Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
When you disagree with someone about evolution, global warming, vaccines, or the like, I believe that you’re likely to encounter a way of thinking that is sufficiently foreign to me that I just now figured out what might be going on. What I have experienced in such arguments has convinced me that some people view a strong belief as in itself evidence that the belief is true (presumably because “if it wasn’t true, I wouldn’t believe it so strongly—duh!”). In other words, belief is treated as though it were evidence, and the intensity of the belief measures the evidence for it: intense belief equals strong evidence, just by itself.
When you try to argue against such a belief, you probably usewhat we normally think of as evidence, namely facts. You then run into another problem. The person who views beliefs as constituting evidence for the beliefs also views facts as opinions. Thus when you point out a fact that contradicts their belief (for which they have loads of evidence, in their sense: that is, they believe it strongly), a common response is, “That’s (just) your opinion.” That is, just as they weigh beliefs as we normally weigh evidence, actual evidence—that is, verifiable facts—is weighed as we normally weigh opinions: an opinion being something that’s perfectly fine for you to accept, but really has nothing whatsoever to do with whether I accept it—that is, whether it is also my opinion/fact. Just as someone can have an opinion on something without affecting my own opinion on the same thing, so the facts you present (which are viewed as merely your opinion) don’t really effect what the other believes. Daniel Moynihan specifically warned that, while you are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts, and that was not an empty warning: some, I think, do view facts as opinions (as shown by their reasoning).
That does seem to describe what happens and shows why the arguments go nowhere: the rational person has been offering something that simply has no weight for the believer—the rational one thinks he’s offering evidence, but the believer views him as offering opinion, and of course his opinion is beside the point: “I have my own opinions.”
So: the question becomes, what does have weight for the believer and thus triggers a change in view? It may be couching ideas in terms the believer already accepts: e.g., “I say to you in the name of Jesus our Lord and Savior, send a donation now.” The demand for money is accepted because of the accompanying incantations from the belief system: the system passwords, in effect. And as we’ve seen from a long string of huckstering ministers, those incantations actually work: when the ministers demand money, they tie in salvation, and so it sounds like a pretty good deal: something real and of paramount importance (salvation) for mere money. I recall that Oral Roberts once advised his radio audience that God was going to take him if his listeners didn’t contribute $44 million before some date. (I believe this may have been for Oral Roberts University.) The listeners came through (or at least the Rev. Roberts said that they did, and it’s certainly true that he did not die at the time, which sort of proves it). The response seems a little odd given that the penalty—God taking Oral Roberts into His Kingdom and Arms—actually sounds like exactly what Roberts claims to want and has been working toward.
At any rate, perhaps we must cast our case for evolution, global warming, and vaccines in theological terms—invoking the name of our Savior liberally, but also sticking with the facts: rational Christianity, in effect. And isn’t that exactly what the Moral Mondays in North Carolina are all about? Aren’t the Moral Mondays an effort to get people to look at recent public policy and legislation and view the effects in religious terms. This seems natural enough: it’s what Jesus Himself did when facing in His time circumstances similar in some ways to the US today: helping and caring for the poor and humble—and, you will recall, He condemned wealth harshly. In effect, He was head of the Occupy Jerusalem Movement. And He suffered for it, as is often the case for those who try to help the poor and humble and protect them from the wealthy and powerful.
So it’s been done before. That indicates it might work.
Well–written. And note the sub-text: to fix so many things—environmental, societal, legal, financial/jobs—requires fundamental and enormous changes in our society. And she describes exactly such a change as it happens: you can practically see the wave curl over in triumph. So perhaps other such changes are possible.
A new low for the Catholic church: It blames the parent of children who were victims of pedophile priest
The Catholic church seems to have become a deeply corrupted and immoral institution. Travis Gettys reports in Raw Story:
A Minnesota mother says Catholic Church officials are blaming her for not protecting her two sons from the priest who abused them.
The Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, the former pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in St. Paul, pleaded guilty in 2012 to abusing the boys, ages 12 and 14, and possessing child pornography.
Wehmeyer is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.
The family has sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which claimed in a Feb. 7 court filing that the mother – who worked at the church — knew that one of her sons was spending time with the priest.
“She was aware of the time [he] spent with Mr. Wehmeyer, and she knew that such interaction was contrary to established Archdiocese policy,” the filing said.
