Archive for November, 2008

The Disney company is a worldwide corporation which is highly visible, and thus subject to condemnation … in the same way that other large, visible companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are also constantly attacked. So I suppose this latest hue and cry against Disney is not unexpected, but it did seem a bit odd to me:

A British Catholic cleric says the Walt Disney Co. is corrupting the minds of children by making its products irresistible.

Abbot of Worth Christopher Jamison said Disney has created a child pilgrimage site out of Disney World and used spirituality to market its various products, The [UK] Daily Telegraph reported. …

The cleric said by using a marketing campaign that alludes to some higher meaning to the Disney brand, the global company is misusing spirituality.

“This is basically the commercial exploitation of spirituality,” Jamison told the Telegraph.

Disney has been attacked on religious grounds before, but not usually because of its influence over kids. For example, 10 years ago, Marion “Pat” Robertson famously condemned Disney for having a gay-pride day at Disney World, and issued a stark warning to the people of Orlando Florida (the closest large city to Disney World) that God would assail them over it:

“I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those [gay-pride] flags in God’s face if I were you,” Robertson said Monday on his TV show, “The 700 Club.”

Robertson also said the widespread practice of homosexuality “will bring about terrorist bombs, it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.”

(Of course, I need not point out that none of Patty’s promised calamities ever materialized. Not one.)

Many Catholic clerics have become rather strident in the last few words, involving themselves in politics and becoming more and more outspoken on many issues (such as the pro-life movement) at the expense of others (the Iraq War, which the Vatican has consistently condemned, but which the American Catholic Church — curiously — refuses ever to mention). So I thought, perhaps this abbot is getting worked up because of this growing Catholic political activism.

But then I read on, to the end of the story, which revealed his true motive:

The newspaper said Jamison offers families advice on how to live a simpler life in his new book, “Finding Happiness.”

The abbot is selling a book, that’s what this is all about … he’s trying to get a little bit of PR and maybe some additional sales.

How utterly cheap of a Catholic cleric, to be shilling for his own book and grubbing for sales.

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The widely-exalted Dalai Lama, considered one of the wisest people in the world, has come up with a solution to human ills. It’s a solution one might expect of him — given his personal history and vocation — but I’m not sure how realistic this advice is. If everyone followed the Dalai Lama’s advice, humanity would be doomed — not saved — because that advice is not to have sex:

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, on Friday said sex spelt fleeting satisfaction and trouble later, while chastity offered a better life and “more freedom.”

“Sexual pressure, sexual desire, actually I think is short period satisfaction and often, that leads to more complication,” the Dalai Lama told reporters in a Lagos hotel, speaking in English without a translator.

He said conjugal life caused “too much ups and downs.

“Naturally as a human being … some kind of desire for sex comes, but then you use human intelligence to make comprehension that those couples always full of trouble. And in some cases there is suicide, murder cases,” the Dalai Lama said.

He said the “consolation” in celibacy is that although “we miss something, but at the same time, compare whole life, it’s better, more independence, more freedom.”

Celibacy as a spiritual ideal is widely observed, and in more places than just in Tibetan Buddhism … many Greco-Roman mystics, such as the Pythagoreans, had ascetic and celibate lifestyles. Christianity itself adopted something of a celibacy ethic early in its history, as found in the New Testament:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it. (Matthew 19:12)

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 1:7)

However, becoming a eunuch or remaining celibate was never an expectation of all Christians, as Paul acknowledges later, himself:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)

So celibacy — while still viewed as a kind of ideal spiritual state — has never been a requirement, even in otherwise-furiously doctrinaire Christianity.

Yet the Dalai Lama never acknowledges this, and happily declares it to be a universal goal.

As I said, this is not unexpected, since the Dalai Lama was raised a monk from the age of 2 and knows no other life. For him, sex perhaps truly is optional. Aside from his travels and public-speaking, he was raised in, and remains in, isolation. Which only exemplifies how “out-of-touch” with reality he is — through no fault of his own.

As an aside, the manner in which he was selected for his exalted spiritual (and political) office is a curious and somewhat hilarious tale. After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama (Thubten Gyatso) in 1933, monks followed various omens throughout the land, in search of his successor. (The Dalai Lama at any given moment is believed to be the reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, who was the reincarnation of Chenresig, a bodhisattva or an “enlightened” soul who could ascend to Nirvana but chooses, out of compassion for others, to reincarnate and guide the unascended masses). These monks found a house in a village which matched one that a monk had seen in a vision; inside was a two-year-old Lhamo Thondup, who — upon seeing some of the most recent Dalai Lama’s things that the monks had brought with them — exclaimed “That’s mine!”

The rest, as they say, is history.

