Monday, April 28, 2014

Life Surpasses Art: a Fish Tale

Just after I started this blog in March 2008, I put up my first joke post for April 1, entitled "An April 1st Classic." In it I reproduced the text of a famous fictional decision from Canada's Court of Criminal Appeals, known to every law student, which goes by the name of Regina v. Ojibway. The two law students who came up with it must have enjoyed themselves as they hypothesized this criminal prosecution against an unfortunate native American who had a particularly bad day:
Fred Ojibway, an Indian, was riding his pony through Queen's Park on January 2, 1965. Being impoverished, and having been forced to pledge his saddle, he substituted a downy pillow in lieu of the said saddle. On this particular day the accused's misfortune was further heightened by the circumstances of his pony breaking its right foreleg. In accord with the Indian custom, the accused then shot the pony to relieve it of its awkwardness. The accused was then charged with having breached the Small Birds Act, s.2 of which states:
2. Anyone maiming, injuring or killing small birds is guilty of an offence and subject to a fine not in excess of two hundred dollars.

The learned judge who "authored" the opinion went on to explain that since the Small Bird Act defined a small bird as "a two-legged animal covered with feathers", a lame horse covered by a down pillow met the definition of the act, because:
We are not interested in whether the animal in question is a bird or not in fact, but whether it is one in law. Statutory interpretation has forced many a horse to eat birdseed for the rest of its life.
And since having two legs was a minimum standard, not a maximum, the horse qualified under the terms of the statute, and Fred Ojibway was guilty of killing a "small bird."

As I mentioned, generations of law students have since amused themselves with this example of overwrought "statutory interpretation": just what did the legislature actually have in mind when it passed this particular statute, with its particular terms? Words are easy to misread, and court decisions in real life are not immune from the same mistakes we all make in divining the intent behind them.

But now we have a real-life doozy -- an example of what I would call "deliberate statutory misinterpretation" by an overzealous prosecutor, court, and jury. Since it involves fish, it is even better. And now that the highest court in our land has agreed to review the case, it has captured a lot of peoples' attention.

Like Fred Ojibway, John L. Yates of Florida was just pursuing his living -- as a commercial fisherman  in the Gulf of Mexico -- when he ran afoul of the law. A marine official boarded his vessel for an inspection of its safety equipment just after Yates had made a catch of more than 3,000 red grouper. During his inspection, the official spotted several specimens that he believed were under the statutory minimum 20-inch size for commercial fishing. He spent the next four hours measuring every one of the fish in the catch, and came up with 72 that he deemed to be under the minimum size.

He ordered Yates to return to port for further inspection, and left the vessel. When Yates docked the next day, federal marine inspectors boarded and once again went through his entire catch to look for undersize specimens. This time, they came up with only 69, instead of 72. Yates was cited and fined for his violation of the fishing conservation rules.

That normally could be expected to be the end of it, right? Wrong -- three years later, a federal prosecutor in Florida charged Yates with violating section 1519 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, otherwise known (in the Senate) as the "Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act." That section makes a criminal out of anyone who "knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation.

The Feds were using a statute designed to punish the likes of the Enron officials who had shredded scads of documents to make it more difficult to charge them with financial wrongdoing, and hence dubbed the "anti-shredding" statute, to go after a commercial fishermen who, they charged, had dumped three small illegally caught grouper back into the Gulf before docking at port!

They could do this, they argued to the judge, because the fish were "tangible objects" within the meaning of the statute, and by allegedly throwing them back into the ocean, Yates had "destroyed" them. Never mind the possibility that the first inspector had miscounted the ones that were actually undersize; that was out of the question. Yates had deliberately destroyed evidence.

Although expressing doubt ("it might be a stretch to say throwing away a fish is a falsification of a record"), the trial judge let the case go to the jury, which apparently had no trouble reading the words of the statute to cover living fish that were (allegedly) thrown back into the ocean. (I am still having trouble with the fact that the likelihood of a miscount -- why would Yates get rid of just three of the 72 fish he was initially charged with having caught? -- ought to have reduced the circumstantial evidence of Yates's complicity to proof by less than a reasonable doubt. But this is how life surpasses art.)

The jury convicted Yates, the judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison, but the prosecutorial farce  was still not over. There followed three years of supervised release, collection of his DNA, financial restrictions, travel restrictions and even more petty humiliations. Yates's appeal to the 11th Circuit was in vain; they affirmed the prosecutor's and jury's reading of the statute.

Yates filed a petition for certiorari in forma pauperis (i.e., without having to pay the usual fees, due to his penury), which was prepared by the public defender's office. And today -- lo and behold! -- the Supreme Court granted it.

In previous decisions, the Court has held that criminal statutes have to be specific enough to give the public "advance notice" of the conduct which is deemed unlawful. Yates argues that no one catching fish for a living could ever have expected to be charged under the Sarbanes-Oxley anti-shredding provision, and apparently the Court wants to take a closer look at his case.

Says one report of the matter (in Forbes):
The case has some similarities to Bond vs. U.S., argued last November, which asks whether a jilted wife can be prosecuted for violating the terms of an international chemical-weapons treaty by sprinkling poison on the mailbox of her husband’s mistress. The essential question in that case is whether Congress exceeded its authority by extending acts of war into the civilian world, but the underlying issue is the same: Prosecutorial excess.
Indeed. When it comes to prosecutors, it seems that Fred Ojibway was not alone in falling victim to their unbounded zeal for the law.

[UPDATE 04/28/2014: The opinion from the Eleventh Circuit has been called to my attention as adding additional relevant facts, but I think it only confuses matters further still. According to the admission of one of Yates's crew, the 72 fish in question were set aside in separate boxes by the federal inspector, who ordered that they be kept separate for further verification at port. But after the inspector left, the crew member said that Yates directed the crew to toss the 72 fish overboard, and replace them in their boxes with other fish from the catch. Yet when the same inspector re-measured all the fish four days later after the vessel had returned to port, he found only 69 undersized fish, and none of the fish he measured as undersized in port appeared to be as short as he had measured them on board earlier.

So what really happened? Even after all 72 of the fish originally identified as undersized were returned to the Gulf, how did the inspector find 69 more among the catch that he had missed the first time? And if the 69 found in port were just those remaining of those that had first been set aside by the inspector while on board, then why would the crew have disposed of just the three shortest of them?

