A couple of days ago I congratulated The Revealer's Jeff Sharlet for his balanced and generally respectful article in Rolling Stone about young, single evangelical Christians who have embraced virgininity and sexual abstinence until marriage. The piece was a bit flip and foul-mouthed, but, well, this is Rolling Stone.
Now, there's more. Jeff's latest post on The Revealer features the reaction to the story of R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary and, as Time magazine puts it, "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S." Mohler liked the article, too, but expressed some of the same reservations I had:
"Anyone who thinks that the idea of sexual abstinence is a recent development tied to a political agenda within the Christian right just hasn't been in touch with conservative Christianity....
"The reporter's analysis serves as a fascinating lens through which to see the sexual values of the dominant media class. They haven't considered sexual abstinence as an option for years, and at least some of them have a hard time believing that sexual abstinence before marriage was ever considered the normative expectation for young people. Coming of age in the 1960s--or raised by parents who came of age in the 1960s--those who live in the dominant sexual culture now hear the idea of sexual abstinence as something genuinely innovative and assuredly radical."
Amazingly enough, Sharlet agrees with Mohler:
"But my argument isn't that Christian conservatives have just discovered chastity; it's that there's a new, broad embrace of it among a generation of exceptionally pious virgins who are, however, fully engaged with mainstream culture. Moreover, that Christian political activists have moved it to the center of their concerns, a notion emphasized by many abstinence activists. It's worth pointing out -- as I failed to do in Rolling Stone -- that this shift began in the early 1990s, just as the Cold War ended. What's the connection? Pre-marital sex is the new communism, the new 'evil empire.'
"Such an assertion, however, is evidence of my secular perspective. I look for explanations in worldly events. As such, my foray into the chastity movement has an inevitable 'among the natives' tone...."
It's a fascinating discussion.
Evangelicals: We Can't Play the Persecution Card Anymore
An editorial in the July issue of Christianity Today rejoices that evangelical Christians are finally getting the respect they deserve from the media:
Except for cases still found in some places--Lewis Lapham's 'The Wrath of the Lamb' in the May issue of Harper's being one of them [My note: That's the essay in which Lapham touted as "good news" the supposed Death of God in the 1960s but now is peeved because He won't stay dead]--evangelicals can no longer complain about a media conspiracy against them. We're no longer overlooked, persecuted, discriminated against, and misquoted in the mainstream news media. Clarification: the term 'news media' here doesn't include the opinion writers, whose voices in The New York Times, for example, still alternate between befuddlement at discovery of evangelicals (Had you any idea people like this existed?) and insulting them (They're the ones who believe that science and faith are mutually exclusive!)....
"The news and features reporters, editors, and producers exhibit more awareness of complexity in the evangelical world-now featuring Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, Focus on the Family's James Dobson, and voices in between. We're represented on PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, in David Van Biema's reporting for Time, and on NPR's Morning Edition."
Exhibit A in CT's argument is the recent special, "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ" on ABC's 20/20. The show featured a raft of respected evangelical scholars, supported by several secular academics, expressing their belief in the credibility of the New Testament stories of Jesus' empty tomb. The skeptics who usually dominate such specials played only a minority role this time.
(I can testify to the change of media emphasis myself. When I reviewed Peter Jennings' special on Jesus for Beliefnet in 2000, I noted that the show was dominated by scholars from the Jesus Seminar, with only a single academic spokesman for Christian orthodoxy, but when Jennings revisited the subject last year in "Jesus and Paul", the balance between Jesus Seminar types and believing scholars was far more even.)
The CT editorial continues:
"[W}e really can't play the persecution card anymore. As 'players,' we will be criticized sharply still, but that's just part of life in America.....[L]et's remember that how we got here is how we will stay here: Careful scholarship. Measured proclamations. Majoring on the majors. Grassroots organizing. Patience. Prayer. Now that we're prime-time, we don't want to start acting like American idols."
Shoving Gay Marriage Down People's Throats in Canada
Kathy Shaidle, my favorite orthodox Catholic in Toronto, has been posting furiously (with lots o' links) on Relapsed Catholic on the Canadian Parliament's 158-133 vote to force gay marriage upon all of Canada's provinces, even those whose residents don't want it. (Spain also enacted gay-marriage legislation yesterday). Although the new Canadian legislation, Bill C-38, claims not to force churches whose beliefs dictate otherwise to marry gay couples, Parliament refused to make that protection airtight:
Here (via Kathy) is Girl on the Right:
"[T]the amendment to Bill C-38 which would have given additional protection to religious institutions against being forced to perform gay marraiges some day (and that day will come, mark my words) was voted against. The parliamentarians who voted against that amendment have all but come out (so to speak) and decreed war on religion in Canada.
Here's Angry in the Great White North predicting that judges in Canda's provinces will eventually order protesting churches, especially the Catholic Church, to permit same-sex ceremonies:
"But churches will defy judgments that demand that their properties be made available for gay marriages. Then some politician will make the mistake of bringing up the tax-exempt status of churches....
"Canadians are far less religious than Americans, so there's a fair chance such legislation will go through. It won't revoke tax exempt status, but will firm up the rules about when that status should be revoked (essentially, the churches should shut up)."
And here, finally, is an opinion letter that the Canadian law firm Lang Miller sent to Parliament before the bill was passed:
"There is little doubt that, if passed, Bill C-38 will be used by provincial governments and others to override the rights of conscience and religion of ordinary Canadians."
It's going to be tough up there for people whose religious beliefs or moral principles tell them that a marriage can take place only between a man and a woman.
Once We Were "Christers"
Now the new term of disdain is "Christianist." It's been floating around the fringes of left-wing blogosphere for months (Google the word and you'll see what I mean). Now, mainstream blogger Andrew Sullivan has picked up the word himself; it's a substitute for his older designation, "theocon."
Here's Andrew on a recent poll showing that 84 percent of Republicans approve--horrors!--of the way President Bush is doing his job:
"This strikes me as a direct result of the [Karl] Rove strategy of brutal partisanship, Christianist pandering, and general fiscal and military fecklessness."
And it's also, as William Safire has noted, a favorite word of New Yorker columnist Hendrik Hertzberg, who has used the word "Christianist" to describe both the supporters of the late Terri Schiavo and Republican Rep. Tom DeLay.
As David Blankenhorn writes for Familyscholars.org:
"As best I can determine, a Christianist is someone whose political views are significantly influenced by their Christian faith, or more precisely, influenced by Christian faith in a way that makes those views unattractive to people who... go around calling people 'Christianists.' Of course, we used simply to call these people 'Christians,' but apparently that's not quite stigmatizing enough."
Vast Right-Wing Christian Film Conspiracy, Part 2
Last week I blogged about screenwriter/former nun Barbara Nicolosi, who was being bird-dogged by New York Times reporter James Ulmer for a story he was writing about the vast right-wing conspiracy to get--horrors!--religious films made in Hollywood. Ulmer informed Barb that he was going to call her a "Catholic activist" in the story, even though what she really does is head Act One, an interdenominational organization that trains people of faith to write for the movies. When confronted by Barb on that, Ulmer said: "Yeah. Yeah...I know...but I had to call you something."
Well, Ulmer's story came out in the NYT on Sunday, and it's about...the vast right-wing conspiracy to get--horrors!--religious films made in Hollywood. It's also a snooze, a hodgepodge of reminiscences about the box-office success of the "The Passion of the Christ," info about the annual Liberty Film Festival, which is actually secular-conservative in focus, and some wan efforts to tie Christian film-making to Big Conservative Money. Ulmer writes of:
"...discreet, religiously based outreach and financing initiatives, including gatherings arranged by the Wilberforce Forum, the Virginia-based evangelical public policy group whose chairman is the former Watergate figure Chuck Colson and which has a mission to 'shape culture from a biblical perspective,' according to its Web site, wilberforce.org. Last September, [two Christian producers] flew to Maryland to meet with top Christian powerbrokers on Capitol Hill in a forum co-sponsored by Wilberforce.
"'The idea was to start tying money from Washington's right-to-life movement to key Hollywood players,' said a participant who asked not to be named to protect his relationship with Wilberforce."
There's much, much more of this. And by the way, Barbara Nicolosi is indeed referred to as a "Catholic activist."
But the Times Is Trying to Be Fair!
You wouldn't guess it, of course, from James Ulmer's Vast Right-Wing Christian Film Conspiracy piece, but the Gray Lady really is trying to cover religious conservatives more fairly and respectfully. At least that's the gist of the memo "Assuring Our Credbility" that Bill Keller, the NYT's executive editor just handed out to his staff (click Get Religion) for a fine roundup on the issue.)
"Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist 'inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.' We often apply 'religious fundamentalists,' another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives."
The memo was in response to a report from the Times's Credibility Committee, set up after the Jayson Blair scandal, that had urged the Times to hire "talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths." The committe noted:
"We should...increase our coverage of religion in America and focus on new ways to give it greater attention. . . . We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar)."
And that report in turn followed former Times Ombudsman Daniel Okrent's blistering assessment last summer of the Times's coverage of those who hold different religious or moral values from those to be found inside the heads of most of its staffers:
"If you're examining the paper's coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn't wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you're traveling in a strange and forbidding world."
I'm not holding my breath for big changes in the Times' condescending coverage of people who take their faith seriously--but Keller's memo is a step in the right direction. As "Get Religion" poster "Brant" puts it: "[T]here are about a million "evangelical Christians" living in the New York metro area.....Something tells me it's at least a good business move to quit deriding a million people - residents of your own city! - as a bizarre band of extremists."
No "Reframing" for Katha Pollitt
Over at The Nation, columnist Katha Pollitt is mad as hell at George Lakoff, the University of California-Berkeley linguist who's lately been advising the Democrats on how to "reframe" liberal ideas such as higher taxes and gay marriage so as to make them palatable to the majority of U.S. voters who currently oppose them. One of Lakoff's reframing projects is abortion, as support for abortion on demand has been slipping steadily for the past 10 years, with some 59 percent of Americans now saying that most abortions should be illegal, according to a Gallup poll in April. Lakoff suggests that abortion activists quit talking about "choice" and start focusing on rape victims and other hard cases about which most Americans are sympathetic.
Katha doesn't like that--or any other Democratic efforts to find common ground with pro-lifers. And she doesn't like Hillary Clinton either, for calling abortion "tragic." Katha says:
"'Reframing' abortion is actually a kind of deframing, a way of taking it out of its real-life context, which is the experience of women, their bodies, their healthcare, their struggles, the caring work our society expects them to do for free. Lynn Paltrow, the brilliant lawyer who runs National Advocates for Pregnant Women, thinks the way to win grassroots support for abortion rights is to connect it to the whole range of reproductive and maternal rights: the right to have a home birth, to refuse a Caesarean section, to know that a miscarriage or stillbirth--or simply taking a drink--will not land you in jail. The same ideology of fetal protection that anti-choicers wield against abortion is used against women with wanted pregnancies. More broadly, Paltrow argues that the right to abortion would have more support if it were presented as just one of the things women need to care for their families, along with paid maternity leave, childcare, quality healthcare for all, economic and social support for mothers and children, strong environmental policies that protect fetuses and children."
I like Amy Welborn's response to this:
"Aside from the central point, Katha, why should environmental policies protect fetuses? What's to protect? Who cares? Why?"
To Those Who Think Religion Is Dangerous: Think Again
Mark Steyn has this must-read column in the U.K. Daily Telegraph:
"There aren't many examples of successful post-religious societies. And, if one casts around the world today, one notices the two powers with the worst prospects are the ones most advanced in their post-religiosity. Russia will never recover from seven decades of Communism: its sickly menfolk have a lower life expectancy than Bangladeshis; its population shrinks by 100 every hour, and by 0.4 per cent every year, a rate certain to escalate as the smarter folks figure it's better to emigrate than get sucked down in the demographic death spiral.
"And then, of course, there's the European Union....Every day you get ever more poignant glimpses of the Euro-future, such as it is. In East Germany, whose rural communities are dying, village sewer systems are having a tough time adjusting to the lack of use. Populations have fallen so dramatically that there are too few people flushing to keep the flow of waste moving. Traditionally, government infrastructure expenditure arises from increased demand. In this case, the sewer lines are having to be narrowed at great cost in order to cope with dramatically decreased demand....
"A political entity hostile to the three principal building blocks of functioning societies - religion, family and wealth creation - was never a likely bet for the long term."
But of course the European Union and its social-democrat architects continue to chug along believing that religion is irrelevant, the family can be replaced by the government, and wealth creation is possible without people to create the wealth.
"The history of the world is like: he kills me, I kill him. Only with different cosmetics and different castings: so in 2001 some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other."
Note that it's "some fanatics," "some Americans," and "some Iraqis"--but not "some" Jews. Guess it's possible, if you're Woody Allen, to refer to 3,000 murdered terrorism victims as "some"--but a stretch to say that about 6 million annihilated Jews.
Here's what Lileks has to say:
"'Some Nazis killed Jews, and now some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other.' Same thing. Without the ability to make moral distinctions based on motive, consequences, the ethical constructs of various parties, everything is equal, and you end up with people like Woody Allen: a tiny speck of compacted narcissism, revolving around the dead sun in an empty universe. What's left? Well, thank heavens for little girls."
You're in Firing Hands With Allstate
Want to write a statement saying you oppose gay marriage because it's not in accord with your religious beliefs? Watch out--that statement could get you fired. Even if you write it at home, on your own time, and on your own computer. Even if you never say anything hostile about gays but merely express your view that gay marriage undermines an age-old and sacred institution.
That's what happened to J. Matt Barber, who lost his 5-year job as a manager for the Allstate insurance company because he wrote this column for several conservative websites (as reported by WorldnetDaily):
"Marriage between one man and one woman, and the nuclear family have forever been cornerstones of civilized society....Regrettably, there are at present, many within the militant homosexual lobby who wish to take a sledge hammer to those cornerstones-- many who hope to undermine both the historical and contemporary reality of marriage and family-- many who, through judicial fiat, aim to circumvent the Constitution, the legislative process, and the overwhelming will of the people in an effort to redefine marriage. Accordingly, the unsolicited, oxymoronic and spurious expression 'same-sex marriage' has been forced into popular lexicon."
According to WorldnetDaily, Barber said that was hauled into the company's human-resources office at its headquarters in Northbrook, Ill., shown a copy of the column, and informed, "Here at Allstate we have a very diverse community." Barber explained that column reflected his own personal Christian beliefs and was not intended to represent Allstate's views. The column did identify Barber as an Allstate employee, but Barber says that was without his knowledge or permission. Nonetheless Barber was promptly suspended, escorted off company premises by a security guard, and a few days later, fired. The Illinois Department of Employment Security later determined that Barber had been terminated after an unnamed organization complained to Allstate about the column.
Now Barber is suing Allstate under federal employment-discrimination laws, with the help of the Christian Law Association, the organization that represented the parents of Terri Schiavo.