When I first heard this story, I found it difficult not to laugh. This is no way to select a nation’s sovereign (which the Dalai Lama was, prior to the PRC’s invasion and annexation of Tibet in the 1950s)! It reminds me far too much of this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Can you imagine a similar dialog being played out in Tibet? Instead of, “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government,” you’d have, “Little kids claiming ownership of trinkets is no basis for choosing the Fount of All Buddhist Wisdom!”) If by chance you’ve never seen it before, this movie scene is available on YouTube.

At any rate, if everyone followed the Dalai Lama’s advice, I suppose contention among human beings would end … because within a generation there would be no more human beings to contend with one another! It’s not a solution to a problem, any more than amputating a limb is the way to heal one if it breaks.

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I recently read a piece on USA Today’s Religion blog and saw an entry about atheism in the US. There isn’t much new there, in fact, I saw something that is now very commonly said but which is really not true:

The reputation of atheists has not been well-served by the surly attacks on religion by some of atheism’s highest-profile torch carriers. From the best-selling atheist manifestos of recent years to Bill Maher’s new Religulous movie, the loudest voices of non-belief have exhibited much of the same stridency and flair for polemics as the religious fundamentalists they excoriate.

I often hear how horrible it is that there are actually (gasp!) outspoken and candid atheists in the world. Why, these “uppity” people need to be put in their place! How dare they be as open, honest, and uncompromising about their non-belief, as militant theist are about their beliefs!

This entry goes on to talk about one champion of the non-confrontational “positive atheism” and compares her with those evil “militant atheist” types whose ferocity must be stomped out:

[Margaret] Downey does not move in the ways of the late atheist spokesperson Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was known for her caustic mockery of religion and its followers. And despite Downey’s friendship with the outspoken atheist author Richard Dawkins, of The God Delusion fame (who likens the religious indoctrination of kids to child abuse), Downey is more interested in building bridges than walls.

While it is true that the oft-maligned late Madalyn Murray O’Hair wasn’t known for her tact or diplomacy skills, and Dawkins can be extreme in his commentary, I do not agree that it is necessarily “bad” to have such people speaking out about their atheism. After all, religion has its champions who are hardly very diplomatic themselves — but I never see articles or commentary saying they should keep quiet. Among these militant theists, I would list (click on the links to view their intemperate, ardently pro-religionist comments):

Marion “Pat” Robertson
Jerry Falwell
Fred Phelps

These are just three of religionism’s champions … I could easily have listed 10 times as many more had I wished to. Despite their words — which in most cases are as bad as, or worse than, Dawkins’s infamous “child abuse” remark — I’m aware of no “positive theism” movement to counter them, akin to this “positive atheism” movement.

The fact is that we live in a free society; by definition, this means that many different voices will speak to many different issues in many different ways. Not all of them will be flattering, and it is not reasonable to expect them all to be so. There was a time when atheists like O’Hair or Dawkins would have been ostracized or worse for having said the things they did. (One can argue that O’Hair was, in fact, blackballed, eventually.) For a couple of centuries after they began cropping up in the Enlightenment, non-believers had to be very temperate and artful in their commentary and remain in the shadows, cloaking their non-belief in various labels or stating their opinions carefully so as not to offend the believing masses. Atheists of all stripes — including Margaret Downey and others of the “positive atheism” movement — ought therefore to be glad that the “militant atheists” they so dislike are able to say what they do and still go about their lives.

Finally, the vast majority of atheists and other non-believers generally remain quite reserved about their lack of belief and are in no way “militant.” In the US especially, they cannot — even in the 21st century — afford to offend the majority who still believe and still demand that everyone else believe. It is laughable to presume that all atheists are of the O’Hair/Dawkins sort. This presumption is effectively a “straw man” that theists use against atheists. But as with all other “straw men,” this is a fallacy, one that need not be validated by atheists themselves. That “militant atheists” represent the sum total of all atheism everywhere, is simply mythical, not real.

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Everybody and his brother and sister seems to have ideas about how the economic crisis should be solved. Would you believe, religion has been proposed as the solution? We have this from one of the world’s foremost religious authorities:

Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader appeared in a new video posted Friday calling on Americans to embrace Islam to overcome the financial meltdown, which he said was a consequence of the Sept. 11 attacks and militant strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ayman al-Zawahri, whose 80-minute recording touched on a number of subjects, also lashed out at Afghanistan’s government and said any U.S. gains in Iraq will be temporary. …

Appearing in a white turban and robe, Zawahri discussed the roots of the U.S. economic crisis. He said it was a repercussion of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, and that the crisis would continue “as long as the foolish American policy of wading in Muslim blood continues.” …

“The modern economy has been destroyed by the strikes of the mujahedeen (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and usury,” he said, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.

