Jan 29, 2013

Spiritual But Not Religious

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." ~ Teilhard de Chardin

If it were up to me, I'd retire the phrase "spiritual but not religious." I consider it effectively meaningless. To my way of thinking, we can't not be spiritual. We are spirit. But I'm not being fair to the idiomatic meaning of that phrase, which could be more fairly stated as, "searching for meaning beyond the confines of organized religion."

However problematic the phrase, it is a growing trend. This seems to rankle a number of religious authorities. A quick search through the Huffington Post religion section brings up a fair sampling of disdainful diatribes against all these dilettantes who think they can have God without the hard work of religious practice in like-minded community. I read a number of these posts when they came out, sighed, and moved on.

There's Pastor Lillian Daniel who is sick and tired of hearing from anonymous strangers on planes that God can be found in sunsets. She just wishes the nonreligious would stop boring her with their irrelevant observations. And, no, I'm not overstating her tone. "Please stop boring me," is her subtitle.

There's Alan Miller's lightning rod of a post bemoaning the religious illiteracy of a populace that can't name more than four of the ten commandments. He casts religion almost entirely in Judeo-Christian terms and dismisses all else as superstition. A good rebuttal can be found here.

Most recently, I read this jeremiad from Michael P. Murphy of Loyola University. Murphy bemoans a religiously untethered generation that has filled that void with technology and begun worshiping at the altar of Steve Jobs by default. I agree with Murphy that we seem to be wired to seek out both communion with other human beings and an experience of the transcendent. But his post is a muddle. And it reeks of contempt for people who think they can find something better than church.

As I paused to watch devotees of Apple products engaging in communion with the items of their religious practice, I was struck once more not only by how religion and spirituality have reached an almost comic level of topsey-turveyness, but also with the stark recognition that Marshall McCluhan's prophetic insight from 1964 is made manifest every minute of of every day in the digital age: the medium has indeed become the message.

Murphy clearly knows nothing of McLuhan's work... or the spelling of his name, apparently. His attempt to posthumously enlist him, of all people, in his war with modernity is risible. McLuhan's famous statement wasn't meant as prophecy. He didn't say, the medium will become the message. He said it is. It always has been. The medium to which McLuhan referred wasn't some future vision of high tech. It was any technology -- any extension of our human capacities -- going back to the stone age. McLuhan's point was that the way information is conveyed is more important than the information itself, because the means of conveyance shapes both psyche and society. As we moved from the printed word, for instance, to film and television, we stopped thinking so linearly and began to take in multiple messages/images simultaneously. These newer media force us to develop new ways to prioritize and cognize that information. Information influences what we think. The medium influences how we think.

Murphy continues.

The word "religion" finds its root in religio, which means "to bind." And herein lies the main point: we like being "spiritual" because the concept, as we perceive it, makes no claim upon us. It binds us to nothing -- or at least nothing communal, confessional or public. Of course, it is liberating to be masters of our own faith practices. To be both founders and adherents of a "Sheila-ism" or a "Murph-ism" -- that is, to participate in the postmodern practice of inventing and practicing one's own hodge-podge religion -- is a uniquely empowering proposition. The problem is that it is also an isolating, atomizing and ultimately inauthentic approach to spirituality.

In fact, the etymology of the word religion is a matter of some dispute. But this is a small point. More concerning is the paternalism. Murphy seems certain that those who do not seek God through the proper channels of an organized religion cannot possibly find connection or meaning.

An assumption spans these various writings that those who define as spiritual but not religious are isolated in their experience and have no sense of community with which to share their spiritual discovery. Leave say, I have not found this to be true.

To Miller, where organized religion is real and diligent, other spiritual practices are entirely ephemeral.

Back to the Spiritual But Not Religious-ers, they seem to have appropriated the worst of all worlds. They have retained the superstitious outlook and yet do not want to engage or present anything more broadly life affirming. Selecting a superficial mixture of "nice-feeling" items from Yoga to a slice of Zen and a moment of Tao is hardly progressive as far as options for humanity is concerned. They have jettisoned the hard work, diligence and observation of organized religion for a me-me-me what-ever kind of lifestyle.

Far be it from me to claim that there aren't a fair number of dabblers in the new age marketplace and among those who define as spiritual but not religious. But we're kidding ourselves if we pretend that churches aren't also packed with people who leave their faith at the church door after Sunday services, that there are no hypocrites who give the tenets of their religions lip-service, or worse, that there aren't those who cherry-pick and twist scripture to justify whatever abuses against humanity they indulge.

