Tuesday, February 28, 2006

US Supreme Court rejects RICO case against pro-life activists

A bit of good news in the fight against abortion!

Feb. 28 (CWNews.com) - The Supreme Court has ruled that pro-life demonstrations cannot be banned under a federal law intended to fight organized crime.

In a unanimous 8-0 decision announced on February 28, the Supreme Court apparently put an end to a 20-year case, NOW v. Scheidler, in which abortion advocates sought damages against prominent pro-life organizers, claiming that they were engaged in an illegal conspiracy to harm the abortion business.

Isn’t that like being engaged in an illegal conspiracy to harm the slave trade? Isn’t that a good thing?

The abortionists' lawsuit was brought under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law. The novel effort to portray pro-lifers as gangsters led to a long series of legal challenges and maneuvers, and the case has come up before the Supreme Court on three separate occasions.

I can see the headlines now: “Jimmy “The Mouth” Dobson, Phyllis “Ma” Schlafly Cornered in Pennsylvania Farmhouse! Three G-Men wounded in wild exchange of sermons!”

In 2003 the Court ruled that a nationwide injunction against the Pro-Life Action League, granted in 1998, should be voided. But the pro-abortion plaintiffs went back to court yet again, bringing the case before the Supreme Court for the third time.

If you can’t get your way in an election, get it through the courts. Five votes are easier to come by than five million, and what do “the people” know, anyway?

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing today's unanimous decision for the High Court, observed that pro-life demonstrations could not be seen as "a freestanding violence offense" under the terms of the RICO law. He observed that Congress had made a special effort to address blockades at abortion clinics with the Freedom of Access of Clinic Entrances (FACE) law of 1994.

Should have been Freedom Unlimited for Child Killers. (Figure out the acronym yourself; I won't put it in print.)

"Naturally I am gratified to be vindicated once again by the United States Supreme Court," said Joe Scheidler, the director of the Pro-Life Action League and defendant in the case. "I am mystified that I had to go to the trouble and expense of appearing before the Supreme Court three times."

And if you can’t even get the votes from your buddies on the court, keep suing until your enemies run out of money.

Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the decision announced today.

Fine. Let’s keep him in training for R v. W. In the meantime, the pro-life movement is free to work on the hearts and minds of the people. That's a VGT (very good thing); hopefully, everyone will remember that we are supposed to be the Imago Christi in the world, and keep speaking the truth in love and not in anger.

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from deceitful and unjust men deliver me! (Psa 43:1, RSV)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Megachurches 'shallow in theology'?

From: News.com.au:
The head of the World Council of Churches (That Nobody Goes To Anymore - ed.) has expressed concern about the spread of megachurches around the world, such as Hillsong in Sydney, saying they could lead to a Christianity that is "two miles long and one inch deep".

The WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia said megachurches - huge Protestant churches with charismatic pastors, lively music and other services - mostly ran on a business model to make worshippers feel good and were shallow in their theology.
Megachurches, which pack in thousands for rousing Sunday worship services, are popular in suburbs in the United States. Most are evangelical or Pentecostal, with few or no ties to mainline churches such as the Lutherans or Episcopalians.

Mr Kobia said the megachurch movement, which is not represented in the mostly mainline Protestant or Orthodox World Council of Churches, broke down borders among denominations with a populist message.

"It has no depth, in most cases, theologically speaking, and has no appeal for any commitment," the Kenyan Methodist said at the WCC world assembly in this Brazilian city.

The megachurches simply wanted individuals to feel good about themselves, he said.

"It's a church being organised on corporate logic. That can be quite dangerous if we are not very careful, because this may become a Christianity which I describe as 'two miles long and one inch deep'."

Reverend Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the 400 million member World Evangelical Alliance, said at the assembly that "historical and deeply-felt issues" separated them from other branches of Christianity.

[…] The WCC groups nearly 350 Protestant and Orthodox churches that mostly broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the Great Schism of 1054 or in the 16th century Reformation.

Megachurches may not be my personal cup of tea, but this is just fatuous nonsense. I can understand it from the Orthodox, who think everybody else’s theology is a mile wide and an inch deep. (I'm kidding! Don't hurt me!) As for the Protestant membership of the WCC, give me a break!

From the Megachurches Today 2005 survey (summarized here):
Myth: All megachurches are nondenominational.
Reality: Most are affiliated with a denomination.

Myth: Megachurches water down theology.
Reality: Most have high spiritual expectations. (About 78 percent of the congregations surveyed said their church “holds strong beliefs and values” and most of them report devoting considerable energy to tithing and personal Scripture study.)

Myth: They are extensions of the Republican Party.
Reality: The majority are not politically active.

The survey also says megachurches don't dwell on raising money, except when engaged in a building or capital campaign.

I think the key phrase above is “Most are evangelical or Pentecostal, with few or no ties to mainline churches such as the Lutherans or Episcopalians.” Jealousy and envy are ugly things.

On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. (Acts 13:44-45, NIV)

Given the choice between a megachurch and one of the Protestant members of the World Council of Churches No One Goes to Anymore, I have to say I’d prefer a guitar riff with Jesus than an organ sonata without. I’m just glad those aren’t my only options.

Sauve Qui Peut?

Newbie Wannabe Anglican is predicting heavy fallout from the 2006 ECUSA General Convention. I’m not as convinced as he is that there will be a dramatic, communion-splitting outcome; I have more confidence (if that is the right word) in the ability of the bishops to split hairs and to produce lengthy statements that appear to offer reform and yet say nothing of substance. (I'm not dissing the Newbie’s prediction; that's more a comment on my own cynicism.)

He does, however, raise a worry that I share:

Here in the U. S., what the orthodox in ECUSA will do is not so clear cut. There will surely be a conservative walk out at GS ’06. But many conservatives will stay in ECUSA, including perhaps even Network leader Bishop Duncan. And, as the comments on that link indicate, the conservatives themselves would then sadly split with not a little acrimony.

The revisionists are a cohesive group in their, well, revisionism. A conservative walkout will leave them with a further diminished, completely whack, but still structurally intact church. They can go on making up religions until the Lord shows up.

The primary thing holding the ECUSA orthodox together, however, is their opposition to the theological wackiness of the revisionists. The orthodox are an amalgam of Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, Reformed, Charismatics, and any other ecclesial persuausion you can think of. Some accept females in the priesthood; some don’t. Some like the ’79 prayer book; some will die for the ’28. Some will venerate an icon; some will burn it. Once they leave the umbrella of the organizational church, lacking any external cohesiveness, the conservatives are likely to disintegrate into the ultimate Protestantism of “one man, one church.” That has historically been the problem precluding unity among the multiple Continuing Anglican churches as well.

Newbie is more hopeful than I am, and not without some reason. The Reformed Episcopal Church has recently joined with the thoroughly Anglo-Catholic APA. The Episcopal Missionary Church is entering communion with the primarily black Anglican Church Worldwide, which in turn has a concordat with the Diocese of Thika in the Anglican Church of Kenya. Who knows what things will look like in a hundred years? A century's not a long time in church history

A hundred years doesn’t do much for those of us now breathing, however. In the short term, it looks like sauve qui peut for the orthodox. I’m hunkered down in a thoroughly faithful continuing congregation; one where I can actually worship without gritting my teeth. On Wednesdays, I can sit in on a beautiful Maronite service that reminds me that God is God and I’m definitely not. I have friends who have found sanctuary among the Orthodox, Catholics, Lutherans, and Evangelicals. I also have friends who are riding it out in ECUSA. As the top disintegrates, it’s the local congregations that will keep the Light burning. And it’s those sorts of cross-denominational bonds of love and friendship that will keep the disintegration from being permanent. Lucky us, to live in such interesting times…

Friday, February 24, 2006

You Never See It Coming

From Chron.com:
SINGAPORE - A teenage guitarist got so carried away while bouncing up and down on his bed mimicking a rock star that he flew out of a third floor window to his death, a Singapore newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Straits Times said Li Xiao Meng, a 16-year-old from China who was studying at Singapore's Hua Business School, was a keen musician who liked to jump up and down while playing his guitar in his hostel room.

