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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

If public transportation operates on Saturdays, Jews will not know it is Shabbat

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To quote directly (from this article):

“Imagine if there was public transportation on the streets like on weekdays. We would not know it is Shabbat in Israel,” said Rabbi Arie Stern, one of Jerusalem’s chief rabbis.

In the US, public transportation operates on Saturday, and yet US Jews somehow are still able to know it is Shabbat. How do they manage that? Calendars?

It’s a great mystery—at least to Rabbi Stern, who depends on the lack of public transportation as his only means of knowing when it is Shabbat.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2015 at 11:15 am

Posted in Government, Religion

Robert Finn, Missouri Bishop Convicted of Shielding Pedophile Priest, Resigns

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The Catholic church seems finally to be taking action against those who protected and assisted pedophile priests. Laurie Goodstein reports in the NY Times:

Three years after Bishop Robert W. Finn became the first Roman Catholic prelate to be convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest, he resigned on Tuesday as head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in northern and western Missouri.

The move comes as Pope Francis is facing mounting pressure from the faithful and from members of his own sexual abuse commission to show that he is serious about keeping bishops accountable when they have shielded or mishandled child abusers.

Parishioners and priests in Bishop Finn’s diocese had been petitioning theVatican since he was convicted of shielding a priest discovered with child pornography on his laptop, saying that the bishop no longer had the credibility to lead. In the last month, Catholics in Chile have been bitterly protesting Francis’decision to install Bishop Juan Barros in the diocese of Osorno despite claims that he witnessed abuse years ago and did nothing.

Such a resignation is extremely rare when a bishop is not ill or close to the retirement age of 75. Bishop Finn is 62 and has served in his diocese just short of 10 years.

The Vatican announced the resignation in a brief note in its daily news bulletin Tuesday, and did not give a reason. But the Vatican cited a provision in church law under which a bishop is “earnestly requested” to resign because of ill health or “some other grave cause.”

In a statement released by the diocese, Bishop Finn said, “It has been an honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith.” Francis appointed Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who leads the archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, to administer Bishop Finn’s former diocese but did not name a successor.

Bishop Finn was convicted in 2012 on a misdemeanor charge involving the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a charismatic parish priest who Bishop Finn had been warned was behaving inappropriately with children. When Father Ratigan took his laptop computer in for repairs in December 2010, a technician immediately told church officials that the laptop contained what appeared to be sexually explicit photographs of young girls.

After Father Ratigan attempted suicide and was sent for treatment, Bishop Finn reassigned him to live in a convent and ordered him to stay away from children. But Father Ratigan continued to attend church events and take lewd pictures of girls for five more months, until church officials reported him to the police in May 2011, without Bishop Finn’s approval.

The bishop was convicted after a bench trial, and sentenced to serve two years court-supervised probation.

Jeff Weis, a parishioner who helped to lead the petition campaign pushing for Bishop Finn’s removal, said in a statement, that with the resignation, “the prayers of this hurt community have been answered.” But he added: “The damage done is immeasurable. The time necessary to heal will be long.”

Christopher Bellitto, an associate professor of history at Kean University in New Jersey, said, “It’s two steps forward for credibility, but one step back because it took too long.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2015 at 11:04 am

Posted in Law, Religion

Pope Calls Killings of Armenians ‘Genocide’

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I like Pope Francis more and more. He seems to be revitalizing the Catholic church and returning to the teachings of Jesus. As Gary Will said, it’s a big surprise when the Pope is a Christian. Pope Francis certainly walks the walk. Jim Yardley and Sebnem Arsu report in the NY Times:

Pope Francis on Sunday described the World War I-era slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as the first genocide of the 20th century, igniting a diplomatic confrontation with Turkey, which quickly summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to condemn the pontiff’s remarks and recalled its own ambassador to the Holy See.

Francis, who made the comments at a Mass for the centenary of the start of the mass killings, and in a later message to all Armenians, repeated his stance that the seemingly piecemeal global violence of the 21st century actually represented a “third world war.”

He also described his frustration with what he considers global indifference toward the persecution and killing of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere, especially by militants with the Islamic State.

“Today, too, we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference,” Francis said.

In addressing the Armenian question, Francis quoted from a 2001declaration by Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin II, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s supreme patriarch, in which the two leaders called the Armenian slaughter a campaign of extermination that was “generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century.”

Vatican diplomats have been deliberately prudent in avoiding the term, so in using it during the Mass on Sunday, before an audience that included the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, Francis clearly intended to provoke a response. He equated the fate of the Armenians with the genocides orchestrated by the Nazis and the Soviets under Stalin, while also condemning “other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.”