I hope the judge throws the book at Allstate. As Patrick Sweeney of Extreme Catholic writes: for every Matt there are thousands who read about this and are saying to themselves 'Not me. I am not going to speak out. I won't risk my job.'"
Even More Commandments Confusion
I made an error in my post yesterday on the Supreme Courts' two Ten Commandments decisions. I wrote:
"The real explanation for the decisions might lie only in the convoluted mind of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing vote for the majority in both decisions."
It was actually Justice Stephen G. Breyer who provided the swing vote in the two 5-4 rulings holding that it's OK to mount the Ten Commandments on the lawn outside the state capitol (in Texas) but not OK to mount them on the wall inside a courthouse (in Kentucky). That makes me even more confused than I was yesterday. O'Connor is a onetime conservative who's been getting ever more liberal ("growing," in liberal-speak) since she took the high court bench after being appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981. So it makes sense that she might have straddled the fence on the Ten Commandments cases, voting one way in the Texas case and the other in the Kentucky case.
But Breyer, a Clinton appointee, is a liberal, and the liberal position is government-sponsored religious symbols hurt the feelings of atheists and thus violate the First Amendment's ban against the establishment of religion. So what was Breyer doing on the fence? Talk about a convoluted mind!
That's because, although legal scholars all over America are doing their darndest right now to figure out a rationale that might make the two rulings consistent with each other, they can't. Four Supreme Court justices think the Commandments have a "religous purpose" and would have banned them in both cases, and four Supreme Court justices think the Commandments are indeed religious, but so what? Breyer was the only one on the court to see a distinction between the two cases, so it's his mind, not the great body of U.S. constitutional law, that the scholars should be picking.
"Individually, the decisions are arguable. Taken together, they are nonsense on stilts. One says you cannot display the Ten Commandments on state property. The other says you can. That's the way it comes down. Period.
"Oh, sure, the permissible displays are outside, while the impermissible displays are inside. And the permissible displays are surrounded by other displays that aren't necessarily religious in nature, while the impermissible displays are surrounded by other displays that might be considered religious in nature.
"This isn't madness. This is just silliness."
And George Will asks why it is that anyone could deem a display of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional in the first place:
"[Thomas] Jefferson, who coined the metaphor 'wall of separation' about relations between church and state, also allowed the War Office and Treasury to be used for religious services that were open to the public. The Supreme Court chamber also was used for services....
"So why is today's court preoccupied with the supposed problem of mere displays of the Commandments? Because beginning about 25 years ago the court evidently decided that the establishment clause's historical context, and the Framers' intentions regarding it, are irrelevant."
As Will points out, the drafters of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause sought to ban two things: state-sponsored churches a la Europe and government favoritism of one religion over another. They didn't seek to ban all expressions of religion on public property just to make those who don't believe in religion feel better.
You're Confused About the Ten Commandments Rulings? So Am I
It beats me: It's OK, says the Supreme Court, for a state government to put a sculpture of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol (in Texas) but not to display them on the courthouse (in Kentucky).
What's amazing is that the majority of justices in both of these 5-4 decisions agreed that there was a "religious" purpose behind both of the Ten Commandments displays.
But in the Kentucky courthouse case, McCreary County vs. ACLU of Kentucky, Justice David Souter wrote the majority opinion ruling that the existence of a religious purpose rendered the display unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment's ban on the establishment of religion (I'm paraphrasing Lyle Denniston's summary of the decision on SCOTUSblog. But in the Texas case, Van Orden vs. Perry, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who, along with other Supreme Court conservatives, dissented to the Kentucky ruling, wrote the majority opinion essentially saying: So what if there was a religious purpose?
Here's what Rehnquist wrote: "'Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious -- they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument therefore has religious significance....Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment clause."
I'm tempted to throw up my hands along with my favorite law professor-blogger Cacciaguida, who writes: "There are depths of confusion only the U.S. Supreme Court can lead us to."
But I'll try seriously to figure this out. One explanation is the Ten Commandments are sort of like a Christmas creche. The Supreme Court ruled years ago that it was all right to display an image of the Baby Jesus on public grounds at Yuletide, as long as you surrounded Him with a sufficient number of Santa's reindeer and Frosty figurines. Similarly, the Texas capitol display includes, besides the Ten Commandments, a number of secular monuments to Texas's legal and historical past. By contrast, it's likely either no or very few other wall ornaments were mounted next to the Ten Commandments on the walls of the two Kentucky courthouses in that case. That's why I think National Review Online's John Podhoretz is wrong when he says that the U.S. Supreme Court's hearing room itself, which includes an image of Moses holding the Ten Commandments on its sculptured panel (and also on its outside frieze), may be now be in violation of the Establishment Clause. John forgets that Moses appears in both places in the company of several secular lawgivers, including Hammurabi and Solon. So the Supreme Court probably won't have to sandblast Moses away as John fears.
Then again, the real explanation for the decision might lie only in the convoluted mind of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing vote for the majority in both decisions. The good news is that it's O'Connor, not the very ill Rehnquist as expected, who's now rumored to be about to retire.
Pray for Susan's Baby
The Washington Post offers the latest report on Susan Torres of Arlington, Va., brain-dead and thus legally dead, whose body is attached to a ventillator and IV tubes so that her unborn baby, four months along when she succumbed to cancer, can develop sufficiently to survive outside the womb. The next two weeks will be the most critical, for there are two things alive inside Susan's body: the baby and the cancer, a malignant melanoma that metastized to the spinal tumor that killed her on May 7 and continues to grow, just as the baby does.
Her husband, Jason Torres, has been living at the hospital at his wife's bedside. The baby is now kicking--but it is now a race between the baby and the cancer, which has already spread to Susan's lungs and could reach her womb and destroy the placenta--or her tumor-ridden body just might quit. Furthermore, as the Post reports, "people have said it is demeaning to use her body as an incubator" and "[s]ome have questioned the enormous amount of money being spent on the thinnest of hopes."
Fortunately, more than half of Jason's estimated $300,000 in medical bills has already been covered by donations of as little as $15 and as much as $15,000. Checks can be sent to Faith in Action, a Catholic group (Susan Torres was a committed Catholic), but what Jason Torres and his child really need now is prayer. Two weeks of prayer.
A Prayer for Our Military
The Anchoress offers an open letter to our fighting men and women, especially in Iraq:
"When I am ready to go to bed, I feed the fish, and lock the doors and windows, I pet the dog and say good night to her and warn her off the couches. I close the lights - lights which work so well, I don't even think about the fact that in some parts of the world electricity is a sometime thing. I slip in between clean sheets. Clean. Sheets. Another wonder that seems so normal, so natural, that I needn't even think about it.....
"And then I pray for you. I think of men and women in uniform, away from home. Some are afraid. Some are bored. Some are wishing they had a dog to pet and warn off the couch, some perhaps are wishing they had clean sheets. Some are injured only a little, some are injured gravely. Some write letters home wondering if we think of them, if we even remember that they are out there, doing hazardous or lonely duty. They see images and read articles and hear stupid, politically motivated rhetoric and wonder.will I be spit on when I go home? Is the left back at that point, again? Will I have to worry, when I am finally home, that I will leave behind the smiles and kisses of the Iraqi children, here, children who have lived under tyranny and are only just beginning to taste freedom - who have no conception of all the world has to offer.in order to endure the sneers and taunts of over-privileged trust fund babies who have been fed on freedom all their lives, who find romance in something other than liberty and who have no conception of what the world is like outside their painted doors and comfortable beds and their narrowly-lived lives?"
And she reminds us that although our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen may not have clean sheets to sleep on, those detainees at Gitmo--over whom our military personnel are reviled, do.
A Liberal Christian I Can Like
I was so busy on my own guest-block last week that I didn't get a chance to read my opposite number Amy Sullivan's week-long guest-blog. Anyway, I'm already sick of the religious liberals' latest meme: "We're good Christians, too; in fact, we're better Christians than you are." The idea is that right-wing Christians get hung up on li'l old side issues like abortion and the sanctity of marriage, whereas left-wing Christians excel at obeying Jesus' real command, which was to help the poor--which the left-wingers invariably interpret as government handouts and socialized medicine.
But I finally did read Amy's blog last Friday and found these genuinely interesting remarks about a liberal Christian who actually believes in Christian teaching: Bob Casey, the pro-life Pennsylvania Democrat who's running for the Senate seat of a pro-life Republican, Rick Santorum:
"In a heavily Catholic state like Pennsylvania, the best way to defeat Santorum might be to run a pro-life Dem. But that has not stopped women's groups from howling and attacking the party's leaders for letting this happen. At a conference in early June, NOW president Kim Gandy went after John Kerry and Howard Dean by name for suggesting that Democrats might consider running pro-life candidates in tough races. NARAL has already expressed its disgust by coming out with an early endorsement of Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island because he is pro-choice, even if his party virulently is not."
This--along with Casey's race itself--is energizing. I don't take most liberal Christians seriously because they're all too willing to junk age-old Christian teaching about the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the body in order to hop onto the train of fashionable secularism with its cargo of sexual libertinism and abortion "rights." Casey's different--just as the Democratic Party itself was once different, in the long-ago days before it barred Casey's pro-life father, the late Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, from speaking at the 1992 party convention. With Democats like Casey, I can put forth my views about what constitutes Christian social policy--that welfare programs are morally debilitating and socialized medicine a prescription for substandard treatment--and seriously listen to their arguments to the contrary. We can respectfully disagree, because we're agreed on the fundamental issue of the value of human life. That's why, although I'm a card-carrying Republican, I'm a strong supporter of the courageous Democrats for Life.
At any rate, I'm glad I don't live in Pennsylvania and won't have to make a choice in the Casey-Santorum race.
True Love Waits
Jeff Sharlet, editor of the press-and-religion blog The Revealer has a surprisingly sympathetic article in Rolling Stone about a topic on which most of the press is unsurprisingly unsympathetic: virginity.
In his story, titled "The Young & the Sexless: A New Generation of Young Men and Women Is Embracing Celibate Life," writes about the new face of American evangelical Christianity: a 24-year-old religious-studies graduate student at New York University and his friends, all of whom are determined to wait until marriage to have sex. Writes Sharlet:
"Matt Dunbar is a handsome young man, though his face is still ruddy with acne. He has rounded cheeks, a soul patch beneath his lips and soft eyes that hold yours like he trusts you. He's not a prude. He will say the word "f---," but he will never, not even in the wedding bed he hopes God has prepared for his future, embody it as a verb. He will make Christian love. What most of us call sex he calls communion, and he believes it can happen only within marriage.
"Chastity is a new organizing principle of the Christian right, built on the notion that virgins are among God's last loyal defenders, knights and ladies of a forgotten kingdom. Sex outside of marriage is, in the words of D. James Kennedy, pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida, "an uprising against God." But if sex is the perfect enemy of the blessed lifestyle, it is also the Holy Grail for those who wait."
The only problem I've got with Sharlet's story is that--as his "knights and ladies of a forgotten kingdom" indicates--he assumes that chastity is a kind of impossible medieval fantasy, like riding around in chain mail looking for dragons to slay. As Lauren Winner, evangelical author of "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity" would doubtless argue, it's tough to try to save yourself for marriage, and it has ever been so, even during the Middle Ages, but it's not impossible with plenty of prayer.
Caution: This is a Rolling Stone story. Expect flipness, garish diction, and many uses of the F-word and references to F-deeds.
Don't Just Get Ordained--Do It on a Boat!
Members of the Catholic women's ordination movement don't seem to want to settle just for being ordained. They want to be ordained on a boat. It's probably like getting married on a boat--tres chic, n'est-ce-pas?
Coming up in July is the scheduled ordination as Catholic priests of nine Canadian ex-nuns and others in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. And last night, the original boat-ordination gals, the "Danube Seven" as they're called, resurfaced on a BBC broadcast of the secret ordination of yet another woman, as a deacon. The Danube Seven chose the river dividing Germany and Austria as their ordination spot in 2002 and then were promptly declared excommunicated by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. As is well known, Catholic theology holds that only men can validly become priests.
I missed the BBC program myself, but this BBC news story contains photos of the Danubettes in ordination action. Seems that some of them mysteriously became bishops over the last three years.
And for those of you who plan to be vacationing near Ottawa this summer, the July 25 ordination sounds like a not-to-be-missed event. There are still some 280 seats on the boat left of the 500 available, at only $85 apiece.
Sunday Mass in the People's Republic of Berkeley
Lida of Veritas. Quid Est Veritas? reports on a mistake she made: going to the 7:30 a.m. Mass at the Newman Center chapel at the University of California at Berkeley. (Hat tip to Cacciaguida.)
There, Lida heard the following during the Creed from the woman next to her:
"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son she is worshipped and glorified....she has spoken through the prophets."
Lida notes--and I can confirm this myself because I've been there, too--that the Berkeley Newman Center is the kind of place where a certain number of Mass attenders decide to get into "non-sexism," so they subsitute the word "God" every time "He" or "Him" comes up in the liturgy, and then say it in very, very loud voices. Most of these folks, I might add, look a little on the old side to be UC-Berkeley students, so I don't know where they come from.
The good news is that on my last visit to the Newman Center I noticed that the number of "God!"-shouters had noticeably diminished. That's because practicing Catholics in Berkeley are increasingly Vietnamese immigrants who don't go in for aggressive non-sexism.
Which Is Worse, "Joshua" or "The Da Vinci Code"?
Amy Welborn is compiling a "Bottom Ten" list of the worst and most malevolent Catholic books in print. "The Da Vinci Code" is on her list, natch--but so are the following:
Slots #9 and #10 on Amy's list are still open. Do drop over to her discussion thread to contribute your own nominees.
Amy also links to this survey by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians calling for Catholics to submit their selections for the liturgical hymns (or "songs," in pastoral musician-lingo) that have made a difference for them.
This is your chance, all ye who are sick of "On Eagles' Wings." If your favorite hymn...er, song is "Salve Regina" or "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" or "Sing of Mary Pure and Lowly," let the pastoral musicians know about it!
Pray for Oriana Fallaci
Oriana Fallaci, the famous journalist now facing jail time in her native Italy for saying mean things about Muslim extremists, is an atheist--but guess who one of her favorite writers is these days? It's "God's Rottweiler," the orthodoxy-enforcing Pope Benedict XVI.
"I feel less alone when I read the books of [Josef] Ratzinger [the pope's name before his election," Fallaci tells Tunku Varadarajan of the Wall Street Journal. Adds Fallaci: "[I]f an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true. It's that simple! There must be some human truth here that is beyond religion."
The "human truth" that Fallaci sees is that Benedict, unlike most Europeans these days, actually takes pride in Western civilization, which he, unlike most Europeans these days, sees as profoundly shaped by Christianity. Varadarajan writes:
"As a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the European (and the Western) condition. Last year, he wrote an essay titled 'If Europe Hates Itself,' from which Ms. Fallaci reads this to me: 'The West reveals ... a hatred of itself, which is strange and can only be considered pathological; the West ... no longer loves itself; in its own history, it now sees only what is deplorable and destructive, while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure.'"
