Jun 29, 2012

We Are Doomed


Most of us think of the game rock, paper, scissors as a game of chance.

Some of us, like Douglas Walker, co-author of the Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide, consider it a game of physical and psychological skill.

And then there are the scientists at the University of Tokyo's Ishikawa Oku Laboratory, makers of the Janken robot, who have turned the game into an impossible endeavor.

You cannot beat the Janken robot at rock, paper, scissors. The robot will always win.

Also, Janken is the Japanese name of the rock, paper, scissors game.

So how does the robot always win? The answer is simple: The robot cheats.

Just sayin.'

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William Henry on Merging with Icons

From For the Sexes by William Blake

A while ago I posted something about the pernicious role of iconoclasm -- and the second commandment -- in keeping humanity from direct interface with the divine. William Henry had touched upon the issue in an article on St. Francis of Assissi who developed stigmata, at least in part, because of his spiritual merging with religious iconography. I posited then that part of the motivation for iconoclasm is to keep us from the transcendent and mystical experiences that the Church has always found threatening. Direct experience of God was not something that just anyone was supposed to have.

I am currently reading Henry's Secret of Sion and he addresses the issue of icons as spiritual triggers, and the cruelty of a system that would deny them to humanity, very directly. He suggests that prior to the dark reign of the idol smashers, icons served an important and known function doing exactly what the second commandment says they shouldn't.

When the icons were made alchemy was the normal way of interacting with the world. Everything was viewed as in the process of transmutation or changing into something else -- like the acorn into the oak -- simultaneously unraveling and being reborn. Everything was transmutable, including the human body, which was viewed as a 'pupal' form of an ascended spiritual being, usually symbolized by the butterfly (earlier by the phoenix). All that was required to effect the transmutation was the Philosopher's Stone (= the pure tone or ring of the gate.) This (S)tone causes the body to emit or secrete an elixir - the Secretion of the Ages - that purifies the body, transfiguring it to light.

This is the key benefit of the Transfiguration icons. These images were designed not just to help the early Christians to teach about the Transfiguration through pretty pictures, but also to encourage them to re-shape their lives in accordance with the  hope or expectation of transforming into light (something our culture does not support). Through contemplation, meditation and reflection on the icon we begin to reflect the Light experienced by Jesus in our lives.

Unfortunately, in the seventh century Byzantine Emperor Leo III banned icons (726-729) in response to criticism from adherents of the new religion of Islam who proclaimed that icon/doors were false idols (more later).

. . .

Before the Renaissance and Reformation, holy images were treated not as "art" but as objects of veneration, which possessed codes of the intangible presence of the Holy realm.

In this way, a Transfiguration icon is the same as a computer icon and a highway sign. It is concentrated information that symbolizes or points to something beyond itself. When we click on a computer icon and a highway sign. It is concentrated information that symbolizes or points to something beyond itself. When we click on a computer icon it opens into a phenomenal inner world of enourmous potential called a program, a set of coded instructions that enables one to do work. The program's icon is not the program, but it symbolizes it and opens the way to it.

Strange as it may sound to our sensibilities, this is how devotees used icons to do the Great Work, the alchemy of the soul.

. . .

The materials of the image become a channel or a bridge, a gate ('babel') between the two worlds. In fact, to an Orthodox Christian the images are a medium through which the energy of the Transfiguration moment can be channeled, like a two-way mirror. Devotees could enter the cosmic realm through the icon.

Henry goes on to describe the way this mirroring process essentially brings us back into oneness with the divine depicted in the icon. I would use the term merging but it amounts to the same thing. When we experientially merge with something we perceive as being outside of ourselves, the ego which separates us from all that is, momentarily dissolves.

I was just blown away by this passage -- so much so that I thought it needed a stand-alone post. It speaks precisely to my perception of religious icons as tools for becoming "transparent to the transcendent." (Joseph Campbell) But there are some other points he raises here that deeply resonate with me.

My old teacher, Cherokee Mystic Virginia Sandlin, always says that nothing changes in this reality but everything transforms. Nothing is solid. All matter is in a constant state of transformation. During a vision quest, Virginia took us through an elaborate butterfly-transformation ritual. And she made the point that the butterfly is a symbol of transformation not just because it comes out of the chrysalis dramatically different but because it so completely embodies the nature of the transformation process.

When a caterpillar goes into a cocoon, it doesn't just sprout wings, go through a few other changes, and pop out. It completely transforms and becomes a new being out of the same raw material. It secretes an enzyme and digests itself. It breaks down completely into a gelatinous goop and reforms as a butterfly, reemerging with magnificent wings.

It suddenly occurred to me as I was reading this passage that Henry's "elixir," or the "oil" he has also  discussed at length,  may be something similar -- an organic substance meant to break us down and transform us. What that would be I have no idea. It's been
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suggested that the DMT, which probably issues from the activated pineal gland as Rick Strassman theorizes, is the secretion. I don't know, but something about the way Henry has correlated those two thoughts -- the butterfly and the elixir -- has me contemplating.

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Jun 26, 2012

An Ancient Mystery Tops an Ancient Mystery in Syria

Wars are real archaeology blockers. Sometimes I think it's by design -- a deliberate attempt at some level of consciousness to keep humanity from its own secrets. The latest distraction from discovery is in Syria. This one involves something they're calling "Syria's Stonehenge" and there is much to recommend it as a site of interest.

Fifty miles north of Damascus is an ancient monastery, which is a fascinating site all on its own. But in 2009, archaeologist Robert Mason of the Royal Ontario Museum discovered remnants of a much older monument nearby.

The monastery itself, also called the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, was built in the late 4th or early 5th century, he said, and contains several frescoes from the 11th and 12th century depicting Christian saints and Judgment Day. He told the audience at Harvard that he believes it was originally a Roman watchtower, partially destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt.

But the desert puzzle is much older.

Bits of tools Mason found nearby suggest the mystery he discovered in the desert is much older than the monastery. It may date to the Neolithic Period or early Bronze Age, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Gazette said.

So, Mason found ancient masonry tools. He also found remnants of stone circles, lines, and some evidence of tombs. If, indeed, this is a prehistoric sacred site, it speaks to that mysterious habit the ancients had of building sacred sites on top of sacred sites, as if the location on the earth itself holds some deeper significance.

