Feb 27, 2012

That's the Way the Jeffersonian Wall Crumbles

In 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy spoke eloquently about his commitment to keeping church and state separate. In 2011, presidential candidate Rick Santorum announced that Kennedy's pronouncement made him "want to throw up." Yes, our political discourse has degraded to the point where presidential frontrunners talk like melodramatic teenagers... And then there's the whole trashing of the First Amendment thing.

In remarks last year at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner, N.H., Santorum had told the crowd of J.F.K.’s famous 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, “Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. You should read the speech.”

. . .

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”

He went on to note that the First Amendment “says the free exercise of religion — that means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.”

To Santorum's way of thinking, Kennedy "threw his faith under the bus in that speech."

Kennedy's speech was made in the context of fears about electing the first Catholic to the presidency. In that respect, he paved the way for a Santorum candidacy. But Santorum also benefits from the fact that there is no longer much friction between Catholics and Protestant evangelicals who have bonded over exactly the kind of social issues Santorum articulates with a vehemence I can't recall ever hearing from a presidential frontrunner: abortion, gay rights... contraception (?!!)...

With his comments about Obama's"phony theology" that isn't "based on the Bible," Santorum did not simply bring his faith with him into the public square. He dragged numerous sectarian divides into the political process. He's made this campaign about acceptable and unacceptable religious views and, in so doing, ran afoul of the Constitution. But he hasn't done it alone. Outrageous as it seems, Santorum's religious focus is about pitch perfect in a GOP primary that has become all about religion and which seems to flagrantly spurn Article VI which prohibits a "religious test" for anyone pursuing public office.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

This has become a debate not only over Christianity vs other religious beliefs (or the lack of them) but between Christian sects and over what constitutes a "good Christian." Reverend Franklin Graham, son of the legendary Billy Graham, really upped the ante when he repeatedly hedged on the question of whether or not President Obama is a Christian.

The upshot? People have to be taken at their word that they're Christian unless Graham disagrees with their political choices... or if they're Mormons like Mitt Romney. "Most Christians" don't view Mormons as Christian, according to Graham. Personally, I don't think Graham is in a position to speak for Christians everywhere so I'd want to see some stats before I accept that statement at face value. Certainly Robert Jeffress doesn't. As previously discussed, Jeffress believes the Mormon Church to be a cult. Of course he's said the same thing about Catholicism. So, of course, Jeffress has been dragged out in front of the cameras again to weigh in on the issue of who is and who isn't a proper Christian. So this is a completely bizarre exchange with gaping holes in logic about a completely bizarre exchange with gaping holes in logic.

Jeffress believes Obama is a Christian. He will take him at his word even if Graham won't. Mormons? Not so much. And he'd have to "hold his nose" to vote for the Mitt Romney.

Jeffress explains that Mormonism isn't in line with "historic Christianity" and asks, if Mormons and Christians believe the same things, "Why are they always on my front doorstep trying to convert me?" Pithy. But by that logic, a great number of evangelicals are not Christian because they actively proselytize to mainstream Christians who haven't been "born again," or "saved," and therefore won't get into heaven.

Such minutiae may make for an interesting theological debate but why on earth is it being hashed out in the political arena? Oh. Right. Because Rick Santorum questioned Obama's "theology." He assures us, though, that he never meant to imply that Obama is a Muslim (heaven forbid) and insists he was referring to his environmentalism... even though that doesn't make any sense.

Obama is too soft on Muslims, though, and this business of apologizing for the accidental Qu'ran burning incident that has sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan, just makes him look "weak." Santorum reasons that you don't apologize for things you didn't do on purpose.

"There was nothing deliberately done wrong here. This was something that happened as a mistake. Killing Americans in uniform is not a mistake ... when that is occurring, you should not be apologizing for something that was -- an unfortunate -- say it’s unfortunate, say that this is something that should have been done," Santorum said. "To apologize for something that was not an intentional act is something that the president of the United States, in my opinion, should not have done."

"But if it was a mistake, isn’t apologizing the right, important thing to do?" asked ABC News host George Stephanopoulos.

"It suggests that there is somehow blame, this is somehow that we did something wrong in the sense of doing a deliberate act wrong," Santorum replied. "I think it shows that we are -- that I think it shows weakness."

I know when I bump into total strangers with my grocery cart, I apologize. And I almost never bang into people in the supermarket on purpose.

