Archive for the “Religion” Category

Posts concerned specifically with religion

Led by the stalwart legions of Religious Right™ lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund (an outfit you need to learn more about, if you haven’t already), a bunch of pastors are going to fight off the IRS rule against churches endorsing political candidates (as reported by the Washington Post):

Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted

Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

I’m disappointed in the headline. It conveys the idea that pastors are “banned” from saying anything. This is decidedly not the case. Like all Americans they have First Amendment rights to say whatever they want. No one is censoring them or “banning” them from endorsing candidates. Rather, their problem is that their churches have tax-exempt status, which binds them to the same restriction that all other tax-exempt entities must live up to, which is not to engage in politicking. So these ferocious pastors and their churches are, in fact, quite free to endorse candidates — they just have to forfeit their tax-exempt status in order to do so.

The legions of the ADF are, therefore, positing a “straw man,” one that the Post unwittingly (I think) is supporting in its choice of headline. The fact is that pastors are in no way “banned” from speaking. That they would claim so, makes them dishonest. They merely can’t campaign for political candidates and keep their churches’ tax exemption. That they would be so ardent about this shows what their true motivations are … money and power!

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This is one of those times I’m actually not surprised at all. The childish antics of fundamentalist preachers have long since become far too predictable ever to surprise me any more. I knew something like this would happen, as soon as I found out about the song “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry:

For 24 hours, the message board outside Havens Corners Church, 6696 Havens Corner Rd., read, “I kissed a girl and I liked it, then I went to Hell.”The message refers to the chart-topping song by pop artist Katy Perry “I Kissed A Girl.”Pastor David Allison said he didn’t put up the sign to draw attention to the church.“We didn’t intend to get into all this, but it’s become a bigger thing,” Allison said.  

First and most obviously, the pastor’s assertion that he’s not trying to call attention to his church — by putting something on a billboard! — is as laughable as anything I’ve heard in the last few months. Of course he’s using it to call attention to his church … the purpose of any billboard, after all, is to call attention to things, is it not? I mean … what other purpose can a billboard possibly serve? The article continues with yet another false claim by the pastor:

He was just very concerned about the implications of the song for teenagers and what he called a music video so suggestive it borders on pornography.“If anyone’s seen the video and understands how lewd and suggestive the video is for this song, that is not something young people should go toward,” Allison said.  

Please, if he’s going to post lyrics on his billboard for every song that’s ever had a suggestive video, he’d have to do it for most songs released, because almost all music videos are suggestive! Oh, and the article adds this wonderful remark by the pastor:

He thought the message would be a loving way to remind teenagers that the Bible denounces homosexuality.  

Ah yes, what more loving a message can one offer to one’s fellow human being, than to threaten him or her with eternal perdition? How special. And this article ends with this final expression of love from Pastor Allison:

Allison said they do welcome the GLBT community but believe they are engaged in sin.   

I’d say that this sentiment is far from “welcoming.” Although I’m by no means a fan of pop music these days, below is the video from YouTube as a kind of protest against wild-eyed fundie preachers like Pastor David Allison. Enjoy!

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We’re hearing a lot about Alaska governor Sarah Palin, John McCain’s chosen vice-presidential candidate. A lot of what’s being reported is sensational, a lot of the rest is pretty much what you’d expect of a Republican on the national ticket (e.g. she’s anti-abortion and anti-birth control). But one thing struck me as unusual, going above and beyond what one would see in a Republican now stepping onto the national stage. According to a report in the New York Times:

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

Perhaps what’s even more bizarre than the idea of a United States mayor trying to ban books around the turn of the 21st century, is her “explanation” for this episode:

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”

Huh? How does this make any sense? She went to the effort of firing someone, over a “rhetorical” question? Who the hell does Palin think she’s fooling? Not me, I’m not buying that lame excuse … and neither should you.

Note to Mrs Palin: If you really want to ban books, I suggest beginning with Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; once you get that one out of everyone’s hands, banning others will become just a bit easier.