Fallaci, 70, currently living in New York, faces trial next year in Bergamo, Italy, for arguing, in her best-selling book, "The Force of Reason," for arguing that self-hating Europeans are cravenly surrendering their continent to the "sons of Allah." That allegedly violates the hate-speech laws that would violate the First Amendment here in the United States but are endemic in Europe.
Given today's European climate, I wouldn't be surprised if Benedict himself ended up next on the arrest list.
Jesus on a Leash--What Good Fun!
Fallaci faces criminal charges in Italy for making disparaging remarks about Islam--but it's OK in the Netherlands for a government-subsidized television station to show Jesus Christ on a leash being led around like a dog.
According to the Irish Catholic newspaper The Universe (hat tip: Kathy Shaidle of Relapsed Catholic), Dutch Catholic bishops and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands have jointly lodged a protest against the station for airing a series produced by the public network RVU titled "Why God Does Not Exist," in which six scientists explain why it doesn't make sense to believe in God. Interspersed among their remarks are clips of Jesus acting like a dog and a naked woman nailed to a cross.
I presume the clips are supposed to prove the scientists' point that God doesn't exist--because if He did, He'd strike the makers of the series, Rob Muntz and Paul Jan van de Wint, dead. Muntz and van de Wint had been fired in 2000 by another broadcasting company after Muntz walked around an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Vienna dressed like Adolf Hitler.
The series' producer, RVU, bills itself as an "educational" network. Click here onto its Dutch-language website to check out some of the "educational" fare that taxpayers in the Netherlands support. In particular, look under the heading "Stof" at the top of the page to note the important educational question that RVU addresses today. (Hint: Dutch is a very similar language to English.)
Our Sustainer Who Art in Heaven
Rev. John Parker, an Eastern Orthodox priest, was asked to give the blesssing at the state-run Medical School of South Carolina's graduation ceremony this year, Terry Mattingly reports for the Scripps-Howard News Service. So Parker picked this prayer out of the "Great Book of Needs," a collection of invocations compiled by the Orthodox over the past two millennia:
"Do now, O Lord, give your grace to all those here gathered who have labored and studied hour upon hour, to go into all the world, and also to heal by the talent You have given to each of them. Strengthen them, by your strength, to fear no evil or disease, enlighten them to do no evil by the works of their hands and preserve them and those they serve in peace, for You are our God, and we know no other."
Then he got a letter from the school officials stating the following:
"Steer clear of parochial, exclusively defining religious names, concepts, practices, and metaphors," it said. "A good rule of thumb to remember is that you come representing the entire faith community, not just your own group. The prayer should therefore not be offensive to anyone, whether Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, etc."
I'm not sure what was so "offensive" about Parker's proposed prayer, which sounds pretty ecumenical to me. Maybe it was that "Lord" business. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures address God as "Lord," but perhaps the holy books of other faiths don't. Or maybe "Lord" was too sexist, as some of our feminist theologians argue, because only a guy can be a "lord." At any rate, the president's office suggested these all-inclusive, feminism-friendly substitutes: "Holy God, Holy One, Creator, Sustainer."
At any rate, since it's not in the Orthodox tradition to mess around with centuries-old religious language, Parker's proposed prayer was rejected, and the medical school found an invocator from a more "progressive" church.
The lesson: Only if you're willing to maul your own faith tradition are you welcome to pray at graduation.
The manufacturer, In-Souls, makes not only Scriptural shoe liners but Scriptural socks as well. And if even when you're standing on the word of God, your friends are hinting that you've got stinky feet, try the company's Scriptural air-fresheners.
Hat tip to Manolo.
Oh, Just Leave Out the Religious Stuff
Michelle Malkin, with a hat tip to Slant Point points out that nearly all the news reports on the conviction of former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 slaying of three young civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1964, somehow left out the fact that the brave three, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, all were volunteers for the Congress of Racial Equality at the time of the deaths.
Perhaps not coincidentally, CORE happens to be a conservative civil rights group, with origins in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith religious organizaton dedicated to the Ghandian principles of nonviolence that inspired Martin Luther King to pursue peaceful resistance and prayer, not rioting in the streets, as his strategy for changing the hearts and minds of segregationist southerners. CORE now partners with whites to further racial equality, urges blacks not to align themselves knee-jerk fashion with self-appointed demagogues, and backed G.W. Bush's federal appeals court nominee Janice Rogers Brown.
But somehow, of all the major news media, only the Associated Press bothered to report the victims' CORE affiliation. Sort of figures, doesn't it?
The Vast Right-Wing Catholic Conspiracy
Barbara Nicolosi, the former nun with a master's in film who runs Act One, a Hollywood-based program designed to train Christians of all denominations on how to write good screenplays, has been blogging on and off recently about her encounters with "James," the New York Times reporter who's working her into a story set to appear in the Times's lifestyle section this coming Sunday. The theme of the story, in Barbara's words: "to unmask the secret scary vast conspiracy to funnel money from rightwing political covert ops into Christian ministries in Hollywood."
Here's the latest exchange between Barbara and James:
James: I hope you'll be okay with this. In my article, I referred to you as "a Catholic activist."
Barb: Forgive me, but what the heck is a Catholic activist?
James: (laughing nervously) Well, you know, somebody who is really into organizing Catholic things.
Barb: But, I don't organize Catholic things. I am the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit --
James: Yeah. Yeah...I know...but I had to call you something.
Barb: You could have called me the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit organization.
James: Yeah. Well.....[cough]
Barbara notes: "I think calling me an 'activist' makes me sound much more nasty and unbending and menacing, don't you?" Nonetheless, speculates Barbara, the "activist" monniker could pay off--when Barb dies and encounters Jesus at the pearly gates:
Me (to Jesus standing at the Gates of Heaven): I think you have to let me in.
(Jesus raises the Divine-resurrected body eyebrow)
Me: I'm one of your activists. The NY Times said so.
Jesus: Cool. Wanna play foosball?
"Divisive" to Recite the Christian Creed
Been to a Catholic Mass on Sunday lately at which the priest just skipped the Nicene Creed? The idea is that saying you actually believe what the Catholic Church teaches about Jesus Christ is "divisive." And apparently the Nicene Creed, which is a required part of the liturgy for Catholics, Anglicans, and the Eastern Orthdox, makes a lot of people antsy because, strangely enough, it declares that Jesus is divine. We can't have that. (Now, James. V. Schall, S.J., Georgetown University professor and columnist, has a fine piece on the Ignatius Press website (hat tip to the Anchoress) denouncing Creed-skipping and other free-lance variations on the structure of the traditional Mass. Having the congregation stand instead of kneel during the Consecration and Communion are favorite innovations (even though they're expressly forbidden by new rules from the U.S. bishops)--because some priests that that it's demeaning to make people kneel just because God happens to be present. My own favorite, though was a priest at Schall's own Georgetown a couple years ago who moved just about everything in the Mass around to make a brand-new, idiosyncratic liturgy, not only eliminating the Creed but "forgetting" to put on the mandatory liturgical-colored chasuble and sticking the "Kiss of Peace" before the Offertory.
Schall says: Cut it out. He writes:
"The logic of this dubious principle - skip what is 'divisive' - is to believe and proclaim precisely nothing as the essence of our faith. Is nothingness what satisfies empty minds? Another friend told me that many of the younger priests he knew do not wear vestments at private Masses. I have even heard of Mass in swimsuits. There is no warrant for this shedding of proper liturgical garb, except perhaps in the failure of bishops and superiors to insist on the normal rules of the Church. Too much bother, I guess."
"The Mass is not a staged drama at which we applaud the talent of the performers. There really is room for quiet and awe. The priest is there to do what the Church asks in the way the Church asks."
Downing Street: The New Da Vinci Code
I know, I know--Slate columnist Christopher Hitchens is a flat-out atheist with an especially hostile animus against my own Roman Catholic Church. Still, Hitch's heart--and brain--are in the right place on one issue: He thinks Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" is a big load of you-know-what. And he thinks the liberal-fave "Downing Street" documents are the new "Da Vinci Code." Go, Hitch!
Here's Christopher on "Da Vinci":
"Well, of course I knew it would be bad. I just didn't know that it would be that bad. Never mind for now the breathless and witless style, or the mashed-paper characters, or the lazy, puerile reliance on incredible coincidence to flog the lame plot along. What if it was all true? What if the Nazarene had had issue, in fleshly form, with an androgynous disciple? The Catholic Church would look foolish but, then, it already looks foolish enough on the basis of the official story."
And here he is on the Downing Street divulgences:
"Over the past month, I have hardly been able to open my e-mail without a flood of similarly portentous tripe concerning the 'Downing Street Memo(s).' This time, it is not the interior of a Templar Church but the style of a clerk in the British Foreign Office that furnishes 'the key to all mythologies.' A former CIA hand named Ray McGovern has challenged me to debate about the "smoking gun" contained in the Downing Street palimpsests, and I have agreed, in principle. Other correspondents have helpfully added other 'smoking guns' as e-mail attachments. A man named Morgan Reynolds, a former chief economist at the Bush Labor Department and now an instructor at Texas A&M, has proof that the World Trade Center was laid low by a 'controlled demolition' and not by the hijacked planes. This is a refreshing change from the Gore Vidal view that the Bush administration knowingly grounded all military aircraft in order to give the al-Qaida teams a clear shot.....
"But the main Downing Street document does not introduce us to any hidden or arcane or occult knowledge.....On a visit to Washington in the prelude to the Iraq war, some senior British officials formed the strong and correct impression that the Bush administration was bent upon an intervention. Their junior note-taker committed the literary and political solecism of saying that intelligence findings and 'facts' were being 'fixed' around this policy....
"I am now forced to wonder: Who is there who does not know that the Bush administration decided after September 2001 to change the balance of power in the region and to enforce the Iraq Liberation Act, passed unanimously by the Senate in 1998, which made it overt American policy to change the government of Iraq? This was a fairly open conspiracy, and an open secret. Given that everyone from Hans Blix to Jacques Chirac believed that Saddam was hiding weapons from inspectors, it made legal sense to advance this case under the banner of international law and to treat Saddam 'as if' (and how else?) his strategy of concealment and deception were prima facie proof."
So the bottom line on Downing Street is: Big deal. If you feel the same way about "Da Vinci"--or worse, actually take it seriously--do read Amy Welborn's prizewinning "Decoding Da Vinci" and/or Carl E. Olson's and Sandra Miesel's meticulously rsearched "The Da Vinci Hoax."
Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers
We've heard from Christians on the right and from Christians on the left--and here comes John Danforth, Episcopal priest and former Missouri senator, making the case for the "moderate" Christians in the middle.
Writes Danforth: "[W]e, too, have strongly held Christian convictions."
And what might those strongly held convictions be? One of them is a strongly held belief in being...moderate. Says Danforth:
"Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth."
As Jesus said, "I am more or less the Way, the Truth, and the Light, or whatever."
Andrew Sullivan's now arguing that gays are the new Jews. Alas, Andrew was once one of my favorite conservative commentators, before he morphed into a self-pitying Johnny-one-note victimologist:
"The danger of the Jews/Gays spreading their disease throughout society, their enormous power despite tiny numbers, their ability to pass, their threat to children, their flaunting of their disagreement with the New Testament. It's all so familiar. I think the arguments now made by some Christianists are replicas of the old anti-Semitism, peddled by so many Christians in the past: that Jews are to be loved, but loving them is dependent on their conversion to Christianity; that you can love individual Jews while disdaining Judaism; that Jews' stubbornness in resisting conversion is evidence of their inherent evil; that such evil, at some point, has to be segregated from mainstream society as much as possible." I'm told that Andrew used to think that gays were the new blacks; now they're the new Jews. As "old Jew" Jonah Goldberg asks: "Which is it?" Jonah adds:
"Central to the anti-Semitic narrative is the Jews' longevity as an intact people. There's no enduring gay tribe, is there? Can you simply swap out the stereotype of Jews as financiers and predators of capital in favor of the stereotype of gays as interior decorators and hair-dressers and have anything similar to anti-Semitism? Is there a gay diaspora? I've heard the argument that homosexuality behaves like a religion, does this mean that Sullivan (and Matthew Yglesias of "The American Prospect") buy into it? Or do they want to claim all the benefits of playing this particularly powerful bigotry card without carrying any of the burdens of the analogy?"
Coming soon for Andrew: Gays are the new Guantanamo detainees.
If Gays Are the New Jews, Christians Are the New Gays
Dawn Eden fillets Russell Shorto's New York Times Magazine story this past Sunday depicting anti-gay marriage advocates as homophobic bigots who are not only believing Christians but live in tract houses with wall-to-wall carpeting! What would the Fab Five say?
Here's how traditional-marriage advocates Laura and Dave Clark come off in Shorto's story, says Dawn:
"They...live with their four children in 'a ranch house...tucked cozily into the back of a cul-de-sac in a 1970's housing development,' Shorto observes. 'Inside, it is wall-to-wall carpeting and hand-me-down furnishings.' No books to speak of, but 'snapshots of the kids cover the refrigerator door. The couple's wedding album is prominently displayed on a table in the living room. Dave works for the federal government. Laura home-schools the 7-year-old twins, Grace and Cole, while also looking after 5-year-old Kayla and 3-year-old Jacob.'
"When their fellow traditional-marriage activists come over to meet Shorto, the Clarks prepare quite a spread: 'sliced lunch meats, hamburger buns, tomato and onion slices, bowls of pretzels and chips, cookies and several two-quart plastic bottles of soda.' What, no sushi? Guess there's no Dean & Deluca in the Clarks' little '70s time-warp nabe."
Then we encounter the oh-so-tasteful lesbians:
"Contrast Shorto's descriptions of the Clarks...Grays with that of the one homosexual couple he spotlights: 'Lisa Polyak and Gita Deane, a lesbian couple who have been together for more than 20 years and have two daughters,' live in a 'quaint house' that's 'white-painted brick with a picket fence.' No wall-to-wall carpeting here: 'The hardwood floors are covered with Oriental rugs.' In other words, the only home in the article that clearly doesn't need the Queer Eye.
"Of course, Polyak and Deane, unlike the Clarks..., actually own books other than Bibles and traditional-marriage propaganda: '[T]he living-room bookshelf is crammed with kids' books and photo albums.' What's more, they have real jobs. 'Deane works part time as a learning specialist at Goucher College,' and-remember how Dave Clark simply worked in 'government'? Polyak has an actual government-job title: 'an environmental engineer for the U.S. Army.'"
And those gauche Christian bigots in Shorto's story still have their Christmas lights up in March!
Michael Schiavo, Coroner
Michael Schiavo has finally buried his wife, posting a bronze plaque on Terri's gravesite that lists Feb. 25, 1990, as the date she "departed from this Earth." (Hat tip to Amy Welborn.)
Funny, but the official autopsy report on Terri Schiavo says she died on March 31, 2005, two weeks after her feeding tube was removed at Michael's behest. Since there was never any allegation that Terri had been brain-dead after her collapse 15 years ago (hence the 1990 date on the grave plaque) left her severely disabled, Michael seems to have taken on a new role: amateur coroner.
