Archive for the 'Religion' Category

The real deal

November 18, 2008

From Wikipedia:

The saying “Do not drink the Kool-Aid” now commonly refers to the Jonestown tragedy, meaning “Do not trust any group you find to be a little on the kooky side,” or “Whatever they tell you, do not believe it too strongly.” Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly is known for using the term in this manner.

Having “drunk the Kool-Aid” also refers to being a strong or fervent believer in a particular philosophy or mission — wholeheartedly or blindly believing in its virtues.

Kind of disheartening that such an infamous expression has Indiana roots. The Indianapolis Star has an interesting 30th anniversary story about Jonestown exploring the memories of a Hoosier couple who lost 20 extended-family members to Jim Jones’ madness. The couple recall a lot of details of Jones’ change from someone who just seemed to be preaching the truth as he saw it:

In a Peoples Temple bathroom, June discovered a box of chicken livers that looked amazingly like the “cancers” that Jones would pull from the mouths of sick people cured at healing services.

“I kept saying to myself to keep quiet,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to be a doubting Thomas.”

Then there were Jones’ incessant morning phone calls to issue what June called his daily “orders.” He wanted Gene to do things such as change light bulbs in the church, fix his car or tweak the choir practice to suit his needs. The calls became an irritant to June, who had three kids in diapers at the time. “I got disgusted with him,” she said.

Scary stuff. In the overheated world of political rhetoric, this or that group of political adherents is sometimes said to be “drinking the Kool Aid” by blindly following a charismatic leader (Obamamanicas being the latest group). It just takes a peek at the real deal to show how exaggerated such claims are.


Question of the day

October 29, 2008

The Maranatha Chapel Full Gospel caused a stir in Harlan this week with a question on the message board outside the church: Do you want a Muslim for your president? WANE TV did a story and sort of hinted at what the controversy might be — you know, something to do with the McCain-Obama presidential race. The Journal Gazette was more explicit about what the fuss might be about:

The sign refers to the persistent fallacy that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, a Christian, is secretly Muslim, a sentiment even dismissed by Obama’s Republican opponent, John McCain.

Neither story tackles the assumption behind the question, which is that identifying someone as a Muslim is an acceptable insult. The intolerance is not in falsely claiming Obama is a Muslim but in the fact that such a claim is believed to have only one possible defense: Of course I’m not a Muslim. This puts a whole religion on the level of such pejoratives as liar, racist and homophobe.

It might be interesting to have a Muslim as a presidential candidate, because it might lead to an important national conversation. It is widely believed that Islam cannot keep its hands off  government in the separation-of-church-and-state tradition of the West, because the purpose of government under Islam is to enforce God’s law. Actually, there’s quite a debate going on about that in the Muslim community, not unlike the debates we had in the beginning of this country, when a religious people had to be convinced that keeping church and state separate would not harm their religious institutions. (Fascinating background article from the Hoover Institution here, if you want to read more.)

If a Muslim even wanted to be president, I presume he would be from the secular-government side of that debate. The candidate could start with a JFK-type speech, then engage us all — Christian, Muslim and otherwise — in a lively look at that murky territory between religion and government.

And I’m not a Muslim, either, by the way — not there’s anything wrong with that.

In search of Jesus

October 23, 2008

At this late date, we’re really going to find something that will shock us?

A new 6-session Bible Study that “is bound to change your perceptions of who Jesus is” begins Wednesday, Oct. 29 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 126th St. & Rangeline Road in Carmel.

[. . .]

This new study, held from 9:30-11 a.m. each week through Dec.10, is based on Philip Yancey’s best selling book, The Jesus I Never Knew. It was developed to be equally enlightening to those who have known Jesus their entire lives and those meeting him for the first time.

Yancey’s book tries to discover the “real” Jesus who actually lived and breathed and walked with regular people. Isn’t that pointless? Jesus is either central to your religion or he is a historical figure of minor interest. In neither case would his daily life seem to be of much interest. Besides, we all know Jesus would have been a Democratic, pro-choice vegetarian.

Trouble times four

September 16, 2008

It’s like they say about drinks for an alcoholic: One is too many, 84 aren’t enough:

Police in northern Nigeria have arrested a Muslim preacher who claims 86 wives and 107 children, charging him with breaking Islamic laws governing marriage.

[. . .]

It was unclear when the man would appear before the court, or what the potential punishment could be. Muslim principles forbid men to take more than four wives.

Why four, I wonder, instead of three or five or six? What’s the religious magic of four? And up to four wives are allowed only if the husband can “deal justly” with them. Good luck with that.

What’s love got to do with it?

