"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, October 02, 2015

Can we put the lid back on the teapot now?

Liberty Counsel insists this picture proves Kim Davis met with the Pope privately. 
 Notice anybody missing?

It looks like the skinny on this has finally come down, so let's consider this case "closed":

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis met with "several dozen" people at the Vatican's embassy in Washington just before leaving for New York.

 Lombardi said such meetings are normal on any Vatican trip and are due to the pope's "kindness and availability." He said Francis really had only one "audience" in Washington: with one of his former students and his family.

"The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects," Lombardi said.
Details in these matters tend to be important, so let's stipulate the lawyers for Davis insist it was a "private meeting" with the Pope.  Well, not according to the Vatican:

The Vatican on Friday distanced Francis from Davis, saying his encounter with her was by no means an endorsement of her cause. In the same statement, the Vatican said the only real audience the pope had was with a former student.

A Vatican assistant spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, confirmed the student was [Yayo] Grassi [an openly gay Argentine who visited Francis with his longtime partner and some friends]. A video posted online shows Grassi embracing the pope and introducing him to his partner, as well as an Argentine woman and some Asian friends.
I kinda wondered how a 15 minute audience with the Pope yielded only "Stay strong" (or "courageous," I read both phrases in different stories over the past two days) and "Pray for me."  And then he gave her some rosaries.  And that took 15 minutes?

I think the credibility of Kim Davis' lawyers (who had to admit the "100,000 praying in Peru" story was bogus, and pushed this story for all they were worth) should be about zero by now.  And was the Papal Nuncio to America involved in chicanery?  Aw, who really gives a crap?  The whole thing was always a tempest in a teapot.

Time to let it go, and consider the source more carefully the next time.

Why is this man laughing?


"We don’t yet know why this individual did what he did," Obama told reporters. "It’s fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations might be."

"But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people," the president added. "We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”

Peace between neighbors
Peace between kindred
Peace between lovers,
In love of the King of life.

Peace between person and person,
Peace between wife and husband,
Peace between woman and children,
The peace of Christ above all peace.

Bless, O Christ, my face,
Let my face bless every thing;
Bless, O Christ, my eye,
Let mine eye bless all it sees.

--from the Carmina Gadelica

O Christ, son of the living God, have mercy upon u.
Thou that sites at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us;
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.


O Christ, when thou didst open thine eyes on this fair earth, the angels greeted thee as the Prince of Peace and besought us to be of good will toward one another; but thy triumph is delayed and we are weary of war.


O Christ, the very earth groans with pain as the feet of armed men march across thy mangled form.


O Christ, may the Church, whom thou didst love into life; not fail thee in her witness for the things for which thou didst live and die.


O Christ, the people who are called by thy Name are separated from each other in thought and life; still our tumults, take away our vain imaginings, and grant to thy people at this time the courage to proclaim the gospel of forgiveness, and faithfully to maintain the ministry of reconciliation.


O Christ, come to us in our sore need and save us;
O God, plead thine own cause and give us help, for vain is the help of man.


O Christ of God, by thy birth in the stable, save us and help us;
By thy toil at the carpenter's bench, save us and help us;
By thy sinless life, save us and help us;
By thy cross and passion, save us and help us.


I don't know any prayers for mass shootings.  These prayers, from the Carmina Gadelica and the E&R Hymnal, will have to do.  In this tradition of prayer, a prayer for the victims of mass shootings seems necessary, though.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The morning after

I always wake up after one of these "titanic struggles" feeling vaguely like I have a hangover.  It's a sense of going overboard the day before, and wondering what I was thinking that it seemed like such a good idea at the time.  The evidence, unfortunately, is there for all to see; the legitimacy....not so much.

"There was no desire on the part of the Vatican to cause her to be part of a media circus during the middle of the pope’s trip."

The Vatican, he said, wanted the meeting with Davis to be "personal," rather than "polemical or ideological."
But boy, we sure let Mat Staver turn it into that, didn't we?  Once word came out, we turned it into a litmus test on the validity of Pope Francis; or, more accurately, the validity of our feelings about Pope Francis.   Let's be clear what happened:

Mat Staver, a Liberty Counsel lawyer, told Time magazine that he, Davis and Vatican Embassy officials began discussing a possible meeting on Sept. 14. The Sept. 24 meeting lasted about 15 minutes, prior to the pope flying from Washington to New York.

Through Liberty Counsel spokeswoman Charla Bansley, Staver told HuffPost that Liberty Counsel was involved in setting up the meeting between Davis and Moynihan.
And why did Mat Staver want this meeting?  For the publicity, of course.  This whole legal case is about publicity; it isn't about practicing law.  Every filing Liberty Counsel has made in this case has been a joke and an insult to the bar.  This case is all about public sentiment, and if Staver can't win that with his client, he'll try to win it by association with the Pope.  And we let him do that.

