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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Those Mormons and their polytheism

Check out this article from The Wild Hunt--interesting, nay? I've never personally encountered anyone who considered the LDS religion to be a polytheistic (and therefore "pagan" and "non-Christian") one, but it comes up occasionally in articles that I read, and always, without fail, I am taken aback. Of course it never occurred to me while I was in the church to wonder if my religion was a polytheistic one, and once I left, I had other things on my mind. But now I have all the time in the world to consider such things! 

So. Are Mormons polytheists? This is not really the kind of thing that I think matters, but lots of other people do. Generally I feel like if Christ figures into your belief system as a personal and/or universal savior, you are probably a Christian, and by this measuring stick, the LDS church is a Christian one. I have more than once explained this to people, but it didn't occur to me until just now to wonder whether those people were implying that Mormons were pagans when they said that they didn't think the church was a Christian institution. Maybe they were! Maybe everyone thinks Mormons are pagans and I'm just really oblivious! I think, being in the church and worshiping as a Mormon, it doesn't cross most members' minds that they might be polytheists. But then, if it does, I also think it doesn't cross their minds that this automatically makes them not Christian.

The problem for me with this whole conversation is that there is apparently one very narrow definition of Christianity. You could argue, as some do, that Catholics are pagans and polytheists for their veneration of Mary and the various saints. The possibility of Heavenly Mother adds to the perception of the LDS as polytheists (if you know enough about the church to know about possible Heavenly Mothers). Indeed there is a good bit about Mormonism and the history of the LDS church that is quite pagan--Joseph Smith utilized what amounts to fortune-telling and divination methods (and one of his and following prophets' titles is "Seer"); temple architecture and ceremonies take many aspects from Freemasonry, with its mysterious origins and pan-religious membership, and the mere existence of sacred (or secret) temple rituals is somewhat analogous to mystery cults; and an entire new mythology is found in the Book of Mormon. Interestingly enough, Lorenzo Snow's couplet "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be" is very close in spirit to the popular pagan adage "as above, so below," generally attributed to Hermes Trismegistus but said by nearly ever major figure in modern Western paganism at some point. Imagine that! We're all cribbing from the same sources, folks. These are not small things. They certainly make the LDS church a peculiar one. But are they enough to cancel out Christ as the centerpiece of the religion?

Not for me. I suppose the commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" is a pretty clear one (then again, so is "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," and pretty much ONLY Mormons stick to that one), but then you get into all sorts of arguments about who is speaking: it is God the Father? Is it Jehovah-who-will-be-Christ? Does it matter? If Christ is the same figure as God the Father and God the Holy Ghost, why are they demarcated at all? For Mormons, such questions are even stickier, since LDS dogma indicates that the members of the Godhead are distinct figures, that Jehovah of the Old Testament is Christ, not God the Father, and that God the Father was once a physical human man and is the literal as well as spiritual father of humanity. But does that make Mormons true polytheists? I say ye nay, and here's why--henotheists acknowledge the existence of more than one deity, and active polytheists worship more than one god figure. The LDS church does neither and wouldn't dream of it; you aren't even supposed to be praying to Heavenly Mother in the privacy of your own bedroom. Prayers are without fail addressed to God as "Heavenly Father," and ordinances such as baptism are carried out "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" much as other Christian churches' rites are. Practically and functionally speaking, there's no polytheism to see here. Theologically speaking...it's a thicket, man. If you consider the LDS doctrine that all humans who reach the celestial kingdom will eventually become deified, well, that's a very un-Christian idea both in concept and in practice--as far as I know--to think that there are a myriad other worlds with their own Heavenly Parents and Saviors. Mormon theology's greatest sin may be that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Ultimately, for me, the church's emphasis on Christ as the Savior is enough to make it a Christian institution. That isn't the case for everyone, but I very much abhor the idea that Christians must be monotheists. Basically, to Christians who are concerned that voting for Romney means they won't be voting for a "Christian" I would say: have no fear, he and his running mate share all your bigotries.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The case for Wonder Woman's virginity

Now. I don't mean that Wonder Woman has never had sex or should never have sex. But I do think there's something to be said for using a different definition of "virgin" when considering the Amazon, a la Marilyn Frye. In this meaning, a woman may have sexual relations but, if unmarried or unpartnered, is considered a virgin, she who is without fetters, not under anyone's control: the willful virgin.