The 1990 death date also seems to contradict Michael's testimony about Terri in his 1992 medical malpractice suit over her collapse (recorded by Joan Didion in her must-read article for the New York Review of Books): "She's my life and I wouldn't trade her for the world.... I married my wife because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her." Note the present tense: rather strange if Terri was supposed to have been dead for at least two years.
Michael also inscribed on Terri's grave-plaque some words that would seem to apply more to Michael and his dogged 13-year lawsuit to remove Terri's feeding tube over her family's objections than to Terri herself: "I Kept My Promise."
Well, at least the plaque doesn't say: "I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia."
Abortion and Crime
Does legalized abortion make the crime rate go down? "Perhaps the most dramatic effect of legalized abortion, and one that would take years to reveal itself, was its impact on crime," write Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything."
The book argues that the drop in crime in the U. S. in the 1990s was the result of legalized abortion. The authors, who use the science of economics to come up with this novel thesis, write:
"In the early 1990s, just as the first cohort of children born after Roe v. Wade was hitting its late teen years-the years during which young men enter their criminal prime--the rate of crime began to fall. What this cohort was missing, of course, were the children who stood the greatest chance of becoming criminals. And the crime rate continued to fall as an entire generation came of age minus the children whose mothers had not wanted to bring a child into the world. Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime."
There is no way I can critique the economic theory behind this theory. But I can critique anyone who says that such a hypothesis justifies abortion. It might be summed up as the kill-them-before-they-kill-us school of thought, and it is abhorrent when you realized that those being killed are innocent.
The freakonomics theory, of course, is that they won't remain innocent for long because they were unwanted and unwanted children grow up to commit crimes. Is the notion that those who are unwanted as children almost always turn vicious provable through economic theory? Just asking.
If unwanted children are more likely to harm society--and I am not convinced of this--then the solution is to make all children who are conceived wanted children. If they are not wanted by their natural parents, let's redouble our efforts to increase the number of adoptions.
Most ridiculous headline:
"What's Their Real Problem With Gay Marriage? (It's the Gay Part)." Well, yeah. Those who oppose gay "marriage" generally find nothing wrong with marriage between a man and a woman. Trying to make it sound as if marriage--as it has been defined throughout recorded and unrecorded human history--has no more legitimacy than the "marriage" of two same-sex partners, the article describes a display at the headquarters of a group that opposes gay "marriage" as a "shrine to marriage as a heterosexual, Judeo-Christian institution" which is a "totem of conservative Christianity's mighty political wing and a flag marking its territorial gains in what its leaders see as a decisive battle in the culture war."
Is Rap Music Torture?
There are suspected terrorists at the detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay, and yet there has been an unprecedented degree of transparency about what goes on there.
I for one was not appalled when Senator Dick Durbin read aloud from an FBI agent's description of what the agent saw at Gitmo. It's not supposed to be the Ramada Inn, Senator.
Columnist Mark Steyn is very funny on the senator's shameful contention that, if you didn't know he was reading from an FBI report, you'd think it was a Nazi atrocity or something from the Soviet gulag:
"Er, well, your average low-wattage senator might. But I wouldn't. The 'atrocities' he enumerated - 'Not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room' -- are not characteristic of the Nazis, the Soviets or Pol Pot, and, at the end, the body count in Gitmo was a lot lower. That's to say, it was zero, which would have been counted a poor day's work in Auschwitz or Siberia or the killing fields of Cambodia.
"But give Durbin credit. Every third-rate hack on every European newspaper can do the Americans-are-Nazis schtick. Amnesty International has already declared Guantanamo the 'gulag of our times.' But I do believe the senator is the first to compare the U.S. armed forces with the blood-drenched thugs of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Way to go, senator! If you had a dime for every crackpot Web site that takes up your thoughtful historical comparison, you'd be able to retire to the Caribbean and spend the rest of your days torturing yourself with hot weather and loud music, as well as inappropriately provocative women and insufficient choice of hors d'oeuvres and all the other shameful atrocities committed at Guantanamo."
Durbin should be censured for giving enemies of the U.S. cover.
See No Evil
While we're on the subject of Durbin, here's a quote from the American Spectator: "If Terri Schiavo had been dehydrated to death at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Dick Durbin would be reading her autopsy report from the Senate floor. It would be an occasion for great moral anguish."
The piece adds some chilling thoughts on the handling of Terri Schiavo's autopsy by the mainstream media:
"In the mainstream media's reports on the autopsy I've seen, the cause of death -- one might think the most salient fact in news coverage of an autopsy -- is treated as an afterthought, an irrelevant detail, the subtext of the stories being that murder isn't murder if it turns out in the autopsy report that the victim was incurable. Can criminals henceforth use this as a defense? The New York Times could barely bring itself to mention that the doctors doing the autopsy established 'marked dehydration' as the cause of death, burying it deep within the story. Before it got around to that, the paper was eagerly examining the autopsy's political fallout, which is basically that spineless Republicans are running for cover and that Democrats 'cited the autopsy results as proof that critics of the federal intervention had been vindicated.'
"Members of the party of the Americans with Disabilities Act were thrilled to discover that they had one more reason to support starving Schiavo: it turns out she was blind. Or 'completely blind,' as the New York Times triumphantly put it in an editorial. Its writers, while castigating conservatives for their 'judgments-from-afar' in the case, got in one last swing from afar at Schiavo's parents: 'The findings will not satisfy Ms. Schiavo's parents, who remain convinced that she interacted with them before her death.'"
United Church of Who?
It's almost beyond satire: A resolution affirming that Christ is Lord put forward in the United Church of Christ is not expected to pass. "It is highly detrimental to the health and growth of UCC churches and extremely embarrassing for UCC pastors and members to be viewed as non-Christians," the resolution notes, adding that the denomination has long been viewed as being a magnet for "Unitarians Considering Christ."
The Rev. Albert W. Kovacs, who supports the resolution, says that the denomination now has "significant numbers of clergy who don't believe in God."
The story added:
"A Haworth pastor said the conservatives have a point, though he added that the resolution is unenforceable and a waste of time.
"'If you don't offer a risen Christ, you're not offering hope,' said the Rev. David Boda-Mercer of First Congregational Church of Haworth. 'If people are looking for answers, and they come to us and get a vague non-answer, but great food and musical programs, then I don't think we're helping them.'"
A belief in the totality of the gospel was as much a stumbling block in the early era of Christianity as it is for many today. But at least then the Christian Church stood for the whole truth. Guess the UCC is finally catching up with the Unitarians.
English journalist Paul Johnson, a Catholic, pinpoints what's really wrong with the European Union:
"There is another still more fundamental factor in the EU malaise. Europe has turned its back not only on the U.S. and the future of capitalism, but also on its own historic past. Europe was essentially a creation of the marriage between Greco-Roman culture and Christianity. Brussels has, in effect, repudiated both. There was no mention of Europe's Christian origins in the ill-fated Constitution, and Europe's Strasbourg Parliament has insisted that a practicing Catholic cannot hold office as the EU Justice Commissioner.
"Equally, what strikes the observer about the actual workings of Brussels is the stifling, insufferable materialism of their outlook. The last Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of European unity was Charles de Gaulle."
The Hux of the Matter
A Beliefnet member posted a quote from one of my most beloved writers, Aldous Huxley, who, of course, was not a Christian. Here's the quote:
"At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols."
I just came across something similar in another lapidary writer, Sybille Bedford, a close friend of Huxley's (and his biographer), who writes in her brilliant new autobiography, "Quicksands: A Memoir," that "love of country" is a bad thing.
Of course, I don't agree with her on this sentiment, which Huxley would most assuredly embraced (and which, had I lived in their era when German nationalism had almost destroyed civilization, I might have believed, too).
But will you indulge me a moment on Huxley? I've always thought that the astounding thing about the grandson of T. H. Huxley is not how far he was from Christianity but how close he got. I think that Huxley would have been naturally put off by some of the more vulgar aspects of Christianity (the Incarnation and the bloody suffering of the Crucifixion).
No, Huxley never came to like what is sneeringly called "organized religion." But Christ was one of the thinkers quoted in Huxley's "The Perennial Philosophy," and I've always thought that the description of the afterlife in "Time Must Have a Stop" partakes of much that is Christian (and lots of other religions, too, to be honest).
Here is a snippet from a character named Eustace Barnack's entry into eternity:
"In the awareness that there was something other than absence the anxiety found appeasement, the hunger found satisfaction. Instead of privation there was light. And this knowledge of being known was a satisfied, even a joyful knowledge... And the joy of knowing, the joy of being known, increased with every increment of that embracing and interpenetrating beauty."
But, no, I can't posthumously baptize Huxley, who did not see dogma as a a door of perception.
Abel's Murder was Dirty Business
An intriguing take on Cain's punishment for killing Abel:
"The verse, of course, supplies an answer. It says that the earth has 'opened its mouth to accept' Abel's blood - and for this reason, Cain shall experience a curse with respect to that same earth. But there's something less than satisfying, at least at face value, with this explanation. One can't help feeling that the ground's role is rather incidental here: It happened to be that Abel's blood fell on the ground and soaked into the earth, but that doesn't describe the essential heinousness of the crime, does it? If Abel's blood had fallen on the kitchen floor instead, would Cain have been cursed through linoleum tiles?"
So Was Terri Schiavo's Death
Not Dead Yet is a disability group. Unlike many of the rest of us, they immediately sense the danger for all of us created by the legal starvation and/or dehydration of Terri Schiavo.
Faith and Reason and Guantanamo
Add Beliefnet contributor Michael Wolfe to the list of people who've gone completely 'round the bend because of irrational fears of scary Christian evangelicals. Wolfe's latest piece ("Accidents Happen--In a Context") suggests that Muslims and the Qur'an are being abused by Americans and that this is happening because of "increased Christian evangelism in the government."
Wolfe refers in particular to the recent Pentagon report that found what I consider to be minor and mostly inadvertent but nevertheless highly regrettable mishandlings of the Qur'an at the detainee camp at Gautanamo Bay:
"To put it bluntly, the official report on Guantanamo completely ducks a pervasive political reality: that a significant number of congressmen, senators, White House officials, and members of the American military, right up to the top brass and the President's West Wing, are evangelical Christians with a mandate to save souls and 'share' the 'good news,' which, unfortunately seems to be code for 'actively proselytize and convert those who don't share our views.'" To put it bluntly, the report dealt with the limited subject of the treatment of the Qur'an and detainees at Guantanamo. It did not deal with the whole panorama of religion in America which, to put it very bluntly, is driving people like Wolfe into a delusional state. He seems to believe that there is a trickle down effect from "top brass and the President's West Wing" that he assumes to be evangelicals.
I thought that the report showed that the U.S. has done unusually well with treating suspected terrorists humanely. There have been a few exceptions, but for the most part our soldiers and guards have behaved well in what must be a hellish situation.
As for abuse of the Qur'an, I'm going to quote for a second time a column by Max Boot:
"All the headlines about 'Abuse of the Koran at Gitmo' are absolutely accurate. Brig. Gen. Jay Hood's internal investigation has uncovered some shocking incidents. On at least six occasions, Korans were ripped up. They were urinated on three times, and attempts were made to flush them down the toilet at least three other times.
"Why aren't millions of Muslims rioting in response to these defilements? Because the perpetrators were prisoners, not guards. As John Hinderaker notes on weeklystandard.com, the most serious desecrations of the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility were committed by the Muslim inmates themselves.
"You'd never know this from the news coverage, which pounced on Hood's finding of five confirmed incidents of Koran abuse as proof that Newsweek was on to something with its phony-baloney report about guards flushing a Koran down the toilet.
"Far from confirming accusations of American depravity, what the report actually shows is that Guantanamo is the first gulag in history run on the principle that no sensibility of the inmates should be offended, no matter how inadvertently.
"All inmates are furnished a Koran at U.S. government expense. Since they're imprisoned because they are suspected of being violent religious extremists, some might object that this adds fuel to the fire. But that's not the view of the 'Stalinists' who run the Defense Department. For some nefarious reason, they have issued guidelines that call for the utmost respect for the sacred scripture of their enemies."
But Wolfe raises an interesting question:
"What is the relationship between an absolutist religious vision that not only excludes every other version from salvation but also actively rejects and insults people who are born into other faiths by the millions and billions?"
Although I am not an evangelical Christian, I imagine I'd fall into Mr. Wolfe's category of somebody with an "absolutist religious vision." I do happen to believe that it is Christ alone who offers salvation--though I don't believe He offers it only to Christians. For people who don't know about Christ or reject him for whatever reason, I think of salvation as being like being in a restaurant and having a Stranger pick up the tab. Just because you don't know Who paid doesn't mean you don't get the free meal. (I think salvation is sort of a free meal whether or not you believe.)
These views may make me kooky or absolutist in Mr. Wolfe's view, but I can assure you they don't make me rude and hysterical enough to treat somebody else's religious texts disrespectfully.
But I fear there is no arguing with Mr. Wolfe--he is not relying on credible information and rational thought about the religious right. He is relying on faith.
It is the reliance by so much of the left on their faith that evangelical Christians are scary that makes me wonder if the allegations of what Mr. Wolfe calls "institutional evangelizing" at the U.S. Air Force Academy might be overblown. Certainly, we don't want an atmosphere that makes anybody uncomfortable at the academy, but I'm not sure we can rely on the faith-based reports from the scared-of-Christians crowd. I'm not refuting claims of religious pressure at the academy--I'm just saying I'm agnostic until better, unbiased information is presented.
If I Had a Hammer...
Former Dominican priest turned Episcopalian Matthew Fox must have a hammer because he's nailed his own 95 Theses for a New Reformation to the wall of the Wittenberg Cathedral (Schlosskirche), the same venue of Martin Luther's historic thesis nailing in 1517.
"I have great respect for what Luther achieved when he protested against corruption. I also believe the church needs a reformation more today than it did 500 years ago," Fox said.
"Some of Fox's new takes on the 95 Theses include: 'God is both Father and Mother;' 'Religion is not necessary, but spirituality is;' and 'Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control or homosexuality.'
"Fox believes it is time for Christians to choose whom it will follow: an angry exclusionary God or the loving God who opens the path to wisdom."
How about a God who loves us so much that he forbids condoms and other things that cheapen our lives? Just a thought.
The Un-Michael Schiavo
Read about Jason Torres.
Bishops Back Unholy Union
The Catholic bishops of Europe have issued a statement in support of the European Union--yes, that European Union, the one that refused to formally acknowledge Europe's Christian roots, the EU bureaucrats love but ordinary voters, on the rare occasions they are consulted, apparently don't.
Witty Catholic blogger Diogenes is also stumped by the bishops:
"The Catholic bishops of Europe--or the organization that claims to represent them--says that the European Union is 'the foundation of peace and stability which has been enjoyed in Europe for over 50 years.' But the European Union hasn't existed for 50 years; in fact it doesn't exist in constitutional form even today. Can a political institution be the cause of a pre-existing effect?"