That this visit was arranged for the Pope is perfectly clear now.  Staver worked with "Vatican Embassy officials."  Not with the Vatican in Rome, the curia, the Pope's personal staff; the embassy here in the U.S.  Again:  what did the Pope know and when did he know it?  And what did he bring to the meeting?  A blessing of all things Kim Davis has done to bring her to our notice?  He said nothing unique to her, gave her nothing he didn't give any other visitor who got an audience with him.  But Mat Staver got what he wanted:  he got us all to jump around like angry monkeys and fling our poo at the idea that the Pope would meet with someone we don't like!  How dare the Pope do that?!  He's not supposed to show consideration to people we don't like!  He's only supposed to be nice to people we approve of!

Which is why the Vatican (do we know what the Pope thinks?) wanted the meeting to be personal, rather than "polemical or ideological."

But thanks to the internet, we thrive on the ideological.  So we can't see it any other way.

I still haven't heard anything about this meeting on NPR. It didn't make the PBS Newshour last night, I doubt it was on the national TV news.  But yesterday it was all the rage on the intertoobs.

I've got the hangover, and the posts, to prove it.  Today?  Except for that post at Huffington Post, it seems already to be melting away.

We don't need the hair of the dog that bit us this morning.  We need to agree not to do that again.

We're getting too old for this.....*

*Or, if you prefer, Charlie Pierce has a go at palace intrigue where he points out along the way that the Vatican Embassy is in the hands of Archbishop Carl Vigano, who is good buddies with Mat Staver, and involved in arranging the meeting.  Still, as Fr. Martin points out, we have the case of the Pope meeting a lot of people in America and leaving such meetings to his staff to arrange, with him providing the bromides of "Stay courageous" (or "strong," stories are starting to differ on that point) and handing out rosaries.  You'd think if Francis knew the person he was talking to was an anti-trinitarian he'd have held back on the beads.  But you have to consider he's much busier than you and, as I say, relies on his staff to arrange these things.  I know the lives of busy people, they are often involved in fights in which they don't have a dog.  And still, if the idea that when the "man of God" meets someone it's an approval over which we have a veto, we're gonna have to go back and take that one up with Jesus.

The better response to this remains: Really?  We want to get played on this?  As a comment at Pierce's place says:  the Pope met with convicted felons, too.  Does that mean he approved of their felonies?  Or of their humanity?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I can stop whenever I want to.....

And who is responsible for this?

By meeting with her, the pope has ensured that the takeaway from his visit won’t be that we must come together to focus on more important matters—because he failed to resist the lure of the latest divisive headline-grabber’s antics himself. The pope ate with the homeless, visited a prison, and spoke about the plight of immigrants, but all that is threatened by one single meeting.
As Fr. Martin points out, the Pope met with a lot of people while he was in America.  How many of them ran to the press, or worse, used their lawyers to run to the press, too, to publicize their meeting?

There's a reason the Vatican is not commenting on this meeting, and this is why.  Not because of who the Pope met with, but because of the use it is being put to.  Is that the Pope's fault?  Should he carefully screen who he meets with so there is no possibility of undue or completely incorrect publicity?  Should he have the people he meets with sign a non-disclosure agreement, to control this kind of thing?  Should he just avoid meeting people altogether, except public officials and those on the rope line?  Sure would eliminate this kind of kerfuffle.

Or should we all just consider the source, and stop leaping to the conclusion Kim Davis wants us to leap to:  that the Pope only meets with people he agrees with 100%, and his meeting with them indicates 100% approval and vindication of whatever they have done to be famous?

Same as it ever was

"What do members of this generation remind me of?  What are they like?  They are like children sitting in the market place and calling out to one another:

We played the flute for you,
But you wouldn't dance;
we sang a dirge,
but you wouldn't weep.

"Just remember, John the Baptist appeared on the scene, eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, "He is demented."  The son of Adam appeared on the scene both eating and drinking, and you say, 'There is a glutton and a drunk, a crony of toll collectors and sinners!'  Indeed, wisdom is vindicated by her children."

One of the Pharisees invited him to dinner; he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. A local woman, one who was a sinner, found out that he was having dinner at the Pharisee's house. She suddenly showed up with an alabaster jar of myrrh, and stood there behind him weeping at his feet. Her tears wet his feed, and she wiped them dry with her hair; she kissed his feet, and anointed them with the myrrh.

The Pharisee who had invited him saw this and said to himself, "if this man were a prophet, he would know who this is and what kind of woman is touching him, since she is a sinner."