(she dates herself...)

This is the light in which I prefer to read Wonder Woman, for several reasons. First, this definition allows for same-sex relationships, which is useful for people who read Diana as a bisexual or lesbian woman (as I do). Furthermore, it allows for a woman having multiple sexual partners or no sexual partners, according to her lights. I like this because I view Wonder Woman as loving both men and women--but chiefly women--and also as having no particular interest in long-term relationships. Part of the reason that I find the new Superman/Wonder Woman As Official DC Power Couple so distasteful is that I don't see much in Wonder Woman's persona that is interested in being with one person. Her love goes elsewhere; it can be directed to a child in need of help or whole countries. She loves everyone, as a goddess loves. And like a goddess, she might take a consort for some time, or she might not. 

(she's authoritative...)

Taking her original origin (I am also serenely ignoring her new origin), Diana is gifted by the Greek deities to be "as beautiful as Aphrodite, as wise as Athena, as strong as Hercules, and as swift as Hermes," as well as receiving other blessings from deities such as Demeter and Hestia. All told, these gifts combined with the love and will of the Amazons create a demigoddess who is very similar in many ways to the goddess Artemis, and even shares her Roman counterpart's name, with Artemis and Diana being two of the most well-known virgin goddesses. Pre-Olympian stories indicate that Artemis occasionally loved humans; the stories of Orion, Endymion (where Artemis and Selene are considered to be two parts of a tripartite figure), and possibly Actaeon fit into this scheme, as do the numerous nymphs and maidens Artemis had about her as companions and supernatural/divine versions of Sappho's colony on Lesbos. The pre-Olympian Artemis is the quintessential willful virgin, and as her avatar on Earth, Wonder Woman is too. Both are active, powerful, complex female figures whom misguided souls attempt to cram into too-small boxes.

(...but always diplomatic, even in war)

Seeing Diana placed in a heterosexual long-term relationship grates. Romantic relationships are not the be-all end-all of female characters; heterosexual sex is not the only sex; sex and relationships don't have to go hand in hand. And let me be frank: I ship my lady with a whole slew of people, from Batman to older versions of Dick Grayson, from Batwoman to Power Girl. It's very easy for me to imagine her in the throes of passion--she isn't sexless--but my reading of her personality and her life and her mission is that she won't be distracted for long. She won't give in to relaxation and pleasure when there's work to be done. And she won't tie herself to another person, because she belongs to the people and the world first. Most importantly, she belongs to herself.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Republicans in the Big Guava

This Salon article is both deeply depressing and extremely accurate. As you all probably know, the Republican National Convention is taking place in my fair former city, Tampa, starting this weekend. When this was first announced, I shuddered in horror and thanked my lucky stars that I would already be gone when it came time. It would even worse than when we hosted the Super Bowl! And by all accounts it's going to be--the city is playing host to a slew of birther nutbars, and the prison on Orient Road is just waiting for people to be arrested. 

A new billboard greets GOPers as they roll in from the airport, seen below:

Believe me, to live there you would have no idea that this is actually true. The only reason Tampa is occasionally a spot of blue in a sea of red is because there are large amounts of students and people of color living there. Nothing in the city's infrastructure or plans for the future indicates the presence of liberal devils; I've posted here before about the utter lack of parks, the dangers of being a pedestrian or bike-rider, and the terrible public transit, including our idiot governor's rejection of the high-speed rail and Hillsborough County voters' rejection of a one-cent tax raise to fund light rail. On the other hand, the city doesn't display many of the virtues of conservatism, either--the tourism business is a shambles. There is nothing that Tampa has for tourists that every other Florida city doesn't have--Tallahassee doesn't have a beach, but then neither does Tampa proper--and a good bit of what it does have isn't being promoted properly. A rich and interesting history, sure...but where do you go to learn about that history? A lovely waterway...almost entirely ringed with unwalkable roads (the Riverwalk project, mentioned in the Salon article, has been in progress since before I moved to Hillsborough). Beautiful and historic houses...in the poorest parts of the city. Seminole Heights is to date the only successful attempt at gentrification, and frankly, gentrification isn't what the goal should be. The neighborhoods on all sides of Seminole Heights, including V.M. Ybor where I used to live, could see the same level of success that Seminole Heights has, but there's no initiative to make that happen, and even if it did, it would most likely manifest in the same old "push locals out, put Starbuck's in". Hillsborough County is a patchwork of extreme cases, where expensive high-rises sit next to urban-ugly tenements, and there are few hard dividing lines between "neighborhoods" as many other major urban centers have. The "solution" to distasteful urban spaces has been to push ever farther away from the city center, creating white-flight suburbs like New Tampa.

Tampa is a city that displays some of the worst excesses of typical Florida urban hubs: development run rampant with comparably few gains, extreme dependency on automobiles with all that entails (including some of the worst traffic in the nation, high rates of pedestrian injuries, and pollution), and a fatal disconnect between residents of the city proper and residents of the larger county. It has no essential spaces and it's far too spread out to be livable. There is very little that stitches Tampa together--other than 275. There is no overarching meaning to living in the place, little cultural identity unless you've been rooted there for generations, and most folks would rather say they're from somewhere else.

It's kind of a wreck. But I love it: it's home to my favorite restaurants, breweries, and bookstores, it's hot and bright and exquisitely scented, and it's lousy with memories. I'm sad the Republicans saw fit to descend upon it in their locust-like waves. Give them hell, Tampons! Since stand-your-ground is still in place, you might as well make good use of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Suck my status quo, J-boy

It was announced yesterday that, come Justice League #12, Wonder Woman and Superman would be shacking up. This sent yet another wave of outrage through DC fans (oddly enough I have yet to see any comments supportive of the decision; the most lenient ones are people who don't care or who are out of fucks to give--usually there's at least one person who's willing to keep sucking DiDio's dick) for several reasons: foremost for Superfans is that this is yet another blow to the Clark/Lois relationship, which is one of the oldest and most popular relationships in superhero comics. For some WW fans, including myself, this development dashes any hopes that we might have seen Diana with a female partner at last.

Also, you know, this exact thing has happened and been retconned like eight times because everyone hates it. Whatever. I will anticipate some glorious subtext in Wonder Woman's upcoming crossover with Batwoman (gaaaaaay Batwoman) and serenely ignore any goings-on with Supes unless it touches her title outright. Which, I'm sacrificing a goat today to ensure that it doesn't. Get thee hence, thou unclean thing. Pairing the two most powerful characters in the DCU is both the most obvious and least inspired relationship choice the bigwigs could have made. It's boring. Superman and Wonder Woman have a wonderful friendship, Clark and Lois have a wonderful romance, and if I really get an urge to see the demigods doing it, THAT IS WHAT FANFIC IS FOR. There are much better fic writers than you, Johns.

 (I mean this is just straight-up RUDE)

And let's be honest--if I go searching for smut involving Clark and Diana, there needs to be a Bruce filling in the middle of that sandwich. Pure Trinity porn or bust! Don't suppose we'll be getting any of that in the JL title.

In other news, Rob Liefeld, the most hated man in mainstream comic book creation, is rage-quittingleaving DC. Really! This time he means it! We can only hope. I can't blame him if the creative atmosphere is that dreadful--which I assume it is, with the possible exception of people working on Batbooks and Green Lantern titles, which are all the bigwigs care about--but his comment about overseas talent is pretty fucking nasty. A number of the best artists DC currently employs are not Americans, and guess what? This isn't news! Ed Benes and Guillem March might really enjoy drawing big tits, but their art isn't bad. Eduardo Risso is one of the greatest comic artists to ever live. Marcus To and Yanick Paquette are Canadian; do they count as evil talentless-hack foreigners? If Mikel Janin is good enough to work with Jeff Lemire, he should be good enough for you, Liefeld.

