Adventus

"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

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.

Idiots.

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.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

We interrupt our regularly scheduled outrage for a bit of history....


I am going to shamelessly lift the prepared text of Pope Francis' address to Congress and reproduce it here, if only because the technology lets me do so.  And because I like the people he chose to represent the American people.

Mr. Vice-President,

Mr. Speaker,

Honorable Members of Congress,

Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. 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.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice — some at the cost of their lives — to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, (might) have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams.” Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mind-set of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue — a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons — new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!


(The initial response to this speech is going to focus on the vague and glittering generalities that can be found there.  I predict it will take a few days before anyone recognizes this speech is grounded in concrete realities and concrete persons.  We don't tend to do the concrete well; we prefer abstractions.)

You Can't Make This Stuff Up Dept.


Two "headlines" on TPM this morning.  First:


Followed by:


I, for one, am happy for her to keep speaking!*

*I still insist this is what winning looks like.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Same As It Ever Was


Jesus said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  He said he came to set son against father, and daughter in law against mother in law (in the days when daughters left home at marriage to live with the in-laws).

He said he came to fulfill the law, and not a stroke of it would be set aside until it was fulfilled.  He told the Syro-Phoenician woman that he couldn't offer food to the dogs until he had fed the children (who were only slightly above the dogs) first.

Jesus said "let the children come to me."  Jesus said he'd come to pronounce liberation to the captive, and sight for the blind.  He welcomed the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  He said humankind was not made for the Sabbath, but rather the Sabbath was made for humankind.  He let his disciples eat on the Sabbath by picking food from the trees (work!).  He chased the money-changers from the Temple because they were exploiting the people who came to Temple, not because they were changing money from coins with the image of Caesar on them (idolatry!) to coins acceptable to God (without images of humankind, made in the image of God, whose image cannot be reproduced).

Pope Francis insists he's not a liberal theologian.  He is opposed to liberation theology.  He has not changed Church doctrine on abortion, same-sex marriage, or divorce.

He preaches mercy.  He puts people first.  He washes the feet of women, Muslims.  He condemns capitalism which makes an idol of money, and ranks people below dollars.

He is not Christ, but he is doing his best to be Christlike, as he understands that telos.  And it is his spirituality that people are responding to:  not his politics, not his dynamic and unilateral changes in Church law or teaching; not his personality and personal charm, not his charisma.

Or perhaps it is his charisma, his charism, that people are responding to.

He is a person of God; and that is what confounds people, even as it draws people to admire him, to listen to him, to notice him.

Interesting how that happens, and everyone says they hear the voice of God, or just hear thunder.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Something silly this way comes.....


If someone isn't being outraged at who is invited to the White House when Pope Francis I is in the building, there is room for outrage about what brings Kim Davis back to court (because that's how the court system works.  We don't get to reduce Kim Davis to a greasy spot because you don't like her actions.)  And there is still no small amount of yammering outrage about Ahmed and the technicolor dream clock which he didn't really make, he just disassembled and put in a pencil box.

The funniest part about this "meme" is that it depends on so many people saying it in order to be true.  Yes, there is a blogpost that purports to examine a photograph, which examination renders visual evidence that only the writer of that post can see, "proving" this radio is actually a Radio Shack product from the 1980's.  The "proof" includes the allegation that there is an "M" on the circuit board (which, again, apparently only the writer of the blog post can see, since no enlarged picture is provided), and that "M" can only mean (wait for it!):  "Micronta," the name under which the clock was marketed.

And, you see, this is all true because the blog post says so.  Again, the "evidence" here is the blog post, not any "high definition" photographs which the post writer says have been reviewed, but which apparently were unavailable for reproduction.  There are fuzzy enlargements of the picture released by the Irving PD which are labeled by someone with parts supposedly from said Micronta clock, but that "evidence," again, is the arrows and the captions and the words of the blog post writer.

Nothing more.