It all makes no sense, and it points up the ridiculousness of trying to regulate fishing catches by such a subjective parameter as "length." Apparently both sides had expert witnesses testify as to how the length of a grouper could vary depending on whether its mouth was open or closed, and its tail pinched together, at the time of measurement. Plus, the fish were kept on ice for the four days it took for the ship to reach port after the inspection, and apparently ice shrinks the size of the fish. Yet a man  is sentenced to thirty days in prison for the sake of half an inch or less of supposed length, determined in a highly arbitrary and unrepeatable manner.

It is evident that the Government went after Mr. Yates because of his deliberate flouting of the inspector's instructions, and that some zealous prosecutor dragged the anti-shredding law into the mix only after searching for three years to find a suitable statute making what Yates did a criminal offense. Yates paid his fine for the illegal catch, but that was not enough for the prosecutor, who wanted his pound of flesh. And the result is this ridiculous travesty, in which no one escapes looking utterly spiteful and foolish.]

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shakespeare at 450: the Pen Tells the Tale

Last month I put up a post summarizing the orthodox evidence in favor of William Shakespeare of Stratford (1564-1616) as having been the author of William Shakespeare's plays and poetry, based largely on the testimony of the First Folio, published in 1623, and the Stratford monument erected over his gravestone a few years before that. Based on the reactions in the comments left by the Oxfordians (those who urge that the real author of the plays and poems was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford [1550-1604]), one would think I had gone beyond the pale (to use one of the countless expressions coined by Shakespeare) of civility by suggesting that there was any evidence for authorship by the man of Stratford.

The current state of Shakespeare scholarship on the authorship controversy is singularly desultory, given that we are now 450 years past the man's birthdate. Each new candidate put forward as the likely "true" author of Shakespeare's corpus undermines the evidence for the ones before. Where there used to be a simple divide between the Stratfordians and the anti-Stratfordians, the latter group has splintered into countless smaller factions (the largest of which, by far, constitutes the Oxfordians -- who themselves are now divided into two camps: those who support the "Prince Tudor" theory, and those who do not).

In addition, a third main category has sprung forth: the "doubters". These people are content simply to express their disbelief that Shakespeare of Stratford could have written anything worthwhile at all, but are agnostic when it comes to deciding just who was the author of the canon.

In the face of all this opposition to the Stratford Shakespeare, orthodox scholars tend to circle the wagons, and more and more refuse to engage with their opponents. Certainly they have tradition and common sense on their side. (Anyone who proposes someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author has to invent a fantastic series of reasons, often amounting to a Great Conspiracy that went on for thirty-odd years and involved hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people, to explain away the dedication of the First Folio, Shakespeare's burial monument in the church at Stratford-on-Avon, and the numerous other pieces of contemporary testimony which I touched upon in my earlier post.)

Furthermore, the sheer volume of fantastic authorship theories now being advanced from all fronts has made orthodox scholars extremely reluctant to admit any new discoveries or evidence that could tend to shed some light on the matter. It is becoming increasingly accepted, for example, that Shakespeare the playwright collaborated with other playwrights throughout his career on a variety of plays, many of whose scripts have now unfortunately been lost to us. Yet the scholars have been very conservative in admitting new works (or fragments) to the canon.

One of the chief such works is represented by a manuscript in the British Library containing fragments of a lost play called Sir Thomas More.  Since the 1870's, the handwriting on several folios of the manuscript, called "Hand D" to distinguish it from five others also evident, has been identified by paleographic scholars as the hand of Shakespeare -- matching the style of the six known and accepted signatures of the Stratford man. (Three are on his infamous will; two others are on a deed and mortgage relating to a gatehouse at Blackfriars; and the sixth is on a deposition he signed in a minor civil case.)

It is very difficult to establish the authenticity of handwriting with just six known exemplars, each containing no more than seventeen characters. But if the authenticity of Hand D is admitted, then the database expands considerably, and it becomes easier to look for further exemplars -- the first of which turns out to be Shakespeare's (holographic!) will.

Now, I realize that last claim will set off more firestorms, so let me provide visual proof of what I am talking about. One of the more distinguished experts of the 20th century in authenticating questioned documents was the American autograph dealer and paleographer Charles Hamilton (1914-1996). A subspecialty of his was the Elizabethan secretarial hand, in which Shakespeare's known signatures are written.

In the course of establishing thousands of both forgeries and authentic documents, Hamilton developed a useful technique for demonstrating how he could ascertain that handwriting on one document was the same as that on another (or on another part of the same document). He would capture individual letters from the questioned sample, and line them up character-by-character with the letters of the authentic original. When they matched, he had very strong forensic proof -- sufficient for a court of law -- that both hands had to have been the product of the same individual.

The unique shapes of the secretarial hand lend themselves especially well to this type of analysis, because Elizabethans had so many variants for writing each individual letter of the alphabet that writers can be identified by just the variants which they preferred to use, and which differed according to the informality or formality of the particular item they were writing.

Thus, one of Hamilton's first conclusions (in a book he published in 1985), after a painstaking examination of the writing, was that the writing of most of the body of Shakespeare's three-page will (and its numerous interlineations) was the same as that of the six known signatures. Here is a picture of his assemblage of individual characters taken from the body of the will, matched up against each of the six signatures (click to enlarge):

Many have claimed (without any evidence) that Shakespeare's will was drafted by his solicitor (who signs as a witness on the third page), Francis Collins. But Hamilton collected samples of Collins' handwriting, as well as that of his scribe used in his other clients' wills, and demonstrated conclusively that neither Collins nor his scribe could have penned Shakespeare's will (see pages 133-137 at this link for the comparisons of the writing).  The writing instead, as shown above, is exactly duplicated by Shakespeare's own, in his known signatures.

But we are not done with the available evidence yet -- there is still Hand D, remember? And here, Hamilton's achievement is both stunning, and convincing. Consider the following example of writing in the secretarial hand (again, click to enlarge):

Are you able to say whether there is anything different about the lines?  Is there just one hand, two, or multiple hands at work?

The evidence is pretty apparent that the slopes of the writing, the shapes of the characters, the spacing of the words, and numerous other idiosyncrasies allow but one conclusion: that all of these lines were written by the same hand. As a clincher, take a look at the same page of writing, but now reproduced upside down:

With the individual words now unreadable, all that one distinguishes are the uniform similarities in slope, spacing and style. These lines were truly penned by one and the same person.