The bottom line to all of this is that comics should be good. I am only willing to spend money on things that I think are good. I don't buy books that have grammatical errors, crappy, boring plots, and suspect ethics; why would I buy a comic with the same? There seems to be a really low bar for consumption of comics, like, well it's just a comic book. No. It is not just a comic book and if you've let yourself be tricked into thinking that, you are part of the problem! Get some standards --they don't have to be MY standards, just A set of standards--and quit giving money to comics you don't actually like.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Male-pattern badness

So I went to see The Expendables 2 for my birthday, as one does (surely you all recall how I feel about The Expendables). Possibly even more exciting than the most homoerotic fight scene ever filmed outside of gay porn is the inkling that an all-ladies Expendables movie might possibly happen. 

I KNOW you all can tell how I would feel about that. Of course I have some suggestions as to who should be involved in such a venture: Maggie Q, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, Milla Jovovich, Gina Torres, Zoe Saldana, the flawless Lucy Liu, and of course a cameo by Pam Grier, to name just a few. If I can't get my Birds of Prey film or All DC Ladies All The Time miniseries, I'll settle for a gynocentric Expendables venture.

Ok, back to the really gay fight scene. I canNOT, dear readers. See, the best thing about this sequel is that Jean Claude Van Damme is in it--playing the baddie, no less, sleek Eurotrash in sunglasses who's trying to sell plutonium to...whoever wants it. His name, obviously, is Vilain. So inevitably he and Sly Stallone's main bad-mother-do-gooder have to mix it up, and though there could have been more actual fighting in their Thunderdome showdown, the lines spoken make up for it. "I'll man you up," Sly snarls. "You must really want to hurt me," JCVD hisses back. "Taste good?" Sly grits as blood drips from JCVD's jaw.

I mean really. This scene is a gift from the gods of war.

(also, Jason Statham joins the roster of sexy Hollywood priests)

Belts are ripped off! Guns and knives are tossed aside until the only phallic objects around are actual phalli! And at last Sly triumphs (which would totally not happen, said the Jean Claude fangirl) and his reward is a heart-to-heart with Maggie Chan, the team's lone female member. Dear talented, badass Yu Nan, what are you even doing here? Bruce Willis coins the phrase "male-pattern badness" early on in the film and really, that's what the movie is about and the reason why anyone goes to see such movies. Shoehorning in women as a nod to diversity or as romantic interests is really beyond the ken of a movie that is only trying to be a slugfest. There's nothing at all wrong with slugfests but I don't necessarily enjoy it when they try to be more than what they are. This is not to say that women can't be action stars or that there are no action films that utilize female characters skillfully. Being the only person alive who enjoyed Haywire and Salt and who can't stop going to all the Resident Evil and Underworld films, I consider myself a big fan of ladies shooting and/or stabbing things. But action movies that work with female characters are ones that don't make a big deal about them being there. Maggie, of course, gets to go through the mild gauntlet of being underestimated by Sly and hit on by Dolph, until finally she has proven herself as good as one of the boys. Hopefully, if a female-cast Expendables comes to fruition, the plotline will be something other than this. In the first Expendables movie, Giselle Itie's character Sandra had a  fairly solid plot-driven purpose for being present, but in this sequel, Maggie's purpose is more tenuous. As a government agent, she could be anyone, and she has no real investment in the plan going off without a hitch other than "not dying". Ultimately both Sandra and Maggie's higher purpose is to serve as the mode for Sly's introspection. Will they help him out of his shell? Will he eventually open his heart to luv? Sorry, but no thank you. Barney Ross will continue to seek refuge in blowing shit up.