And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

"Teacher," he said, "Speak up."

"This moneylender had two debtors; one owed five hundred silver coins, the other fifty. Since neither one of them could pay, he wrote off both debts. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon answered, "I would imagine the one for whom he wrote off the larger debt."

And he said to him, "You're right." Then turning to the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I walked into your house and you didn't offer me water for my feet; yet she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn't offer me a kiss, but she hasn't stopped kissing my feet since I arrived. You didn't anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with myrrh. For this reason, I tell you, her sins, many as they are, have been forgiven, as this outpouring of her love shows. But the one who is forgiven little shows little love."

And he said to her "Your sins have been forgiven."

Then those having dinner with him began to mutter to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

And he said to the woman, "Your trust has saved you; go in peace."

 Luke 7:31-50, SV

And all Pope Francis did was tell Kim Davis (reportedly) to "Stay strong!" and ask her to pray for him.

May the Lord forgive me for using the gospels as such a blunt instrument.

Reviewing the Situation

"I'm the Pope!  Who are you?"

I mentioned this below, but I want to examine it a bit more fully, if only because Fr. Martin's article is an excellent example of Jesuitical rigor (which, as a lawyer, I especially appreciate).

Fr. Martin makes several points which are worth quoting almost entirely:

1. Pope Francis met with many individuals during his visits in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, at various locations and events....The pope would have been introduced to many more people whom we may never know about: individual Catholics whom a Vatican official, or a local bishop or friend of the pope, felt was especially deserving of a visit—again, these would include Catholic donors, priests, men and women in religious orders, and so on.
Got that? Kim Davis was one of many, not one alone.

2. Such meetings are arranged in several ways.... It is claimed that a “Vatican official” arranged the meeting with Kim Davis, which is vague. Does this mean someone in the Vatican curia? A local cardinal, archbishop or bishop? And why? In response to a request by the pope? Or perhaps as a way for a local bishop to encourage Ms. Davis, who, by the way, is not Catholic? (One unintended irony of this visit: I wonder what Ms. Davis’s own Apostolic Pentecostal church, which apparently does not believe in the Trinity, thinks of the office of the bishop of Rome.)
It's the last line, as Charlie Pierce would say, that raises this to art.  According to the NYT Ms. Davis' parents are Catholic; but if her own church denies the doctrine of the Trinity that puts them outside the mainstream of Christianity (ecumenical efforts have resolved the validity of baptism when it is done in the name of the "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."  I know nothing about the AC, but do they not baptize in this formula?)

3. It’s hard to know how much the Pope Francis knew about each individual who was introduced to him during his long trip to the United States....was her story quickly relayed to him in a receiving line? And how was it explained to him? “Holy Father, this is Kim Davis who…”
So, the eternal question:  what did the Pope know, and when did he know it?

4. His words to her, “Be strong,” and his gift of a rosary seem to be the kind of thing the pope might do for anyone presented to him. The difficulty of trying to construe these words into Pope Francis’ support for a “liberal” or “conservative” political agenda is evident here. That is, he said almost the same thing to women religious in this country, sometimes widely viewed as “liberal”: “Be courageous!”
Which starts to explain the reticence of the Vatican to confirm or deny this meeting of public figures.

5. For those wondering what all of this means, it’s probably best not to interpret a meeting that the Vatican will not speak about, and also to be careful about swallowing wholesale the interpretation of those who would use this meeting to support their own agenda. 
And here Fr. Martin sets aside the idea that the Pope ever supported Ms. Davis' case.  As usual, context is all, and that context is not necessarily what's in American headlines at any given moment (we are important, but we aren't really THAT important):

Instead, there’s an easier and better option. Listen to the pope’s own words on the matter, which came in response to ABC’s Terry Moran’s question during the in-flight media conference back to Rome, about individual conscientious objection.

That is, if you want to know what the pope thinks about this issue, listen to what he says. And here the pope simply restated Christian theology: that is, everyone has the right to conscientious objection: “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection,” said the pope. “But, yes, I can say conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right.”

In fact, now that we know that he met Ms. Davis, that first sentence indicates he is not in fact talking about her case in particular.
Emphasis most emphatically added.  And now we get closer to why the Vatican didn't want to discuss this meeting.

6. It’s ill advised to use a private visit with the pope to make political point. It’s also unfortunate that after the pope’s visit, during which he sought to reconcile divisions, during which he explicitly lamented political polarization in his speech to Congress and during which he sought to show how foolish the “culture wars” are, that his meeting with Ms. Davis may be used to score political points.
That's gonna leave a mark!  But the best is yet to come:

7. Most of all, despite what Ms. Davis said, a meeting with the pope does not “kind of validate everything.” Again, the pope meets with many people, some of whom he may know well, others of whom may be introduced to him as a reward for long service, and perhaps others who will use a meeting to make a political point. Meeting with the pope is a great honor, but it does not betoken a blanket blessing on “everything” one does. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis also met Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean that he liked “Ted.”