Well, and just what are the lines in question? Go back to the right-side-up illustration:

This is a composite which Hamilton fashioned by alternating lines from Hand D with lines from Shakespeare's will. Lines 1-4 are from the holographic will; lines 5-8 from the Sir Thomas More fragment; lines 9-12 are from the will; lines 13-15 are from the Sir Thomas More fragment; lines 16-21 are from the will; and lines 22-26 from Sir Thomas More. It is difficult to imagine a more convincing proof that the two documents were written by the same hand.

The foregoing is the principal, but not by any means the only, evidence from which Hamilton concluded that the hand that wrote as Hand D of Sir Thomas More is the same hand that wrote the three pages of Shakespeare's will. And since other paleographers and Shakespeare scholars had previously tied Hand D to Shakespeare's six known signatures, Hamilton's evidence that ties the body of the will with those same six signatures completes the circle: Shakespeare wrote out his will in his own hand, just as he wrote the fragments preserved in the collaborative play known as Sir Thomas More.

One is now in a position, I hope, to perceive the enormity of this evidence -- I use the word "enormity" advisedly, because of the conclusion which it proves beyond any reasonable doubt:

William Shakespeare of Stratford was not only the author of his own will, but also drafted portions of a play which the anti-Stratfordians and doubters maintain he could not have written.

If Shakespeare of Stratford drafted his own will, then he had to have worked as a scrivener or legal clerk in a law office, because its form matches exactly that of the traditional wills of the time prepared by solicitors, such as Francis Collins. It has long been remarked that the author of Shakespeare's plays showed an uncanny knowledge of Elizabethan law and court procedures.

By comparing his now greatly expanded database of Shakespeare's handwriting to other documents connected with the author, Charles Hamilton was able to show that Shakespeare also drafted conveyances, mortgages, and even his father's successive applications for a coat-of-arms.  All of these technical and legal documents are in the same flowing secretarial hand used for both the will and the fragments from Sir Thomas More.

Shakespeare of Stratford's intimate knowledge of law and civil procedure, therefore, came from firsthand experience in a solicitor's office, and provides again very convincing evidence for his authorship of his plays. Hamilton's 1985 book goes even farther, and shows graphological evidence that Shakespeare served in 1593-94 (when the plague had shut down London's playhouses) as a scribe for that eminent lawyer and jurist, Sir Francis Bacon.

The conspiracy theories of the anti-Stratfordians need thus to become even more elaborate to explain how and why nobles such as Oxford would have collaborated with a genuine and skilled playwright who wrote under his own name. What is more, they would now need to develop some reliable means of separating out how much of the total corpus their candidate may have written from that which the Stratford man unquestionably wrote, when the far simpler conclusion is that Stratford wrote it all -- just as the First Folio testifies.

The puzzling thing to this writer is the general reluctance of Shakespeare scholars to accept at face value the striking visual evidence which Charles Hamilton so painstakingly assembled. It is true that Hamilton (perhaps due to his career in proving many forgeries) tended to see cloak-and-dagger stories at the least suggestion (he once theorized, for example, that Shakespeare's death was due to arsenic poisoning, and not natural causes). But those wild speculations are easily separated from the solid body of his paleographic analyses.

The best proof of Shakespeare's authorship of his own works, therefore, lies (so to speak) readily at hand, in the manuscripts we have extant with his name upon them. It is a shame that none of the orthodox scholars has picked up the research that Hamilton began, or followed up on it. If the subject were developed properly, with a full paleographic analysis of the extant writings, the entire authorship controversy could  easily be settled by the stroke of a pen.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Texas Supreme Court Denies Motion for Stay / Recall

Today, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order denying ECUSA's motion for a stay or recall of its mandate pending ECUSA's request to the United States Supreme Court to review the Texas Court's decision in the Fort Worth case. This means that the case may proceed unimpeded to summary judgment, or a trial, in front of Judge Chupp in Tarrant County's 141st District Court.

In the extremely unlikely event that SCOTUS were to accept review of the Texas decision, proceedings would halt until that Court issued its opinion. But as I explained in this earlier post, the interlocutory nature of the Texas opinion makes the odds of further review by SCOTUS vanishingly small, and virtually zero. (Barring any request for an extension, ECUSA has until June 19 to file its petition with SCOTUS.)

Bishop Iker and his Diocese said today in a press release:
The next step in the litigation here in Fort Worth is a hearing at 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 24, in the courtroom of Judge John Chupp, where we have requested that he set aside the supersedeas order and refund to the Diocese the $100,000 cash bond we posted two years ago in order to maintain possession of our property. With his original decision having now been reversed by the Texas Supreme Court, there are no legal grounds for the order to remain in effect.

In addition, attorneys for the Diocese are completing new pleadings and a revised motion for summary judgment, which should be filed with the 141st district court sometime next month.

Once again, it is time for the TEC lawyers to come clean with their clients about their prospects in this case and to stop filing more and more unnecessary legal motions that only delay the process. Without a significant benefactor paying all their legal fees, the small little group calling itself “the local Episcopal parties” could never have taken matters this far. It is prudent for them to cut their losses and move on.
As I have observed many times, the Diocese cases are not like the many parish cases that ECUSA has won in various courts. In the parish cases, there has always been language in the parish articles or bylaws which binds them to follow the Church's canons without reservation. But ECUSA cannot point to any such language in the case of the mostly autonomous and independent Dioceses. What is more, any attempt by ECUSA to restrict its members' freedom to withdraw at will would be unenforceable in the courts, because of the First Amendment.

Indeed, it is time for ECUSA and its attorneys to cut their losses, and move on.

Reminder: My Good Friday Post of 2011

For Good Friday 2011, I put up this post analyzing the differences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels in dating the Last Supper and Jesus' crucifixion. It remains timely today, and I cannot improve on the analysis, so I would commend it to your attention as we observe Good Friday today in preparation for Easter.

Do not let all the historical analysis sidetrack you from the main point: the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are two sides of the same coin. The one cannot be understood without the other. That is why all those who say today that the Resurrection was only a metaphorical, or even mass hallucinatory, event are missing the boat. If Jesus did not physically resurrect from the dead, the human part of him remains dead and buried, i.e., nonexistent corporally. And crucifying a mere human -- even one who was morally blameless -- could not propitiate the Father's wrath at human sin.

