The Family: Right Wing Bastardization of Biblical Teachings



This is a bit different from what I normally post here, and if it offends, I apologize. However, I think it needs to be considered.

Watching just the first two episodes of “The Family” on Netflix, two Biblical references struck with me with a kind of “Ah ha!” feeling. It was an epiphany or a  mini-revelation if you will. I Realized that this kind of thinking may be why Trump supporters so easily dismiss outrageous, vile, hateful, racist and anti-American behavior. They think that they can use biblical stories as precedent and justify it as “God’s will” as long as it gets them what they want.

But let me state that “The Family” is based on a book of the same name by Jeff Sharlet. It is supposedly his own personal experience, about in fact could be no more than a new conspiracy theory. Judge for yourself. The show on Netflix is here:

The first Biblical reference that concerned me was Psalms 137, verse 9, which in the King James Version of the Bible, reads: “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

This refers, according to the commentators (Matthew Henry et al) basically to the wish of captive Jews in Babylon as something they prophesied or wished to happen to their captors — in this particular case, the children of their captors. To many of the commentators, this is justified as an expression of “God’s will.” Or God’s “righteous revenge” if you will.

No matter how I look at this, it seems intolerant, arrogant and hateful — hardly things I would like to associate with a loving God.

The other refers to David and Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel in the Old Testament). Just to make it short, Jewish king David (the same David who killed the giant Goliath) lusted after another man’s wife (Bathsheba), with whom he subsequently commits adultery (resulting in pregnancy). He then orders Bathsheba’s husband into battle specifically so he will be killed (he is). Later, he takes Bathsheba as his wife (apparently the favorite of his many wives, and the mother of famously wise Solomon). Despite his great sin and the blood on his hands, David repented and gained back favor from the Lord. He was said, in fact, to be an ancestor of Jesus.

In any event, although David is revered in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, his story to me is dripping with violence, intolerance, racism and callousness. And yet he repented, so all is forgiven.

Actually, the idea of being unconditionally forgiven if you are contrite (and in the case of Christianity, accepting Christ as your savior) is, of course, very tolerant and appealing. However, some simply take it too far. In my younger years, I heard preachers say effectively that you could live a life of evil as long as you repented after each vile act. Some even gave the impression that sincerity — specifically, a lack thereof — was not important as long as you went through the motions. Repentance became an empty ritual, which nonetheless unfailingly dismissed a multitude of vile deeds. It was like a murderer confessing his regret and remorse and being told, “Go and sin no more” — over and over and over again.

This has long bothered me, and doubtless is in part why I am not a believer anymore. It says, in effect, that you can do anything you want — any evil or illegal or immoral thing — and all you have to say those magic words and all will be well. It justifies anything!

Although the emphasis with the Family seems to be on Jesus (they promote “Jesus,” a book of just Jesus’s saying and a concept called “Jesus plus nothing), the teachings seem to emphasize some of the more violent and questionable sections of the Old Testament.

All you biblical scholars out there are welcome to correct me if you feel that I am wrong, but this appears to say that violence, murder, even genocide, is perfectly OK if done under the aegis of “God’s will.” Anyone can say some act or proposed act is “God’s will” and if he (or she) can get enough people to follow, any manner of evil can ensue.

This goes a long way in explaining — to me at least — how Trump got elected and how his supporters (in Congress and elsewhere) can glibly dismiss his foul deeds and shortcomings, as well as their own. They can claim it is “God’s will,” using biblical precedent. And in the end, if things go badly for them, they can just say, “I repent.”

Of course, thoughtful and sincere Christians, with whom I have no argument, can argue that this is not the message to take away here. But it is a matter of interpretation, which is exactly my point. It is, I fear, what is going on in Washington and elsewhere these days. (For the record, I don’t think it actually factors into Trump’s 5th grade thinking — I don’t think he gives a flying rip one way or another as long as he gets what he wants.)

Every American, and especially those who claim to be Christian, Jewish or Islamic, who does not speak out about this, is complicit in the result, in my opinion.

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Formula 1 (race) is going to Asia’s dog meat capital. Insist they help end the horror. Please sign this letter.

Shared via Formula 1 (race) is going to Asia’s dog meat capital. Insist they help end the horror. Please sign this letter.