One wonders what Richard Dawkins makes of the Shroud of Turin, which at least looks, even to the uninitiated, like it bears the figure of a man wearing a crown of thorns and wounds consistent with crucifixion.  Yes, I know the Shroud has been proven to be a medieval fake (I'm not much for relics anyway), but you can look at the Shroud and think:  "Hmmm....that looks like a human being."

Or you can look at the photo of the clock in the pencil box and wonder, as I still do:  "Clock?  So, where's the readout?"  And also look at it and say "Looks like some random bits of electronic parts, to me."  Identifying them as coming from a specific digital clock by a specific manufacturer from a specific decade would, one would think, require a bit more, ahem, "personal" inspection of the item.  After all, I'd never pass judgment on the validity of the Shroud of Turin based on a photograph.

And, interestingly, we still can't figure out how the image got on the cloth.  It's not that hard to imagine Ahmed Mohammed assembling components to make a  clock in a pencil box either from instructions on the internet (I've used DIY videos successfully for everything from remodeling a bathroom to roofing a garage to replacing a tail light), or just figuring it out himself.  Both of which are more plausible than assuming he had to have scoured e-bay for a Micronta clock, torn it apart, and scattered the bits into a pencil box, just because he could (or because he knew it would fit into a pencil box).

Unless you're Richard Dawkins and don't want to give the young brown boy any credit at all.

AND ANOTHER THING:  I want to add that many comments about how Ahmed "didn't build that" claim he put the parts in a briefcase.  You know, the thing executives and lawyers carry around, and that every 14 year old has in his room.

It's a pencil case.  It's 8" wide, according to the blogpost Dawkins cited and everyone else is going from.  In the picture it may look like a briefcase only because there isn't much to compare it to, in terms of size (although the AC plug should be a giveaway).  But that's one of the problems with pictures:  what you see ain't necessarily what's there.

(Besides, even in the '80's, digital clocks weren't so big the components would barely fit into a briefcase.  Reason!  Logic!)

Monday, September 21, 2015

WWJD?

At this one he included women and Muslims

So, the "least of these" doesn't include the gai?

Huckabee was upset over Obama inviting transgender activists and the first openly gay Episcopal bishop to the welcoming ceremony for the pope at the White House. The Vatican criticized the invitations and said that photographs of the pope and these individuals might suggest approval of their decisions, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Can't get to the WSJ original, so I have to rely on TPM.  That said, this response could have come from flacks in Rome, not necessarily from His Holiness currently in Cuba.  Either way, it's an interesting response, especially in light of the Pharisees criticizing Jesus for hanging with whores and tax collectors (in 1st century Palestine, basically male whores).

I rather expect Pope Francis to be less upset than the home office or Pastor Huckabee.  And I really think both of them are so far-off base (Vatican and Huckabee, I mean), that they don't really matter.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"You didn't build that!"

This is how absurd the internet can be.

Apparently there's a whole discussion going on out that about how Ahmed Mohammed didn't "invent" a digital clock because all he did was take apart a 30 year old Radio Shack digital clock and reassemble the components in a pencil box.

And since the 14 year old said "invent," he's guilty of heinous crimes including deluding the Irving police into arresting him and the White House into inviting him to come for a visit.

No, seriously.

I'm a bit baffled by the examination of a photograph from which one can make absolute determinations, and I want to ask if they also checked the kerning.  But whatever:  the kid took components and put them together into a clock.  Were the components assembled and he disassembled a 30 year old clock and made it work again?  Or reassemble it in a pencil box?  Do we have any idea where those components came from?  Can "M" only mean "Micronta"?  (is it even reasonable that that is what it means?)

Inquiring minds want to know.  Or, actually, they don't.*  The author of the dissection insists the point is to focus on our reaction to this story, not to the "hoax clock" itself.  So, of course, Richard Dawkins focusses on the hoax.

Given Dawkins' history of disdaining the non-white countries of the world, maybe not such a smart move for him.

I gotta say:  the internet is a really tiring place.  The trolls can have it; they seem to be the only people here anymore.

ADDING:

Not that this whole discussion is really any different from Frank Gaffney's paranoia:


A picture Gaffney tweeted with the quite reasonable question:  "How is a teacher supposed to know?  A Clock or a Bomb Trigger?"  (Maybe the first clue is:  who plugs in a "bomb trigger"?)