But for now, as the military conflagration in Syria grows, we'll just have to take a wait and see attitude.

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Jun 24, 2012

Spinning the Vatican: Fox News to the Rescue

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As discussed, the Catholic Church needs a little help in the public relations department. The Vatican's response to reams of bad press has been, to a large degree, to create more bad press. Castigating the media hasn't helped. It turns out that being scolded by priests may work with observant Catholics but only seems to tick off a largely secular press corps. And having numerous cardinals and bishops making outrageous and ill-tempered statements, that just happen to make for great copy, doesn't really help either.

The Vatican has been fairly open about the need for a good spin doctor. They've been less open to the ideas generated by their own communications conference, which is to say, more openness and apology. Pope Benedict has, to some degree, but the Church certainly hasn't been either consistent or monolithic in that approach. And none of that contriteness and transparency has been displayed when it comes to scandals beyond the sex abuse issue they've been forced by circumstance to finally cop to. Instead, they've been prosecuting leaks and retreating to the cone of silence.

The announcement that the Vatican has tapped a new media adviser, and that he comes by way of Fox News, brings some assurance that they will at least be getting their act together in terms of message discipline. If there's anything Fox News does well, it's message discipline. (Ignoring for the moment the problem of Shep Smith. But he is a creature sui generis.) And it looks like Greg Burke is very much on it.

He defined his job, which he said he had been offered twice before, as being along the lines of the White House senior communications adviser: "You're shaping the message, you're molding the message, and you're trying to make sure everyone remains on-message. And that's tough."

Where the choice of Greg Burke gets a little weird is in his allegiance to Opus Dei. And here I'm not talking about the public perceptions of the organization -- largely thanks to Dan Brown -- or even that many of the strange rumors turn out to be true. I don't know if Burke is a self-flagellater or if he wears a cilice. It's none of my business... and I don't really want to know. But with the choice of an Opus Dei member as their public voice, the Vatican has also signaled that they will be sticking like glue to their conservative -- even regressive -- policies.

With special ties to the pope, Opus Dei takes a traditionalist approach and has been portrayed as an important counterforce to liberal reforms in the church since the 1960s and to concerns such as declining attendance.

But some Catholics express concern about Opus Dei's recruitment practices and what they say is Opus Dei's growing conservative influence in the church.

"Like many Catholics, I'm concerned about the apparent growth of Opus Dei in the Vatican, here, and among Latin American cardinals and bishops," says David O'Brien, a professor of Roman Catholic studies at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. 

Burke says he doesn't know if his membership in that organization has anything to do with his selection but I tend to think that's a little disingenuous. Opus Dei has been enjoying favored status from the Vatican for some time -- and even more so since the Legionaries of Christ went down in flames.

He said he didn't really know what, if any, role his membership in Opus Dei played. Opus is greatly in favor in the Vatican these days, particularly as other new religious movements such as the Legion of Christ have lost credibility with their own problems. Currently, for example, the cardinal who is heading the Vatican's internal investigation into the leaks of documents is the Opus Dei prelate, Cardinal Julian Herranz.

"I'm an old-fashioned Midwestern Catholic whose mother went to Mass every day," Burke said. "Am I being hired because I'm in Opus Dei?" he asked. "It might come into play." But he noted he was also in Opus when he was hired by Fox and Time magazine.

I'm thinking anyone who was hoping for a change in the very doctrinaire pronouncements coming from the Vatican on everything from birth control, to homosexuality, to nuns, will be disappointed. The most that we can hope for with this announcement is that they'll be polishing those particular turds a bit better.

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Jun 22, 2012

The Ongoing Problem of Catholic PR -- (Plus Breaking News from Philly)

For Breaking news on the Philadelphia case, scroll down.

A while ago I posted something about the Vatican's inability to spin the sex abuse crisis in a manner that makes them look good. The public relations problems for the Catholic Church are only getting worse, apparently. Where to begin? Let's see... How about a banking scandal bizarrely linked to a dead girl who may be buried with a mob boss in a Vatican cemetery and a prominent Church exorcist who claims she was kidnapped by a Vatican sex ring... I mean Dan Brown on his best, most florid prose writing day, couldn't make this stuff up. Yet, the Vatican's response has been to blame Dan Brown and all the other word jockeys out there who keep making the Church look bad by reporting what they do. Then there's the fact that they've been dissed by one of the most Catholic countries in the world. And, for good measure, we could throw in the Legionaries of Christ who, with the help of Pope John Paul II, concealed its leader's mistresses, children, and rampant sexual abuse, for decades. A good write-up on new revelations about that fiasco can be found here.

To say the Church has a PR problem is like saying there just isn't a tube of lipstick big enough for a pig that size. And constantly blaming the press corps for doing its job... Not helpful. But America's Roman Catholic Bishops have decided getting better flacks just might help, so they're gonna give that a whirl.

There's no doubt that America's Roman Catholic bishops have had their share of what might quaintly be called bad press. The priest sex-abuse scandal, a Vatican crackdown on nuns, a head-knocking fight with the president of the United States over contraceptive coverage -- none of these would qualify as good news.

. . .

"We need more help and sophistication in our messaging," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who decried the "latest debacle" of bad PR over the treatment of American nuns (which involves an investigation by the Vatican, not the American bishops).

O'Malley observed ruefully that when John Jay College released a landmark study last year of the causes and handling of the church's sex-abuse crisis, it "should have been a good moment for the church, and yet it was another black eye."

Yeah, the John Jay study... Funny that. You'd think buying the research results you want would translate into buying the coverage you want. But it turns out it's not that simple. A study almost entirely paid for by Catholic organizations and relying on Church data that exempted the Church of responsibility and blamed society should have worked. But it kind of backfired. The scholarship was nothing short of atrocious. I discussed the inconsistencies, logical fallacies, and seemingly deliberate distortions of that study in two posts here and here.

Meanwhile, the American Bishops' push-back against Obama's birth control mandate does seem to be getting them lots of press coverage. Some of it has even been very positive and supportive. Their stance on this issue caters to a very particular political base and that base has been well-mobilized. It's not entirely clear if it plays well with rank and file Catholics, however, the vast majority of whom use birth control in flagrant disregard of Church doctrine. But the Church is calling on its membership to participate in a two week event, which may or may not shore up support among the faithful, as well as society at large.