And if Santorum thinks it's inappropriate to apologize for inadvertent errors, why did his own press secretary call to apologize for accusing President Obama of "radical Islamic policies" on national television? She swears she meant to say "environmental," as she struggled to explain Santorum's reference to Obama's non-Biblical "theology." Her offside comment smacked of the kind of Freudian slip so brilliantly depicted by the Kids in the Hall, as an award winning actress accidentally thanks Hitler.

Santorum has walked back his nauseous protest of the late President Kennedy's remarks just enough to allow that the government should have zero influence on the church and it's ability to deny birth control to employees of church affiliated institutions, even if they're not of that religion and even if the church isn't actually paying for it. Yes, religious freedom, according to this latest dust-up over birth control coverage, means the freedom of the church to control the behavior of all their employees, even if they're not of that religion and are acting according to their own conscience.

And, of course, Santorum and his church have long reserved the right to interfere in the choices of Americans everywhere by pressuring federal, state, and local governments to restrict access to abortion and to prevent gay marriage. I guess that's, again, where Santorum sees the permeability in the Jeffersonian wall that would allow people of religious conscious to bring that influence into the public square... unless they're conscience is non-Biblical, like those wacky Muslims and environmentalists with their weird theologies.

Dizzy yet? I know I am.

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Feb 14, 2012

William Henry Wades Through the Deep Woo

Recently on his radio show Revelations, William Henry discussed some of the challenges of sorting truth from fantasy in the alternative media marketplace with Randy Maugans. The resulting episode, "Hypesters, Lies and Mind Control" could just as easily have been called "William Henry and guest gently take the piss out of David Wilcock." I've been observing this trend in Henry's work for a while. He has been increasingly critical of his colleagues in the broader new age arena. It started with a kind of confusion and has gradually grown into dismay as his questions about the integrity of people in his milieu have grown. I notice it, in part, because I experienced similar disillusionment with teachers and colleagues in the psychic and healing arena I inhabit. There are people in my field with whom I respectfully disagree, which is fine. But I was also startlingly disabused, many years ago, of the notion that my fellow travelers were universally well-intended. I learned to my horror that some of them were self-serving and mercenary. I'm not going to say that Henry has reached the same conclusion but he's been noticeably shocked at the misuse and misrepresentation of his own work and has begun to publicly question the motives of some of his colleagues. In a recently posted interview, Henry talked about someone who had grossly distorted his work regarding the Capital Building. I'm wondering now if he meant Wilcock. He never expressly says it. But if you read between the lines... I don't know. Maybe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I have simply never been comfortable with David Wilcock. I learned about him some years ago in the context of his claim that he just might be the reincarnation of Edgar Cayce -- something from which he has more recently tried to distance himself. I listened to a lecture of his on YouTube. Much of it was interesting, if not original. It seemed to be based on solid, esoteric research. But when he started showing pictures of Cayce and his circle of friends and comparing those to pictures of himself and his circle of friends, I winced. It's not just the absurdity of using physical resemblance as a marker of reincarnation. It was something else -- the palpable sense that David Wilcock did not believe David Wilcock. In short, my bullshit detector went off. Now that's a purely intuitive response on my part and I'm not claiming to know Wilcock's heart. I don't know him at all. But I've learned the hard way that when the little hairs on the back of my stand up, I ignore that instinctual response at my peril. I would always implore others to listen to their own intuition and never trust my gut response over their own. So if you love Wilcock's work and think he's awesome, I would never try to disabuse you of that on my say-so. And I would never say that his work has no value. Some of it is quite interesting.

That said, Wilcock's antics this past December raised many a pair of eyebrows. His claims of a death threat are touched upon in this discussion. I became aware of the debate over this in one of Clif High's typically cryptic postings. High can be very frustrating to read because he rarely contextualizes these things. You're either dialed into the woo as he is and fully aware of the preamble, or you're not. I'm not. So I did a little googling to find out what he was talking about and was kind of horrified. I'd present my findings if the computer I was on at the time WAS WORKING but it's not. (But enough about me and my daily irritations.) If you're curious, the search criteria would be something like David Wilcock, death threat, Project Camelot. Like much regarding Wilcock, this incident left me with a deduction of "patently absurd" and I walked away with another check in the "things that validate my intuitive distrust of Wilcock" column.

