Friday, April 28, 2006

Death by Ethics Committee

The following is excerpted from an article by Wesley Smith at National Review Online for April 27, 2006:

The bioethics committee at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston, Texas has decreed that Andrea Clarke should die. Indeed, after a closed-door hearing, it ordered all further medical efforts to sustain her life while at St. Luke's to cease. As a consequence, Clarke's life support, required because of a heart condition and bleeding on the brain, is to be removed unilaterally even though she is not unconscious and her family wants treatment to continue.

Andrea Clarke may become an early victim of one of the biggest agendas in bioethics: Futile-care theory, a.k.a., medical futility. The idea behind futile-care theory goes something like this: In order to honor personal autonomy, if a patient refuses life-sustaining treatment, that wish is sacrosanct. But if a patient signed an advance medical directive instructing care to continue — indeed, even if the patient can communicate that he or she wants life-sustaining treatment — it can be withheld anyway if the doctors and/or the ethics committee believes that the quality of the patient's life renders it not worth living,

Contrary to how it sounds, medical futility is not a matter of refusing treatment that will not provide the medical benefit the patient seeks. Refusals of requests for such "physiologically futile care" would be proper and professional. For example, if a patient demanded that a doctor provide chemotherapy for an ulcer, the doctor should refuse, since chemo will do nothing to treat the ulcer.

But Clarke's case involves value judgments rather than medical determinations. In such "qualitative futility" cases, treatment is stopped in spite of a patient's or family's objections — the intervention is necessary not because the treatment doesn't work, but because it does. In essence then, it is the patient's life that is deemed futile and, hence, not worthy of being preserved.

[…] Texas, however, has become ground zero for futile-care theory thanks to a draconian state law passed in 1999 — of dubious constitutionality, some believe — that explicitly permits a hospital ethics committee to refuse wanted life-sustaining care. Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, if the physician disagrees with a patient's decision to receive treatment, he or she can take it to the hospital ethics committee. A committee hearing is then scheduled, all interested parties explain their positions, and the members deliberate in private.

If the committee decides to refuse treatment, the patient and family receive a written notice. At that point, the patient/family has a mere ten days to find another hospital willing to provide the care, after which, according to the statute, "the physician and health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment."

[…] Cases like Andrea Clarke's could not be more important. If the principle is ever established that doctors, hospitals, and faceless ethics committees can dictate who can live and who must die, the already weakening faith of the American people in their health-care system will be seriously undermined and the door will be thrown wide-open to medical decision-making based on discriminatory hierarchies of human worth. As German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland wrote presciently in 1806, "It is not up to [the doctor] whether . . . life is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should he incorporate these perspectives into his trade . . . the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state."

So the façade of “personal choice” that masks the “right to die” slips off, and we get to see the real face underneath. If I express, or my family opines, or a court decrees, that I have expressed a desire not to be maintained by extraordinary means, they will pull my feeding tube and let me die of thirst. If on the other hand, I express a desire for medical treatment and to continue living, the hospital can choose to off me anyway for the sake of expediency. It seems that the right to die is not the promised supplement to the God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; it is instead a replacement for them.

Like godless jesters at a feast,
They gnashed at me with their teeth.

Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue my soul from their ravages,
My only life from the lions.

I will give You thanks in the great congregation;
I will praise You among a mighty throng.
(Psalm 35, 16-18: NASB)

Benedict XVI and Islam

The paragraphs below have been excerpted from a much longer article on AsiaNews, which is definitely worth the read.

Benedict XVI is probably one of the few figures to have profoundly understood the ambiguity in which contemporary Islam is being debated and its struggle to find a place in modern society. At the same time, he is proposing a way for Islam to work toward coexistence globally and with religions, based not on religious dialogue, but on dialogue between cultures and civilizations based on rationality and on a vision of man and human nature which comes before any ideology or religion. This choice to wager on cultural dialogue explains his decision to absorb the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue into the larger Pontifical Council for Culture.

While the Pope is asking Islam for dialogue based on culture, human rights, the refusal of violence, he is asking the West, at the same time, to go back to a vision of human nature and rationality in which the religious dimension is not excluded. In this way – and perhaps only in this way – a clash of civilizations can be avoided, transforming it instead into a dialogue between civilizations.

[…] First of all, he shows that there is no orthodoxy in Islam, because there is no one authority, no common doctrinal magisterium. This makes dialogue difficult: when we engage in dialogue, it is not “with Islam”, but with groups.

But the key point that he tackles is that of sharia. He points out that:

“the Koran is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic. Sharia shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it can exploit such freedoms as our constitutions give, but it cannot be its final goal to say: Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are present [in society] just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, [Islam] would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself”, which could be resolved only through the total Islamization of society. When for example an Islamic finds himself in a Western society, he can benefit from or exploit certain elements, but he can never identify himself with the non-Muslim citizen, because he does not find himself in a Muslim society.

[…] In a closed-door seminar, held at Castelgandolfo (September 1-2, 2005), the Pope insisted on and stressed this same idea: the profound diversity between Islam and Christianity. On this occasion, he started from a theological point of view, taking into account the Islamic conception of revelation: the Koran “descended” upon Mohammad, it is not “inspired” to Mohammad. For this reason, a Muslim does not think himself authorized to interpret the Koran, but is tied to this text which emerged in Arabia in the 7th century. This brings to the same conclusions as before: the absolute nature of the Koran makes dialogue all the more difficult, because there is very little room for interpretation, if at all.

[…] On July 24, during his stay in the Italian Aosta Valley region, he was asked if Islam can be described as a religion of peace, to which he replied “I would not speak in generic terms, certainly Islam contains elements which are in favour of peace, as it contains other elements.” Even if not explicitly, Benedict XVI suggests that Islam suffers from ambiguity vis-à-vis violence, justifying it in various cases. And he added. “We must always strive to find the better elements.” Another person asked him then if terrorist attacks can be considered anti-Christian. He reply is clear-cut: “No, generally the intention seems to be much more general and not directed precisely at Christianity.”

Bingo. Violence against Christians in Islamic societies is not so much directed at Christianity per se, but against anything that which is non-Islamic. Had there been large numbers of Taoists in the Middle East, they would have been the targets. If the Europeans believe they can accommodate the Moslem world by decoupling themselves from Christianity, they are sadly mistaken.

[…] The essential idea is that dialogue with Islam and with other religions cannot be essentially a theological or religious dialogue, except in the broad terms of moral values; it must instead be a dialogue of cultures and civilizations.

[…] This step towards cultural dialogue is of extreme importance. In any kind of dialogue that takes place with the Muslim world, as soon as talk begins on religious topics, discussion turns to the Palestinians, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, in other words all the questions of political and cultural conflict. An exquisitely theological discussion is never possible with Islam: one cannot speak of the Trinity, of Incarnation, etc. Once in Cordoba, in 1977, a conference was held on the notion of prophecy. After having dealt with the prophetic character of Christ as seen by Muslims, a Christian made a presentation on the prophetic character of Mohammad from the Christian point of view and dared to say that the Church cannot recognize him as prophet; at the most, it could define him as such but only in a generic sense, just as one says that Marx is “prophet” of modern times. The conclusion? This question became the topic of conversation for the following three days, pre-empting the original conference.

There is a key point here, I think. Since Islam is not just a set of beliefs and creeds, but a detailed pattern for an “ideal” society, it can’t be addressed in the same way that a Christian can address a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness. The political and the cultural are integral to the religion, and the goal of the religion is the total, complete, and final Islamization of the culture. And that goes to the heart of the bewilderment that European secularists feel when confronting Islam. Islam is not interested in being “part of the mix;” in Islam, there ultimately is no mix.

