Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ohio's Separation of Church and State --
Via the Washington Post:

In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush's narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio's religious right.

The clergy members said the churches improperly held political activities and allowed Republican organizations to use their facilities.

The goal of the challenge is "for these churches to stop acting like electioneering organizations," said the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ. "I don't want to harm or demonize these churches. I want these churches to act legally."

When three months passed without public evidence that the IRS had acted on a January complaint, the clergy members filed a second document, expanding the allegations.
(3:06 PM) 2 comments

Germany Gives In to Muslims --
This BBC News story tells of yet another case of Europeans giving in to Muslim protests. Clearly, the right-wingnut blogosphere is just waiting to jump all over this story. Or maybe not.

A Cologne brothel touting for clients with a World Cup-themed banner has blacked out the flags of Iran and Saudi Arabia after threats from Muslims.

The giant banner on a high-rise building shows a semi-naked woman and the flags of the 32 countries in the World Cup, which kicks off in June.

The Pascha brothel's owner, Armin Lobscheid, said a group of Muslims had threatened violence over the advert.

He said they had accused the brothel of insulting Islam by using the flags.
(2:23 PM) 1 comments

The Dalai Lama on Western Values --
Also posted to Street Prophets:

From this article in the UK Telegraph earlier this month, the Dalai Lama critiques Western culture.

"It is fascinating," he says, speaking in slightly stilted English. "In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless conveniences - yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don't bother to cross the road to meet your neighbours; you have more food than you could possibly eat, yet that makes women like Heidi miserable."

The West's big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. "I don't think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice - which brings no real freedom."

He has lived as a monk since childhood, but the Dalai Lama views marriage as one of the chief ways of finding happiness. "Too many people in the West have given up on marriage. They don't understand that it is about developing a mutual admiration of someone, a deep respect and trust and awareness of another human's needs," he says. "The new easy-come, easy-go relationships give us more freedom - but less contentment."

The Dalai Lama criticizes a self-centered worldview. This is something that I've spent a lot of time thinking about. While rights-based liberalism is a good framework in which to negotiate between competing needs and wants of different groups and people, it has spawned in some people a philosophy of the primacy of the individual above all other considerations. I trace a host of phenomena, specifically the downward trend in group affiliation, whether it be labor unions, political parties, or organized religions, as part of this philosophy, which over-emphasizes the atomistic individual at the expense of groups that we belong to.

This is why I consider libertarianism, with its emphasis on absolute free markets and egoist view of individuals as completely unfettered by personal ties not of their own choosing as morally bankrupt. A common thread that you will hear in my arguments is that hedonism, focusing on pleasure for the sake of pleasure, is wrong. (Pleasurable things are not intrinsically wrong, nor are they intrinsically good; it is the unbalanced and unhealthy emphasis on pleasure above all that is the problem.)

My belief that freedom is generally a good thing is tempered by the realistic awareness that people too often act unwisely when given the freedom that is their due. It's not enough to work toward a freer and more open society; we sometimes need to talk about how people use their freedom, even if it entails criticizing their choices.
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Pentecostalism at 100: a major religious force | csmonitor.com --
The Christian Science Monitor on 100 years of Pentacostalism.
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Friday, April 21, 2006

Catholics as Non-Ideologues --
Over at Mirror of Justice, Michael Scaperlanda asks:

1. Is my perception correct? Is the Catholic Church the only (or at least the only large) religious institution that consistently takes positions on both sides of America's ideological divide. If not, what are the other ones?

2. If my perception is correct, why is this?

1. Possibly. I think there are some isolated issues. Some black Protestant churches, I would guess, take positions consistent with the liberal, Democratic side on race relations and economic justice, but are theologically conservative and oppose homosexuality.

2. The Catholic Church is an international organization not beholden to American politics. American Protestants are generally Americans first and Protestants second. They choose their particular denomination based on pre-existing opinions that also inform political beliefs.
(6:12 PM) 0 comments

USATODAY.com - Cardinal says condoms 'lesser evil' to prevent AIDS --
USATODAY.com reporters on an interview with Cardinal Martini. Of course, the newspaper headline focuses on condoms.

Cardinal Martini was supposedly second on the first ballot of the last papal conclave, but said that he was too old to be pope and took his name out of the running.
(3:39 PM) 0 comments

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An Evangelical By Any Other Name.... --
The New York Times reports on how evangelical Christianity is not a monolithic movement.