"But on November 17 he took things a bit too far," the newspaper said, reporting on a coroner's court findings.

Ruling death by misadventure, the court said evidence "points to the deceased unintentionally falling out of the window to his death when he was hyped up with exhilaration, jumping up and down on the bed placed against an open window while mimicking a rock guitarist.'"'

Then I said to myself, "What befalls the fool will befall me also; why then have I been so very wise?" And I said to myself that this also is vanity. (Ecc 2:15, RSV)

This would be hilarious in a movie. In real life, a tragedy like this just reminds me how conditional my life is. I do more careless things than that every day; and even if I didn’t, the things that can kill me at any moment are both innumerable and unknowable. And most of them would put me face to face with Jesus both unprepared and really embarrassed.

When I was a kid, I always wondered about prayers for a peaceful death. It seemed much better to die with my boots on. It took me years to realize that a peaceful death didn’t mean a lingering death in bed, it meant a death you were prepared for, even if you didn’t know it was coming. Yesterday was the feast of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, associate of Ignatius, student of John the Evangelist, and one of the first well-recorded martyrs of the church. Tied to a stake at the age of 86 for refusing to renounce the faith, the fire refused to burn him. He was finally stabbed. That’s dying with your boots on; it’s also a peaceful death, because he was completely ready for it. Would I be that prepared? Not even close.

From the closing prayer of Compline:
May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Religious Double Standards in the Press

From GetReligion.org.  It seems that the very same New Zealand television stations that apologized to Moslems for airing those cartoons have told Catholics to kiss off over complaints about a sacrilegious depiction of the Blessed Mother in another cartoon.

Does the press really give the hind end of a naked-tailed Asian rodent about freedom of the press, or are they really only interested in the freedom to trash traditional Western values?

'Gospel of Judas' to Be Published

The first translation of an ancient, self-proclaimed "Gospel of Judas" will be published in late April, bringing to light what some scholars believe are the writings of an early Christian sect suppressed for supporting Jesus Christ's infamous betrayer.If authentic, the manuscript could add to the understanding of Gnosticism, an unorthodox Christian theology denounced by the early church. The Roman Catholic Church is aware of the manuscript, which a Vatican historian calls "religious fantasy."

According to scholars who have seen photographs of the brittle manuscript, it argues that Judas Iscariot was carrying out God's will when he handed Christ over to his executioners. The manuscript could bring momentum to a broader academic movement that argues Judas has gotten a bum rap among both historians and theologians, as well as in popular culture.

I can’t find the source for the quote, but “there’s nothing so reprehensible that you can’t find an academic somewhere to support it.”

The manuscript's owner says he has cut a deal with the National Geographic Society to release the English translation with a multimedia splash after Easter.

Thus maximizing the number of reporters looking for an Eastertime “religious” story to discount Christianity. This is the time of year when “search for the real Jesus” programs hit their peak on the cable channels.

Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, president of the Vatican's Committee for Historical Science, called it "a product of religious fantasy."

In an interview, he said the manuscript would not have any impact on church teaching.

Seeing as how the Church addressed all this the first time around, between 1500 and 1900 years ago, I’m not surprised they don’t think there’s an impact.

"We welcome the (manuscript) like we welcome the critical study of any text of ancient literature," Brandmuller said.

Assuming it's accurate, I expect that any Christian who is well versed in scripture will read this document profitably. We can get some insights into one of the primary Christian heresies that has never completely disappeared, and may even perhaps get some personal insights into our own walks with God. We just need to remember what it is that we're reading. As some dear friends who never call anymore (you know who you are) once pointed out, they gained spiritually from reading the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, but it's not scripture! Interesting and possibly useful where it harmonizes with the canon; to be read with lifted eyebrow where it conflicts.

He said that despite some reports to the contrary, the drive to improve Judas' reputation does not have the support of the Vatican.

"There is no campaign, no movement for the rehabilitation of the traitor of Jesus," said Brandmuller.

It is a poor commentary on the intellectual capacity of the press that the monsignor would have to make that statement. Next year, I suppose we’ll get “rumors” in the New York Times that “a movement in the Vatican” thinks that Satan really isn’t such a bad guy after all.

Brushed onto 31 pages of papyrus in Coptic, an Egyptian script, the manuscript has become tattered after spending centuries buried beneath the sands of middle Egypt and decades on the gray market.

According to Mario Roberty, a Swiss lawyer who currently owns the manuscript, the document, known as a "codex," has undergone restoration and translation by a team of researchers headed by the Swiss Coptic scholar Rodolphe Kasser.

"They've put each page under glass. It's incredibly brittle and in bad shape," Roberty said in a phone interview from Geneva.

Results of the research, Roberty said, will be released after Easter, when Christians around the world traditionally mark the official version of Christ's death as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Roberty would not discuss the contents of the codex and a National Geographic spokeswoman in Washington, Mary Jeanne Jacobsen, would not comment at all. But scholars independently following the project have already begun to anticipate some of its findings.

Ahhh….the gospels are the “official version,” and we all know how much the “officials” lie, don’t we?

Working from photographs of the codex, Charles Hedrick, a retired professor of Coptic studies at Missouri State University, has translated six pages of the manuscript into English, including the codex's title "The Gospel of Judas." Roberty confirmed that Hedrick's photos were genuine reproductions of the codex.

Some of the manuscript's passages echo descriptions in the New Testament of Christ's arrest, recalling how Roman authorities aimed to "seize (Christ) in the act of prayer" and how Judas "took some money and he delivered (Christ) over to them," Hedrick said, quoting from his translation.

Although Judas cooperates in the arrest of Christ, Hedrick said, the codex does not depict him as a villain.

"Judas is not a bad guy in this text," Hedrick said in an interview. "He is the good guy and he is serving God."

Hedrick and other scholars say the codex was produced in the fourth or fifth century and reflects the theological traditions of a second-century sect of Gnostics, a community that believed true spirituality derived from a self-knowledge, or "gnosis." Figures depicted as sinful in the Old Testament, such as Cain and Esau, were typically extolled under Gnostic theology.

Old-time gnostics believed that true spirituality derived from knowledge, but that doesn’t translate to self-knowledge. The glorification of self-knowledge is more characteristic of the New Age neognosticism of a Shirley McClaine than of the second-century gnosticism of Valentinus.

Also, in my reading of the Old Testament, I don’t really see Esau portrayed as being particularly sinful as much as he’s portrayed as being a bit of a dumb jackass. His brother Jacob – the hero - comes across as a slimy little cheat and liar. God can use anybody to accomplish his purposes.

As early as the year 178, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a heresy watchdog of the early church, targeted the community for declaring that "Judas the traitor...alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal."

“Heresy watchdog?” Is that sort of like “fundamentalist theocrat?” Good grief.

"They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas," Irenaeus wrote in "Against Heresies." Scholars say it's possible Irenaeus was reading an earlier version of the soon-to-be-published transcript, but that point is speculation.
William Klassen, author of "Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus?" considers the forthcoming manuscript an asset to ongoing scholarly efforts to rehabilitate Judas' historical image.

Many scholars believe Judas - whose name literally means "Jewish man" - was a victim of anti-Jewish slander that pervaded early Christianity in its struggle to break away from Judaism.

I always get a kick out of this claim that Judas was inserted into the gospels to breed “anti-Jewish” sentiment. Except for Pilate, his wife, and a few Samaritans and soldiers, everybody in the gospels is Jewish! As for “Judas” meaning “Jewish man,” Judas was a popular name. The apostle Thaddeus is also known as “Judas, the brother of James,” or “Judas, not Iscariot.” The Epistle of Jude in the bible is attributed to, well, a dude named Judas. Seeing as how Judas Maccabeus (d. 160 B.C.) is one of the great heroes of Jewish history, I suspect a lot of people named their kids Judas the way we name kids “Austin” and “Travis.”

