Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alien Beer Can Found on Mars

The Mars Explorer robot recently returned a picture of the Martian surface revealing what appears to be the crushed remains of an alien beer can. Dr. Berkeley Stanford of NASA discussed the discovery with reporters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory yesterday.

Dr. Stanford indicated that the presence of the beer can had major implications for human exploration of the Red Planet. “We have been taking great pains to sterilize our spacecraft prior to launch out of concern for contaminating the pristine environments of other planets with earth-born microorganisms. It looks like we don’t have to worry about that anymore; it should save us a lot of money.”

When asked about the significance of the beer can for our understanding of the universe, Dr. Stanford responded, “Well, it really isn’t that much of a surprise. We’ve known for decades that the aliens were out there, and that they are real pigs. Everybody thinks we’ve been covering up a UFO crash at Roswell back in 1947. In reality, there was no crash. The debris field on Mac Brazel’s ranch wasn’t a spacecraft; it was what was left when the slobs dumped a bunch of trash bags out of their moving vehicle. The bags hit the ground at about 800 miles per hour and splattered alien garbage everywhere. The “mystery material” that Major Jesse Marcel showed to his family was just a piece of an alien Hefty bag. We were still using paper back in ’47, and nobody recognized what it was until years later.”

Dr. Stanford also replied to questions about why the aliens have not made formal contact. “We’re not sure, but the general consensus in the intelligence community is that the little grey slobs just don’t want to pay the littering fines they’ve accumulated.”

Monday, January 30, 2006


I have ambivalent feelings about the death penalty. On the one hand, I don’t have serious moral or theological qualms about executing the High Justice; it is specified in scripture as part of God’s instructions for all humans, not simply as part of the Mosaic Law. On the other hand, it does make me uneasy that (a) it terminates the possibility of repentance, and (b) there seems to be much too high an error rate in convicting the innocent and releasing the guilty. Most weeks, I guess, I come down about 60/40 in favor of dispatching murderers and traitors to the merciful judgment of the Almighty.

In any case, I would have to consider myself one of those much maligned folk who generally support capital punishment while opposing abortion. I have gotten blistered for that seeming inconsistency, but I will defend it on the basis that the life of the innocent should be protected while the life of the guilty is forfeit.

I can certainly understand and sympathize with people who oppose both capital punishment and abortion – I may wind up there myself. I can understand, without much sympathy, those who support both. At least they’re consistent. What I’ve never been able to figure out is how someone can support abortion yet oppose capital punishment. It seems completely inconsistent, yet that seems to be the default position of the Self-Righteously Indignant Left these days.

My wife explained it to me yesterday with crystal clarity. It is consistent. Support for abortion on demand, and opposition to executing criminals, both serve the purpose of allowing individuals to escape the consequences of their actions. And freedom from consequence is the primary hope and promise of the new secular Religion of Me. The new religion has only one commandment: thou shalt feel no guilt.

A mighty fortress is my self,
A bulwark for my ego.
No limitations can be placed
On any deeds that we sow.
Let no restrictions be;
Accept no boundary!
Your God is such a bore;
My will I do adore.
Autonomy forever!

Getting it Backwards

This is something a wrote a long time ago as a response to a guy who was pontificating on the need to use gender-neutral terms in scripture translations and in the liturgy, even when to do so would distort the original meaning. I never published it, and this is going to be a slow blogging day, so I offer it up for the commentary and amusement of you, dear reader. AND while you’re here, go ahead and sign my site map!

A frequent rationale for "gender neutralizing" the scriptures is that people often have bad home lives and the concept of divine fatherhood is very off-putting. We therefore need to lose the male Father image in order to reach people with the gospel.

On my crankier days, I generally respond to that argument by asking, "Reach people with the gospel of Whom?" If we are going to change the nature of the Divinity to Whom we are trying to introduce people, then what is the point of making the introduction in the first place? The only god that can possibly be of any lasting value in peoples' lives is, after all, a real One.

Crankiness aside, in my more pensive moments, it strikes me that the whole question derives from a misperception of reality - a misperception that goes way beyond fatherhood and gender bending. We all have a tendency (well, I have a tendency - I've never been anybody else) to view our local universe as reality, and to project that earthly reality upwards when we think about God and the heavenly reality. The default assumption is to think of the divine in terms of the earthly. We think of God the Father in terms of our earthly experiences of fathers; we think of the Church - the Bride of Christ - in terms of earthly brides and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in terms of earthly weddings. We think of the Law in terms of earthly laws - restrictions on our liberty. And we have it all backwards and upside down.

Since Adam fell, we his descendants are inheritors of original sin. Whether or not we equate "original sin" with "original guilt" (and that is a very old argument), all orthodox Christians agree that original sin relates to our propensity to do evil and our inability to be completely good. But there's more to it than just making it hard to click the remote when you come across a bedroom scene while channel surfing. I'm convinced that the main effect of the Fall has been to distort our perception of reality – all those naughty things we “can't not do” come directly from the warped views we have. Things that are crooked look straight and things that are straight look crooked. Small, illusory things seem large and foundational, while big fundamental things seem all thin and puny. And the insides of things seem like the outsides and the outsides seem like the insides.

We think of God the Father in terms of our dads, or our lack thereof. But the reality is just the opposite. God isn't the image of a human father; a human father is supposed to be the pale, itty-bitty reflection of the real Fatherhood implicit in the Divine Himself. We are fallen as well as puny, so we fail – sometimes very, very badly. A human marriage is the pale, insignificant reflection of the relation of God with His creation; that relationship is not an elaboration of an individual marriage. “The Law within” doesn’t constrain my natural liberty; the chaos within keeps me from reaching my full intended development, growing to fill that skeleton of purpose that is the Natural Law.

Instead of seeing our broken imitations of Godly things as the failure of fallen creatures to properly reflect the divine image, we complain that the divine reality is invalidated by the twisted reflections we see in the cracked mirrors of our hearts. And when we try to alleviate that distorted image by changing the reality, all we do is condemn ourselves to continued failure. If your earthly dad was a creep, you don't need a de-fathered image of God; you need to know that there is a real Father that your own dad didn't live up to. If your marriage isn't fulfilling, you don't need to scrap the “image of marriage” in your concept of God. You need to see that the image is actually your broken marriage, but there is a reality that isn't and can never be broken. When I don't want to be constrained by "the rules," it isn't actually the rules that are trying to constrain me. The jumbled chaos of my internal wants and desires are the real constraint; the "rules" are actually the road to perfect freedom.

You know, I don't expect my distorted images of reality to get completely cleared up in this lifetime. But please be so kind as to not try to sell me some set of theological clown glasses. Don’t try to con me into believing the illusion that my twisted visions are straight. If you want to make God in your image, go for it – it’s a free country. Me, I'd rather squint through the glass darkly at what's real than have a clear view of what's fake.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wonder-Working Icon Works Wonder

The return to Russia of the Icon of Our Lady of Smolensk the Hodygitria (Guider), which was stolen ten years ago, was marked with a miracle. When it was taken from London to Moscow by air, a storm warning was issued. A thunderstorm with a hurricane wind pulled out trees. The airliner carrying the icon could not land. The staff was prepared for an emergency landing and evacuation of the passengers at Sheremetyevo-2 airport, the Zhizn (Life) daily writes on Tuesday. The pilots made the final round over the capital. Suddenly the downpour stopped, the wind abated and the sun began to shine. Everybody on board was certain that the Mother of God prevented the death of the people.

The icon had been put in the cabin, not in the luggage space, though its largeness did not permit it. Aware of a miracle-working icon packed in the box, passengers came to it and touch it with prayer,

[…] The Hodygitria of Smolensk is considered to be one of the oldest icons from the icon-screen of Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Ustyuzhna near Vologda. It was glorified as a miracle-working icon as far back as the 15th century. It was reputed to save Ustyuzhna from the Polish-Lithuanian invasion 1608 and was glorified throughout Russia.
(From Interfax, 01/24/2006)

There was a time in my life when I would have just laughed at this. That time passed quite some time ago. For a recovering materialist like me, the reality of the presence of God is usually most evident in hindsight. With age, I’ve accumulated a lot more of that hindsight.