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Guns and Violence

It has been a while since I have posted, and this is a bit out of context from what I normally post, but I feel I need to say it.

alone animal bird clouds

Photo by Gabriela Palai on

There is a logical argument to the statement that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” That is technically correct. There is a sterile logic there. But it is incomplete. It does not take into account human nature. Sure, regurgitators of this phrase frequently say that we need more mental health screenings to keep guns out of the hands of the unstable — and then they do everything in their power to prevent any regulation or any attempt to screen out potential domestic terrorists.

Get real, people. The enemies are not the poor Hispanic folks hoping for a better life any more than they are our American ancestors who fled European tyranny. The real enemies are self-entitled, feeble-minded Americans fed a toxic hatred, a fear or foreigners, by equally feeble-minded, arrogant, narrow-minded but powerful leaders. You are better than that, aren’t you? You can think for yourself, right?

My memory of a better America does not include such insane, unthinking hatred. Sure, the past is not perfect, but my memory — and my sincere hope for the future –, is that we are better than the hatred, bigotry and the arrogance of the past.

In the end, people kill people, but they use guns and other weapons designed to kill to do it. Changing human nature is the long term goal. But if we do not stop the violence soon, what will it matter? We don’t have time to change human nature. It is an admirable goal, but a misplaced priority. We have to do something to curb the violence, then work on the causes. Or start working on the causes, but put the real emphasis right now on stopping the negative — and potentially fatal for all of us — effects.

Why should you or I care? Is your largely imagined “right” to own guns or other weapons without question worth the lives of thousands of Americans and hope-to-be Americans? Is it? If you believe in an afterlife, a great reckoning, how will you answer there?

I will be dead before the final outcome, but I do not want to think that I did nothing. I don’t want to think that I just sat back and watched it happen. What do you think?

When will we wake up? “Thoughts and prayers” will not help. Standing up to evil is the only solution. The longer you do nothing, the longer you oppose reasonable solutions, the more you support hatred, the closer we are to the end of the United States of America, and perhaps to a viable world. The choice is in your hands. The decision rests with you.

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Catch Jupiter Tonight!

CaptureIf you have never observed Jupiter — or at least have never knowingly observed Jupiter — this is the time to do it. It is easy, in fact so easy that I do not have to give any detailed other than this:

If it is clear, go out tonight and look to the South-southeast at about 10 pm local time. Other than street lights and airplanes, the brightest thing you will see in the sky is Jupiter. Period, that’s it.

No fancy equipment required. That bright, start-like dot is Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System and currently some 641 million miles from Earth. You should also be able to see the bright star Antares a bit to the right. Antares is in Scorpius the Scorpion. (Antares is a red supergiant star, the 16th brightest star e sky. It shines at a distance of about 604 light years, or very roughly, 3.55 X 10^15  or 3.55 thousand million million miles! For more see: Antares on

Jupiter2If you have a small telescope or even a very good pair of binoculars (and steady hands), you also may be able to see several tiny star-like points of light clustered very close around Jupiter. These are its “Galilean Satellites,” so named because they were first discovered and recorded by Galileo Galilei.

By the way, even though Jupiter will be easy to see all Summer, it is at it brightest right now (June 10, 2019). The satellites (moons) of Jupiter, change their positions every night (in fact you may notice some changes from hour to hour). On some evenings you can see all four, but on others one or more may be passing behind Jupiter and out of sight. For the record, Jupiter has many more moons — currently the total is 79 — but all but these 4 are too dim to be seen without at least a medium sized telescope, and in fact quite a few are known only from space probes.

So take a look.

(Charts courtesy of Stellarium)

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Have You Never Seen Uranus?

CaptureI was going to finish that title with “I can loan you a mirror,” butt some friends told me that younger folks wouldn’t get it and it would seem too rude for others. So forget I mentioned it.

So, if you have never seen the planet Uranus (preferable pronunciation today is “YOUR’-a-nus” rather than “your-A’-nus”), then your chance is at hand. Some people have told me that I could not find it with two hands, but you can, especially if you use those two hands to hold a pair of binoculars.

You see, Uranus is just barely at the limit of human ability to see with the unaided eye, and combined with its current location in the sky and the often hazy, polluted skies we contend with, you’ll need at least a pair of binoculars.

Because of its current location near bright planet Mars, and tonight with a Waxing Crescent Moon nearby, you should be able to do it.