"It's important to look at this Gospel of Judas very carefully, because this is evidence that in the late second century, in the time of Irenaeus, there was a group who held up the banner for Judas," Klassen said.

Big whoop. I can go on just about any college campus and find a group that will hold up the banner for Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il. Finding support for evil is not the stuff of headlines.

Other scholars are withholding judgment until the manuscript has been publicly authenticated.
(Read the rest at BeliefNet.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Finding Faith the Hard Way

The Scottish TV presenter and journalist Dominik Diamond is considering undergoing physical crucifixion as part of a controversial television documentary about Christianity.
Diamond, once a committed Christian, will try to rediscover his faith in a journey from Scotland, via the Vatican and Italy, to the Philippines, where Christians celebrate Easter by re-enacting Christ's ordeal on the Cross.

Diamond said; "I'm in my mid-30s, I've got three kids and it's about time I did something that didn't involve cheap gags. You might as well aim high so I thought I'd try to find God."

The documentary, Crucify Me, is being made for the Five channel by Ginger TV, part of the Glasgow-based Scottish Media Group…
(Excerpted from The Scotsman.)

I am seriously skeptical about the pursuit of holiness by media types, but if this guy is really serious about rediscovering his faith, then I think he should be in our prayers. I would seriously question his approach, however. After all, one of the main points of Christ’s crucifixion is that we don’t have to do it ourselves! (NOTE: The Filipino custom of re-enacting the crucifixion with live volunteers is not supported by the local Church!)

There is definitely a lesson here, though. How frequently do I think I need to jump through some penitential hoop in order to find my way to God, when in reality He’s the one that jumped through a hideous hoop in order to find me. I know better, but I don’t always believe better. Rediscovery of faith is better done in the quiet of prayer and sacrament than in having myself nailed to a cross on live TV. Real penitence follows the touch of God; it doesn’t precede it.

And he said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Eli'jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Eli'jah?" (1Ki 19:11-13, RSV)

I hope this god-awful (no pun intended) show doesn’t just produce an atheist with holes in his hands.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Canada Faces a Childless Future

(Excerpted from The National Post (Canada))
In a future Canada, where senior citizens drastically outnumber babies, schools will be replaced by old-age homes, neighbourhoods of single-family dwellings will make way for smaller condos and townhouses, and playgrounds will become disused relics of the past.

The sound of children's chattering voices, once common, will be rarely heard.

[...] This is what a childless Canada would look like. But it is not the science-fiction vision of a far-off future. In less than a decade, seniors will outnumber children in Canada; in just 15 years, deaths may outnumber births.

[…] By the year 2015, for the first time in the history of Canadian population statistics, there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15. Even the normally staid national bureau of record-keeping, Statistics Canada, declared, "This would be an unprecedented situation in Canada," when it announced late last year the critical turning point in a population projections report.

These projections, which were shaped by various growth scenarios, predicted fertility rates ranging from a low of 1.3 babies per woman to a high of 1.7 babies per woman. That puts Canada in line with the growing roster of nations beset by declining fertility: France, 1.9; Australia, 1.7; Germany, 1.3; Italy and Spain, 1.2, Japan, 1.2; Korea, 1.1.

Only the United States is conspicuous among its industrialized neighbours for a fertility rate that continues to remain above what is known as replacement level, with 2.01 babies per woman. The main reason for this difference seems to be in the fertility rate among women aged 24-29, which has been cut almost in half in Canada and many of the other nations with declining fertility, but which remains virtually unchanged in the U.S., where more traditional values prevail, says demographer Alain Belanger, the demographer behind Statistics Canada's latest projections.

We always talk as if “declining fertility rates” means less women getting pregnant. To a certain degree that’s true, but how much of the decline in the birth rate is due to the increased death rate among the unborn resulting from abortion? If you include those killed before birth, I can’t help but suspect that the death rate passed the birth rate quite some time ago.

What's most interesting is that the most serious decline in fertility is affecting those whom the nation would most like to see as parents. The highest-paid, highest-educated women are forgetting about motherhood entirely or seriously reducing their number of desired offspring in what has been called a revolution in fertility.

[…] Margaret Somerville, founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, says the most profound impact of this decline in fertility may be in changing attitude. She sees the trend toward delaying or avoiding child-bearing as just another aspect of society's drift toward a culture of "intense individualism," where children are seen more as "a desirable thing to have, rather than as new individuals to repopulate the world."

[…] "Whenever we start talking about children and about families, we focus on the adults' rights to have children or to not have children -- we don't talk about our society and what it needs, whether it needs children."

But wasn’t that the whole point of the sexual and other revolutions of the sixties - the elevation of the autonomous individual over all cultural and societal constraints? The autonomous individual can choose between kids and convenience, moppets and money, offspring and opulence. Guess which wins.

[…] "There's always been this sense that we can fix this problem through immigration and avoid any population decline that way, but that isn't necessarily going to resolve it," says Prof. Beaujot, who teaches sociology at the University of Western Ontario.

[…] Just as significant in its implications for changes in society is the flip-side of this fertility crisis: Who is having babies in Canada? Nunavut's birth rate is projected to remain well above replacement level, at almost three babies per woman, and is consistently the highest in the country in a baby boom led largely by young, single aboriginal women; the visible minority population is projected to increase dramatically in the next decade, thanks largely to higher fertility levels among some groups of immigrants and to the younger age structure of these immigrant groups.

By the time Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2017, one out of every five people will be a visible minority, the highest proportion since records have been kept.
According to ethno-cultural projections released by Statistics Canada last year, the country's visible minority population is projected to increase by between 56% and 111% between 2001 and 2017, while the rest of the population is only expected to increase by between 1% and 7% in the same period.

Immigration is fine, of course – the USA is based on immigration. But in the past, it was assumed that immigrants, whatever their race, color, or national origin, would take on the national culture. In these days of unquestioned multiculturalism, any nation that depends on immigration for maintaining its population will take on the culture of the dominant immigrants (who, in general, do not suffer from that same compulsive worship of multiculturalism). Goodbye Canada; hello Canadistan.

Friday, February 17, 2006

APA Says Mental Problems From Abortion Irrelevant

February 16, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com)
The American Psychological Association (APA) has said that the effect of abortion on women’s mental health has no relevance in determining the association’s support for abortion.

In a special LifeSiteNews report from the Elliot Institute, a spokesperson for the APA openly stated that the Association supports abortion as a civil right, and therefore research contradicting claims that abortion improves women’s health would have no effect on the APA’s position, because “to pro-choice advocates, mental health effects are not relevant.

(Note: The quote is from Dr. Nancy Felipe Russo. The reporter was referred to Dr. Russo for comments by the APA, so her description as “spokesperson” is a valid one.)

The APA holds extensive scientific authority on mental health issues—the association’s support for abortion over the past thirty years has been based on claims that in many cases abortion is necessary for women’s mental health through freedom from “unwanted childbearing.”

"Thirty-five years ago, when the APA joined in the effort to legalize abortion, they were promising more than just 'relief,'" said Dr. David Reardon of the Elliot Institute in the report. "They were insisting that abortion would fundamentally improve women's mental and physical health by sparing them the burden of unwanted children. But 38 million abortions later, there is still not a single statistically-validated study that has shown that abortion has actually improved the lives of women who abort compared to those who carry to term.”

Researchers in Christchurch, New Zealand, whose extensive study found clear links between abortion and women’s mental health problems, accused the APA of selectively ignoring current research that shows the negative effects of abortion on women’s mental health.

