she calls it, was difficult and humiliating, but “I placed a banner of victory over my head”-figuratively, I assume, and not as an actual scarf. Oddly, there are no lessons learned, no humility acquired though adversity, not even any conventional expression of gratitude to her husband for standing by her. (…)

But for Victoria, the only takeaways are that “we can’t be bogged down by circumstances” and “don’t lick your wounds,” which echo Joel’s constant exhortation to be “a victor, not a victim.” In fact, sometime in the interval since the incident, God had revealed that he wanted her to write a book, and-good news!-it will be coming out in October, followed by a children’s book a few months later(…)

So the seeker who embraces positive theology finds him-or herself in a seamless, self-enclosed world, stretching from workplace to mall to corporate-style church. Everywhere, he or she hears the same message-that you can have all that stuff in the mall, as well as the beautiful house and car, if only you believe that you can. But always, in a hissed undertone, there is the darker message that if you don’t have all that you want, if you feel sick, discouraged, or defeated, you have only yourself to blame. Positive theology ratifies and completes a world without beauty, transcendence, or mercy.

Smile or Die, Barbara Ehrenreich.

Sobre los milagros.

MILAGRO (Manual de instrucciones)

Entre la realidad virtual y el solipsismo
hay un espacio neutro
que suelen frecuentar los muy piadosos.

Son los mismos que informan cada día
de la proximidad del gran portento.
Incluso en épocas de crisis mortuorias,
cuando hasta los fuegos fatuos escasean,
tienden a simular dos realidades
y hacerlas doblemente imaginarias.

Así van ensamblándose las piezas
con que suelen amarrarse los milagros.

José Manuel Caballero Bonald.

¿Víctimas o verdugos?… o sobre Israel.

Time out for a demonstration of power without compassion.

I am reminded of the classic demonstration by an elementary school teacher, Jane Elliott, who taught her students the nature of prejuice and discrimination by arbitrarily relating the eye color of children in her classroom to high or low status. When those with blue eyes were associated with privilege, they readily assumed a dominant role over their brown-eyed peers, even abusing them verbally and physically. Moreover, their newly acquired status spilled over to enhance their cognitive functioning. When they were on top, the blue-eyes improved their daily math and spelling perfomances (statistically significant, as I document with Elliott’s original class data). Just as dramatically, test performance of the “inferior” brown-eyed children deteriorated.

However, the most brilliant aspect of her classroom demonstration with these third-grade schoolchildren from Riceville, Iowa, was the status reversal the teacher generated the next day. Mrs. Elliott told the class she had erred. In fact, the opposite was true, she said; brown eyes were better than blue eyes! Here was the chance for the brown- eyed children, who had experienced the negative impact of being discriminated against, to show compassion now that they were on top of the heap. The new test scores reversed the superior perfomance of the haves and diminished the perfomance of the have-nots. But what about the lesson of compassion? Did the newly elevated brown- eyes understand the pain of the underdog, of those less fortunate, of those in a position of inferiority that they had personally experienced one brief day earlier?

There was no carrryover at all! The brown- eyes gave what they got. They dominated, they discriminated, and they abused their former blue-eyed abusers. Similarly, history is filled with accounts showing that many of those escaping religious persecutions show intolerance of people of other religions once they are safe and secure in their new power domain.

Philip Zimbardo, “The Lucifer effect“.