MPR News reported in September that archdiocese officials knew about Wehmeyer’s risky sexual behavior, such as cruising for sex in a park and approaching young men in a bookstore, when he was appointed pastor in 2009 of two churches that later merged.
“The fact that there were memos flying around that were dated before certain events of abuse happened is bloodcurdling to me, that they had the opportunity to stop this man dead in his tracks before he ever harmed any of my children,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her sons.
The woman said she thought Wehmeyer was odd, but she just thought he was lonely and never suspected he was sexually interested in children.
“I sort of felt that he was the geeky kid,” she said. “He needed some friends. I thought it was almost like a, for lack of a better word, like a pity project to take this priest under our wing.”
Wehmeyer lured the boys into a white camper he kept parked outside the parish with drugs, alcohol, and pornography.
He made the boys touch themselves, investigators said, and he also touched the boys on multiple occasions. . .
It seems very much as though the Catholic church has no shame as well as no moralityl.
Michael Powell writes in the NY Times:
KEARNY, N.J. — Mater Dei Academy sits shuttered, blue drapes pulled across its windows, atop a hill in this working-class city. From its steps, you can peer across the mist-shrouded expanse of the Meadowlands to the distant spires of Manhattan.
For generations, this blond brick Catholic elementary school tossed a lifeline to the immigrants who, wave upon wave, washed ashore here. The Archdiocese of Newark closed it two years ago. Church officials offered deep regrets; the church’s wallet is thin to the touch these days.
“It was a loved place, that school,” said Dorothy Gawronski, a crossing guard holding a red “Stop” sign. “But the church, I don’t think it’s rich anymore.”
All of which brings me along a winding and narrow road that switches back and forth across the wooded Capoolong Creek to a splendid 8.5-acre spread in the hamlet of Pittstown. This is rural and rather affluent Hunterdon County, 49 miles from Mater Dei.
John J. Myers, the archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, comes to this vacation home on many weekends. The 4,500-square-foot home has a handsome amoeba-shaped swimming pool out back. And as he’s 72, and retirement beckons in two years, he has renovations in mind. A small army of workers are framing a 3,000-square-foot addition.
This new wing will have an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces and an elevator. The Star-Ledger of Newark has noted that the half-million-dollar tab for this wing does not include architects’ fees or furnishings.
There’s no need to fear for the archbishop’s bank account. The Newark Archdiocese is picking up the bill.
Jim Goodness, the spokesman for the archdiocese, has the thankless job of explaining this. “The press says it’s a hot tub; it’s a whirlpool,” he says of one of the wing’s accouterments. “He’s getting older — there are therapeutic issues.”
The proceeds from the sale of other properties owned by the archdiocese, he explained, will pay for the expansion. “It is not going to cost our parishioners anything,” he said.
I felt compelled to ask: Couldn’t this half million dollars go to, oh, more meals for the homeless? . . .
Continue reading. Photos of the mansion are at the link.
John Wilford has an interesting article in the NY Times.Projecting current customs into the past is pretty common, so no wonder it happened. People tend to think things have always been pretty much like current times…
There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.
Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.
These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”
Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of “how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another.”
For two archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, the anachronisms were motivation to dig for camel bones at an ancient copper smelting camp in the Aravah Valley in Israel and in Wadi Finan in Jordan. They sought evidence of when domesticated camels were first introduced into the land of Israel and the surrounding region.
The archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the last third of the 10th century B.C. — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible. Some bones in deeper sediments, they said, probably belonged to wild camels that people hunted for their meat. Dr. Sapir-Hen could identify a domesticated animal by signs in leg bones that it had carried heavy loads. . .
Gandhi’s Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle
Maia Szalavitz writes at Pacific Standard:
For much of the past 50 years or so, voicing any serious skepticism toward Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program was sacrilege—the equivalent, in polite company, of questioning the virtue of American mothers or the patriotism of our troops. If your problem was drink, AA was the answer; if drugs, Narcotics Anonymous. And if those programs didn’t work, it was your fault: You weren’t “working the steps.” The only alternative, as the 12-step slogan has it, was “jails, institutions, or death.” By 2000, 90 percent of American addiction treatment programs employed the 12-step approach.
In any other area of medicine, if your doctor told you that the cure for your disease involved surrendering to a “higher power,” praying to have your “defects of character” lifted, and accepting your “powerlessness,” as outlined in the original 12 steps, you’d probably seek a second opinion. But, even today, if you balk at these elements of the 12-step gospel, you’ll often get accused of being “in denial.” And if you should succeed in quitting drinking without 12-step support, you might get dismissed as a “dry drunk.”