“It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood,” Francis said. “It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today, too, there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few, and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by.”

Francis said it was a duty of everyone not to forget the “senseless slaughter” of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923. “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” the pope added. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2015 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Religion

The cultural roots of the anti-vaxxer movement

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Understanding is, I believe, a good thing to do. The drive to understand created philosophy, science (via natural philosophy), mathematics, and (arguably) literature, drama, and religion. Aristotle famously observed that “All men by nature desire to know,” but I think “All by nature desire to understand.” One reason arbitrary judgments are unsettling is that they cannot be understood: no rationale or reasoning is attached, and the need for understanding goes unfulfilled, leaving a kind of gasping for breath like a fish on shore.

In Religion Dispatches Michael Schulson takes a look at efforts to understand why some parents reject medical care that would have saved their children’s lives.

Collect all the evidence that vaccines cause autism and endanger children, and you will have a very, very thin file.

Collect all the evidence that there’s an appeal to believing that vaccines cause autism and endanger children, though, and you will have more than a file. You will have the work of an entire culture.

Just look around. Whole fields of marketing and spiritual counseling argue that there’s something inherently corrupt about modern society. There’s a cultural industry dedicated to encouraging us to break the rules, to “think different“; conforming to a big system is evil, rebellion is virtuous. Meanwhile, a whole library of religious traditions tell us that a better life can be found among the chosen, the saved, or the elect who obey a different set of rules from society at large.

When it comes to anti-vaxxers, critics don’t usually talk about culture or politics. Instead, they focus on the science, or on science outreach. (Collect all the writing detailing or examining the appeal of the anti-vaxxer stance, and you’d have another very thin file). But what could be more modern, and more conformist, than the government-recommended schedule of vaccines? The medical system is huge. It’s hierarchical. It’s powerful. It creates rules that apply to the entire population, and it works best when everyone participates.

Immunity is one of those elusive social goods that only works if (nearly) everyone opts in. When a population is thoroughly vaccinated, even the stray unimmunized child will be safe. No one is around to get her sick. There’s no cost for opting out, until enough people do so that the population is peppered with unvaccinated dissenters, and, bam: measles outbreak at Disneyland. It’s not just the children of anti-vaxxers who are falling sick, either. Low vaccination rates endanger kids too poor, too young, or too immunocompromised to have received the full suite of immunizations.

Today, children are falling ill from diseases that seem like relics of the 1950s. National attention is starting to pivot toward those parents who lodge conscientious objections against modern medicine. Lawmakers in North Carolina recently introduced legislation to make vaccines mandatory, with no exemption for religious objectors, such as Christian Scientists. (After backlash, the proposal’s bipartisan sponsors withdrew the legislation). Other states are following suit.

Meanwhile, the culture at large continues to idolize its principled renegades. Two recent releases—one a nonfiction book, the other a feature film—highlight our culture’s weird disconnect between semi-spiritual libertarian fantasies and the grim realities in which those rebel dreams, once enacted, can leave us mired.

‘Bad faith,’ sloppy analysis

In 2010, sixteen year-old Neal Beagley died from a bladder obstruction. Doctors can fix these kinds of blockages easily. But Beagley, a member of the Followers of Christ Church, in Oregon, had avoided medical treatment, in accordance with his church’s beliefs—and the wishes of his parents. “This is who we are,” his mother, Marci Beagley, told investigators. “This is what we do.”

Why do people like the Beagleys do what they do? That’s the question behind Bad Faith (Basic, 2015), Paul Offit’s new book about parents who seek to exempt their children from medical care on religious grounds.

A doctor, a vaccine educator, and a professor of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania, Offit has made his name rebutting anti-vaccination activists, most notably in his 2010 book Deadly Choices. As such, he is a practiced observer of postmodernity’s strangest class of conscientious objectors: those who, in the name of well being, exempt themselves from the most effective medical system in history.

It’s no surprise that Offit would eventually find his way to religion. Very, very few religious people avoid medicine entirely, but those who do so form a subculture large enough to merit national attention. One study mentioned in Bad Faith identified 172 deaths of children whose parents had withheld lifesaving medical treatments on religious grounds between 1975 and 1995. One of the authors of the study described the toll as “Jonestown in slow motion.”

It’s not just Christian Scientists. Small church movements around the country reject modern medicine, generally substituting some kind of faith healing. Constitutional law gives the state opportunities to intervene on behalf of children in these households. As Offit chronicles, though, states often do not.

To his credit, Offit doesn’t spin off into condemnations of religion, writ large. Instead, he digs into the New Testament, where he finds plenty of faith healings, but also plenty of calls to care for children, and nothing to imply that modern medicine would be corrupting. Ergo, religion must not be the problem, bad religion must be the problem.