Again, to cite Charlie Pierce, you don't mess with the Society; they will f*ck your sh*t up!

QED, bitchez!

Send in the Clowns

They don't know Kim Davis either.

So, first Kim Davis (through her lawyers) said that 100,000 people in Peru rallied together to pray for her.

Then they said:  well, no, that didn't happen.

Now they say Kim Davis met with the Pope in D.C., and he told her to "stay strong."

Given the source of this story is the same source that said a photo of an event in 2014 was an event in September of 2015 too, also, as well; yeah, let's just wait for the retraction.

Not that any of this has anything to do with what is happening in the Sixth Circuit or in the Federal District Court, or will have any effect on enforcement of Obergefell.

UPDATE:  It turns out that retraction isn't coming because the Vatican has tacitly confirmed the meeting. The article points out that Ms. Davis' parents are Catholics, which shifts my presumption that she would be anti-Papist in favor of her being more tolerant of Catholics than I presumed.

Such is the danger of presumptions, and why I should not make them.

This news has, predictably, upset commenters around the web because the good guys are never supposed to meet with the bad guys  However, the Pope's ideas about same-sex marriage are well known, and it doesn't surprise me that the Vatican would, as the NYT reports, wish to meet with Ms. Davis.

It also doesn't affect her legal case very much, nor my opinion that she isn't engaged in conscientious objection.  Thoreau, after all, and Gandhi and his followers, as did King and his followers, protested unjust laws by going to prison as part of their protest.  Ma. Davis wants the law to change to suit her; she doesn't want it to change to seek justice.

Besides, meeting with Pope Francis doesn't change the course of her legal case.  Indeed, the fact that there is a legal case is probably why the Vatican won't confirm this meeting.  They don't want to be seen as trying to influence the judicial system.

And it confirms that the Pope is not the fictional character of our personal preferences.  I can appreciate that he would want to meet with a figure like Kim Davis.  I also appreciate the unusual step of not confirming the meeting, so he doesn't seem to be trying to influence the legal process.  He has been careful to distinguish his doctrinal positions from what should be the law of the land in any land, and I appreciate that kind of diplomacy.

UPDATE THE SECOND:  Not so fast.  Yes, the Pope met with Kim Davis.  But it was in a roomful of other people, and not a personal audience requested by the Vatican, as the NYT article implies (ain't news in the internet era grand?).  Well, you'll just have to read Fr. Martin's article about what the visit with Kim Davis means.  There may be a lot less here than meets the eye.  Of particular note:

It’s hard to know how much the Pope Francis knew about each individual who was introduced to him during his long trip to the United States. Did he know much about Kim Davis before meeting her? Was he following her case before he entered the country? Did he learn about the controversy from a local bishop after he arrived? Or was her story quickly relayed to him in a receiving line? And how was it explained to him? “Holy Father, this is Kim Davis who…”
And to that "support" the Pope supposedly gave to her cause:

Listen to the pope’s own words on the matter, which came in response to ABC’s Terry Moran’s question during the in-flight media conference back to Rome, about individual conscientious objection.

That is, if you want to know what the pope thinks about this issue, listen to what he says. And here the pope simply restated Christian theology: that is, everyone has the right to conscientious objection: “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection,” said the pope. “But, yes, I can say conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right.”

In fact, now that we know that he met Ms. Davis, that first sentence indicates he is not in fact talking about her case in particular.
You know, the less you take for granted from news reports, especially about the words and actions of Jesuit Popes, the better.

Monday, September 28, 2015

It's an Outrage!

 Bill Maher:

On Friday night’s episode of “Real Time,” host Bill Maher continued to criticize liberal “ninnies” who think 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed should be lionized for what the comedian characterized as “taking the back off something.”

Maher played a YouTube clip of someone opening up an alarm clock and placing it in a pencil case, and claimed that it looked both exactly like what Ahmed brought with him to school and exactly like a bomb. “This is like pouring milk on a bowl of Cheerios and claiming you invented cereal,” Maher said.
(It's on YouTube!  You can't argue with that!  Why, science can't even explain it!)

Keeps such good company:

Irving, Texas Mayor Beth Van Duyne said in a Thursday interview with local TV station KDFW that Mohamed’s family had been “non-responsive” to the city’s requests to release police and school records about the incident, which are sealed because he is a minor. She added that based on her conversations with police, she also believes Mohamed “was not forthcoming with information” about his homemade clock when he was arrested.

