Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New fervor among young Italian Catholics | csmonitor.com --
Via the Christian Science Monitor, an article on the increasing number of young Italians getting themselves to a nunnery.
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Monday, February 27, 2006

A Hamas Government Doesn't Look So Bad --
Via Yahoo! News:

The Fatah administration, riddled by corruption and infighting, alienated voters here before the May 5 municipal elections, and Hamas swept all 15 seats on the town council by promising reform and a better life. The victory was seen as a predictor of the group's eventual victory in the parliamentary election.

Qalqilitya's Hamas mayor, Wajeeh Nazzal, has been jailed in Israel for 42 months without charges. His deputy, Hashim al-Masri, took office in his place and worked swiftly to put the town's chaotic finances in order.

He computerized the financial records, put in place strict regulations and created administrative order, he said.

In a plan to increase revenue, the town gave discounts to residents who paid their utility bills promptly. It doubled the income from the zoo by ensuring entrance fees went to town coffers instead of to corrupt officials.

By year's end, the government had turned a projected $640,000 deficit into a $640,000 surplus, using the money to pave roads and lay water pipes, al-Masri said. The town has sought bids for sewage work and for a new restaurant in the zoo, he said.

. . . .

The Hamas council did cause a minor scandal when it denied a music festival use of a municipal building, forcing its cancellation and fanning fears Hamas was trying to impose its strict interpretation of Islam.

Many residents said they were not concerned about that controversy. But they also were unimpressed with the new government's transparency and accounting procedures.

. . . .

Residents said they were furious about the explosion in electricity prices since Hamas took power, an increase al-Masri attributed to the rise in world oil prices.
They also got fed up with Hamas' efforts to establish order. Drivers complained they could no longer park in restricted areas and storeowners were angry when they were forced to remove sidewalk displays.

Many here also believed that the rise of Hamas, listed as a terror group by the United States and European Union, drove foreign aid projects out of town.

And after five years of hardship, they wanted instant improvements.

And yet, Qalqilitya booted out its Hamas-led city council and returned Fatah to power. If this is what government under Hamas might look like, they deserve a fair chance to accomplish things. It's a shame that citizens are too impatient to build infrastructure.
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A Textbook Conflict Not About Intelligent Design --
Via the Los Angeles Times, a report on Hindus trying to change history texts which they feel inaccurately describe their religion.

"It degraded my religion," said Kurup, now a UC Riverside freshman. "I felt a mixture of anger, embarrassment and humiliation."

Kurup has joined other Hindus in a campaign urging the state Board of Education to correct those portrayals in new sixth-grade history textbooks, which will come under review by a board committee today. They have requested changes involving passages on women's rights, the caste system, the origins of Hinduism and the nature of the divine, among other things.

One requested change, for instance, would say women had "different" rights than men, not fewer.

But their efforts have sparked a heated counter-campaign by scholars and others who accuse the groups of trying to fabricate history and gloss over the treatment of women and minorities in India, where Hinduism is the dominant religion. Some also contend that the requested textbook changes are so similar to those imposed by Hindu nationalist groups in India that California should not put its stamp of approval on them.

This is a fairly interesting conflict. I have always been a left-oriented opponent of political correctness. There is no right to freedom from hurt feelings. There is a difference between a legal presumption of equality under the law and an actual existence of equality in reality. Of course, Hindus aren't the only ones who feel this way.

She said that of all subject areas, the board's reviews of history textbooks tend to stoke the most fervent community passions. In the past, she said, the board had been pressed to include in textbooks Ireland's potato famine, the internment of some Italian nationals in the U.S. during World War II and the genocide against Armenians by the Turks during World War I, an event the Turkish government disputes.

In the current round of review, Hindu groups are not the only ones asking for change. According to board materials, Jewish groups have asked for deletion of references to any Jewish role in the crucifixion of Jesus, King Solomon's use of forced labor and the lack of archeological evidence that the Exodus ever occurred, among other things.