Right?


*The point of the "dissection" is supposed to be about our reaction to the device, but the analysis assumes so many facts not in evidence, and so obviously starts with a conclusion it then finds support for, that it's an exercise in futility.  I always assumed Ahmed assembled parts without a blueprint or instructions and figured out how to put a digital clock together from his own knowledge.  If he had the parts, did he know what they were?  How did he know how to assemble them to make them work?  Is it really a Radio Shack item from the '80's?  Did he have it assembled, and took it apart with minimal alteration to put it in a pencil box?

Does it really matter?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fear of a Brown Planet


I think we're coming closer to an answer to "Why Irving?," and it ain't just because "Texas" or even "Dallas."

"[Irving mayor Beth] Van Duyne’s focus on the city’s growth earned her our recommendation in 2014. But we also urged her to build 'cooperation and unity,'" the editorial read. "She’s failed at that part of the job. An important part of Irving’s population is Muslim, and the city is home to a major mosque."
Now if the majority of those Muslims were Southeast Asian, reflecting the majority of the world's Muslims, would there be the same reaction by the mayor, or the Irving PD?

And really, it ain't limited to Texas. This exchange took place in New Hampshire:

“We have a problem in this country,” a questioner said, “it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American. We have training camps growing where they want to kill us.”

Trump — who spent much of much of Wednesday night’s debate talking over and interrupting other potential nominees — didn’t even attempt to challenge this interrogator, who did eventually get around to his question: “When can we get rid of them?”

Instead of saying that “they” are American citizens, and as such it would be un-American to “get rid of them,” Trump replied with empty blandishments, saying that “we’re going to be looking at a lot of different things, and a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
As Charlie Pierce likes to say:  "This is your democracy, America.  Cherish it."*

*By the way, are Pakistanis Asian?  Or Middle Eastern?  And are Egyptians African?  Or just Egyptian?  And why aren't Russians Asian?

It is a puzzlement.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reality. What a concept!


So, Carly Fiorina "won" the debate last night because she had bigger meaty clackers (or clanging brass ones; maybe that's more appropriate) than any other man on stage:

“What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message. By the way, the reason it is so critically important that every one of us know General Suleimani’s name is because Russia is in Syria right now, because the head of the Quds force traveled to Russia and talked Vladimir Putin into aligning themselves with Iran and Syria to prop up Bashar al- Assad.”

All well and good, except:

The Sixth Fleet is already huge, and it's hard to say why adding to its capabilities would intimidate Putin — after all, America has enough nuclear weapons pointed at Russia to level the country thousands of times over. Her proposal for more military exercises in the Baltics seemed odd in light of the fact that President Obama is already conducting military exercises in the Baltics. And the US already has around 40,000 troops stationed in Germany, so it's hard to say what good "a few thousand" more would do. And pushing on a missile defense system in Poland is a very long-term solution to a very current problem. In total, Fiorina's laundry list of proposals sure sounded like a plan, but on inspection, it's hard to see why any of them would convince Putin to change course.
And, as Rand Paul (!) pointed out at the debate, we were talking to the USSR all through the Cold War, and now we can't talk to Putin?  What sense does that make?

And on that Planned Parenthood video she couldn't have possibly seen, she remains unbowed and unrepentant:
"Analysts who have watched all 12 plus hours say the scene you describe - that harrowing scene you described -- actually isn't in those tapes. Did you misspeak?" he asked.

"No, I didn't misspeak, and I don't know who you're speaking about in terms of watching the tapes, but I have seen those images," Fiorina responded. "I don't know whether you've watched the tapes, George. Most people haven't. Certainly none of the Democrats who are still defending Planned Parenthood have watched those tapes."

Stephanopoulos then referenced a report by Vox's Sarah Kliff, who said that she watched all of the videos released and that she did not see the scene Fiorina described.