Because really, what we should be doing now is digging into the life of a 14 year old boy who got arrested by a police department which later admitted it had absolutely no reason to arrest him.  It's all his fault, we just need to defeat the conspiracy of liberal ninnies to prove it:

“I don't think there's any question that this latest event was PR stunt," Hanson said. "It was a staged event where someone convinced this kid to bring a device, that he didn't even build … they did that to create the exact scenario that played out. They wanted people to react and they wanted people to portray this kid as an innocent victim.”

Hanson there is Jim Hanson, compatriot of noted paranoiac Frank Gaffney.  So, yeah.....

And does this sound any better coming from a police union representative than it does from a TV comic?

A local police union official also suggested that Mohamed brought the homemade clock to school as a stunt in an interview with KDFW. Heath Wester, president of the Texas Municipal Patrolman's Association, told the news station that Mohamed brought a “hoax bomb” to class with the goal of disrupting the school.

“I think his intent was to see how far he could get with the device and to see what kind of alarmant he could get,” Wester said. “And as you can see now, he’s got what he asked for. He’s gotten that alarmant. He’s gotten that excitement or whatever he was trying to get. He got it.”*

So we have a paranoid mayor who thinks we should see the records on this minor so we can check the quality of the countertops in his kitchen or something, and a police union spokesman who wants to distract from the fact the police arrested a skinny 14 year old kid for packing a pencil case with some electronic components in it to school (have they looked in those kids' laptops?!  Pry 'em open now, they're almost bombs, too!).  And what they have in common with the lunkhead Gaffney associate and the putative comic is that they all know a "Mooslem" when they see one, and "Mooslems" are inherently dangerous, and even if they aren't, it's their fault for scaring us.


As Charlie Pierce says, these really are the mole people.

And, squeezing what was two posts into one, because they make the same point from slightly different directions:

This is what the guy in the "white beanie" said:

In this place which is symbolic of the American way, I would like to reflect with you on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own. Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Our religious traditions remind us that, as human beings, we are called to acknowledge an Other, who reveals our relational identity in the face of every effort to impose a uniformity to which the egotism of the powerful, the conformism of the weak, or the ideology of the utopian would seek to impose on us.

Compare and contrast invites us to consider the words of Bill Maher, quoted above.  Or those of Richard Dawkins.  Or those of  Jeffrey Tayler (the link above being but one example).

Still trying to figure out what the New Atheists bring to the table, except childishness.   There's a lot of "conformism" in what they espouse, a strong attempt to "impose a uniformity" upon the rest of us, no different than that which Kim Davis would impose.   Time they all went back to the kid's table, where they belong.  They aren't grown up enough to sit with the adults yet.

*"Alarmant," by the way, is French.  I'm beginning to suspect Heath Wester's loyalties.....

Compare and Contrast (Cheap Shot Dept.)

Pope Francis I in Philadelphia:

Richard Dawkins on Twitter:

@InYourFaceNYer Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice. — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins)
After all, heaven forbid you "[condemn] yourself as a mother (or yourselves as a couple) to a lifetime of caring for an adult with the needs of a child."  Or something even worse, like a child with cerebral palsy.

Yeah, the biggest problem in the world is religion.....

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lighting candles still not a growth industry....

You can see it this way:

A paunchy old man in a white frock and beanie (aka Pope Francis), who happens to preside over an obscenely wealthy institution (the Catholic Church) riddled with practicing child molesters, flies to the world’s first secular republic and receives not torrents of abuse and cries for impeachment, but a reception befitting a head of state (which he is, thanks only to the fascist government of Mussolini and the Lateran Treaty).

During his visit, said frocked and beanied pontiff utters soothing verbiage about tolerance and rights and the need to welcome refugees, yet the Vatican itself has taken in a total of one Syrian family (and a Christian one, of course). Aware of mounting criticism to his organization’s penchant for aiding, abetting and sheltering child molesters, he nevertheless lauds his bishops for their courage, “self-criticism” and “great sacrifice” in having to deal with their proliferating child abuse cases, thereby outraging their victims. (This, just after it emerged that Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunningham, in sworn testimony delivered in a federal court, has de facto blamed such victims for their own molestation.) Speaking before a joint session of Congress, the pontiff then proffers insipid banalities and gets standing ovations, and has the gall to preach about the welfare of children.

Or you can see it this way:

Papa Francesco had dropped in down the street at Our Lady Queen of Angels, looking more relaxed and happy than he had been all week. The kids outside the school sang to him, switching up the lyrics to "When The Saints Come Marching In" to "When The Pope Comes Marching In." Inside the school, an eight-year old named Kayla Osborne, now more famous than she was on Thursday, gave the pope a short tutorial on how to use a touch-screen display in the classroom. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

"This is so exciting," said Anna Ortiz. "The pope is on my block!"