Nearly half of the nation's 195 dioceses have announced events from prayer breakfasts to town-hall-style meetings to readings of the Constitution. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is providing resources including a dramatic special prayer for strength and courage.

They have dubbed this a "Fortnight for Freedom," set to stretch from the feast day of two saints, martyrs who were murdered for refusing to bend Roman Catholic doctrine to meet a king's demands, to Independence Day.

. . .

Meanwhile, said Reese, Catholics, he says are "voting with their cars" by driving off to a church where they're not "harangued" on issues that make them uncomfortable.

Most Catholics (57%), like most Americans (68%), don't buy the bishops' case that the right of religious liberty is under threat, according to a March survey of 1,007 adults by the Public Religion Research Institute.

So time will tell if the bishops are winning more than they're losing, in terms of hearts and minds, with their battle of conscience against the evils of birth control. But a larger problem with choosing such a politically polarizing issue around which to define themselves, is that they may be running afoul of tax laws based on the very separation of Church and State they claim to be defending -- the same laws that grant the Church and its charities tax exempt status.

With rallies, marches, lectures and special publications, the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Fortnight for Freedom campaign will seek to galvanize Catholic opposition to President Obama’s proposed mandate to require employers — including religious institutions — to provide free contraception insurance coverage to employees.

But while Catholic leaders frame the events as a fight for religious liberty, critics see signs of political partisanship and electioneering. Questions over the financing of the bishops’ campaign have caused those suspicions to multiply.

“The activities around the Fortnight for Freedom cost money,” said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. “What groups are paying for this, and what’s the accountability for that money?”

So all of this will present unusual challenges for even the best publicists. It's not a job I would ever have wanted. Maybe they can get Ari Fleischer. He'll flack anything. Honey badger doesn't give a shit.

Breaking News: Monsignor William Lynn was just convicted for his role in protecting sexually abusive priests in Philadelphia. It's a landmark case -- the first to legally penalize the cover-up, rather than the crime of sexual abuse. Lynn has been convicted of child endangerment.

Monsignor William Lynn is the first U.S. church official convicted of a crime for how he handled sex-abuse accusations.

The judge revoked Lynn's bail and ordered him taken into custody after he was convicted of one count of endangerment. Lynn was acquitted of another endangerment count and a conspiracy charge.

. . . 

Monsignor William Lynn helped the archdiocese keep predators in ministry, and the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priests were being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches, prosecutors said.

Now spin that!

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Jun 21, 2012

Warren Jeffs: FLDS Not Inbred Enough

Warren Jeffs has released another proclamation to his flock and this one is... well...

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in prison, has ordered most of his followers to stop having sex except for 15 men -- and the women they men choose --- designated to father all future children for the sect.

So, let's see... The remaining membership is estimated to be around 10,000, a lot of the young males were excommunicated to reduce competition, so it's probably a little female-heavy, anyway. My back of the envelope calculation says, a handful of men will all have harems about as large as Solomon's. Sounds, um, tiring.

Here's cult expert Rick Ross's take:

"A lot of these revelations are a grab for attention," said Rick Ross, an expert on cults and the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints. "He is trying almost through the revelations to maintain the illusion that he is god's elect, he is the prophet. He's saying: 'Don't forget me.'"

. . .

Ross said the public can expect to hear a lot more of Jeffs' "incoherent" revelations as he spends the rest of his life in prison.

"It's wishful thinking of a deeply disturbed mind," he said. "Jeffs can not really exercise the kind of control he once did. These are the rantings of a man who has really lost it." 

All true, but I wouldn't discount the political calculus. It's all about loyalty. It's not clear whether he's already picked his fifteen but, one way or another, they will most assuredly be his most stalwart supporters. They will be the most likely to enforce his every, deranged emanation. Because a) they're chosen for their existing loyalty, and b) they're being paid in, well... You get the idea.

On the downside, I think the general membership will continue to attrit.

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CERN Leaking Like a Sieve

Boy, the folks at CERN love to leak juicy tidbits. But this former flack knows spin when she sees it.

Ever since tantalizing hints of the Higgs turned up in December at the Large Hadron Collider, scientists there have been busily analyzing the results of their energetic particle collisions to further refine their search.

“The bottom line though is now clear: There’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look,” wrote mathematician Peter Woit on his blog, Not Even Wrong. According to Woit, there are rumors of new data that would be the most compelling evidence yet for the long-sought Higgs.

The possible news has a number of physics bloggers speculating that LHC scientists will announce the discovery of the Higgs during the International Conference on High Energy Physics, which takes place in Melbourne, Australia, July 4 to 11.

. . .

Of course, Gibbs reminds us that the rumors come with some caveats, such as the fact that they are vague and not completely reliable. Scientists outside the experiment also don’t yet know how much data has been analyzed from this year, meaning that the rumored results could disappear with further scrutiny. 

 Meanwhile, loooook.... Just like the Eye of Jupiter.

Jun 20, 2012

Pagan Kerfuffle Down the Beliefnet Memory Hole

I was reading this ghastly story this morning about a man who was recently executed for witchcraft in Saudi Arabia.

According to SPA, the Saudi state news agency, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, a man "found in possession of books and talismans" was beheaded in the southern province of Najran.

The BBC reported that the execution was carried out after al-Asiri's sentence was upheld by the Middle Eastern monarchy's highest courts, and that "no details were given of what he was found guilty of beyond the charges of witchcraft and sorcery."

Although Amnesty International stated that the country does not consider it a capital offense, executions on charges of sorcery and witchcraft have occurred in Saudi Arabia in recent years. 

Books and talismans... sigh...

So, I was trying to remember what exactly Rob Kerby had said about Saudi Arabia's proactive response to the witch and djinn (genie) problem. I seem to remember he was fairly laudatory. But when I clicked on the link to the original post, I found that it was gone. I ran some searches on the site. I can't find it. I seem to remember that the response to that piece by Beliefnet's Pagan blogger Gus DiZerega linked to a different version of the same story on that site, so I clicked the link to DiZerega's post. Also gone.

I guess disposing of comments was not enough. Beliefnet has flushed the entire episode and still seems to be trying to profit from its pre-existing brand as a religiously tolerant site. Gus DiZerega has not posted anything since, however, so I'm assuming he and the Pagan community never got that requested apology.