"Well, you know, there's a lot of commentary about these tapes being doctored. In fact, that's what the mainstream media keeps talking about, is the tapes and their origin," Fiorina replied. "Rest assured I have seen the images that I talked about last night. Rest assured that human lives are being aborted fully formed in order to harvest body parts."

But no, that video simply does not exist.   Which means we should start calling Ms. Fiorina a liar.

Except in American politics, that's more taboo than calling someone a racist.  Or using the "n-word."  My dears, it simply is. not. done!

By the way, Fiorina boldly told a crowd of supporters that she'd earned every wrinkle on her 60 year old face.  I have searched photos like the above in vain for signs of any wrinkles at all.  Is lying just sort of a natural condition for her?

Speaking of justice


I've had my disagreements with Pastor Dan in the past, but fair is fair, and when he's right, he's right.

Still, this was mostly Sanders’ stump speech garnished with a bit of religious rhetoric. That’s his campaign in a nutshell, to be honest. For better or worse, the man is focused on economic inequality like a six-year-old on sugar. (I’d say like a college student on beer, but you know. Liberty University and all that.) If Twitter is any indication, his fans loved the speech, and everybody else just sort of shrugged. No new ground was broken.

Unlike my esteemed RD colleague Sarah Posner, I thought Sanders took most of the usual advice pols get on religion: talk about toning down partisan divides, talk about commonalities, talk about standing in solidarity. Which is fine, I guess, but it didn’t exactly move the conversation on religion and politics forward. Bit of a missed opportunity there.

A bigger miss was that Sanders didn’t really dig into the religious material the way he could have. He quoted only two passages from scripture: Matthew 7:12 (“Do unto others as you would have them do to you”) and Amos 5:24 (“Let justice roll down like waters”), without dwelling on either one. Sanders might have told the story of Hillel teaching the Golden Rule to show how close Jewish and Christian social teachings are, and build a connection with his audience without getting into a mushy faith autobiography. And while the Amos passage was the hinge into Sanders’ discussion of economic injustice, he didn’t bother to explain the concept of justice, or its rich and complex tradition in Jewish scripture.

A keen orator like Pres. Obama would have taken the opportunity to explore the theology being invoked. For all that his faith talk gets dismissed as phony pandering, Obama is conversant enough with Christian thought that he can creatively reinterpret it, as he did at Rev. Pinckney’s funeral in South Carolina. It’s enough—more than enough—to convince his listeners that he gets it, that he understands them and their religious concerns in more than a superficial way.
I haven't paid a lot of attention to Bernie Sanders (neither have I paid a lot of attention to Hillary Clinton). I was ready to be impressed with Sanders going to Liberty U., but Pastor Dan captures the reason why I haven't heard much about it except that he went there.  And it would have been more interesting if Sen. Sanders had tried to delve into scripture for lessons rather than cliches, or had trotted out (as Pastor Dan suggests) what is almost a cliche, a statistic about the number of times "justice" appear in the Holy Bible (simple reference to a concordance would yield the answer).

No, the Senator is not a religious candidate; but he did go to Liberty University, not only a hotbed of rabid conservatism, but a Bible college (in essence).  He could have done a bit more to speak their language, even if he doesn't speak their conclusions.

But mostly I agree with Pastor Dan about the implicit criticism he raises against Sen. Sanders:  the concept of justice, v. the concept of social justice or economic justice or "Black Lives Matter" justice.  That's a very risky abstraction to raise in a political campaign; the ultimate issue of justice, v. some specific and more narrow (and somehow more abstract and obtuse) concept of a type of justice.  But it is no more risky, really, than raising the idea that fundamental to our problems is economic justice.  If we're going to discuss fundamentals in public discourse and public policy, let's get down to the bedrock.  If justice is to roll down like waters, what do we expect that to look like?

It would take a deft hand, and I'm not sure there's a politician who could pull it off (perhaps President Obama, now; since we are not as fixated on his being a potentially angry black man as we were when Jeremiah Wright was the outrage du jour) .  But the discussion of justice itself might start to convince listeners that a politician gets it, that she or he understands the audience and their deep concerns in more than a superficial way.

Of course, then you might upset all the atheists.....