Final words: Stallone and his cowriter seem to have made a drinking game out of fitting into the script as many action film references as possible. Chuck Norris is that kid who follows you around on the playground but demurs when you invite him to play with you. Charisma Carpenter is sorely underutilized by these movies. And will someone please, please cast Terry Crews to play Luke Cage already?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy birthday, Jimmy and Karen!

Yes, it's true, yesterday saw not one but two of my best-beloved creators celebrating birthdays! Jimmy Palmiotti, comic book writer and artist, and Karen Healey, YA author, are August babies, and bear with me as I gush a few words about them (alas, as my laptop is busted in various ways, there will be no schmoopy photos of me and my fave titles this time).

Palmiotti has written and/or illustrated several of my favorite comics titles, including several with his wife, amazingly talented Amanda Conner, and his longtime collaborator, similarly amazingly talented Justin Gray: these include Jonah Hex and the current ongoing All-Star Western (one of the greatest of DC's New 52 titles), an utterly classic run on Power Girl, and the superfun miniseries The Ray. He also had a hand in Gail Simone's first arc of Secret Six following Villains United, Six Degrees of Devastation. I was lucky enough to meet Palmiotti at Megacon one year and can confirm that he's a stand-up dude who enjoys talking with his fans.

(recent All-Star Western issue featuring my fave Old West femme fatale, Tallulah Black)

Healey is the author of two books, with a third coming out NOT SOON ENOUGH; I've written about her here. Guardian of the Dead and The Shattering are both rooted in New Zealand cultures and provide wonderfully well-rounded and diverse casts while also creating exciting and original stories. Healey is outspoken in the realms of YA lit and geek fandom, and her blog is a great place to go for informed opinions and recommendations, as well as hilarious musings from Down Under. 

(Healey with her debut novel)

Happy birthday, Karen and Jimmy! Many happy returns to you both.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Geek Girl Con 2012

This past weekend I was lucky to be able to travel to Seattle and attend the second annual Geek Girl Con gathering. I was prepared for awesomeness, but not quite the level of great that occurred. It was definitely the best convention experience I've had thus far: excellent and varied programming, some truly sweet guests, an exhibition hall where I wanted to buy something from every table, an astonishing amount of talented cosplayers, and general good vibes.

I met literal social justice warrior Purple Reign and her partner Phoenix Jones; I attended panels about disabilities in comics and other popular media, feminist concerns in YA literature, creating well-rounded characters, and gender and race in The Hunger Games; I chatted with three of my favorite comic book writers (one featured below); I hooked up with amazing Internet friends; and I managed not to empty my bank account on swag.

(your faithful blogger with Greg Rucka. Yes, THAT Greg Rucka)

It was a wonderful view into a portion of fandom that is motivated, thoughtful, smart, talented, and passionate. I really hope I can go back next year, and every year after. If you'd like to see some of the pictures I snapped (mostly beautiful cosplay), check out my Tumblr and the official con Flickr. I also have a couple of posts about the con experience up at my other blogge and the comics website Between the Panels.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Blergh, just blergh

It's been a pretty bad few weeks for attacks on American citizens on American soil by other Americans--you know, domestic terrorism. It's also been a pretty bad few weeks for the media refusing to call these people what they are. Between the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the burning of a mosque in Missouri,  and the Colorado movie theater shooting, I'm not real proud right now to be a white American (am I ever tho?). On (somewhat) less dire fronts, bigots lining up to be counted at fast food restaurants is hardly worth lauding, although I like it when assholes identify themselves for me, and NBC's general terrible Olympic coverage and specifically their tendency to ignore certain Black female athletes' triumphs has been giving me a little of the old throwing-up-in-my-mouth feeling.

Good news, anyone? IS there any so far this week?

Saturday, August 04, 2012


Normal people have nightmares where they're back in school, sans pants or with a test to take they didn't know about.

Former Mormons have nightmares where they're sitting on the stand in sacrament meeting, about to give a talk that hasn't been prepared.
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