Political attempts to influence education is nothing new. On the right, you have advocates of intelligent design. On the left, you have those who to over-emphasize the contributions of women and minorities. (It seems like a contradiction. If various groups have been oppressed, then they wouldn't have made very many contributions, so trying to overemphasize meager efforts make it look like women or blacks or whatever group could have done more but didn't.)
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Friday, February 24, 2006

Religion of Peace? --
The International Herald Tribune reports that Christian mobs are attacking Muslims in retaliation for Muslim mobs rioting over the Danish cartoon controversy.

"What has become of us?" lamented Father Joseph Ezeugo, pastor of Immaculate Heart Parish. "This cannot be Nigeria today. We have been living side by side with our Muslim brothers for so long. Why should a cartoon in Denmark bring us to civil war?"

But the cartoons, political analysts say, were simply a pretext to act on very old grievances rubbed raw by political tensions.

Nigeria is entering a period of great political uncertainty in which it must elect a new president to replace Olusegun Obasanjo, who is barred by term limits from running for re-election. Speculation has been rife that he may try to extend his term.

"At the end of the day, it is all politics," said Kayode Fayemi, a political scientist and head of the nonpartisan Center for Democracy and Development in Nigeria. "Everything else is just pretext."

Conflicts between religious and ethnic groups are common and deadly in Nigeria. In 2002, riots over a beauty contest held in Kaduna in northern Nigeria left more than 200 people dead, and thousands of others have died in such clashes over the past few years.

Conservatives who snarkily comment on Islam being a religion of peace miss this point. Conflicts that are seemingly religious in nature, be it the Israeli-Arab conflict or the European wars of religion, have other political causes. Were all Arabs Christians, they would probably have rioted over Andres Serrano's Piss Christ if it were another insult piled upon several. Were all Palestinians atheists, there would probably still be Palestinian terrorist groups in opposition to Israel.
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Jews Hate Pat Robertson --
This Forward op-ed claims that Jews don't vote Republican out of fear of Christian conservative evangelicals.

At a November 2005 meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean said that Democrats "believe that Jews should feel comfortable in being American Jews without being constrained from practicing their faith or be compelled to convert to another religion." On the other side of the aisle, Ken Mehlman, the chair of the Republican National Committee, tells his fellow Jews that they should support the president who has stood by Israel.

While the political operatives make their cases, it seems, Pat Robertson has unwittingly become Howard Dean's best campaigner for the Jewish vote — and Ken Mehlman's worst nightmare, in perhaps more ways than one.
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Look for the Union Label at Your Temple --
The Los Angeles Times reports on a Japanese Buddhist monk who formed a labor union to deal with what he claims is an overbearing head priest.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New Cardinals --
Alejandro Bermudez at Catholic Outsider notes some things about the most recent slate of Cardinals elevated by Pope Benedict.

Here the inclusions are as surprising as the omissions. Many expected Archbishop O’Malley to keep paying the price for the sex scandal. He is now a Cardinal. And that cools down (just cools down, doesn’t put to complete rest) speculations about him going to Washington DC. Cardinals, in fact are not as easily moved.

The creation of Venezuelan Urosa Sabino after few months of being appointed Archbishop of Caracas wants to give a more moderate voice in Venezuela, probably in the hope of improving the relationship with “Hugo Boss” Chavez.

The red hat to Bishop Zen, an outspoken critic of Chinese restrictions on religious freedom, is also a significant statement.

Surprising omissions instead, are the new Archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois of Paris and Robles Ortega of Monterrey, Mexico.

UPDATE: The LA Times also has an article:

Although Benedict emphasized the "universality" of the church in making his first appointments, others noted that the lone African he named — Archbishop Peter Poreku Dery of Ghana — was older than 80 and thus ineligible to select a future pontiff. Africa is home to the fastest-growing Catholic population, and many in the church believe that African prelates must be more readily incorporated into the official hierarchy.

The voting power held by developing nations after the next installation of cardinals will in fact decline slightly, while that held by Europe will increase, noted Father Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine America and visiting scholar at Santa Clara University in California.

"Benedict has increased the voice of the First World in the College of Cardinals and reduced the voice of the Third World," Reese said in an e-mail statement.

