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Monday, February 16, 2015

James Ray: Man on Fire – UPDATED

The winner of the tin ear award has to go to Dr. Sharron Stroud who writes:

James Arthur Ray will be speaking for Innerfaith Spiritual Center Worldwide February 22nd. He has lifted himself Phoenix-Like from the Ashes of his former experience and is making a difference with what he has learned. Our Way of Life teaches the Power of Forgiveness and the Evolution of the Soul. The Path of each Being is filled with Spiritual Contracts and Karmic Experiences, the point being, what will we do with them?

What "hellacious hot" furnace did the old bird rise from, you ask? Why the one that consumed the lives of Kirby Brown, Liz Neuman, and James Shore, of course.

Stroud has stiff competition from Ray himself, though. Of all his new products, which does he choose to feature in the copy for this event? An ebook called Answers to Life's 11 Most Burning Questions. Natch! Reserve your ticket today, and you too can receive a free memento of the burning ring of fire that was that deadly sweat lodge.

I really have to wonder about the psychology of a person who would market himself with such fiery images, when he has so recently "arisen" from a prison term for cooking three people to death.

Stroud can be contacted through the center's address here:

InnerFaith Spiritual Center Worldwide
P. O. Box 2102 Palm Springs, CA 92263
Phone: 760-318-3196
Fax: 760-318-3196

Or on her Facebook page, where she explains her reasoning, thusly:

We teach the Power of Forgiveness and opening the space for Spiritual Realization. As Spiritual Beings we are not here to judge each other but to Heal each other.

While I can admire the lofty goal of compassion and forgiveness, even for a convicted killer like Ray, the level of obtuseness that went into the planning and marketing of this event defies reason and decency. If Ray had ever shown real self-awareness and genuine remorse for his crimes, it would be one thing. Instead, he remains awash in self-pity and unleashes one tone-deaf emanation of vapid cruelty after another.

Ray has also been sharing his pearls of inspirational wisdom as part of the Create Your Self Global Summit. Well, he certainly has created a lot of selves.

It also looks like he has created a marketing campaign for himself as the victim of this horrible tragedy – one he created himself by ignoring one warning after another over several years about making his sweat lodges too bloody hot. I don't know who wrote this copy, Ray or Henare and Kate O'Brien, but it's ghastly.

In 2009, after rising to the top of his industry, James was involved in a terrible accident that claimed the lives of three people he cared about deeply. The anguish of that event would have been enough… but it didn’t end there.

James subsequently lost his business that took 20 years to build, his entire life savings, his home, his reputation and many so-called friends and colleagues deserted him. Simultaneously, his Mother was diagnosed with cancer, his Father with dementia… James eventually lost his freedom.

Lost his freedom... yes it was a horrible injustice that he was convicted by a jury of his peers and went to prison for taking three lives.

There are some good people in this line-up, to be sure, but it's a gallery with a fair share of rogues. I can't help noticing that Teal Bosworth Scott Swan has also put in an appearance. It's no wonder they're giving it away at bargain basement prices.

But if this little Freudian slip is any indication, they might have some awareness of just what they're putting out there.

Yeah, it is kind of funny how much his name sounds like Martin Luther King's assassin.

Hen and Kate can apparently only be contacted through this form on their website. Whether or not they can be reached is an open question.

UPDATE: I was doing a little more googling and I stumbled on the the Facebook page for Ray's upcoming appearance for the Innerfaith Spiritual Center, the one they're calling "Forgiving and Awakening with James Arthur Ray." I couldn't help noticing that they have also posted that awful copy I noted above. This answers the question about the origin of the text. It obviously comes from Ray, so that's pretty horrifying.

Let's be clear. Ray didn't lose three friends in a "terrible accident." He killed three friends through his own criminal negligence, for which he was convicted and went to jail, thus temporarily losing his freedom.

Honestly, he really is like the kid who kills his parents and then wants everyone's pity because he's an orphan.

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Monday, February 02, 2015

Graham Hancock on Ancient Magicians

The sequel to one of my favorite books of all time Fingerprints of the Gods appears to be on track for its publication later this year. As Hancock explains, this lecture is already a little out of date because his research is moving at a pace. It is, however, extremely compelling. The correlations between the ancient catastrophe myths and the archaeological evidence really coming into focus. I highly recommend laying aside some time to hear about these Magicians of the Gods.

Hancock also mentions a very strange Ayahuasca experience. I mentioned this in an earlier post but I hadn't realized that he'd collected all those Facebook posts and placed them here on his site.