Fortunately—just in time for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that substance misuse be covered in a way that is equivalent to coverage for physical illnesses—a spate of new books is challenging the 12-step hegemony. Last year, the bestselling author David Sheff published Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, which includes a chapter aimed at debunking the idea that AA is the only way. The author Anne Fletcher released Inside Rehab: The Surprising Truth About Addiction Treatment and How To Get Help That Works, a deeply reported exposé on the poor results and exorbitant prices of upscale rehab centers. And the journalist Gabrielle Glaser came out with Her Best Kept Secret, which illustrates, among other things, how forcing AA attendance on women makes them easy prey for sexual predators.
The latest salvo comes from Dr. Lance Dodes, the former director of Harvard’s substance abuse treatment unit at McLean Hospital, who weighs in with a book called The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. While much of Dodes’ diagnosis of the problems with rehab and 12-step programs was originally made by maverick psychologist Stanton Peele in books like The Meaning of Addiction (1985), Dodes benefits from several decades of additional data, and he covers complicated scientific issues lucidly. The results are largely persuasive.
Dodes doesn’t pull his punches. “Alcoholics Anonymous was proclaimed the correct treatment for alcoholism over seventy-five years ago despite the absence of any scientific evidence of the approach’s efficacy,” he writes in his introduction, “and we have been on the wrong path ever since.”
Dodes shows that much of the research that undergirds AA is a conflicted mess that confuses correlation with causation. It’s true that people with alcoholism who choose to attend AA regularly drink less than those who do not—but it’s not proven that making people attend works better than other options, including doing nothing.
In fact, some studies find that people mandated into AA do worse than those who are simply left alone. (If true, that would be no small problem. AA’s own surveys suggest that some 165,000 Americans and Canadians annually are court-mandated into the program—despite the fact that every court ruling on the issue has rejected such coercion as unconstitutional, given AA’s religious nature.)
Contrary to popular belief, most people recover from their addictions without any treatment—professional or self-help—regardless of whether the drug involved is alcohol, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, or cigarettes. One of the largest studies of recovery ever conducted found that, of those who had qualified for a diagnosis of alcoholism in the past year, only 25 percent still met the criteria for the disorder a year later. Despite this 75 percent recovery rate, only a quarter had gotten any type of help, including AA, and as many were now drinking in a low-risk manner as were abstinent.
Unfortunately, compared to the rehab narrative, the stories of people who get better without treatment are rarely as compelling. They tend to consist of people leaving college and realizing they can’t binge drink or take drugs and hold a job and care for a family. And since most people who straighten out on their own never show up in treatment, the worst cases congregate in rehab and make addiction recovery seem quite rare.
This is not to say that there is no benefit at all to 12-step programs: . . .
Based on many discussions following the Second Vatican Council, I have the belief that the laity of the Catholic church are the Mystical Body of Christ and, as such, do not err in moral and religious beliefs commonly held. That is, the laity will not go wrong on matters in which there is substantial agreement—like the Pope speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, they too share in infallibility.
If my belief is correct, then the findings reported in this story are intriguing: worldwide, 78% of Catholics believe that contraception is acceptable, and 65% (almost two-thirds) say that abortion should be allowed in some or all cases. I think the Mystical Body are ahead of the Vatican on these things.
Linda Greenhouse has a very interesting column in the NY Times:
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion famously wrote in her essay collection “The White Album.” It’s a haunting line, because it’s so universally applicable. We tell ourselves stories not only for profound reasons but for mundane ones as well: to process the ambiguous and complex events that unfold every day around us, or even to try to understand the issues presented in a major Supreme Court case.
Last month, the court heard arguments in an abortion-related case from Massachusetts. The question was whether the 35-foot buffer zone that the state maintains around medical offices where abortions are performed violates the First Amendment. The case is McCullen v. Coakley. Coakley is Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, whose office is defending the 2007 law. McCullen, in whose name the challenge to the law was brought, is Eleanor McCullen, and the story many people seem to be telling themselves about this case is hers.