Diogenes also notes that "there is absolutely nothing distinctively Christian, let alone Catholic, in the bishops' statement."
Meanwhile, columnist Robert Samuelson says it may be curtains for Europe as we know her:
"Ever since 1498, after Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and opened trade to the Far East, Europe has shaped global history, for good and ill. It settled North and South America, invented modern science, led the Industrial Revolution, oversaw the slave trade, created huge colonial empires, and unleashed the world's two most destructive wars. This pivotal Europe is now vanishing -- and not merely because it's overshadowed by Asia and the United States.
"It's hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling. Europe's birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It's 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy. In a century -- if these rates continue -- there won't be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe's population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third."
You Only Die Once--Or Is It Twice?
If there were a Pulitzer Prize for biased reporting, the Washington Post would have won it hands down for its report on the Schiavo autopsy.
Here's the lead to the Post story:
"Terri Schiavo died of the effects of a profound and prolonged lack of oxygen to her brain on a day in 1990, but what caused that event isn't known and may never be, the physician who performed her autopsy said today."
A few inches away, the same story says:
"She died of marked dehydration. She did not starve to death," [pathologist Dr. Jon] Thogmartin said. As measured by the balance of salt and water in her body fluids, the dehydration was the most severe he had ever seen. This attested to Schiavo's robust underlying health, and in particular the strength of her heart, the pathologist said."
But if she had already died in 1990, how did she manage to die again of dehydration in 2005? Quite a feat. But, of course, the real answer is simple: Terri Schiavo did not die in 1990; she was starved to death and/or dehydrated to death in 2005. You only die once, though I suppose in Schiavo's case, it was a particularly awful way to go.
From a moral point of view, the autopsy doesn't really change anything. It doesn't make being alive in this era, when you might be dehydrated to death if society deems you inconvenient or lacking in brainpower, any less scary.
I did finally read all of Joan Didion's fine piece on Terri Schiavo in the New York Review of Books and urge you to do the same (this may be the only time I push an article from the New York Review of Books!). She absolutely got it.
Asking Tough Questions
In my wild-eyed lefty youth, I adored Oriana Fallaci, the famous Italian journalist. Fallaci was the world's toughest asker of questions, no matter how powerful her subject was. Milan Kundera once wrote that Fallaci's interviews were "more than mere conversations; they were duels."
Now 75, Fallaci is in another duel, and once again I am pulling for her. The Italian government is hauling Fallaci into court for "outrages against religion." Yep. You guessed it--the religion in question isn't the Christian one.
Fallaci, who lives in New York and who was deeply affected by the tragic events of September 11, committed her alleged "outrage against religion" in 2004 with a book entitled "The Force of Reason." It is critical of militant Islam. I haven't read the book and don't know if it is accurate or not about Islam. But I do know one thing: What's happening to Fallaci is wrong.
Where are the enlightened secularists of Europe? Why aren't they defending one of the most distinguished journalists Italy has produced?
Their silence doesn't bode well for--well--civilization. As the American Spectator notes:
"As secularists regroup, what can be expected? One certainty is that the 'outrages against religion' Europe's liberals are not permitting Oriana Fallaci will multiply against the Church. Terms they can't bring themselves to use against militant Islam -- dangerous, fanatical, irrational -- will fall easily from their mouths on Pope Benedict as they try desperately to consolidate secularist gains. Though the liberals of Europe would never dare call Islam illiberal, they speak of the religion that gave birth to civilized Europe in that language, and wouldn't even permit a direct historical mention of it in the European Union Constitution (also failing to impress weary Europeans in referendums).
"Fallaci is known as a liberal but of a vanishing species, one who sees that fellow liberals are playing dupes to the most alien and illiberal ideology in Europe. This rebuke cannot be abided, and so Europe's liberals, who are far more wildly authoritarian than the conservative authorities they displaced, are putting her on trial, once again exposing their rhetoric of liberty as a sham. And they can even drum up another charge against her: she sided with the odious Catholic Church in Italy's referendum fight."
Our Brave Bishops
Can you guess what subject our nation's intrepid Catholic bishops have decided not to discuss at their next bishops' meeting?
Julia Duin of the Washington Times writes that they won't be talking about the issue of gay men in the priesthood:
"U.S. Catholic bishops will sidestep the issue of whether homosexual men should become priests at their semiannual meeting, which begins tomorrow, despite the Vatican's concern about the role of homosexuals in the church's massive sex-abuse scandal."
"In the latest edition of an 84-page document on priestly training, only one sentence deals with homosexuality.
"'With regard to the admission of candidates with same-sex experiences and/or inclinations, the guidelines provided by the Holy See must be followed,' says the document 'Program of Priestly Formation.'
"The program is expected to be approved by the bishops in their Chicago meetings, scheduled to end Saturday. It then would be forwarded to Rome for final approval.
"However, the Vatican, which is said to be preparing to crack down on homosexuality in seminaries, has never issued official guidelines, canon laws or papal pronouncements on whether Catholic seminaries should remain open to homosexual men. Only a Feb. 2, 1961, Vatican directive to canon law speaks directly to the matter."
Loose Canon sees no reason to refuse ordination to homosexual men who, in the process of discerning a vocation, seem determined to lead a chaste life. But the bishops should have the courage to discuss this issue. I know it's not as much fun and you don't get the good pr they got back in the heady days when they took positions on nuclear weapons, etc,. but it really is important.
I also note with amusement that, when it comes to a hot potato such as the ordination of homosexuals, the bishops, who reportedly yearn for more autonomy from Rome, want Papa to settle the matter for them.
Please Forgive Me!
Oh, dear: I really did misspeak yesterday. I was being critical of bishops who speak psychobabble rather than the language of sin and redemption. Bishop John Steinbrock had spoken of the priest's addiction instead of his sin. I said you can't forgive an addiction--awful thing to say. I was trying to make the point that you can forgive sin (which you do through your own free will) but a disease (addiction is frequently regarded as a disease) can't be forgiven because there's nothing to forgive--you're innocent. I got this all wrong! Of course, you can forgive those who behave badly because of a chemical dependency and (to forestall having to apologize again tomorrow) you can also hold them responsible for their actions. Whatever the heck I was trying to say, I said it badly. Mea culpa.
Trials are about evidence, and there just wasn't enough to convict in Michael Jackson's. Unless I missed something, Loose Canon believes that the jury reached the right verdict. Jackson is plenty weird, but you aren't supposed to send people to prison for being weird.
As columnist Eugene Robinson pointed out in today's Washington Post, "[T]here's no charge of 'first-degree faux-juvenile dirty-old-man weirdness' in the California penal code."
I'd be the first to want to put him in the pokey and throw away the key if I were convinced that Jackson had done what the prosecution claimed. Did you see the movie "Finding Neverland"? It's the story of Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie's chaste friendship with the fatherless Davies boys. Did Jackson have this kind of relationship with young boys?
A number of eminent Victorians, including Alice in Wonderland's creator, Lewis Carroll, had strange and apparently innocent infatuations with children. I suppose that such friendships were less dangerous in the Victorian era because society knew more about boundaries. But the prosecution failed to offer anything that ruled out such an infatuation on Jackson's part. Even so, I do hope parents won't authorize any more sleepovers at his bizarre Neverland ranch.
Speaking of boundaries, Theodore Dalrymple, writing before the verdict was reached, was onto something:
"Those future historians (assuming that an interest in the past survives) will be struck, I suspect, by the confusion in our society concerning sexual boundaries. On one hand, almost no sexual display is forbidden, and the most casual of liaisons is perfectly normal; on the other, university professors dare not be alone in a closed room with a female student for fear of accusations of sexual misdemeanor, and in some offices the most mildly flirtatious of remarks is taken as little short of rape.
"Extreme licentiousness thus coexists with a Puritanism that out-Calvins Calvin. One minute we are told that anything goes, and the next that we must carefully censor ourselves for fear of permanently traumatizing anyone who might overhear supposedly salacious remarks. At last, Herbert Marcuse's concept of repressive tolerance seems to make some sense: We can do what we like so long as we live in fear..."
There was something that bothered me about New York Times columnist Nicholos Kristof's piece today on Mukhtaran Bibi, a Pakistani woman.
Ms. Muktaran was "sentenced by a tribal council to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300."
Ms. Mukhtaran is a heroine--she went to court and six of her persecutors were convicted. She used the money from the verdict to set up two schools in her village. Kristof, who has written about her before, deals today with the Pakistani government repressiveness--it is preventing her from visiting the U.S.
Pakistan is a brutal society, and Ms. Mukhtaran is to be commended for setting up a school instead of turning to hatred.
But Kristof is not to be commended for using today's column to stick it to President Bush (as he does) or to an ally we need. Kristof began the column by sarcastically intoning that bin Laden hasn't been caught because Pakistan is too busy pursuing its own citizens--and I thought it was because he was hiding in the mountains!
He goes on to say:
"I've been sympathetic to Mr. Musharraf till now, despite his nuclear negligence, partly because he's cooperated in the war on terrorism and partly because he has done a good job nurturing Pakistan's economic growth, which in the long run is probably the best way to fight fundamentalism. So even when Mr. Musharraf denied me visas all this year, to block me from visiting Ms. Mukhtaran again and writing a follow-up column, I bit my tongue.
"But now President Musharraf has gone nuts.
"'This is all because they think they have the support of the U.S. and can get away with murder,' Ms. Jahangir said. Indeed, on Friday, just as all this was happening, President Bush received Pakistan's foreign minister in the White House and praised President Musharraf's 'bold leadership.'"
Not all ill can be laid at the doorstep of the U.S. Pakistan was an oppressive society that lacked rights for women long before it became an ally of the U.S. Would New York Times readers have been interested in a similar story that didn't involve a U.S. ally?
Don't Let Him Turn on the Computer
A California priest "dogged by allegations of financial and sexual impropriety" has refused a new assignment in Bakersfield's St. Philip the Apostle Church.
Amy Welborn has admirably summed up the situation in what she calls "the short version:"
"Short version: This is the priest who was discovered to be trolling for sex on the internet and who misspent 60,000 of his parish's money on personal expenses. He went to St. Luke's for treatment, and was to be reassigned in a new parish. He's withdrawn. The bishop's statement:
"In his letter to parishioners, [Bishop John] Steinbock said [Father Michael] Lastiri's downfall centered on compulsive behavior for which he sought counseling since his departure from Merced.
"'The issue with Father Lastiri has been one of addiction, not criminal sexual behavior. It has been addiction both to the fantasy world of the Internet and to the spending of money,' Steinbock wrote. "Lastiri was to start his new work in Bakersfield this week, but Steinbock said 'a good deal of gossip and misinformation have distorted public perception,' creating an environment that linked Lastiri to Catholic child sex abuse scandals.
"Steinbock specifically said Lastiri did not harm children, and the bishop praised Lastiri for his 'exemplary' work in the diocese.
"Steinbock implored parishioners to pray for Lastiri `as he simply seeks to continue to serve the Lord, giving thanks to him for the power of love and mercy in his own personal life.'"
What's so shocking is that this bishop, like so many, can only speak in terms of addiction--does he not know a three letter word that the Church has used historically to cover such actions as those of Father Lastiri? I'd say that the bishop is overly forgiving, except you can't forgive an addiction.
If the Lastiri story depresses you, here's an uplifting one about the modern Catholic hermits who seek to follow in the footsteps of the ancient ones:
"In recent decades, the word 'hermit' has come to mean anyone who lives off the grid, from Emily Dickinson to the Unabomber, and the hermits following the ancient Christian tradition have been found mostly living on monastery grounds. Now a tiny but growing number of Catholics--regular people like [Agnes] Long [a hermit who lives alone in the woods], with children, marriages and careers in their pasts--are embracing the hermit life as it was conceived in the desert 16 centuries ago. They are choosing solitude, celibacy and asceticism in order to focus full time on God.
"To accommodate their life choices, some dioceses have recently developed guidelines where would-be hermits go through a rigorous process that involves interviews, psychological testing and counseling. In the end, after taking vows similar to those of a priest or a nun, the hermit lives in isolation but maintains an official connection with a bishop. The number of these hermits is probably in the double digits, but that's not the only route. Nine hundred people subscribe to Raven's Bread, a newsletter for people interested in the hermit life, up from 700 last year, and many of them are leading some kind of ascetic existence, says Karen Fredette, who coedits the newsletter with her husband. Most subscribers are Catholic, but some are Protestant and others are Hindu, Sufi and Buddhist. Recent issues contain testimonials from a 51-year-old psychotherapist in New Jersey, a New York City dweller and a hermit who lives in a hut without plumbing or electricity in the hills of Pennsylvania."
Reducing AIDS in Africa (or anywhere, for that matter) requires a change of behavior. In two columns (here and (here) from Africa, New York Times columnist David Brooks has dared to write this truth, a truth that is unpalatable to many elites in the West.
In Saturday's column ("The Wisdom We Need to Fight AIDS"), Brooks wrote about going to a church in Mozambique that helps AIDS sufferers:
"They also talk about the consequences of unsafe sex. But after a while they slip out of the language of safety and into a different language. They say, "It is easier for those who have been touched by God to accept when a woman says no." They talk about praying for the man who beats his H.I.V.-positive wife, and trying to bring him into the congregation. They have polygamists in their church but say God loves monogamy best.
"In the week I've spent traveling around southern Africa, I've been struck by how much technical knowledge we have brought to bear combating AIDS. You give us a problem that can be solved technically - like creating the medicines to treat the disease - and we can perform mighty feats.
"The problem is that while treatment is a technical problem, prevention is not. Prevention is about changing behavior. It is getting into the hearts of people in their vulnerable moments - when they are drinking, when they are in the throes of passion - and influencing them to change the behavior that they have not so far changed under the threat of death."
Why are the bureaucrats and intellectuals of the West so appalled by what I like to call purpose-driven prescriptions to end AIDS? Such suggestions hark back to a religious based past they have for the most part rejected, of course.
And, of course, they don't feel right asking people in Africa to abstain from sex outside of marriage when they don't, though for those in the West, where the most up to date medicine is available, the consequences aren't so dire. So, in a way, Africa suffers for the sins of the developed world.
"Between a Rock Star and a Hard Place"
Best Headline (but, alas, only in the print edition): "Between a Rock Star and a Hard Place," on a piece on the planned protests by the lead singer of U2 and others over the meeting of the G8 nation leaders in Scotland:
"Politicians are caught between a rock star and a hard place because the cause of world poverty is such a noble one. Unfortunately, it is also an economic problem that will only be solved by good economics, rooting out the prevalent corruption in the continent and stopping tribal and civil warfare. This leaves politicians who see reality looking like Scrooge on Christmas Eve, losing the moral high ground to the rock stars and protesters wearing their hearts on their designer sleeves."