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Monday, January 05, 2015

Blaming Religion

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I noticed a link on my Facebook feed this morning to a Salon article on the "6 reasons religion may do more harm than good." The first reason listed: religion promotes tribalism.

Religion divides insiders from outsiders. Rather than assuming good intentions, adherents often are taught to treat outsiders with suspicion. “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers,” says the Christian Bible. “They wish that you disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them,” says the Koran (Sura 4:91).

At best, teachings like these discourage or even forbid the kinds of friendship and intermarriage that help clans and tribes become part of a larger whole. At worst, outsiders are seen as enemies of God and goodness, potential agents of Satan, lacking in morality and not to be trusted. Believers might huddle together, anticipating martyrdom. When simmering tensions erupt, societies fracture along sectarian fault lines.

No fan of tribalism, me, but religion is hardly unique in this tendency.

Case in point: In a link right under the one for that article, I noticed another Salon article, really a book excerpt, on "toxic atheism." In it, atheist Chris Stedman describes the same kind of tribal exclusivity, judgment, and othering among his compatriots.

I sat down on the couch, carefully balancing a mint julep in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t name in the other, intensely aware of how out of place I must have seemed. Next to me on the couch were a woman in her mid-40s with a shimmering peacock brooch and a man in his late 30s wearing a denim shirt and a tan corduroy vest. I introduced myself and asked what they’d thought of the panel. They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”

I paused, debating whether I should say anything. My “Minnesota Nice” inclination warned me to let it be, but I had to say something. So I started small, asking them to consider that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another.

I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.

As a former Evangelical Christian, these words were hauntingly familiar, and they represented a kind of sure-handed certainty and dismissal — a kind of fundamentalist thinking, really — that I’d hoped to leave behind with my “born again” beliefs.

Our conversation continued, and I offered up petitions that the positive contributions of religious people be considered with equal weight alongside the negative.

“I understand what you’re saying,” I said, trying to weigh my words carefully, “but how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”

“Oh, I get it,” the man jumped in with a sneer. “You’re one of those atheists.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t sound like a good thing. I shifted my weight from one side to another — another nervous habit — and picked at an hors d’oeuvre that I thought might be some kind of cheese.

“What do you mean, ‘one of those atheists?’”

“You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”

Not a real atheist. I’d heard words like that before — in my youth, when I was told I couldn’t be a real Christian because I was gay. Once again I didn’t fit the prescribed model, and I was not-so-gently shown the door.

This tribal, group-think behavior can be seen in all walks of life, religious and secular. It can even be observed in web communities made up of people who've never met face to face -- people who have bonded over interests as divisive as politics and as uncontroversial as needlepoint. People form cliques and in-groups. It's what we do. The reason may be as simple and obvious as evolutionary biology -- follow a strong leader, stay with the group, and survive.

Both of the above articles describe extremist ideology and it's painfully obvious that religion has no lock on such extremity. As Stedman points out, the New Atheist movement is not so much atheist as it antitheist. Religious scholar Reza Aslan explains how the political reforms of the Enlightenment, which sought to separate the state from organized religion, were contorted into movements at least as oppressive and bloody as the worst theocratic excesses.

Yet in the century that followed the Enlightenment, a stridently militant form of atheism arose that merged the Enlightenment’s criticism of institutional religion with the strict empiricism of the scientific revolution to not only reject belief in God, but to actively oppose it. By the middle of the 19th century, this movement was given its own name – anti-theism – specifically to differentiate it from atheism.

It was around this time that anti-theism reached its peak in the writings of the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marx famously viewed religion as the “opium of the people” and sought to eradicate it from society. “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness,” Marx wrote in his celebrated critique of Hegel.

In truth, Marx’s views on religion and atheism were far more complex than these much-abused sound bites project. Nevertheless, Marx’s vision of a religion-less society was spectacularly realized with the establishment of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China – two nations that actively promoted “state atheism” by violently suppressing religious expression and persecuting faith communities.

Atheists often respond that atheism should not be held responsible for the actions of these authoritarian regimes, and they are absolutely right. It wasn’t atheism that motivated Stalin and Mao to demolish or expropriate houses of worship, to slaughter tens of thousands of priests, nuns and monks, and to prohibit the publication and dissemination of religious material. It was anti-theism that motivated them to do so. After all, if you truly believe that religion is “one of the world’s great evils” – as bad as smallpox and worse than rape; if you believe religion is a form of child abuse; that it is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” – if you honestly believed this about religion, then what lengths would you not go through to rid society of it?

The relentless obsession of New Atheists with Islam as what Sam Harris calls "the motherlode of bad ideas," fills Karen Armstrong with very justifiable fear.