“it has been said that we must not speak of God in the European constitution, because we must not offend Muslims and the faithful of other religions. The opposite is true – Ratzinger points out – what offends Muslims and the faithful of other religions is not talking about God or our Christian roots, but rather the disdain for God and the sacred, that separates us from other cultures and does not create the opportunity for encounter, but expresses the arrogance of diminished, reduced reason, which provokes fundamentalist reactions.”

Benedict XVI admires in Islam the certainty based on faith, which contrasts with the West where everything is relativized; and he admires in Islam the sense of the sacred, which instead seems to have disappeared in the West. He has understood that a Muslim is not offended by the crucifix, by religious symbols: this is actually a laicist polemic that strives to eliminate the religious from society. Muslims are not offended by religious symbols, but by secularized culture, by the fact that God and the values that they associate with God are absent from this civilization.

There is often, I believe, a failure on the part of the press and the general public to distinguish friends from enemies. Secularists tend to assume they have the support of Islam in dechristianizing society. After all, they are making a place for Moslems at the great politically correct table of multicultural "tolerance." They have that support, however, only to the extent that the removal of a vigorous Christianity furthers islamicization. The secularists themselves are a larger, if not yet to be confronted, subject of Moslem hatred than Christians could ever be. The great threat to Christianity (in the West) is secularism, with Islam running a poor second. The great threat to the ultimate survival of the West itself, however, is Islam - which bides its time, waiting for its chance to pluck a ripe, secularist, emasculated Europe which has lost the will and moral justification to defend itself.

[…] Benedict is aiming at more essential points: theology is not what counts, at least not in this stage of history; what counts is the fact that Islam is the religion that is developing more and is becoming more and more a danger for the West and the world. The danger is not in Islam in general, but in a certain vision of Islam that does never openly renounces violence and generates terrorism, fanaticism. On the other hand, he does not want to reduce Islam to a social-political phenomenon. The Pope has profoundly understood the ambiguity of Islam, which is both one and the other, which at times plays on one or the other front. And his proposal is that, if we want to find a common basis, we must get out of religious dialogue to give humanistic foundations to this dialogue, because only these are universal and shared by all human beings. Humanism is a universal factor; faiths can be factors of clash and division.

[…] But, on the other hand, he has never fallen into the behaviour found in certain Christian circles in the West marked by “do-goodism” and by guilt complexes. Recently, some Muslims have asked that the Pope ask forgiveness for the Crusades, colonialism, missionaries, cartoons, etc… He is not falling in this trap, because he knows that his words could be used not for building dialogue, but for destroying it. This is the experience that we have of the Muslim world: all such gestures, which are very generous and profoundly spiritual to ask for forgiveness for historical events of the past, are exploited and are presented by Muslims as a settling of accounts: here, they say, you recognize it even yourself: you’re guilty. Such gestures never spark any kind of reciprocity.

At this point, it is worth recalling the Pope’s address to the Moroccan Ambassador (February 20, 2006), when he alluded to “respect for the convictions and religious practices of others so that, in a reciprocal manner, the exercise of freely-chosen religion is truly assured to all in all societies.” These are two small but very important affirmations on the reciprocity of religious freedoms rights between Western and Islamic countries and on the freedom to change religion, something which is prohibited in Islam. The nice thing is that the Pope dared to say them: in the political and Church world, people are often afraid to mention such things. It’s enough to take note of the silence that reigns when it comes to the religious freedom violations that exist in Saudi Arabia.

One thing that we tend to forget is that there are – given the current state of world affairs and the personal risks involved – a surprisingly large number of Moslems coming to faith in Christ. It is not huge, but it is definitely a trend. It is missed in the West because, by its very nature, it is an underground phenomenon that cannot show its face in public. Converts are persecuted, imprisoned, and too-frequently killed, and they therefore tend to keep their mouths shut.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Apocalypse! Live Reports at 10!

Had lunch with Abuna Don today, and the topic of the European Union came up – whether it would cohere together or come apart. I opined that, if it did come apart, it would be the end for a lot of pop eschatology books, since the EU always represents the Ten Kings of Revelation 17. The Abuna figured that would be a very good thing indeed.

On reflection, so do I. I don’t have much of a dog in the eschatology hunt; I just don’t pay that much attention to trying to figure out the signs of the times, at least not beyond the obvious. There have been a thousand little apocalypses (would those be apocalettes?) since the Ascension, and there may be thousands more before the Big One. Prophecy reminds us that times like these were both seen and foreseen by those who came before. As for the end of the world, what difference does it make? Whether Christ returns in my lifetime or not, I’m still obligated to leave one of these days. If I can manage to stay prepared for that, I assume the end times can work themselves out however they will.

What bugs me about a lot of “prophetic fiction” is not its questionable theology but its banality. I read one recently that started out as a fairly decent political thriller. The end, which involved the direct intervention of The Holy One in history, just came out flat and dumb. The Left Behind series started out well enough – not the best writing in the history of mankind, but it could keep my interest. By the time it got around to the Second Coming, it was just boring. Like I say, the reason isn’t the theology, but I think it is a direct result of the theology. People that I’ve met who take Revelation as a road map of the future seem to have a good, high view of Scripture, but a pretty low view of mystery. A falling star means an asteroid, or a nuclear bomb, or a fireball from space; the locusts of the Apocalypse, with stings like scorpions, are just mutant insects; the lake of fire is, well, a big lake of fire.

And when the things of God get described like items in a tourist brochure – “If you’ll look to your left you will see the infamous Valley of Hamon Gog[1]. Please keep your hands inside the vehicle and don’t feed the vultures.” – they quickly lose their power and significance. The Dread High Lord of Hosts becomes just another good special effects guy. Movies are even worse. The epic battles of The Lord of the Rings are epic because they are battles of men – the events are bigger than their participants. The cosmic battles of the Last Days lose their grandeur because – reduced to human visual and literary terms – they are so much less than God.

And I suspect that when the Day of the Lord finally arrives, it will be far more terrifying and glorious than anything I as a mere human can verbalize or imagine. People ask why John wrote the Revelation to himself in such cryptic terms. One reason, obviously, is that many of those descriptions tie directly back to the Old Testament in their symbolism – the desert locusts of Joel versus the cosmic locusts of Revelation 9. The other reason he didn’t describe things more clearly, I think, is that he couldn’t. To refine those descriptions is to lessen and cheapen them. Mystery leads to wonder, and wonder leads to awe, and awe leads to a healthy fear, and the fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom[2].

[1] Ezekiel 39.
[2] Psalm 111:10

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hamas Speaks with Forked Tongue?

Surprise, surprise. Terrorists organizations sometimes – gasp – don’t tell the truth.

Read the whole article on World Net Daily.
Since officially forming its government earlier this month, Hamas has been making a series of contradictory statements to the media, supporting terrorism and promoting the destruction of Israel in Arabic-language interviews while espousing moderate ideology and the possibility of coexistence when speaking to Western audiences, according to a recent study.

"The Hamas movement, in an attempt to bridge the significant gap between its platform and ideology – denying Israel 's existence and supporting terrorism – and the demands of the international community, [has been] pursuing a media strategy of deliberate ambiguity and double-talk," concluded the study by the
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center and Israel's Center for Special Studies.

"By means of Western media, senior Hamas officials attempt to blur or hide their basic extremist positions and to project a 'softened' front. By means of Arab media in general and Palestinian media in particular, Hamas projects a militant, uncompromising image," the study stated.

The study follows a
WND exclusive interview in which a top Hamas leader said his group will soon make public in English a "peace initiative" in which it will offer to trade strategic land with Israel, cease attempts to capture parts of Jerusalem and sign a 10-year renewable truce with the Jewish state. The leader conceded the aim of the proposal was to later destroy Israel.

The Center for Special Studies cited multiple cases in which Hamas officials, often including its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, directly contradicted themselves in statements to different media outlets, depending on the audience.

On the topic of suicide bombings, Haniyeh recently granted an English interview to CBS in which he stated, "Hamas never thought about violence, but, in effect, aspired towards peace and calm based upon justice and equality."