Evangelical leaders have clashed recently over a range of issues, including whether the movement should get involved in the debates over global warming and immigration. A tug of war is also unfolding behind the scenes over theology — should evangelicalism be a big tent, open to more divergent views, or a smaller, purer theology?

To a certain extent, divisions are to be expected, because the evangelical movement has become increasingly diverse as it has grown, making it harder to define, or for any one person to serve as even its symbolic head, as Mr. [Billy] Graham did.

"There are many people today who call themselves evangelical whom no person would call an evangelical 40 years ago," said Donald A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, used polling data to separate evangelicals into three camps, traditionalist, centrist and modernist. The traditionalists, characterized by high affinity for orthodox religious beliefs and little inclination to adapt them to a changing world, bear the closest resemblance to what has been labeled the Christian right, whose most visible spokesmen have been figures like the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the television evangelist Pat Robertson, Dr. Green said.

Centrists, he said, might be represented by the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., and author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life." Mr. Warren is theologically and socially conservative, but has mostly avoided politics and recently turned much of his focus to fighting poverty and AIDS in Africa.

According to Dr. Green's findings from a survey taken in 2004, the traditionalist and centrist segments are roughly the same size within evangelicalism, each accounting for approximately 40 to 50 percent of the movement's adherents. Modernist evangelicals, who have much more diversity in their beliefs and lower levels of church attendance, are a small minority. Fissures between the traditionalist and centrist camps of evangelicalism have begun to emerge much more prominently in recent months in the political realm.

I have always compared the way that people think about religion with the way people think about politics. Can anyone else see how someone could easily craft an analogy between this and splits between liberal and centrist wings of the Democratic party?
(10:05 PM) 0 comments

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Auschwitz By Any Other Name --
Via Haaretz:

he Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has backed Poland's bid to have the Auschwitz concentration camp renamed to highlight the fact that it was built and run by Nazi Germany during World War II.

The Polish government's request to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the name of the site of mass genocide to be changed from Auschwitz Concentration Camp to the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau has caused international controversy.

Poland's request comes after a string of incidents over the last decade in which international media mistakenly have referred to the camp as Polish due to its location.
(7:04 PM) 0 comments

Monday, April 10, 2006

Christians Sue for Right Not to Tolerate Policies - Los Angeles Times --
Via the Los Angeles Times, Christians sue claiming that tolerance policies violate their freedom of speech.

I can't help but think some of their tactics are counter-productive.

Evangelicals have been suspended for wearing anti-gay T-shirts to high school, fired for denouncing Gay Pride Month at work, reprimanded for refusing to attend diversity training. When they protest tolerance codes, they're labeled intolerant.

Now, I'm not saying I am against homosexuality, just that if I were, instead of these things, I would do things such as start the idea that wearing a blue or some other color ribbon signifies opposition to homosexuality, participate in diversity training in a half-assed manner where I fulfill the general requirements but in a manner that makes it obvious to all that I think it is a joke, and similar methods.

At the end, the article notes the basic source of tension: "The open question is what constitutes harassment, what's a sincere expression of faith — and what to do when they overlap." Can someone express opposition to homosexuality (or evangelical Christianity or abortion or feminism or a host of other issues and positions) without it being labeled intolerant or harassment?

In the end, diversity isn't about accepting others as equals, it's giving voice to people who are quite possibly (and some instances almost certainly) wrong. Diversity is a great thing even though (and perhaps because) it guarantees rights for people who are clearly in error, and if you don't understand why that is good, you won't ever understand my worldview.
(6:21 PM) 0 comments

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why Is the Pope Catholic --
Via USATODAY.com, Pope Benedict on why he became a priest:

"There was the Nazi regime," Benedict said. "We were told very loudly that in the new Germany 'there will not be anymore priests, there will be no more consecrated life, we don't need this anymore, find another profession.'"

"But actually hearing these loud voices, I understood that in confronting the brutality of this system, this inhuman face, that there is a need for priests, precisely as a contrast to this anti-human culture," he said.

Benedict also expresses human doubts about becoming a priest.

"I asked myself if I really had the capacity to live an entirely celibate life," he said. "Being a theoretical and not practical man, I also knew it wasn't enough to love theology to be a good priest, but I also needed to be available to young people, old, sick and poor people."
(4:08 PM) 1 comments

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Commonweal on Catholics --
Commonweal Magazine is a Catholic periodical disdained by some conservative Catholics. The term "Commonweal Catholic" refers to a particular strand of liberal Catholicism, not intent on radically overthrowing the structures of the organized religion, but progressive nonetheless.