It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and ’40s in Europe.

This is how I got into this, not because I’m dying to apologize, as you say, for religion, or because I’m filled with love and sympathy and kindness for all beings including Muslims — no. I’m filled with a sense of dread. We pride ourselves so much on our fairness and our toleration, and yet we’ve been guilty of great wrongs. Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university.

The secular state is historically new, but as previously discussed, that brief history is replete with bloody wars and grotesque atrocities that would make a Medieval Inquisitor blush.

"Religions seek power," writes Valerie Tarico, rounding out her list of 6 criticisms of religion. "Think corporate personhood. Religions are man-made institutions, just like for-profit corporations are."

Yes! Precisely! Religions are like a lot of other organizations. And we need to stop blaming institutions for the human nature that created them.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Alchemical Perfume

I love Christmas ads. I know. Commercialism is ruining Christmas and making us forget about the baby Mithras Jesus. But they're festive, nostalgic, and sometimes quite beautiful. Yes, I worked in marketing for long enough that I actually appreciate the artistry of advertising. And the industry rolls out some of its best work at the holidays.

A couple of years ago I noted a perfume ad featuring Julia Roberts that resurfaces every year at this time. It is full of elegant, if not terribly subtle, allusions to Rousseau and the French Enlightenment.

Much of popular entertainment, of late, from movies and television to the Olympics, has me marveling at the imagery. Is the symbolism subconscious or deliberate? I don't know, but it's getting really hard to miss it. 

This new ad from Dior, featuring Charlize Theron, is nothing short of stunning. The past is nothing but a "dream," an illusion. "The future is gold" she says, ascending through an oculus into a "new world."

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Friday, December 12, 2014

News for the Soul Cancels James Ray

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I got this in my email earlier today. News for the Soul's Nicole Marie Whitney has canceled an interview with James Arthur Ray which had been scheduled for Sunday. Here is her statement:

Wow. Ok. We started our day with quite the barrage of emails regarding my announcement yesterday.

The emails were regarding my announcement of the scheduled James Ray interview on Sunday which has since been cancelled.

I had planned to do this interview (not as a promotional fluff piece) from day one because I have questions and I felt our conscious community needed some closure and maybe even healing on this matter. And learning. Many teachers out there – some of them reading this right now – conduct very similar events and ceremonies. And some of them have almost had very similar things occur.

I am speaking from first hand knowledge and experience.

We all have questions and need some sort of closure on that event – none of which OUR community has had the hutspa to do as yet. A Pierce Morgan interview is no substitute for a conscious and real perspective on the situation. There is more to say but clearly our community (or at least a vocal section of it) is not ready for this to happen. Thus I have chosen to cancel the James Ray interview that I had announced for Sunday.

I congratulate the "vocal section" of this show's community on their good taste. Would it be great to hear someone really challenge Ray in a way that Piers Morgan did not? Judging by her email, I don't think Wallace is the person to do that. The idea that Ray is in any position to dispel confusion about how to conduct a sweat lodge without killing people is terribly misplaced. And I seriously doubt that what happened at Spiritual Warrior in 2009 is something that a bunch of other "teachers" out there have nearly had happen. If that's so, they shouldn't be running sweat lodges at all. Full stop.

What her framing suggests, is that Wallace is still construing this as a horrible and unforeseeable accident. It wasn't. James Ray was warned by many people, including a medical doctor, that his sweats were too hot -- not something he would ever admit to in a radio interview, but a matter of public record, none the less. He responded to those concerns, and to rampant evidence of heat related illness over the years, by making them hotter.

I don't know why Wallace would think Ray would do anything other than spin like a top in an interview with her. It's what he does. He's not going to take responsibility for the deaths of James Shore, Kirby Brown, or Liz Neuman. And he's not going to take responsibility for the life-changing injuries -- physical and emotional -- that so many who attended Spiritual Warrior sustained. He's just going to keep presenting himself as a victim instead of a perpetrator.

If you need evidence of how tone-deaf and emotionally detached Ray is from the genuine suffering he's caused, just look at the image at the top of the page. I like Nietzsche as much as the next person, but isn't there a point at which people who've caused actual death and destruction need to stop churning out quips on social media about what does and doesn't kill us?

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sturgeon's Law of Spiritual Practice

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A friend asked me recently if the whole new age arena was just a lot of escapism for wounded people and ultimately another trap. It's become a recurring theme. A lot of what I'm hearing lately from people is frustration, fatigue, and even disgust with all things "spiritual." Many are feeling disillusioned and even betrayed. Some of them have actually been betrayed by spiritual practitioners, so that's quite understandable.