I can agree that some problems arise when we have no shared, clear cosmology. I can also agree that there is a downside to a pluralism that allows people to pick and choose nothing but appetizers and desserts from an a la carte menu of world religions. Spiritual expansion requires grounding in the deeper lessons and safeguards that come by way of well-worn tradition. Where I disagree is in the assumption that shallow practice is inevitable among the nonreligious or that a prescriptivist approach to spiritual practice is the only possible corrective.

Absent in all these posts is any sense of the responsibility organized religions might have for their dwindling numbers. This is particularly galling coming from Murphy -- a professor of  Catholic Studies. Conspicuous by its absence is any discussion of the abuse scandal that has left large numbers of practicing Catholics disillusioned and demoralized. He dismisses all of it as "the troubles and intrigues that the Catholic 'brand' has experienced." But the extent to which the Church has broken faith with its followers has caused even Catholics in Ireland to abandon organized religion in droves.

Disillusionment has always been a driver, not only of religious attrition, but also of religious innovation. But it is not just the disappointment with the flaws and limitations of religious institutions. It is the thirst for the divine that often goes unsatisfied in hidebound institutions.

In so many instances, what drives people from their churches to the spiritual path less traveled is the beginnings of spiritual awakening. Organized religion has historically been suspicious, even condemning, of mystical experiences other than those of their founders and prophets -- especially if those experiences challenge orthodox beliefs. This leaves people who have their own brushes with the numinous, experience moments of conscious oneness with the all, or in any way begin to pierce the veil, at odds with their religious institutions.

Historically these spiritual quests have resulted in sectarian conflicts, new religions -- Buddhism springs to mind -- and more than a few have led to war and wide-scale persecution. Such things still happen in much of the world. So, perhaps, it's petty of me to worry about the carping of a few religion writers.

Here, in the West, the spiritual but not religious trend is just the newest wrinkle in a consciousness expansion that began in earnest when psychedelics and Eastern thought exploded in the popular culture.

Astrologer Adam Elenbaas describes the complexity of the search for spiritual truth in a pluralistic society with an ever-expanding panoply of traditions. Spiritual but not religious has become a kind of shorthand for an experience that doesn't fit neatly into any category.

I'm an astrologer so I can't help but approach the questions I ask or the concepts I'm interested in through the lens of the system I study. From the astrological perspective I think most new agers, including astrologers like myself, struggle to define a coherent belief system for ourselves because of the times we are living through: moving now from the age of Pisces to Aquarius. Are we "believers" in astrology? Can I call myself a Buddhists even though I might be a raw foodist who practices yoga, urban tantra, and gnostic Christianity in between Christian Santo Daime works? Maybe it's just become easier to answer, "I'm spiritual not religious." Maybe it's just a shorter way of saying, "I'm looking for oneness; whatever you call it it's all the same to me. I yearn for mystical fusion. I yearn to get out of this mundane world and go home once and for all!"

Elenbaas places the debate over spiritual and religious definition in the context of the Piscean age giving way to the age of Aquarius, and our thirst to dissolve into the numinous as a Piscean (Neptune) drive.

For example, this past Friday night I went to a Dharma talk at a local Buddhist temple. The female priest giving the talk was speaking about the fundamental premises of Buddhism, and she spoke about the reality of suffering as the base condition that inspires our path toward nirvana. She talked about crossing the ocean of suffering with single pointed focus. When I left the dharma talk I felt an emotional connection to something outside of myself for sure -- at least for the rest of the evening. But it wasn't what she had to say about suffering, necessarily. It was the people in their robes, and it was the crystals glowing behind carefully arranged lamps. It was the images and icons, the quietness as she spoke to the few of us gathered together. It was the way in which the temple was filled some other-worldly magic, and how I could literally feel the presence of Neptune, like a golden trident poking through the fabric of the "Buddhist" reality. And THAT was surreal. That felt sacred to me.

It's not the words, the philosophy... it's the potency of symbols, the irrationality of myth, the sensory and intangible, that tips us toward transcendence. As per "freelance monotheist" Karen Armstrong, that is the purpose of religion. And it is precisely the common lack of that which has led so many to instead be spiritual but not religious.

"Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen." ~ Teilhard de Chardin

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Jan 27, 2013

If I'm Not Free to Control You...

"Religion is a FREEDOM. Let's keep it that way." No duh, huh?