God sent His own Son that we humans might have eternal life (John 3:16). A dead Jesus who rose only "metaphorically" (or, still worse, as a temporary hallucination in the apostles' minds) could never be said to have eternal life in his resurrected body; instead, his body would long since have decayed into dust. To claim other than a physical resurrection for Jesus Christ is to mangle the Good News of Easter, and to render pointless the spiritual agony, physical suffering and excruciating death of Good Friday.

The human nature of Jesus (which, along with his divine nature, is combined into one person of the Godhead) remains eternally alive in a resurrected body. Jesus is still both Man and God, now, eternally, for ever and ever -- Amen. The Incarnation was an irreversible act that allowed God to become at one with his fallen creation. And the physical Resurrection is the seal of God's acceptance of Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for us, and for our salvation.

But in between Incarnation and Resurrection there has to be the Crucifixion. As you observe its meaning today, in relation to the entire Good News of the Gospels, take heart that we have the eternally God/Man, Jesus, as Our Savior and Advocate.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Archbishop Welby Struggles with a Greater Truth

As the Anglican Curmudgeon, it behooves me now and then to comment upon matters Anglican. And just now, there is a tempest in the Anglican teapot which I have refrained from noticing, because after all, it is still a small storm in a very small teapot.

And indeed, it is a “storm” only if you take its measure by the winds from the West – or (which comes to the same thing, direction-wise) from the left. By all other measures, including one which takes note of the fact that the winds are blowing only from the West, something must be going well in Anglican Land.

For the Archbishop of Canterbury has seen fit to share with Anglicans in the West his insights gained from a visit with Anglicans to the South. And from the reactions in the West, it would appear that neither group can even begin to comprehend why the other proceeds as it does. Even worse, it would appear that each group would prefer that the other did not call itself “Anglican.”

Now, the adjective “Anglican” makes sense from a religious point of view only if one allows it to modify a noun, such as “Communion.” As many from both sides will explain to you at the drop of a name, it makes no sense to call yourself “Anglican” if you are not part of the “Anglican Communion.” (There are other nouns it can modify, but for those who are in it they do not reach the same level as “Communion”.)

So what does it mean for two different groups in the Anglican Communion to treat each other as though they were not really Anglican?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the quintessential Anglican, so he cannot side with the one group against the other. All he can do in the circumstances is urge upon each group mutual respect for the other’s views.

But the Archbishop thereby gives away both the game, and his role as a neutral arbiter – because the opposing views can by no objective means be called equally worthy of respect, at least within the context of the Christian religion, and the particular branch of it of which he is the nominal head.

Here is the problem in a nutshell: the West claims the authority to recognize same-sex relationships based upon its recent experiences with them as coming within the traditional understanding of what is “Anglican.” The South, based upon its  traditional reading of Scripture,  rejects that authority outright.

What is worse, the South’s “experience” of same-sex unions is exactly the opposite of the West’s: in the South, even a perceived support of them leads to violence and death. Most often recently, such murder comes from the hands of Islamic terrorists bent on exterminating a Christianity that could conceivably espouse (even if in the South, it doesn’t) what has always been regarded as an abomination among the people of the Book. The West, on the other hand, regards the Islamic terrorists as a local problem of the South – a problem that is traceable largely to tribalism, fear and ignorance.

So the South cries “Help! Stop adding fuel to the fires of our foes!” – while the West largely says “They are your problem, not ours.” (Though that stance does not stop the West from actively intervening to ostracize Southern attempts to legislate on homosexuality, which intervention only exacerbates the tensions between Muslims and Christians in the South.)

This divide, which the Archbishop of Canterbury thought he could bridge by being sensitive to the concerns of both sides, unfortunately has nothing to do with the Anglican Communion in particular. Instead, it has to do with all humankind – and goes to the very essence of being human.

The West argues that Scripture must be interpreted first and foremost in the light of ongoing experience, then by reason, and last by tradition – except when the latter two conflict with experience.

The South argues that Scripture is capable of interpretation only by reason, as guided by tradition (by which it means reason as our forebears expressed it), and that man’s experience is an especially fallible, and at best only local and limited, guide to what Scripture means.

These positions are rooted in a far deeper and older dispute. They relate to who is in charge: man, or someone beyond or outside of man.

The view that man is in charge is reflected in the Bible passages that deal with Adam’s fall, with the Tower of Babel, with the Golden Calf, and numerous later apostasies by the nation of Israel. (Notice that none of those stories turned out well for man.)

The view that someone outside of man is in charge is older than the Bible, and permeates it: before Scripture was ever written, God was in charge. And God remains in charge, no matter what man may think, because God is infinitely greater than man, and indeed, created man in His image – so that man might appreciate, worship, and glorify Him.

The Archbishop’s mistake, or naiveté, was to treat these opposing views as standing upon equal ground.

They do not. The West’s view is (to quote one especially obnoxious proponent of it): “We [i.e., man] wrote the Bible, and we can change it.” The South’s view is: God breathed His Word into Scripture, and God’s message does not change – with time, with experience, with man, or with  whatever is currently the fashion.

Experience is grounded in emotion and feelings, i.e., how one interprets experience. And by definition, therefore, one’s experience changes with, and is defined by, the time in which one lives.

In the traditional view, God gave us reason to temper our emotions and feelings – throughout all time. Otherwise, there would be little to distinguish man from the animals.

Thus reason is grounded in God’s image in man; emotions and feelings, however, are grounded in fallen man alone, i.e., in the heritage that he shares with all animals. To quote Blaise Pascal:
Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own.
The difference between the West and the South, therefore, is not just particular to the Anglican Communion, but is as old as man himself. The West is currently in the thrall of man (which can for the nonce be exhilarating, but which in the end is always disastrous). The South remains, as best as it is able, obedient to God and His will as expressed through Scripture.

The terrorists who slaughter Southern Christians for (supposedly) tolerating what is an abomination to their religion of Islam are equally in the thrall of Islam – which is to say, a different man’s version of God.

Thus for Western Christians in the thrall of man to call African Islamists “backward, fearful and ignorant” is for the pot to call the kettle black. They may differ in appearance, but they share the same color – i.e., they both despise those who would follow God as he has always spoken  through Scripture, rather than God as he “speaks” currently through man.