Under Islamic Sharia law, usury, like drinking alcohol, is among the grand sins.

Zawahri then called on the American people to “embrace Islam to live a life free of greed, exploitation and forbidden wealth.”

Funny how al-Qaeda’s number 2 is condemning wealth, his boss, Osama bin-Laden, is the son of a Saudi billionaire and a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world.

Then again, religious folk love hypocrisy (even though they condemn it, and are sometimes enjoined never to engage in it), so this ought not be a big surprise.

About the only response I can think of to al-Zawahri’s drivel is, “Bite me, Ayman.”

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Ah, the “religion of peace” has struck again. The Indian city of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is under attack by militants who are part of a group called the Deccan Mujahideen. CNN has a bit to say about them:

The Indian Mujahideen is a Muslim militant group which emerged about a year ago but has the organizational capability to carry out attacks such as those in Mumbai, said Paul Cruickshank, a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University’s School of Law.

The group has declared “open war” against India in retaliation for what it said were 60 years of Muslim persecution and the country’s support of U.S. policies.

This is not the Deccan Mujahideen’s first attack on India:

In September, the group said it was behind a series of explosions which ripped through busy marketplaces in New Delhi, killing 24 people and wounding about 100.

The group also claimed responsibility in May for near-simultaneous bomb attacks that killed 63 people in the northwest city of Jaipur.

Also, the Deccan Mujahideen is not the only Islamist terror group now operating in India:

Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (Army of the Pure) is an Islamic extremist group that has claimed responsibility for several attacks on Indian troops and civilians in recent years. They are suspected of being behind the string of bombs that ripped through packed Mumbai commuter trains and platforms during rush hour in July 2006. More than 200 people were killed in that attack.

It’s interesting that so many groups are engaged in terror and/or violence as an expression of their faith in Islam, a religion which bills itself as the “religion of peace,” a point famously reiterated by President George W. Bush shortly after the al-Qaeda terror attacks in September of 2001:

The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.

When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.

I keep thinking about the open warfare now being waged in the hotels of Mumbai — and the many other similar actions of the Deccan Mujahideen and other Islamist groups — but somehow I can’t see how they can be said to represent, or be acting in the name of, a “religion of peace.” Killing people and taking over hotels is not typically what one thinks of as an expression of “peace.” I wonder if, perhaps, I missed something … ? After all, how can this vile godless infidel be expected to understand the wishes of almighty al-Lah?

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The relentless censorship of anything that can be taken to be irreligious continues, this time in southern California:

Complaints have led to removal of an atheist group’s “Imagine No Religion” billboard in Rancho Cucamonga.

The General Outdoor sign company took down the Freedom From Religion Foundation billboard on Thursday after the city asked if there was a way to get it removed. Redevelopment director Linda Daniels says they got 90 complaints.

My first thought on reading this was, “Why was it the redevelopment director who asked for it to be taken down?” If the city as an entity wanted it down, a mayor or other executive would have made the call. A redevelopment director … ? It makes little sense, unless the “90 calls” came from businesses who feared the billboard somehow made the city look bad.

At any rate, this situation makes me ask yet another question … “Why are religionists so afraid of any public message which is somehow irreligious?” What, exactly, are they afraid of? How, exactly, are they harmed by the presence of the FFRF billboard? Why are religious folk so immature and insecure in their beliefs that they cannot tolerate anything that questions it? I dare anyone to show me what possible harm could come from this billboard.

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America’s liberals may view president-elect Barack Obama as “the Second Coming,” but recent news reports complain that he hasn’t been to church much since he was elected:

President-elect Barack Obama has yet to attend church services since winning the White House earlier this month, a departure from the example of his two immediate predecessors.

On the three Sundays since his election, Obama has instead used his free time to get in workouts at a Chicago gym.

Asked about the president-elect’s decision to not attend church, a transition aide noted that the Obamas valued their faith experience in Chicago but were concerned about the impact their large retinue may have on other parishioners.

In response, this Politico story goes on to point out that past presidents-elect have not felt this way:

Both President-elect George W. Bush and President-elect Bill Clinton managed to attend church in the weeks after they were elected.

In November of 1992, Clinton went to services in Little Rock, Ark., on the three weekends following his election, taking pre-church jogs on the first two and attending on the third weekend a Catholic Mass with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, with whom he was trying to smooth over lingering campaign tensions.

In the weeks after the contested 2000 election, Bush regularly attended services at Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, and Al Gore was frequently photographed arriving at and leaving church in Virginia.

Politico implies that the idea that hosting a president-elect and his family wasn’t a problem for those churches. Maybe it wasn’t, but that hardly matters. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to feel outraged that Obama hasn’t been to church enough since his election; there are other things I’m much more interested in, than that.

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