Was this a miracle, or just a coincidental clearing of the weather? Is a coincidental clearing of the weather any less miraculous than an apparition of the Blessed Mother? Is there really any meaningful use for the word “coincidence” in a Christian worldview? Can God work through icons? If not, then on what rational basis can I claim that God works through the equally material agencies of human thought or musculature? Heck if I know. Heck if I will know this side of the grave.

Had I been on the plane, I’d be saying a prayer of thanksgiving myself, and perhaps offering a bit of hyperdoulia before the icon.

In the immortal words of Caedmon’s Call:

I've begged you for some proof
For my Thomas eyes to see:
A slithering staff, a leperous hand,
And lions resting lazily;

A glimpse of your back-side glory
And this soaked altar going ablaze.
But you know I've seen so much;
I explained it away…
(From Shifting Sand, by Caedmon’s Call (1999), 40 Acres)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Saint Thurgood?

Could Episcopalians soon be celebrating the Feast of St. Thurgood?

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington is to consider a resolution this Friday recommending that the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall be considered a saint.

A press release from the diocese said: "If the resolution passes, and is approved by consecutive meetings of the Church's national convention, Episcopal churches will have the opportunity to celebrate May 17 as Marshall's feast day."

On that date in 1954, Marshall, who was later to become the first black Supreme Court justice, won the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case. He died in 1993.

The diocese said Thurgood Marshall didn't speak publicly about his faith, but belonged to Episcopal Churches in New York and Washington.
(From NBC Channel 4 TV, Los Angeles)

Thurgood Marshall was not only one of the justices voting in favor of Roe v. Wade, but was one of the leading voices on the Supreme Court in arguing for the decision. John 11:35.

Para-Council Distorted Vatican II?

(Read the whole thing at Renew America. )

As The Waffling Anglican, I don’t really think I’m competent to offer comments on this, but I know a lot of people are hoping and praying that Benedict XVI will take steps to renew the Catholic liturgy and the “practical theology” being taught to Catholics. In many ways, it seems like the Catholic Church after Vatican II started down the same road that the Mainline Protestant denominations have taken in the West. Unlike them, however, the Catholic Church appears to be turning away from that contemporary stampede to decouple Christianity from the cross, the resurrection, and the gospel of salvation and remake it into a religion of “niceness.” Catholics are coming back to themselves before they go over the edge of the cliff.

Come to think of it, there’s something biblical about that:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. (Mat 16:18, RSV)

May God bless their efforts, and may the trend rub off on non-Catholic Christians everywhere.

Pope Benedict XVI addressed his Roman Curia December 22 with an analysis of the reception of the Second Vatican Council after the past 40 years, and outlined a plan and call for action for the Church to bear fruits. With eager anticipation, many Catholics are now asking, "Could this 40 years of 'wandering in the desert' finally be coming to an end?"

Indeed, perhaps the biblically significant 40 years is over. A "re-centering" of the Church is now perhaps necessary, according to Bishop Álvaro Corrada, SJ, of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

Pope Benedict began this reflection on Vatican II on December 8, 2005, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, by calling Mary Immaculate "the key to understanding it." Then, on December 22, he posited two interpretations of the council, often in direct opposition with each other: One he identified as "the hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture," and the other one he claims has borne fruit, "the hermeneutics of reform."

The Pope went on to cite the media and certain segments of modern theology for assisting in disseminating the "hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture." Of course, it is evident that many priests, bishops, and cardinals have aided and abetted this appearance of a break with a preconciliar and postconciliar Church. That is, an appearance, growing more so daily, that the Church prior to the council is a completely different structure than that after the council.

He began his December 22 address with a striking analogy coming from St. Basil in his description of the Church shortly after the Council of Nicaea: "Harsh rises the cry of the combatants encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the doctrine of true religion" (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX).

As the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith — and shortly after Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's consecrations of four bishops against the express will of the Holy Father — then-Cardinal Ratzinger addressed this very topic in detail to the Chilean bishops July 13, 1988 in Santiago, Chile:

"It is a necessary task to defend the Second Vatican Council against Msgr. Lefebvre, as valid, and as binding upon the Church. Certainly there is a mentality of narrow views that isolate Vatican II and which has provoked this opposition. There are many accounts of it which give the impression that, from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and that what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II."

He continued: "The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest."

[…] Of course, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops still attempts to provide a public show of unity in the name of collegiality through its mountains of writings on topics touching on nearly aspect of American life except on faith and morals. Deo Gratias!

Catholics of the "hermeneutics of reform" (orthodox) variety have long viewed Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., as a model father and pastor in the postconciliar era. And Catholics of the "hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture" (dissidents) may rightly identify him as a combatant and as "preconciliar."

Interesting, though, that it was reported widely that Bishop Bruskewitz's diocese is bearing fruits with a large number of priestly vocations, and with almost no homosexual priests violating children scandals.

[…] But Bishop Bruskewitz is not alone. The Cardinal Bernardin factor, which has dominated the makeup of the USCCB for the past 30 years, is finally giving way to younger prelates much more in line with the perennial teachings of the Church. Quietly, but assuredly, Bishop Álvaro Corrada of Tyler, Texas, is indeed one of these quiet, unknown bishops. His and Bishop Bruskewitz's perspectives on the Pope's recent remarks follow.

Bishop Bruskewitz and Bishop Corrada share their unique and complementary perspectives on the Second Vatican Council and Pope Benedict's December 22 address. This first interview deals specifically with the reception of the Second Vatican Council.
+ + +
Q. Your Excellencies, Pope Benedict XVI's pre-Christmas Roman Curia address had a theme of the competing claims, and subsequent struggle, for the true Second Vatican Council. Do you have any comments?

Bishop Corrada: […] There have been some tendencies that have vitiated the Second Vatican Council with some of the thinking of bishops and theologians.

And it is more than that. It is secularism as an ideology. The Catholic Church sees the secular world as the place of the kingdom. But when secularism as an ideology comes and turns the world into a place where there is no transcendental relationship to God, where there is no respect for the dignity of the human person, with abortion and the whole culture of death, that is where I think this Holy Father is asking us to go back to the culture of life. And the evangelization of the Church needs to be directed in that internal reform if we are going to be effective in the world against the ideology of secularism.

Bishop Bruskewitz: […] What happened, however, is there was a para-council of periti, of experts, who all dominated through the whole matrix of media representation of what was going on at the council. Because of that, there were horrible distortions in the popular imagination, including the clerical imagination, including the priests. Even they saw this as a complete rupture. Emotionally and psychologically, people who intellectually might understand that the Mass is the same if you offer it in English or in Latin, [nonetheless] thought, "We have a whole new world here, and this doesn't really mean what it said."

We had this whole rising expectation, this para-council that gave this impression to the world that there was this big revolution. So, when this revolution hit some blank walls like "no women priests" and "no married priests," I think what happened was that then these expectations were frustrated. Then, people got all upset and more in a dissenting and rebellious mood.


Q. Both the Pope and you mentioned the effect the media had on its representation of the council as a revolution. Does the secular media even understand the Church? Do you believe the misrepresentation of the Church is intentional? Or is it out of naivete and ignorance of the Church?

Bishop Bruskewitz: It is ignorance. They are looking for sensationalism. And sometimes the reporters aren't responsible [for what happens]. It is oftentimes the editors. They like to see conflict and this is what sells their product. Of course, sex and religion are explosive issues, and the more you can put that on the pages, the better it is [...]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Richard Dawkins Gets Skewered

For anyone familiar with Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker), the English hyper-materialist and evangelical atheist, the following review from The Times of London should be a guilty pleasure. I confess, I am one of those guys who has never had a theological problem with organic evolution. Back when I worked in the lab, a good chunk of my published work was on molecular evolution, and I do a lecture on the topic in my biochemistry class every semester. But Dawkins attempts to make evolutionary theory into a basis for an atheistic philosophy of life really get on my nerves in pretty short order. It’s nice to see him get a bit of a comeuppance.