They could not, however, remove all traces of Kerby's diatribe. An extant version can still be found on The Blaze, so I was able to refresh my memory.

In September, Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki, a Sudanese national, was beheaded in Medina after being convicted of casting a spell involving jinni designed to reconcile a divorced couple.

“Saudi law does not clearly outlaw sorcery,” reports Cecily Hilleary of Middle East Voices, a Voice of America website, “but the country’s legal system is based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.”

According to the Understanding Islam website, belief in magic is integral to the Islamic tradition. Many Saudis say their belief in sorcery and jinni is an integral part of Islam.

Anyone Muslim denies their existence is not a true believer, according to Christoph Wilcke, Senior Researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

“I recall a meeting with the highest adviser to the Minister of Justice in Saudi Arabia a few years ago,” Wilcke told the Middle East Voices, a Voice of America website. “I asked him, ‘How do you prove sorcery or witchcraft in court?’ And the answer he gave me, after looking a little bit stupefied, was to point to the American justice system – how do Americans know what is pornography?

“He basically said, ‘I know it when I see it.’”

Witchcraft is a profitable business in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Muslim world, he said.

“The poor, the ailing and the heartsick, believing in magic, turn to fortune tellers and herbalists for help,” writes Hilleary.

In the west, witchcraft is trivialized with children’s books such as Harry Potter and Disney movies and TV shows that present it as harmless.

I know it when I see it... and then off with their heads. And this is what Kerby holds up as a model for taking the dangers of Harry Potter seriously. Wow. It's even worse than I'd remembered.

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The Solstice and the Serpent

Well here's something I did not know.

This morning, while scanning the news for fun Summer Solstice events, I noticed this item on the Mother Nature Network. Apparently, the famed serpent mound in Ohio is aligned to the sun on this day. How marvelous. That puts this ancient curiosity amongst sacred sites all over the world as aligned to key astronomical events. I don't know that this will ever make Ohio Bush Creek a destination on par with Stonehenge (see above) but I actually find this slightly more fascinating.

Sunrise with a snake: Twenty miles south of Bainbridge, Ohio, a mysterious mound rises from the Earth. A bird's-eye view would reveal that this mound is in fact man-made, and that it is in the shape of a giant serpent.

On the summer solstice, the sun rises directly over the head of this serpent, which was likely created by the so-called Fort Ancient culture that thrived nearby between A.D. 1000 and 1550. The Serpent Mound park is open during daylight hours, so solstice-seekers can stroll around the ancient snake and imagine the early astronomers that must have overseen its construction.

I've never seen the serpent mound. Ohio is big state and I grew up on the other end of it. But it's always tickled me pink that this vestige of ancient wisdom appears in such an unlikely place.

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To Wikipedia!

In 1987 Clark and Marjorie Hardman published their finding that the oval-to-head area of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset.[9][10] William F. Romain has suggested an array of lunar alignments based on the curves in the effigy's body. Fletcher and Cameron argued convincingly for the Serpent Mound's coils being aligned to the two solstice and two equinox events each year. If the Serpent Mound were designed to sight both solar and lunar arrays, it would be significant as the consolidation of astronomical knowledge into a single symbol. The head of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset and the coils also may point to the winter solstice sunrise and the equinox sunrise.[11]

. . .

The Serpent Mound may have been designed in accord with the pattern of stars composing the constellation Draco. The star pattern of the constellation Draco fits with fair precision to the Serpent Mound, with the ancient Pole Star, Thuban (╬▒ Draconis), at its geographical center within the first of seven coils from the head. The fact that the body of Serpent Mound follows the pattern of Draco may support various theses. Putnam's 1865 refurbishment of the earthwork could have been correctly accomplished in that a comparison of Romain's or Fletcher and Cameron's maps from the 1980s show how the margins of the Serpent align with great accuracy to a large portion of Draco. Some researchers date the earthwork to around 5,000 years ago, based on the position of Draco, through the backward motion of precessionary circle of the ecliptic when Thuban was the Pole Star. Alignment of the effigy to the Pole Star at that position also shows how true north may have been found. This was not known until 1987 because lodestone and modern compasses give incorrect readings at the site.[13]

If it is, in fact, patterned on Draco, that could make it one of heaven's all-important mirrors. Such a theory is apparently advanced in Ross Hamilton's Mystery of the Serpent Mound. Huh. Whadda you know? Where have I been?

And now it is the time Summer Solstice when we dance.

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Go Sheila!

Sheila Polk, who successfully prosecuted James Arthur Ray in a trial I covered in excruciating detail, has won a well deserved, criminal justice award.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Sullivan Polk will receive the 2012 Arizona State Bar Michael C. Cudahy Criminal Justice Award next week at the state bar convention.

The Cudahy Award honors "that criminal prosecutor who, during his or her career, has worked tirelessly to advance the principles of criminal justice by representing the public's interest with integrity, fairness, tenacity, creativity, brilliance, and above all, professionalism."

. . .

She has been personally involved in a training program called "What You Do Matters: Lessons from the Holocaust," which teaches Yavapai County law enforcement officers how Hitler's rise to power came about through the sometimes-unwitting help of local officials.

That last bit about the Holocaust, I did not know. But it makes sense. Polk proved herself exquisitely capable of exposing both the psychology of influence and the banality of evil when she took down that tinhorn dictator who baked people in an oven masquerading as a sweat lodge.

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Jun 19, 2012

The Vatican: Still Tone Deaf After All These Years

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Just when you think Pope Benedict might be getting it, he dismisses generations of abuse at the hands of clergy as "a mystery." Understandably, this has angered survivor groups. SNAP's Barbara Dorris decried the comments as "platitudes, refusing to even accurately name the crisis."

" The pontiff's wrong: there's little mystery here," said Dorris in an emailed statement.

She cited priests' having `'sometimes almost absolute power, over devout and defenseless kids," as well as bishops who abuse power and `'ignore, hide and enable heinous crimes against kids."

The pontiff's unintentionally incendiary statements came in a pre-recorded address played during the grand finale of the previously discussed Eucharistic Congress in Ireland. And this was the event that was supposed to stop the Church's hemorrhaging in that country. I don't think this will help.

I will say this. His Holiness seems genuinely mystified.

`'How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord's body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of Penance have offended in this way?" said the pope, referring to church staff who abused children.