The visit to East Harlem was a clear and striking demonstration that Papa Francesco has brought both of the elements of his startling papacy to this country. In formal settings, before Congress and before the United Nations General Assembly, he is formal, yet pastoral. When he visits a school, or a homeless shelter in Washington D.C., he is pastoral without being formal. When he gives the schoolchildren a "homework assignment"—"Please pray for me"—he does so in a different tone than when he makes the same request of his audience at a mass in Madison Square Garden, but the appeal is still the same, the connection is identical.
The internet is a big place.  And maybe one way to think about it is, it lets you see where the lunatics are, and what they are up to.  Sort of like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Makes you wonder, though, how the people at SPLC put up with it.....

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Enough about you, let's talk about me for a minute....

(This is just because I wrote it the other day and never got around to publishing it.)

If you follow this reasoning:

Davis later insisted that “it’s never been a gay or lesbian issue for me” — even though gays and lesbians were the only ones she was actively discriminating against — “it has been about upholding the word of God and how God defined marriage from the very beginning of time.”
Then you should be issuing marriage licenses to men who want to marry several women at the same time, despite bigamy laws.  After all, that's how "God defined marriage" from "the very beginning of time."

Or at one point in time, anyway.

And this is where Kim Davis proves her legal counsel (who has already said following the Rules of Procedure of the Sixth Circuit is a "formality."  Which is a way of trying to excuse the fact they got slapped down by the Sixth Circuit for not following those rules) is giving her very bad legal advice:

“If I resign I lose my voice,” Davis replied. “Why should I have to quit a job that I love and that I’m good at? I’ve been a county employee and served the public well for over 26 years before I got elected. It comes back to, they can accommodate for all sorts of issues, and we ask for one simple accommodation and we cannot receive it.”
There are actions that government employees must carry out by virtue of holding public office.  Such actions are defined as "ministerial" by the courts, a term that gives the courts authority to order such officeholders to comply with the requirements of the office and carry out said duties.  It seems clear by now that issuing marriage licenses in Kentucky by the county clerk is such a duty.  If the parties present the qualifications for the license, it must issue, whether the clerk approves of the marriage or not (maybe she knows the family and doesn't approve of the match; maybe she still doesn't like mixed race marriages).

Kim Davis calls her refusal to do her ministerial duty an "accommodation" she is entitled to.  Please note she has lost that argument every time she has gone to court.

She can have her "voice."  What she can't have is the freedom to choose which ministerial duties she will carry out, and which ones she won't.  And all the interviews in the world won't change that.

The Age of Reason

Thomas Paine is often trumpeted as an example of how America was not founded as a Christian Nation (although he didn't sign any important documents or attend the Constitutional Convention, and many of the "Founding Fathers" were, indeed, Christians, and the rest, being Deists, probably agreed with Paine on matters religious), so it's interesting that his book "The Age of Reason" seems to fit Mark Twain's definition of a classic:  "A book which everyone praises but nobody reads."

Mr. Paine opens his book this way:

As several of my colleagues and others of my fellow-citizens of France have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?
To be clear, Paine could have said "I don't believe in any god," and I'd be happy to go on with the analysis.  But he doesn't; he distinctly rejects atheism as his credo.

Many of his on-line enthusiasts, though, insist Paine is their model of atheism.  Oops.

His second sentence makes perfect sense to me:  "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?"  In light of Christianity, where Jesus says in the parable that "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me," I can't find any conflict between Mr. Paine's second sentence and my interpretation of Christian living.

He rejects creedalism in his third sentence: well, so did the Congregational church, the descendant of the Puritan church, which is now part of the United Church of Christ, in which denomination I am ordained.  Obviously I disagree with Mr. Paine on cerebellums and his explicit rejection of organized religion (which is his broader point), but I also agree with his fifth paragraph:  I, too, do not condemn those who believe otherwise.

Unlike, say, Jeffrey Tayler, who weekly mounts his pulpit at Salon to denounce some new found religious outrage, and who makes reference to Mr. Paine's supposed atheism and absolute antipathy to all things theistic, whenever it suits his purposes (and who can't conceive of any reason not to be outraged at people who have religious beliefs, when he has none).

His fourth sentence seals the deal for me:  Mr. Paine's thoughts on religion are Puritanism on steroids.  or, more precisely, the logical outcome of Puritanism, determined as it was to be shorn of all trappings religious (i.e., "Papist") and all appearances of superstition (as defined by them), up to and including observing "holy days" (again, too Roman Catholic) and Christmas.