What I said to my friend, though, is that I feel I have learned and grown a lot through my experiences and study in things that fall under the very large umbrella of "new age." I have had some excellent teachers, but Sturgeon's Law applies.

Sturgeon's revelation, commonly referred to as Sturgeon's law, is an adage commonly cited as "ninety percent of everything is crap." It is derived from quotations by Theodore Sturgeon, an American science fiction author and critic: while Sturgeon coined another adage that he termed "Sturgeon's law", it is his "revelation" that is usually referred to by that term.

The phrase was derived from Sturgeon's observation that while science fiction was often derided for its low quality by critics, it could be noted that the majority of examples of works in other fields could equally be seen to be of low quality and that science fiction was thus no different in that regard from other art forms.

Given my own fairly extensive experience in what I shall broadly call new agedom, I feel very comfortable calling roughly ninety percent of it crap. Much of that crap, I ignore. I know my assessment is subjective and that one man's trash is another man's treasure. In other cases, where I think it's destructive, or even dangerous, I am not able to ignore it in good conscience. In particular, I have criticized The Secret and related law of attraction material. I have also included new age teachers such as James Arthur Ray and Teal Bosworth Scott Swan in discussions of religious abuse.

There are major pitfalls in the new age landscape. Many of us have wandered into them. I certainly have.

My error, when I first set off on the spiritual road less traveled, was in assuming it was paved with good intentions. I forgot that such defines the road to hell. I thought it to be so high-minded in its aspirations that it could only really draw the best and kindest of people. I had not begun to understand that it is precisely this high-mindedness that fosters denial and self-deception.

I assumed that being "spiritual but not religious" would put me in an environment free of the hierarchy and power imbalances that characterize antiquated and hidebound institutions. I learned the hard way that power trips and deference to authority are really intrinsic to human nature and express themselves in even very loosely organized groups. Worse, the mechanisms that many organized religions have in place to counteract these inherent problems are generally absent in new age groups because they don't think they need them.

Some years ago, I was taking a class on energy medicine with Christina Pratt. She described the new age zeitgeist as a best of times, worst of times scenario. We gained wide access to information about a range of spiritual traditions from across time and space. But grabbing things piece-meal from a kind of smorgasbord of spiritual food doesn't necessarily provide a complete or healthy diet. Religious traditions provide foundation and context. Many of them come with certain safe-guards that it turns out are kind of important.

As Christina put it, as we grow spiritually, we become "tasty." If we are not learning how to ground and protect, our increasingly vibrant and expansive energy with clear, healthy boundaries, we begin to attract psychic vampires. Some, I would even say most, of the people who siphon energy don't consciously intend or realize it. They don't set out to weaken you. They're just hungry and feel fed when they're near you. Often this will feel like a mutually beneficial interrelatedness, or friendship, but it's really codependency. The way you feel after interacting with them is usually a good indicator. If you feel either drained and fatigued or unusually energized and elated, start checking yourself for energy leaks, such as cords, implants, and auric holes.

Unfortunately, some psychic vampires are aware that they're stealing other people's power. Too many of them end up in positions of leadership. When people look up to you, maybe even have you on a pedestal, it's all to easy to steal their power. As the Milgram experiments demonstrated, human beings are innately deferential to anyone they perceive as an authority. And as Phillip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment showed, even the well-intended leader can very rapidly be seduced by power and start abusing their authority.

The problem is compounded in both the new age and traditionally religious contexts because leaders are seen as having insight into the metaphysical -- things that seekers may have glimpsed, but cannot see with the kind of consistency that these leaders often claim to. We are, after all, seeking them out as teachers because we think they know more than we do. All too often these seekers undervalue their own innate knowing. And all too often these spiritual leaders keep them doing exactly that, even as they grow and expand. These students become tastier and tastier, but are constantly undermined -- usually subtly but sometimes overtly -- by the teacher who "knows" more and better.

Much of this problem stems from the insecurities of these leaders and lack of awareness of their own shadows. Sometimes, though, it's a conscious agenda on the part of "spiritual" con artists who are really just after your money or, worse, your power.

A skilled psychic vampire will seek a way to tap into your vulnerability or weakness and exploit it.

There must first be some kind of emotional or psychic connection established which they can latch onto, and they must also be invited into the life of their victim in some manner.

It's probably a good idea to keep in mind that psychic vampires-just like their symbolic, mythical representations-are shape-shifting creatures who take on various forms designed to mystify and seduce us.