They suggested that the APA defense of abortion is based on seriously flawed studies, long outdated, and refuted by research from the last seven years clearly showing negative effects from abortion. In an interesting twist, the Christchurch research team, which supports abortion, undertook their study in order to attempt to refute claims that abortion damaged women’s mental health.

(Read the whole Elliot Institute report here - it is quite enlightening.)

Here we have the direct, public claim on behalf of the APA that it doesn’t give a damn about women’s health as long as babies can be killed. Is it just me, or does evil seem to be less concerned about concealing its true face recently? We see a lot of things in the press these days that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: the promotion of abortion at any cost; the open vilification of Christianity; the public flaunting of corrupt lifestyles within the Church itself – if you don't like my examples, go pick your own favorite.

I wonder if it isn’t a symptom of one of Evil’s intrinsic flaws; it always overreaches. An alcoholic or a hype can conceal his addiction for a long time. Once he tastes the booze or the needle, however, he can’t really control what he’s going to do and sooner or later – by the very nature of his problem – his addiction will publicly expose itself in the full glare of daylight.

I’m not equating the addict with Satan, but I am kind of equating Satan with an addict. Evil can make itself look good for a while. Promiscuity becomes a “mature attitude towards our natural sex drive.” Child killing becomes “a woman’s right to control her body.” Perversions by the score become “coming to terms with who you really are.” But sooner or later, the mask slips and we see what lies underneath: “to pro-choice advocates, mental health effects are not relevant.” Death for its own sake: as ravenous for blood as a junkie for his heroin; as banal as a dead baby in a waste container.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Persecuted Christians Defined as Terrorists

Excerpted from WorldNetDaily:
A human rights group claims resettlement of persecuted Christians from Burma is in jeopardy because many can be mislabeled as terrorists under a Department of Homeland Security interpretation of the Patriot Act.

Thousands of ethnic Karen refugees who fled from the brutal military dictatorship to crowded camps along the Burma-Thailand border now have the opportunity to resettle in the United States, reports
Christian Freedom International. Some have been in the camps for more than 25 years.

This year, the State Department has agreed to bring more than 9,000 Karen to the U.S., but many could be turned away because they are regarded as supporters of terrorism.
A relatively new provision in the Patriot Act says Homeland Security can reject refugees and asylum seekers if they provided "material support" to anyone engaged in an armed struggle, such as the fighters of the Karen National Union, which represents the ethnic group.

The KNU says it has engaged in an armed struggle for survival against Burma's dictatorships for more than 50 years.

Christian Freedom International also reports more than 100 Christians from the Chin minority currently detained at immigration depots in Malaysia are being denied entry to the U.S. under the same Patriot Act provision.

The Department of Homeland Security says anyone who provides food, medicine, clothing or shelter to a participant in an armed struggle should be denied entry to the United States.

Christian Freedom International argues that when drafting the Patriot Act, Congress never intended Homeland Security to "deny protection to refugees forced to defend themselves or who stand up to brutal tyrannical regimes."

[…] CFI argues Congress gave the executive branch discretionary authority to determine that the "material support" prohibition should not apply in some cases.

"In other words, the intent of Congress was never for Department of Homeland Security to treat the actions of a George Washington or Paul Revere the same as an Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, even though they all engaged in armed activities."

CFI President Jim Jacobson pointed out American missionaries brought the Christian Gospel to the Karen nearly 200 years ago.

"They fought courageously alongside us in World War II and share our faith, values and love for freedom and democracy," Jacobson said. "They deserve our help."

The problem with laws is that they are frequently interpreted by arrogant morons. If you ask the probably 200 million people in the USA who support the intent of the Patriot Act (including yours truly), I bet you’d have a hard time finding one American who wants these folks locked out of the country.

“Anyone who provides food, medicine, clothing or shelter to a participant in an armed struggle should be denied entry?” Say what??? By that logic, perhaps we shouldn’t be allowing our own troops to come back home from the fighting front. This sort of nitwittery grows out of the same mindset that leads to “zero – tolerance” policies that can’t distinguish between a switchblade and a Boy Scout knife.

Without shared moral principles, the best guides we can come up with are rules. In a society where common sense is outlawed as judgmental and discriminatory, and where morals are a matter of personal convenience, mindless adherence to the rulebook is the inevitable result. Well - intended laws become methods of oppression and injustice. Where there is no (shared) vision, the people perish.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Confessor Gets Machine Gun

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - A priest in Germany got more than he bargained for during confession when a man not only declared his sins, but also handed over a machine gun and a hand grenade, police in Bavaria said Tuesday.

"He also gave the priest a cardboard box with a clown's face and the words 'Red Nose Day March 26, 2004' on it containing 34 cartridges of 7.65 mm caliber," police said in a statement.

The priest from the southern town of Pfarrkirchen turned in the weapons to police but told them church rules governing confession prevented him from revealing the man's identity.

"It's unclear as to whether the church has forgiven the sinner, but specialists in Bavaria's regional crime agency who are bound to earthly laws are now investigating the matter in accordance with gun control laws," police said.

He should have kept the machine gun for dealing with heresies. I’m really curious to know what the penance was.

Prayer to St. Gabriel Possenti, the unofficial patron saint of handgunners:

Dear Saint Gabriel, your very name recalls your particular devotion to Christ the Man of Sorrows and to Mary the Afflicted Mother. You died young as a Passionist religious but left to us all an example of a life of Christlike sacrifice. Intercede for our seminarians and young religious who are in desperate need of your patronage amid today's sensual and selfish world. Amen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Few Quotes on the Liturgy

The following is excerpted from and article on Catholic News Service. Cardinal Arinze is the Vatican’s top liturgist.

Cardinal Arinze said the main challenge facing his congregation is to encourage a spirit of prayer, which must grow out of faith. He said bringing people to Mass regularly is essential, and it hinges largely on two factors: catechesis and high-quality, faith-filled liturgies.

Celebrating Mass well involves lay ministers, but primarily the priest, who sets a tone through every word and gesture, the cardinal said.

"Suppose a priest comes at the beginning of Mass and says: 'Good morning, everybody, did your team win last night?' That's not a liturgical greeting. If you can find it in any liturgical book, I'll give you a turkey," Cardinal Arinze said.

Likewise, a priest has to preach well, making sure that his homily offers theological and scriptural enlightenment, and not merely verbal "acrobatics" to show off how many books he's read, he said.

The cardinal said that if done well Sunday Mass will not be experienced as a heavy obligation, but as a spiritual banquet, a celebration appreciated by the faithful who are hungry for spiritual nourishment and want to adore God.

"You should not need a commandment to enter such a banquet hall," he said.

I think I like this guy. His comments seem to bode well for some real improvements in the services endured experienced by most Roman Catholics. (The Eastern Catholic churches never went over the liturgical cliff the way so many Latin Rite churches did. Go to a “modern” Latin Rite church, then go to Our Lady’s Maronite – it will blow you away.) It also bodes well for Episcopalians (ECUSA), since the 1979 Rite II communion service is very much a Lite Beer version of the Roman Novus Ordo mass. If they copied the abuses, maybe they’ll copy the corrections.

Lex orandi, lex credendi. “The rule of prayer is the rule of belief” or, as the perpetrators authors of modern liturgies might phrase it, “if we control the liturgy, we can get them to believe whatever we want.”

Bad liturgy makes for faulty beliefs, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to see that. Show me a church that has gone theologically squishy, and I’ll show you a church where the service and the preaching have departed from historical Christian norms. Good liturgy, on the other hand, makes for orthodox belief. St. Francis uses the old 1928 Episcopal Prayer Book. I’m no big fan of Elizabethan English, or of hanging on to the old for its own sake. But when I first came there from a 1979 Rite II ECUSA church, the theological differences in the prayers were glaring. And you can see those differences reflected in the eyes of the parishioners as well. Hey, hey – A-Rin-Zey! Go, Cardinal!

Money really doesn't buy happiness, study finds

At Last, It’s Official (From Breitbart.com.)