Scientists all over the nation must hold their heads and groan whenever Richard Dawkins appears on television, as he did in The Root of All Evil? (Monday, C4). He is such a terrible advertisement, such an awful embarrassment, the Billy Graham of the senior common room. His splenetic, small-minded, viciously vindictive falsetto rant at all belief that isn’t completely rooted in the natural sciences is laughable. Dawkins is a born-again Darwinist, an atheist, so why is he devoting so much blood pressure and time to arguing with something he knows doesn’t exist? If it’s not there, Richard, why do you keep shouting at it? He looks like a scientific bag lady screaming at the traffic, and watching him argue with a fundamentalist Christian, you realise they were cut from identical cloth, separated at birth. Dawkins is, of course, the archetype of a man who protests too much, and I’d say he’s well on his way to, if not a Pauline, then at least a Muggeridgian conversion. Any day now, he’ll be back on telly quoting CS Lewis.

(Tip of the gimme cap to Dyspeptic Mutterings.)

As the Old Priest Lay Dying...

An old priest lay dying. He sent a message for his IRS agent and his lawyer, both parishioners, to come to his home. When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the priest held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. The priest grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled and stared at the ceiling. For a time, no one said anything. Both the IRS agent and the attorney were touched and flattered that the old priest would ask them to be with him during his final moment. They were also puzzled because he had never given any indication that he particularly liked either one of them.

Finally, the lawyer asked, "Father, why did you ask the two of us to come?"

The old priest mustered up some strength, then said weakly, "Jesus died between two thieves, and that's how I want to go, too."
(Courtesy of The Episcopal Church in Almaden)

Michael Schiavo Gets Married (In a Catholic Church!)

Somebody Calls It Like They See It
They are the parents of two illegitimate children.

They've lived together in an adulterous relationship for over 10 years.

Their friends say adultery was okay because he was looking for companionship but refusing to divorce his wife.

No it’s not the advertisement for a television show.

After he fought the Vatican, Congress, the President and the Governor, he was successful in obtaining a court order to kill his wife, fighting her parents in the courts, all the way to Washington.

[…] Less than 10 months after her barbaric death by starvation and dehydration over 13 grueling days with the whole world watching although he claimed he was protecting his wife's privacy, Michael Schiavo wed his concubine, Jodi Centonze Saturday.

She wore white but she's not pure and chaste. They were wed in a Catholic church but Michael Schiavo defied virtually every church rule and policy concerning the religious beliefs and practice of his wife - even cremating her remains and denying her Communion.

A day after they obtained a marriage license from the clerk of the circuit court of Pinellas County, Michael Schiavo and Jodi Centonze were wed in the
Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Safety Harbor in a private ceremony apparently known only to family, friends and the St. Petersburg Times.

No homily was reportedly offered. The reception was held at the East Lake Country Club.

The church is located about 15 miles northwest of Tampa.

The Rev. Robert J. Schneider is pastor of the church but it is unknown who officiated at the ceremony.

From their web site, Espiritu Santo looks like a pretty normal church. I can’t imagine how the clergy in charge allowed their sanctuary to be used like this. It is bad enough to see a church building used for less-than-licit purposes, but under the circumstances, this seems outright blasphemous. What does this tell the world about the Catholic Church's appeal to embrace a culture of life? I can’t help wondering if the lack of a homily was a tacit admission of shame. I'd stake my life (no sick pun intended) that Abouna Don at Our Lady's would never consent to an event like this at his altar.

[…] The church is part of the Diocese of St. Petersburg of which the Most Rev. Robert N. Lynch is bishop. Although Lynch was Terri's bishop, he stood by silent while she was forcibly starved to death----after she struggled to declare that she wanted to live. Bishop Lynch issued a statement directly at odds with church teaching that food and water is basic sustenance and cannot be withheld by private choice.

Just days before Terri died last March 31, Lynch left the country. However, he left a statement posted on the Diocese website before Easter in which he didn't seem particularly concerned about the death decree issued and that it was against the official position of the Vatican and the Pope.

[…] Lynch's position was contrary to the official Vatican position. Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome said in a March 7 statement, "Without the tube, which is providing life-giving hydration and nutrition, Terri Schiavo will die. But it is not that simple. She will die a horrible and cruel death. She will not simply die; she will have death inflicted upon her over a number of terrible days, even weeks. How can anyone who claims to speak of the promotion and protection of human rights - of human life - remain silent?"

[…] Bishop Lynch's position was also directly contrary to "the teaching of the Pope" who had written that food and water is not extraordinary support for life and that it cannot morally be withheld from a dying or incapacitated person.

I keep waiting to hear that Bishop Lynch has been received into the Episcopal Church.

Jodi Centonze reportedly had her second child, born in October, 2003 at the time when the feeding tube had been removed from Terri the second time by order of Judge Greer in Michael Schiavo's efforts to kill her, baptized in Espiritu Santo church. According to knowledge sources, the priest who baptized the baby was aware that Jodi was not married to Michael Schiavo and that she had been involved in an adulterous affair with him for over 10 years.

Okay - it’s not the kid’s fault who his parents are. I don’t have a problem with the baptism itself, but isn’t it supposed to be accompanied by promises on the part of the parents and godparents to raise the child in a Christian environment and to provide spiritual training?

And at the same time, Michael was telling the world that he still loved Terri.

In October, 2003, while Jodi was having their second illegitimate child baptized in the Catholic Church, Michael barred Monsignor Thaddeus Malinowksi from administering the Catholic rite of Viaticum, the last communion for a Catholic before death.

On Easter Sunday, March 25, 2005, the ninth day that Terri had been without nutrition and hydration and the holiest day of the Catholic year, Schiavo refused to allow his wife the sacrament of communion. She received last rites on March 18, the day the feeding tube was pulled. […]
(Read the whole story here.)

Let me state the standard caveats: (a) I don’t know the internal condition of any human soul except my own, and I lie to myself about even that all the time; (b) repentance, forgiveness, and transformation are available to anyone – had Judas come to the cross, he would have found life and life eternal.

Having said that, however, this whole circumstance smacks of in-your-face defiance – the sort of attitude that seeks to bend the Church to the will of the individual. In many regards it’s similar to what’s happened in the Episcopal Church, where they’ve kept the trappings but ditched the substance. Some things are just flat-out unacceptable. All I can say is that I really hope that the God-ordained sacrament of marriage, however compromised or twisted, provides the grace to these people to bring them into the love of Christ. Pray for these people and their kids.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Saints above! Flying friar joins comic superheroes

From The Times (UK) Online (which I have found is not always the most accurate of sources in matters relating to the Church.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the Flying Friar, a real life 16th-century monk who has become the latest addition to the world of comic book superheroes.

Joseph of Copertino, a Franciscan priest renowned for his ability to levitate, will join the world of costumed crusaders next week when a new graphic novel is published in Britain and America.

The Flying Friar, by Rich Johnston and Thomas Nachlik, is based on one of the Church’s most extraordinary saints who, although canonised for his extreme modesty and patience, is more remarkable for his apparent ability to fly and demonstrate supernatural strength.

[…] Joseph Desa was initially an outcast, born into such extreme poverty in 1603 that he was delivered in a shed. He seemed to be a simpleton and was nicknamed The Gaper because of his habit of wandering around open mouthed.

He lost his father at a young age and was resented by his mother, who attempted to rid herself of him by having him join a Capuchin monastery.

Even this seemed beyond him, and he was thrown out after eight months because of his vacant attitude and habit of dropping crockery. Only after being admitted as a novice to a Franciscan order in Grottella did he begin to display his powers, which were witnessed by people of unchallenged integrity, according to the Vatican. Joseph’s most spectacular feats were his ability to soar high over the chapel’s altars and, on one occasion, to help workmen to erect a Calvary Cross 36ft high by levitating himself and lifting the heavy cross “as if it were straw”.

Until now he has found fame as the patron saint of pilots and air stewards, but next week The Flying Friar will arrive in comic bookshops across Britain.

Mr Johnston, a British author of graphic novels, attempted to keep his character faithful to the saint, but has embellished his adventures by creating a fictional adversary in the style of Superman’s enemy, Lex Luthor. The story involves Joseph’s struggle with Lux Luther, a ficticious childhood friend and great nephew of Martin Luther, the founder of Protestant Reformation.