[…] Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Voice of Palestine, a West Bank radio station, "The [Hamas] movement adheres to all forms of resistance ... including suicide bombing attack."

Regarding the possibility of recognizing Israel, Haniyeh said in an English language interview with the Jerusalem Post Hamas would respect the agreements ensuring the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, as well as the release of Palestinian prisoners. He added that if Israel withdrew to the 1967 lines, Hamas would formulate peace in stages.

[…] But speaking in Arabic, Haniyeh told the Al-Shuruq newspaper, "One of the fundamental principles of the new government is not to surrender to international pressure and refuse to recognize Israel."

Meshaal told Al-Rai al-Am, a Kuwaiti daily, "No to negotiations with Israel. No to recognition of Israel. And no to surrendering Palestinians' rights."

[…] The conflicted statements to the media follow a WND exclusive interview in January in which a top Hamas leader outlined a "peace initiative" he said Hamas would soon float publicly. The leader justified the proposal using Islamic tradition and stated it would be a temporary machination to ease international and U.S. hostility toward his group in hopes of receiving financial assistance.

"We will be ready for a long interim agreement based on a period of cease-fire that can go to 10 or even 15 years like it was done by the prophet Muhammad with the enemies of the Muslims," said the senior Hamas official, who spoke on condition his name be withheld, since he said he was "revealing confidential operative information."

[…] The Hamas leader said, "I tell you we will surprise everyone with our new attitude."
But he said his group will not abandon its goal of destroying Israel.

"When I speak about a long cease-fire and a temporary agreement, it means that we do not recognize the right of the state of the occupation on our lands, but we will accept its existence temporarily," said the leader.

Although I am not a Premillenial Dispensationalist (I belong to the “I’ll probably understand prophecy when the first asteroid hits” school of eschatology), I can’t help wondering if the 10-to-15 year cease fire proposal won’t wind up being, say, seven?

It is beyond my comprehension why the world is so eager to believe what the terrorists tell the reporters, and why the reporters – who must surely know better - keep publishing it without a single caveat. It goes way beyond anti-Semitism; it is some bizarre form of mass delusion. Whatever we may think of the Father of Lies, you have to admit that he knows how to do his job.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Exhumed Orthodox Monk's Body Incorrupt

From Yahoo News.
As Greek churchgoers prepare for Orthodox Easter this weekend, a simple monk who died 15 years ago but has not decomposed is stealing the show from the usual solemn ritual.

The discovery that Vissarionas Korkoliakos remains largely preserved -- along with his monastic robes and book of Gospels -- is being hailed as a "sign", in a country strong on religious tradition that loves miracles.

"Even (his) soft parts are intact," exclaimed the region's senior cleric, Bishop Nicholas of Fthiotis, as the Greek Orthodox Church officially deemed the event a "celestial sign, a message for our people and our time."

[…] Given the fervor, the church decided to keep the corpse on public view, drawing criticism from some clerics who fear the monk's exposure will lead to commercial exploitation and have called for his reburial.

It all started when the body was exhumed "uncorrupted" -- in church parlance -- during repairs to the brick wall of his crypt at Agathonos Monastery, where he died in 1991 at age 83.

[…] Just as in Sweden people might seek support in the social welfare system, Greeks place their faith in the church, he said.

He suggested the Vissarionas craze might be "a sign of a poor education level...and also indicates a population that is easily influenced."

Of course. Those poor, pathetic, stupid, ignorant Christians. They’d be so much better off to put their faith in the hands of the Welfare State, like the Swedes. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matt. 6:21, RSV). If your treasure is entrusted to the government, then your trust will be placed in the government. God help you.

Other researchers are less dismissive.

"Miracles are a personal matter for each individual," said one Greek anthropologist who declined to be named. "These are very sensitive matters."

"Many Orthodox believers say that the bones of a holy person have a sweet fragrance," she said. "Yet Greek folk culture also maintains that a body can fail to decompose because of a curse."

[…] Fakelas said the craze over the late monk can also be interpreted as a popular backlash against a spate of sex and corruption scandals that recently rocked the Church of Greece, tarnishing its image.

"I'm told that as a monk, Vissarionas would leave the monastery and seek to help the needy," he said.

Today "the popular perception surrounding bishops, on the other hand, is that they are chauffeured around in limousines."

I don't know enough about this case to have an opinion on its validity, but I reject the temptation to ask when was the last time an Episcopal bishop was found to be incorrupt (let alone a dead Episcopal bishop). I refuse to take shots at my old denomination. I won’t say it. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Church of Scotland Supports Use of Human Embryos

WARNING: Severe barf alert. Read at your own risk.

From The Scotsman.
A Church of Scotland committee has backed using human embryos for stem cell research in some circumstances.

The Kirk's Society, Religion and Technology Project decided it was ethical to use embryos created during IVF treatment if they were under 14 days old.

In the first major report in a decade from the church on the subject of embryo research, and the first on the science of stem cell treatment, project members said that embryos "may be used in medical research with a view to eventual treatments involving stem cells".

Leading experts in medical ethics have described the stance as "brave", but the report, which goes before the General Assembly next month, has already attracted criticism from the Roman Catholic Church, which said the Kirk was "starting down a dangerous path" by stating that the end justifies the means.

The committee has, however, opposed cloning and the deliberate creation of embryos for stem cell research "except into serious diseases and only under exceptional circumstance".

It has also taken a stance against the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos or human embryos that have been deliberately made non-viable. It will recommend the Church as a body should continue to press the government not to weaken the provisions of the UK legislative framework on embryology.

A key part of the report, and that likely to prove most contentious, is the assertion that embryos under 14 days old did not have the "moral status" of humans.

It says that although for some in the church "the embryo already has the same human dignity as a person who has been born", the majority of the working group took the view that "the moral status of the human embryo is not established until some time into its biological development after conception".

However, Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: "We don't accept the 14-day rule. If it is appropriate to conduct experiments at 14 days, why not 13 or 15? There's no logical reason not to as there is no particular important physiological change that takes place on that day. The moment you say it's OK to use embryos, the time is irrelevant."

Mr Kearney said the Kirk's willingness to accept the possible benefits from stem cell treatments gained through embryos was to enter into a discussion of "the ends justifying the means", which he described as "starting down a dangerous path".

"You have to look at the issue in China of using the organs of condemned prisoners in transplant operations," continued Mr Kearney.

"On the one hand somebody who may be very sick is being given a life saving treatment, but it's at the expense of the life of somebody else."

[…] Sheila McLean, professor of medical ethics at Glasgow University, described the Kirk's stance as "brave" and worthy of admiration.

"The Church's stance, while still being pretty conservative, could be considered radical for a faith group," she said.

But she questioned the distinction made between different types of embryos: "I'm not sure how they make the differentiation between using embryos created for research and those left over from IVF treatment.

"Perhaps it comes down to the fact that there the embryos used in IVF have a chance of becoming human beings rather than just being created for research, but it seems a touch utilitarian and perhaps an ethical sleight of hand.

"But I think the Church of Scotland is to be admired to be able to create this type of nuanced report, trying to make proposals about this type of thing rather than just condemning it like so many faith groups."

John Calvin must be spinning in his grave:
"...the unborn, though enclosed in the womb of his mother, is already a human being, and it is an almost monstrous crime to rob it of life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his most secure place of refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy the unborn in the womb before it has come to light." (Calvin, Commentary 0n Exodus 21:22)

“The Church of Scotland is to be admired?” Only to the same extent that I admire Dr. Mengele. To paraphrase their own comment, I don’t think the Kirk can retain any claim to “have the moral status of humans.”

Deus est mortuus. Humanitas est Deus. Ave humanitas.

Homeowners Association Bans Bible Study

Courtesy of the folks at WorldNetDaily.
Two residents of a Southern California senior mobile home park are suing the homeowner's association for barring prayer and Bible study meetings in common areas.

