Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Perfectly Cowardly Answer: Publishing Religious Images That May Offend

 

BN-GK083_Charli_JV_20150112182529Sometimes I wake up thinking, “I could write something serious and original about the state of the world, or I could have a look at The New York Times and spend my morning shooting trout in a barrel.”

In my defense, the weather is quite hot and The Times made it too easy. Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The Times, yesterday tried to explain why the paper chose not to print Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons depicting Muhammad in the wake of the massacre of Charlie Hebdo staffers in Paris.

You may recall that afterward, their surviving colleagues went on television, begging the world media to show the cover of the first edition they published after the murders. They asked this, first, to show that the image was not, in fact, calculated to offend — unless one accepted the precept that any depiction of Mohammed was inherently offensive. Second, and far more important, they noted that if every publication printed the cover, they wouldn’t be singled out as targets. Beyond that argument, there is the further point that, obviously, the cover was newsworthy.

But no, The Times didn’t think so.

To ask why they didn’t publish it, writes Sullivan, is a “perfectly reasonable question.” It is one to which she offers the paper’s perfectly cowardly answer. “Explaining his position,” she writes, “Dean Baquet, the executive editor, said The Times did not wish to gratuitously offend religious sensibilities.”

Right.

But how then to explain why its ArtsBeat section, covering protests by Roman Catholics in Milwaukee of a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI made from condoms, published an image of the work in question?

Here’s how The Times Standards Editor replies:

I don’t think these situations — the Milwaukee artwork and the various Muhammad caricatures — are really equivalent. For one thing, many people might disagree, but museum officials clearly consider this Johnson piece to be a significant artwork. Also, there’s no indication that the primary intent of the portrait is to offend or blaspheme (the artist and the museum both say that it is not intended to offend people but to raise a social question about the fight against AIDS). And finally, the very different reactions bear this out. Hundreds of thousands of people protested worldwide, for instance, after the Danish cartoons were published some years ago. While some people might genuinely dislike this Milwaukee work, there doesn’t seem to be any comparable level of outrage.

Please pause with me for a moment to admire this undisguised and contemptible cowardice. It approaches a perfection of some kind. There’s no indication that the prim29artsbeat-benedict-blog480ary intent of a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI made from condoms is to offend or blaspheme? Written with the literary equivalent of a straight face?

From the original article, which features the condom-Pope prominently:

“Our hope is that the piece will bring not only [my emphasis] controversy, but room for conversation about the underlying discussion the artist intended as well as regarding the role of art in public discussion,” Dan Keegan, the museum’s director, said in a statement.

Clearly, no primary intent to offend or blaspheme. I mean, who in his right mind could imagine a portrait of the Pope titled “Eggs Benedict” and made out of condoms could offend?

Oddly, the article itself not only notes the that Roman Catholics were “upset,” but links to a blog post by Jerome E. Listecki, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, in which he hints that he finds the work in question offensive. If you read very carefully between the lines, you may be able to sense it:

An artist who claims his or her work is some great social commentary and a museum that accepts it, insults a religious leader of a church, whose charitable outreach through its missionaries and ministers has eased the pain of those who suffer throughout the world, must understand the rejection of this local action by the believers who themselves have been insulted.

To spot that the Archbishop and local believers may have been offended of course requires an exceptional sensitivity to literary nuance and subtlety, because he merely says so in plain and unambiguous English — as opposed to charging into the museum with an AK-47 and slaughtering everyone in it, as normal people would. This is perhaps why the editor was confused.

That said, one assumes that the editors of the ArtsBeat section of The Times have some familiarity with the idea that art and language often require of us a careful study to see deeper and subtler layers of meaning. So it’s a bit surprising that it didn’t occur to a single one of them to wonder whether depicting a Pope built out of condoms might have an offensive subtext. Also odd that they didn’t notice that the museum director said that he hoped it would be controversial. Odd, too, that the words, “believers … have been insulted” escaped their notice. Not really the exquisite level of sensitivity to nuance you’d expect of professional art critics. But I get it: No one killed anyone to make it clear they were offended, so by today’s standards, no one was offended. If you look at it that way (and only if you look at it that way), it makes perfect sense.