September 15, 2008

We’d like to think so, but too often it just isn’t true:

Pope Benedict XVI urged more than 150,000 followers at mass Sunday in the French shrine town of Lourdes to hold firm in their faith, telling them “love is stronger than evil.”

[. . .]

“The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us,” he said.

We need to make sure that love (or good) is better prepared than evil, even better armed. Anything less is wishful thinking.

A constituent wonders

September 15, 2008

A man of the cloth goes out on a limb:

Pastor Jason Rice will offer a special service at 11 a.m. Sunday at Muncie Morningside United Methodist Church. He’ll discuss tough questions about God that people have always wanted to ask, such as “Have you ever wondered if God is real,” “Who Jesus really is?”, etc.

Well, since he brought it up, what’s God afraid of? He seems to want to avoid meeting directly with people, preferring instead to send out surrogates with talking points. Why doesn’t he do Letterman or Saturday Night Live or go on The View? What do we really know about him? How do we know he has the experience and temperament to guide us through eternity?

Where there’s a will . . .

August 26, 2008

It’s always fun to watch people who didn’t earn the money fight over it, which may be one reason Max Feinberg put the “Jewish clause” in his will: Anybody who “married outside the Jewish faith” would be disinherited. Four of his five grandchildren married gentiles, and the lawsuits are flying. An Illinois appellate court has ruled 2-1 that the clause smacks of religious prejudice and that enforcing it would be “contrary to public policy.” The dissenting judge, Alan Greiman, says prejudice is not the issue:

Can’t a person do what he wants with his money—like ensuring the survival of the Jewish people? Judge Alan Greiman thought so, writing: “Max and Erla had a dream with respect to the provisions of their will and if you will it, it is no dream.”

This is one of those cases where we can think the person was wrong but argue that he had the right to do what he did. It’s rather Old Worldly to try to control your offspring from the grave, and the marrying habits of Feinberg’s grandchildren show how the culture is leaving such attitudes behind. But it was his money; he earned it, and he should have been able to say where it went. Unless the money is designated to fund something illegal, it’s nobody’s business how unpopular his choices might be.

Right behind

August 15, 2008

Well, thanks for clearing that up:

The debate over the debate has gotten so intense that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the authors of the “Left Behind” series, issued a statement clarifying that Obama is likely not the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the Antichrist,” Jenkins told Christian Newswire. “I tell everyone that I don’t think the Antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics.”

Uh-oh. Just noticed they said Obama is likely not the Antichrist. Talk about hedging your bets.

Cross to bear

August 4, 2008

Don’t know what they did, but it must have been something bad, because this is surely God’s punishment:

The Topeka Fire Department is investigating a small fire today outside of a church whose members protest at soldier’s funerals.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports on its Web site that a fence and garage at Westboro Baptist Church became engulfed in flames early today.

Guess they were small sins, though. Fred was probably just cross-dressing or something.


July 22, 2008

This week’s “Hoosier bringing embarrassment to the state” entry:

A pastor brought out a dirt bike during a church service to demonstrate the concept of unity. Now he’s demonstrating the concept of healing.

Jeff Harlow, the senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church, broke his wrist when he lost control of the motorcycle at the start of Sunday’s second service, driving off a 5-foot platform and into the vacant first row of seats. He underwent surgery on the wrist Monday.

“Jeff has already laughed a lot, so he’s OK. I think his pride was bruised,” said his wife, Becky.

The story doesn’t say, but I bet he even let go of the snakes when he fell.

Moving the furniture

July 16, 2008

Not exactly a stunner:

This report compares the 2007-2008 textbooks that are currently posted on the website of the Saudi Ministry of Education with those analyzed in our 2006 study, and shows that the same violent and intolerant teachings against other religious believers noted in 2006 remain in the current texts.
 They assert that unbelievers, such as Christians, Jews, and Muslims who do not share Wahhabi beliefs and practices, are hated “enemies.” Global jihad as an “effort to wage war against the unbelievers” is also promoted in the Ministry’s textbooks: “In its general usage, ‘jihad’ is divided into the following categories: …Wrestling with the infidels by calling them to the faith and battling against them.” No argument is made here that such references to jihad mean only spiritual and defensive struggles.
Aren’t allies wonderful?  This analysis concludes that what the Saudis are doing amounts to “moving around the furniture, not cleaning the house.” That conclusion is significant because the Saudis, after negotiations with the U.s. “committed” to the removal of intolerant teachings ffrom all Saudi textbooks by, um, September of this year. Maybe the U.S. should have insisted on a timetable for the withdrawal.