Money doesn't buy happiness, and now there's a study to prove it. Australian researchers found that people in well-off Sydney are among the most miserable in the country, while those in some of the poorest areas are much more satisfied with their lives.

"Only at very, very high levels does money actually have any impact to act as a buffer," said Deakin University researcher Liz Eckerman.

"Money doesn't actually buy happiness and that's what was shown very clearly for the nearly 23,000 people we've interviewed so far," she told ABC radio.

The findings, collated since 2001, show that while there are no extremes of well-being in Australia, the happiest areas had a lower population, more people aged 55 or over, more women, more married people and less income inequality.

The “more women” part probably makes for happier guys. The rest of it seems to revolve around stable families and less urban stress.

The survey assessed a person's satisfaction with their standard of living, health, relationships, life achievement, safety, community connection and future security.
Robert Cummins, a professor of psychology at Deakin who compiled the survey's scorecard, put the difference down to the higher cost of housing and high population density in cities.

"People in these rural electorates often have the advantage of additional disposable income since the cost of living, particularly housing, tends to be reduced outside the cities," he told The Australian newspaper.

The current secular template is that everything depends on economics (thank you, Karl Marx). Even when they come up with contradictory results, they have to force-fit an economic explanation onto their findings to make them fit that template. It’s really kind of sad.

Of the 150 national electorates surveyed, one of the nation's poorest, Wide Bay in rural Queensland, was among the happiest.

I wonder how much they spent on this research? Perhaps in their next study, they can definitively determine whether fools and their money really are soon parted. Wait – I guess they already did that.

Do not toil to acquire wealth; be wise enough to desist. (Pro 23:4, RSV)

A man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them; this is vanity; it is a sore affliction. (Ecc 6:2, RSV)

For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! (Luk 12:23-24, RSV)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Judgment Versus Forgiveness

At Adult Sunday School, an interesting question came up.  On the one hand, there are lots of passages in scripture that talk about how our sins are forgiven – like Jer. 31:34: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.  And then there are other passages that tell us that everything we have done will be judged, like Romans 14:11-12: for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God." So each of us shall give account of himself to God.   Those are just examples – there are loads of both kinds.

So the question was, which is it?  If we are forgiven our sins as Christians, why do we have to sit there at the judgment and give account for them?  My first thought was that it was a silly question; my second thought was that it wasn’t silly at all.  It’s not just a matter of excessively literal interpretation.  Whatever “the judgment” and “giving account” actually mean, they certainly mean something.  And if we are no longer condemned for our sins, why do we have to be judged?  Nor is it a manner of “biblical self-contradiction” that atheists love to look for.   After all, the concepts of forgiveness and judgment are often separated by only a few sentences in the same text written by or for the same guy.  Inspiration aside for the moment, the authors of scripture were not ninnies.  Nor did the early Church find any problems with the juxtaposition of forgiveness and judgment.

I can’t help but think that the resolution lies in the nature of forgiveness itself.  Forgiveness is an act on the part of the forgiver, but in order to be complete it requires a response from the forgiven.  It is given, but it also has to be accepted.  And to be accepted fully, there has to be an understanding on the part of the forgiven about what it is that they are being forgiven for.

I’ve committed plenty of sins in my life.  I’m glad I was not born an ancient Israelite – they would have run out of goats to sacrifice.  In a few cases, I have a fairly good idea of what consequences I have caused through particular sins.  In most cases, however, I don’t.  I know it was wrong, or at least disallowed, but I really don’t have much of a feel for what sin actually means – what the real cost has been to myself and others, and what it says about me as a person to God and to the world.  And I can’t really be forgiven if I don’t really understand what I’m being forgiven of.

I’m in the same situation as the killer in prison when his victim’s family comes to see him and forgives him.  I may think it’s great they forgive me, but do I really have any concept of what it costs for them to do that?

I expect the Capital-J Judgment to be a revelation of the real effects of my sins in my life and in the lives of others, an uncovering of the real ugliness that I can’t or won’t really see right now.  And there are only two possible reactions to that naked truth.  I can throw myself at the cross and cry “Lord, forgive me,” or I can turn away and scream “Leave me alone.”  The forgiveness itself is free; being forgiven is likely to hurt.  And on the basis of my reaction, on my acceptance or rejection of that forgiveness rests my eternity.  Either I get my harp and go through the door on the right, or I get my accordion and go through the door on the left.  And my choices now will determine how I react then.

Most merciful God, who art of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and hast promised forgiveness to all those who confess and forsake their sins; We come before thee in an humble sense of our own unworthiness, acknowledging our manifold transgressions of thy righteous laws. But, O gracious Father, who desirest not the death of a sinner, look upon us, we beseech thee, in mercy, and forgive us all our transgressions. Make us deeply sensible of the great evil of them; and work in us an hearty contrition; that we may obtain forgiveness at thy hands, who art ever ready to receive humble and penitent sinners; for the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Prof's Tale

From This Is True.)
University of Prince Edward Island (Canada) Prof. David Weale was "dismayed" that the last class he was to ever teach before he retired after 30 years had 95 students, so he announced a "January clearance," school administrators say. Weale said he'd give credit to anyone who dropped the class, and even award them a B-minus grade, in return for making the class more "enriching" for those who remained. About 20 students took him up on the deal.

When administrators caught wind of the offer, they said the "Weale Deal" was off, the professor was suspended, and anyone who wanted credit had better come to class. "They just want to send out this message about how strict they are about standards," Weale complained, "when, goddammit, I was the one who was fighting in that class for standards." Weale complained about "our so-called merit-based society," adding "It's not a good thing to think that you have to earn everything." The class? History of Christianity. (Toronto Globe and Mail).

"If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." James 1:26

There are only a dozen people in my evening Biochemistry I class this semester, so if any of you are reading this, don’t even bother thinking about it!

“It’s not a good thing to think that you have to earn everything?” Well, perhaps not in terms of eternal salvation. But in terms of a grade in a university-level class? Try again! As the Prophet of the Subway Wall has written, you can find “sympathy” in the dictionary, somewhere between “s~it” and “syphilis.”

Pope says science no threat to faith

From Reuter’s.
Science made such rapid progress in the 20th century that people may sometimes be confused about how the Christian faith can still be compatible with it, Pope Benedict said on Friday.

But science and religion are not opposed to each other and Christians should not be afraid to try to understand how they compliment each other in explaining the mystery of life on Earth, he told the Vatican's doctrinal department.

The Pope made his comments at a time of heated debate, mostly in the United States, about intelligent design arguments challenging evolution. A Pennsylvania court ruled in December that intelligent design could not be taught as science in school.

"The Church joyfully accepts the real conquests of human knowledge and recognizes that spreading the Gospel also means really taking charge of the prospects and the challenges that modern knowledge unlocks," he said.

The dialogue between religion and science would actually help the faithful see "the logic of faith in God," said the Pope, speaking to members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He headed this Vatican department for nearly 25 years until his election last April.
Scientific discoveries sometimes came so rapidly "that it becomes very complicated to recognize how they are compatible with the truth revealed by God about man and the world," said the German-born Pontiff, 78.

The Church, however, should not fear the challenge of reconciling faith and reason because God was "in fact, the Lord of all creation and all history."

The intelligent design debate in the United States has pitted scientists -- who are sometimes also agnostics -- against believers who claim that science can prove some life forms are so complex that they must have had a supernatural "designer."

ID supporters have been trying to get it taught as science in biology classes alongside Darwin's theory of evolution, which some Christian conservatives oppose. Its opponents rejected this as having no scientific basis at all.

Amen and amen. Truth can’t contradict truth. You can make a very good case that the rise of Western science is a direct result of a Christian culture that valued truth and saw the universe as a rational creation of a rational God.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mohammed-Bomb Tee Shirts

Metrospy is selling the famous Exploding Mohammed cartoon on a tee shirt. The site is overwhelmed as of lunchtime Friday, so I can’t even tell you how much they want for one.