"It remains a mystery," he said. "Yet evidently their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ. It had become merely a matter of habit."

Religion, even participation in the mysteries, is not a cure-all. It doesn't automatically fix mental illness any more than physical illnesses. This is the cardinal error of viewing every problem as one of sin, and symbolic redemption as the sufficient solution. It's the same mistake made repeatedly in Amish communities, where a forgiveness and reconciliation process has fueled recidivism and marginalized sex abuse victims rather than perpetrators. Pedophilia, psychopathy, narcissism, and other pathologies, that have been so clearly demonstrated in the cycle of abuse in the Church just aren't going to be resolved by prayer. And forgiving people for their sins doesn't mean they won't keep committing them.

This core error in thinking has been a prime mover in the decades of mishandling and cover-ups at every level of the Church. Abusive priests were given spiritual counsel, forgiven, and told, go (to another parish) and sin no more.

As with the Amish communities, apparently repentant abusers have been protected and supported over anyone who knew better than to simply forgive and forget: victims, law enforcement, the media, an angry public. These critical voices have been ignored, disparaged, and even demonized.

The Church has a propensity for blaming its internal problems on those who point them out rather than the criminals who cause them. Oh, and, the devil.

The Vatican's No. 2 official on Monday blamed the media – and the devil – for fueling the scandal over leaked Vatican documents.

Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told an Italian Catholic weekly that journalists reporting on the leaks scandal are "pretending to be Dan Brown ... inventing stories and replaying legends." The reference to Brown is particularly acute; Brown wrote "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" the best-selling fictional accounts of power struggles and scandals inside the Catholic Church.

. . .

"The truth is that there's a will to create division that comes from the devil," he said. The interview is due on newsstands Thursday but was made available to journalists Monday.

What the Vatican continues to engage in is what Jungian psychology calls shadow projection. As defined by Paul Levy:

Shadow projection, or scapegoating, is when we split off from our own darkness and project it outside of ourselves. When we project our shadow onto someone else, we believe that the other person is the embodiment of the darkness that ultimately belongs to ourselves. We then want to fight and destroy the evil we see “out there,” as it reminds us of something dark within ourselves that we’d rather have nothing to do with. By trying to destroy the evil we see in the outer world, however, we become possessed by and incarnate the very evil we are trying to destroy. Shadow projection is a reflection of the inner process of dissociating from and wanting to get rid of─exterminate─a part of ourselves. Shadow projection is a self-mutilation that is actually an act of psychic violence, not only on ourselves, but on the “other” who is the recipient of our projection.

Perhaps we should all just start mailing the Vatican Debbie Ford books. Dark Side of the Light Chasers indeed.

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Jun 17, 2012

Rep. Lisa "Vagina" Brown on Religious Freedom

Nearly lost in the uproar over Rep. Lisa Brown's right to talk about her vagina, has been the substance of her comments on the Michigan State House floor. Brown framed her argument against Michigan's draconian abortion bill in terms of religious freedom.

Yesterday we heard from, uh, the representative from Holland speak about religious freedom. I'm Jewish. I keep kosher in my home. I have two sets of dishes -- one for meat, one for dairy, and another two sets of dishes on top of that for Passover.

Judaism believes that therapeutic abortion, namely abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother, are not only permissible but mandatory. The stage of pregnancy does not matter. Wherever there is a question of the life of the mother or that of the unborn child, Jewish law rules in favor of preserving the life of the mother. The status of the fetus as human life does not equal that of the mother.

I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?

And finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.

So, yeah, that last line is definitely the money quote. You can see why it eclipsed her central argument. It also, apparently, eclipsed her right to speak for her constituents on the House floor. In a time when it is so in vogue to talk about the role of religious freedom in the context of regulating women's bodies and sexuality, you'd think her point would have been well taken. It would seem that when a religion actually advocates protecting or expanding women's rights, it's not so popular.

It's hard to miss the irony. For months we've been subjected to arguments about how women choosing to use birth control, or in any way take charge of their own reproductive destinies, somehow erodes other people's religious freedom. Those arguments have come almost entirely from men, even to the deliberate exclusion of women from the debate. Women, apparently, are supposed to remain silent about our reproductive choices. And now, it would seem, we are also supposed to remain silent about our religious freedom.

The gentleman from Holland, of whom Rep. Davis speaks, looks to be Rep. Joe Haveman. The legislation in question pertains to the right of psych students to discriminate against gay clients.

A House committee today approved a bill introduced by Rep. Joe Haveman that stands up for the religious rights of students in specialized college studies.

The House Education Committee approved House Bill 5040, which prohibits discrimination against students who are studying counseling, social work and psychology for sincerely held religious beliefs.

The bill stems from the case of Eastern Michigan University student Julea Ward, who was removed from her graduate counseling program in 2009 after she requested to refer a client to another counselor because the client's file indicated past discussion of a gay relationship. Ward's religious convictions view homosexuality as morally wrong.

Honestly, in that context, I think such students should be able to refer away clients they find morally objectionable. Who wants to go to a therapist who's bigoted against them? Perhaps there should be legislation requiring therapists to disclose their religious and moral predispositions? The dynamics of a situation like that could be far more damaging to the patient than to the therapist.

Similar legislation, however, has granted wide latitude to the religious to inflict their beliefs on people who do not share them -- pharmacists being exempted from selling the morning after pill, for instance. So this brings me back to the central conundrum. Since when is freedom the right to control other people? This strikes me as stunningly irrational.

What Rep. Brown is describing does, in fact, constitute an assault on religious freedom and the enshrining in law of one religious viewpoint as preeminent over others. Which is to say, restriction of abortion rights violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Wikipedia actually provides a good overview of Jewish rules on abortion.

The Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards takes the view that an abortion is justifiable if a continuation of pregnancy might cause the woman severe physical or psychological harm, or when the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective. The fetus is a life in the process of development, and the decision to abort should never be taken lightly. Thus, the Conservative position is in line with some of the Acharonim who permit an abortion in case of acute potential emotional and psychological harm.

Before reaching her final decision, Conservative Judaism holds that the woman should consult with the biological father, other members of her family, her physician, her Rabbi and any other person who can help her in assessing the many grave legal and moral issues involved.

. . .