In the final act, Joseph must use his special powers to avert Luther’s plan to rain fiery death on Copertino, his home town.

This could be the start of an encouraging trend in comic books. I remember the old Justice League of America; maybe with a few more characters we could put together a Holineness League of Christendom, fighting Satan and his minions with their preternatural powers. In addition to the flying St. Joseph of Copertino, we could have:

I can picture them now, taking on the abortion industry, stamping out ponographers and pushers, converting the Islamofascists, softening the hearts of athiests, and leading apostate bishops to repentance. Go HLC!

Any other suggestions?

Monday, January 23, 2006

My Very Own Faithmouse Cartoon!

Thanks to Dan Lacey at Faithmouse! The cartoon and the "A Womb of My Own" picket sign refers to the 1994 "March for Women's Lives" in Washington, D. C., of which the Episcopal Church, USA was a sponsor. From that moment, my decision to leave ECUSA was only a matter of when. For Dan to post it on Jan. 21, one day before the 33rd anniversery of Roe v. Wade, is particularly poignant.

Heavenly Father, in Your love for us,
protect against the wickedness of the devil,
those helpless little ones
to whom You have given the gift of life.

Touch with pity the hearts of those
women pregnant in our world today
who are not thinking of motherhood.

Help them to see that the child they carry
is made in Your image - as well as theirs -
made for eternal life.

Dispel their fear and selfishness
and give them true womanly hearts
to love their babies and give them birth
and all the needed care that a mother can give.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with You and Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Book of Daniel's creator asking fans to contact stations

From Religion News Service
The creator of NBC's The Book of Daniel is warning viewers that "bullies" at the American Family Association may succeed in their fight to kill the show unless viewers speak up.

The fundamental (no pun intended) problem here seems to be that no one besides liberal Episcopalians wants to watch the show. Orthodox Christians are offended, and the atheists probably have no interest in a show about screwed-up Christians. Are we "bullies" required to watch crap in order to support this guy and stoke his ego?

Jack Kenny, the creative force behind the prime-time drama about an Episcopal priest and his dysfunctional family, posted his appeal on a blog, http://www.blogofdaniel.com/, whose host is the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

And here we have an excellent example of the disconnect between the power structure of ECUSA and the laity in the pews. The first thing you want to know about people is not their ecclesial credentials, but "What does the world look like to you when you get up in the morning?" Those in charge of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington obviously have a much different perception of what the world is like than the rest of us do.

Kenny asked fans to contact stations in support of the show, and thank a dwindling number of sponsors for advertising during the Friday show, which airs at 10 p.m. Eastern time.

The dwindling number of sponsors is probably due more to the nonexistent number of viewers. Complaints and boycott threats only work if the potential loss from the complaints outweighs the potential gain from exposing your product to the viewers.

"Ordinarily, I would never ask anyone to do this, but the AFA and bullies like them are hard at work to try and prevent you from seeing these beautiful shows, and that is censorship - pure and simple," Kenny wrote. "And that is both un-Christian and un-American."

That's a really desperate appeal: takes me back to the old days when they'd advertise a book or movie as "Banned in Boston!" If somebody thinks it's scandalous, then deep down inside, you really, really want to peek at it, don't you? It can't possibly be that my show is awful - it has to be their fault.

The family association, based in Tupelo, Miss., has rallied opposition to the show's lurid content - especially the Jesus character, which they say is disrespectful. The show features a pill-popping priest, his alcoholic wife, a daughter who sells drugs and a gay son.

So far, association officials say that 11 NBC affiliates in Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Indiana have refused to broadcast the show. In addition, association officials said that four companies have pulled their ads during the show, and only one company - Burlington Coat Factory - continues to advertise during The Book of Daniel.

"NBC is losing between $2 (million) and $3 million each time they air The Book of Daniel," said Donald Wildmon, the association's chairman. "With those kinds of losses, NBC may decide to cancel the show."

Since NBC is a corporation, owned by General Electric, I believe, whose primary reason for existing is to make money for its shareholders, I suspect they may indeed cancel a show which hemorrhages money. The show's last rating was 4.1, which I expect puts it about even with Leave It to Beaver reruns.

NBC has committed to only eight episodes. Kenny, a self-described "unaffiliated Christian," said that the next two episodes (scheduled to be broadcast Friday and Feb. 3) are important to the characters' development.

Episode 5: The Episcopal Church decides to ordain quadrupeds. Fr. Daniel must come to terms with his cantakerous new assistant rector, a randy woodchuck. The family parrot sues the church for discrimination against winged creatures. The bishop is arrested for DUI and shares a jail cell with lesbian bikers.

"Please believe me when I tell you that the stories that we are about to tell you ... are the most heartbreakingly beautiful stories I've ever had the pleasure of being associated with," Kenny said.

For some reason, that just sounds scary.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

This Will Surprise a Lot of People (Including my wife)

I wonder whether really score this test, or the results are randomly generated. This is not what I expected.

How evil are you?

Basking in the radiance of my goodness will be by appointment only. Expect to pay a small fee.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

'Book of Daniel' Creator Rallies to Save TV Show from Cancellation

From Religion News Service:
The creator of NBC's “The Book of Daniel” is warning viewers that “bullies” at the American Family Association may succeed in their fight to kill the show unless viewers speak up. (by Kevin Eckstrom)

Apparently, the three known viewers are very upset.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Come Out of the Womb

At its most recent meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, January 12, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church (USA) “Approved the Episcopal Church's membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.” I’m glad the ECUSA wasn’t around when a young Jewish girl named Mary found herself pregnant in a redneck hayseed village called Nazareth. Things might have turned out a lot different.

For they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them. (Eze 23:37, NIV)

A Tempting Job Offer for Hwang Woo-suk

The U.S. biotech firm Clonaid has sprung to the rescue of the embattled cloning scientist Hwang Woo-sook with an offer to join a research partnership at its secret research facility. Clonaid was founded by the Raelian Movement, a cult-like religious group that maintains humans were created by aliens and claims to have cloned a human being. The company is represented by French scientist Dr. Brigitte Boisselier.

A press release from the company on Monday said Boisselier has written to Hwang to outline the proposal. Boisselier said she believed Hwang’s discoveries to be original and that groups opposing stem cell research such as the Catholic Church conspired to undermine Hwang by making it appear as though the scientist concocted his data. She said he had become a victim of a conservative anti-scientific faction, according to the press release.

[…] Clonaid founder Rael, formerly known as Claude Vorilhon, teaches that a race of aliens called the Elohim created human beings, and Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed were recipients of messages from the aliens.

(Courtesy of The Chosun Ilbo.)

Proving, once again, that people will believe in darn near anything as long as it’s not Jesus.

I like to comment on news stories, but I’m not sure what I could possibly add to this one.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Are Our Churchgoing Youth Falling Away from the Faith? (Long)

Several years ago, my wife and I taught Sunday School at our old parish. We went into it with a set of expectations about what kids of a certain age would know about the faith, and were absolutely stunned at how little they knew or understood. I think that, as adults who had grown up in the USA of the 50’s and 60’s, we were exposed to a certain cultural background understanding of Christianity, and a certain default cultural set of Christian expectations. Going to church was something you simply did, and understanding of the faith came through lifelong exposure. And we were face to face with the fact that that cultural background simply didn’t exist anymore.

Sunday school programs were set up with the expectation that Christianity was the default background religion of America, and that was no longer true. Not only was the cultural support lacking, but the active voices of a zillion different competing philosophies and religions were all echoing through the marketplace of ideas. Couple that with the theological floundering of many a church itself, and the result was a generation of kids who were largely clueless.

The effect seems to have been greatest in those mainline Protestant churches–that-nobody-goes-to-anymore where theological meat was hard to come by anyway, but I have heard the same sorts of concerns more and more from Catholics and from Evangelicals. The gap between what we try to teach our kids and what they actually believe gets bigger and bigger. An article from Agape Press, which I excerpt below, really analyzes the problem in some detail.

[…] Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, sociologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, began with data gleaned from the largest and most detailed study of teenagers and religion ever undertaken, the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) ... then distilled the results in their riveting book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

What Soul Searching reveals is a generation of kids who claim to be Christian, but many of whose beliefs are not even remotely orthodox … “Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith."