Eleanor McCullen is a 77-year-old grandmother whose photograph, with an oversize cross hanging from her neck over a bulky winter coat, has been ubiquitous in accounts of the case. For many years she has positioned herself outside the entrance to a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Boston with the mission of dissuading women from going ahead with their scheduled abortions. Her argument in the case is that the buffer zone means she can’t engage the women in low-key conversation as she wishes, but instead has to raise her voice in order to get their attention and deliver a message that as a result is inevitably perceived differently.
Justice Antonin Scalia, for one, channeled Mrs. McCullen from the bench during the Jan. 15 argument, when he instructed Jennifer Grace Miller, the state’s lawyer, that “what this case involves, what these people want to do, is to speak quietly and in a friendly manner.” Returning to this theme later in the argument, he scolded Ms. Miller: “I object to you calling these people protestors, which you’ve been doing here during the whole presentation. That is not how they present themselves. They do not say they want to make protests. They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protestors?”
Missing from the story of the cherubic grandmother, of course, is context — the reason that Massachusetts enacted its buffer zone, adapted from one the Supreme Court upheld in a Colorado case 14 years ago. (The vote in that case, Hill v. Colorado, was 6 to 3, but the departure since then of two members of the majority, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, could make a crucial difference, leaving the durability of the precedent is very much in doubt.)
Abortion clinics in Massachusetts have witnessed not only orchestrated harassment but also deadly violence; 20 years ago, amid other such incidents around the country, two clinic staff members were shot to death in Brookline, adjacent to Boston. Ms. McCullen has long been affiliated with Operation Rescue, a group that at its height in the 1990s regularly massed hundreds of people to blockade abortion clinics with the goal of shutting them down. Viewing the law in context, and in light of the Supreme Court’s precedents, the federal appeals court in Boston upheld itas a reasonable regulation designed to protect public safety, leaving any impact on speech both incidental and justifiable.
I mention these facts not to assign guilt by association or to impugn the sincerity and peaceful nature of Ms. McCullen’s mission. Nor do I mean to simplify the tricky free-speech issues that have made defense of the statute the object of contention in some progressive circles. But it’s important to get beyond the storytelling and recognize this case for what it is: not a grandmother’s tale but a vehicle in a nationally designed effort to get the Roberts court to reopen settled questions concerning abortion.
The First Amendment question in the McCullen case is at least debatable. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are simply fantastical. The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor is a prime example. The narrative that has come to define the dispute between an order of nuns and the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate is fundamentally divorced from the facts of the McMullen case, and yet the Supreme Court — all nine justices — appears to have fallen for it hook, line and sinker. I’ve been watching the Supreme Court long enough that I can almost always come up with a plausible explanation for what goes on there, even when I think the court is wrong-minded. But this time, I have to confess, I’m stumped.
Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of nuns who offer end-of-life care to the elderly poor in the United States and more than two dozen other countries. As a nonprofit religious organization, the order is exempt from the requirement to provide contraception coverage under its group health insurance plan. Ordinarily, that would mean that the organization’s “third-party administrator” would have to pick up the cost. But because the Little Sisters’ administrator, the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, which handles insurance for hundreds of Catholic organizations, is also a religious organization, it, too, is exempt from the mandate. It could choose to offer the coverage, but it has announced that it won’t do so.
In other words, there is no chance — none — that the Little Sisters will ever have to have anything whatsoever to do with birth control. All the government is asking the order to do is sign the standard one-page form that sets the exemption machinery in motion. Here is the language:
“I certify that, on account, of religious objections, the organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services that would otherwise be required to be covered; the organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity; and the organization holds itself out as a religious organization.”
That’s it. There is no government investigation of the merits of the religious claim — or of the unfounded belief that some of the contraceptives to which the nuns object can actually terminate what the medical profession regards as an existing pregnancy. The administration has made clear that it will accept the Little Sisters’ self-certification at face value. But they do have to sign — just as someone who objects on religious grounds to registering for the draft nonetheless is required by law to show up and register as a prerequisite for claiming conscientious objector status. In any other way lies chaos. As Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. explained to the Supreme Court in the government’s brief last month opposing the Little Sisters’ request for an injunction: . . .
Nick Cumming-Bruce reports in the NY Times:
A United Nations panel sharply criticized the Vatican on Wednesday for putting the reputation and interests of the Holy See above the interests of children who had been sexually abused by priests, effectively allowing priests to continue abuse and escape prosecution.
In a series of hard-hitting observations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child said that “the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”
The panel expressed particular concern that “in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests.”
