Archive for December, 2009

When you operate one of the largest churches in the country, the problems you face tend to be proportionally large. That’s the case for Rick Warren, who runs the Saddleback Church in southern California and is in charge of the “purpose-driven” publishing empire (as reported by the AP via Yahoo News):

OC megachurch pastor asks for urgent donations

Evangelical pastor Rick Warren appealed to parishioners at his Orange County megachurch Wednesday to help fill a $900,000 deficit by the first of the year.

Warren made the appeal in a letter posted on the Saddleback Church Web site. It begins “Dear Saddleback Family, THIS IS AN URGENT LETTER.”

“With 10 percent of our church family out of work due to the recession, our expenses in caring for our community in 2009 rose dramatically while our income stagnated,” the letter reads.

Still, Warren said the church managed to stay within its budget, but “the bottom dropped out” when Christmas donations dropped. “On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive — leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year,” the letter reads.

Since Warren is, himself, a millionaire author, he should be able to make up the $900,000 shortfall with just a check out of his own personal treasury, without breaking a sweat. One wonders, then, why he won’t do — himself — what he’s asking his own congregants to do.

Oh well, hypocrisy is nothing new with Warren.

I have no doubt, of course, that Warren’s sheep congregants will come through and bail him and his church out of this financial distress, at least this time, and perhaps a couple more times too, if it comes to that. But if Saddleback Church’s deficits are running this large, I have to wonder how long this can go on.

Hat tip: iReligion forum at Delphi Forums.

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Frank Schaeffer — former soldier of the Religious Right, who left that movement due to its excesses — penned an “open letter” from the perspective of Jesus himself, addressed to “Christian America” (i.e. Religious Rightists). It’s a stunning indictment of their beliefs and behavior, which outlines their hypocrisy, and explains how they’ve become everything Jesus himself preached against.

I urge everyone to read this open letter in its entirety, in order to see all the points Schaeffer makes. I do not presume to be able to speak for him, nor do I want to detract from his open letter. So I will instead offer just a few of the most stunning portions, plus a brief comment of my own:

You American Christians utterly defaced the name of Christianity with your racism, your slavery and your bigotry against women. And now you’re doing it again in your war against gay men and women and in your war against the poor who have no health care. Some of you even have had it as part of your wicked program to reestablish the Biblical law demanding death to gay people that I clearly showed must be broken by the greater law of love. Well, as you judge so you will be judged. Good luck with that! …

You are like the Pharisees I used to know and who strained out the least gnat of others’ so-called misbehavior while turning a blind eye to their own wickedness, hypocrisy and lies. Remember my sayings about taking the beam out of your own eye before removing the speck from your brother’s? …

If I walked here on Earth again with you, you’d kill me again, just as you are going to kill all that is good in my name, just as some of you are praying for the death of your president who you even call “Anti-Christ.”

Schaeffer’s best paragraph is the last:

Please come up with a new name for whatever you are. Drop the word “Christ” out of your name. You’ve destroyed my reputation.

In the course of his open letter, Schaeffer (as “Jesus”) dresses down the Religious Right for its compulsion to be hypocritical, as well as the movement’s drift toward dominionism. These are two things I’ve remarked on many times here. It’s nice to see that someone who was once deep inside the Religious Right movement, agrees with me on its flaws.

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In a move that is sure to anger Jews around the world, the Vatican appears on track to canonize Pope Pius XII, who ran the Roman Catholic Church during World War II, and whose relations with the Third Reich were at best ambivalent, and remain a point of contention. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on this development:

Pope Benedict XVI moved two of his predecessors closer to sainthood Saturday, signing decrees on the virtues of the beloved Pope John Paul II and controversial Pope Pius XII, who has been criticized for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust.

The decrees mean that both men can be beatified once the Vatican certifies that a miracle attributed to their intercession has occurred. Beatification is the first major step before sainthood.