For 17 years, residents met weekly in the Warner Springs Estates clubhouse for a prayer and Bible study meeting, most recently led by local pastor Andy Graham. But in August 2004, after new leadership took over the homeowner's association, Graham was told in a threatening letter posted at the clubhouse to stop the Wednesday night meetings, according to the
United States Justice Foundation, or USJF, which represents residents Susan Eva-Marie Heraver and Catherine Lovejoy.

Colette Wilson, the lead attorney in the case, told WND the letter essentially said, "Anybody who tries to defy us, we're going to sue your pants off."

This is a standard approach – intimidation by threats of legal action. Most people aren’t willing to go through the hassle. It’s the same principle they use at the bank when you deposit a large check. “Sir, we’ll have to place a five (or ten or whatever) day hold on those funds until your check clears.” Of course, in this electronic age, they can determine in moments whether the check’s any good or not. And of course there’s a VP in charge of flak-catching who will be happy to “make an exception” when you complain. But most people don’t complain, and the bank cadges a few extra bucks in interest on your money. Similarly, most people just don’t have the time, energy, or will to fight the devil, and he wins by default.

Just prior to that, when the Bible study group gathered for its regular meeting, tenants and mobile home park staff were allowed to harass, threaten and interfere with the meetings, Wilson said.

During other events scheduled during the week, such as Bingo on Tuesdays, it's understood that others in the room should be respectful and not in interruptive, but during the Bible study, the hostile residents acted in a "threatening manner," with antics such as blasting the volume on the TV and talking loudly, according to Wilson.

What is it about Christianity that raises so much hatred? One of the reasons I came to the conclusion that Christianity is true is the hostile reaction it evokes in people. Nobody bothers to hate Buddhists or Confucians; the West can’t even maintain a little healthy-and-temporary righteous anger at Islam. Only Judaism and Christianity raise such ire. It must strike some deep chord inside of men that they just don’t want to have struck.

One woman threatened meeting participants with a pool cue, and when she was videotaped, grabbed the camera, called police and claimed she was attacked, Wilson said.
After the threatening letter, the attorney noted, the Bible study group gave up and began meeting in each other's homes. But Wilson said it limited them, because they couldn't accommodate the up-to-40 people who met in the clubhouse, where there also was adequate parking and handicapped access.

Wilson said the meetings were nondenominational and included people of many different backgrounds, including Catholics, Jews and Protestants.

Responding to an attempt by USJF to resolve the dispute without litigation, the defendants argued the residents have no right to have prayer services. The homeowners association, they insist, can determine who will use the common areas and under what conditions.

Wilson contends this is contrary to the constitutions of the U.S. and California and the Unruh Act. She argued "numerous case precedents bar discrimination against people wishing to use commons areas in mobile home parks, in condominium complexes, and in other areas from holding Bible meetings or prayer meetings."

"The attempt by the homeowners association to discriminate against those who wish to hold such prayer or Bible meetings, and the support of the homeowners association of the attempts to intimidate tenants out of having such meetings, is not only inexcusable, but illegal," Wilson said. The homeowners association passed resolution against religious meetings then revoked it, she explained, but in practice, the ban remains in effect.

At the association's monthly meeting, residents ask about whether they can have a religious group and the head of board always says no, Wilson explained.

She plans to file a new preliminary injunction in court asking that the meetings immediately be allowed to resume.

And I suspect the Bible Study will win in the courts. Legal precedent, however, is not much protection against pool cues, and forgive me if I doubt that an assault would actually be aggressively prosecuted.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

First Humanistic Rabbi to be formally installed in New York

The following is from a press release by the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism:
What's a rabbi to do when he realizes he's secular?

When he understands that Jewish history is a human saga; that reason is the source of truth; that we live our lives independently of supernatural intervention?

Well, I expect he would quit. But obviously I’m wrong; there are quite a few bishops who believe exactly the same thing, and they didn’t quit. Why should a rabbi?

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer left the Reform rabbinate in 1982 in great part because of these personal beliefs. Twenty-four years later, he returns to the rabbinate in a community where these beliefs are accepted, welcomed and celebrated. On May 5, 2006 at The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, Rabbi Schweitzer will be formally installed as the first Humanistic rabbi in New York. Special guest, Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism, will officiate at the ceremony.

[…] Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1963, is one of five denominations in Jewish life and has communities and congregations throughout the world. Humanistic Jews define Judaism as the human-centered history, culture, values, and shared experiences of the Jewish people. Humanistic Jews celebrate holidays and life-cycle events with innovative rituals and language that are consistent with their secular humanist values and beliefs.

Secular holidays? Reminds me of an NPR skit from April Fool’s day some years ago, involving the Church of Secular Humanism. Every year on Darwin Day, the children would dress up as gorillas and go from house to house asking for bananas.

[…] In 1979, newly ordained, Rabbi Schweitzer served a congregation in Indianapolis. But doubts arose as he questioned the message he was espousing. Yet his commitment to Jewish life was deep. The son of a German refugee, he was also the great-grandson of the renowned constitutional lawyer and Jewish civic leader, Louis Marshall. Even though he left the rabbinate, he continued to foster and study Jewish identity. For 25 years, he amassed one of the most significant collections of Jewish Americana, with more than 10,000 items and artifacts, which he recently donated to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

In 1992, when he discovered Humanistic Judaism, he realized that he had found a home again. "Humanistic Judaism was not a choice in my youth," Rabbi Schweitzer said, "otherwise it would have been very compelling. But now we can raise our children in this movement and also find a meaningful identity for ourselves. Equally important, today we have our own rabbinic institution. Young women and men can choose this route and not take the long away around that I did." Today, Rabbi Schweitzer also serves as president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis.

Since joining Humanistic Judaism, Rabbi Schweitzer has been a prolific writer. In addition to writing the congregation's Humanistic services for High Holidays, Shabbat celebrations, weddings, babynamings and funerals, he contributes to Moment Magazine's "Ask the Rabbi" column, he is the author of "The Liberated Haggadah: A Passover Celebration for Cultural, Secular and Humanistic Jews," "The Guide for a Humanistic Bar/Bat Mitzvah" and "A Modern Lamentation: A Memorial to 9/11."

Why do you celebrate the Sabbath if you don’t really think it’s a commandment from God? If it's just a party, what difference does the day make? Why celebrate the Passover if you don’t really think someone or something actually passed over? It reminds me of the fake Druids that run around Stonehenge every Samhain – who are they trying to kid? Us? Or themselves?

[…] 7:15 pm, at the Village Community School auditorium, 272 West 10th Street in the West Village of Manhattan. Information is available online at or at 212-213-1002.

I’m sure Humanistic Jews will soon have full intercommunion with the Humanistic Christians in the Episcopal Church (USA) and other mainline denominations.

I can hardly wait for someone to found the Society for Humanistic Islam. They will still blow you up; they just won’t have any particular reason for it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Quote of the Day

“Win and argument, lose a soul.”
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979)

I hear replays of Sheen on the radio fairly often, and his TV show is rebroadcast on EWTN. I am constantly astonished at both his insight and his prescience about where American society was headed.

You Always Knew it was True

This has nothing to do with any of the usual topics on this blog, except that it confirms a theory I’ve always had. Millions of years in the future, long after mankind is gone, alien explorers will land on earth. They won’t find any remains of our civilization – no roads, billboards, buildings, or monuments. All will have fallen into ruin and decay. Even the cockroaches, who are always pictured as being the last survivors, will be gone. But there will be evidence that man was once here – found in the very structure of the new Rulers of the Earth. The Age of Reptiles, the Age of Mammals, the Age of Man – all only crumbling fossils eroding to dust from the layered rocks of time. It will be the Age of Fruitcakes.