Get a Grip
New Criterion editor Roger Kimball has a good grip on the Qur'an at Gitmo issue: "By all means, let us treat prisoners with the dignity and respect they lack in their own lives. Let us not besmirch or ridicule the Koran. But let us also preserve some rudimentary contact with reality. These people are terrorists and suspected terrorists. Many--probably most--of them have dedicated their lives to slaughtering innocent Westerners, inspired, note well, by the very document our soldiers are enjoined to handle as a 'fragile piece of delicate art' (as distinct, one supposes from a 'sturdy piece of delicate art')."
The Washington Post's Diana West also had a delicious column on how to handle the Qur'an, beginning with a description of the military directives:
"According to Section 6-5-c(3), should a Koran need to be removed from a detainee's cell -- you know, carried somewhere -- and the detainee is personally unable to move it (best option), and the Muslim chaplain, librarian and interpreter are also unable to move it (second-best option), then the U.S. Army guard, as a very last resort, may take action -- but only 'after approval by the DOC (who notes this in the DIMS).'
"Then the insanity really begins. The guard is directed to don 'clean gloves ... in full view of the detainees prior to handling.' He must use 'two hands ... at all times when handling the Koran in a manner signaling respect and reverence.' Why 'respect' alone isn't abundantly sufficient isn't mentioned. While signaling two-handed respect and reverence, however, the guard must be mindful that 'care should be used so that the right hand is the primary one used to manipulate any part of the Koran due to the cultural association with the left hand.'
"It goes on. There's more 'reverent manner,' more instructions for conveying the book inside a 'clean, dry detainee towel.' The cockeyed picture is clear. But it doesn't explain what's going on.
"At first glance, this scene may seem to exemplify a bizarre excess of good manners, an absurdly obsequious respect for a largely foreign faith. Since when does the United States specifically direct its soldiers to show two-handed 'reverence' in the handling of any religious book? But it seems to me that there's more behind this charade. The 'clean gloves' and 'detainee' towels are the tip off. The fact is, under Islamic law, non-Muslims are deemed unfit to touch the Koran. That much is generally known. What is not usually considered is the reason: According to the Islamic law, we are unclean."
Please don't get me wrong--I don't want to treat any book regarded by any religion as sacred in a rude or disrespectful fashion. But I am fascinated with the degree of solicitude about the Koran--it's important not to "abuse" it, but the solicitude is overwhelming.
People who most likely defended artist Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ," a crucifix suspended in the artist's urine, as a work of art are concerned that the Koran might be handled irreverently. I think there are two powerful impulses behind this: First, the left, even the anti-American left, is basically scared of Islam. They know that followers of Islam wouldn't just sigh over a sacrilege that calls itself art. Can you imagine an artist doing something equivalent of Serrano's "Piss Christ" thriving in the Islamic world?
But there is a second reason: Like some members of the Islamic faith, they, too, regard Western civilization as unclean. Tales of Koranic abuse make the West look uncultured and are therefore to be publicized, with or without verification.
Reforming the Reform
One of the reasons I was pulling for the man who became Benedict XVI is that I thought he'd do something for the degraded Catholic liturgy. Though (as far as one could tell from TV) the Vatican always had beauty in the Mass, there is an early sign that Benedict is thinking about the liturgy and how to bring it back to its former beauty:
He appears to be on the verge of replacing the Vatican's master of ceremonies under Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Piero Marini:
"Marini has been the director of the papal masses since 1987. Very often, thanks to the fact that these are broadcast on television, they are seen by hundreds of millions of people all over the world, and are thus raised to the level of a universal model.
"And it is thanks in large part to Marini that the masses of John Paul II took on their characteristic form. It is a form that is less Roman and more international. Gregorian chant and polyphony have been mostly removed, and their place in the papal rites has been given frequently to music, texts, and dances taken from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
"But in addition to being international, John Paul II's liturgies were typical television fare. Marini himself theorized - in a July 19, 2003 interview with "La Civiltà Cattolica" - that 'the direction of the liturgy is obliged to harmonize itself with television direction.'
"The systematic use of television for the papal masses will remain with Benedict XVI.
"But it can be foreseen, on the other hand, that the `direction of the liturgy' will not be the same. As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger never kept secret his criticisms of some aspects of Marini's preferred approach.
"And even with his inaugural mass Benedict XVI has made it clear that he wants to accomplish a 'reform of the reform' in this area, with increased fidelity to the great tradition of the Church."
Making Poverty History versus Histrionics
Calling all Beautiful People: The campaign to Make Poverty History wants you to come to Edinburgh to demand "trade justice, debt cancellation, and more and better aid for the world's poorest countries" when leaders of the G8 nations meet there in July.
And like wow:
"Thousands will gather in Edinburgh to spearhead the call to make poverty history in a passionate, peaceful protest. Later the same day, millions will echo that call as they take part in LIVE 8 - concerts in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Philadelphia, brought together in one TV broadcast around the world.
"The LIVE 8 event will be free and will see some of the world's greatest acts take to the stage, including U2, Robbie Williams, Scissor Sisters alongside legends Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney."
Loose Canon is taking a powder. There's a problem with foreign aid: It often makes the poverty worse, not better. Foreign aid often keeps corrupt regimes in power, for one thing, and the regulations that often come from the international bureaucracy all too often stifle something that can alleviate poverty: enterprise.
Here's a snippet from a terrific piece in the (London) Spectator that explains why the Make Poverty History gang will most likely do just the opposite:
"As the G8 leaders meet in Gleneagles next month to discuss 'Africa and Climate Change', Nairobi's poor residents will burn whatever they can to keep warm.
"Wood and dung are the primary sources of energy in Kenya and much of Africa - providing heat for the home and cooking. Clean fuels such as natural gas and electricity, not to mention central heating and air-conditioning, are luxuries reserved for plutocrats, politicians, and NGOs. Why do so many Africans rely on dirty energy sources? For the same reason that they are poor: their oppressive governments prevent them engaging in mutually beneficial economic activities. It is illegal in most African states to start a business without a licence. And licences are available only to those with government connections."
There will also be "climate control" regs aimed at preventing global warming, which may or may not be headed our way in a century or so, when just the opposite actions are needed:
"At present, government control of water leads to massively inefficient overuse. Privatising water would force consumers and producers to pay prices that reflect delivery costs, thus providing incentives to use water more rationally and encouraging new methods of production and delivery - such as piping water over longer distances or desalinating seawater."
I continue to believe that purpose-driven poverty programs (as summed up below by Catholic blogger Diogenes) are what's needed:
"Ironically, the Catholic Church has long been the 'expert' in reducing poverty without decimating the poor -- namely, through the work of her missionary religious congregations in running schools in areas of destitution. It would be a pity if media-driven sentimentalisms allowed the rock concert relief model to eclipse the example of missionaries and the teaching orders, especially among Catholics. It would be a tragedy if churchmen, even inadvertently, gave permission to governments to implement contemporary statist solutions to the problem of the unproductive poor. We see how the Dutch Approach deals with expensive nuisances like sick babies and sick elderly. Do we want to let these folks teach us how to make poverty 'history?'"
Yes, I know, it's not very glam.
But do me a favor: If you'd yearning to go to Edinburgh town, ask yourself one question: Do I want to make history, or do I want to make the scene?
The Myth of the Stem Cell Ban
One of the comments on the mini-board reflects a common misunderstanding about embryonic stem cell research. I had quoted the Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation: "In real life," Feulner wrote, "money follows results. When an inventor creates a useful product, investors find him, market the product and sell it. There's no need for the federal government to get involved."
A Beliefnet member responded: "That's a great quote. Um, however, how is anyone suppose to get any results when they have highly limited access to stem cell lines thanks to President Bush? Just a thought."
Contrary what readers of newspapers might think, there is no ban on embryonic stem cell research. Private companies are free to do whatever research they want, using whatever stem cell lines they wish to use. No federal money can be used for embryonic stem cell research (except with certain approved stem-cell lines). This is a restriction, not a ban.
Did Christ Die of a Blood Clot?
There's an interesting report that Dr. Benjamin Brenner, a researcher at the Rambam Medical Center in Israel, believes that Christ died from a blood clot that reached his lungs, not the asphyxiation and blood loss commonly associated with Crucifixion:
"However, the author of an earlier in-depth medical report into the cause of Jesus' death dismissed the theory, and Bible scholars said that while establishing the physical cause of Jesus' death was interesting, it ignored the spiritual dimension."
It does seem likely that Brenner, who has an angle--he wants to promote pulmonary embolism awareness--is wrong. But establishing the cause of Christ's death does not ignore the spiritual dimension: His suffering and the reality of Crucifixion are very much part of the "spiritual dimension."
If you'd like to pursue the matter, there's a terrific book, "A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon." Pierre Barbet, a French physician, is the author.
Few things make me angrier than the hesitation to prescribe strong drugs such as, say, OxyContin, to people who are in pain because there are jerks out there who abuse it. For this reason, I was not pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling about marijuana used for medical purposes. I still believe that the sick should have recourse to such pain remedies as marijuana, but Charles Krauthammer explains why the Court's reasoning may have been correct.
More on Purpose-Driven Poverty Relief
My mild caveats about "Purpose Driven Life" author and Baptist minister Rick Warren's embarking on a quest for debt relief (and apparently more financial aid) to Third World countries provoked quite a bit of outrage on the mini-board (to the right).
"Ms. Hays comments about the purpose driven life being the way to fight poverty is self-serving," said one Beliefnet member. "She cannot call herself a Catholic and ignore the suffering of those who cannot help themselves. Shame on you."
Did I indicate that I am impervious to suffering? What I said, perhaps badly, is that many poverty programs designed to end Third World poverty have not helped--e.g., the debt Warren wants us to forgive is largely creation of high-minded Western efforts to relieve poverty that--sad to say--mostly added more poverty.
From what little I know, Warren strikes me as the genuine article. He seems really to want evangelicals (and presumably American taxpayers) to follow Christ's injunction to help the poor. That said, in all too many cases aid makes the aiders feel good (smug?) without helping anybody else.
Brit columnist Peter Hitchens had a piece Sunday on the Live 8 concerts, ostensibly designed to help the poor in the Third World, that asked the right question: "Can the starving children of Africa save our has-been pop stars yet again?" Sadly, you can't get the Hitchens piece without paying, but there was a good response to it here:
"Hitchens' witty conceit was that Live 8 - an international music-fest fronted by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to 'raise awareness' about the Make Poverty History campaign, a kind of belated sequel to their 1985 effort, Live Aid - was more about feeding pop egos than feeding the world. Once again, he wrote, 'the hungry, terrorised children of Africa' are being called upon 'to help rescue the sagging reputations of that needy and deprived group of balding, clapped-out rock stars who still long for the crowds that once listened to them' Ouch....
"In this sense, Live 8 is little more than the pop wing of G8, and Make Poverty History is little more than a management committee making sure that America, Britain, France and the rest push through their Millennium Development Goals. There is little radical or even independent about Make Poverty History and Geldof's coinciding global pop jamboree. They might consider themselves punkish and edgy, but these pop and rock acts are merely shouting at the world powers to do what they had already planned to do - slowly and incrementally eradicate only the worst instances of poverty and starvation in the world today. Bob, Bono and the rest simply provide the soundtrack to officialdom's slothful anti-poverty campaign."
Loose Canon complains not that officialdom's anti-poverty campaign is slothful but that it so often is counterproductive. It is counterproductive in part because the West is willing to send money but doesn't dare ask for behavioral changes that really do help decrease poverty. I was disappointed that Warren's letter said nothing about the purpose-driven life that is one of the best ways to fight poverty.
New York Times columnist David Brooks has a piece today that shows what can happen if there is a combination of financial aid and willingness for recipients to embrace the purpose-driven life.
Conning the Taxpayer
We've heard about all the wondrous things that embryonic stem cells will do for humankind--but if embryonic stem cell research were really that promising, private investors would be stepping over each other to get in on the ground floor.
"In real life, money follows results," writes Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation. "When an inventor creates a useful product, investors find him, market the product and sell it. There's no need for the federal government to get involved.
"In fact, federal involvement usually means an approach has failed. Farmers demand subsidies, for example, when they can no longer profitably sell their crops. And some manufacturers, faced with less expensive products from overseas, demand protective tariffs.
"This principle helps illuminate the ongoing debate over federal funding for embryonic stem cells to treat and cure disease. Researchers would harvest these cells from human embryos for medical treatment, destroying the embryos in the process. Despite serious ethical misgivings, some in Congress want taxpayers to spend money on it. But, at a recent panel at the Heritage Foundation, Dr. Kelly Hollowell, a molecular and cellular pharmacologist, noted that, despite widespread media hype over embryonic stem-cell research, it hasn't attracted significant private investment."
There Really Is Qur'an Abuse at Gitmo
Loose Canon regrets that there really was irreverent handling of the Qur'an at Gitmo. Here are foreign affairs columnist Max Boot's revelations on the subject:
"All the headlines about 'Abuse of the Koran at Gitmo' are absolutely accurate. Brig. Gen. Jay Hood's internal investigation has uncovered some shocking incidents. On at least six occasions, Korans were ripped up. They were urinated on three times, and attempts were made to flush them down the toilet at least three other times.
"Why aren't millions of Muslims rioting in response to these defilements? Because the perpetrators were prisoners, not guards. As John Hinderaker notes on weeklystandard.com, the most serious desecrations of the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility were committed by the Muslim inmates themselves."
Who Gets the Needlepoint Kneelers?
It's come to this: A Washington Times story reports that when 20 Episcopal bishops meet next month, they will be "talking about divorce:"
"If differences between Episcopal liberals and conservatives are quickly determined to be 'irreconcilable,' says retired Diocese of Florida Bishop Stephen Jecko, the discussion will switch to engineering a breakup without running up millions of dollars in lawsuits."
The story that the bishops will discuss dividing the property was reported by conservative Episcopalian journalist David Virtue. Liberal bishops denied this to the Washington Times. A spokesman for the Bishop of Washington, who is planning the meeting, indicated that a split is not imminent, but said, "There may be no satisfying of some folks."
Why do I think he wasn't referring to the folks who rammed through the ordination of an openly gay bishop even though it split their church?
Rick Warren's New Purpose
The Rev. Rick Warren, author of the best-selling "The Purpose Driven Life: What Am I Here For?" is joining the Rev. Billy Graham, John Stott and other evangelicals in asking President Bush to help relieve extreme poverty in the world.
Here are a few excerpts from a letter from Warren, currently circulating the internet:
"You've probably read in the papers about 'The ONE Campaign: To Make Poverty History' that's been endorsed by a wide coalition of folks from all across the faith and political spectrum. Helping the hurting is something we all want to do.
"I've never been involved in partisan politics--and don't intend to do so now--but global poverty is an issue that rises far above mere politics. It is a moral issue... a compassion issue... and because Jesus commanded us to help the poor, it is an obedience issue!
"We are blessed to be a blessing to others, and certainly America, as the most blessed nation on our planet, has the greatest obligation to help those who are stuck in poverty around the world. Last month, I was in Kenya and Uganda, and then in Rwanda where the average income in that nation is 67 cents a day! Imagine trying to raise a family on that.