The Vatican had an odd relationship with the Nazi regime in Germany. In 1933 the R.C. Church became the first institution and sovereign state (i.e. Vatican City) to arrive at an explicit agreement with the Third Reich, called the Reichskonkordat. This agreement went a long way toward legitimizing the then-new regime in Germany. The Reichskonkordat was, in essence, a diplomatic coup for Hitler and his cronies. Also, although he was not Pope at the time this concordat was made, Pius XII was the papal nuncio who helped broker it. Later the R.C. Church appeared reluctant to do anything, even faced with the growing Nazi menace and the onset of the Holocaust.

Naturally, this backstory means that not everyone is thrilled with this development:

Some Jews and historians have argued that Pius should have done more to prevent the deaths of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. As a result, the German-born Benedict’s surprise decision to recognize Pius’ “heroic virtues” sparked immediate outcry from Jewish groups. …

“While it is obviously up to the Vatican to determine who its saints are, the church’s repeated insistence that it seeks mutually respectful ties with the Jewish community ought to mean taking our sensitivities into account on this most crucial historical era,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

The Church has long insisted that it was not, in fact, dormant in the face of Nazi atrocities:

The Vatican insists Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to save Jews. Pius, a Vatican diplomat in Germany before being elected pope, did denounce in general terms the extermination of people based on race and opened Vatican City up to war refugees, including Jews, after Hitler occupied Rome in 1943.

But he didn’t issue scathing public indictments of Jewish deportations, and some historians say he cared more about bilateral relations with Nazi Germany regarding the rights of the Catholic church there, than saving Jewish lives.

The problem with the Church’s position is that, even if it’s true, it’s still not really a very flattering potrait of the papacy at that time. The Vatican’s “quiet diplomacy” was, quite obviously, totally ineffective in doing anything to quell the Third Reich’s excesses. At some point Pius XII — if he were truly committed to stopping the Nazis — should have recognized the utter failure of his several years of “quiet diplomacy,” and tried a different tactic.

But he never did.

The reasons for this are not clear, but it was likely because, as one of the forgers of the alliance between the Church and the Third Reich, he was trying to salvage what remained of his own personal dignity.

At any rate, the impending canonization of Pius XII is yet another source of Jewish irritation with Pope Benedict XVI, who’s already in hot water over the re-admittance to Catholicism of bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St Pius X, who has denied the Holocaust, and about whom I’ve blogged already. Benedict stands at the edge of alienating the world’s Jews … and not for any good reason that I can see.

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Or should I call this the Twelfth Post of Christmas 2009?

Well, it’s official. The “war on Christmas” is over, at least for 2009. We have no less an authority on this than Jan Brewer, Republican governor of Arizona. As reported by the Phoenix New Times:

Governor Brewer Puts the “Christmas” Back in “Christmas Tree,” and Makes it Official: Christmas Celebrates the Birth of Jesus

Governor Jan Brewer made it official today: Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Hanukkah is an eight-day festival of lights, and state employees can celebrate either holiday as they see fit.

Brewer signed Executive Order 2009-11 today, which puts the “Christmas” back in “Christmas tree” for state employees after it was renamed a “holiday tree” by former [Democratic] Governor Janet “the Grinch” Napolitano — sending right-wing bloggers into an anti-gay tirade last year.

As written, Ms Brewer’s executive order makes it sound as if the very existence of the United States utterly depends upon Christmas:

WHEREAS, the spirit of good will which has been found each December has been at the heart of our ability to live as one people despite differing faiths and backgrounds;

Honestly, Governor, I’d had no idea Christmas was so important. You’ve certainly set me straight! It’s the solemn duty of every red-blooded American — of whatever religion, or of none — to worship Christmas! Thanks for that clarification.