[…] George Barna, whose Barna Research Group follows religious and spiritual trends in America, summed up that "different religious faith" in a single word: "Whatever.”

[…] In trying to characterize what churchgoing kids actually believe, Smith and Denton coined the phrase "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Each word presents a core facet of what is becoming the dominant religious view among the nation's youth.

First, they explained, the religious beliefs of many teens are moralistic because they see faith as being essentially related to mere human goodness. In other words, kids believe "that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person"

[…] But that's just the problem. Many religious teens do not hold to an orthodox Christian belief concerning goodness and salvation. Barna noted from his research: "Amazingly, even though they have personally prayed to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, half of all born-again teenagers believe that a person can earn his or her way into heaven."

[…] If religion is important only to help people live good lives, might it not also be true that the definition of a "good" life would differ from individual to individual?

In fact, that is what the majority of youth believe. "In this context ... the very idea of religious truth is attenuated," Soul Searching said, "shifted from older realist and universalist notions of convictions about objective Truth to more personalized and relative versions of 'truth for me' and 'truth for you.'"

This rigidly individualistic view of religion "is not a contested orthodoxy for teenagers," the book said. "It is an invisible and pervasive doxa, that is, an unrecognized, unquestioned, invisible premise or presupposition."
Having completely digested the doctrine of inclusivity and diversity, it is no surprise that typical responses in the Smith and Denton interviews were statements like, "Who am I to judge?," "If that's what they choose, whatever," "Each person decides for himself," and "If it works for them, fine."

[…] The second facet of Smith and Denton's portrait of dominant religion in America is that it is therapeutic. That is, faith is meant to make a person happy, and help him get through life - much as a therapist does.

This means that concepts like repentance from sin, praying for God's mercy and grace, or faithfully "living as a servant of a sovereign divine" are absent from the religious lives of many teens, and even many so-called Christian teens.

"Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."

[…] Smith and Denton said: "What our interviews almost never uncovered among teens was a view that religion summons people to embrace an obedience to truth regardless of the personal consequences or rewards."

The final characteristic of the prevailing religious view among American teens was deism. It is "about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs - especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance. He is often described by teens as 'watching over everything from above.'"

In fact, most teenagers' beliefs about God and their own religious faith were so vague as to be almost incomprehensible. Smith and Denton found "the vast majority of [teens] to be incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives." The vast majority of these churchgoing youth, they said, "simply could not express themselves on matters of God, faith, religion, or spiritual life."

[…] a 17-year-old Presbyterian boy was asked to describe his Christian beliefs: "Um [pause], I don't know, I just, uh, just like anybody else I guess. There's nothing really to say, I don't know, just the Presbyterian beliefs. Just like I believe in all the sin and stuff and going to heaven and stuff, life after life."

Or this 13-year-old Catholic girl: "I'm not sure, not sure, I can't remember what I believe. Oh, mm-mm, yeah, like Jesus and God and them guys. That he is alive and watching over us."

Smith and Denton reminded the readers of Soul Searching that "these were not throw-away comments of teens, these were their main answers to our key questions about their basic personal religious beliefs."

Some parents might be tempted to think, "Well, my teenager can't articulate much of anything at his age." But Soul Searching insisted that the problem was not related to their age. "Many of the youth we interviewed were quite conversant when it came to their views on salient issues in their lives about which they had been educated and had practice discussing, such as the dangers of drug abuse and [sexually transmitted diseases]."

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism "is simply colonizing many established religious traditions and congregations in the United States," and "becoming the new spirit living in the old body. Its typical embrace and practice is de facto, functional, practical, and tacit, not formal or acknowledged as a distinctive religion."

Thus it operates as "a parasitic faith. It cannot sustain its own integral, independent life; rather it must attach itself like an incubus to established historical religious traditions, feeding on their doctrines and sensibilities, and expanding by mutating their theological substance to resemble its own distinctive image."

This is why religious teenagers can remain happily within their original faith traditions, while believing in things diametrically opposed to the actual tenets of that religion.

[…] In what was perhaps the saddest comment in the entire 300-pages plus of Soul Searching, the researchers said: "Indeed, it was our distinct sense that for many of the teens we interviewed, our interview was the first time that any adult had ever asked them what they believed and how it mattered in their life" (emphasis in original).

There’s the rub. In some churches, Sunday school is more of a holding tank than an process of Christian formation. Just keep the little nippers entertained, teach them how to spout Christian jargon, and maybe put on a performance for the adults a few times a year. Some other mainline congregations were more concerned with making faith “relevant and meaningful” to their youth, which usually involved stripping it of all meaning and relevance into a creed of simply being “nice” – the same process that was slowly stripping meaning and relevance from the faith of the adults as well. And lots of congregations were full of well meaning people who didn’t have a clue of what they were up against, or simply didn’t know how to present the truth claims of Christianity in the face of a hostile world. We will be reaping this harvest for generations.

Thank God, through no merit of my own, my daughter got a solid education at a Christian school. The churches I attend today put a premium on orthodox Christian teaching in their children’s classes. The current move towards more and more home schooling also makes a big difference. You don’t build a boat in the water; you get the hull put together so it will float, then you launch it. If you get your kids assembled before you throw them into the public square, then - whatever they choose in life – at least they have the background to make sound decisions. (I don’t remember where I got that metaphor, but it’s not original.)

And, amazingly, it’s not really that hard. My personal experience is limited, but a lot of kids seem to be thirsting for doctrine and history – for reasons to believe. They live in a world devoid of the concept of absolute truth. They know inside there’s something wrong, even if they can’t quite put their fingers on it – being immature isn’t the same as being stupid! They haven’t developed the adult capacity for invincible self-delusion that is driving so many historic denominations onto the rubbish heap of history. Our kids need to be challenged with the gospel, not placated with babble. They’ll respond.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Vampire Seeks Governor's Job

The following is excerpted from an article in the Sunday Times of Australia. And here I thought it was a hoot that Kinky Friedman was running for governor of Texas. Minnesota, progressive state that it is, seems way ahead of us. The most extreme thing the Kinkster would do in the governor's mansion is smoke a little dope; this guy might eat the staff.

Minneapolis voters, who eight years ago elected a former professional wrestler as their governor, may find a self-proclaimed vampire on the ballot for the office this year.

"Politics is a cut-throat business," said Jonathan "The Impaler" Sharkey, who said he plans to announce his bid for governor on the ticket of the Vampyres, Witches and Pagans Party.

At last, an honest political candidate – one who admits he’s a bloodsucker. You might not want him kissing your baby, however.

[…] "I'm a Satanist who doesn't hate Jesus," Sharkey said. "I just hate God the Father."

Interesting theological notion. I guess it is based on the Trinitarian principle that respecting “two outta three ain’t bad.” Come to think of it, how many Trinitarian Satanists are there, anyway? And are they the only real Satanists? Are the others just deluded – sort of like Upside-Down New-Agers?

However, he claims to respect all religions and if elected, will post "everything from the Ten Commandments to the Wicca Reed" in government buildings.

An equal opportunity vampire, at least.

Sharkey also pledged to execute convicted murders and child molesters personally by impaling them on a wooden pole outside the state capitol.

I’m a pretty hard-nosed guy; I could live with that. There’s nothing in Scripture that says you have to be gentle in your executions, and impaling is probably quicker than a lot of the other umm… “traditional” forms of execution. I am not quite sure it will pass constitutional muster in the USA, however. Seems to me I remember something about “cruel and unusual.” If you have to give convicts exercise equipment, then I suspect impaling is probably a non-starter. On the other hand, a few guys “posted” (sorry) outside the capitol might make for better legislation.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Judas the Misunderstood

From The Times (UK) Online.
Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, is to be given a makeover by Vatican scholars.

The proposed “rehabilitation” of the man who was paid 30 pieces of silver to identify Jesus to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, comes on the grounds that he was not deliberately evil, but was just “fulfilling his part in God’s plan”.

Why would one assume that those two propositions are mutually exclusive? One mans evil can work for other men’s good and the unfolding of God’s plan. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28, NIV) All things implies that even evil is eventually turned to the service of God’s purposes. To say that Judas did not deliberately choose to be evil is to say that God is the source of the evil done through him. That seems like a pretty severe theological problem to this layman.