In this very frank discussion, Henry and Maugans say some things that need to be said. Whether you're looking at the main stream media or the woo-woo, alternative media on the internet, you need to question and evaluate everything. That means thinking critically but it also means listening to the still, small voice. What makes it hard is not so much, as Henry implied recently, that we want to believe what we want to believe and don't want to be bothered with troublesome facts. It's that human beings are creatures of narrative. We like to think we seek facts but the truth is that the items that fit our personal narrative, we accept. The ones that don't get sloughed off, sometimes without our even noticing it. It's human nature and it's something we have to stay in check with by constantly subjecting our own beliefs to critical analysis. We all have an inherent tendency to keep validating our own beliefs while disregarding things that call our beliefs into question. We also have to be really careful about giving our power away to people who we think know so much more than we do. If you find yourself accepting every word another person says, something is very wrong. They're all just people.

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Feb 11, 2012

James Ray: No Longer Indigent?

As discussed, James Arthur Ray petitioned the court for indigent status in December. Prosecutor Sheila Polk moved swiftly to force the self-proclaimed "millionaire" to prove -- and testify under oath -- that he is destitute. A hearing on the matter was postponed. And now, suddenly, James Ray has announced that he no longer requires relief from court costs. Makes you wonder if he's hiding something... like say, some money. (???) More here:

In December, Ray petitioned Judge Warren Darrow for indigent status, claiming he was more than $11 million in debt, with very few assets on the plus side of the ledger. Nearly half of that claimed debt, however, was for civil settlements paid by his insurers. The financial statement he filed in December, which he also withdrew this week, stated he owed his attorneys $5.6 million.

During an early January hearing, Ray's local attorney, Tom Kelly, said that Ray only wanted the public defender's office to pay for the cost of transcripts that are required for the appeal. Those transcripts, from a four-month criminal trial, will cost around $40,000, and the current motion indicates that other arrangements have been made for payment. Most of the transcripts are already on file with the court of appeals, but an appeal brief has not yet been submitted.

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Feb 9, 2012

Revising Prehistory

A stunning discovery has turned archaeological preconceptions on their heads. The cave paintings at Chauvet are no longer the oldest known art. Paintings found in the Nerja Caves in Andalusia are at least 10,000 years older. More incredible, they were painted not be early humans but by Neanderthals. Graham Hancock's recent work puts some of this into perspective. In Supernatural he explains newer theories that the artwork done by early man is a demonstration of ancient shamanic practices far more profound than the scenes of the hunt long assumed by archaeologists. And in his first foray into fiction, Entangled, he envisions a Neanderthal man far more advanced than is currently believed. Much of this is discussed in this recently posted lecture. That said, this article in the Huffington Post is a great example of the condescending arrogance that we've been subjected to by mainstream archaeologists for years.

What is the oldest painting of, you ask? The pictures appear to be seals; the drawings are not half bad for a caveman!

Yeah. Stupid cavemen.

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Feb 7, 2012

Uphill Struggle for Bishops at Abuse Summit

Last night the four-day "Towards Healing And Renewal" summit at Rome's St. Ignatius kicked off with a lengthy liturgy of penance.

Held tonight at Rome’s Church of St. Igantius, the liturgy was presided over by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who serves as Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. His participation was seen as significant, because it implicitly acknowledged that the church’s shortcomings are not limited to priests who committed abuse, but also include bishops who failed to act.

. . .

In his reflections during the liturgy, Ouellet called the crisis “a source of great shame and enormous scandal,” saying that sexual abuse is not only a “crime” but also an “authentic experience of death for the innocent victims.”

The first step towards healing, Ouellet said, is to “listen carefully” to victims and “to believe their painful stories.”

. . .

Ouellet said that in many instances, abusers in the clergy should have been identified and removed much earlier, but instead were left in place.

In a stunning counterpoint, comes a report of statements from the retired Cardinal Edward Egan. Demonstrating a continuing lack of repentance and humility Egan has publically recanted his 2002 apology. What manner of man takes back an apology?

Retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan is facing criticism from representatives of clergy sexual abuse victims for a recent interview in which he said he regretted apologizing for the priest abuse scandal in 2002 when he was bishop of Bridgeport.

In the interview with Connecticut Magazine, Egan said "I don't think we did anything wrong" in handling abuse cases. He said he was not obligated to report abuse claims and maintained he inherited the cases from his predecessor and did not have any cases on his watch, according to the magazine.

Clergy in Connecticut have been required to report abuse claims to authorities since the early 1970s, according to attorneys who represented numerous abuse victims.

"Egan never did so and his failure to do so constitutes a violation of the law," said the attorneys, Jason Tremont, Cindy Robinson and Douglas Mahoney.