Lance Nesta did what many people do when receiving a fruitcake _ he set it aside, only to rediscover it more than 40 years later in his mother's attic. Nesta couldn't resist taking a peek at the cake, still in its original tin and wrapped in paper.

"I was amazed that it hadn't changed at all," he said.

Nesta's two aunts sent him the fruitcake in November 1962 while he was stationed in Alaska with the Army.

"I opened it up and didn't know what to do with it," Nesta said. "I sure wasn't going to eat it, and I liked my fellow soldiers too much to share it with them."

As best he can remember, he packed the cake with the rest of his belongings and shipped it home to Waukesha when he left the military a few years later. He recently rediscovered the boxed fruitcake in the attic of his mother's home in Waukesha.

His mom had given him advance warning of the fruitcake back in 1962.

"She knew I hated the damn things, but she said she didn't have the heart to tell my aunts, who had already mailed it," he said.

The cake arrived wrapped in brown paper with a red "fragile, handle with care" sticker on it. The cake itself was contained in a round blue tin printed with the words "Old Fashioned Fruitcake."

"Now it's just old," Nesta said.

While looking at the cake's container this week, he noticed the listed ingredients included rum and brandy.

"If I had known back then that it had rum and brandy in it, I would have eaten it," he said.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Celebrating the Ascenturrection

Reprinted without comment from Mere Comments. There's nothing I could possibly add.

Here in Lo Stato Cattolicissimo di Rhode Island, newscasters on two separate stations thought it fit to inform their audience this weekend what Easter was all about. "On Sunday," said they, "Christians will celebrate the day when they believe Jesus rose into heaven." So said the other. I don't know which is more embarrassing: that the media folks should think their audience so stupid as to need to have Easter defined for them, or that they should then go ahead and get it wrong. Somebody should let them know that there's a book containing an account of those several days long ago. But as one wit in my family put it, apparently people who fail to secure jobs as fenceposts go into journalism.

Iran says, "Who? Us?"

Iran is opposed to anti-Semitism and massacre of Jews whether something called (sic) Holocaust has taken place or not, Majlis Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel said Sunday.

His remarks came at a press conference attended by domestic and foreign reporters on the sidelines of the International Conference on Holy Qods and Support For the Rights of Palestinian People.

Referring to a question about his opinion on the recent remarks of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the speaker said "We respect followers of all religions which was also mentioned in the president's speech." Haddad Adel said that Iran had a long history of co-existence with Jews and has proven that it has no conflict with them.

"Iranian Jews enjoy equal rights with others," said the speaker.

He added that Western states' opposition to any investigation into Holocaust "adds to existing doubts in this regard."

Haddad Adel said "While any insult against the Holy Prophet of Islam is not condemned under the pretext of freedom of speech, it is surprising that any researcher who casts doubt on Holocaust is convicted and sent into prison.

"If the case of Holocaust was true, Europeans would not be frightened," Haddad-Adel said, adding that there were some points regarding Holocaust.

"If the issue of Holocaust was true, Europeans would not be afraid of investigating about it. We do not know what frightens Europeans?" the speaker said surprisingly.

He added "If the Holocaust has happened, so why those who are responsible for it should not pay the price and now Palestinian Arabs and Muslims are instead paying the price?" They (Europeans) claimed that it was Nazis who perpetrated the crime (Holocaust), the speaker said.

"Iran has no motivation for anti-Semitism," Haddad Adel reiterated.
(From the objective reporters at the Islamic Republic News Agency.)

"We respect followers of all religions.” I’m sorry, but that is a bald-faced lie. Some years ago, when my wife and I lived in Bryan – College Station, Texas, there was an Iranian in the next apartment. A medical doctor, and a practicing B’Hai, he had fled Iran after the revolution and the imposition of Islamic law. He was working at a relatively unskilled medical job here in the US until he could get licensed. One by one, his friends and contacts who remained in Iran “disappeared” under the tolerance and repect of the mullahs. I know another Iranian, a convert to Christianity, who takes his life in his hands every time he travels home.

Please. If you want to build a bomb, if you want to nuke Israel, if you intend to destroy Christendom, come out and say so. Half the people in the USA hate the Christians and the Jews just as much as you do, and there’s a good chance they’ll win the next election. Just have mercy and spare us the rhetoric.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Joseph Paul Goebbels (1827 – 1945), Nazi Reichsminister for Propaganda

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Joyous Eastertide to All

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?

Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;

If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!

And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.

And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.

And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
Saint John Chrysostom

Friday, April 14, 2006

Great Friday of the Crucifixion

The Power of the Blood
If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. "Sacrifice a lamb without blemish", commanded Moses, "and sprinkle its blood on your doors." If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

"There flowed from his side water and blood." Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: "Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!" As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.
St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 347-407 AD.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I baptize thee in the name of...whatever

From an article on the decline in the number of baptisms in USA Today.
There are now baptism-style ceremonies where God is never mentioned by parents seeking to initiate their children into a world of all faiths, says Ema Drouillard of San Francisco, who runs the website

She conducted such an event for Kirsten and Farnum Alston of Marin County, Calif., for their baby, Greer, in 1998. "We just wanted a larger spirit to guide our daughter, but we didn't want to get specific. I wanted all her bases covered," says Kirsten Alston. The couple grew up Presbyterian, but now "we just do Christianity L-I-T-E" for Greer, who "believes in angels and fairies, leprechauns and Santa Claus."

Marin County; where else?

“Baptism-style ceremonies where God is never mentioned.” What’s the big deal? I’ve had to sit through plenty of church services where God is barely mentioned. I once suggested taking down the silly cross from over the altar and putting up a big mirror so we could see whom we were actually worshipping. (Sorry - that’s too snarky for Holy Week. Mea maxima culpa.)

Even if I were not Christian and just wanted “a larger spirit to guide my daughter,” I think I’d at least have some interest in just what kind of spirit I was invoking. I am always amazed at the unspoken assumption that most “spiritual” people seem to adopt unawares – namely, the assumption that all “spirits” are somehow equivalent. Just because you are in touch with the “spiritual,” why do you assume that that the spirit you’re in touch with is actually good?

I also have a question. If you “just do Christianity L-I-T-E," do you wind up finding “salvation L-I-T-E?” Lite religion is like lite beer – less filling, tastes bad. Why bother? Hundreds of thousands of mainline American Protestants have asked that question, come up empty, and either switched to the real thing or just quit drinking entirely.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Good Friday: The Stations of the Mime

From The Salem News Online:
David Orvash, 35, plays a difficult role as a mime: He portrays the cross Jesus carries to his crucifixion, arms spread and fists clenched.

Ryan Burns, 19, plays Jesus, and together the two mimes, with white faces and gloves and black clothes, take long, drawn-out steps to appear as if they are walking down the streets of Jerusalem on the day most Christians celebrate as Good Friday.

"It's way more difficult than I thought it was going to be," said Orvash, who plays other roles as well in the two half-hour shows Christ Church of Hamilton and Wenham is putting on this Friday.

Why have a worship service when you can have a show?

It may sound odd - mimes performing the story of Jesus' death - but this production is a way to hold children's attention during what otherwise would be a lengthy service, said church member Joyce Bruce, who organized the event.

[…] Three years ago, when the production was about to debut, people questioned the appropriateness of a mime show on such a serious subject. Some scoffed, and some wondered whether it was sacrilegious.

But during that first production, the crowd was silent, "and by the end they're crying," Bruce said. "I was shocked by how much it touched them. It's very emotional."

If they did that in my church, I suspect that I’d be crying too.

Orvash, of Reading; Burns, of Wakefield; Wendy Dixon, 54, of Manchester; and more than 20 supporting mimes (all in white face for a rehearsal on Sunday) take direction from Anslono. They spent six weeks studying for Friday's performances of "Listen With Your Eyes: A Creative Mime Interpretation of the Stations of the Cross."