Many factors go into the naming of cardinals, but Benedict has made it clear that one of his priorities is the resurrection of the Catholic faith in Western Europe, once firmly Christian but now increasingly secular, with growing non-Christian immigrant communities.

The Washington Post also has an articl concentrating on Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who once headed Washington's outreach program and moved into a rat-infested apartment building to help tenants facing eviction and crack dealers.
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I Guess This Guy Plans on Watching The Da Vinci Code --
Via The Corner is a column by Don Collins of the anti-immigration group FAIR.

Collins paints a picture of a Catholic Church trying heavily to influence public policy. Given his interest, his initial hook is that the Church supports more open borders and *gasp* rights for illegal immigrants. From there on, Collins paints the picture of an ominous Supreme Court with a majority of Catholics as part of a political machine secretly ruled by Catholic bishops.

I guess I have to find a copy of The Protocols of Elders of Catholicism.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Vietnamese Christianity --
Via the Christian Science Monitor, news of the Catholic Church in Vietnam.
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Hamas and Women --
Via Noli Irritare Leones comes this veiled4allah post about women's rights and Hamas, citing female politicians such as a Hamas MP whose priorities are opposing forced marriages and economic/educational roadblocks to women and a leftist Christian mayor of a West Bank municipality who was elected with the support of Hamas.

My point in posting this? Just that people don't always fit neatly into the boxes we would like to put them into. Muslim women fully committed to Hamas's aims and tactics can still want to work to improve women's rights in their society. Christian Marxist women may choose to work with Hamas - and Hamas with them. Few groups or people are entirely evil. We can condemn where they go wrong (as I do) and also recognize when they do good things and encourage them to give up on the wrong and work to increase the right.
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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Two UK Stories --
American Samizdat points out thta the Church of England is reviewing its investment in companies whose products are used by Israel in Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, The Angry Arab News Service points out that 40% of British Muslims would like sharia law to be introduced in predominantly Muslim areas within the country (although 41% oppose the idea).
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Lean Left ? Dissing Libertarians --
Via Lean Left, I read Doctor Biobrain writing about how he hates libertarians.

I think they serve no useful purpose in our political system and really put a big drag on everything; and yes, that does presume that mainstream Republicans serve a purpose. The libertarian position sounds good, but that’s it. It’s just useless sloganeering and toughguy talk, with no real basis in reality. And there are two basic types of libertarians: Pie-in-the-sky jokers who haven’t thought any of it through passed the toughguy talk, and relatively intelligent Republicans who enjoy bashing libs but hate having to defend their own party. Both categories are dangerous in their own way, though the second is the more dangerous of the two. And both are entirely fake positions that are easy to defend, just as long as they can keep the topic on rhetoric and theory; and away from the thorns of reality.

This more or less sums up my opinion of libertarianism. I'd rather have Pat Robertson as President than a libertarian.
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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Are Gay Activists Always This Whiny? --
Pat at Big Brass Blog complains about how gay rights aren't mentioned front and center everywhere on the Democratic agenda. You know what? If any non-narcissistic strategist put forth the Top Ten issues that Democrats should push in 2006, anything related to homosexuals shouldn't be anywhere near that list.

I'm all for a big tent and a view of the Democratic Party as a coalition. The party, however, shouldn't be a coalition of assembled interest groups vying for attention.
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Spokane's Priest Abuse Deal --
This editorial tells of a deal struck by Bishop William Skylstad with victims of priest abuse. The acknowledgement that abuse happened and the bishop going to parishes to identify perpetrators are more important than the money.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Are Arabs Hypocrites --
This BBC News article explores how Egyptian booksellers feel that selling The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and complaining about the Danish cartoons are compatible. Says one man, "The book is about politics not about religion. I don't have a problem with books criticising politics."
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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

How Would Jesus Pose? --
A Louisville man gives up at least $25,000 when he backs out after winning a reader poll for Playgirl's Man of the Year.
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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Full-Court Press By Creationists --
Via Juliepede's Bug House, this LA Times story describes pro-active Christian creationists.
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Friday, February 10, 2006

Decriminalization --
Air Force Eases Religion Policy - Los Angeles Times

The Air Force released new guidelines for religious expression Thursday that no longer cautioned top officers about promoting their personal religious views.