The god life

June 24, 2008

A lot of people — including the guy who directed the survey — are expressing surprise that America is such a tolerant nation when it comes to religion:

Overwhelming majorities of Americans say they believe in God (or a “universal spirit”). But substantial majorities from all major religious categories also say they believe their religion is not the only path to eternal life, and that there’s not just one correct version of their faith.

[. . .]

The researchers also said the results indicate that it’s wrong to assume that Americans can be pigeonholed on the basis of religion. There is a wide diversity of beliefs and behaviors, even among people who say they belong to the same religious group, said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum with a long history of studying faith-related polls.

“I was stunned by just how diverse it was,” he said. “The diversity goes all the way down.”

But this goes beyond mere tolerance. People aren’t just saying, “My church is the right way to heaven, but that guy is allowed to believe whatever he wants to.” They’re saying, “Well, maybe there is more than one path, and both of us will get there.” If that is so, what’s the point of being a Catholic or a Methodist, a Muslim or a Buddhist? The survey hints at that: About half of those surveyed said they wanted their churces to express their views on day-to-day social and political questions. So, while 92 percent say they believe in God, it seems they’re OK with a decided secular drift in their churches.

I don’t think we should take that 92 percent as gospel — a lot of people tend to tell pollsters what they think they should say rather than what they actually think. As the story notes, about 40 percent told the pollsters they attend church regularly, which is in line with other surveys. But actual studies of regular church attendance put it at about 20 percent of the population.

Adding injury to insult

May 21, 2008

Give thanks that freedom of speech is still valued on this side of the pond (at least outside college campuses):

A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word “cult” to describe the Church of Scientology.

The unnamed 15-year-old was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion.

[. . .]

The decision to issue the summons has angered human rights activists and support groups for the victims of cults.

[. . .]

The incident happened during a protest against the Church of Scientology on May 10. Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church’s £23m headquarters near St Paul’s cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was “abusive and insulting”.

Can you imagine if writing “abusive and insulting” blog posts in this country were prosecuted, how little time there would be for authorities to handle other crimes?

Bearing down

May 15, 2008

Now you know. Every time you turn on a light, you’re helping kill the polar bears. It’s your fault:

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne listed polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act yesterday, saying the loss of Arctic sea ice in a warming climate could drive them to the brink of extinction in less than four decades.

Too bad the ringed and bearded seals didn’t have their own Coke commercial.

Extraterrestrial brothers

May 14, 2008

This is fascinating:

Believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God, the Vatican’s chief astronomer said in an interview published Tuesday.

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said. “Just as we consider earthly creatures as ‘a brother,’ and ‘sister,’ why should we not talk about an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? It would still be part of creation.”

In the interview by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Funes said that such a notion “doesn’t contradict our faith” because aliens would still be God’s creatures. Ruling out the existence of aliens would be like “putting limits” on God’s creative freedom, he said.

Do I get to see evidence of alien life, or must I take it on faith? Just kidding. I’d think finding alien life would add  to faith in God, or “a” god, anyway. Why would an omnipotent God create the universe in all its vastness and just do this one tiny experiment?

Islam says: Hang up!

May 8, 2008

The march of progress in the Mideast:

The ulema in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province have declared that use of mobile phones by women is haram, or forbidden in Islam. The Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Khabrain reported that the imam of Jama Masjid Hazrat Umar Farooq made the announcement during his Friday sermon.

Aren’t allies wonderful?

In harm’s way

April 30, 2008

There are two church-state issues that can be in conflict: 1. Freedom of religion requires government to keep its distance and let people worship the way their conscienses dictate. 2. But religion can’t give cover to practices that are clearly against the law of the land. It can be tricky to determine when the behavior is so unacceptable that the state is justified in stepping in. Remember the Santeria members who got in trouble for killing chickens because it violated laws against “animal sacrifices”? They should have just fried and eaten the chickens afterward — no problem! And doesn’t the fact that so many jurisdictions are enacting medical marijuana laws weaken the prohibitions against using weed in religious ceremonies?

And the raid on the Texas compound of course has given us lots of fodder for the debate. The state upped the ante when it took the unprecedented step of confiscating all 462 children and separating them from their mothers. Even if we accept the premise that maintaining a polygamous community somehow creates the potential for harm, how can what the state did not be called child abuse? 

Then there is this couple, who let their 11-year-old daughter die of untreated diabetes while they prayed over her:

According to court documents, Leilani Neumann said in a written statement to police that she never considered taking the girl, who was being home-schooled, to a doctor.

“We just thought it was a spiritual attack and we prayed for her. My husband Dale was crying and mentioned taking Kara to the doctor and I said, ‘The Lord’s going to heal her,’ and we continued to pray,” she wrote.