When we want to change something about ourselves, or are going through a rough time, it's natural for us to look to others to inspire and help lift us up, but sometimes this can lead you right into the hands of one.

Spiritual gurus who profess to have the answer to whatever troubles you readily come to mind here.

As stated above, feeling drained is a good indicator that you're dealing with a psychic vampire, but so is feeling strangely elated or euphoric. This is as good an explanation as I've read of this phenomenon.

There's a method to this kind of covert psychic attack, which some would characterize as a form of "black magic". Some very powerful psychic vampires are able to hold extremely high levels of energy they have harvested from others, sort of like a human battery, and they are also able to transmit it to others in dosages.

When a psychic vampire establishes a connection with his or her victim, they are able to give their victims a energetic "lift" or "boost" through the imparting of this stored up energy in controlled amounts, which is calculated to be perceived as a 'healing' in one form or another. This little taste of energy hooks the victim, and keeps them wanting to come back for more.

In an energetic sense, a mental and/or spiritual bond is created between the psychic vampire and their victim, and through this bond the vampire can continue to feed their disciple with energy, like a slow IV drip.

But what people often don't suspect or realize is that a connection or bond like this may be used to direct energy both ways.

I don't know that I would use the word "powerful" to describe such sorcerers and would be more inclined to call them "charismatic." But this strange, almost narcotic effect of some energy theft is one I'm all too familiar with.

A couple of other articles outline some indicators of toxic spiritual leadership that are also worthy of consideration. This piece provides a list of indicators of the fake guru.

There’s an influx of ‘enlightened masters of the universe’ pervading the spiritual sphere these days. Gurus and spiritual teachers are popping up left and right. Many of them seem to provide an easy way out of the voids many people feel they have within their lives, and as a result these gurus and teachers make a ridiculously massive amount of money… even earning social ranks akin to being glamorous superstars.

Om Times has a brief article on how to avoid the spiritual sociopath.

Genuine spiritual leaders seek to empower their followers. Any leader who fosters extreme dependence among their followers is in reality, just someone who wants to control them. A sincere leader welcomes questions and challenges from their followers; anyone who forbids dissent or punishes it is not sincere.

A true spiritual leader will never ask someone to separate from their family or community, nor give away their material possessions or money. These are requests made only by cult leaders who seek to have control by isolating and disempowering their followers.

True spiritual leaders inspire people to be their best selves; spiritual sociopaths rule with guilt, trickery and intimidation. The spiritual seeker may want to believe that their leader is loving and good, just as they wanted to believe that their parents were. Sadly, the parent-like sociopath fosters a childlike loyalty in their followers which keeps them in control.

Any of these articles and blog posts on avoiding spiritual traps and snares, including mine, should be weighed carefully. Bounce the ideas against your "truth cord" or however you characterize your inner knowing. Cultivating that awareness and connection to spirit, whatever that means to you, is far more important than what any human teacher says. This is something a lot of spiritual teachers say, in some form or fashion. Do their actions back that up, or do they still need to be right when all's said and done? This is one of the many questions to ask yourself when you're selecting a spiritual practitioner.

Every one of us starts out on this journey with the innocence of The Fool. Not only will we invariably encounter The Devil, we will likely run into the darker manifestations of The Magician, The Priestess, and so on. Every one of these archetypes has a shadow aspect, as do all people. That includes spiritual leaders, no matter how enlightened they claim to be.

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Cardinal's Demotion

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It's official. Cardinal Burke is being demoted from a high court justice to a figurehead role. As discussed here, Burke himself had confirmed the rumored change. It is assumed that this is due to open criticism of the pope's more tolerant stance on social issues... and for being a firebrand.

Burke, who made waves in 2004 for saying that voting for a pro-choice candidate is “a serious sin,” has been an unusually outspoken detractor of Pope Francis since he ascended to the papacy in 2013. When the pontiff declared last year that the Catholic church was too “obsessed” with culture war issues such as abortion, for instance, Burke responded by saying that the church “can never talk enough” about the “massacre of the unborn.” And while Francis answered a question about gay priests by saying “who am I to judge?” last July, Burke told LifeSiteNews in October that homosexual acts are “always and everywhere wrong, evil.”

But on Saturday, the Vatican announced that Burke, who was elevated to Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, has been removed from his influential position as head of the Apostolic Signatura — the Vatican’s highest court — and reassigned to a largely ceremonial role as the Patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta.