The revisions were welcomed by conservative Christians, who said the previous rules were too strict. Critics called the revisions a step backward.

The original guidelines were created after allegations that Christians at the Air Force Academy were imposing their views on others. Some chaplains were accused of telling cadets to warn nonbelievers they would go to hell if they were not born again.
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The Early Days of a Better Nation --
Via Crooked Timber comes this Ken MacLeod post describing the anti-Catholicism of rationalist progressives of a previous age.
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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Behind the cartoon protests | csmonitor.com --
This Christian Science Monitor commentary holds that "[p]rotests over the derogatory cartoons were purposely fanned by Arab leaders who need to look like mightier defenders of Islam than the jihadists who want to overthrow them and unite all Muslims."
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The Media Even Spins the NBA --
Two headlines with different emphasis about the same event
From USATODAY.com: Terry, Nowitzki headline NBA's Three-Point Shootout

From SI.com: Billups, Bell lead All-Star 3-point shootout field

Neither headline mentions the other two competitors, defending champion Quentin Richardson and former winner Ray Allen. USA Today focuses on the match-up between teammates, while SI means "lead" literally, as Bell and Billups are 1 and 2 in three-point percentage among the players.
(3:32 PM) 0 comments

The Media Even Spins the NBA --
Two headlines with different emphasis about the same event
From USATODAY.com: Terry, Nowitzki headline NBA's Three-Point Shootout

From SI.com: Billups, Bell lead All-Star 3-point shootout field

Neither headline mentions the other two competitors, defending champion Quentin Richardson and former winner Ray Allen. USA Today focuses on the match-up between teammates, while SI means "lead" literally, as Bell and Billups are 1 and 2 in three-point percentage among the players.
3:25 PM) 0 comments

Is This Blakmail? --
The lawyer of Michael "Brownie" Brown wrote, “Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president, including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify if asked about particular communications.”

I wonder what he could possibly say that makes him think such a threat might bear fruit.
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Update: Tucker Carlson Is Still a Dick --
Via Jim Romenesko, Chicago Tribune managing editor Jim O'Shea write:

Taping your show that ran on MSNBC last night was a real lesson for me. I now understand why you have so few viewers. Who wants to deal with someone whose backbone is as flimsy as his bow tie.

Your personal and derogatory comment about me after my taped appearance on your show to discuss why the Chicago Tribune decided not to publish cartoons offensive to Muslims was cowardly. When I was in the Army (an experience I'm sure you've not shared), we referred to people like you as "guys who back up to the pay table."

It is one thing to disagree with me about the decisions we make in what we run and don't run in the Chicago Tribune. You even had the gall to say "I respectfully disagree but I appreciate your coming on (to the show) to explain it." That was when I was being taped, or as close as you could come to looking me in the eye.

After the tape ran on your live show later and I (and the hundreds of millions of other Americans who don't watch Tucker) were otherwise occupied, you referred to my newspaper as "cowardly" and to me personally as a "corporate worm." You didn't even have the guts to say that to me on tape.

It is no wonder that people don't want to appear on your show. I know I won't appear on your show or MSNBC and I would guess that would apply to my colleagues at the Chicago Tribune.

I resent your comment about my newspaper even more than your craven characterization of me. The Chicago Tribune is an honorable newspaper run by people who believe journalism is more than a game show. The people who work here are brave, courageous reporters and editors who make tough calls everyday, an experience I know you can't understand since you've never done so. Many have risked their lives bringing news to our readers. For someone like you to imply they are cowardly is disgusting.

Then again I guess I should be more understanding. When someone is at the bottom of a well in the ratings and desperate for attention, I shouldn't be surprised that they slide so naturally into name-calling. I suspect that the Chicago Tribune will be around a lot longer than you, Tucker, and if I'm wrong, I will buy you your drink of choice, which is probably a sarsaparilla.
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Who Should Own St. Vitus Cathedral? --
This fairly interesting Los Angeles Times article describes the dispute in the Czech Republic over the Prague cathedral that was taken over by the Communist government and which is now the subject of a dispute over who should own it.