What does this mean for the Anglican Communion? It means that part of it follows man (or God as seen with man’s experience as paramount), while the other part is trying to follow God (as heard and understood through His timeless Word).

There is no compromise between these views, because man is not God.

There is no bridging the gap when man willfully sets himself apart from God.

The gap can be eliminated only when men agree to let God’s Word be unchanging, and to follow it as best as they can, given their fallenness. He made it unchanging, so that they could never lose their way through anything He said or did, but would always have a straight path to which they could return. Think about that for a moment.

Disputes arise through man’s own fallenness, and not because God wills them to exist. Disputes about God’s word are from Man, not God. Man may not always get it right, but he should never be certain that he is right just because he is man. (See this earlier post on how man can best tell when he is being true to God’s Word.)

Thus the Archbishop should not be surprised that his observations of the reality that divides the  West from the South bestirred such a reaction from the West. Far from shrinking from such observations in the face of Western criticism, he should redouble them, and keep on pressing home the message: the South asks only that we return to the path God made for us, while the West insists on charting its own course. It is for the West to change its tack, and not for the South.

I do not envy whoever occupies the see of Canterbury. He can succeed, perhaps, but only with God’s help. Please pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Clarity from the State Church of Norway

Norway, which legalized same-sex partnerships in 1993 and adopted a "gender-neutral" marriage law in 2008, has an established State Church. Yesterday its general synod had a series of votes, as follows:
The legislative assembly (Kirkemøtet) of the Church of Norway today again rejected proposals to introduce same-sex weddings and to introduce church ‘blessings’ of same-sex civil partnerships. The weddings proposal failed by a vote of 51 to 64, and the ‘blessings’ proposal failed by 54 to 62. However, a motion to affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman was also voted down by the same margin: 54 to 62. A fourth motion that would have recognized “two equal viewpoints” in the Church was also rejected.
Well, that makes it all as plain as day, right? The Holy Ghost is showing a clear path forward in Norway.

Details here. (H/T: Wm. Tighe)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Easter in the Episcopal Church (sigh) ... again

Yes, it's that time of year again -- when Episcopalians who simply want to celebrate their faith have to come to terms with the Presiding Bishop's Easter message, and not let it impede their own joyful participation in marking the meaning of Christ's resurrection.

In past years, the Presiding Bishop has had difficulty relating her Easter message to Jesus Christ the risen Son of God. (Some may still remember the egregious low she reached in March 2008, thankfully not equaled since.) Others may carry a memory of her struggling to relate her Easter messages to Jesus Christ at all, as though the mention of His name might detract from what she wanted to say.

Well, no such problem this time: the 2014 message is all about what our Presiding Bishop calls "the Body of Christ" -- meaning the Church of Christ, which is the traditional reading of those words (not always, according to her; only "often").

But somewhere along the way, the metaphor becomes confused, and confusing. The "Body of Christ" is both risen and rising? (Here the Presiding Bishop recycles, using capital "B" in place of a small "b", the same confusing metaphor she used in her 2010 message -- as though we could have forgotten.) The Church -- capital "B" this time -- has not "risen", and it is debatable whether (in the West, as she herself later notes) it is even "rising."

Jesus Christ has certainly risen, but we do not speak of him as still "rising", as though he were bread not yet out of the oven. This time, the Presiding Bishop's message tries to use the capitalized word "Body" to refer to the Church, and the uncapitalized form to refer to Jesus' resurrection body, but then she still is not consistent:
What does that resurrection reality mean for the Body of Christ of which we are part? How does the risen Body of Christ – what we often [sic] call the church – differ from the crucified one? That Body seems to be most lively when it lives closer to the reality of Good Friday and the Easter mystery. In the West, that Body has suffered a lot of dying in recent decades. It is diminished, some would say battered, increasingly punctured by apathy and taunted by cultured despisers. That body bears little resemblance to royal images of recent memory – though, like Jesus, it is being mocked. The body remembers and grieves, like the body of Israel crying in the desert, “why did you bring us out here to die?” or the crucified body who cries, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” or “why have you abandoned us?” In other contexts the Body of Christ is quite literally dying and spilling its lifeblood – in Pakistan and Sudan, in Iraq and Egypt – and in those ancient words of Tertullian, the blood of martyrs is becoming the seed of the church.
So in the same paragraph, we have the Church that has suffered in the West "a lot of dying in recent decades." (Oh, and just who or what might be responsible for such "a lot of dying"? -- Mum's the word.) And then we have the battered, punctured and taunted "body" of Jesus before he died and rose again, which shares "little resemblance to royal images of recent memory" -- what in the world could those images be? Could she be referring to pictures of HRH Prince George??

Which is immediately followed by the "body of Israel" in the desert (no capital "B"), equated with the mortal body of Christ on the cross -- both of whom complained of God's abandonment, followed immediately again by the Church (capital "B") that is persecuted in Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq and Egypt. Is this a confused and confusing metaphor, or what?

The Presiding Bishop seems comfortable in dealing only with abstractions, which are impossible to pin down. The Church is "rising"? Only "where it is growing less self-centered and inwardly focused, and living with its heart turned toward the cosmic and eternal, its attention focused intently on loving God and neighbor." (As in the Church of Perpetual Litigation, Depositions and Purges? Do you see the disconnect between the messenger and her Easter message?)

If I were her spiritual advisor, I would diagnose the Presiding Bishop as having a more or less severe case of "the Easter willies," which is a malady suffered at this time of the liturgical year by clergy who, not firmly anchored in the faith that comes from certainty in the Resurrection (viz. St. Paul), have no idea what they will say for their Easter sermon, while knowing that they have to deliver it. They have learned in seminary all of the verbal formulas associated with Easter, but they have no idea how they relate to one another, or how to tie them together in a life-giving, coherent message of Easter gladness and joy.  

And though it might not be entirely successful in curing the malady (we might have to go to St. John Chrysostom for a final and permanent cure), I would start with some shock treatment, and prescribe for the Presiding Bishop a good dose of no less than that erstwhile Episcopalian, John Updike:

Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Monday, April 7, 2014

South Carolina Supreme Court Takes Jurisdiction of Appeals

In a brief order filed today, the Supreme Court of South Carolina has granted the motion filed earlier by Bishop Lawrence, his diocesan trustees and individual parishes to transfer to it jurisdiction of the current appeals brought by ECUSA and its rump group in an attempt to delay the trial of the main action set for next July in front of Judge Goodstein.