“The position of Patron of the the Order of Malta is usually given to a retired cardinal, or as a second task to an active cardinal,” Michael Sean Winters, a prominent Catholic journalist, wrote in the National Catholic Reporter. “It has almost no responsibilities. The demotion is unprecedented, and completely warranted: Cardinal Burke’s influence at the Vatican has been crushingly backward looking, and that influence has resulted in some unhappy appointments.”

I think there's a message and certain symbolism in this reassignment, not just to Burke but to other arch-conservatives in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Burke's new job, while bereft of any real power or responsibility, is to oversee charitable action.

Today the order has about 13,000 members; 80,000 permanent volunteers; and 20,000 medical personnel including doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics in more than 120 countries.[3] The goal is to assist the elderly, handicapped, refugeed, children, homeless, those with terminal illness and leprosy in all parts of the world, without distinction of race or religion.[3] In several countries—including France, Germany and Ireland—the local associations of the Order are important providers of first aid training, first aid services and emergency medical services. Through its worldwide relief corps—Malteser International—the Order is also engaged to aid victims of natural disasters, epidemics and armed conflicts.

The judgmental cardinal will no longer be a judge, a job in which he showed little mercy. He will now serve as a representative of compassion. One hopes that he will learn to show some.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Evolution of the Catholic Church

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There's a lot about Pope Francis I like. I like that he's shifting the emphasis of the Church toward love, charity, and compassion and away from hate and judgment. I like that he's so outspoken on the issue of economic inequality. I like that he's at least flexible enough on GLBT issues that he apparently supported civil unions in Argentina. I like that he's driving Catholic hardliners crazy by giving tacit approval to a more gay, and divorce tolerant, direction. I don't like that he opposed same sex marriage in Argentina and equated gay adoptions with child abuse, only to make really lackluster efforts on the real child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

All in all, kind of a mixed bag, but when all's said and done, there's something about his face that makes me feel warm inside. There's an openness and a joy that emanates from Pope Francis that just makes me like him even when I'm disappointed in the lack of substantive progress. I get why the media loves him. He's loveable. I think, however, he's getting credit for radical changes in the Church that just aren't happening.

All day I've been watching stories pour in about how exciting it is that Pope Francis believes in evolution and the big bang. Such breathless headlines ignore the fact that there is nothing radical, revolutionary, or even new in his position. It's squarely in line with Church doctrine.

Said Pope Francis: 

The theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real and God is not “a magician with a magic wand”, Pope Francis has declared.

Speaking at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope made comments which experts said put an end to the “pseudo theories” of creationism and intelligent design that some argue were encouraged by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

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In actuality, Catholic doctrine supports both Pope Francis's views and Pope Benedict's reputed inclination toward creationism.

Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.

Concerning human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII declared that "the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God" (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36). So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are.

While the Church permits belief in either special creation or developmental creation on certain questions, it in no circumstances permits belief in atheistic evolution.

Much of the current Church thinking on evolution was laid out over sixty years ago under Pope Pius XII. The excitement over this relatively banal commentary from His Holiness seems to owe to this tired canard about religion and science being perpetually at loggerheads. Doctrinaire creationism and beliefs in things like a 6,000 year old earth are really the domain of dogmatic fundamentalism, not the Vatican.

While newspapers and bloggers blather ecstatically about sixty year old news, the Church continues to drag its feet on issues that really affect people's lives. There was much confusion and disappointment over what looked at first like meaningful progress on gay tolerance during the recent synod. Like so much under Pope Francis's tenure it wound up being an exercise in feel-good optimism, resulting in almost no forward movement.

Even the threat of gay tolerance sent some Bishops into such a panic that they publicly broke ranks with the pope.

[Archbishop Charles] Chaput is expected to host Pope Francis in Philadelphia next September for a global World Meeting of Families, and his criticisms tracked complaints by other conservatives who were upset with Francis for encouraging a freewheeling discussion among the 190 cardinals and bishops at the Vatican’s two-week Synod on the Family.

The 70-year-old archbishop, who was not part of the Rome summit, made his remarks in response to a question after a lecture event sponsored by the conservative journal First Things.

“I was very disturbed by what happened” at the synod, Chaput said. “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion."

The problem for the Church, though, is that their membership is evolving far more rapidly than the hierarchy. Just as Argentina left Pope Francis behind by legalizing gay marriage, young Catholics here in the US are not in line at all with these angry, frightened bishops. Even older Catholics are more gay tolerant than their peers in the clergy.

Close to 85% of self-identified Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29 believe gays and lesbians should be accepted by society, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. 

These younger Catholics are also supportive of legalizing same-sex marriages, with 75% throwing their weight behind the concept.

The positive attitudes toward homosexuality are less likely to be found among older adults. About 57% of Catholics aged 65 and older told Pew that they believe homosexuality should be accepted.