The criticism came in the concluding observations of a U.N. panel that examined the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child in a hearing last month attended by senior Vatican officials, including Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, who was the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sexual abuse until 2012.
The panel noted the Holy See’s commitment to upholding the “inviolable” dignity of children but pointed out that it had moved priests well-known as child abusers to different parishes in an attempt to hide their crimes, allowing them and to remain in contact with children and to continue their abuse. In doing so, the Vatican “still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children,” it said.
At last month’s hearing, the first time the Vatican had faced public examination by an international body, Monsignor Scicluna said “the Holy See gets it” that certain things “need to be done differently” but argued that legal action to prosecute and punish abusers was the responsibility of civil authorities.
The panel challenged that position and criticized the Vatican’s lack of transparency in dealing with the issues. . .
UPDATE: McClatchy reports that the Vatican is being asked to turn over offenders.
Very interesting Mother Jones article by Chris Mooney, based on research:
Americans don’t like atheists much. It’s something we get reminded of every December, as Fox News commentators decry a secularist ”war on Christmas.” [The talking heads at Fox News fight the use of "Happy Holidays!" as a seasonal greeting, thus becoming the exact "politically correct word police" that they so heartily and frequently condemn---as in their outrage over the firing of the Duck Dynasty patriarch (whose remarks are not only offensive but show amazing ignorance---e.g., that before civil rights came in, black people didn't sing the blues). - LG] But the distrust spans the seasons: Barely half of Americans say they would vote for an atheist for president; 48 percent, meanwhile, would disapprove of their child marrying one. Still, atheist America is growing: One-fifth of the public has now joined the rank of the so-called “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated.
So how do you build an atheist? Or a whole country of them like the Czech Republic, where78 percent of people describe themselves as either not religious or an outright “convinced” unbeliever?
In the last decade, a growing body of psychology research has begun to home in on an answer to that question. Not surprisingly, the psychology of religion and the psychology of atheism are closely intertwined; on the whole, these studies tend to show that for most people, religion comes pretty naturally. “It seems like religiosity, or religious beliefs, are encouraged by a number of basic intuitions that we have about the world that seem to be built into our brains,” explains Ara Norenzayan, a pioneering researcher on the psychology of religion at the University of British Columbia, on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream above).
But there are large exceptions to that statement: Some half billion people worldwide, according to one estimate, reject God. Who are they? Here are three major factors, based on Norenzayan’s research, that tend to produce a secular mindset: . . .
I hadn’t realized it, but evangelicals (distinct from fundamentalists) are in decline and are now outnumbered by those who profess no religious affiliation at all (though they may be religious in the sense of believing in a God). Jim Hinch discusses the changes underway in The American Scholar:
The Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California, is one of America’s largest and most celebrated ecclesiastical buildings. At 60,000 square feet and designed by architect Philip Johnson, it was until recently the sanctuary of Robert H. Schuller, once one of the country’s most prominent and influential Christian ministers. In September 1980, when he dedicated the cathedral at an opening ceremony (“To the glory of man for the greater glory of God”), Schuller was at the height of his influence, preaching to a congregation of thousands in Orange County and reaching millions more worldwide via the Hour of Power, a weekly televised ministry program. Among the show’s annual highlights were “The Glory of Easter” and its companion production, “The Glory of Christmas,” multimillion-dollar dramatic extravaganzas staged inside the cathedral with a cast of professional actors, Hollywood-grade costumes, and live animals. The setting for the spectacles was a striking, soaring, light-filled structure justly praised by architecture critics. But it was not a cathedral. It was never consecrated by a religious denomination. The building is not even made of crystal, but rather 10,000 rectangular panes of glass. Like the much beloved, much pilloried Disneyland three miles to the northwest, the Crystal Cathedral is a monument to Americans’ inveterate ability to transform dominant cultural impulses—in this case, Christianity itself—into moneymaking enterprises that conquer the world.
But 2013 marked the end of an era. In June, Schuller’s evangelical Christian ministry, founded almost 60 years ago amid the suburbs of postwar Southern California, conducted its last worship service and filmed its last Hour of Power in the Crystal Cathedral. Hounded by creditors (including some of those Hollywood-grade costume and livestock suppliers), the ministry had declared bankruptcy three years earlier and last year sold the cathedral for $58 million to Orange County’s Catholic diocese. The diocese promptly announced plans to transform the 34-acre campus, which also includes notable ministry buildings by other name-brand architects, into Christ Cathedral, a spiritual home and civic showplace for the county’s surging population of more than 1.2 million Catholics, many of them immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia. The equipment facilitating Schuller’s elaborate stagecraft—lights, cameras, below-stage elevators, theater-style seating, an indoor reflecting pool—will be ripped out and replaced with a consecrated altar, bishop’s cathedra, baptismal font, and votive chapels dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe and other saints prominent in immigrant Catholics’ devotional lives. When the building reopens for worship in 2016, it will embody a transformation in the nation’s spiritual landscape that is only now beginning to be felt.