The Supreme Court's action came just after ECUSA and its rump group had filed a petition for rehearing with the Court of Appeals, asking a full panel to overrule a single judge's earlier order dismissing that appeal, which seeks review of an order by Judge Goodstein denying the rump group access to attorney-client communications between Bishop Lawrence and his counsel, Alan Runyon.

The appeal raises the question of whether the rump group may be seen in law as the continuing successor to the Episcopal Diocese, or whether it is a new entity that began its legal life with a special convention in January 2013 -- regardless of whether ECUSA treats it for religious purposes as a continuing "diocese" in the Church. The rump group contends that they are the legal successor to the Diocese, and so are entitled to see prior communications between the Episcopal Diocese and its attorneys.

But the Episcopal Diocese is very much alive as a legal entity under South Carolina law, with its same Constitution and Canons (amended so as to remove any affiliations with ECUSA), as the rump group has found out in defeat after defeat these past fifteen months. The latter group has no coherent legal theory to explain how it could, as a tiny dissident minority, overrule the majority and assume control of the legal entity governed by the majority under South Carolina law, namely, the incorporated Episcopal Diocese.    

Also, according to the press release from the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, "Judge Diane S. Goodstein, who will preside over the trial, today issued an announcement to counsel in the case that Court Administration has set the trial date for July 7-18, 2014 and she will not allow attorneys to have 'protection' from having to be in attendance at the trial during those dates."  Thus the trial will go forward as currently scheduled.

ECUSA and its rump group will now have to take seriously the fact that their current position in the litigation is directly contrary to the holdings of the South Carolina Supreme Court in the All Saints Waccamaw case of 2009 (the decision in which was written by the current Chief Justice of the Court).  They face an uphill battle in the trial court, because Judge Goodstein will follow the law as given by the Supreme Court, according to which (1) ECUSA's Dennis Canon did not automatically create any kind of enforceable trust interest in Episcopal parish property in the State, and (2) South Carolina religious corporations which follow the procedures in their own articles and bylaws may amend those documents in the absence of any restriction on their power to do so.

The only Court that can overturn the Waccamaw decision at this stage is the Court that handed it down. And since it now has jurisdiction of ECUSA's appeals of the discovery order, ECUSA's attorneys will find out soon enough the chances that their arguments will receive any favorable hearing in the South Carolina courts.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Watch out What You Ask for: ECUSA Gets CA Judge to Call Every Parish Conveyance Since 1979 into Question

In 1979, in response to threats by parishes to leave over the issue of women's ordination to the priesthood, ECUSA enacted its now notorious Dennis Canon. The Canon purported to impose unilaterally a trust upon the real and personal property of every single parish, mission and congregation in every single diocese of the Church -- regardless of what State laws said about the requisites for creating a valid trust.

In 1982, the California legislature enacted the current version of Corporations Code Section 9142(c), which reads as follows (with my bold emphasis):
(c) No assets of a religious corporation are or shall be deemed to be impressed with any trust, express or implied, statutory or at common law unless one of the following applies:
(1) Unless, and only to the extent that, the assets were received by the corporation with an express commitment by resolution of its board of directors to so hold those assets in trust.

(2) Unless, and only to the extent that, the articles or bylaws of the corporation, or the governing instruments of a superior religious body or general church of which the corporation is a member, so expressly provide.

(3) Unless, and only to the extent that, the donor expressly imposed a trust, in writing, at the time of the gift or donation.
Never mind for the moment that the only "members" of ECUSA are its dioceses, and that parishes are members of individual dioceses, not of ECUSA itself. In 2009, in its decision in The Episcopal Church Cases, the California Supreme Court read section 9142 (c) to empower ECUSA to impose a trust on all property of every Episcopal Church parish in California simply by the enactment of its Dennis Canon -- three years before the statute enabling the Canon was adopted.

Ever since, ECUSA has used the Dennis Canon to win many suits against individual parishes in California who took steps to leave their diocese without the consent of the diocese or its ecclesiastical authority. The courts have held that, as given effect by section 9142 (c), the Dennis Canon trumps any State-law requirement of the statute of frauds, which prevents you or me from declaring a trust on someone else's property without a writing signed by that someone else who actually owns the property.

At the same time it added subsection (c) to the statute in 1982, the legislature added subsection (d), which reads (again, with my bold for emphasis):
(d) Trusts created by paragraph (2) of subdivision (c) may be amended or dissolved by amendment from time to time to the articles, bylaws, or governing instruments creating the trusts....
The California Supreme Court also held, in The Episcopal Church Cases, that pursuant to this language, a trust created by ECUSA in its national canons (bylaws) could be amended or revoked only by another amendment to those same canons -- in other words, that parishes could not revoke by themselves any Dennis Canon trust imposed unilaterally on their property.

ECUSA's lawsuits against individual parishes began in the Diocese of Los Angeles and Diocese of San Diego, as noted in earlier posts here and here. In those cases, as I mentioned, the parishes tried to leave and take their property without the consent of the ecclesiastical authorities of those dioceses. And in each case, the courts concluded that the attempts to amend the parish's governing documents contrary to the Dennis Canon were null and void.

In one case -- that against St. James parish in Newport Beach -- the trial court even refused to give effect to a written waiver of the Dennis Canon signed by the Diocese's Canon to the Ordinary (i.e., the diocesan bishop) on behalf of the Diocese of Los Angeles. The waiver had been requested by wealthy St. James donors who wanted to buy additional valuable property for the parish's expansion, but who did not want the property to be subject to the national trust. Amazingly, the trial court found that no single bishop (or his deputy) could waive the Canon, because it was part of the governing documents of ECUSA, and only ECUSA itself (i.e., acting through its General Convention) could amend its governing documents.

As I wrote here, this decision put a cloud on the title of all Episcopal parish deeds of real and personal property executed since 1979 in Orange County -- because none of those transfers had taken place with the consent of General Convention. Ever since the Church's formation in 1789, sales and alienations of parish property had required the consent only of the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese in which the parish was located. The national Church had never had anything to do with property transfers by individual parishes, nor could it -- General Convention is in session less than 1% of the time (10 days or so out of every three years).