Commonweal now has online a description of the Catholic voter.

The article says nothing I didn't already know, that American Catholic voters as a bloc strongly resemble the general public and are now a swing constituency. It is a lamentable downgrade from Catholics being a solid Democratic-leaning group, a change which some such as myself believe was preventable and remains perhaps still reversible.

There is a clear divide between conservative and liberal Catholics.

As a rule, however, politically conservative Catholics focus more on abortion, while politically liberal Catholics focus more on poverty. Likewise, politically conservative Catholics emphasize church teachings against same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and embryonic stem-cell research, while politically liberal Catholics invoke church teachings against the death penalty, racism, and environmental degradation.

I tend to believe that the Democratic Party ought to be a coalition centered primarily on issues of economic social justice. Clearly, this is an issue which draws in political liberal Catholics.

The article also has some suggestions.

Catholic bishops should speak out on whatever social, economic, and international issues they choose. Morally, they have a solemn religious duty to guide their flocks. Politically, they have as much civic right to debate issues and question candidates as any other religious leaders do.

Still, many Catholics feel that their bishops made some mistakes during the 2004 election season. The most commonly heard criticisms are as follows: Catholic bishops focused almost exclusively on abortion and same-sex marriage. They did little to hold politicians’ feet to the Catechism’s moral fires on poverty. Sometimes, the bishops seemed partisan, not pastoral. Some bishops seemed to parrot positions staked out by conservative Christian leaders who reject Catholic theology. They scolded prochoice Catholic Democrats, but they did not scold prolife Catholic Republicans who endorsed prochoice candidates. With most Americans deciding how to vote based mainly on Iraq, terrorism, and homeland security, the bishops said little regarding what the church believes about war and peace, human rights, and international relief.

From a strategic perspective, regardless of how you feel about the issue, I have held that Catholic bishops have argued against abortion as if they want to minimize the number of people opposing abortion. By focusing on abortion overmuch, they have allowed people to ignore them, lumping them in (wrongly) with evangelical Christians in the Religious Right. Catholic opposition to abortion would probably be greater if the bishops had chosen a more balanced strategy of criticizing immoral stances on a wider range of issues. If you support abortion be thankful for their short-sightedness; if you oppose it, wail at their incompetence.
(7:16 PM) 1 comments

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

If I Could Walk on Water --
Via Haaretz:

The New Testament says that Jesus walked on water, but a Florida university professor believes there could be a less miraculous explanation - he walked on a floating piece of ice.

Professor Doron Nof also theorized in the early 1990s that Moses's parting of the Red Sea had solid science behind it.

Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said on Tuesday that his study found an unusual combination of water and atmospheric conditions in what is now northern Israel could have led to ice formation on the Sea of Galilee.

This guy seems as desparate to explain away biblical events as a creationist is to explain away scientific findings.
(3:37 PM) 0 comments

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Love Conquers All --
Via Haaretz:

The High Rabinnical Court cited special circumstances and permitted a member of the priestly cohen caste to marry the daughter of a non-Jewish father, reversing a previous decision. I'm not up on Jewish marriage law, so I don't know if this restriction affects only cohen caste members or all Jews.
(4:41 AM) 0 comments

Iranians Drink Religiously --
This International Herald Tribune article tells of how Islam hasn't eradicated the Iranian tradition of alcohol.

n fact, the Islamic regime is caught in a bewildering situation. Islam forbids the use of alcohol, and the Koran explicitly calls intoxicants "the abominations of Satan's handiwork" that want to turn people away from God.

But drinking and wine are integral to Persian culture.

Mey, the word for wine, and Saghi, the wine pourer, have been central motifs of Persian poetry for well over a thousand years.

Most poems by Iran's 14th-century popular poet, Shamsudin Mohammad Hafiz, who was Shiraz, revolve around wine.

A rose without the glow of a lover bears no joy; without wine to drink, he wrote, the spring brings no joy.

Wine's discovery in old Persia predates French wine. The earliest evidence of winemaking dates from 5400 B.C., in the Haji Firuz Hills, near western Azerbaijan Province, south of where the city of Orumieh is today.
(4:36 AM) 0 comments

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Indians crack down on gender abortions | csmonitor.com --
The Christian Science Monotor reports on abortions of girl fetuses in India and an effort to enforces laws against sex selection. Regardless of how you feel about the abortion issue, I think this story should make you feel at least a little icky inside.
(6:41 PM) 0 comments