Reform Judaism permits abortion, not only when the woman's life is at stake, but also when a pregnancy is "a result of rape or incest; when through genetic testing, it is determined that the child to be born will have a disease that will cause death or severe disability, and the parents believe that the impending birth will be an impossible situation for them," and for several other reasons.[30] More generally, the "Reform perspective on abortion can be described as follows: Abortion is an extremely difficult choice faced by a woman. In all circumstances, it should be her decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, backed up by those whom she trusts (physician, therapist, partner, etc.). This decision should not be taken lightly (abortion should never be used for birth control purposes) and can have life-long ramifications. However, any decision should be left up to the woman within whose body the fetus is growing."[30]

Of course the fiercest irony regarding this whole debate stems from the fact that abortion isn't even prohibited in the Bible. In fact, slaying both the unborn and the young children of enemies features prominently.

11 As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.
12 Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.
14 Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
15 All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters.
16 Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.

~ Hosea 9:11-16

There's also more than a little about murdering women who are -- or might be -- pregnant with the children of enemies.

15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

~ Numbers 31:15-17

And, of course, pregnant tramps. Kill 'em.

And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. ~ Genesis 38:24

I, for one, am way more pro-life than that. So I've always found Judeo-Christian arguments against abortion... rather strange. But everyone parses religious texts differently. That's one of many reasons that religious freedom is so important.

For instance, this Christian ObGyn places more importance on being a "good Samaritan" than on imposing the pro-life, religious views he grew up with on his patients.

I wrestled with the morality of it. I grew up in the South and in fundamentalist Protestantism, I was taught that abortion is wrong.

Yet as I pursued my career as an OB/GYN, I saw the dilemmas that women found themselves in. And I could no longer weigh the life of a pre-viable or lethally flawed fetus equally with the life of the woman sitting before me.

In listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, I came to a deeper understanding of my spirituality, which places a higher value on compassion. King said what made the good Samaritan “good” is that instead of focusing on would happen to him by stopping to help the traveler, he was more concerned about what would happen to the traveler if he didn’t stop to help.

I became more concerned about what would happen to these women if I, as an obstetrician, did not help them.

What is religious freedom if it's not the right to act according our own beliefs and conscience?

Oh, and, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, VAGINA!!!

Note: Rep. Brown will be performing The Vagina Monologues, along with eight other women legislators, on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol this Monday night. Playwright Eve Ensler will attend.

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Jun 16, 2012

Fingerprints of the Neanderthals

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As discussed, a recent discovery attributes what is possibly the world's oldest art not to Homo sapiens but to Neanderthals.With results of the finished study now published in Science, comes a more thorough reassessment of Neanderthals and their place in prehistory.

Several times in the past 10 years scientists have had to rewrite the textbooks on Neanderthals, the latest species of human to go extinct. Once the archetype for primitive, uncivilised behaviour, the species, illuminated through fossil excavations and lately analysis of their genome, has emerged as being not too dissimilar from our own.

Contrary to their dim-witted image Neanderthals have been found to have used tools, to have worn jewellery, and, lastly, to have interbred with our Homo sapiens ancestors to such an extent that 4% of every modern European's genome is traceable to Neanderthal origins.

In my lifetime, Neanderthals have gone from being an early stage in human evolution, to a totally separate species, to a coexisting subspecies that interbred with Homo sapiens. This is what I mean when I say that good science -- and the past itself -- is self-revising. Many of our assumptions about Neanderthals merit reexamination. It is now clear that they were not the stupid distant cousins of proto-humans. They appear to have been at least as intelligent and creative as our direct forebears. And it may well be that even some of the cave art that has been attributed to Paleolithic humans was actually the creation of Neanderthals.

[Joao] Zilhao and his colleagues turned to a different method: uranium-thorium dating. As anyone who has seen a stalactite knows, caves are always undergoing slow change. The same processes that create stalactites and stalagmites leave thin deposits of the mineral calcite over some cave paintings. This calcite contains miniscule amounts of radioactive uranium, which decays to thorium over time.

. . .

Because the calcite came after the paintings, this sets a minimum age for the art. What researchers don't know is how long the initial calcite deposit took, so the paintings could be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years older than the minimum dates.

The researchers took samples from 11 Spanish caves, including famed spots like Altamira with its painted herds of bison. At Altamira, they found an image of a red horse that dates back at least 22,000 years and a clublike image that is at least 35,600 years old. The club symbol has been painted over with the famous colorful bison herd, which dates to around 18,000 years ago. In other words, Altamira was a popular spot for artists for a very long time. [Images: Altamira & Other Amazing Caves]

At another cave, El Castillo in northern Spain, the researchers found primitive art of mind-boggling age. This cave contained the 40,800-year-old red disk. It also sported a hand stencil, created by an artist spitting red pigment over his or her hand to leave a handprint, that dates back more than 37,300 years.

More exact dating continues to be a problem and there is still much debate about the significance of the findings. But the one thing that is increasingly clear is that Graham Hancock's fictional accounting in of early human and Neanderthal relations in Entangled is being proved by non-fictional research.

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Jun 15, 2012

Church Fights Legislative Battle Against Its Victims

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Just when I thought I couldn't be any more sickened by the Catholic Church's handling of its sex abuse crisis, comes a New York Times piece on their ongoing war against the victims of abuse that they enabled for generations. This particular battle is being fought on the legislative front. As more and more states consider extending or eliminating statutes of limitations for civil and/or criminal litigation, the Church is mobilizing to decrease their own legal exposure.

The Church is pulling out all the stops, deploying not only priests and bishops, but parishioners, lobbyists, and publicists. Hiring pros gets expensive but I guess when you've already paid out billions in settlements, and dioceses like Milwaukee are facing bankruptcy, it's a drop in the bucket. Their primary argument predictably revolves around reliability of evidence. As Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference told the State Legislature:

“How can an institution conceivably defend itself against a claim that is 40, 50 or 60 years old?” Mr. Brannigan said. “Statutes of limitation exist because witnesses die and memories fade.”

Yep. Cold cases are hard to prosecute. But statutes of limitation are based largely on the severity of the crime as weighed against the difficulty of prosecution. So it comes down to just how seriously we take the sexual abuse of children. There is no statute of limitations on murder even though "witnesses die and memories fade" and some of us see sex abuse as comparable. Some survivors will tell you that murder would have been kinder.