"If you were hopelessly in debt, with no chance of ever getting out of debt--or even your children getting out of debt--you'd despair. But if someone cancelled all your debts--as the Bible commanded Israel to often do--you'd have the hope of a new future. The poor aren't asking for a handout--they just need a hand up!
"This summer, at the G8 conference, our nation has a historic opportunity to lead the world by showing a visible and significant commitment to the fight against global poverty, hunger, and disease. In early July, President Bush will gather together with leaders from the world's eight wealthiest nations in Edinburgh, Scotland, to discuss these very issues -- especially in Africa....
"But there is something ...that you can do right now: Join me and other evangelical leaders in an open letter to President Bush that encourages him--with our support and prayers--to take specific, measurable actions to fight poverty, hunger, and disease at the G8 summit. Below is a copy of the text of this open letter we're sending."
As Christians, we should, of course, be eager to give financial help to those in need. But just a few caveats: the "debt" to which Warren refers is not the kinds of debts you and I might run up--it's debt to the World Bank or other agencies that have been involved in world poverty.
Instead of making poverty history, the West has gotten many of these nations in debt, and much of the money has gone to corrupt regimes.
The other thing that bothers me about Warren's letter--he neglects to mention the one thing that really fights poverty--a purpose-driven life.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Loose Canon has attended (as a reporter!) many liturgies put on by Catholic feminists. At one ritual, I had an epiphany: These women had missed out on summer camp. If they had gone to camp, they would have satiated their desire for campfire rituals.
But they are still at it. Reuters reports that nine women who already have been excommunicated now plan to be "ordained" Catholic priests:
"The July 25 ceremony will take place on a boat on the St. Lawrence River in a bid to be in international waters, the coordinator said on Tuesday, though the U.S.-Canadian border actually goes down the middle of the river.
"In a further challenge to Vatican orthodoxy, the women may be married, divorced or remarried - 'as long as they're in a stable relationship or are a stable person,' said U.S. activist Judith Johnson, who is organizing the ordination. ...
"The movement started with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in Germany in 2002. Two of them, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger of Austria and Gisela Forster of Germany, will be ordaining the four priests and five deacons on the St. Lawrence. The two say they have been made bishops by Catholic bishops in good standing with Rome.
"But in 2003, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict -- excommunicated the 'Danube Seven.'"
Let's try to get this straight--an excommunicated woman believes that she can ordain other women to be Catholic priests. And somebody said there were problems with Anglican orders!
Reuters bills the boat ride/ordination as an event that "will amount to a test of Pope Benedict's determination to enforce the Vatican's ban on women's ordination."
Off the Record comments: "Come, now: Is this a 'test' for the Pope, or an eccentric fantasy played out by a small female cast? If I told you that my Uncle Harry has proclaimed himself the Holy Roman Emperor, would you conclude that Harry is testing the legitimacy of the European Union? Or that Harry is a garden-variety nutcase?"
I still say a few miserable weeks at Camp Hiawatha could have prevented the madness.
A Painful Decision
It is interesting that the Supreme Court is now "getting tough with the terminally ill:"
"The court ruled that even though medical marijuana may be homegrown and not for sale, it nevertheless falls under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
"While lawyers hash out the legal intricacies, normal people are left wondering whether the Supreme Court has been partaking of the evil weed. Exceptions would be dissenters Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas.
"Who, after all, gets hurt when dying or sick people smoke pot?
"Quick aside to the feds: When my spine is disintegrating from cancer and I'm blind from glaucoma and I can't take a breath without agonizing pain, I'm gonna toke up, OK? Just fyi.
"It seems remote to ridiculous that federal agents now will start arresting sick people for getting high, though stranger things can and do happen...."
Columnist Kathleen Parker goes on to note that the Court ruling follows on the heels of a study that recommends the legalization and taxation of marijuana. According to the report, economists, including Milton Friedman, put the cost of marijuana prohibition at around $7.7 billion annually. Tax revenues are estimated at $6.2 billion a year.
Another reason to legalize: Legalization would drastically reduce the price of drugs, and that would mean that fewer innocent people would be harmed in drug-related violence.
An intrepid reporter from the New York Times called Christian screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi to chat about why Christians are so scary. She transcribed the exchange:
Barb: (loud, snorting and sneering laughter) Are you kidding me?
Barb: I finally get interviewed by the New York Times, and you ask me a question like that?! (more snorting and laughing)
James: (sniffs) Are you laughing because you think it's funny that people find Christians frightening?
Barb: No. I'm laughing because you want me to tell you why you and your friends are scared of Christians -- and I think you should ask your therapist! Relapsed Catholic told me about this.
A New Red Scare?
Loose Canon's friend Dave Shiflett has finally explained the sudden hysteria about those scary evangelicals. Shiflett proposes that we "are in the midst of a new Red Scare--with Commies being replaced by Red State Christians and their allies in the Blue zone."
It does have an odd emotional pitch, doesn't it, this fear of Christians? But Shiflett suggests that the theocracy scare is pretty much a blue state hallucination:
"[I] n the course of reporting a new book (Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity) I found little evidence of a crusading spirit here in Jesusland. Quite the contrary. Not long ago, many people who are today called fanatical believers would have been labeled fully formed heretics. They may take their faith seriously, but they don't take it to the streets."
In another piece, Shiflett explains why traditional religion is more appealing than the liberal varieties of religious experience: believers don't want God-lite:
"Writer Andy Ferguson encountered the lesser god while taking a class at a West Coast Episcopal seminary. Andy sometimes argued basic Christian beliefs with a professor. After one such discussion he repaired to the lunchroom, where he was approached by a fellow student. 'We have finally figured out what your problem is,' the classmate said. 'You are the only one here who believes in God.' Andy thought it over and concluded: This guy is right. Thus began a journey that recently took him into Catholicism. In economic terms he had switched brands. It's highly unlikely he'll be switching back.
"Andy's not alone. The most recent 'Religious Congregations and Membership' study, published in 2000 (the study is conducted each decade) by the Glenmary Research Center, tells the statistical story. Progressive churches are progressing, it seems, ever closer to oblivion. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (11,106 churches) has experienced a decline of 11.6 percent over the previous ten years; the United Methodist Church (35,721 churches) was down 6.7 percent; and the Episcopal Church (7,314 churches) lost 5.3 percent of its membership. Also, the United Churches of Christ (5,863 churches) declined 14.8 percent while the American Baptist Churches USA were down 5.7 percent."
Have They No Shamenesty?
Loose Canon was too kind yesterday to Amnesty International. I wrote that Amnesty, which called the U.S. detention center at Gitmo "a gulag," no longer felt the need to verify "facts." Scratch the no longer.
Here's a relevant snippet from piece headlined "Shamenesty International":
"[I]t's essential to know the messenger. In this case, Amnesty, the hand-wringer of the week, is no friend of American foreign policy. The group, whose roots lie with early 20th century leftists both here and in Britain, has always bent over backwards to make the capitalist U.S. look bad. Consider that the 'Americas Regional Overview' in this 2005 annual report goes on at length about the U.S. and its detention camp, the U.S. and its horrible friend the government of Colombia, the U.S. and its evil counter-narcotics efforts in the region, yet makes not one mention of communist Fidel Castro's abominations in Cuba. Also, the report bends over backwards to blame the human-rights abuses of the quasi-communist Venezuelan government on those trying to unseat President Hugo Chavez.
"The report's tone is reminiscent of its Cold War work, when Amnesty rather perversely thought it important to be even-handed in its assessment of Soviet human-rights abuses and our own. Considering Amnesty's fellow-traveler pedigree, perhaps it intended its Stalinist `gulag' comparison as a compliment."
In addition to the above, a column by John Leo also left me toying with the idea that Amnesty might lack objectivity about the U.S.:
"A different omission marred the reporting of Amnesty International's report charging torture in U.S. detainment camps. The group didn't just call Guantanamo a 'gulag,' an over-the-top remark that was universally reported. In a press release that most reporters ignored, the group also invited foreign governments to snatch certain visiting American officials off the streets and bring them to trial for crimes against humanity. The suggested snatchees, should they travel abroad, were President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA Director George Tenet, and other unnamed civilian and military officials. Amnesty International said that 'all states have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute people responsible for these crimes,' just as the British pounced on Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. The snatching recommendation wasn't new, but the Amnesty press release is a useful reminder of the dangers of signing on to the International Criminal Court."
"Amnesty is, however, correct in one important respect. For far too long Americans have ceded the language of international human rights to just about everyone else on the planet. The failure to make the case for key elements of American foreign policy in human-rights terms has left the field wide open to the haters of America and of democracy, allowing them to appropriate and subvert the political currency of human rights. Every American kid on campus knows that the local human-rights club is an America-bashing hangout. If they are caring, compassionate, and full of energy to assist their brothers and sisters in all corners of the globe, they have nowhere to go - at least until they take the pledge of non-allegiance. Maybe Amnesty's absurdity will help sound a long overdue alarm bell."
Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to priests and lay people in the basilica of St. John Lateran: "The different current forms of dissolution of marriage, such as free unions, trial marriages, and even the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are actually expressions of an anarchic liberty that passes itself off--falsely--as the true liberation of man."
Catholic World News reported that the Holy Father added that this "pseudo-freedom" leads to "the banalization of mankind," driven by the belief that man "can do what he wants with himself, his body being a secondary thing."
Speaking of gay "marriage," here's a distressing report on a mock celebration at Notre Dame in Paris, at which a priest was slightly injured:
"About 20 members of the group Act Up entered the cathedral and proceeded to perform the mock marriage in front of baffled tourists and worshippers, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene. One activist - dressed as a priest - pronounded the two women married, while other Act Up members chanted: 'Pope Benedict XVI, homophobe, AIDS accomplice.'
"With security officials in pursuit, they then fled the cathedral, but clashes broke out outside the Paris landmark, during which Monsignor Patrick Jacquin suffered a minor neck injury. He was treated at the scene."
Sound like nice folks, n'est pas?
Bettinelli has a list of suggested songs for the Jesuit songbirds that are right for the post-Dallas conference Catholic Church:
When "Alleged" Isn't Enough
Amnesty International has stooped to the level of Michael Moore. The organization has allowed reflexive anti-Americanism and Bush hatred to turn them into liars. They now admit that Amnesty isn't able to back up its claim that the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay is a "gulag":
"The head of Amnesty International's American branch yesterday acknowledged that he 'doesn't know for sure' what is going on at Guantanamo Bay prison, although Amnesty International's secretary-general has called the terrorist prison run at a U.S. military base in Cuba a 'gulag.'...
"'I don't believe [the charges] are irresponsible,' said [William] Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A. 'I've told you the ways in which I think that [there are] analogies between the Soviet prison system and the United States.'
"Pressed to cite concrete evidence that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales are the 'architects' of 'systematic torture at the prison, Schulz could produce none.
"'We don't know for sure what all is happening at Guantanamo and our whole point is that the United States ought to allow independent human rights organizations to investigate,' Mr. Schulz said, adding that Amnesty International was careful to use the word 'alleged' when accusing high-level Bush administration officials."
Wouldn't it have been better to just rant and rave that the administration has declared Gitmo off-limits? Amnesty apparently no longer feels its claims need to be verified if they involve the United States. Call it the triumph of ideology over reality--they jes' know that prisoners are being abused.
The U. S. military did ask Brigadier General Jay Hood to look into the allegations of Koran abuse at Gitmo. His report is out, and, writing in the Weekly Standard, John Hinderaker (best known for his fine work at Power Line) notes that reading the document "suggests how far our public discourse has diverged from any realistic understanding of war, prisons, or human behavior."
"The Hood report documents an exquisite concern for the religious sensibilities of Guantanamo's detainees," writes Hinderaker.
Which Is the Parody?
Amnesty isn't the only group living in a delusional world. There's also the establishment press. David Broder of the Washington Post neatly summed up one of their delusions in a column criticizing those who have criticized Mark Felt, who as Deep Throat propelled the Watergate scandal forward:
"Felt did what whistle-blowers need to do. He took his information to reporters who diligently dug up the evidence to support his well-founded suspicions.
"The republic was saved and the public well served. That [Chuck] Colson and [Pat] Buchanan still don't get it speaks volumes about them."
No, the republic was not saved because the republic was not threatened. Nixon and his men were a rum bunch, and they were doing illegal things. But they were not threatening the republic. This is a delusion that makes the press feel important.
By the way, the Weekly Standard has a terribly funny parody on the Washington Post's self-congratulation in the wake of Deep Throat's family revealing his identity. Unfortunately, you can't get it without a subscription. But here's a "quote" from an imaginary media column: "I would argue that, unlike popes and potentates, the power exercised by the Post throughout its history has been almost exclusively for the good of man kind." See Broder, above.
God Goes to Hollywood
People who read People magazine always feel compelled to tell you they saw it in the beauty shop. They didn't buy it, for heaven's sake. In the same spirit, I was merely trolling the internet when I came across a report that blogger and Christian screenwriting guru Barbara Nicolosi had appeared on the 700 Club, which I don't watch.
It was an interesting segment on Hollywood and religion. Here's a snippet from the program:
Nicolosi said, "There's absolutely a new phrase in town these days, and it's called 'Passion dollars.'"
Dallas Jenkins is a Hollywood producer and son of Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the red-hot "Left Behind" book series.
Jenkins said, "The Monday morning after the opening weekend of 'The Passion of the Christ,' every studio in Hollywood was having meetings on 'How can we make a movie that's going to appeal to this audience that we didn't know existed?'"
Nicolosi responded to that by saying, "We absolutely have a window. We've been getting calls for overt Christian material from the most unlikely places."...
Jenkins, who is the president of Jenkins Entertainment, remarked, "They've seen the success of 'The Passion of the Christ' and of 'Veggie Tales,' and they want to get in on this business." But there will be "big downsides:"
For one, much of this spiritualism [in upcoming TV series] will be occult, not Christian -- more like NBC's 'The Medium' (she talks to dead people) rather than CBS's 'Joan of Arcadia' (she talks to God).
Nicolosi said, "People who have supernatural powers or gifts -- [and] demonic, kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed variations."
Theocracy in the Wild BlueYonder?
Loose Canon has been following the reports that there is religious pressure from Christians at the Air Force Academy. As with Amnesty and Gitmo, I've never been there. So I didn't write about my guess that it was blown out of proportion. But here's a column by somebody who has been at the Air Force Academy:
"[New Republic writer Jonathan] Chait gives three examples (allegedly 'of many') of runamok Christianity: chaplains encouraged cadets to proselytize; cadets who skipped chapel were mocked as part of a 'heathen flight,' the movie 'The Passion of Christ' was advertised as 'an officially sponsored USAFA event.'