Egan's apology was conditional. If they'd erred, he was sorry. But he's convinced now that they "got rid of" those bad actors they could prove were guilty and kept "control" of those they couldn't prove. Wouldn't it have made sense to let the authorities investigate and prove the guilt or innocence of those the church couldn't prove? Egan says he doesn't think Connecticut law requires it even now, despite the fact that it does and did then. He put suspected abusers in treatment, and that was sufficient.

Experts who have treated abusive priests, however, report that the majority of abusers lie.

Priests who rape and molest children lie when confronted with an accusation but victims usually tell the truth, psychologists told Catholic bishops at a symposium Tuesday, advising them to listen first to the victims.

. . .

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist who for a decade ran a U.S. treatment center for abusive priests, told the conference Tuesday that just like alcoholics or drug addicts, sexually abusive priests often lie when confronted with allegations. They manipulate, they con, they deny, he said.

"There are false allegations to be sure" and it's critical to restore a priest's good name when he has been cleared, Rossetti said in his prepared remarks. "But decades of experience tell us that the vast majority of allegations — over 95 percent — are founded."

This, of course, is the exact opposite of the way church authorities have handled abuse claims through the years, putting their "brothers and sons" ahead of their victims in case after case. Rossetti has no illusions that the culture of the Church is going to change any time soon and the stunning recalcitrance of Cardinal Egan stands as a case in point.

The Vatican backed summit will continue to run through the 9th with workshops focusing on bishop responsibility and psychological toll of sex abuse on victims. They clearly have their work cut out for them.

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Feb 6, 2012

Popular Fallacies of Religion and Atheism

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On a recent episode of Real Time, Bill Maher made one of his more boneheaded comments about the nature of religion -- something about religion not being open to new ideas. I have already addressed the fallacious nature of Maher's approach to religion, but this comment caught me by surprise. How, I thought, could someone who knows Rev. John Shelby Spong, and who had him as a guest on Politically Incorrect numerous times, make such a sweeping generalization about all religion. Perhaps it's because I was raised Episcopalian and was taught by priests who were as scholarly, open-minded, and analytical as Rev. Spong, but I cannot reconcile those men and women with Maher's reductionism. In the same episode, Maher said:

If you believe in a talking snake, I'm sorry, I've got to say, that's silly.

Whenever I hear Maher talk about religion, I can only conclude that he is incapable of grasping metaphor and assumes, therefore, that all religious people are equally incapable. Rev. Spong, however, is capable of grasping both metaphor and new ideas. In this recent post on CNN he puts the Bible under scrutiny and exposes a number of misconceptions held by dogmatists on both sides of the religious/atheist divide. To put it simply, the Bible cannot fairly be read as a literal, historical document. Rather it represents an evolution in the Judeo-Christian conception of God and humanity.

Spong points out, among other things, that the narrative of Jesus's birth, death, and resurrection changed dramatically from the first gospel to the last, becoming increasing mythologized with each iteration, over a span of a hundred years. Likewise, God's very character transforms from a jealous, genocidal, tribal deity, to a universally loving consciousness.

The second major misconception comes from the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim. The Bible portrays God as hating the Egyptians, stopping the sun in the sky to allow more daylight to enable Joshua to kill more Amorites and ordering King Saul to commit genocide against the Amalekites.

Can these acts of immorality ever be called “the word of God”? The book of Psalms promises happiness to the defeated and exiled Jews only when they can dash the heads of Babylonian children against the rocks! Is this “the word of God? What kind of God would that be?

. . .

It was a long road for human beings and human values to travel between the tribal deity found in the book of Exodus, who orders the death of the firstborn male in every Egyptian household on the night of the Passover, until we reach an understanding of God who commands us to love our enemies.

The entire post is worth reading and considering. Spong, who served as Bishop of Diocese of Newark, NJ, has been a somewhat controversial figure. Personally, I think it speaks to the strength of the Episcopal Church that it endures through dissension and controversy. I'm old enough to remember the fierce debate over ordaining women and have also been fascinated in recent years to see the debate and division over ordaining gay men and women. Mostly, the results have made me proud of the church I grew up in. And it's exactly those shifts and changes that give the lie to Bill Maher's overly general criticisms about all religion. There is not a single sect of Christianity that is the same as it was a thousand or even a hundred years ago. Some have changed through honest self-examination. Some have been hypocritical or in denial, but they've all changed. (Other religions have as well but I can't speak from experience, so I don't.) Religion is as dynamic as any large, institutionalized body can be, and it changes in interrelationship with a greater society that is also resistant to change. But there are many figures who, like Spong, are capable of reasoned analysis as well as the irrational, crazy logic of the compassionate heart.

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