By the way, you may have seen this already, but Paul Berman wrote quite a good piece about the cruelty and perversity of the PEN authors who saw fit to boycott the PEN gala honoring the survivors:

… The major English-language news organizations compounded the hysteria by deciding to regard it as other than hysterical. Everyone knows that, in the cases of the Jyllands-Posten and Charlie Hebdo alike, and perhaps in a few other cases, too, the journalistic logic for reprinting or broadcasting the cartoons was and is overwhelming. The cartoon crisis has been a significant event in world affairs for 10 years now, and it is impossible to understand the crisis without seeing the cartoons. The news organizations, in justifying their decision not to reproduce the images, have not seriously argued otherwise. The news organizations have taken the position, instead, that, if they were to publish or broadcast the images, they would inflict a tremendous emotional wound on their Muslim readers and viewers — a wound so grievous as to counterbalance the public’s need to examine the cartoons, including everyone among the public who might be Muslim.

And yet, the cartoons are offensive or injurious only if you assume the fundamentalist injunction and the demonic conspiracy theory. Otherwise, nothing in them is illegitimate or especially offensive.

Worth reading in full, if you haven’t already.

If you wish to dive deeper into a funk, consider this comment left by one of The Times‘ readers. He’s chosen (without irony?) the handle “An Iconoclast.” He lives, apparently, in Oregon:

Maybe I’m becoming more conservative in my old age but I think the safety of people working at the Times comes first. I have seen the Charlie Hebdo images via internet search and they are not very interesting or powerful in their content. Really just juvenile in my view. Do we really find risking lives over rude drawings to be an important expression of our first amendment?

The Times can use what courage it has in more important fields of controversy. I did not see the Pope in condom pave [sic] but that is an important discussion with a Christian institution. While the Hebdo cartoons were making social commentary were very in your face kind of stuff aimed at an already angry murderous target.

(“Conservative” in his old age? I suppose the confusion is understandable; the words “conservative,” “craven,” and “cowardly” all start with the same letter. They all contain two or more syllables. Anyone could get the words mixed up.)

Or perhaps, in a way, that comment is encouraging. At least our (unlikely) Iconoclast is perfectly straightforward. Nothing disingenuous or inconsistent there. He surrenders. He makes it all very clear, at least. Let us at least give him credit for saying plainly what he means.

 

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  1. Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    I have seen the Charlie Hebdo images via internet search and they are not very interesting or powerful in their content. Really just juvenile in my view.

    Nothing juvenile at all about making the Pope’s image in condoms. Perhaps for the upcoming Democratic primaries someone could kick off a mature discussion by making a collage of Hillary Clinton using denture cream, prunes and Depends diapers.

    • #1
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:04 AM PDT
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  2. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    The world abounds with cowards. Wonderful piece, Claire. These are trout worth shooting, and you have done a service in excess of an intensely creative and heavily researched article about somewhere-istan. That would be mere facts, which no longer matter.

    Stances matter. Thank you.

    • #2
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:04 AM PDT
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  3. Kozak Member
    KozakJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wonder how much revenue they have made for ads for this..

    Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 2.19.39 PM

    NYT Review of Book of Mormon

    Cowards and hypocrits

    • #3
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:24 AM PDT
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  4. genferei Member
    genfereiJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Can we all agree, then, that the institution of journalism as it is currently constituted does more harm than good? And that, therefore, people of good will should be working to destroy it, in the hope that something that lives up to the ideals held dear by (and, as far as I can see, only by) Claire and Mollie H can grow in its stead?

    • #4
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:29 AM PDT
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  5. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Thought I would capture some context, since I am soon to change my avatar (and pen name).

    coment

    • #5
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:30 AM PDT
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  6. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Things will not change till Christians start killing people and blowing things up. Since that is not the Christian way, they are doomed to martyrdom and extinction.

    • #6
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:38 AM PDT
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  7. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Real Jane Galt:Things will not change till Christians start killing people and blowing things up. Since that is not the Christian way, they are doomed to martyrdom and extinction.

    The first sentence is a fact, and is what the NYTimes and other cowards are saying. The second is speculation.

    • #7
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:41 AM PDT
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  8. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    genferei:Can we all agree, then, that the institution of journalism as it is currently constituted does more harm than good? And that, therefore, people of good will should be working to destroy it, in the hope that something that lives up to the ideals held dear by (and, as far as I can see, only by) Claire and Mollie H can grow in its stead?

    “But what are you fooooooor?”

    • #8
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:42 AM PDT
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  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    It’s a frustrating waste of resources. Like spending a day swatting at flies in lieu of building something new and useful. Such a piece should never have been published. It satirizes and humiliates itself. Once it’s out there, it does need to be denounced, of course — by many, and loudly.