My mother was fond of saying, "Your freedom stops where the next person's begins." It was her paraphrase of an aphorism of uncertain origin. It always stuck with me as a statement of one of the most obvious elements of a free society. So, I have been brought up short by the roiling debate over freedom of religion in this country. Last year Catholic Bishops threw down the gauntlet over President Obama's access to birth control mandate, taking the position that anything that infringes on their right to impose their beliefs on people who do not share them is a violation of the First Amendment. It is a thoroughly nonsensical position.

Now comes survey data that shows that evangelical Christians, in large numbers, view any erosion of Judeo-Christian dominance of the country as a threat to religious freedom. (???) Oh... and it's all because of "the gays."

While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, "they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture," said Kinnamon.

"They cannot have it both ways," he said. "This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation."

. . .

Asked for their opinion as to why religious freedom is threatened, 97 percent of evangelicals agreed that "some groups have actively tried to move society away from traditional Christian values."

And 72 percent of evangelicals also agreed that gays and lesbians were the group "most active in trying to remove Christian values from the country." That compares to 31 percent of all adults who held this belief.

The whole thing just makes my brain hurt.

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Jan 23, 2013

New Investigation Into Warren Jeffs in Arizona

The legal troubles for Warren Jeffs have not ended just because he currently resides in a Texas prison -- and  probably will for the rest of his days. Texas moved recently to seize the Yearning for Zion Ranch because it was used as part of a criminal enterprise -- the systemic rape of underage girls. Now the state of Arizona is moving against Jeffs and his church.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne says there is an ongoing criminal investigation into a polygamous sect along the Utah-Arizona border.

. . .

A 26-year-old woman who claims Jeffs forced her into marriage at age 14 has now fled the group. She says she and her six children were held against their will for years.

Horne says her allegations of forced underage sex, among other things, are part of the ongoing case, but he declined to provide details.

The woman in question is Ruby Jessop -- sister of Flora Jessop, who left FLDS in 1986 and has been one of the sect's harshest critics. During his press conference, Horne announced that this 26 year old woman had recently won temporary custody of her six children after escaping from the Colorado City compound last year. He was flanked by the Jessop sisters and Ruby's six children. He explained Ruby's circumstances.

He said she was forced by Jeffs to marry her brother-in-law at the age of 14, and had since been virtually held captive in the town on the Utah-Arizona border, along with many other women who want to leave.

"What they do is say, `Everybody watch her so she won't run away.' Then she can't leave," Horne said. "Women who wanted to escape have been forcibly held by the marshals against their will."

Flora Jessop also spoke for her sister describing her years of sexual and mental abuse at the hands of her husband. Her six children, she explained, were held "hostage" after she fled the sect.

Horne's charges against the marshals appear to figure heavily in the case being built against FLDS. He explained that a criminal probe into the Marshal's Office serving Colorado City, AZ, and sister city Hilldale, UT, is currently underway. It is not his first attempt to shut them down. He recently pushed for legislation to close the office and put the area under the jurisdiction of the Mohave Police. It failed but he is still pressing for passage of that legislation.

An attorney for the Marshal's Office disputed the charges that they hold women and girls against their will, calling the DA's comments "inflammatory." A second attorney, Jeff Matura, claimed further that the Marshal's Office has a good working relationship with the Mohave Sheriff's Office. It is a claim that is flatly denied by Mohave County Sheriff Thomas Sheahan, who is assisting the prosecution.

He described authorities there as "security guards for the FLDS church."

"They are corrupt and work only for the FLDS and Warren Jeffs," Sheahan said.

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Jan 22, 2013

Los Angeles Bishops Conspired to Protect Abusers

Well. I can see why the Catholic Church works so hard to conceal records of priestly sex abuse. When they come out, they're really damning. The latest case in point comes from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles where Cardinal Roger Mahony's written words have come back to haunt him.

Cardinal Mahony has issued a number of apologies concurrent with the rolling disclosure of sex abuse on his watch. His most recent mea culpa was issued yesterday as an avalanche of personnel files was released under court order. This follows the release of private letters detailing a deliberate cover-up.

Mahony assures us that he now comprehends the gravity of his failings and he's very, very sorry. Previously, he really did not understand the pain caused by sex abuse. He had his come to Jesus moment when he met with some ninety abuse survivors, over a three year period, and had to look them in the eye.