OK, enough of the sarcasm. Immediately after this “Christmas-is-our-patriotic-duty” implication, Ms Brewer goes on to completely misrepresent the facts:

WHEREAS, the Constitution does not permit the government to tolerate or engage in hostility toward religion, and the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that the public celebration of religious holidays, and the acknowledgment of religious origins, does not offend the Constitution;

That isn’t at all what the Supreme Court has said … as, for example, when SCOTUS ruled against Ten Commandments monuments in e.g. McCreary Cty v. ACLU of KY. Brewer is overstating her case here. Then she says:

WHEREAS, state and local officials in Arizona (and elsewhere) in the past have attempted to strip both Christmas and Hanukkah of their meaning, including establishment of policies forbidding state employees from placing religious items of celebration at their desks, re-naming of Christmas trees as “holiday” trees, and renaming of Menorahs as “candlesticks;”

Excuse me, but there is no way that either Christmas or Hanukkah can ever be “stripped of their meaning.” Renaming things in no way diminishes their metaphysical nature or their function within Christianity or Judaism. Names are, after all, just names. What something is named, in no way alters its spiritual nature, whatever that might be.

Both of these misrepresentations are enough to place Gov Brewer in my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

At any rate, I’m glad to see that Brewer declared victory for the Religious Right in the ongoing “war on Christmas” trope. Maybe it will put an end to this fake, staged dispute.

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No sooner do I post a blog entry on a juvenile stunt by some cowardly anti-Semites in Fairfield, CT, than I see another story of a similar nature within the same town. The Stamford Advocate reports on this second incident:

Anti-semitic letter shocks, angers Fairfield teacher

Shortly after taking part in a workshop in November designed to help provide teachers with lesson plans about the Holocaust, Fairfield Woods Middle School teacher Tina Rembish got her own first hand lesson in prejudice.

Rembish was one of several teachers quoted in a Connecticut Post story about “Echoes and Reflections,” the training session developed by the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Shoah Foundation.

Four days later, she received an anonymous, anti-Semitic letter in her mailbox at the middle school. The letter, according to the police report, contained several quotes from the Bible regarding Jewish people.

There are any number of Bible quotations that have been used against Jews over the last two millennia, unfortunately. Among these are the so-called “Woes of the Pharisees” found in the gospels — but other passages have also been used for this purpose. Like a lot of other anti-Semitic literature, this letter presents itself as “news material,” even though it’s not:

She said the letter was titled “Bible Predicts Worldwide Persecution of Jews-2009!” and was postmarked in Stamford. It contained quotes like “Many nations around the world will turn against the Jewish people in the last days (today) — especially those Jewish people living in the city of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel!”

This letter, and the marred menorah-lighting I just blogged about, are not the only recent anti-Semitic acts in Fairfield:

Rembish hasn’t gotten any other notes like this, but it is one of three anti-Semitic incidents reported in town over the last two months. Rembish received her note Nov. 12. On Dec. 11, a transport van from the Jewish Home for the Elderly’s adult daycare program was vandalized; two of its tires slashed and what appeared to be swastikas scratched into the side of the bus. The latest incident was the menorah lighting Sunday at the green, which police continue to investigate.

I wonder what’s going on in Fairfield that caused this. I took a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Groups Map” for Connecticut. 5 are listed, two based in Bridgeport (which is the next city over from Fairfield); one of these is called “White Revolution,” and listed as a Neo-Nazi group. I have no idea if they’re responsible or someone else is.

At any rate, I have to wonder how foolish it is for this to have been mailed to a teacher in a public school, of all places. Such a thing was bound to be noticed by more people than just the person it was sent to; and the authorities will be more inclined to investigate it.

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The holiday season is hectic enough, but I’m fairly sure the world could have done without this. A cadre of masked anti-Semites tried to disrupt a menorah-lighting in Fairfield, CT a few days ago. The Connecticut Post reports on this deplorable incident:

Masked men disrupt Hanukkah ceremony with Nazi flags, obscenities

Pouring rain failed to dampen the spirts of a small group of families huddled on the Sherman Green gazebo to light a menorah on the third night of Hanukkah Sunday.

Neither did three masked men, who carrying Nazi flags and shouting obscenities, tried to disrupt the ceremony until they fled when police arrived.