From PRWeb Press Release Newswire: Many in the U.S however, are angered by the violence being displayed by extreme Islamic protesters -- torching buildings, desecrating flags and in some cases even killing people. Annoyed by the violent images broadcast from the Middle East, MetroSpy decided to sell t shirts with the controversial caricature emblazoned across the front.

“We can't let the terrorists win. We can not encourage this uncivilized behavior by caving in to their wishes,” said Nate Thomas, product manager for MetroSpy.

On their website, MetroSpy denounces the tactics of Islamic extremists and encourages its customers to stand up against terrorism. "Failing to print these images mean the terrorists have won", the site says.

We wanted a simple way to exercise our freedom of speech and to stand up to the terrorists. This design was perfect,” said Thomas.

Frankly, considering that they habitually portray Jews as dogs, I’m a little sick of these Islamic tantrums from the religion of peace. Has everyone already forgotten the Taliban blowing up those ancient statues of Buddha? Or the hate-dripping vitriol that passes every day for news in the Middle East, where The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is presented as a documentary? The mobs rioters lunatics terrorists arsonists peace-loving peoples of Annoyistan need to learn that what goes around comes around.

Is the Great Cartoon of the Prophet a bit tacky? Yes. Do I want to hear about it from the loyal sons of Islam? Spare me.

Jesus in a Pancake

A Beachwood man has found religion in his pancakes, Cleveland television station WEWS reported.

Mike Thompson was making pancakes last weekend for his family when the pattern on one of the flapjacks caught his eye.

Upon closer inspection, he saw what he thought was the face of Jesus. He showed his wife, and she agreed.

That's when the couple decided to do what anyone who discovers such an edible artifact does these days -- they put it up for sale on eBay.

"I think the grilled cheese sandwich sold for $28,000, and the pierogi sold for a couple of thousand, so I figured start it off on eBay for $500. It's a pretty good deal," Thompson said.

He is hoping it sells like hotcakes, but so far there have been no opening bids.
(Source: Channel 17, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill)

Not quite the Christos Pantokrator that you’ll see in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but it looks suitable for freeze-drying and framing. Any takers?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

COE Apologizes for Slavery

From the News-Telegraph (UK):
Two hundred years after Anglican reformers helped to abolish the slave trade, the Church of England has apologised for profiting from it.

Last night the General Synod acknowledged complicity in the trade after hearing that the Church had run a slave plantation in the West Indies and that individual bishops had owned hundreds of slaves.

It voted unanimously to apologise to the descendents of the slaves after an emotional debate in which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, urged the Church to share the "shame and sinfulness of our predecessors".

Okay, I freely confess that I may just be a completely insensitive middle-class American white guy. (The readers nod their heads in agreement.) But what on earth is the point of this supposed to be? There is no one now living who has a dog in this hunt. It seems like they are posturing for another one of those feel-good moments that is supposed to make us feel holy and sanctimonious without actually having to do anything. Sort of like the International Sailors’ Union apologizing for wiping out the Dodo Bird. Or like taking a stand opposing nuclear warfare. Who the expletive-deleted is in favor of it?

Perhaps the church would do better by looking into its current sins. Oh, wait. What was I thinking? That might involve a call for real, living, breathing people to (forgive me for using the word) repent and change our lives. Can’t bring those outmoded, guilt-producing notions up in these modern times.

The Archbishop does seem to obsess a bit over the sins of our great-great-great-grandfathers, however. From the same article:

He was criticised in November after saying that missionaries "sinned" by imposing Hymns Ancient and Modern on places such as Africa.

Just as many American kids have felt sinned against by the imposition of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Like I’ve said elsewhere recently, I think I’m going to start selling grips on E-bay. A lot of people need to get one.

At the risk of dating myself, all this BS reminds me of the old Barry McGuire song from ’65.

The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace
And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction

Quote of the Day

Seen on Catholic World News:
"Official ecumenism with the leadership of post-Reformation churches has become more difficult; particularly in ethical questions we are drifting apart. This is leading to the self-destruction of these churches, as has become evident in the Anglican Communion but also in some Lutheran churches."

Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Vatican's "Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity," in Diakrisis, a Tuebingen-based institute of confessing Christian communities.

Feb. 9: Maronite Feast of St. Maron

Saint Maron lived as an anchorite in the mountain valley of the Orontus river towards the end of the fourth century. His admirable virtues are described by Theodoret who was elected bishop of Cyr in 423 AD. He said that on the mountains about the city the anchorites spread themselves out everywhere "like bright stars that shone to the ends of the universe." Theodoret was penetrated with lively admiration for the ascetical lives of the monks of his diocese. When in 444 he wrote his Religious History, he consecrated nearly half of it to writing about his anchorites. Writing of Saint Maron, he explains that Saint Maron, living beneath the uncovered sky, was the initiator of a form of monastic life lived in the open air called "hypethrism". Theodoret described the different modes of Syrian asceticism: "In his desire to lead the human race to its ruin, the common enemy of men found many ways of vice. In the same way the nurturers of piety invented many different ladders for climbing up to heaven. Many, whom I have mentioned, decided to have neither cave nor cavern nor barrack nor hut but exposed their bodies freely to the air enduring the different qualities of the seasons, now frozen by the rigours of the cold, then burnt by the fires of the sun. And among these ascetics their practises were different. Some remained continually standing, other at equal intervals of the day stood, then sat; other encircled themselves with a little wall without being able to communicate with anybody, other refused such a screen and gave themselves up to the gaze of those who wished to see them." Then Theodoret makes known that Saint Maron is not only the initiator of this way of life in the open air, but he is also the animator and the founder of this monastic movement of cyrrhestical life. "He it is who has planted for God, the spiritual paradise, this garden which flowers today in the region of Cyr."

This monastic life was considered more difficult than the life of a recluse. When such a recluse named James was hardened by the combats of the life of a recluse he undertook the way of life initiated by Saint Maron. "Coming to this mountain, he was to be seen by all who would come; for this monk had neither cave nor tent, nor cabin nor wall nor even a circle of stones on the ground for his cloister, he was seen by all, in prayer, in repose, standing, sitting whether he was well or suffering from illness. All spectators could see him continually leading his life of combat. He had no other roof but heaven, and dwelt exposed to the elements. One day he would be drenched by the rain, another day frozen by the ice and snow; yet another day burnt and devoured by the rays of the sun." To choose Saint Maron's open air monasticism was, according to Theodoret of Cyr, to opt for the most rigorous way to heaven, the most heroic way of detachment, sacrifice and mortification.
(Courtesy of the Redemptorists)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Inflammatory Cartoon Draws Intense Reaction from Reformed Baptists

A cartoon depicting Puritan author and allegorist John Bunyan as a thelogical terrorist has brought bitter and acrimonious responses from Reformed Baptists around the globe. The image, originally published in the Presbyterian denominational magazine Paedo has been circulated widely and has been decried by religious leaders of all faiths as abhorrent. The editors of Paedo defend the decision to publish the cartoon, citing the cherished freedom of one denomination being able to openly mock another…

Read the whole thing at Purgatorio. Fortunately, no one has yet been killed in the rioting, nor have any Presbyterian churches been torched.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Dumber

Hot cross buns too offensive for school
A school in the United Kingdom has banned traditional hot cross buns for fear the religious symbol drawn on the top of each roll might offend some students.

Hot cross buns are normally served during the Easter season, especially on Good Friday. Without the white cross drawn with icing, the treat is just a plain currant bun.

The head teacher of the Oaks Primary School in Ipswich, UK, Tina Jackson, has asked her supplier to nix the crosses, the Suffolk Evening Star reported.