Distilling the spiritual from the secular has proved difficult. A court ruled in 1994 that the cathedral belonged to the church, as it has for much of its history. The verdict was overturned on appeal. The church then offered to give the cathedral to the state but, in a bit of characteristic Czech defiance, the state refused, saying the building was not the church's to give. A district court ruled again in October in favor of the church. The state has appealed and a decision is expected this year.

The atmosphere has been further strained by the Czech Parliament's refusal to ratify a concordat negotiated between the Vatican and the state in 2002. Leftist lawmakers don't want to appear to be giving the church special treatment. That stance has also hindered church efforts to reclaim other valuable real estate nationalized by the communists.
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In Medias Res: William Jennings Bryan and Being a Liberal Christian --
Rusell Arben Fox of In Medias Res has an interesting post on liberals and Christianity, taking as his starting point some articles by William Jennings Bryan biographer Michael Kazin. He generally captures the internal struggle I feel in my fealty to both the Catholic church and progressive politics.
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village voice > news > Outing Cardinal Egan by Kristen Lombardi --
This Village Voice article scares me. As part of a sexual abuse lawsuit, Father Bob Hoatson alleges that Cardinal Edward Egan of New York City, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany are active homosexuals. These allegations may or may not be true. I'm open-minded enough to understand that it could go either way.

I wonder if bishops and priests in the past have been hampered in the past by blackmailers. I know that the CIA has a policy of requiring homosexuals to be out to their friends and family before hiring them for exactly that reason.
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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Legal Fiction --
Publius at Legal Fiction notes how those on the right are using the Muhammad cartoon controversy as an excuse to bash Islam.

Don’t get me wrong – the riots need to be strongly condemned and even ridiculed. But just like it’s unfair to lump Christians in with Dobson, or Democrats with Michael Moore, or Group X with nominally-aligned fringe member Y, it’s unfair to use acts of idiot fundamentalists as a pretext to open fire on Islam as a whole.
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Thomas Merton and Islam --
Catholic Sensibility posts on Thomas Merton and Islam.
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What's behind church burnings? | csmonitor.com --
This Christian Science Monitor article suggests we wait until the facts are in before assuming that recent church burnings are linked.

"There is really nothing unusual about the rate of church fires," says Conrad Goeringer, who has written about the issue for American Atheist magazine. "There's a tendency to construct a conspiracy theory or link fires together that are totally unrelated."
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Monday, February 06, 2006

A Double Standard --
Via Haaretz , Shin Bet security chief Yuval Diskin says:

"If I had arrested a terrorist from Nablus and Eden Nathan Zada, they wouldn't have received similar treatment in interrogation or court. . . A Jewish detainee and one from [the Israeli-Arab town of] Umm al-Fahm, would not be treated equally by the judicial system. . . If we're talking about discrimination, you would find out that the discrimination leans much more in favor of Jews than Arabs."
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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Religious Divorce Laws --
This Washington Post article describes Jews in search of a get, a religious divorce which allows them to remarry within their faith.

I feel sorry for the woman, but I also highly respect and admire her faith in being willing to not even date until she receives a religious sanction.
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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Reading Benedict: Deus Caritas Est - Summary and Commentary, Pt 2 --
Cross posted to Street Prophets

OK, so I have been reading Deus Caritas Est and posted the first part of my thoughts already online.

Now, on the the next section.

The newness of biblical faith

9) God, creator of the universe, has an elective and personal love for man which may be describable as eros, but which is certainly agape.

10) God's love is agape because it is bestowed gratuitously with forgiveness. There are two images of God at work, one the metaphysical being, the other a passionate lover.

11) Human nature includes a feeling of incompleteness and a searching for completion. Marriage attempts to fulfill this longing.

Jesus Christ – the incarnate love of God

12) A definition of love must begin with the radical love shown by Jesus dying on the Cross.

13) This offering of self endures through the Eucharist, which can be considered as a sort of flesh-and-blood consummation of the metaphorical marriage between God and Church.