Offit understands bad religion as a product of social coercion, mental illness, or clumsy interpretations of scripture. No doubt, he’s partly right: coercion happens. The line between religious fervor and mental illness is not always so easy to define. People interpret scripture in deadly ways.

Unfortunately, Offit is unable to look beyond his clumsy parceling of religion into good faith and bad faith. When it comes to religious objections to medical treatment, there are two other, more disturbing possibilities that Offit doesn’t seem equipped to even consider. The first is that there’s something legitimately frightening about the medical system for many Americans—a fear that’s absorbed into religious ideologies. Certainly, distrust of doctors can seem epidemic, and anti-vaccination activists play on fears of shadowy pharmaceutical cabals and deadly chemicals, some of which is rooted in legitimate fears.

A second possibility is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2015 at 9:00 am

When Jesus was in Hell: An interesting look at Christian belief

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The Harrowing of Hell was once a regular topic of Christian art, and demonstrated God’s mercy by having God, in the person of Jesus, descend into Hell after His death from crucifixion and while there save some who had been in Hell. Ed Simon discusses the event in Religion Dispatches:

“It was Saturday that Jesus Christ went to Hell.”

This is one phrase that Christians, whether mainline or evangelical, Catholic or Protestant, will likely not hear from the pulpit this week. And yet the story of Christ’s descent to the underworld has deep roots in tradition.

The fourth century Apostle’s Creed tells us that following his crucifixion, but before his resurrection, Jesus “descended to the dead.” The Athanasian Creed of at least a century later is more explicit, Christ “descended into hell.” Depending on context and translation Jesus either journeyed to Sheol, Hades, or Hell. But allowing for differences in language Christianity held—and technically still holds as a central tenet—the view that Jesus spent the gap between his death and resurrection “harrowing” Hell, that is journeying to the underworld to liberate the imprisoned souls of the Hebrew patriarchs who had been imprisoned there since their deaths.

Contemporary congregations will often translate “hell” into a more palatable “death” or “the grave.” There is something unseemly in the idea of Jesus among the murders, rapists, fornicators and heretics of Hell. And yet it was central to Christological accounts of salvation for two millennia that God Himself be present in the lowest rung of creation  to justify redemption for all mankind.

Holy Saturday was a day in which God was not in His heaven, but rather in his Hell.

It was a theme fervently embraced in the medieval world. Christ’s “harrowing” (a word that comes to us from Middle English) seems to have been prefigured in classical sources: Ulysses visits Hades; Orpheus, the father of poetry, barely made his escape from the underworld. Perhaps it’s these pagan associations that make the idea so unpopular today. In the Inferno Virgil tells Dante of the “mighty one” who spirits the Hebrew patriarchs off to heaven (as he is in hell the Latin poet is unable to actually speak Christ’s name). The Middle English poem of Sir Orfeoconflated Orpheus and Christ in their harrowing, and one can easily see the war-like Anglo-Saxons being attracted to the militarism of a conquering Jesus crashing through the gates of hell as if through a medieval city.

As far as credal confessions of Christianity go, the harrowing of Hell may be the least remarked upon in the contemporary world. Some Protestants, citing a lack of scriptural backup, have abandoned it; others have softened the edges around the word “hell.”

I’d argue that this relative silence reflects a discomfort with some of the frankly weird aspects of Christianity. As a faith Christianity has always been defined by its paradoxes: God can become a man, God can die, God can be one and three at the same time, the King of Heaven can spend a day in Hell. If anything the heresies of the patristic era—Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism and so on—are attempts to make Christianity more rational. It’s a fascinating aspect of Christianity that often the heretics are the more sober and rational ones while orthodoxy embraces enigma. Broadly speaking, the Eastern Orthodoxy has been more comfortable with paradox and the irrational, but in the Latin West Catholics and their Protestant inheritors have attempted to tame the scandal of Christianity with the rational equations of systematic theology.

In this way the positivist and the fundamentalist are strangely unified in their opposition to Tertullian’s infamous aphorism: credo quia absurdum (“I believe it because it is absurd”). The fundamentalist with his embarrassment over paradox denies the weirdness of his faith. The positivist can do no such thing and like Mr. Jefferson takes his razor to the Bible to excise the strangeness. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2015 at 8:42 am

Posted in Religion

Jesus’ radical politics

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Interesting article by Brandon Ambrosino on how the teachings of Christ have been perverted by the powerful:

TWO THOUSAND years have sanitized Easter for most people. Jesus is alive, we sing each spring, and now let’s get on with lilies and chocolates and bunnies and think about what his resurrection means for us — namely, that we get to go to heaven when we die, and perhaps more important, a lot of other people don’t.