Just 10 years ago, evangelical Christianity appeared to be America’s dominant religious movement. Evangelicals, more theologically diverse and open to the secular world than their fundamentalist brethren, with whom they’re often confused, were on the march toward political power and cultural prominence. They had the largest churches, the most money, influential government lobbyists, and in the person of President George W. Bush, leadership of the free world itself. Indeed, even today most people continue to regard the United States as the great spiritual exception among developed nations: a country where advances in science and technology coexist with stubborn, and stubbornly conservative, religiosity. But the reality, largely unnoticed outside church circles, is that evangelicalism is not only in gradual decline but today stands poised at the edge of a demographic and cultural cliff. The most recent Pew Research Center survey of the nation’s religious attitudes, taken in 2012, found that just 19 percent of Americans identified themselves as white evangelical Protestants—five years earlier, 21 percent of Americans did so. Slightly more (19.6 percent) self-identified as unaffiliated with any religion at all, the first time that group has surpassed evangelicals. (It should be noted that surveying Americans’ faith lives is notoriously difficult, since answers vary according to how questions are phrased, and respondents often exaggerate their level of religious commitment. Pew is a nonpartisan research organization with a track record of producing reliable, in-depth studies of religion. Other equally respected surveys—Gallup, the General Social Survey—have reached conclusions about Christianity’s status in present-day America that agree with Pew’s in some respects and diverge in others.)
Secularization alone is not to blame for this change in American religiosity. Even half of those Americans who claim no religious affiliation profess belief in God or claim some sort of spiritual orientation. Other faiths, like Islam, perhaps the country’s fastest-growing religion, have had no problem attracting and maintaining worshippers. No, evangelicalism’s dilemma stems more from a change in American Christianity itself, a sense of creeping exhaustion with the popularizing, simplifying impulse evangelical luminaries such as Schuller once rode to success.
Prominent figures in the evangelical establishment have already begun sounding alarms. In particular, . . .
So they can spend taxpayer money on shit like this.
Very interesting article in Pacific Standard by Daniel Luzer:
The first day of Hanukkah this year occurred on November 28, Thanksgiving Day. This won’t happen again for another 77,798 years.
This sort of thing was a puzzling juxtaposition to many American gentiles, tending as they do to associate Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the 2nd century B.C.E., with Christmas. As Bradley Hartsell put it in an article in the Times Herald:
Many people think of Hanukkah as the “Jewish Christmas,” but any Jewish person … will tell you that isn’t true. Hanukkah, of course, has nothing to do with Christmas, other than the 25th day of Kislev [the month on the Jewish calendar in which Hanukkah occurs] usually runs closer to Christmas than it does Thanksgiving.
But that’s a bit misleading. Most Jews around the world barely acknowledge Hanukkah. The American Hanukkah, with its decorations and gift exchanges and excess, is closely tied to Christmas. This is not exactly a revelation, but what’s interesting is that Hanukkah has become a big-deal commercial holiday in America for many of the same reasons that Christmas has, according to a recently-published book by Dianne Ashton, a religious studies professor at Rowan University. Basically, it’s a really good way to sell more stuff to consumers.
Ashton’s Hanukkah in America: A History explains that by the 19th century “the rising consumer economy and expansion of department stores embraced and promoted the new Christmas customs.” Prior to that time, Christmas celebrations, “where they occurred at all, tended toward ‘carnivalesque’ revelries often involving alcohol consumption and the firing of muskets in the streets, a general rowdiness usually decried by civic and religious elites,” Ashton writes. As the way we celebrate Christmas shifted over time, so too did our celebrations of Hanukkah. In short, they both became more commercial. A lot more commercial. Ashton writes that: . . .