    But so many of us have to waste so much time saying, “This is absurd, cowardly, and outrageous” — and in doing so we do use time we could be spending on learning something new, doing research, reading something worthwhile, trying to contribute something of value. When The Times descends to this level of stupid, it takes us all down with it. Because yes, civilized people do have to reply to this — you can’t let it go unanswered.

    But it’s like a never-ending sink of dirty dishes that you have to keep washing — rather than actually cooking something.

    • #9
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:54 AM PDT
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  10. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    It’s a frustrating waste of resources. Like spending a day swatting at flies in lieu of building something new and useful. Such a piece should never have been published. It satirizes and humiliates itself. Once it’s out there, it does need to be denounced, of course – by many, and loudly.

    But so many of us have to waste so much time saying, “This is absurd, cowardly, and outrageous” — and in doing so we do use time we could be spending on learning something new, doing research, reading something worthwhile, trying to contribute something of value. When The Times descends to this level of stupid, it takes us all down with it. Because yes, civilized people do have to reply to this — you can’t let it go unanswered.

    But it’s like a never-ending sink of dirty dishes that you have to keep washing — rather than actually cooking something.

    When the clean dishes run out, the restaurant shuts down.

    It’s a blessing that insipid lunacy like this gets published. This is *obviously* what is driving much of our ruin, and it’s an opportunity for stout folks to point out, to rebut and refute, or despairing of immediately positive outcomes (because you will not change their minds no way no how), to savage the infernal cowardice and immorality for what it is.

    Sometimes winning hearts and minds means two to the heart, one to the mind.

    • #10
    • July 2, 2015, at 4:58 AM PDT
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  11. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Ball Diamond Ball:It’s a blessing that insipid lunacy like this gets published.

    Yes, in a way, because it makes things so clear. They’re outright saying it, in effect: we don’t publish these things because we’re afraid they’ll kill us. People can then judge that stance on its merits, instead of wondering whether there’s a virtue in their sensitivity. But the thought reminds me of Hitchens describing his sense of exhilaration when the Twin Towers came down — “now, at last, they’ll understand.” (Or something like that, I don’t remember what he said.)

    Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

    • #11
    • July 2, 2015, at 5:05 AM PDT
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  12. Scott Wilmot Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Please pause with me for a moment to admire this undisguised and contemptible cowardice. It approaches a perfection of some kind.

    Dear Claire,

    You have a very precise and admirable way with words. I love your description of the way the Times twisted themselves into a pretzel to justify their decision.

    And thank you for the link to Archbishop Listecki’s response – it was very good. I especially liked this:

    …when we lose objective truth, meaning that something is truth apart from assessment, then we lose language and our ability to speak with one another from a common perspective. Is something objectively true apart from what I believe it to be? Every word becomes subject to a person’s individual perspective.

    A perfect description of the NYT editorial writer – apparently the standards editor has no standards

    • #12
    • July 2, 2015, at 5:10 AM PDT
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  13. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Ball Diamond Ball: The world abounds with cowards. Wonderful piece, Claire. These are trout worth shooting,

    Sometimes, the fish are asking for it.

    Well said, Claire.

    • #13
    • July 2, 2015, at 5:27 AM PDT
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  14. MJBubba Inactive

    Claire, talk with Mollie. She has an extensive portfolio that exposes the Times as anti-Christian, and I think that this is just as much a factor here as is cowardice.

    Mollie has particularly shown the New York Times to be anti-Catholic. They aren’t just biased against the Roman Catholic Church, they have actively sought to undermine bishops and priests who were orthodox and to promote everything unorthodox or syncretistic that they could find within the church.

    A number of years ago this was discussed at GetReligion.org. It was there that I was referred to this 2010 article:

    https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/church-%E2%80%98times%E2%80%99

    In the article, Kenneth L. Woodward explained how the NYT views the Roman Catholic Church as their chief competitor for the souls of their readers.

    • #14
    • July 2, 2015, at 5:35 AM PDT
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  15. JimmyNeutron Inactive

    I am relatively new here. I love your writing Claire. Thanks for contributing.

    • #15
    • July 2, 2015, at 5:56 AM PDT
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  16. Johnny Dubya Member

    The artwork in question was allegedly intended to spread awareness of AIDS and protest the objection of the Catholic Church to condom use.