20 supporting mimes? Holy cow, can you imagine walking into that unawares? “Oh my G~d, honey! Freeze! Don’t take another step! We’ve blundered into a mime field!”

In all fairness, I’m sure that – for those who can tolerate the presence of mimes without breaking out in boils - this could be a beautiful and meaningful experience. And Christ Church of Hamilton and Wenham is a faithful, orthodox congregation affiliated with the American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network; I should be ashamed for making sport with them. I have just gotten so hypersensitized to in-your-face Episcopal outrageousness that I simply can’t help bristling at this sort of thing. Besides, my spiritual gift is stodginess. But for heaven’s sake, at least lose the whiteface!

(Tip of the gimme cap to The Curt Jester.)

MTV to broadcast pogo-sticking pope

I give up. I like to satirize the modern world, but I just can’t keep up with reality anymore – as illustrated by this latest bit of news from WorldNet Daily.

The music channel MTV is planning to present the controversial "Popetown" cartoon series to its viewers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, causing outrage among German Catholics and Protestants.

The 10-part series, starting May 3, depicts the pope as a fat infantile figure bouncing on a pogo stick through the Vatican, surrounded by a bunch of corrupt cardinals. The BBC commissioned the series in 2004, but it was deemed too offensive for public viewing in the United Kingdom. The cartoons are available on DVD but have only been shown on TV in New Zealand.

Protests in Germany have also been aroused by an advertising campaign for the TV series. Full-page advertisements show a grinning man with a crown of thorns sitting in an easy chair in front of a cross. The advert bears the slogan "Laugh instead of hanging around."

Wickedness is never content with simply being itself. It always has to validate itself by getting in other people’s faces, and it always has to top itself to keep the thrill alive. I’m ashamed to say, there was a time in my life when I thought that sort of thing was cool; now I just find it sad.

MTV withdrew the advertisement after the German Advertising Standards Agency issued a public rebuke today and accused the channel of hurting religious feelings. MTV rejects this allegation and is going ahead with plans to air the series.

[…] The Catholic initiative "Never Again" is threatening legal action against MTV, and the Christian newspaper "Verse 1" has started a boycott campaign on the Internet.

Some evangelicals have joined the protests. The chairman of the Association for Bible and Confession in Bavaria, Andreas Spaeth, is deeply concerned that the media should be allowed to mock the Christian faith while treating Islam with great caution and consideration in similar circumstances.

[…] The 10-episode animated series, commissioned in 2002 before the death of Pope John Paul II, tells the tale of the long-suffering Father Nicholas, a good man who has to cope with life's ups and downs in the fictional bureaucracy in which he lives.

That bureaucracy just happens to the Vatican, which features an American pope, corrupt cardinals, plots suggesting bestiality, and egotistical Vatican reporter based on Nicole Kidman's character in the movie "To Die For."

You just knew that somehow they would manage to take a shot at Americans.

"Penelope is the kind of self-obsessed reporter who says, 'I am going to look so fat' before going live from a Somalian refugee camp," notes the show's website.

[…] But the creators say despite its irreverence, the cartoon is not intended to offend anyone.

Its website states: "Sure, it is a place where assembly lines flatten small balls of dough with mallets, transforming them into holy wafers. But 'Popetown' is not about the Vatican; it is about the hierarchy and bureaucracy in any company."

"Religion never comes up at all in any of the scripts," said Marke. "We're just poking fun at any organization."

Right. And I’m the long-lost Czar of all the Russias. I’m just curious when they will make a series about “Imamville,” where an infantile prophet runs around channeling messages from a bright and shiny demon and convinces his bearded followers to behead Jews and Christians while he makes out with the local virgins. Oh, wait - I guess that would be "intolerant..."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Church forced to close by mob

More love from the Religion of Peace, courtesy of WorldNet Daily.

Hundreds of radical Muslims who converged on a church filled with Christian worshippers in West Java on March 26, causing distress to many with their hostile demonstration, were convinced to disband only after police were called and the pastor of nine years agreed to close the church and cease all its Christian activities, reports the Voice of the Martyrs, a leading monitor of Christian persecution.

According to the report, a mob numbering around 200 came to the Church of Pentecost in Gunung Putri, Indonesia, during the Sunday morning service to protest the property being "misused" as a church building. The five-hour demonstration became so hostile, some of the women among the 190 congregants began crying hysterically.

Pastor Daniel Fekky was told by representatives of the Muslim mob, in a meeting arranged by police, the church would have to be closed based on a pending revision of the 1969 Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) which dealt with church buildings and government approval. The pastor was able to get the mob to leave only by agreeing to shut the doors to his church.

The revision, announced by the Religious Affairs Minister and the Home Minister, will need the signature of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono before coming into effect.

So if it’s not in effect, why didn’t the police disperse the mob and let the church continue with their apparently lawful activities. (Don't try and come up with an answer - rhetorical question.)

The revised regulations set three conditions before a church building can be built or a congregation legally established:

  • Proof of at least 90 existing members with official ID cards

  • Signatures from 60 neighbors of different faiths approving of the establishment of the new Christian congregation

  • Approval from local authorities
Indonesian Christians say the new law will make it more difficult to open new churches, especially in rural, predominantly Muslim areas. They also point to already-established churches which have tried for years to get government approval, without success.

“The new law will make it more difficult to open new churches.” Gee, you think? It doesn’t sound like the mob above was just demanding their chance to sign a permission slip, and the local authorities are obviously going to jump on the chance to showcase their ecumenical spirit.

Article 29(b) of the Indonesian constitution guarantees Indonesian citizens the freedom to choose their own religion and to worship according to the dictates of that religion.

Our constitution guarantees the same thing. There are plenty of people here (I’ve met some of them) who would be happy to give ours the same interpretation as the Indonesians seem to be giving theirs. It’s already happening in Canada.

Pastor Daniel has led his church's services for nine years, but the residents of Gunung Putri and the local government did not protest his ministry until a year ago.

"If this church is closed down, where can my congregants and their children worship the Lord?" said the pastor.

Perhaps we should be purchasing catacomb-digging machines for the mission field. The Church has been underground before, both figuratively and literally. During Holy Week, let's remember to pray for all those brothers and sisters around the world who quite literally profess the faith at the risk of their lives.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Midnight, Palm Sunday

Tongues dry with praises
soon will thirst for clotting blood.
Light drowns in darkness.

"Incarnate" is not Intelligible to the Vast Majority?

Bishop Donald Trautman of the (Catholic) Diocese of Erie weighs in on proposed changes to the English translation of the Catholic Latin-rite Novus Ordo mass (read the whole thing here).

In the proposed translation of the Sacramentary we meet words and expressions that many would consider not in the speech of the mainstream assembly. I cite the following examples:
  1. The proposed translation for the Nicene Creed uses the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” to replace the present wording “one in being with the Father”. Also in this Creed the new wording “by the Holy Spirit [he] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary” replaces “he was born of the Virgin Mary”. Both words “consubstantial” and “incarnate” are not readily intelligible to the vast majority of those in the assembly. The present texts are accurate, orthodox formulations of our faith approved by the Holy See and prayed by our people for the past thirty-five years.

  2. A proposed translation for Eucharistic Prayer I reads: “Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light and peace.” The phrase “a place of refreshment” is a literal translation that conveys the image of a heavenly spa or tap room at the heavenly hotel. Using the word “place” wrongly identifies heaven as a geographical location. Presently we translate this prayer as follows: “May these and all who sleep in Christ find in your presence light, happiness, and peace.”