When the Diocese of San Joaquin amended its constitution and canons in December 2007, however, things were different: the Dennis Canon applies by its language only to property held "by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation", and not to property owned by member dioceses. There was no language in ECUSA's governing documents prohibiting dioceses from amending their own governing documents as they chose, and in particular, there was no language preventing any diocese from withdrawing its membership in the Church.

Nevertheless, ECUSA still brought suit against Bishop Schofield and various entities that held the title to the diocesan real property and bank accounts, in which it claimed that Bishop Schofield was not authorized to transfer the properties and bank accounts. And then it also filed suit against the nine incorporated parishes in the diocese that owned their own real and personal property, and claimed title to that property under the terms of its Dennis Canon.

Fast forward now to the present day. One of the withdrawing San Joaquin parishes that ECUSA sued was St. John's, in Stockton. It brought a motion for summary judgment that its Dennis Canon applied to all of St. John's property, and that the withdrawing congregation had no right to any of it.

Notwithstanding that (in contrast to the Southern California cases) St. John's had not left on its own, but together with the entire Diocese and also with the express written consent of Bishop Schofield,  the trial court judge today decided that Bishop Schofield or his diocese had no authority to consent to remove the Dennis Canon trust from any parish property.

He reached this conclusion despite the evidence that Bishop Schofield and his standing committee for all the years they ran the Diocese, just like every other diocesan bishop and standing committee elsewhere in the Church, had regularly consented to the sale and disposition of parish properties -- without ever seeking any kind of approval or release from the national body.  In other words, the evidence was undisputed that the national Church had always, since 1979, allowed bishops and their dioceses to act as its agents in permitting sales of property free and clear of the Dennis Canon trust.

But no longer. Once again, a trial court's decision has beclouded the title of every transaction involving any sale or disposition of its real or personal property by any Episcopal parish in California from August 1979 forward. Technically, even goods purchased at a parish fundraiser or rummage sale are literally still impressed with a Dennis Canon trust under its broad language applying to "all" property.

To be sure, in most cases, the trust interest imposed by the Dennis Canon will have been extinguished by application of the bona-fide-purchaser doctrine, because it is an unrecorded interest. If you have an unrecorded trust interest in your cousins' property, say, but they sell it to someone else who has no way of knowing about your interest (because it is not part of the record title), then so long as the property is acquired for its fair value, the sale extinguishes your unrecorded interest, and the buyers take title free and clear of that interest.

But the bona-fide-purchaser exception is not automatic; it is a question of fact to be determined in each and every case, based on what the purchaser actually knew or could reasonably have been expected to know. Now that ECUSA has so many lawsuits pending in California, with stories about them appearing in many newspapers, it will become harder and harder for title companies to ignore the Dennis Canon interest in church cases involving just real property. And once they start writing exceptions in their title policies, the properties will become virtually unsaleable. That development, of course, would defeat the hope of ECUSA and its rump diocese in San Joaquin to recoup their  costly legal expenses by putting on the market the properties they have acquired through litigation, and for which they have no current physical use.

For all these reasons, therefore, it seems doubtful that these legal rulings in Los Angeles and San Joaquin counties can stand. But that is of no comfort to the parishes who have to move out and leave the properties vacant until the courts sort things out.

Nor does it sound as though ECUSA or its attorneys have thought things through. At this point, by urging that no single bishop can act on ECUSA's behalf, they have shot themselves in the foot. (For instance, if that is the case, then how could only the Presiding Bishop have authorized the bringing of all these lawsuits in the Church's name? By their own admission, the suits are not authorized.)

And as they are currently arguing these cases, they are making it more and more difficult for themselves to dispose of any surplus properties gained through the (unauthorized) litigation, until they get General Convention to modify the Dennis Canon.

Said in those classic words, watch out what you ask for: you just might get it. 


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Enough evidence for you, Mr. Russell?

This video will put into perspective for you the extremely fragile niche which Planet Earth occupies in the vastness of the known universe. (Click on the four corners emblem at the lower right to watch it fullscreen.)

Earth is:

  • just the right distance from the Sun to allow water and carbon-based life
  • now at just the unique time in the Sun's evolution for its light and energy to foster and not destroy us (as it will in a few billion years)
  • in a solar system just the right distance away from the galactic center for long-term stability
  • in a perfect spot to allow astronomers to see out to the farthest edges of space
  • circled by a moon at just the right distance to allow total solar eclipses
  • at the point in time when humans have evolved to hold the keys to their own fate

Do you begin to grasp why belief in God is at least rational?

Note: my title is taken from the rather supercilious response Bertrand Russell once gave to the question of what he would say to God if, upon his death, he found himself before Him: "I would tell him that He did not provide enough evidence for rational belief."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Judge Orders God to Break Up into Smaller Deities

From The Onion (some 12 years ago, but still timeless -- and especially appropriate on this day, with only a few minor changes to protect the innocent):
WASHINGTON, DC—Calling the theological giant's stranglehold on the religion industry "blatantly anti-competitive," a U.S. district judge ruled Monday that God is in violation of anti-monopoly laws and ordered Him to be broken up into several less powerful deities.