    Meanwhile, homosexuals in the Muslim world are regularly murdered for being homosexual. Why not create a portrait of Muhammad using condoms? I think we know the answer.

    This artist is a chicken who prefers to pick on those he knows won’t retaliate with deadly force, or any force in fact.

    • #16
    • July 2, 2015, at 5:57 AM PDT
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  17. GrannyDude Member

    Oh, Claire.

    Every now and then, I wonder: why am I no longer content to call myself a liberal? And then you give me this.

    Well done. Keep washing. (Am sharing this with lots and lots of people, which I hope is the equivalent of picking up a dishtowel and drying a few of the spoons).

    • #17
    • July 2, 2015, at 6:17 AM PDT
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  18. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian ClendinenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Real Jane Galt:Things will not change till Christians start killing people and blowing things up.Since that is not the Christian way, they are doomed to martyrdom and extinction.

    Martyrodm but not extinction unless the U.S. actually grows wealthier then extinction might actually be possible. The communist have been trying to stamp out Christians for almost a century in China & Russia. China is already a more christian nations as % of the population than any European country and might soon pass the U.S. in a decade or two.

    It has only been recently in the middle east have we actually seen extinction happen under Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama in nations we had under our control. Historically speaking Martyrodm almost universally caused Christianity to grow.

    • #18
    • July 2, 2015, at 6:21 AM PDT
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  19. Dustoff Inactive

    Terrific writing Claire.

    • #19
    • July 2, 2015, at 6:29 AM PDT
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  20. David Knights Member

    As Professor Reynolds keeps pointing out, whether intentional or not, they are simply encouraging people to resort to violence since clearly violence is rewarded.

    I personally suspect that somewhere deep in their hearts they want that to happen, so then they can make the “See all religions do it” argument.

    • #20
    • July 2, 2015, at 6:43 AM PDT
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  21. Jules PA Member

    If art is supposed to express and touch the soul, we do see the truth, and its supporters highlight the battleground with this work. Humanity is worse for wear on this one.

    Sometimes it seems like artists and museums (even newspapers) have their own sort of twisted jihadist mentality, repeatedly battering the boundaries of civility and sense.

    If the artist’s war lies in the HIV battlefield, surely there is a more effective tool to garner support (not just attention) than what this artist has wrought?

    That may be too strong of a comparison, because in this instance we can at least walk away shaking our heads, without bloodshed.

    • #21
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:18 AM PDT
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  22. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    If you watch anything on the now-misnamed History or Discovery Channels on cable you’d know everything is the fault of the Masons, the Illuminati and the Knights Templar. So why can’t they take out The New York Times?

    • #22
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:30 AM PDT
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  23. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    EJHill:If you watch anything on the now-misnamed History or Discovery Channels on cable you’d know everything is the fault of the Masons, the Illuminati and the Knights Templar. So why can’t they take out The New York Times?

    We’re working on it – have you seen their subscription numbers lately?

    Give a secret conspiracy a break, we have to keep that aliens guy with the crazy hair out there to discredit our opposition…

    • #23
    • July 2, 2015, at 8:24 AM PDT
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  24. Dave of Barsham Member

    OmegaPaladin:

    EJHill:If you watch anything on the now-misnamed History or Discovery Channels on cable you’d know everything is the fault of the Masons, the Illuminati and the Knights Templar. So why can’t they take out The New York Times?

    We’re working on it – have you seen their subscription numbers lately?

    Give a secret conspiracy a break, we have to keep that aliens guy with the crazy hair out there to discredit our opposition…

    ancient-aliens-meme

    • #24
    • July 2, 2015, at 8:26 AM PDT
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  25. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    EJHill:If you watch anything on the now-misnamed History or Discovery Channels on cable you’d know everything is the fault of the Masons, the Illuminati and the Knights Templar. So why can’t they take out The New York Times?

    It is true but I would not worry about it much. I was at a Mason meeting last week and it was right on the agenda. First item was a discussion on how to get participation up on this month’s fish fry family night, second item was next month’s golf scramble, third item was the road block fundraiser we do for the children’s hospital we sponsor, fourth item was how to pay the bills this month with no money, and there on the bottom was the last agenda item about a discussion on world domination, it was tabled to the next meeting as it has been for the last 2000+ years. Then we collected some money from the membership to help a single mother buy eyeglasses for her child. Sinister guys those / us masons.