  3. A proposed translation for Eucharistic Prayer II reads: “Make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit.” This is an exact translation of the Latin, but it would not make sense for most in the assembly. While the phrase “dew of your Spirit” is a beautiful biblical metaphor, its literalness as translated does not resonate or communicate with contemporary Christians.
In our current Lectionary we encounter similar examples of accurate literal translations which result in impoverished English texts making them impossible to proclaim or understand. The following are examples:
  1. On the Third Sunday of Advent, B Year, in John 1:6-8, 19-28, we read: “When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Christ.’” Clarity is missing in this exaggerated literal translation which comes from our revised Lectionary translated in Rome. People are confused about what was admitted and not admitted. The former Lectionary simply said: “The testimony John gave when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask, ‘Who are you?’ was the absolute statement, ‘I am not the Messiah.’” I would simply add, if this isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

  2. On the Twenty-Fifth Sunday, C Year, in Luke 16:1-13, we read: “Then to another steward he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’” Does anyone in the assembly know the meaning of “kors of wheat”? The Lectionary sent to Rome by the American Bishops said: “A hundred measures of wheat.” The Lectionary from Rome uses a technical, unintelligible term “kors”.

  3. In 2Timothy 1:1-3, 6-12, we have nine lines literally translated for one sentence. The lector is out of breath by the ninth line. A proclaimed text cannot possibly be understood by the hearer when it is so long. This is a frequent failing in our present Lectionary. Little consideration was given to the fact that a scripture translation in the Lectionary is to be suitable for proclamation. This requires different punctuation and treatment of subordinate clauses as found in the original.

  4. Any number of examples could be cited to illustrate that the present Lectionary slavishly translates pronouns, failing to supply nouns. In a translated text for public proclamation a pronoun should often be replaced by a noun for the purpose of intelligibility and clarity.

He goes on to take issue with Liturgiam Authenticam, an instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments:

Liturgiam Authenticam wants a more profound sense of the sacred, a transcendent emphasis in liturgical translations. Paragraph 47 contains a particular norm in this regard: “Liturgical translation…will facilitate the development of a sacred vernacular, characterized by a vocabulary, syntax and grammar that are proper to divine worship.” The text then goes on to claim that this sacred vernacular “has occurred in the languages of peoples evangelized long ago”. Some liturgists dispute this claim. Liturgical scholar Peter Jeffery comments: “Try as I might, I cannot figure out what historical period or language they are talking about. When and where did liturgical translation of the Roman Rite create a sacral vernacular that even shaped every day speech?”

He also pumps for “inclusive language”:

When people come to celebrate Eucharist they come with the everyday language of contemporary American culture in their ears and on their lips. That language reflects the influence of television, videos, movies, newspapers, magazines, and best sellers.

I could have lived without that mental image - the Eucharist in the everyday speech of television and videos. “Take this cup, y’all, and slug it on down. This here is my blood, the blood of the best deal you’re ever gonna get - fo’shizzle, my flockazizzle!” At least I left out the F-word...

He uses Matthew 10:41 as an example of exclusive language – “Whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward -” claiming that it excludes women. How? If a woman receives a righteous man, she’ll get a righteous man’s reward. What’s the matter with that? Not to mention my pet peeve that the generic word “man” does include women in standard English usage.

I don’t really have a dog in this hunt, and I don’t like to go after bishops. Wait! Before the lightning strikes, let me rephrase that! I try to avoid going after Catholic bishops.

As someone who teaches students on a regular basis, however, I find this way beyond irritating. If you look at Bp. Trautman’s essay, he uses 7322 words (including the titles) to complain that the proposed changes to the liturgy are too complicated for his parishioners to understand. Leaving aside the elitist arrogance of his thesis, I would submit that he could have used half the bandwidth to teach his flock the meaning of the liturgy, compared to the verbiage he spends defending the use of the lowest common denominator in composing the liturgy. Silly me, but I thought one of the primary jobs for a bishop was to teach and edify the faithful, not to condescend to them. It is a sad decline in the state of the Episcopate from John Chrysostom (the Golden-Mouthed) to Trautman the Banal-Mouthed. No wonder so many masses sound like they were composed for Sesame Street.

Monks and their monasteries go into retreat as recruits dwindle (Britain)

Monks first arrived in Britain almost 2,000 years ago but they are now in danger of all but disappearing within a generation, figures suggest.

A growing number of Roman Catholic monasteries are being sold as their ageing communities are hit by death and plunging vocations.

While a few larger institutions such as the Catholic independent schools may be strong enough to survive - though increasingly run by lay people - smaller houses will fade away if trends continue.

The official figures show that the flow of new recruits reached a trickle in 2004, when just 12 men joined monasteries, and the trend has been downwards for decades.

Although there was a modest recovery last year, when the numbers rose to 18, insiders concede that it was probably a blip, rather than any upsurge, following the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

[…] The news is no better for nuns, who have experienced a parallel decline and now total 1,150.
In 1982, 100 women entered convents, 50 of them into enclosed orders, but by 2000 the number had declined to 22 and in 2004 it was just seven. Last year saw a slight increase to 13.

Moreover, the average age of people entering both monasteries and convents is climbing.

An analysis of the 12 women who joined enclosed orders in 2003 found that three were aged between 31 and 35, five between 41 and 50 and four were over 50.
(Read the whole story at the News Telegraph (UK) online.)

A sad commentary on the state of the Faith in Darkest Eurabia. It is quite a contrast to some of the vibrant orthodox religious communities in the United States, not to mention in the rapidly-Christianizing southern hemisphere,

It is an ironic phenomenon. The cradle of Christianity was occupied by Islam, following which the Christian faith has largely been eliminated. Now, in historic Christendom, the Christian faith has largely been eliminated, followed by the real possibility that it will be occupied by Islam in a generation or two. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the Church grows like – well, like seed sown on rich soil.

It said the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations before the end of days. I guess it never said it had to be proclaimed to all nations simultaneously. People make their individual choices, but whole cultures make their choices as well.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Gospel of Judas Meets Gospel of Skip and Muffy

From the ever-acerbic pen of Diogenes, by way of the The Curt Jester

Newark, Apr. 8 ( - Archeological researchers in Ridgewood, New Jersey, have discovered an ancient Christian document that offers a radically new account of the founding of the Catholic Church.

The newly discovered document, which scholars have named "The Gospel of Skip and Muffy," was found in an abandoned row house in New Brunswick, New Jersey, which had formerly housed a Rutgers sorority.

Theologians and anthropologists agree that "The Gospel of Skip and Muffy" is likely to cause intense debate among Christians, forcing a complete re-examination of all Catholic teachings.

There is no possible debate, however, about the authenticity of the document. "It was typed on an IBM Selectric II," reported Dr. Ernest Litewaite, an associate professor of Contemporary Archeology at Kutztown State. "Using a Courier 72 10-pitch element." The document is believed to be a copy of an earlier statement, crafted by students at an East Coast private college sometime around 1970.

"The Gospel of Skip and Muffy" is an extended dialogue between two young theologians who take a startling new approach to the faith. The document suggests that young Christians of the 1970s generation did not accept Church teachings on some controversial moral issues.

B.F.D. Zeitgeist, a Professor of Serious Christianity at Dupont University, said that the Gospel of Skip and Muffy will force Christians to re-examine the nature of Church authority. He pointed to one key passage in the manuscript:

"The Church is-- I mean-- it's just a bunch of, like, rules and stuff," said Muffy."Yeah," Skip replied. "I mean, really. Hey, don't let that thing go out."

Ultraconservative Catholic officials may not accept the validity of the new Gospel. Spokespersons for the Newark archdiocese did not immediately return a reporter's phone call. But Msgr. Pius Grümbling, a pastor in Hoboken, replied to queries by saying: "OK, that's right. We do not accept the validity of this document."

But Professor Zeitgeist doubts that Church officials will be able to stop parishioners from raising questions about the new document. He cites "astonishing new insights" such as the one contained in this passage:

"Have you ever thought," said Skip, "that the solar system is just like an atom in this really gigantic alternate universe, and the planets are just, like, electrons spinning around, and the sun is, like, the nucleus?""Wow," said Muffy. "Heavy. And then we'd be, like, just tiny little, like, specks that you can't even see.""Riiight," said Skip, exhaling slowly. "Far out, huh?"