[…] "The cross is there in recognition of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, but for our students who are Jehovah Witnesses hot cross buns are not part of their beliefs. We decided to ask to have the cross removed in respect of their beliefs."
(Read the whole thing here)

The funny thing is, I almost made up a parody on this very topic a couple of months ago. I didn’t write it because I thought it was just too silly.

Coming next: Child targeted by ACLU for crossing fingers. Moslems riot. News at 10.

Marginal Salvation

In Adult Sunday School, we’ve recently been doing a study of the Letter to the Hebrews. We were on chapters 3 and 4, which talk about the Hebrews of the Exodus perishing in the desert from disobedience, and about the perils of our being called by Christ and failing to respond.

While we were discussing the requirements for obedience, someone mentioned how they had actually, seriously been asked once, “What’s the least I can do and still be saved?” There was a bit of a stunned silence after that, but I used to be Stewardship Chair at my prior church. My first response was, “No matter what else you wind up saying, be sure to tell them they have to tithe!” For heaven’s sake, wherever they wind up going, there’s no sense in letting the money go to waste!

Once a Stewardship Chairman, always a Stewardship Chairman. It warps one a wee bit, I think.

Forgotten Brothers

People tend to assume that the Middle East is uniformly Islamic, with the only religious differences occurring between Islamic sects. We easily forget that this region is the birthplace of Christianity, and that Mideast Christians belong to some of the oldest churches in existence.

The Christian population of Iraq was 1.4 million in 1987, largely Chaldean (Catholic) and Assyrian (Church of the East). About 40% have left the country in succeeding years. Assyrian Christians were evangelizing China as early as the seventh century; they are now in danger of being wiped out in their own homeland. A number of recent insurgent Islamofascist bombings have targeted Iraqi churches.

Christians in Turkey have dwindled from 2 million to a few thousand since 1920. Father Yusuf Akbulut, an Assyrian priest, was recently arrested by the Turkish government for recognizing Turkey's Genocide against Christian Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks in an interview with a Turkish newspaper about the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the U.S. Congress. Father Yusuf has been charged with treason and will be tried on December 21st. If convicted, he may face the death penalty. A Catholic priest was shot dead just yesterday in the city of Trabzon.

Christians in Syria have declined from 30% of the population to under 10%.

The Lebanese constitution specifically states that the President must be a Maronite Catholic. In Lebanon, however, formerly a majority Christian nation, Christians now make up less than 30% of the population.

In recent years, Coptic Christians (13% of the Egyptian population) who trace their origins to Saint Mark, have been fleeing Egypt in the face of persecution.

In all the discussions we’ve heard lately about personal liberty, religious tolerance, the democratization of the Middle East, and a “place at the table” for all the various Islamic sects, has anyone in the United States government, the news media, or either political party ever shown one whit of concern for these people? In our pursuit of peace with Islam, they seem to have become non-persons, unworthy of mention in polite company, let alone of protection as members of the human race. Even the Evangelical community seems far more interested in trying to plant new churches in the Islamic world than in keeping the ones that have been there for 2,000 years from being wiped out.

We frequently pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Can we remember that “peace” doesn’t just mean waiting for the last target of Islamic rage to hit the ground as a bullet-ridden corpse? “Peace” means safety for the victims in their own homelands.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fresh Blades for Self-Mutilators?

(Excerpted from WorldNetDaily)
A professional nurses group is proposing that "self-harming" patients who are intent on mutilating themselves be given clean blades, bandages and "how-to" advice so they can cut themselves more safely.

Current practice mirrors what most people expect of the medical profession – stopping anyone from harming himself and removing any sharp objects that could be used to cut the skin.

According to the National Mental Health Association, self-harm – also termed self-mutilation, self-injury or self-abuse – is defined as the "deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one's self. It includes: 1) cutting, 2) scratching, 3) picking scabs or interfering with wound healing, 4) burning, 5) punching self or objects, 6) infecting oneself, 7) inserting objects in body openings, 8) bruising or breaking bones, 9) some forms of hair-pulling, as well as other various forms of bodily harm. These behaviors, which pose serious risks, may by symptoms of a mental health problem that can be treated."

#7 could theoretically include eating a hamburger. Other than that, the list seems pretty self-evident.

[…] RCN's Jeremy Bore supports the proposal. "We should give patients clean blades and a clean environment to self-harm and then access to good-quality dressings," he said
"My instinct is that it is better to sit with the patient and talk to them while they are self-harming. We should definitely give advice on safer parts of the body to cut. It could get to the stage where we could have a discussion with the patient about how deep the cuts were going to be and how many."

I have a feeling the therapists are far sicker than the practitioners themselves.
Ian Hulatt, mental health adviser for the RCN, sees a parallel to the similar proposal to give hypodermic needles to drug users to prevent the spread of AIDS through shared needles.

"There is a clear comparison with giving clean needles to reduce HIV," he said. "We will be debating introducing a similar harm-reduction approach. This may well include the provision of clean dressing packs and it may mean providing clean 'sharps'. "Nurses who encounter individuals who self-harm on a regular basis face a dilemma. Do they go for prohibition? Or do we allow this to occur in a way that minimizes harm?"

And here, I think, they do have a point. This sort of insanity is indeed a perfectly logical extension of the mindset that provides schoolkids with condoms, unwed mothers with free abortions, and junkies with needles. The underlying belief seems to be that the most important thing you can do for a person is to protect him from consequences. No behavior is problematic in and of itself, only the possibility that it might lead to unfortunate results. Eliminate the consequence, and the behavior becomes just one more choice.

[…] The UK's Patient Association has come out against the proposal. "Supplying individuals who self-harm with blades cannot be good for them," said the group's director of communications. "Nurses should not be supporting patients to self-harm. By giving self-harmers the tools they need, the nurses could be seen as encouraging individuals to harm themselves. We should be doing something to discourage this behavior."

Clearly the patients have a clearer view of reality that those who treat them do. The patients get to see life as it is; one suspects it is more a matter of theory for those whose job is to treat them.

The pretense is that people become freer to express themselves or to live their chosen lifestyles. The reality is that we are given evermore ways to enslave ourselves. Safe cutting, like safe sex and safe drugs, is illusory. Miserable addicts frequently get better; contented addicts die. This sort of facilitation only cushions the chains of bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil. A comfortable slave is less likely to revolt than a mistreated one, and Satan knows it’s easier to get people to walk into hell with smiles on their faces than to try and force them through the gates.

Other than that, I guess I have no strong opinion on the matter…

Friday, February 03, 2006

Priest Canned After Offensive Sermon

(From the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot)
The Rev. Thomas J. Quinlan Jr. famously loves to jar congregations with bluntly worded homilies, but he went too far when he mentioned the Virgin Mary’s birth canal during a Christmas Eve service – a Catholic bishop has banned him from performing any priestly function in public.

“Your shock content was crude, offensive and disturbing,” particularly to families, youth and visitors, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Richmond Diocese told Quinlan in a Jan. 17 letter.

[…] Quinlan, who provided a copy of DiLorenzo’s letter, said Thursday that his Christmas Eve homily was an attempt to separate lore from the facts of Christ’s Nativity.
“When the baby Jesus came out ” of Mary, “he was a man, just like us,” Quinlan said. “I was knocking the traditional idea of Christmas.”

Quinlan said his sermon also tried to show that Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth were not strictly historical accounts, but rather, one of several different forms of literature in the Bible. “There was nothing wrong with my behavior,” he said.

I have to ask my standard question – are they sure this guy is Catholic and not Episcopalian?

First, homilists and preachers have managed for 2,000 years to convey the depths of meaning in the Christian faith without resorting to crudity or “shock content.” The Gospel, if you really think about it, is quite shocking enough on its own. It doesn’t require crudity to get its point across. This guy should pay more attention to John Chrysostom and less to Howard Stern.