"In response: First, even in the military discipline of the Academy with its significant restrictions on ordinary rights (e.g., no jokes about Clinton, when he was Commander-in-Chief), there remains free speech for religion and free religious exercise. The 'heathen flight' I have explained before: As a recent Academy graduate put it, the term was a joke. Again, we need to recall that virtually every minute of cadet time is scheduled. Students have the option of attending chapel, after dinner, but, if they didn't, they marched back to their dormitories. (They do a lot of marching there, including to meals.) They might study, sleep, or even pray back at their squadrons (dorms). In other words, the non-chapel attending cadets were not being mocked for their lack of religious faith. Finally, any event that takes place on a military base and is outside the regular schedule must be 'officially sponsored'--otherwise it is not permitted. Is Chait saying that 'The Passion of Christ' could not be shown on the base?"
Many thanks to Michelle Malkin for spotting this piece.
Is M. Scott Peck Possessed?
Psychologist M. Scott Peck is an interesting guy-a doctor who performs exorcisms and believes in the reality of Satan. I had expressed worry some time ago about his freelancing as a lay exorcist-it is better to battle the Devil in this very direct way under the auspices of the Church.
But I should have been worrying not that Dr. Peck would be possessed by a demon but that the PC gremlins would get him-he now believes that several of the Supreme Court justices who decided Bush V. Gore may have been possessed.
Just because the good doctor has been possessed by silliness doesn't mean that exorcism and possession are laughing matters. As John Miller writes in today's Opinion Journal:
"For a long time, many Catholics worried about appearing as ridiculous as Mr. Peck sounds. They considered exorcism an embarrassment. Even amid their church's medieval trappings--bells, holy water, icons and incense--formalized confrontations with evil spirits seemed to whiff of superstition. Nobody wanted to be accused of believing in the devil too much.
"In recent years, however, there has been something of a revival movement. Pope John Paul II is said to have performed a handful of exorcisms during his papacy. In 1999, the Vatican revised the rite of exorcism, updating a version that had been in use for centuries. There is now an International Association of Exorcists, and its conference last year in Mexico City drew more than 500 participants."
Was the Lincoln Bedroom on Offer?
Semi-disgraced Catholic Deal Hudson's ability to land on his feet is the talk of Catholics in Washington. The former editor of Crisis magazine moved-well, he didn't actually move, but I think they may have painted the office door-to head the closely-affiliated Morley Institute, after the National Catholic Reporter dredged up what Hudson referred to as "an incident in my past."
It seems that Hudson is unstoppable-but he has had a minor setback:
"A conservative Catholic magazine and think tank that advertised a `White House briefing' in exchange for a hefty contribution was forced to cancel the event yesterday after the White House suddenly backed out of the deal.
"Crisis magazine and its affiliated think tank, the Morley Institute for Church and Culture, had advertised Monday's seventh annual 36-hole Lazarus Golf Tournament benefit at the Bull Run Country Club in Haymarket, Va., as including a White House briefing the next day.
"A letter announcing the event, signed by Morley Institute director Deal Hudson, told golfers that they could bring guests to the White House. Officials slated to be at the event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building included Jim Towey of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
"The tab for the golf tournament was $2,000 for one person, $3,500 for a twosome or $6,000 for a foursome. A priest could be sponsored for $1,500.
"After being questioned by The Washington Times yesterday afternoon about the briefing, White House officials quickly canceled the event."
Domenico Bettinelli seems to think it all might have been a big misunderstanding.
Couldn't Agree More
Baptist pastor Albert Mohler gets at the root of the intensity displayed in the gay "marriage" debate: "So, what is driving the demand for same-sex marriage? In the end, it has to be a desire to dethrone marriage as the one paramount obstacle to the full normalization and acceptance of same-sex relationships. As an institution, marriage defines itself as a reality, even as society invests marriage with certain recognized rights and responsibilities. More than anything else, the insistent drive for same-sex marriage must in actuality be an effort to relativize marriage by redefinition. As homosexual activist Michael Sigiorile has argued, marriage is an oppressive institution that must be destroyed in order to liberate human sexuality and establish true human freedom."
Come Unto Me All Ye That Travail And Are Heavy Laden
The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated today in Catholic Churches around the world. It started with a vision to a nun named Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675:
"Sixteenth century Calvinism and seventeenth Jansenism preached a distorted Christianity that substituted for God's love and sacrifice of His Son for all men the fearful idea that a whole section of humanity was inexorably damned.
"The Church always countered this view with the infinite love of our Savior who died on the cross for all men. The institution of the feast of the Sacred Heart was soon to contribute to the creation among the faithful of a powerful current of devotion which since then has grown steadily stronger. The first Office and Mass of the Sacred Heart were composed by St. John Eudes, but the institution of the feast was a result of the appearances of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675."
Here is a good meditation on the day.
Deep Throat, Celebrity Source
Deep Throat was so much more fun before we knew who he was. My colleague Charlotte Allen has summed up the letdown ("Honk if You Really Care Who Deep Throat Was").
The revelation of Deep's identity has touched off a debate over whether he was (in the words of the New York Post headline on early editions) "a creep or a hero." Well, golly, he was a source. Speak no ill of sources was always my motto because they helped me pay the rent by keeping me employed.
Some sources are idealistic, and some are rats, and some do it for fun (the ones I always ended up liking the most when I was a reporter) and some to grind an axe. I have a hard time being critical of a source because back in the day, I was dependent upon them. Some were jerks, and some came to be friends.
Deep Throat seems to have had a mixture of motives. The primary one, however, appears to have been that he was passed over for promotion. (See "Felt's Motivation Might Not Have Been So Noble.") He was a J. Edgar Hoover loyalist at the F.B.I. who didn't get the top job.
"There is little doubt [W. Mark] Felt [Deep Throat] thought the Nixon team were Nazis," [ed. Are all Republican presidents Nazis?] writes Watergate reporter Bob Woodward in the Washington Post piece cited earlier. Well, of course, there's little doubt that it would be noble to collaborate against Nazis. Felt may really have felt that the administration was evil, but I'm pretty sure an election year would have rolled around before they got around to a putsch.
I don't think Felt was a hero--I think he was a source. He is one I wish had not come forward because, corrupt as the Nixon administration was in many way, the results of Watergate (which included the establishment of a celebrity journalist culture, only now waning) were worse. Peggy Noonan has an excellent summary of what Deep Throat wrought:
"Ben Stein is angry but not incorrect: What Mr. Felt helped produce was a weakened president who was a serious president at a serious time. Nixon's ruin led to a cascade of catastrophic events--the crude and humiliating abandonment of Vietnam and the Vietnamese, the rise of a monster named Pol Pot, and millions--millions--killed in his genocide. America lost confidence; the Soviet Union gained brazenness. What a terrible time. Is it terrible when an American president lies and surrounds himself by dirty tricksters? Yes, it is. How about the butchering of children in the South China Sea. Is that worse? Yes. Infinitely, unforgettably and forever."
And what a world we live in--where even confidential sources want to come out of the woodwork and be celebrities.
It is interesting that some sources--the ones who said things that didn't please the media establishment--may have paid a bigger price than Deep Throat yet will never be acclaimed as heroes.
Some elements of the religious left have become so hysterical that it's difficult not to laugh at them. So go ahead. Laugh.
To get you started, here's a report from the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy on the big "Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right" conference in April in New York:
"The tone of the speakers was often quite shrill. 'Jim Jones [the 1970s cult leader who led followers in a mass suicide] has gone mainstream!' cried journalist Katherine Yurica. 'Today we are living in a nation governed by an unholy cult!' Yurica maintained that the Republican Party had gained power through 'Hitlerian tactics.'
"She insisted that evangelical leaders from Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell 'had to have read Hitler's Mein Kampf.' She explained, 'I say this confidently because anyone who has learned to quack like a duck has studied ducks!'
"'Our liberties are at stake!' declared the Rev. Bob Edgar, the NCC general secretary. Edgar added that 'these may be the darkest times in our history.'... According to the NCC leader, all of the gains of the civil rights movement are imperiled by 'those in power in Washington' who are 'taking us back to the 1940s.'"
Are We Barbarians Yet?
Loose Canon has already made it clear that she feels that the killing of Terri Schiavo represents our slide into barbarism. I haven't yet read the much-talked-about Joan Didion piece that reportedly doesn't toe the pro-death line, but I do want to recommend Dr. Paul McHugh's superb piece on the Schiavo case.
A former head of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins (and a practicing Catholic), McHugh notes that an important group was not heard from during the debate:
"Conspicuously missing from the chorus of voices arguing over the meaning and implications of the Schiavo case have been the views of a class of people with a uniquely relevant body of experience and insight: namely, the doctors and nurses who customarily provide care to patients like Terri Schiavo. As a result, few people appear to have grasped that the way she died was most unusual.
"That, instead, it has been widely understood to be not only a proper but also a perfectly commonsensical way to die, a way approved of by most doctors and nurses, can only be explained by a deep change that has taken place over the last decades in our thinking about how to care for the helpless and the disabled among us."
Misery in Africa--It's Not the Church's Fault
Relapsed Catholic says: "I don't say this very often: this is an absolute must read from an African atheist who is no fan of the Church's ban on birth control."
Dutch--but Not a Treat
Loose Canon was thrilled with the Dutch nee to the European Union, but that doesn't mean the Church in Holland is in good shape:
"[Dutch] Cardinal Johannes Simonis, who was in Malta for a convention of European carnival cities, told the Times, 'I find our country pagan.' On issues such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage, he added, 'Tolerance has reached the point of indifference.' ...
"Questioned on whether the Church would need to adapt in order to reach young people, the cardinal replied that the Church might change evangelical approaches, but not established teachings. He observed that "'here are certain topics within the Church that are non-negotiable.' He listed euthanasia, contraception, and homosexuality as controversial issues on which the Church cannot and will not change its public stance."
Abbey Road Blocked for Da Vinci
Westminster Abbey, where some of the action is set, isn't going to let the "Da Vinci Code" movie be filmed in its sacred precincts--well, even the C of E can get things right once in a while. In fact, the cathedral is putting together DVDs to explain why the novel is such a theological hash.
The novel is actually a fast-paced thriller, and it would be good clean fun if some numbskulls didn't confuse its tale of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and producing a blood line that culminates in a Louvre curator with the truth. The patriarchal Church is assumed to have suppressed the truth about Jesus and His offspring.
Author Dan Brown, who's become rich portraying the Church as a conspiracy that kills to hold onto temporal power, encourages readers to believe the novel contains historical truth. So let's hope that the Imp of medieval Lincoln Cathedral--where the movie will be shot--is going to play havoc with the filming:
"[Lincoln Cathedral], notorious for the devilish 'Lincoln Imp,' which is blamed for everything from sex scandals to the misfortunes of Lincoln City Football Club, will be the backdrop for the climactic scenes when the protagonists meet at the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton. ...
"Lincoln has a troubled history, for which many observers blame the Imp, a jaunty carving that was, according to legend, a small devil blown in by the wind and turned to stone by angels.
"After a high-profile consistory court in the 1990s, the former Dean, Dr Brandon Jackson, was acquitted of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards Verity Freestone, the former verger. At one point, the Dean said that he wanted to exorcise the cathedral of the evil spirits that he believed resided within. The ceremony was never carried out.
"The cathedral was involved in an earlier sex scandal in the 1920s. In 1185 it was partly destroyed by an earthquake and over the centuries the roof has been badly damaged by three fires. The spooky atmosphere, created by irregular angles in the masonry, also makes the building the ideal setting for a conspiracy theory novel."
I Like the Dutch Very Much
Or I will if reports on exit polls hold and the Dutch reject the constitution of the European Union. It is a hopeless jumble of international elitist blather, and it ignores the history and character of sovereign nations. It is also intensely anti-democratic, and that is why the backers of the EU won't stop pushing--because of rejections by ordinary voters.
As Anne Appelbaum noted in today's Washington Post (before Dutch polls were in):
"[O]ne of the most remarkable characteristics of the European Union is the ability of its leaders to keep building their institutions and expanding their power, not only ignoring but self-righteously ignoring European voters. In the months before its adoption, when opinion polls showed that most Germans were also opposed to a single European currency, I asked a German politician whether this bothered him. No, he said: The job of a politician is to explain to the people what is good for them, not the other way around.
"But the democratic deficit was built into the European project from the beginning, and it has grown along with Europe's institutions. For Europe is not, in fact, a nation; the European Commission is not, in fact, a sovereign government; and the European parliament actually has rather narrow powers and limited legitimacy. Nevertheless, the European Union writes more European law every year and influences a wider range of policies, from environmental regulation to arts subsidies to the length of the workweek. As a result, Europe's national parliaments are less important than they used to be, and national debates matter less too. Why argue about something you can't influence?"
Gitmo: The Story They Don't Want You to Hear
Decent people who love our country should be appalled by the media. Yesterday, the New York Times blew the cover on a charter flight service the CIA uses. No reason to do the story, no wrongdoing alleged. But a good little tip for terror operatives.
And then there is the media's relentless attempt to make us the bad guys, especially with regard to treatment of detainees at Gitmo. Michelle Malkin has a terrific piece on "The Truth about Guantanamo Bay":
"The mainstream media and international human rights organizations have relentlessly portrayed the Guantanamo Bay detention facility as a depraved torture chamber operated by sadistic American military officials defiling Islam at every turn. It's the 'gulag of our time,' wails Amnesty International. It's the 'anti-Statue of Liberty,' bemoans New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.
"Have there been abuses? Yes. But here is the rest of the story -- the story that the Islamists and their sympathizers don't want you to hear.
"According to recently released FBI documents, which are inaccurately heralded by civil liberties activists and military-bashers as irrefutable evidence of widespread `atrocities' at Gitmo:
"A significant number of detainees' complaints were either exaggerated or fabricated (no surprise given al Qaeda's explicit instructions to trainees to lie). One detainee who claimed to have been "beaten, spit upon and treated worse than a dog" could not provide a single detail pertaining to mistreatment by U.S. military personnel. Another detainee claimed that guards were physically abusive, but admitted he hadn't seen it.
"Another detainee disputed one of the now-globally infamous claims that American guards had mistreated the Koran. The detainee said that riots resulted from claims that a guard dropped the Koran. In actuality, the detainee said, a detainee dropped the Koran then blamed a guard. Other detainees who complained about abuse of the Koran admitted they had never personally witnessed any such abuse, but one said he had heard that non-Muslim soldiers touched the Koran when searching it for contraband.
"In one case, Gitmo interrogators apologized to a detainee for interviewing him prior to the end of Ramadan."
Brent Bozell points out that the elite press is at war with America.
Those of us who've been concerned about the appointment of San Francisco Archbishop William Levada to take Ratzinger's old job as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may be...wrong. A piece on Leveda in the National Catholic Register makes him sound more than okay:
"Former Vatican Ambassador Ray Flynn, who marched with Archbishop Levada in a 2004 Rosary rally affirming marriage and protesting the issuance of same-sex 'marriage' licenses in San Francisco, was delighted at the archbishop's selection.
"Bill May, chairman of Catholics for the Common Good, a Catholic action group that organized the marriage rally, said Archbishop Levada has 'shown that he is willing and able to put himself at risk when public opinion is against him, when standing for human rights and truth.'"