And lest you think that anti-Papist streak in American culture died with JFK's Presidency, I have a book on a year in the life of a UCC congregation.  The E&R side of the UCC was virtually Lutheran (i.e., Catholic) in its liturgy, while the Congregational side was far more Calviniistic (i.e., Southern Baptist), and a life-long member of the Congregational church (now a UCC congregation) denounces the UCC Book of Worship, published in the 80's, for outlining suggested worship services.  It is, he says, practically Roman Catholic.

When I changed the title of "The Lord's Prayer" to "Prayer of Our Savior," in keeping with UCC practice any my seminary education, I was accused in my first parish of using a Catholic title, because I was a closet Papist.

Old habits die hard.

Most of Mr. Paine's "reason" in his pamphlet easily reads as extreme Puritanism, with a nascent Unitarianism thrown in for good measure and to remove Mr. Paine (and Messrs. Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington, among others) away from the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and toward a more general "do good" (but keep slaves, apparently) sense of religious practice.  Deism, at least in Mr. Paine's description of it, takes the "anti-" aspects of Puritanism (which, after all, must be defined against Catholicism and the Church of England in order to have an identity at all.  You can't "purify" something without having some institution to measure your purity against.) and makes them the raison d'être of one's belief.  So Paine goes on in his pamphlet to denigrate Judaism, Islam, and Christianity; but he save his longest diatribe for the latter, and what he condemns in it is almost wholly Catholic doctrine and practice, with, of course, the old complaint stemming back to the Reformation, that it's all about money:

the statue of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus; the deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints; the Mythologists had gods for everything; the Christian Mythologists had saints for everything; the church became as crowded with one, as the Pantheon had been with the other, and Rome was the place of both. The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient Mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue; and it yet remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious fraud.
Those sentences could as well have come from the pen of Cotton Mather or John Robinson.

Of course, this line of argument also requires that you denigrate your opponent, as the Puritans denigrated the Church of Rome.  So, for Mr. Paine, people who don't believe as he does practice that faith as William James would later characterize the definition:  "Believin' what you know ain't so."  It is a baseless reductio argument that has been with us in America for a very, very long time, in other words.

But it allows Mr. Paine to tell us who the true atheists are:

As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species of Atheism — a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man rather than in God. It is a compound made up chiefly of Manism with but little Deism, and is as near to Atheism as twilight is to darkness. It introduces between man and his Maker an opaque body, which it calls a Redeemer, as the moon introduces her opaque self between the earth and the sun, and it produces by this means a religious, or an irreligious, eclipse of light. It has put the whole orbit of reason into shade.

The effect of this obscurity has been that of turning everything upside down, and representing it in reverse, and among the revolutions it has thus magically produced, it has made a revolution in theology.

That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his works, and is the true theology.

As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God himself in the works that he has made, but in the works or writings that man has made; and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world, that it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag of superstition.
I like that first sentence:  it could set up all manner of explosive discussions if dropped among the on-line atheists.  All it really proves is that the word "atheist" has been freely used for centuries to describe a group you don't like and wish to discard from public life.  But it certainly doesn't indicate that Paine would embrace that word as descriptive of him.

And science as theology has a proto-Romantic sound to it, except science is as denigrated as religion by the Romantics; and the current effort by scientists to replace with religion with "scientific truth" makes Paine's argument less than compelling over 200 years later.

True, the bulk of Paine's book is an attack on the historicity and the tales of the scriptures; but it's nothing I didn't learn in scriptural studies in seminary, so:  been there, done that.  It's more than a little ironic that the favored retort against Christianity is that it involves the study of a book written by "Bronze Age shepherds" (a wonderfully elitist argument, by the way), but the outdated and surpassed arguments of Thomas Paine are supposed to be treated as holy writ with new and refreshing insights for us.

As I say, I studied the work of scholars who wouldn't give Paine's arguments a passing glance (nor would they contradict all of them, either), and my Christianity is still intact, while Deism is an historical footnote.

The Nature and Destiny of Man

The idea of progress is compounded of many elements.  It is particularly important to consider one element of which modern culture is itself completely oblivious.  The idea of progress is possible only upon the ground of a Christian culture.  It is a secularized version of Biblical apocalypse and of the Hebraic sense of a meaningful history, in contrast to the meaningless history of the Greeks.  But since the Christian doctrine of the sinfulness of man [sic] is eliminated, a complicating factor in the Christian philosophy is removed and the way is open for simple interpretations of history, which relate historical progress as closely as possible to biological process and which fail to do justice either to the unique freedom of man [sic] or the daemonic use which he [sic] may make of that freedom.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Friday, September 25, 2015

"The difference between the lightning and the lightning bug."

"Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all."--Jacques Derrida

Following somewhat on the post above:

You can get into quite a lively argument over who is a "true Christian" and who isn't.  The Pope's speech/homily to Congress has proven fertile ground for that discussion, based on the challenges he made to Congress.  It is dangerous to start deciding who is a true Scotsman, though (although that informal fallacy really isn't invoked as easily as most people think*), if only because it violates a tenet of Christian teaching straight from Jesus:  "Don't judge, and you won't be judged."  Which frankly, is simply sound advice, whether you are a theist or an atheist.

But we can set apart those who proclaim their religious faith loudly, be they Christians like Kim Davis or Muslims like members of ISIS, with the idea of responsibility as our lodestone.  Consider ISIS first:  reports are that they arrogate to themselves the right to rape women as they please, even to keep them in captivity as sex slaves for that purpose.  They certainly think they have the right to kill, dominate, and rule over others, all in the name of Islam and Allah.  Do they take any responsibility for these actions?  No.  They declare themselves justified in the name of Allah and in their understanding of Islam.

But does this make them "true Muslims"?  No.  If religion is responsibility, then they are behaving as irresponsibly as possible.  If religion is not responsibility, then they are not acting in the name of religion at all, and the fig leaf they have applied to themselves is torn away.  Either way, they cannot justify their actions by claiming they are Muslim, and therefore are behaving as Muslims ought to behave.**

The example of Kim Davis is less extreme, but for that reason just as appropriate.  She claims that, in the name of God and her faith, she cannot issue marriage licenses to same sex couples with her name on them, and further that the state or the Governor of Kentucky must accommodate her religious belief.  She doesn't, in other words, want to be responsible for the marriage of those couples, a marriage she believes is more against God's law than any other sin she can commit (apparently), and in which she is complicit merely by the presence of her printed name on a document.

Does this make her a "true Christian"?  No, because she will not take responsibility for her beliefs and quit her job.  And she won't take responsibility for her job, and perform her ministerial duties.  If she is more responsible to God than to the law, she must take herself out of the position in which the law puts her against her God, and rely on God to provide for her.

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? 29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. 30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. 31 But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Those words may seem unnecessarily harsh, may seem to make too much of a demand on us, and certainly few Christians try to live by them.  But if you claim your beliefs are more important than your duties of employment, you have to take responsibility for those beliefs and seek the kingdom of God rather than the benefits of mammon.

Unless you don't really think your beliefs should lead to your unemployment, but just to letting you do what you want to do, and relieving you of what you don't want to do.  It is a question of responsibility, and who you think you are responsible to.  Kim Davis claims she is responsible to God.

But she acts as if she is responsible to her source of income.  Which is okay, most of us act that way.  But we don't get to proclaim our sanctimony and our faithfulness while denying any responsibility for acting on that faithfulness.  It's an argument of a piece with the argument of ISIS:  they aren't responsible for the consequences of their actions, they are only responsible for seeking pleasures they can justify under the claim of religious beliefs.  Kim Davis wants to perform only those parts of her job which are agreeable to her, while keeping all the authority and privileges of her position, including the full income.  She wants to ignore responsibility in the name of her religion.

But are beliefs that don't impose responsibilities on the believer truly religious, or merely convenient?  Maybe religion is practiced more for convenience than responsibility; but does that make such practices the "true" religion?  Any more than honesty is more honored in the breach than in the keeping makes honesty a falsehood we'd be better off abandoning?

*Let's just get that out of the way down here.  The "fallacy" originated this way:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton (England) Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen (Scotland) man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion, but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says: "No true Scotsman would do such a thing".
Now it is invoked whenever someone says "No Christian behaves that way," which may be a true statement.  I would agree that it's a fallacy to say "No Christian denies the atonement theory of sanctification" or "No Christian denies the inerrancy of the scriptures," because I deny both and still consider myself a Christian.  But to say no Christian behaves selfishly, or arrogantly, is to say that such a person, even if they consider themselves a Christian, is committing a sin.  And all true Christian are certainly sinners, and as such certainly commit sins.   Even the Pope has a confessor, after all.

**The secondary and more straightforward argument is that the behavior of ISIS or Kim Davis is a distinctly minority posture within the practice of either religion, and as such can hardly be said to be representative of the religion as it is practiced by the majority of adherents.

Post hoc, ergo....?

Boehner said:

"Last night I started thinking about this and this morning I woke up and I said my prayers -- as I always do -- and I decided today's the day I'm going to do this. As simple as that."
He also told his caucus "that Pope Francis' visit to Congress the day before was a crystallizing moment."

What can we say, except that Speaker Boehner was listening?

Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
I think we heard from a servant of God yesterday.