Their masks and their flight showed a great deal of cowardice on their part:

When police showed up, the men left in a car headed west on the Post Road with police trailing behind them. It is unclear if the men were stopped by police.

Rabbi Shlame Landa (of Chabad of Fairfield), who staged the event, did — by contrast — exhibit more than a little courage, though, and even offered a classy response:

Landa said it wasn’t a stretch to feel a little by like the Maccabees — on whom the story of Hanukkah is based. After battling religious persecution in 60 B.C.E., a small band of Jews lit a nine branched candelabra called a menorah to help resanctify their temple. The menorah is lit each night during the eight-day festival.

“We continue that battle,” said Landa. “The way we chose to battle darkness is to add a little bit more light. By doing a little bit more goodness is how we fight people who hate. That is what we tried to do tonight.”

It appears that brazen* anti-Semitism is not dead yet, not even in a mostly-enlightened northeastern state like Connecticut. More’s the pity.

Hat tip: Creedible blog.

* Yet, not quite brazen enough that any of them would like to be identified. Reminds me of all those Middle Eastern insurgents and terrorists who film videos of themselves, but with their faces obscured, so that no one knows who they are. That’s cowardly, too.

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Despite it being based on fraudulent claims, this year’s edition of the fake “war on Christmas” continues apace. There is no controversy, except in the delusional minds of the Religious Right. Yet they keep on lying about it, and those lies are evident even now in this story from CNN:

Who’s winning the war on Christmas?

Republican Rep. Henry Brown of South Carolina introduced a resolution this month asking that the House express support for the use of Christmas symbols and traditions and frown on any attempt to ban references to the holiday.

“Each year, I could see a diminishing value of the spiritual part of Christmas,” Brown said. “It would seem like another group would go from the Christmas spirit to the holiday spirit.”

“What I’m afraid of — if we don’t bring some kind of closure to this continuous change, then in 20 years it will almost be completely different from what we see today … and so we would lose the whole emphasis of what the very early beginnings of Christmas was all about.”

Rep. Brown is lying here. There had been no reduction in the observance of Christmas, anywhere in the country. That this is essentially a fraudulent claim, has been noted:

Barry Lynn, an ordained minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, isn’t keen on the prospect of congressional action.

“Resolutions like this come up because there is this bizarre view by some members of Congress that there is a war on Christmas and that they have to be the generals in some responding army,” he said.

“My advice to the lawmakers would be promote any religion you have through your private acts, and don’t try to ‘help’ the baby Jesus by passing a resolution on his behalf. It is arrogant and ridiculous at the same time,” Lynn said.

Another lie the R.R. likes to tell about Christmas, can be seen later in the article:

Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies with the Family Research Council, which promotes Christian values, said the “pro-Christmas side” has made progress in recent years.

In some circles, he said, “Political correctness is preventing people from even sayings [sic] ‘Merry Christmas.’ “

The problem is, there is no concerted effort being made anywhere in the US to prevent anyone from saying “Merry Christmas.” It is not happening. I dare Mr Sprigg — or anyone else — to document any such campaign has occurred over, say, the last 5 years.

Fact is, he cannot do it … because it didn’t happen, and is not happening now.

Elsewhere, people who adhere to the “war on Christmas” trope are even trotting out the canard that other people not saying “Merry Christmas” to them frequently enough, somehow ruins the holiday for them (as seen, for example, in this story in the Kane Cty (IL) Chronicle):

At this time of year, pastor Brice Quinn does not want to be wished “Happy Holidays.” …

Not acknowledging the specific holiday takes away from its significance, he said.

Well, boo-fucking-hoo. Does Mr Quinn truly believe himself to possess the power to force everyone else he meets to say the words “Merry Christmas” to him, because for them not to do so, ruins his holiday? How insane is this kind of thinking?

Enough already with the steady stream of lies, and the presumption that many Christians like Mr Quinn have, that they possess the authority to force others to say certain things to them … or else!

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