A more careful look at the Gospels, however, might offer a much less sentimental, much more startling picture of the original Easter message, which was decidedly not, “Jesus is alive, and here’s what that means for the next world.” Rather, the true lesson was: “Jesus is alive, and here’s what that means for this one.”

The central claim of Easter — and indeed, of Christianity — has always been that the rejected, tortured, crucified, dead, and then resurrected Jesus is somehow Lord of the entire earth. If that doesn’t sound particularly scandalous today, imagine you’re hearing it for the first time while living in the Roman Empire. As many New Testament scholars argue, hearing “Jesus is Lord” in the first century might sound suspiciously like a bold rejection of the standard Roman creed at the time: “Caesar is Lord.” (There is a lot of discussion about this, but even a quick glance of the Gospels and Acts shows that the texts contain instances of anti-imperial rhetoric.)

What’s radical about Easter, then, is not that Christians claim a dead man rose from the dead. What’s radical is what that means — specifically, what it meant for Rome, and, by implication, what it means for all kingdoms everywhere, including the ones we live in. Jesus’ resurrection marked the end of Caesar’s way of doing things. It established a new kingdom in which enemies are loved, the marginalized are given primacy of place, and the poor are blessed. In this kingdom, hierarchies are subverted, concentrated power is decentralized, and prodigal children are welcomed home. Black lives matter here, as do queer lives and the lives of undocumented aliens within our borders — “Remember the stranger in your midst” is a common refrain in this kingdom.

Of course, speaking about Jesus in such a political way is not without its dangers. Many with political agendas are guilty of branding their particular ideologies with the name of Jesus, both on the right and left. But there’s no denying that, at least in recent US history, conservatives have been ready to marry God and government. As a result, Christianity has come to be associated less with policies aimed at helping the poor — and more with those that often serve to keep them down. The tragic irony, of course, is that, as the Gospel of Luke teaches, Jesus’ ministry is inaugurated with the announcement that the Spirit of the Lord compels him to preach good news to the poor.

Though the name of God is sometimes invoked to justify war and greed and the oppression of already marginalized persons, the broken body of Jesus seems rather like a prophetic protest against those values. Philosopher John Caputo discusses this irony in his 2007 book, “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” — a play on the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” that many conservatives have plastered onto their cars, T-shirts, bracelets, etc.

The gospels, Caputo writes, invite us to imagine a new way of life where the poetics of Jesus’ kingdom are transformed into political structures:

“What would it be like if there really were a politics of the bodies of flesh that proliferate in the New Testament, a politics of mercy and compassion, of lifting up the weakest and most defenseless people at home, a politics of welcoming the stranger and of loving one’s enemies abroad? What would it be like if there were a politics of and for the children, who are the future; a politics not of sovereignty, of top-down power, but a politics that builds from the bottom up, where ta me onta [lit. “the nothings”] enjoy pride of place and a special privilege?”

Caputo then asks this frightening question: “Would [this politics] not be in almost every respect the opposite of the politics that presently passes itself off under the name of Jesus?” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2015 at 8:54 am

Posted in Government, Religion

Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana

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Frank Bruni has a good NY Times column today:

THE drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called “religious freedom” laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not — at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

And homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.

That many Christians regard them as incompatible is understandable, an example not so much of hatred’s pull as of tradition’s sway. Beliefs ossified over centuries aren’t easily shaken.

But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.

It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.

And it elevates unthinking obeisance above intelligent observance, above the evidence in front of you, because to look honestly at gay, lesbian and bisexual people is to see that we’re the same magnificent riddles as everyone else: no more or less flawed, no more or less dignified.

Most parents of gay children realize this. So do most children of gay parents. It’s a truth less ambiguous than any Scripture, less complicated than any creed.

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

“Human understanding of what is sinful has changed over time,” said David Gushee, an evangelical Christian who teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University. He openly challenges his faith’s censure of same-sex relationships, to which he no longer subscribes.

For a very long time, he noted, “Many Christians thought slavery wasn’t sinful, until we finally concluded that it was. People thought contraception was sinful when it began to be developed, and now very few Protestants and not that many Catholics would say that.” They hold an evolved sense of right and wrong, even though, he added, “You could find scriptural support for the idea that all sex should be procreative.”

Christians have also moved far beyond Scripture when it comes to gender roles.

“In the United States, we have abandoned the idea that women are second-class, inferior and subordinate to men, but the Bible clearly teaches that,” said Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor who was removed from ministry in the church after he performed a same-sex marriage ceremony in 1999. “We have said: That’s a part of the culture and history of the Bible. That is not appropriate for us today.”

And we could say the same about the idea that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2015 at 1:50 pm


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