Christians have traditionally blamed Judas for aiding and abetting the Crucifixion, and his name is synonymous with treachery. According to St Luke, Judas was “possessed by Satan”.

Uhhh…could that be because scripture and the fathers all specify Judas as the betrayer?

Now, a campaign led by Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, is aimed at persuading believers to look kindly at a man reviled for 2,000 years.

Mgr Brandmuller told fellow scholars it was time for a “re-reading” of the Judas story. He is supported by Vittorio Messori, a prominent Catholic writer close to both Pope Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II.

Are we sure these guys aren’t Episcopalian?

Signor Messori said that the rehabilitation of Judas would “resolve the problem of an apparent lack of mercy by Jesus toward one of his closest collaborators”.

He told La Stampa that there was a Christian tradition that held that Judas was forgiven by Jesus and ordered to purify himself with “spiritual exercises” in the desert.

Can anybody find a reference to this? I have never heard it, and a quick web search brings up nothing useful. The Cainite “Gospel of St. Judas,” which has a framed Judas fleeing to Egypt, is a Gnostic text which makes it about as reliable as a Dan Rather newscast. It was condemned by Iranaeus and the translation hasn’t even been released yet.

In scholarly circles, it has long been unfashionable to demonise Judas and Catholics in Britain are likely to welcome Judas’s rehabilitation.

And, of course, fashion is what’s important. We wouldn’t want to lose our place on the invite list to all the right cocktail parties.

Father Allen Morris, Christian Life and Worship secretary for the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, said: “If Christ died for all — is it possible that Judas too was redeemed through the Master he betrayed?” The “rehabilitation” of Judas could help the Pope’s drive to improve Christian-Jewish relations, which he has made a priority of his pontificate.

Of course it’s possible! Peter also betrayed Christ. He was forgiven, restored, and became the “apostle to the Jews.” It would be really cool to run into Judas hanging out in a bar in the New Jerusalem. The implication of Judas’s suicide in the gospels is that Judas never sought or accepted forgiveness, but the texts are hardly definitive on his ending up in hell.

As to improving Christian-Jewish relations, if having a Jewish Messiah, Jewish apostles, and an early church composed entirely of Jews isn’t good enough, then I don’t think reinventing Judas is going to help much.

Some Bible experts say Judas was “a victim of a theological libel which helped to create anti Semitism” by forming an image of him as a “sinister villain” prepared to betray for money.

Are we really sure these guys aren’t Episcopalian?

In many medieval plays and paintings Judas is portrayed with a hooked nose and exaggerated Semitic features. In Dante’s Inferno, Judas is relegated to the lowest pits of Hell, where he is devoured by a three-headed demon.

The move to clear Judas’s name coincides with plans to publish the alleged Gospel of Judas for the first time in English, German and French. Though not written by Judas, it is said to reflect the belief among early Christians — now gaining ground in the Vatican — that in betraying Christ Judas was fulfilling a divine mission, which led to the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus and hence to man’s salvation.

Mgr Brandmuller said that he expected “no new historical evidence” from the supposed gospel, which had been excluded from the canon of accepted Scripture.

“Excluded” implies that there was some possibility of including it. There is no evidence that it was ever considered scriptural. Iranaeus condemns the Gospel of Judas in the late second century work Against Heresies 1:31. It wasn’t “excluded” any more than Caesar’s Commentaries were “excluded.”

But it could “serve to reconstruct the events and context of Christ’s teachings as they were seen by the early Christians”. This included that Jesus had always preached “forgiveness for one’s enemies”.

As they were seen by a weird group of early “Christians” who would make both the Branch Davidians and John Shelby Spong seem orthodox:
A Gnostic Sect of the second century was called Cainites or Caianites. They regarded all characters held up to retrobation in the Old Testament as worthy of veneration, as having suffered at the hands of the cruel God of the Jews; hence Cain, as the first man cursed by Hysteraa, the Demiurg, claimed their special admiration. This sect of Antinomians never found many adherents, and Hippolytus at the beginning of the third century dismisses them with the bare mention of their name.” (From The Catholic Encyclopedia at NewAdvent.org)

Some Vatican scholars have expressed concern over the reconsideration of Judas. Monsignor Giovanni D’Ercole, a Vatican theologian, said it was “dangerous to re-evaluate Judas and muddy the Gospel accounts by reference to apocryphal writings. This can only create confusion in believers.” The Gospels tell how Judas later returned the 30 pieces of silver — his “blood money” — and hanged himself, or according to the Acts of the Apostles, “fell headlong and burst open so that all his entrails burst out”.

Apocryphal writings are interesting; they can be thought provoking, and may even provide spiritual insights, as long as I don’t confuse them with scripture! If Matthew says A, and some Gnostic gospel says Not-A, then I’m going with Matthew. That’s why it’s scripture! Yeesh…

Some accounts suggest he acted out of disappointment that Jesus was not a revolutionary who intended to overthrow Roman occupation and establish “God’s Kingdom on Earth”.
In the Gospel accounts, Jesus reveals to the disciples at the Last Supper that one of them will betray him, but does not say which. He adds “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Yes He does! Matt. 26:25-26.

But he also - according to St Matthew — acknowledged that Judas had a divine function to fulfill, saying to him during the arrest, “Friend, do what you are here to do” and adding that “the prophecies of the Scriptures must be fulfilled”.

Again, a lot of intentional human evil went into the fulfillment of the scriptures. Hitler and the Nazis, through the holocaust and through producing hundreds of thousands of displaced Jews, were in large measure responsible for the founding of the modern state of Israel. Should the Israelis put up a statue to the SOB? Don’t ask me to donate for it!

The “Gospel of Judas”, a 62-page worn and tattered papyrus, was found in Egypt half a century ago and later sold by antiquities dealers to the Maecenas Foundation in Basle, Switzerland.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mideast Barbie dolls don Islamic veil

Move over Barbie, veiled is beautiful. The physical ideal of Muslim girls increasingly includes the hijab, as evidenced by toy shops' best-selling doll "Fulla" and the string of showbiz stars opting to cover up.

The dark-eyed and olive-skinned Fulla has replaced her American rival's skimpy skirts with more modest "outdoor fashion" and Barbie's luxuriant blonde mane with an Islamic veil.

"Fulla sells better because it is closer to our Arab values: she never reveals a leg or an arm," says Tarek Mohammed, chief salesman at a Toys'R'Us branch in Mohandessin, one of Cairo's more upmarket neighbourhoods.

[…] Fulla is not the first Islamic doll but none of her predecessors have taken the regional market by storm like she has, selling some two million since its creation two years ago by the Emirates-based NewBoy Design Studio.

Saudi Arabia's religious police had then just banned "Barbie the Jewish doll", whose "revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West."

Fulla, named after an Arabic word for a type of jasmine, was initially sold in the Gulf in a similar pink box but in more modest attire, such as the traditional abaya overdress and complete with a little prayer mat.
Read the whole thing here.

Hijab is the Arabic term for dressing modestly. It generally means covering everything except the face and hands, but is sometimes used simply to indicate the practice of wearing the headscarf.

The abaya is the traditional overdress or caftan, traditionally but not necessarily black.

It never occurred to me that Barbie was Jewish; if so, I am pretty surer she is not Orthodox. At the risk of siding with the enemy, I’ve never been a big Barbie fan; she always struck me as the quintessential material girl long before Madonna came along. And I certainly prefer Fullah to Britney Spears.

Maybe she will start a trend. It would certainly be nice to see, say, a Trad Catholic doll. Bridget, perhaps, who comes with a mantilla, a plaid skirt, and a rosary. You could also market her four brothers and two sisters.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Looking for a New Priest?

Try the Episcope
Tired of trying to figure out what prospective clergy really think? Tired of trying to figure out what their statements really mean? The new Episcope can provide your vestry or search committee with fast, crystal clear results.

