Modern times have come to China — religious teachers must now fill out a government application before they can be reincarnated.

The decree, passed in 2007, requires that applications be submitted to four different government bodies. “The selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups, and the selection process cannot be influenced by any group or individual from outside the country.”

“Work out your own salvation,” said the Buddha. “Do not depend on others.”

Private Line

In 1980, Morris Davie was accused of setting forest fires and brought to the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take a lie detector test. He was left alone in a room, where a hidden camera recorded him dropping to his knees and saying, “Oh God, let me get away with it just this once.”

At trial, his lawyer objected to this evidence, arguing that it violated a Canadian law that prohibited the interception of private communications “made under circumstances in which it is reasonable for the originator thereof to expect that it will not be intercepted by any person other than the person intended by the originator thereof to receive it.”

Is God a person? The trial judge thought so — he held the videotape inadmissible and Davie was acquitted. The British Columbia Court of Appeal disagreed, however, deciding that a private communication requires an “intended human recipient.”

“In my opinion,” wrote Justice J.A. Hutcheon, “the word ‘person’ is used in the statutes of Canada to describe someone to whom rights are granted and upon whom obligations are placed. There is no earthly authority which can grant rights or impose duties upon God. I can find no reason to think that the Parliament of Canada has attempted to do so in the enactment of sections of the Criminal Code dealing with the protection of privacy.” He ordered a new trial.

Fringe Sect

In 1918, Bertrand Russell was sentenced to six months in prison for writing an antiwar essay.

I was much cheered in my arrival by the warder at the gate who had to take particulars about me. He asked my religion and I replied ‘agnostic.’ He asked how to spell it, and remarked with a sigh: ‘Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God.’

“This remark kept me cheerful for about a week.”

The Alexamenos Graffito

In 1857 archaeologists unsealed an ancient house on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Inside, carved into the plaster of one of the walls, they found this inscription.

It appears to show a donkey-headed figure attached to a cross. A young man raises his hand to it, perhaps in worship. Below this is written in crude Greek, “Alexamenos worships [his] God.”

It’s believed to be one of the first representations of the crucifixion of Jesus.


Can praying improve your reasoning? I once questioned a student about his suspicious behavior during a logic examination. He confessed that he was praying for the correct answer. I felt this was cheating. Even if God did not give him the answer, the student was soliciting the answer from Someone Else.

— Dartmouth philosopher Roy Sorensen, in A Brief History of the Paradox, 2003

Mixed Blessing

I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ ‘No,’ said the priest, ‘not if you did not know.’ ‘Then why,’ asked the Eskimo earnestly, ‘did you tell me?’

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974

Devil’s Advocate

Calling Halloween “the devil’s holiday,” in 1986 Ralph P. Forbes of London, Ark., filed suit to prevent the public schools from letting kids wear costumes to school.

He filed the suit on behalf of himself, all Christian children, and Jesus Christ. The defendants included the Arkansas Department of Education, “high priests of secular humanism,” and Satan.

U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. continued the case, whereupon attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. offered to represent Satan pro bono. He pointed out that the Dark One doesn’t transact business, own property, or commit torts in Arkansas, and asked the judge to drop him as a defendant.

The Chicago Tribune reported drily that “efforts to reach Satan for comment were unsuccessful.”

For What It’s Worth

A paper received from Natal Africa contains an article by Rev. Josiah Tyler on the similarity of Jewish and Zulu customs. Among them we mention several: The feast of first fruits, rejection of swine’s flesh, right of circumcision, the slayer of the king not allowed to live, Zulu girls go upon the mountains and mourn days and nights, saying ‘Hoi! Hoi!’ like Jepthah’s daughter, traditions of the universal deluge, and of the passage of Red Sea; great men have servants to pour water on their hands; the throwing stones into a pile; blood sprinkled on houses. The authors’ belief is that the Zulus were cradled in the land of the Bible. Certain customs are mentioned which may be ascribed to the primitive tribal organism. These are as follows: Marriages commonly among their own tribe; uncle called father, nephew a son, niece a daughter; inheritance descends from father to eldest son. If there are no sons it goes to the paternal uncle. A surmise has been advanced by some that the relics of the Queen of Sheba’s palace may be found in certain ancient ruins described by Peterman, Baines and others, and the Ophir of scripture has been located at Sofala, an African port.

The American Antiquarian, January 1885