It is simply not true that there aren't numerous cases in which the proof is readily available and I'd wager that this is what the Church fears most. Says professor and victims' attorney Marci A. Hamilton of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, “Even when you have an institution admitting they knew about the abuse, the perpetrator admitting that he did it, and corroborating evidence, if the statute of limitations has expired, there won’t be any justice.”

There are some very curious wrinkles to this story. One is that the Vatican's new guidelines actually call for extending the statute of limitations by 10-20 years for its own in-house reporting. Of course the difference there is that the Church is in control of its internal investigations and isn't risking the same legal exposure and expense of facing the criminal justice system. They talk a good game about working with civil authorities but the practice has not caught up to the rhetoric. They're still resisting reporting requirements actively and passively.

Stranger still, the legislation they're fighting would not be retroactive, as per a Supreme Court ruling. This would not appear to be opening the Church to further consequences for all those cases from the purported peak of the crisis in the 60's and 70's. For a Church that insists the crisis is in the past, this seems more than a little odd. Asks Erin Gloria Ryan in Jezebel:

Does the Church anticipate that they'll continue to have problems with pedophile priests and bishops who protect and enable them for decades into the future? How about just stop sexually abusing children?

Well, yeah!

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Jun 14, 2012

Carrie Underwood on Marriage Equality

I'm not even entirely clear about who Carrie Underwood is. I don't follow pop country and American Idol makes me puke, so she's just never been on my radar. But at this moment I'm loving her. A number of evangelicals aren't, apparently. And only time will tell if she faces the sort of backlash Dixie Chick Natalie Maines did when she dared to speak her mind on controversial subjects. But Carrie Underwood has come out as unabashedly pro-gay marriage.

"As a married person myself, I don't know what it's like to be told I can't marry somebody I love, and want to marry," she said. "I can't imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love."

Yeah. You know how Christians are supposed to be all about love? And make no mistake. Underwood is a deeply committed Christian.

She said, however, that her liberal attitude towards same-sex marriage comes because of her Christian values, rather than in spite of them. Though raised a Baptist, a church that tends to oppose homosexuality, Underwood and her husband Mike Fisher, a professional ice-hockey player, now worship in a non-denominational congregation.

"Our church is gay friendly," she said. "Above all, God wanted us to love others. It's not about setting rules, or [saying] 'everyone has to be like me'. No. We're all different. That's what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other. It's not up to me to judge anybody."

It's kind of hard to disagree with the logic... unless you do. As per this brave soul who waded through the comments on The Blaze, some of them were real doozies.

Indeed sad, that now, Miss Underwood (yeah, we know she’s married) in attempting to “package” herself, and not peave off the gay-record-buying-public is leaving her principles behind in favor of the quick-buck. Many have already commented on the Biblical references to homosexuality.

Yes, Carrie it IS your place to judge others.

Well, the ironically monikered Snaker fails Christianity 101. Or, he/she doesn't understand the difference between judging and discerning. Underwood is talking about judging, as in:

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." ~ Matthew 7:1

It would seem that at some point in her devout Christian life, she got idea that it was for God to judge. Maybe it was from the Bible.

"Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" ~ James 4:11-12

Well, it's challenging to be a fundamentalist, what with the Bible contradicting itself all over the place, but at some point, one has to choose between love and forgiveness and a highly selective reading of clobber verses. You know, just not the ones that condemn pork, shellfish, cotton/poly blends, shaving, tattooing, and so forth, and so on.

Carrie Underwood is emblematic of the changing face of Christianity -- and that includes evangelicals. As discussed, Jay Bakker and his late, lamented mother Tammy Faye Messner have quietly led a charge for a more tolerant evangelism. And gay evangelical Christians like Jim Swilley and Jennifer Knapp have been easing open closet doors. So, backlash aside, Underwood is not alone. And thank God.

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Jun 11, 2012

Zombie Apocalpyse: An Archetypal Journey

Article first published as Zombie Apocalpyse: An Archetypal Journey on Blogcritics.

A spate of cannibalistic attacks has raised public fears to such an extent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to address concerns with assurances that the "CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms)." It doesn't help that almost exactly one year ago they put out Zombie Apocalypse guidelines, in a strange and darkly prescient attempt to engage the public through humor.

Zombie Apocalypse: It's a funny phrase, evoking the more colloquial meaning of the word apocalypse - which is to say, a gruesome battle, ending the world as we know it. But that is not what the word actually means. Apocalypse comes from the Greek apokálypsis and means something more along the lines of "the big reveal" or "lifting of the veil." In that sense, a Zombie Apocalypse is an oxymoron. Zombies are all about ignorance.

Zombies tend to spike in the public imagination when we are struggling against some fear of authoritarian control. They reflect a collective anxiety about being reduced to mindless automatons, animated only by base impulses to eat... and shop. In the Dawn of the Dead movies they spend a lot of time at the mall, glazed over with their need to consume, the same in undeath as in life.

The zombie is one of our most ancient archetypes, at least as old as literature itself, making its first appearance in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Most famously, the fickle goddess Ishtar, spurned by Gilgamesh, threatens to raise the dead. This is the first known description of a Zombie Apocalypse and it goes back to the dawn of civilization.

Father give me the Bull of Heaven,
So he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!

But more to the point, the central struggle of Gilgamesh is his quest for immortality. Gilgamesh seems baffled that people die and that he will also. He is part god but he cannot enter the abode of the gods, the "land of the living." And when he loses his beloved friend Enkidu, in some recovered versions of the story, a ghoulish scene unfolds. Gilgamesh, tormented by grief, stays with the dead body for a week, until it is so corrupted and crawling with worms he has no choice but to return it to the earth and commission a statue instead.

The upshot of this ancient horror story is Gilgamesh's eventual discovery of the truth of life and death. His ancestor, Utnapishtim, the Sumerian precursor to Noah, was granted passage to the realm of the gods, but to mankind they dealt death and kept eternal life only for themselves. So death as we know it was created by capricious gods for the human survivors of the deluge.

The zombie archetype would seem to be a natural expression of a human race grappling with its own mortality. Like Gilgamesh we long for the immortality of the gods but fear that for us it would mean a gruesome undeath.