Folks, prepare for the worst, if Palin remains the VP nominee (not necessarily guaranteed, given her situation) — it’s clear to me that the GOP’s main issue, this election, won’t be cutting taxes, paring down government, or even McCain’s presumed strong-suit, foreign relations; it will be, instead, the “culture wars.” We’re going to hear all about how those eeeeevilll secular humanists (or to use Bill O’Reilly’s term, secular progressives) are trying to destroy the country. We will hear all about how Obama supports infanticide (when he doesn’t). We will hear about how the liberals want to hand the country over to “activist judges” (as if the conservatives who run the Supreme Court now are somehow not activists themselves!). We will hear about how terrible it is that God has been removed from “the public square.” We will hear all about how the Left is trying to malign poor Sarah Palin merely because she is a Christian (and by extension, presumably, the Left also wants to abolish all Christianity everywhere in the US).

In short, it’s going to get damned ugly, damned fast, and stay ugly, all the way to Election Day. Just the thought of it is giving me indigestion …

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I suppose it must be caused by the same impulse that also causes rubbernecking, but occasionally I read the column of Fox News religion consultant, Fr Jonathan Morris. Once in a while, in his effort to rationally justify Roman Catholic doctrines and castigate everything else, he engages in what can best be described as logical gymnastics — he doesn’t merely twist logic, he does flips and cartwheels with it. His latest installment, an open letter to the Democrats, is a case in point:

Two very smart people, at the highest levels of your Party, were pointing to science and theology as having something to say about the abortion debate. Yes, Senator Obama and Speaker Pelosi were saying that determining the physical and moral status of a human embryo actually matters. But strangely, Obama hasn’t cared enough to clear up his many doubts and Pelosi has decided to accept the view of an African theologian who lived 1,600 years ago.

This is an interesting comment coming from a Roman Catholic priest. By definition he has not arrived at his views of abortion, or when life begins, by a review of the science, or even by a review of the theology involved. He arrived at it by virtue of one document and one only … Apostolicae sedis, a 19th century papal bull. It tells him everything he needs to know on the subject, and everything he is permitted to think about it. His clerical vows, in fact, utterly prevent him from entertaining any other possibilities. So Fr Jonathan is disingenuous by suggesting that he’s waiting for either Pelosi or Obama convince him of the acceptability of abortion … because even if they were to do so, he’s duty-bound by his vow as a priest not to accept it!

Second, note how he dismisses Pelosi’s views, as those of “an African theologian who lived 1,600 years ago.” This is an extremely interesting — and dismissive — way for him to describe St Augustine, arguably the most influential (if not the most original, he took a lot of his material from the Church Father Tertullian and his mentor St Ambrose) Christian theologian. Would Fr Jonathan ever dismiss the Roman Catholic notion of “just war” (which Augustine first codified) as having come from “an African theologian who lived 1,600 years ago”? Of course not.

Fr Jonathan claims at the start of his column to be an “independent,” but let’s face it, he’s nothing but a Roman Catholic apologist for the Religious Right™, as he always follows their line.

I wonder if Fr Jonathan is aware how truly different the Protestant evangelicals (who comprise the vast majority of the Religious Right™) are from his own Church. There are many evangelicals who, if they had their way, would outlaw Roman Catholicism, since they consider Catholics to be “saint-worshippers.”

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There’s been some furor over the pregnancy of 17-year-old Bristol Palin, daughter of newly-named Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Alaska’s governor. While it certainly is hypocritical of Gov. Palin — a “family-values”-type and card-carrying member of the Religious Right™ — to berate the rest of the country for its “lack of values” while not looking to the values of her own family, a more significant example of hypocrisy has come to light in the remarks of James Dobson, chairman of Focus On The Family and current commander-in-chief of the armies of the Religious Right™ (as reported by ABC News):

Being a Christian does not mean you’re perfect. Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfections to the Lord. …

The media are already trying to spin this as evidence Gov. Palin is a “hypocrite,” but all it really means is that she and her family are human.

First, it is not true that Gov. Palin is a “hypocrite” only in “spin”; she truly is a hypocrite, and factually so. Second, the Dobster separates Christians’ hypocrisy from that of others; that is, because Christians are Christians — he wishes us to believe — they are allowed to be hypocrites!