    • #25
    • July 2, 2015, at 8:45 AM PDT
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  26. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ms. Berlinski,

    I can see that once again you have wondered. I must come to your aid and straighten you out. Let us review the subject of Aesthetics.

    Kant says (adequate for me not necessarily for GG) that the beautiful is morality (the good) subjectively perceived through form. This is the most profound & simple analysis of aesthetics one can find. However, to this we must add a commentary on morality itself by Ayn Rand. Ayn said that at a certain point in some societies a phenomenon occurs that she called “Moral Inversion”. By Moral Inversion Ayn meant that the good is considered evil and evil is considered good. Let us for the sake of argument (and my ego) assume that both Kant’s definition of aesthetics and Rand’s Moral Inversion phenomenon are true.

    You, of course, as sharp and quick as you are, already you can see where I’m going. Yes, of course, as the good is now considered evil, do to Moral Inversion, so the evil will be considered good. Now the formula for beauty will be: Beauty is evil subjectively perceived through form. Easy Shmeasy like falling off the end of the dock (into shallow water).

    Now we can see that the Portrait of the Pope made from condoms was evil subjectively perceived (you had to look real close), and thus beautiful (after moral inversion). On the other hand, the objective presentation of the Hebdo cartoon was not subjective at all. Of course, the mass slaughter of humans at the magazine was without question pure hideous evil. However, once again only objectively so and thus not within our aesthetic scope.

    Surely now you can see that the Art Beat people at the Times acted in a truly professional manner. You can not expect the editorial functionaries at the Times to over rule them.

    BTW, Ayn Rand explained that Moral Inversion was a phenomenon that was only in effect for a short time. After all the good is not evil and evil is not the good. In very short order Moral Inversion brings on the complete collapse of the society in which it occurs. Nothing that the small brained creatures that infest the Times would consider News.

    There now Claire, I hope you can see more clearly and feel much better about this whole affair. Just call me Mr. Helpful!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #26
    • July 2, 2015, at 9:22 AM PDT
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  27. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Knights Templar? Puleeze! Those mopes couldn’t organize a two wagon caravan.

    • #27
    • July 2, 2015, at 2:39 PM PDT
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  28. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Gave up reading the Times about a decade ago after many years. Just couldn’t take it any longer. For a while kept myself going playing games such as switching around adjectives and adverbs they used in news stories to describe Democrats and liberals versus Republicans and conservatives. Then, because Times reporters are really bad with numbers I’d read stories to find out how many discrepancies I could find between the narrative and the numbers they used for support.

    The only thing I still find fun is writing mock Times stories. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Here’s one.

    I live in the Northeast and it’s appalling how many people treat it as authoritative, including many Northeast Republicans, which may explain why the party is in such dire straits in this region.

    • #28
    • July 2, 2015, at 5:59 PM PDT
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  29. Randy Webster Member

    Real Jane Galt:It is true but I would not worry about it much. I was at a Mason meeting last week and it was right on the agenda. First item was a discussion on how to get participation up on this month’s fish fry family night, second item was next month’s golf scramble, third item was the road block fundraiser we do for the children’s hospital we sponsor, fourth item was how to pay the bills this month with no money, and there on the bottom was the last agenda item about a discussion on world domination, it was tabled to the next meeting as it has been for the last 2000+ years. Then we collected some money from the membership to help a single mother buy eyeglasses for her child. Sinister guys those / us masons.

    How can the Masons dominate the world? Everyone knows the Joos do.

    • #29
    • July 3, 2015, at 4:56 PM PDT
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  30. Dave of Barsham Member

    Randy Webster:

    Real Jane Galt:It is true but I would not worry about it much. I was at a Mason meeting last week and it was right on the agenda. First item was a discussion on how to get participation up on this month’s fish fry family night, second item was next month’s golf scramble, third item was the road block fundraiser we do for the children’s hospital we sponsor, fourth item was how to pay the bills this month with no money, and there on the bottom was the last agenda item about a discussion on world domination, it was tabled to the next meeting as it has been for the last 2000+ years. Then we collected some money from the membership to help a single mother buy eyeglasses for her child. Sinister guys those / us masons.

    How can the Masons dominate the world? Everyone knows the Joos do.

    Exactly, have you read one of TV’s Andy Levy’s pamphlets?

    • #30
    • July 3, 2015, at 5:43 PM PDT
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