Second, there is no particular reason to assume that the Nativity accounts are not, within the bounds of contemporaneous conventions, reasonably accurate historical accounts. The debunking of the Nativity is hardly a recent invention, and has been dealt with numerous times by numerous people. For a recent discussion, I recommend a set of postings by Mark D. Roberts in response to the Christmas 2004 articles in Time and Newsweek.

Rather than rehash the arguments, I will simply present a couple of comments on “knocking the traditional idea of Christmas.”

Regarding the worlds of secular bible scholarship and liberal Christianity: “In these worlds it’s commonplace to deny the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative without necessarily disparaging the perceived essence of Christian faith. One can believe that God truly loves humankind and has reached out to save us, it is assumed, without also believing that Jesus was actually born in a manger from a virgin mother. Whether, in the end, it makes logical sense to believe this way I’ll save for another series.

And regarding the attempts to demythologize the scriptures: “When read by a non-Christian person, they may confirm the suspicion that Christian orthodoxy has no grounding in actual historical events. Thus the story of Jesus is not the story of God’s entry into human experience, but simply one story among many religious and philosophical options. After all, if the baby Jesus was really God in the flesh, then all people ought to take him seriously whether they’d like to or not. But if the account of his miraculous birth was fabricated by early Christians to compete with Roman emperor worship, then non-Christian folk can feel free to continue to ignore Jesus.”
(Both quotes from the Roberts postings linked above.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

News Items of the Persecuted Church

From the (thoroughly worthwhile – free advertisement for them) pages of Compass Direct. Check them out to keep up to date on what’s happening to Christians in the rest of the world. It is easy for us in the USA to whine about our breadcrumb sufferings until we look at what goes on elsewhere.

India : Hindu Mob Stones Crowd At Catholic School Opening
A 50-strong Hindu mob attacked a new Catholic school and boarding hostel as the facility was inaugurated on Sunday (January 29) in Maharashtra state. The mob threw stones into the crowd, broke chairs and beat participants with sticks.

When church officials met with local government and police officers yesterday, they discovered that Hindu extremists had asked the police three days before the opening ceremony not to allow the school, called Suryodaya Ashram, to operate in Ghosali village.

Despite this intimation of possible violence from the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, an affiliate of the extremist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) working among tribal groups, police did not inform staff at the school and offered no protection for the event.

The school was built to provide education for tribal children.

Eritrea : Military Jails 75 Protestant Conscripts
Eritrean military authorities jailed 75 Protestant Christians yesterday at the Sawa Military Training Camp for “reading Bibles and praying during their free time,” local sources in the small East Africa nation confirmed.

Most of the newly arrested evangelicals, 37 of them women, are student youths doing their compulsory national military service at Sawa, a remote center near Eritrea’s mountainous western border with Sudan.

According to confirmed reports, the 75 young conscripts put under “military detention and punishment” had not attempted to conduct any Christian meeting at Sawa or committed any other transgression of military law.

“In Sawa, to possess your own Bible and keep your personal devotion and loyalty to Christ is not allowed,” an Eritrean Christian told Compass. “This is considered an act of Christian extremism.”

Muslim conscripts, however, are allowed to have their own copy of the Quran and perform their prayers five times a day.

Eritrea: Orthodox patriarch ‘removed’ from his post.
The government-controlled Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church last week served formal notice to Abune Antonios that he is no longer the patriarchal head of the nation’s largest religious body.

[…] According to a report posted in the Tigrinya language on the website of the Asmarino Independent News, the synod notified Patriarch Antonios of his official discharge after “a series of hidden and closed-door meetings” held last week.

The secret sessions reportedly involved three Eritrean bishops and Yoftahe Dimetros, a layman installed by the government last August as chief administrator of the church. The three clerics were identified as Bishop Lukas, Bishop Petros and Bishop Marcos, all members of the church’s synod.

Dimetros reportedly forced some if not all the senior clergymen whose names appeared on the document to sign it.

Since last August, when the Eritrean government stripped Antonios of his ecclesiastical authority and forbid him to administrate the affairs of the church, the patriarch has remained under virtual house arrest at his residence in Asmara.

From Asmara, sources confirmed to Compass today that if the patriarch continues to challenge the government-orchestrated takeover of his church, most people expect him to be arrested soon. Rumor has it that soon afterwards, the government would try to announce its selection of a new patriarch.

The churches in India and Northeast Africa are among the oldest in the world. The Indians trace their Christian heritage back to Thomas; the Africans to Phillip's evangelization of the Ethiopian eunuch. It is truly sad to see them under such attack.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Orthodox and Israeli: When the Two Don't Mix

This is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. A couple of excerpts are below; go read the whole thing on WorldNet Daily.

Aaron Klein is hardly the first Orthodox Jew to discover that sometimes it's difficult being a religious Jew in the Jewish state. An Israel Broadcasting Authority crew traveling toward Kfar Maimon to cover the events surrounding the March to Gaza last summer was stopped en route by police for a routine inspection. One crew member, an Orthodox man wearing a yarmulke, was instructed to step out of the vehicle. Questioned about the purpose of his presence, he explained that he was a member of the film crew. He displayed his Government Press Office press credentials, but police continued to suspect his motives for traveling to Kfar Maimon.

[…] Asked to explain the institutionalized anti-religious practices he's encountered, Aaron replies, "It's the new nature of the cultural war in Israel. The great divide used to be the so-called right wing versus the so-called left wing. Essentially, whether or not to give up land to the Palestinians. Now the mask is coming off and the real battle is starting to be waged openly – religious nationalism versus anti-religious post-Zionism.

"More simply, is Israel supposed to be a Jewish state based on religious ideals or will it be a state like all others that just happens to be comprised mostly of Jews? At its core, it is what all the land withdrawals and proposed land withdrawals are about, and it's what my 'yarmulke problems' are about. That is the fight I am witnessing here. The victor will determine the future of Israel and the Jewish people."

Lest we shake our heads in wonder, let’s remember that the same process is going on more slowly here. The worst you can currently expect as an American Christian is to get laughed at on occasion, but it is all too possible that things may get a whole lot worse in the next decade or two. All we really have to do is sit around in our comfort and let it happen.

A Touch of Divine Irony

On my way to work this morning, I was listening to Laura Ingraham on the radio.  At the half-hour, the news came on.  After the usual stories about politics, the daily mayhem, and the market, the final news item concerned a new drug that might be beneficial in the treatment of compulsive gambling.  It was claimed that as many as six million Americans are addicted to gambling; the economic and social impact is enormous.  

That story was immediately followed by an advertisement for the Texas Lottery.

It has been said that, if a glutton is someone who commits gluttony, and a felon is someone who commits felony, then God is clearly an Iron.

Hollywood's Christian Outreach

Just in case you actually believed that Hollywood is trying to appeal to people of faith, I present the following from WorldNet Daily.

Forced to pull its highly touted new show "The Book of Daniel" last week because of charges its portrayal of Jesus was blasphemous, NBC is pushing the envelope again with news Britney Spears will guest star on "Will & Grace" as a conservative who hosts on a Christian TV network a cooking segment called "Cruci-fixin's."

The pop singing star will appear as a sidekick to the regular character Jack, who hosts his own talk show on the fictional homosexual network Out TV, which is bought by a Christian TV network. The episode will air April 13, and NBC seems determined to stir as much controversy about the show. "Will & Grace" is in its eighth and final season on the network…

It’s pretty clear that these guys are convinced they can make their dollars and ratings solely by appealing to an audience that gets its jollies from mocking stereotypes of Christianity. Who knows? They may be right. Whatever you think of TV execs, they do their programming according to the bottom line. Perhaps we’ve reached the point where anti-Christian sentiment is sufficiently widespread to provide them with the numbers they need to draw advertising. There are certainly significant subpopulations of the mainline churches, and even of Catholics, that thrive on sneering at traditional belief. I’ve met them. They can only serve to increase the scorn of Christians on the part of the general public.

For the record, Britney Spear’s last great television moment was smooching with Madonna at the Video Music Awards.