In order to conduct a rector exam by this new procedure, instead of the participants gathering around a table, the victim patient prospective clergyperson is laid on the table. The Episcope is inserted and directed by fiber optics deep into his or her theological organ. The insertion procedure is essentially painless, though there may be some discomfort*. The discomfort is best palliated by the administration of large amounts of communion wine. During this insertion step, it will become immediately apparent whether or not your clergy has any guts to begin with; if not, the procedure can be terminated at this point.

Correct placement of the probe can be determined by the volume of dark brown matter present at the core of the theological organ (technically, this material is known as Bultmannesque Secretion, or BS). The material can be irrigated and removed through the hollow core of the Episcope, so the examiner can get a clear view of the prospect's theology without having to wade through a large amount of BS.

Once the BS has been flushed away, the theological organ can be examined in detail to find any Polyps of Heterodoxy. A cauterizing loop is present on the end of the Episcope, so that any small heterodoxies can be immediately removed. It is important to eliminate any heterodoxies found; left untreated, even the smallest will inevitably progress to full-blown heresy.

Unfortunately, heterodoxies can be found in almost all younger clergy these days, generally the result of seminary exposure. These are usually small and can be removed by Episcopic techniques. In cases where the seminary exposure has been extremely liberal, or in older clergy, heterodoxies are frequently too large to be successfully removed through the Episcope. In such instances, it is best to remove the patient from the parish setting, as large heterodoxies can actually be transmitted from person to person. Successful treatment generally involves large doses of repentance, which can only be administered by a licensed M.D. (Merciful Divinity).

If heresy is discovered, the prognosis is grave. The best treatment is palliative; encouraging the patient to write columns for the diocesan newspaper, or sending him to ecumenical conferences with non-Christian religions may provide a great degree of relief. One should not express shock if, at this point, the patient starts growing facial hair and becomes convinced he is Rowan Williams. (This symptom is particulary disturbing in female clergy.)

If the prospective clergy is free of heterodoxies, or if they can be successfully removed, the parish can look forward to many years with a healthy, contented pastor, who can be easily trained and is sure to be free of serious behavior problems.

* It is a very ominous sign if the prospect enjoys the insertion procedure.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Poorly Chosen Headlines of the Day

Safety devices reduce kids' mortality
…hence the name.
Logging may hinder forest regeneration
…so will paving it over, no doubt.
Urban Coyotes Thrive In North American Cities
…while small-town coyotes prefer the countryside.

On a less cheery note:
Surviving Miner Responds, Families Grieve

Did Jesus Exist? - One More (Last) Time

I recently received the following comment on a recent posting where I fisked an article describing the claims of one Signor Luigi Cascioli that Jesus never existed and that the Church needed to prove otherwise or cease its claims.

There is not a single "Contemporary writer" that wrote a single word about any alleged Jesus.
Nor did the Fable himself ever write a single word.
not ONE single sentence written about this alleged deity until at least 50 years after the alleged death.
The silence is deafening.
It is also quite telling.

I can’t address the commentator directly, as he chose to leave no contact information, so I will reply to Mr. “Nunyabiz” directly.

  1. As I stated in the original article, it is a bit unfair to demand contemporaneous, extrabiblical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth for several reasons. Firstly, given the claims about Jesus’s ministry, it would be rather unusual for a Judaean carpenter and street preacher to be the object of literary endeavor during his lifetime. Jesus had a reputation as a wonder-worker, but wonder-workers were not unknown in antiquity. One more in a backwater of the Empire would hardly be a matter of notice for the literati. Secondly, all those writings by, or purported to be by eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life that can be dated with any reliability to the first century have been included in the New Testament. The Gnostic manuscripts, with the possible but unlikely exception of the Gospel of Thomas, are generally agreed to be second century or later documents. The earliest patristic documents are by the post-apostolic generation. To require extrabiblical references therefore establishes an impossible standard. It is as if all the eyewitness information on Julius Caesar had been collected into a single volume, and we were now required to demonstrate the existence of Caesar by providing eyewitness evidence outside that volume. The contest is rigged.

  2. Regarding the fact that Jesus never wrote a single word: why would anyone expect that he would have done so? The gospels portray Him as literate, which would not have been exceptional among the Jews, but no one ever claimed He wrote anything, except a few words in the dust of the ground (John 8:8). For that matter, the real significance of Jesus only became apparent after His death and resurrection – the events that made His life worth recording. During his lifetime, the best that might be hoped for is that somebody took a few sermon notes on the back of a potsherd.

  3. Most of the other historical characters of antiquity have left no writings behind. If that is a standard for existence, the history books are going to get a whole lot thinner.

  4. The claim that there are no documents about Jesus until 50 or more years after His death is simply false. In order to avoid liberal versus conservative cat fights about the authorship of the Pauline epistles, let’s just go with the ones that dang near everybody agrees he wrote. Everybody of significance agrees Paul wrote Galatians; Galatians is dated to either 49 or 55 A.D. Pilate was Procurator of Judea from about 26 to 37 AD; the crucifixion is generally dated between 30 and 33 A.D. Therefore the time gap between the crucifixion and the Epistle to the Galatians is 16 to 25 years – i.e. less than one generation. First and Second Corinthians were written about the same time as Galatians: 55 and 56 A.D.

  5. The dating of the gospels is a bit more controversial, with a wide range of dates proposed. Hardly any authorities, however, still accept the 19th century notion that the gospels are second century documents. Mainline scholarship today dates Mark to 65-70, Matthew and Luke to the 80’s, and John to the 90’s. A significant minority, however, is increasingly stating the case that there is no reason to date any of the gospels later than A.D. 70 (See Robinson, J. A. T. Redating the New Testament, SCM Press, London, 1976). The latter party is definitely, as stated, a minority, but in either case, the old dating for the gospels is no longer taken seriously. If one accepts the notion that the extant synoptics are based on earlier documents, the time gap between crucifixion and the publication of details of Jesus’s life decreases even further.

None of these are actually arguments in favor of Christ’s existence; those can be found in plenty elsewhere by people far more capable than I. If you’re interested, I would suggest starting with The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, then tracking down the works of the people he references. Or, for that matter, just go talk to a priest. My only purpose here is simply to give a few reasons why most of us don’t bother taking your arguments seriously.

I also repeat my earlier comment. Signor Cascioli claims that the mythical Jesus is based on a later, historical individual named John of Gamala. I have not seen any reference to John of Gamala, contemporaneous or not, extrabiblical or not, outside of a 19th century novel on the fall of Jerusalem (G. A. Henty, For the Temple, Lost Classics Books, Fort Collins, CO, 2001). Henty specifically states that John of Gamala, unlike many of his other characters, is not derived from any historical information of Josephus. I must therefore ask you to please prove the actual existence of a person named “John of Gamala,” using your own standards.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Religion Equals Child Abuse?

(From WorldNet Daily.)
Controversial scientist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins, dubbed "Darwin's Rottweiler," calls religion a "virus" and faith-based education "child abuse" in a two-part series he wrote and appears in that begins airing on the UK's Channel 4, beginning tomorrow evening.

Entitled "Root of All Evil?," the series features the atheist Dawkins visiting Lourdes, France, Colorado Springs, Colo., the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and a British religious school, using each of the venues to argue religion subverts reason.

In "The God Delusion," the first film in the series, Dawkins targets Catholicism at the pilgrimage site in Lourdes. "If you want to experience the medieval rituals of faith, the candle light, the incense, music, important-sounding dead languages, nobody does it better than the Catholics," he says.

Dawkins, using his visit to Colorado Springs' New Life Church, criticizes conservative U.S. evangelicals and warns his audience of the influence of "Christian fascism" and "an American Taliban."

"Christian fascism" and "an American Taliban?" Once again, we have a supposed intellectual who can’t tell the difference between a crazed dynamiter on a Jewish school bus and the Wheaton College English Department. I may have a few theological quibbles with most of the Evangelicals I hang out with, but somehow I can’t quite equate them with konzentrationslagern or public beheadings for doing the naughty out of wedlock. Really now, get a grip, Dick!

The backdrop of the al-Aqsa mosque and an American-born Jew turned fundamentalist Muslim who tells Dawkins to prepare for the Islamic world empire – and who clashes with him after saying he hates atheists – rounds out the first program's case for the delusions of the faithful.