The NY Times has an excellent editorial:
Beyond new state efforts to restrict women’s access to proper reproductive health care, another, if quieter, threat is posed by mergers between secular hospitals and Catholic hospitals operating under religious directives from the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. These directives, which oppose abortions, inevitably collide with a hospital’s duty to provide care to pregnant women in medical distress. This tension lies at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The suit was brought on behalf of a Michigan woman, Tamesha Means, who says she was subjected to substandard care at a Catholic hospital — the only hospital in her county — after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors in such circumstances typically induce labor or surgically remove the fetus to reduce the woman’s chances of infection. But according to the complaint, doctors acting in accordance with the bishops’ directives did not inform Ms. Means that her fetus had virtually no chance of surviving or that terminating her pregnancy was the safest treatment option.
Despite acute pain and bleeding, Ms. Means was sent home twice, and when she returned a third time with a fever from her untreated infection, she miscarried even as the paperwork was being prepared to discharge her again. The fetus died soon after.
The case has gained attention because Ms. Means is not suing the hospital for medical negligence but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The A.C.L.U. is arguing, on her behalf, that having issued the mandates and made them conditions of hospital affiliation, the conference is responsible for “the unnecessary trauma and harm” that Ms. Means and “other pregnant women in similar situations have experienced at Catholic-sponsored hospitals.”
How the suit will play out is unclear, but it showcases an important issue. Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation’s hospital beds and, in many communities, are the only hospital facilities available. Allowing religious doctrine to prevail over the need for competent emergency care and a woman’s right to complete and accurate information about her condition and treatment choices violates medical ethics and existing law.
The problem Ms. Means encountered is not unique or limited to her particular medical needs. In 2010, the Diocese of Phoenix punished a nun and stripped a hospital of its affiliation after doctors there performed an abortion to save a mother’s life.
In a statement last Friday, the president of the bishops’ group, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, said that the religious directives did not encourage or require substandard medical treatment. He also portrayed the case as an attack on religious freedom — the same unpersuasive argument the bishops are making against the new federal health care law’s requirement that all plans include contraception coverage.
The bishops are free to worship as they choose and advocate for their beliefs. But those beliefs should not shield the bishops from legal accountability when church-affiliated hospitals following their rules cause patients harm.
Quite a few conservative voices are raised in an outcry about contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage that includes, among other things, contraceptive services. NOTE: There is no requirement that any individual actually use such services: that is left up to the personal religious convictions of the individual. Businesses, however, hate to pay money, so some are saying that they should not be required to pay for insurance that includes contraceptive coverage because they (the business owners) don’t believe in it. In other words, the business owners want to impose their own religious views on their employees, which I think is wrong.
So a question to ask those espousing such a view: “Do you believe that a large business owned by Christian Scientists should be allowed not to offer healthcare insurance at all, since the owners do not believe in medical services in general?”
UPDATE: Emily Baxter has an interesting post at ThinkProgress on the general topic of healthcare insurance and religious liberty: Despite The Fights Over Religious Liberty, Obamacare Doesn’t Have To Be ‘Girl Versus God’
Very interesting story in Salon by Vinnie Rotondaro:
In under a year, Pope Francis has managed to rouse and inspire Catholics across the world with his calls of a “church for the poor.” He has done this without making any changes to Church doctrine.
Last week, Francis continued his populist charge, releasing a powerful papal exhortation titled Evangelii Gaudium. The document decries economic inequality as “the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” ideologies, like trickle down economics, which, “reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”
“A new tyranny is thus born,” the pope wrote, “invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”
Again and again, by virtue of his tone and contextual aim, Francis wins over many (including much of the mainstream press). Even non-believers and the disaffected have taken notice. But while much of his popularity can be attributed to his populist charm, there also seems to be an element of surprise in the public’s reaction to his papacy, as if the Pope’s simple, Christ-like message of love and inclusion has come as a shock to the system – as something new, unexpected.
Why? Take a look at the agenda items addressed earlier last month by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their annual meeting in Baltimore. The bishops of the richest, most powerful and increasingly unequal nation in the world, convening in a city wracked by generational poverty, talked about pornography, they discussed contraception and gay marriage, and addressed questions of minor liturgical importance. Poverty was not on the agenda.
The image offered up was that of a place where the old-guard rules, where reactionary tsk-tskers inveigh on what people can and cannot do in their personal lives, where “liberal” political concerns are mentioned while “conservative” causes are crusaded over.