They have been charged with second-degree reckless homicide and could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but I can’t say I have all that much sympathy for them. They don’t belong to any organized religion or faith but are said to be religious “isolationists” involved in a prayer group of five people. The mother, especially, seems to be in some kind of twilight zone between fanaticism and severe mental illness.

But we don’t have to make that judgment to say: Don’t kill the kids. You have the right to believe whatever you want to, even if that causes you to take actions that end up harming you. But there is a line you can’t cross when it involves children who don’t yet have the capacity to make reasoned judgments. We can debate whether that line was crossed in Texas. Here, it most certainly was.

Bible fight!

April 25, 2008

A lot of bloggers are writing about a story from a couple of days ago to the effect that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “made up” a Bible verse:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is fond of quoting a particular passage of Scripture. The quote, however, does not appear in the Bible and is “fictional,” according to biblical scholars.

In her April 22 Earth Day news release, Pelosi said, “The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, ‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.’ On this Earth Day, and every day, let us pledge to our children, and our children’s children, that they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature.”

Cybercast News Service repeatedly queried the speaker’s office for two days to determine where the alleged Bible quote is found. Thus far, no one has responded.

Distinguished biblical scholars, however, cast doubt on the existence of the passage.

OK, it’s not nice to make up Scripture, even in support of Earth Day. But it’s hard for me to believe Pelosi would actually think no one would fact-check her on the Bible. I wonder if she or somebody on her staff is just a little unclear on the rules for quote marks. Her “passage” is a paraphrase of a lot of verses in the Bible that say the same thing about being good stewards of the Earth.

Here are just two: “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.” (Jeremiah 2:7) And: You shall not pollute the land in which you live…. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the Israelites.” (Numbers 35:33-34)

Little Foot

April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

I went to the Carbon Footprint Calculator and was a little disappointed in the results. My footprint is only 6.561 tonnes per year (it’s a British site). That’s somewhat above the worldwide average of 4 tonnes, but lower than the 11-tonne average in industrial nations and well below the average of 20.4 tonnes in the United States.

I’m just going to have to do more — drive longer distances for lunch, leave more lights on in the house for longer periods (especially before I have to switch to CFLs), really crank that air-conditioning up, do smaller and therefore more loads of laundry.

I know I’m only one person, but I’ll do my share.


The new terrorism

April 14, 2008

What a nifty new concept — ninja buddhists! I can see the TV series now, perhaps starring Jet Li or Jackie Chan, and, of course, Steven Segall and David Carradine have to be technical consultants:

State media, meanwhile, labeled a group linked to the Dalai Lama’s India-based government-in-exile a “terrorist organization” — building on claims that recent anti-Chinese protests were part of a violent campaign to overthrow Chinese rule and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August.

The Tibetan Youth Congress said China’s communist leadership had long sought to destroy its effectiveness by smearing its reputation.

[. . .]

China has accused supporters of the Dalai Lama — whom it calls the “Dalai clique” — of orchestrating the violence within its borders.

The Dalai clique? Come on, that’s just a euphemism for ‘gang,” right? It has become accepted wisdom in the “war or terror” that the Muslim militants are outmaneuvering the West in the PR department, brilliantly playing the press. Thank goodness China is still so ineptly heavyhanded when it comes to manipulating the media.

This interesting Wall Street Journal article hints at why China is trying so hard to discredit the Tibetan Youth Congress. Most TYC members are devout Buddhists who still revere the Dalai Lama as a religious symbol. But they’re becoming impatient with his wish to remain part of China and his low-key tactcs. If the Chinese repression continues, the TYC leader says, “we can’t guarantee our struggle will be nonviolent forever.” A threat to fight back is the new terrorism.

Spring into Easter

March 20, 2008

Happy first day of spring — I knew you could make it without leaving town. Now go hunt up your Easter outfits:

Easter always comes on the Sunday after the first, or Paschal, full moon following the first day of spring.

Spring arrives on Thursday and the moon will be full on Friday, the earliest Paschal moon since 1913. And that means Easter, the Christian holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is this Sunday. It won’t come this early again for another 220 or so years.

That’s darn near as complicated as the Democratic presidential  nomination process.

Crock of sin

March 11, 2008

As a strong believer in individual rights and responsibilities, I’ve watched with dismay as collectivism of one sort or another has made inroad after inroad. Now, even sin is no longer a personal matter:

He said that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”. Whereas sin in the past was thought of as being an invididual matter, it now had “social resonance”.

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos,” he said.