If they can’t stand Richard Dawkins, I may have to reevaluate my distaste for Islam.

In part two, "The Virus of Faith," Dawkins attacks the teaching of religion to children, calling it child abuse.

"Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods," he says. "It's time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn't it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents' religion?"

"Sectarian religious schools," Dawkins asserts, have been "deeply damaging" to generations of children.

“Jesus loves me, this I know…” Man, the nightmares that must inflict on children.

Dawkins, who makes no effort to disguise his atheism and contempt for religion, focuses on the Bible, too.

"The God of the Old Testament has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist," he says. Dawkins then criticizes Abraham, compares Moses to Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and calls the New Testament "St. Paul's nasty, sado-masochistic doctrine of atonement for original sin."

Paul didn’t have a doctrine of original sin; he just believed we all fell short of perfection. The doctrine of original sin, which was codified later, basically just says that we are all fatally flawed; I always liked Chesterton’s claim that it is the only major Christian doctrine that can be proven simple by reading the morning paper.

I had hoped that its alternative, the notion that humans can be perfected by social engineering – the driving delusion of the Century of Megadeath – had disappeared with the collapse of Marxism. Unfortunately, it is alive and well in the academy.

John Deighan, a spokesman for the Catholic Church, took issue with Dawkin's denunciation of religion, telling the Glasgow Sunday Herald, "Dawkins is well known for his vitriolic attacks on faith, and I think faith has withstood his attacks. He really is going beyond his abilities as a scientist when he starts to venture into the field of philosophy and theology. He is the guy with demonstrable problems."


Madeline Bunting, a columnist for the Guardian, who reviewed the series, wrote: "There's an aggrieved frustration that [atheist humanists] have been short-changed by history – we were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now. Secularization was supposed to be an inextricable part of progress. Even more grating, what secularization there has been is accompanied by the growth of weird irrationalities from crystals to ley lines. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the problem when people don't believe in God is not that they believe nothing, it is that they believe anything."

Zing again.

Dawkins, perhaps best know for his much-cited comment that evolution "made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist," appeals to John Lennon in a commentary he authored for the Belfast Telegraph on the eve of his program's premiere: "Religion may not be the root of all evil, but it is a serious contender. Even so it could be justified, if only its claims were true. But they are undermined by science and reason. Imagine a world where nobody is intimidated against following reason, wherever it leads. "You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one."

Evolution didn’t make me an intellectually satisfied atheist, since it fails to answer any basic questions, like “Why is there anything?” or “Why should the universe be explainable in terms of mathematics?” Physics doesn’t help much either; these days, at the cutting edges, it seems to be devolving into appeals to aesthetics and to faith in physics itself rather than into any set of experimentally verifiable claims.

It is odd that Dawkins describes himself as a “dreamer.” I thought that’s what he was accusing us of. After all, it’s usually the dreamers who start the wars, not the realists.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Jan. 7 - Julian Calendar Christmas

A merry and blessed Nativity Feast to my Old-Calendar friends!

Pure is the present night, in which the Pure One appeared, Who came to purify us! Let our hearing be pure, and the sight of our eyes chaste, and the feeling of the heart holy, and the speech of the mouth sincere!

The present night is the night of reconciliation; therefore, let no one be wroth against his brother and offend him!

This night gave peace to the whole world, and so, let no one threaten. This is the night of the Most Meek One; let no one be cruel!

This is the night of the Humble One; let no one be proud!

Now is the day of joy; let us not take revenge for offences! Now is the day of good will; let us not be harsh. On this day of tranquility, let us not become agitated by anger!

Today God came unto sinners; let not the righteous exalt himself over sinners!

Today the Most Rich One became poor for our sake; let the rich man invite the poor to his table!

Today we received a gift which we did not ask for; let us bestow alms to those who cry out to us and beg!

The present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers; let us also open our door to those who ask of us forgiveness!

Today the Godhead placed upon Himself the seal of humanity, and humanity has been adorned with the seal of the Godhead!
Saint Ephraim the Syrian

Benedict XVI on Islam and the West

Hugh Hewitt has posted a fascinating interview with Father Joseph Fessio on Pope Benedict’s views on future interactions between Islam and the West. The text appended below is intended as a teaser only. Go read the whole thing.

“…seeing that distinction when the Koran, which is seen as something dropped out of Heaven, which cannot be adapted or applied, even, and the Bible, which is a word of God that comes through a human community, it was stunning.”


“Yeah, that Christianity can engage modernity just like it did...the Jews did Egypt, or Christians did to Greece, because we can take what's good there, and we can elevate it through the revelation of Christ in the Bible. But Islam is stuck. It's stuck with a text that cannot be adapted, or even be interpreted properly.”

Thursday, January 05, 2006

High Schoolers are Pro-Life

A new national poll finds high school seniors take a pro-life position on abortion saying it's morally wrong and supporting legislative proposals that would limit abortions and help women find alternatives. The poll also found 72 percent of females in the class of 2006 would not consider an abortion if they became pregnant.

[…] When asked, some 67 percent of high school seniors said abortion is either always (23%) or usually (44%) morally wrong. Just 31 percent said it was a morally correct decision.

How can one find this surprising? These kids are not stupid; they know that their parents could have offed them for no greater reason than personal expedience with the full approval of the law and society. A staggering number of their potential classmates simply aren't there; they were disposed of as medical waste. Do we think they don't know that?

Slightly less than half of the teens polled said abortions should be allowed when a woman is under 18 and unmarried or when the baby will have a serious birth defect. Just 40 percent said abortions should be allowed for poor women and only 29 percent said abortions should be allowed when a woman doesn't want more children.

Some 72 percent of teen girls say they would not consider an abortion and, of all high school seniors, just 13 percent would counsel a pregnant friend to consider an abortion. Some 54 percent of seniors say they would suggest adoption and 26 percent say they would encourage a pregnant friend to keep her baby.

Meanwhile, 69 percent of the male teens surveyed said they would not want their partner to consider an abortion.

In other words, they still have some ideals and standards and haven’t been hooked by the temptations of individual autonomy, greed, and expedience.

[…] On whether abortions should be legal or illegal, the poll find females were slightly more inclined to oppose legal abortions. White teens were more pro-life than blacks, which contradicts polls of adults on the issue.

This seems to back up what I’ve always believed to be true. The primary purpose of abortion is to get guys off the hook. When a woman is convinced that her body is exclusively her own, that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, and that she can kill her child to advance her career, the real benefactors are the young men who no longer have to bite the bullet and provide support for their kids. The Wilt Chamberlains of the world can bed 20,000 women and never have to be fathers.

Evangelical Christians were much more likely to oppose abortion than teens from Catholic of mainline Protestant backgrounds. High school seniors with non-Christian religious views were overwhelmingly in favor of abortions.

Hence the big push to remove religion from kids when they get to the university. (Don’t tell me the agenda doesn’t exist – I’ve worked at one for 26 years. I’ve heard it.) In the USA, “non-Christian religious views” pretty much means atheists, agnostics, and New Agers. There aren’t that many practicing, orthodox Hindus out there. Dechristianizing the kids is the surest way to convert them from pro-life to pro-choice, and abortion-on-demand is the defining political goal for the secularists.

What, after all, does Satan really want? Does he care whether the USA stands or falls, or what economic system we use? Does he give a rat’s rear end about social security reform? What he wants is to dim that spark of God-light within us, until we walk gently, smiling , polite, and utterly clueless, straight into the gates of Hell. He comes as an angel of light, not as a ravener. What better tool does he have than to pervert our ideas of human love by decoupling them from the human product of that love. “Love” that produces inward gratification without bearing external fruit is not the love of God.

[…] According to the poll two-thirds of high school seniors would require parental consent before a girl under 18 could get an abortion.

The children themselves know that there are things they are not ready for; that they are not just miniature adults with acne. When will the supposed adults of our society figure that out.

Sociology students at Hamilton College, in conjunction with the Zogby International polling firm, surveyed 1,000 high school seniors by phone and the survey has a 3 percent margin of error.
(Read the whole article from LifeNews.com)

Sorry for the rant; sometimes I just plain get pissed off. Now where did I leave that rosary?