One way or another the Church will have to adapt or it will go the way of the dinosaurs.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homophobic Cardinal Ousted By Pope Francis

It has been confirmed, by Cardinal Raymond Burke, that Pope Francis intends to demote him from the Vatican's high court.

American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a darling of conservative Catholics who is virulently anti-gay, has confirmed to BuzzFeed what rumors from Rome have said for weeks. He will be demoted by Pope Francis from the head of the Roman Catholic Church's version of the Supreme Court to a figurehead role as the Patron of the Knights of Malta, a chivalrous order known for its work among the sick.

Maybe he can do that job without spewing hate at ninety miles an hour. Let's hope none of those sick people are gay. He recommends shunning them.

Burke recently told an interviewer that legally-married gay and lesbian family members should be shunned from family celebrations during the upcoming holidays, asking “what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living [in] a disordered relationship with another person?”

This decision comes in the wake of a battle royale during the recent two week synod. A widely reported document recommended a softening of the Church's position on gay and divorced people, even going so far as to say that gay people have "gifts and talents to offer the Christian community."

Patronizing as that sounds, it would constitute a major step forward. But the language was ultimately scrapped, having failed to reach a two thirds majority. Even so, the final document is a far cry from Cardinal Burke's call for shunning. And that it made it as far as it did shows a sea change happening in the Church.

Cardinal Burke remains very outspoken about the mistakes he thinks Pope Francis is making. That he did not denounce the proposed Relatio, with all its tolerant language, threatens to weaken the moral fiber of the Church, according to the outgoing leader of the high court.

“According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,” Burke said, saying the pope had “done a lot of harm” by not stating “openly what his position is.” Burke said the Pope had given the impression that he endorses some of the most controversial parts of the Relatio, especially on questions of divorce, because of a German cardinal who gave an important speech suggesting a path to allowing people who had divorced and remarried to receive communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, to open the synod’s discussion.

“The pope, more than anyone else as the pastor of the universal church, is bound to serve the truth,” Burke said. “The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith.”

Burke has publicly clashed with the pope since Francis took office in 2013, and he has come to represent the sidelining of culture warriors elevated by Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict and as the top doctrinal official under Pope John Paul II. Burke, who caused controversy while bishop of St. Louis by saying Catholics who voted for politicians supportive of abortion rights should not receive communion, went on Catholic television in 2013 to rebut remarks Pope Francis made to an interviewer that the church had become “obsessed” with abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of other issues, saying, “We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way,” Burke said. While Francis famously responded to a question about homosexuality in 2013 by asking, “Who am I to judge?” Burke described homosexual “acts” as “always and everywhere wrong [and] evil” during an interview last week.

Who knows how much substantive change this kinder, gentler pope can achieve. But Cardinal Burke is part of a dying breed and the Catholic Church is slowly, haltingly changing.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Ghosts of Clear Mountain

Montclair State photo MontclairState_zps7feab6fb.jpg

An old college friend of mine tagged me into a comment thread on Facebook the other day. Had I ever encountered any of these supposed ghosts when we were at Montclair State?

Montclair State is said to be one of the most haunted colleges in America.

For years there have been reports of doors and windows slamming, lights flickering on and off, constant cold, and even a ghost who hovers over the beds of the tenants.

It is believed that Montclair is built on top of Indian burial grounds and alumni say it’s a very scary school. So scary, that many refuse to go in the woods after sundown. There have been many reports of figures believed to be Native Americans spotted in the forests.

According to Classes and Careers, the worst stories come from the Clove Road Apartments. Tenants have reported electrical appliances turning on and off on their own, lights on the second floor flashing on and off by themselves, disembodied knocks on bedroom and bathroom doors, “unearthly” noises emanating from the woods behind the apartments.

I remember hearing about weird happenings at Clove Road. I never got terribly invested in it. I only visited apartments there once or twice. When you're me, everywhere is haunted, and the vast majority is really unthreatening.

What struck me, though, about this story is that it to some degree affirms something I've long suspected -- that Montclair State might well be on an Indian burial ground. I had no idea at the time that this had been rumored. I only knew that the years I spent there were miserable. I had health problems and battled depression the entire time. My grades suffered. I simply hated it there.

There's a feel to the Montclair State campus, a yawning emptiness that cut to the core of me. There was a coldness that was more than the excessive wind. And it was windy. A mountain had been lopped off to build a hodge podge of mismatched, poorly placed buildings. God it is an ugly place -- an architectural nightmare. And bad feng shui is one possibility I've considered to explain the overarching sickness of the place. The place felt wrong to me. Truly, deeply wrong.