"This document will force Christians to re-examine all of their basic moral principles," said Professor Zeitgeist, "starting with the outmoded and inhumane taboo that prevents teachers from having love affairs with their students."

"Or with reporters," the professor added, smiling. "Would you care for a daiquiri?"

Professor Litewaite said that he had found the manuscript of the Gospel of Skip and Muffy several months ago. "The significance of the discovery was immediately obvious," he said. "But my publicist suggested that I should wait until Holy Week to make it public."

In other news the Gospel of Judas has now been authenticated by the team of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Time Traveler Speaks

Author Dan Simmons uses this little bit of fiction to hold a mirror to the USA of 2006 and to the times in which we live. At least, as a frequent viewer of the scifi channel, I hope it’s fiction. Read it at your own peril; time travelers have nothing to lose by telling you the truth.

I do sometimes wonder how history will look back on us and our preoccupations. I doubt it will be flattering. I only hope that some of it is written in English.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jews Controlling U.S. Christianity? Hamas Says So.

Filed under "My imagination just can't keep up with reality:"

United States churches are secretly run by Jews who converted to Christianity with the intention of controlling religious Americans including President Bush, a top Hamas official claims.

"Even the churches where the Americans pray are led by Jewish who were converted to Christianity, but they were converted to keep controlling the Americans," Mohammad Abu Tir, the number two Hamas terrorist in the newly formed Palestinian Authority government said during an exclusive interview from his home yesterday with top radio host Rusty Humphries and WND Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein.

"I made a study and I know very well that all this radicalism in some parts of the Christianity, [including] the Anglicans who are being led by Bush, is because of the control of Zionists," said Abu Tir.

(The whole article can be found on WorldNetDaily.)

Now we know what’s really happened to the Episcopal Church. Here we’ve been blaming liberal revisionists, neognostics, closet Buddhists, and new age wackos, while all the time it was George Bush and the Jews who were at fault! Silly us. Fifty bucks says that, before we know it, Halliburton will be buy up the property of closed Episcopal churches and use them as clandestine locations for conducting illegal wiretaps on innocent Americans.

I’m glad we have fine, courageous men like Abu Tir to set us straight. I wonder if “number two Hamas terrorist in the newly formed Palestinian Authority government” is his official title. Given the history of the Palestinian Authority, “Terrorist” might actually be a cabinet level position.

(For the record: Bush 41 is Anglican/Episcopalian; Bush 43 is Methodist.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Evolution and the Incarnation (A bit of a reflection)

As a Christian in the sciences, I get more grief over evolutionary theory than you can reasonably imagine. Scientific colleagues and associates frequently assume I'm some kind of wacko "fundie*;" Christian friends usually assume I'm a borderline heretic. What am I supposed to do?

Actually, if there's one single theological consequence of modern evolutionary theory, it's the interrelatedness of everything. "Am I not a cockroach and your brother" may be a bit of a stretch, but there is certainly a temporal interconnectedness among all the living things on earth. We all trace our genetic ancestry backsource sourcec, and presumably to the inorganic world. Throw in the Big Bang, and there's really a temporal interconnectedness among everything. Nothing material exists that didn't come out of the Great Singularity at time = 0. We're made of starstuff, as Carl Sagan used to say, and all the starstuff is created out of the same cosmological nothing. Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm not into all the New Age "one with the universe" bilge that circulates these days, but I do think this interconnectedness has implications for the Incarnation.

In Christ's life and death, God becomes a participant in the physical universe. The author becomes a character. The human Jesus and the Divine Word are evermore intertwined. And because of that intrinsic interrelatedness of all material things, if one part of the material universe - the human person of Jesus - is fused with the divine life, then all of it is. The Resurrection symbolizes the fact that it is no longer possible for us to really die. The material world is redeemed from inevitable dissolution and ultimate decay. Thermodynamics still works just fine, but it no longer has the final say. Icons of the Resurrection always show the glorified Christ lifting Adam and Eve from their caskets while the saints and angels look on in awe. Sheol - the grave - is no longer their inevitable fate.

I have no idea what the implications of that divine infusion are for Saint Bernards or centipedes or stones or stars, but for me it means that I have a choice to make. My choice doesn't involve whether or not I receive that bit of eternal divine life, it involves whether or not I accept it.

There's a school of thought called annihilationism that teaches that, at the Judgment, those who reject salvation simply cease to exist. I'm no theologian, but I think there's a logical flaw here. To cease to exist is to really be permanently dead, and that kind of real death is no longer possible for anything which has been attached to the divine life. If you don't want the life of God, I don't think you can really escape it. All you can do is flee from that which you can't get away from, to permanently reject life. And that's not eternal death; it is eternal dying. And that, I suspect, is hell.

What sane man would make a choice like that? Look around. Why would you assume that we’re sane in the first place? The lust for death is everywhere in our culture, just as it has been in cultures all through history. I'm certainly not immune to it; every time I read of a suicide, a murder, a bombing, a drunken car crash, a crack house, or an abortion clinic, I think "There but for the grace of God go I." I don't know who goes to hell; I just know how easily I could.

This Lent, may I remember what I've been given and may I choose wisely.

You have united, O Lord,
Your divinity with our humanity
And our humanity with Your divinity;
Your life with our mortality
And our mortality with Your life.
You have assumed what is ours,
And given what is Yours,
For the life and salvation of our souls
To You be glory forever

* I'm never sure whether I ought to be insulted, flattered, or just amused by being called a fundamentalist. My usual response is to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Churchgoers Live Longer

I've sat through a few sermons where I thought my life was in suspended animation, but that's not what this article from Yahoo News implied.

There are many things you can do to increase your life expectancy: exercise, eat well, take your medication and ... go to church.

A new study finds people who attend religious services weekly live longer. Specifically, the research looked at how many years are added to life expectancy based on:

  • Regular physical exercise: 3.0-to-5.1 years

  • Proven therapeutic regimens: 2.1-to-3.7 years

  • Regular religious attendance: 1.8-to-3.1 years
[…] "Religious attendance is not a mode of medical therapy," said study leader Daniel Hall, a resident in general surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "While this study was not intended for use in clinical decision making, these findings tell us that there is something to examine further."

Hall is also an Episcopal priest.

"The significance of this finding may prove to be controversial," he said. "But at the very least, it shows that further research into the associations between religion and health might have implications for medical practice."

In a telephone interview, Hall speculated that the social aspect of religion could play a role in the results: "There is something about being knit into the type of community that religious communities embody that has a way of mediating a positive health effect," he told LiveScience. Perhaps, he said, being involved in a religion "can then decrease your level of stress in life or increase your ability to cope with stress."

Another possibility: "Being in a religious community helps you make meaning out of your life," Hall suggested.

Being an Episcopal priest explains why he seems to make it all the way through the interview without once mentioning that “God” person.

Hall also looked at the cost of these three approaches, examining typical gym membership fees, therapy costs from health insurance companies and census data on average household contributions to religious institutions. The estimated cost of each year of additional life apparently gained by each method:
  • Regular physical exercise: $4,000

  • Proven therapeutic regimens: $10,000

  • Regular religious attendance: $7,000

I’d love to know how that cost is calculated. Assuming it is averaged over the life of the patient, it seems like a whole lot less than a tithe.

Hall cautions that few conclusions can be drawn from his study, and that further research is needed. "There is no evidence that changing religious attendance causes a change in health outcomes," he said.

But he said doctors and researchers might want to think of religiousness as a demographic factor.

"For example," he writes in the journal, "the incidence of gastric cancer is higher among Japanese men, and knowledge of this fact might guide a physician to initiate early and frequent screening for gastric cancer among male Japanese patients."

Religiousness as a demographic factor. Guess it ranks right up there with smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. Sigh…