This, for what it’s worth coming from a non-Catholic, is a crock. Sin with “social resonance”? The globilization of offending God? For 1,500 years, the church has felt seven deadly sins — lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride — sufficient. Now, with Catholics losing interest in going to confession, it is apparently thought that seven new deadly sins will spice things up. We are warned not to stand before God having indulged in genetic experimentation, tampered with the order of nature, polluted the Earth, brought about social injustice that caused poverty, accumulated excessive wealth or taken or pushed drugs.

Guess I’m going to have to brush up. I’ve been pretty good at breaking the original seven, but some more than others. Gluttony, lust and sloth have been high on my list, pride and envy on the bottom, anger and avarice somewhere in the middle. I also have mixed results with the seven  holy virtues. I think I’ve done pretty good with patience, kindness and and humility, but I could use a little work on chastity, abstinence and temperance. The jury is still out of diligence. (Have you noticed, by the way, what s a fine line there is between patience and sloth?)

I think we need some clarification. Does the Vatican differentiate between legal and illegal drugs? Am I committing a deadly sin by continuting to drive instead of using a bicycle? I’ve never been involved in genetic experimentation, but I think cloning has some real potential — where does that put me?

Straight and narrow

February 19, 2008

I have written before that I have both libertarian and conservative instincts when it comes to gay marriage. My libertarian side says that if two consenting adults want to enter into a union, it’s not government’s business to decide who should or should not be able to. But my conservative half says that marriage has been defined one way in most places in most times and we should be careful messing around with it (unintended consequences and all that). Interestingly, it was my libertarian ire that was roused over this account of the Healthy Marriage movement, which is about preserving the old-fashioned, one man-one woman kind of marriage:

If you’re planning to get married soon in any of 37 Fort Wayne-area churches, it might take a little more than you expected.

Clergy from the churches – ranging from Queen of Angels Catholic Church and Tillman Road Church of God to True Love Baptist Church and Blackhawk Ministries – pledged Friday to take dispensing marriage vows seriously indeed.

Representatives from the multidenominational churches signed an agreement during a kickoff at the Allen County Public Library. The agreement was developed by Healthy Marriages of Allen County and designed to promote lifelong marriages and stable families.

Among the provisions: encouraging couples to have at least one year of courtship before getting married; having them undergo four months of marriage preparation, including four to six counseling sessions; and completing a premarital psychological inventory to discover their strengths and weaknesses.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against healthy marriages — who could be? Considering the fragile state of marriage these days, a lot of couples could benefit from things like pre-marital counsling and longer courtships. A little more look before the leap, and fewer marriages will end on the rocks. It’s the requiring of such things to even permit a marriage that’s bothering me, and in so many venues that people who want to get married on a quicker schedule (some of those unions do work) might have to start going to Las Vegas again. The story didn’t say they were going to start putting these requirements on civil cermonies, too, but it did say they were going to seek more people with a “secular focus” to sign the pledge of agreement, people like judges, local government officials and businesses.

This is all funded with a $540,000 from the federal government, a grant from President Bush’s faith-based marriage promotion initiative. Faith-based. On the issue of marriage, we already allow a mingling of church and state to a degree that would horrify us in any other endeavor. Never mind horrified, it simply wouldn’t be allowed. Marriage can be just a civil cermony or just a church ceremony, or it can be both, and it doesn’t really exist unless there is that little piece of paper from the state, and the state gets to say which of the religious cermonies count and which don’t. This initiative  just further intertwines church and state in a way that we should be careful about.

Another youth cult

February 5, 2008

I know that with Sen. McCain’s candidacy, there has been a lot of worry about choosing someone too old to be an effective leader. But do we really want to start turning important institutions over to the kids?

SALT LAKE CITY – The new president and prophet of the Mormon church is in some respects a throwback, an 80-year-old man with a fondness for talking in parables and quoting Charles Dickens.

[. . .]

Monson was named on Monday as the 16th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and immediately declared the 13 million-member denomination would not veer significantly from the course set by his predecessor, Gordon B. Hinckley, who died Jan. 27 at age 97.

An 80-year-old whippersnapper? Shouldn’t they let him season a few more years?

Another Jesus citing

January 25, 2008

Oh. My. God. I had a baked potato with my steak Wednesday night. What if it was the Virgin Mary? What have I done?

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — Pastor Renee Brewster and her husband Bishop Winston Brewster are a very spiritual couple. But the site of their savior in a potato has reinvigorated their faith and their desire to help others.

“That’s Jesus on the Cross.  Just looking at it I don’t have to convince,” said Renee.

OK, class. Site, sight, cite. Look ’em up if you don’t know, for God’s sake.