I would posit, though, that the symbolism is far broader than our fear of ourselves and our loved ones being consigned to living death, reduced to our motor impulses. It's a reminder that we already are in a kind of living death, consuming endlessly, numbly wandering shopping malls, dying from the moment of birth. Gilgamesh, for instance, begins as a bored monarch, engaged in mindless, purposeless violence. So the gods give him a companion and together they begin their quest to find meaning in a nonsensical existence. Taken in that light, the zombie archetype is a wake-up call, challenging us to undertake the hero's journey and courageously look death in the eye.

Or perhaps some revelation is at hand challenging us to open the eye - calling upon us to remember a time before the flood. As the worst specters of our imagining burst from our nightmares onto the streets of Louisiana, Connecticut, Florida... I mean, dear God. The precipitating incident involved a naked man carrying a Bible. If that isn't a case of life imitating art, I don't know what is. When we manifest archetypes on that scale in the reflective world, it's always about something. The question - and the quest - is how we make meaning of it.

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Jun 10, 2012

Vatican Event Loses Out to Soccer in Ireland

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In 1932 a Eucharistic Congress in Ireland was testament to the power of the country's Catholic faith in freeing them from British rule. Today's Eucharistic Congress marks an attempt to staunch the bleeding from the Church's self-inflicted wounds.

An international conference celebrating Roman Catholicism opened Sunday in Ireland against a backdrop of anger over child abuse cover-ups and evidence of declining faith in core church beliefs.

More than 20,000 Catholics, many from overseas, gathered for an open-air Mass in a Dublin stadium at the start of the Eucharistic Congress, a weeklong event organized by the Vatican every four years in a different part of the world. The global gathering, begun in the 19th century and last held in Quebec in 2008, highlights the Catholic Church's belief in transubstantiation, the idea that bread and wine transforms during Mass into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.

An opinion poll of Irish Catholics found that two-thirds of Irish Catholics don't believe this, nor do they attend Mass weekly. The survey, published last week in The Irish Times with an error margin of 3 points, also found that just 38 percent believe Ireland today would be in worse shape without its dominant church. And just three-fifths even knew the Eucharistic Congress was coming to Ireland.

Ireland is becoming a secular country where the Church's big, international event has been eclipsed by Sunday's soccer game. What a difference eighty years and a sex abuse scandal of epic proportions makes.

Today's Ireland is a country with a closed Vatican embassy, an abruptly pulled Vatican ambassador, and where an angry rant against the Church from the Prime Minister only increased his popularity.

A far cry from the triumphalism of the 1932 event, this week's festivities are marked by protests from survivor groups and a "healing stone" ritual of atonement to include a poem from a victim of a pedophile priest. The effort seems modest and disproportionate to the outrage of an Irish public, more than half of which now abstain from weekly Mass.

As per the Irish Times, the Church in Ireland faces a choice between continuing its doctrinaire policies and shedding members, and embracing a kinder, gentler future of "cultural Catholicism." It's moral dominance of Ireland has reached a bitter end, say the editors.

That world is dead. Ireland will never again be a monolithic culture in which a single hierarchical institution can enjoy such power and prestige. And nor should it be – the darker consequences of that culture are now all too well known. So how, if not through nostalgic fantasy, is the church to find its bearings in the new Ireland?

There are two possible reactions. One is to build high defensive walls around a hard core of doctrinal certainty and institutional obedience. Jettison the “cultural Catholics” who are theologically unsound, devotionally lax and increasingly at odds with church positions on sexuality and reproduction. Accept instead that there is a trade-off between the number of the faithful and the intensity of the faith. This new Irish Catholicism will be smaller but steelier. Such a view seems to be the dominant one at the moment, expressed most clearly in the silencing or censoring of even mildly dissident priests.

There is, though, an alternative to this vision of a rather dour, self-protective minority, increasingly at odds with secular society. Another way to look at the Irish Times poll, for instance, would be to marvel at the fact that, even when they’ve given up believing in some core Catholic doctrines, so many people still retain a connection to the church. What’s so terrible about “cultural Catholicism” – the idea that the broad church is deeply intertwined with the way Irish people think and feel and, however occasionally, pray?

What is happening in Ireland is emblematic of the crossroads the Church faces more broadly. Ultimately, it must decide whether it will remain an authoritarian, top-down organization determined to crush apparent insurrections, or become responsive to a changing Church body. With an overwhelming majority rejecting its policies on things like birth control, my hunch is that they would be wise to do the latter. To continue as they are only dooms them to extinction. It should be clear that Catholics are no longer so accepting of being throttled. American nuns certainly aren't.

When publicly reprimanded by some of the most powerful men in the Vatican, one is expected to respond, "Yes, Your Excellencies. Very sorry, your Excellencies." American nuns are trying something different.

Respectfully and clearly, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is calling the recent Vatican indictment against them "unsubstantiated" and "flawed."

The Vatican, as everyone knows by now, was troubled that U.S. sisters have failed to give a loud enough voice against abortion and gay marriage while giving too much voice to left-of-center social justice causes. Rome is now proposing to remake LCWR in its own image, and the sisters object.

After four days of meetings, the LCWR board -- which represents 80 percent of American Catholic sisters -- on Friday (June 1) issued a four-paragraph statement that, in stunningly clear language, called the Vatican to "openness, honesty, and integrity."

Also here in the States, secular authorities are no longer making allowances for the Church to settle its little abuse problem internally -- not if prosecutions in Philadelphia and Kansas City are any indication.

The chief criticism of the 2002 reforms was that they did not include any means of disciplining bishops who fail to follow the charter. Each bishop still answers only to the pope -- and Benedict XVI has so far declined to penalize any of them.

But that hasn't stopped law enforcement officials from pursuing churchmen when the church will not -- a marked change from the deference that police and district attorneys once showed the hierarchy.

Witness the ongoing trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime head of priest personnel for the Philadelphia archdiocese and the first cleric ever to face trial for covering up for abusers. The headline-making story was in many ways a trial in absentia of former Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died shortly before the trial started, and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who retired under a cloud last year after a grand jury indicted Lynn and others.

Similarly, in Missouri, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph is facing trial in September on charges that he failed to report credible allegations that one of his priests had a trove of child pornography and a suspicious interest in young children. The priest was arrested and charged, and Finn could become the first bishop ever convicted of a crime in connection with the scandal.

Ireland has gone from Catholic stronghold to bellweather of international change. Like any living thing, the Church will either adapt or die.

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