"The evidence introduced in this trial has convinced me that the deity known as God has willfully and actively thwarted competition from other deities and demigods, promoting His worship with such unfair scare tactics as threatening non-believers with eternal damnation," wrote District Judge John Shelby Sprong in his decision. "In the process, He has carved out for Himself an illegal monotheopoly." 
The suit, brought against God by the Obama Justice Department on behalf of a coalition of Democratic, polytheistic "lesser deities," mayors and governors, alleged that He violated antitrust laws by claiming in the Holy Bible that He was the sole creator of the universe, and by strictly prohibiting the worship of what He termed "false idols." 
"God clearly commands that there shall be no other gods before Him, and He frequently employs the phrase 'I AM The Lord' to intimidate potential deserters," prosecuting attorney general Eric Holder said in his argument to the court. "God uses other questionable strong-arm tactics to secure and maintain humanity's devotion, demanding, among other things, that people sanctify their firstborn to Him and obtain circumcisions as a show of faith. There have also been documented examples of Him smiting those caught worshipping graven images, and vehemently opposing same-sex marriages."
OK, up to this point, The Onion gets its theology more or less correct -- at least from an Old Testament point of view. But then, as is inevitable with too-clever humorists, they stray from well-established Christian doctrine, and veer off into unnecessary stereotypes and parodies of Christianity, after they have already made their point. For the rest, therefore, your Anglican Curmudgeon has judiciously edited the original content to bring it into line with traditional Anglican and current Episcopalian views (you can compare what follows with the original here), with his own particular inventions to suit the occasion:
Attorneys for God did not deny such charges. They did, however, note that God offers followers "unbeatable incentives" in return for their acceptance of His revealed Word, including salvation from sin and hell, eternal life, and "fruitfulness on Earth" (for those who can learn to multiply). 
"God was the first to approach the Jewish people with an exclusive 'covenant' contract that guaranteed they would be the most favored in His eyes, and He handed down standards of morality, cleanliness, and personal conduct that exceeded anything else practiced at the time," lead defense attorney Hugh Blankenship said. 
"He readily admits to being a 'jealous' God, not because He is threatened by the prospect of competition from other gods, but because He is unmovable in the righteousness of His cause and declares that He, not the wretched mortal sinners whom He created 'in His image', already knows which of them will choose Him, and which of them will worship lesser gods. Many of these so-called 'lesser' gods could care less if somebody bears false witness, or covets thy neighbor's wife. Our client, on the other hand, is truly a 'People's God,' and wants no man to forfeit salvation except by his own pre-ordained choice." 
In the end, however, God was unable to convince Sprong over the arguments advanced by attorneys for The Episcopal Church (USA) that He deliberately sought to create a marketplace hostile to rival deities, which at the same time interfered with the Church's plans to devolve into a composite of society at large. 
God's attorneys attempted to convince the judge of His openness to partners, pointing to His longtime participation in the "Holy Trinity," but the effort failed when Sprong, following a suggestion by ECUSA attorney Bart "Beers" Ehrman, determined that Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are "more God subsidiaries than competitors." 
To comply with federal antitrust statutes, God will be required to divide Himself into a pantheon of specialized gods and goddesses, each representing a force of nature or a specific human custom, occupation, or state of mind. 
"There will most likely be a sun god, a moon goddess, a sea god, and a rain goddess," said religion-industry watcher and  prominent Episcopalian Rachel Herald Evans. "Then there will be some second-tier deities, like a god of wine, a goddess of the harvest, and perhaps a few who symbolize human love, beauty, art and/or blacksmithing. Stay tuned as we coordinate with the Standing Commission on Liturgy, the sponsors of 'Holy Women, Holy Men', to give equal representation in the Church liturgy to all the other deities deserving of Episcopalians' worship." 
Leading theologians, including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA), the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, are applauding the God breakup, saying that it will usher in a new era of greater worshipping options, increased efficiency, and more personalized service. 
"Before this decision," she said in an official statement from her headquarters at 815 Second Avenue in New York City, "we Episcopalians were faced with an unacceptable alternative of having to confine God to a very small box. Now that Judge Schofield has ordered Him to break up His monotheopoly, we will have a whole range of boxes at our disposal, and we can get on with the business of promoting our Church as open to all. After all, there is no Church that can beat us at inclusivity, and this decision vindicates our individualized approach to faith tailored to the needs of society as we recognize it." 
"God's prayer-response system has been plagued by massive, chronic backlogs, and many prayers have gone unanswered in the process," said Gene Suozzi, a Phoenix-area Wiccan. "With polytheism, you pray to the deity specifically devoted to your concern. If you wish to have children, you pray to the fertility goddess. If you want to do well on an exam, you pray to the god of wisdom, and so on. This decentralization will result in more individualized service and swifter response times." Suozzi denied that his views on the case had been influenced by an invitation from Dr. Jefferts Schori to lead the worship service at the 2015 installation of ECUSA's Presiding Bishop at National Cathedral.
Other religious experts were not so confident that the breakup is for the best, pointing to the chaotic nature of polytheistic worship and noting that multiple gods demand an elaborate regimen of devotion that today's average worshipper may find arduous and inconvenient. 
"If people want a world in which they must lay burnt offerings before an earthenware household god to ensure that their car will start on a cold winter morning, I suppose Judge Sprong means they can have it," said Father Thomas Reinholdt, theology professor at Chicago's Loyola University. 
"But don't forget their track record -- lesser deities are infamous for their mercurial nature. They often meddle directly in diplomatic affairs, abduct comely young women for their concubines, and are not above demanding an infant or two for sacrifice. Monotheism, for all its faults, at least means convenience, stability, and a consistent moral code -- not to mention a common lectionary."
 The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church begged to differ. Said she: "Monotheism was fast succumbing to the Great Western Heresy, according to which only Westerners can know the path to salvation. Indeed, Western faith in the 21st century was on its last legs, until there came this invigorating decision to eliminate monotheopoly. We thank Gaia, the Mother Jesus, Sophia and all her faithful attendants, from the beginning of the world until today, for their faithful perseverance in prevailing against patriarchy and its feminine-degrading paternalism. Today is the beginning of the new freedom from superannuated Western monotheism!"   
Aides to the Presiding Bishop said that she would soon issue pastoral directives to all diocesan bishops in the Church concerning whom, and specifically which categories of canonically-recognized sexual orientations and identities, they could put forward as their successors in their dioceses. 
Meanwhile, one deity who, along with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is welcoming the verdict is the ancient Greek god Zeus, who described himself as "jubilant" and "absolutely vindicated." 
"For thousands of years, I've been screaming that this third-rate sky deity ripped me off wholesale," said Zeus, speaking from his Mt. Olympus residence. "Every good idea He ever had He took from me: Who first created men just like himself? Who punished mankind -- well, okay, not regularly -- for its transgressions and disrespectful sacrifices? Who lived eternally up in the clouds? And the whole fearsome, patriarchal, white-beard, thunderbolt thing? I was doing that eons before this two-bit hustler started horning in on the action." 
Lawyers for God say they plan to appeal Sprong's ruling and are prepared to go all the way to the "Supreme Court" if necessary -- only they indicated that Judge Sprong might have to answer to a higher power than nine mere black-robed mortals. 
"This decision is a crushing blow to God worshippers everywhere, and we refuse to submit to a breakup until every possible avenue of argument is pursued," Blankenship  said. "I have every confidence that God will ultimately win, as He and His lawyers are all-powerful, and -- after all -- there is no higher court than God's."