Unfortunately for the Dobster, Christians do not, in fact, get any sort of “free pass” when it comes to hypocrisy. If anything, hypocrisy is one of the things Jesus himself most enjoined them against! The Dobster needs to reread his Bible, specifically the following verses:

• Matthew 6:2-16
• Luke 6:42
• Romans 12:9

These are by no means the only scriptural passages which expressly, clearly, and unambiguously forbid Christians to be hypocrites … but they are more than enough to refute the “special exemption” that Dobson claims for Christian hypocrites.

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A museum in Italy has put on display a fairly silly, cartoonish even, sculpture depicting a frog being crucified. In response, Pope Benedict XVI has called for it to be taken down and the regional governor went on a hunger strike in protest (here’s a report from the (UK) Telegraph):

The board of the Museion museum in the northern city of Bolzano has refused to take down the modern art piece which the Vatican has condemned as blasphemous. …

The sculpture called “Zuerst die Füsse,” meaning Feet First, depicts a frog of about four feet high nailed to a brown cross holding a beer mug in one outstretched hand and an egg in another. …

Museum staff said the artist, who died in 1997, considered the sculpture a self-portrait representing human anguish.

However, the German Pope did not agree and the Vatican wrote a letter to the regional government, whose President, Franz Pahl, went on hunger strike in opposition to the frog and had to be taken to hospital.

The Vatican’s letter said the amphibian “wounded the religious sentiments of so many people who see in the cross the symbol of God’s love.”

These two really need to get over themselves. The sculpture is, as I said, cartoonish-looking. I’m no art critic, so I have a hard time considering it a wonderful representation of the human condition … but come on, the thing is just too goofy-looking to take seriously! One would think the world has managed to get over depictions and mentions of crucifixions. After all, the controversy over The Ballad Of John And Yoko happened a little less than 40 years ago … haven’t people grown up since then?

In case you don’t remember or are too young, this Lennon tune from 1969 — which was banned in some places — included these lyrics:

Christ, you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me.

At any rate, I’m not aware of any entitlement for believers never to be offended, not even in Italy, homeland of the Roman Catholic Church. Hopefully the Holy Father will grow up and see this whimsical little frog as just that — too whimsical to be worthy of any of his time.

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By now you probably have heard about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remarks this Sunday on the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings about when life begins. I won’t even begin to address the idiocy of a member of Congress making Catholic doctrinal declarations. I will say, however, that she had a valid point. As the Washington Post reports:

On the news show on Sunday, Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who supports abortion rights, said that the question of when life begins has been a subject of controversy in the church and that over the centuries, “the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.”

On this at least, she is technically correct, and demonstrably so. Even though the RC Church likes to tell everyone that its position — that life begins at conception — has never changed in all of Christian history, this is simply historical revisionism. In fact, the current RC doctrine is only as old as Apostolicae sedis, a bull issued by Pope Pius IX in 1869. Prior to that, positions had varied considerably, from Church doctor to Church doctor, and over time.

To set the stage: Prior to Christianity, one of the most common views was that ensoulment occurred only at the point where the fetus physically resembled a human being (of course, this an indefinite boundary and can be subjective; moreover Aristotle, one proponent of this view, complicated it by saying that males were ensouled at 40 days and females at 80). Some of the Church Fathers, such as Tertullian (late 2nd century) asserted that ensoulment occurred at conception, and some others agreed with him. St Augustine, however, veered back toward the classical Greek view, and it became common after him to consider ensoulment as occurring at “quickening” — the moment when fetal movement is first noticed. The “ensoulment at quickening” was confirmed by many, including Pope Innocent III and St Thomas Aquinas.

Although this idea vacillated a bit, it was not until the 19th century that RC doctrine was officially changed to what it is now.

The Catholic Church frequently claims its doctrines are eternal, or ancient, when they are not; for instance, celibacy for priests and matrimony as a sacrament are both late-medieval notions and unknown for over half its existence. So it’s not unusual for the Church to attempt revising history — it’s reflexive for them. As it turns out, historically the most common Roman Catholic doctrine is not the modern “conception ensoulment,” but the “quickening ensoulment.”

For more information on the history of ensoulment doctrine in Christianity, I suggest this page on the Religious Tolerance Web site.

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