A few years after graduating from Montclair, which sits largely in Clifton, actually, I moved from the Montclair area to a different section of Clifton. I was constantly ill.  I never liked it. I never liked the feel of it. Again, it was a kind of inner chill, like the air could get inside of me somehow. Walking anywhere on those streets made my bones hurt. Half a block and I felt every erg of energy drain from me. And I felt constantly afraid, neighborhood watch and impossibly low crime rate aside. I felt afraid.

Ultimately, my life went sideways and I was done with Clifton. I don't know when I've felt so relieved to see an area in the rearview mirror. But, I still had to periodically go there for various errands. And one evening, as I exited Rte 46 and entered my old neighborhood, I saw clearly the darkness I was driving into. It looked like a theatrical scrim, a semi-sheer curtain of blackness. And I felt that chill, that yawning emptiness, as I drove into it. And suddenly the thought appeared, fully formed in my mind. This is built on an Indian burial ground. That's why it feels so wrong, why I was so ill, why I feel so dramatically better now that I don't live here anymore.

I mentioned this once to a client. It was the first time I'd met her. She had come into a bookstore where I did readings and she happened to mention that she lived in that area, only a couple of blocks from where I'd lived. I told her I'd hated it there, that I thought it was poisonous. She didn't disagree. I told her I suspected it was on an Indian burial ground. About a month later, I received a note from her in the mail. It contained a newspaper clipping. They were doing construction in the neighborhood. They were turning up Indian artifacts and archaeologists suspected from the evidence that it was Indian burial ground. Her note said simply, "You were right."

My college friend points out that we are always walking on history, that the world is a burial ground. He is right of course. Why is it that we find the very idea of disrupting an Indian burial ground so disturbing? And why is the energy, when we do, so completely whack?

Perhaps it's because we have violated the indigenous population of this country so completely and upturning their graves is just the final insult. But I think it's more. I think it's that we're desecrating something that was placed with a care and consciousness that our "civilized," spiritually detached culture cannot grasp. 

As I've matured in my spiritual practice, I've learned the importance of acknowledging and respecting the spirits that inhabit a space. Mostly I've learned that I have a lot more to learn.

This was a truth that demanded my attention when I visited Mexico City and slapped me full in the face when I was at Teotihuacan. Everywhere I looked, there were spirits, ancient guardians, protecting the monuments. Throughout the day I spent there with my little group, we did rituals, we made offerings of water and other things that were demanded. Fortunately, we were a pretty conscious group, each of us picking up on various messages from spirit. We worked as a team. We very much needed to, as it rapidly became clear to all of us that we weren't simply there for sight seeing. But the most palpable sensation was as we were proceeding up the Walk of the Dead toward the Temple of the Moon. I saw two very tall beings on either side of that roadway. They demanded that we stop. I stopped my group and told them we could go no further without asking permission. And so we did and from that point forward I wasn't completely myself. One of my spirit guides stepped in and directed everything I said and did from that point forward. It was a lesson I've never forgotten, one of respect for things my tiny, American, white girl mind can only barely grasp. It was a reminder that I need help from the spirit world if I intend to venture into their territory, onto sacred ground.

A few years ago I went with my family to the Montclair Art Museum. It's lovely and I had long wanted to see the Native American exhibit. Turned out I could only see about half of it. When I walked into that gallery I was greeted by a very angry Native American woman dressed from head to toe in white buckskin. She rushed at my face. I asked politely if I could continue in the direction I was heading. In short, no. I went into another part of the exhibit, which was fine until I got to close to one particular object in a glass case. She rushed at me again. The whole time I was there, I was just watching her flit around this one corner of the gallery screaming at people who could neither hear nor see her.

I don't expect everyone to perceive what I perceive. But it's clear that some people pick up on that general feeling of wrongness. Some Clove Road residents reported an "unsettling feeling or nausea." I know that unsettled feeling stalked me through all the years I was at Montclair State. I wish I'd known then what I know now. Perhaps I would have been better able to make peace with the place. Or perhaps I would have left the school entirely.

There is a very distinct feeling of corruption to areas like these that creates a constant sense of unease. It's something I've learned to pay attention to. And to ask, to simply ask, and be willing to accept the answer I receive.

I write all this because my college friend put me in mind of it. And because it's Columbus Day. This month the city of Seattle renamed the holiday Indigenous Peoples' Day. Minneapolis did the same earlier this year. The whole country should follow suit. It won't settle the debt, but at least it would show some respect.

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