And if the whispers that some bishops “appear willing to wait out this pope,” or the election of the conference’s new chair, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, a “smiling conservative” who signed the Manhattan Declaration and cannot seriously be seen as a reformer, are any indication, it doesn’t look likely this image will change anytime soon.
Why does Pope Francis surprise us? He surprises us because he seems unlike so much the hierarchy he represents.
But let’s not jump the gun. A quick spin through history shows it’s not so much Francis who is unlike his Church, but his Church which is unlike its past, and in attempting to bring Catholicism back-to-the-future, as it were, it’s conceivable that the pope could trigger a significant political shift here in the U.S.A.
Throughout most of the 20th century, . . .
The Catholic church really wants nonbelievers to follow the dictates of Catholicism. For example, the Catholic church strenuously fights against contraception, a mortal sin, and whenever it has the chance, it makes contraceptives illegal. (For example, contraceptives for years were illegal in Connecticut.) The only reason is that the Catholic church doesn’t accept contraceptives, which is tough for Catholics but should be irrelevant for others. Jews and Muslims don’t make pork illegal: they don’t eat, but they do not insist that others refrain. The Catholic church might learn from them.
The problem is when the Catholic church owns a hospitals and requires all patients and all staff to work in accordance with Catholic doctrine. Sarah Kliff has an example in the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/02/catholic-hospitals-are-growing-what-will-that-mean-for-reproductive-health/
As pointed out by Randall Win in a comment to the article:
I was born and raised Catholic. It is beyond disgusting that the bishops want to buy hospitals to promote religion. Owning a hospital is a choice not a requirement of our religion and if the bishops think they cannot allow real medicine to be practiced there, then they should not own the hospital.
Kliff’s article begins:
Tamesha Means was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke. Means, then 27 and the mother of two, knew something was wrong. So she called a friend to take her to the one hospital within a half-hour’s drive, Mercy Health Partners.
During that trip to the hospital–and two return trips, one later that night and then again the next morning–Means says she was discharged with medication and instructions to wait for her pain to subside. According to her account, she was not offered the option to induce labor or terminate the pregnancy, options that could have ended her pain, nor was she told that the fetus was unlikely to survive.
“The pain was unbearable,” Means said in an interview from her home in Muskegon, Mich. “I told them, ‘I need you guys to help me.’ They told me there was nothing they could do.”
Three years later, Means’s treatment at Mercy, part of a Catholic health system, has become the centerpiece of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The suit, filed in late November, argues that the Catholic Bishops’ religious directives for hospitals–which generally bar discussion or performance of abortions–result in negligent care for patients such as Means.
Without being offered “the medically appropriate treatment option of terminating her pregnancy,” the case argues, Means “suffered severe, unnecessary, and foreseeable physical and emotional pain.”
The lawsuit comes in the midst of a wave of high-profile mergers between Catholic hospitals and secular systems. The partnerships have raised questions about how care will be delivered at institutions guided by religious directives, particularly in rural areas like Muskegon where patients have little choice of where to be seen.
“As the number of Catholic hospitals increases, we’re highlighting the way they can constrain care,” Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director, said. “The suit is significant in that it’s calling attention to what is happening at these hospitals. In some instances, the directives are governing care rather than medical guidelines.”
Mercy Health Partners declined to comment on the case through a spokeswoman, as did the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Much of the tension tends to center on reproductive health; 52 percent of obstetricians who work in Catholic hospitals say they have experienced a conflict over religious-based policies, according to a 2012 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
One obstetrician, according to a recent report published this summer in the American Journal of Bioethics Primary Research, faced off with his Catholic hospital’s ethics committee when he wanted to terminate the pregnancy of a women newly-diagnosed with cancer, who needed to undergo chemotherapy.
Another doctor reported a conflict at her hospital that had been sold to a Catholic hospital chain three years prior. The ethics committee ruled that a doctor could not terminate a “molar pregnancy,” where the embryo begins to develop but, due to a tumor, will not survive.
“Some of the doctors have read them all and practice exactly according to the directives,” study author Lori Freedman, a medical sociologist at the University of California – San Francisco, said. “Some don’t quite remember what they signed on for, but they learn from colleagues what you need to get approval for. I do hear about at least some level of awareness.”
There are 630 Catholic hospitals in the United States, according to the American Hospital Association, accounting for 15 percent of all hospital beds in the country. One-third of Catholic hospitals are in rural areas and, according to the Catholic Hospital Association, one in six American patients are treated in a Catholic facility. . .
Read the whole thing.