Assuming that it is clear enough, look to the Southwest sky tonight at 7 pm local time to see the Crescent Moon. Then you should be able to pick out bright Mars nearby. Uranus will be too faint to see with just your eyes, but should appear as a faint bluish-green dot in the position noted on the graphic.

You can try again tomorrow (Monday night), but the Moon will be farther to the East (left) and a bit higher. You should still be able to find Mars, though, and Uranus will be in nearly the same place relative to Mars.

Good luck, and the next time someone says you couldn’t find Uranus with two hands, tell them you already did.


For more, see this link on EarthSky:

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Altitude & Azimuth, All Over Again

Altitude & Azimuth diagram

Altitude & Azimuth diagram

I posted a blog about Altitude and Azimuth in early 2017 (, but I thought I would try again:

One thing that tends to give students trouble is the concept of “altitude and azimuth,” a simple way to define the position of an object in the sky. Often abbreviated as “Alt-Az”, this concept has limited value overall for astronomy, but is very useful for any outdoor observations, especially over the much more complicated coordinate systems.

Let me start by very quickly by saying that you must know your cardinal point directions before you start. If you have a compass on your phone or device, that may be of some help, but I have found them not always to be accurate. If you know the North Star (it is decidedly NOT the brightest star in the sky, despite popular opinion), you can use it to define North. If you are not familiar with the North Star, but can find the Big Dipper, you can use this piece from EarthSky about six months ago:
(Note that the diagram in this that piece on EarthSky is for early Fall. However, You can turn it upside down to get approximately the position of the Big Dipper about 7-9 pm in early Spring or mid-Winter, as we are when this blog is being published.)

Basically, it is very simple as long as you know your directions — North-East-South-West. First face due North. The point on the horizon directly in front of you is “0 degrees azimuth.” Since you are also looking straight ahead at eye level, that point is at “0 degrees altitude.” Don’t strain your neck, but look straight overhead. The point straight overhead is “90 degrees altitude.” We call it the “zenith.” Then look halfway up in the sky, still facing due North. You would be looking at a point that is “0 degrees azimuth, 45 degrees altitude.”

Now, look again straight ahead to the North on the horizon. Make a quarter turn to your right. Now you are facing due East, which is “90 degrees azimuth.” While facing this direction, look one third of the way up in the sky. That point would be at “90 degrees azimuth, 30 degrees altitude.”

Returning now to straight ahead on the horizon (East), take another quarter turn to the right and you will be facing due South. That is “180 degrees azimuth.” We’ll skip the altitude here, and then turn another quarter turn to the right, which brings you to facing due West, which is “270 degrees azimuth.” From this orientation, if you look two-thirds of the way from the horizon to the zenith, you are looking 2/3rds of 90, which is 60 degrees up. So in this case the point you are looking at is at a location of “270 degrees azimuth, 60 degrees altitude.”

Finally, if you take one more quarter turn to the right, it brings you a full 360 degree circle back to the direction from which you started, due North, which reverts back to “0 degrees azimuth.”

The diagram posted here pretty much sums it all up.

Larry Sessions

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Kepler Telescope Bids ‘Goodnight’ with Final Commands

Reprinted from the Facebook page of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (Boulder, CO)

On the evening of Thursday, Nov. 15, NASA’s Kepler space telescope received its final set of commands to disconnect communications with Earth. The “goodnight” commands finalize the spacecraft’s transition into retirement, which began on Oct. 30 with NASA’s announcement that Kepler had run out of fuel and could no longer conduct science.
Coincidentally, Kepler’s “goodnight” falls on the same date as the 388-year anniversary of the death of its namesake, German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion and passed away on Nov. 15, 1630.

The final commands were sent by University of Colorado Boulder student command controllers over NASA’s Deep Space Network from LASP’s Kepler Mission Operations Center.

The Kepler and K2 Missions team disabled the safety modes that could inadvertently turn systems back on, and severed communications by shutting down the transmitters. Because the spacecraft is slowly spinning, the Kepler team had to carefully time the commands so that instructions would reach the spacecraft during periods of viable communication. The spacecraft is now drifting in a safe orbit around the Sun, more than 100 million miles away from Earth.

Kepler has had a profound impact on our understanding of the number of worlds that exist beyond our solar system. Through its observations, we’ve discovered there are more planets than stars in our galaxy. The data Kepler collected over the course of more than nine years in operation will be mined for exciting discoveries for many years to come.
NASA Ames Research Center
(Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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