14) There is a totality of experience. Love of God and of neighbor are united through the Eucharist. Faith, worship, and morality/ethics are things that are intertwined, and to separate them is to fall short of the goal of unity in ~agape~.

15) The New Testament opened up the definition of neighbor beyond the community. The Church has a duty to interpret this concept of neighbor with regards to daily life.

Love of God and love of neighbour

16) We may ask "Can we love God without seeing him? And can love be commanded?" Love of neighbor is inseparable from love of God and is necessary before we can "see" God.

17) God is not inaccessible. We can experience his love from the stories of the Bible, from the sacraments, from holy men and women from Church history, from the living community of believers. We are called to respond in kind.

Love is not mere sentiment, but also involves intellect and will. Love in constantly changing and maturing and is never fully "finished."

18) Love of neighbor involves loving, in God and with God, the person you do not even know or like. A loveless relationship with God lacks love of neighbor; others are not heeded in pursuit of "religious duties."

And now, on to my comments.

The love bestowed by God is held up as sort of the Platonic ideal form of love. The measure of love, then, is how well human beings an replicate this love, which involves love of neighbor.

We have an existential longing for meaning. Benedict finds completeness in the process of loving fully.

There's a sort of trick here. One method in argument is to agree on the surface with someone and then to subsume that into a wider definition. In the prior sections, Benedict said nothing particularly controversial about agape and eros before plunging into how this love is modeled on God's love. It's a more conciliatory tactic that I'd like to see used more often in an age of confrontational politics.

Love of neighbor is established as more or less a practical expression of love of God. Benedict gives the Church a role in teaching people who is their neighbor. At this point in time, the Church teaches that the fetus in a mother's womb and the prisoner on death row are both your neighbor, as are many others. This concept of neighbor-ness goes beyond political and cultural boundaries, which implies that the state cannot be the sole instrument by which we care for our neighbors.

There is the concept of love as an unending process. I have always held that God is a dynamic God. The nature of the world involves change; a static worldview is far from this (take that, creationists!). Evolution, a living U.S. Constitution, and many other beliefs I hold flow from my conception of a dynamic Truth which allows for certain shifts over time.

Human beings are not created perfect from the onset. This lack of perfection causes an existential crisis as we seek meaning and purpose. Benedict suggested a feeling of "incompleteness," which seems removed from the concept of a soul-staining original sin. This reminds me of a description of Hell as the painful awareness of separation from God rather than literal fires. (I forget which theologian, but I remember it from high school.)

Some would seek perfectability totally within, a self-centered worldview bordering on solipsism where no one else matters. Deus Caritas Est suggests that the road instead lies through an other-centered love of neighbor.
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Roman Catholic Blog: New Pope a Surprise --
Check out the comments to this Roman Catholic Blog post. It seems that some Catholics are impatient for Pope Benedict to start bringing the hammer down on liberals. I'm not sure that's going to happen.
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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Palestinians Resent Donor Nations' Pressure on Hamas - Los Angeles Times --
This Los Angeles Times story suggests that trying to isolate Hamas will only make them more popular as the efforts will be labeled as anti-Palestinian rather than anti-Hamas.

"Why do the Americans and the Europeans want to control our lives, and tell us who we should have voted for?" asks one Palestinian. The sociology of religion tells us that feelings of persecution tends to intensify belief and there is no reason to think that political fervor is any different.

I tend to believe that Hamas will only be perceived as a failure (if they actually fail at local government) only if they are given few plausible excuses, so total disengagement on the part of the United States can't really hurt them and might actually help by providing a ready scapegoat for any problems.
(7:17 PM) 0 comments

Haaretz - Israel News - Article --
Via Haaretz , the U.S. State Department is wondering why it couldn't predict a Hamas victory.

I mean, come on, with the Bush administration's stellar record in anticipating September 11 and the post-war climate in Iraq, who woulda thunk?
(6:59 PM) 0 comments

Haaretz - Israel News - Article --
Via Haaretz , the U.S. State Department is wondering why it couldn't predict a Hamas victory.

I mean, come on, with the Bush administration's stellar record in anticipating September 11 and the post-war climate in Iraq, who woulda thunk?
(6:56 PM) 0 comments