"Those visits were heart-wrenching experiences for me as I listened to the victims describe how they had their childhood and innocence stolen from them by clergy and by the Church," Mahony wrote, ending his statement, "I am sorry."

Now that he better understands, he says, he has the names of each of those survivors on note cards and prays for them daily. So that's nice.

In contrast, Mahony did seem to fully comprehend the pain the church would endure if these documented cases of abuse had come to light, so he conspired to conceal the facts from both law enforcement and parishioners. In the 1980s, then Archbishop Mahony and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry coordinated efforts to send known abusers out of state for treatment in order to protect them from prosecution and the Church from the fallout of potential prosecutions. Legal counsel advised Mahony on the archdiocese's legal exposure and how to protect themselves. And one, lone aide, Msgr. Richard Loomis, acted as both conscience and Cassandra, warning of their culpability. Wrote Loomis:

"We've stepped back 20 years and are being driven by the need to cover-up and to keep the presbyteriate & public happily ignorant rather than the need to protect children," Loomis wrote.

"The only other option is to sit and wait until another victim comes forward. Then someone else will end up owning the archdiocese of Los Angeles. The liability issues involved aside, I think that course of complete (in)action would be immoral and unethical."

As has so often been the case, in shuffling pedophile priests out of their purview, the Los Angeles Archdiocese lost track of repeat offenders, putting countless children at risk. In one notable case, Mahony wrote to then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) that serial offender Rev. Lynn Caffoe was a "fugitive from justice." Caffoe, who had been caught holding boys against their will and videotaping their crotches, had been sent for therapy and removed from ministry, in the early 1990s, but no move was made to have him defrocked until 2004. His whereabouts had been unknown to the church for ten years. Mahony reported to Cardinal Ratzinger that they could find no death record, so Caffoe was presumably alive. Where, they had no idea. Caffoe was found by a reporter working in a homeless mission two blocks from an elementary school.

The lengths Mahony and Curry would go to to protect the archdiocese are highlighted in the case of  Msgr. Peter  Garcia. Garcia was an inherited problem, sent out of state for treatment by Mahony's predecessor. On the advice of counsel, Mahony asked the head of the treatment center in New Mexico to keep him there. "If Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese, we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors," Mahony explained.

Bishop Curry's correspondence with Mahony fleshes out the problem.

The following year, in a letter to Mahony about bringing Garcia back to work in the archdiocese, Curry said he was worried that victims in Los Angeles might see the priest and call police.

"[T]here are numerous — maybe twenty — adolescents or young adults that Peter was involved with in a first degree felony manner. The possibility of one of these seeing him is simply too great," Curry wrote in May 1987.

Garcia, for his part, had assured the church hierarchy that prosecution was unlikely because he'd always targeted the undocumented and had in at least one case threatened a victim with deportation.

Only when Garcia insisted on returning to California, where he contacted a victim's mother to see if he could spend time with her younger son, did Mahony attempt to have him defrocked in 1989.

Garcia had admitted to psychologists that he'd enjoyed a long career of priestly abuse, going back to his ordination in 1966. He was never prosecuted.

Letters between Mahony and Curry reveal their explicit intent to keep confessed abusers from facing criminal charges. Their concern that therapists might have to report crimes caused them to send offenders out of state, rather than to therapists who might have to report. That was their standard operating procedure. Curry at one point speculated that they should try to find a psychiatrist/lawyer to assure that Father Michael Wempe, who'd admitted to sex with a 12 year old boy, was protected by privilege.

They also pointedly avoided alerting parishioners. Such was the case of Rev. Michael Baker whom Mahony did send for treatment. He had been returned to Mahony's care with a warning from a doctor, in 1987, that he be defrocked if he had contact with minors. Mahony took no such action until 2000, despite Baker's numerous interactions with children. But when it was suggested that they warn people about the ongoing problem, Mahony bridled.

"We could open up another firestorm — and it takes us years to recover from those," Mahony wrote in an Oct. 6, 2000, memo. "Is there no alternative to public announcements at all the Masses in 15 parishes??? Wow — that really scares the daylights out of me!!"

While much of this is shocking, it's not surprising. It's of a piece with what we already know about a long pattern of deliberate church cover-ups. But the documentation makes the truth inescapable.

This was not carelessness, sloppiness, or simple ignorance. These are not sins of omission. They were consciously committed by bishops who knew exactly what they were doing to protect themselves and the Church from consequence. And they are unlikely to ever be prosecuted because the statutes of limitations have largely run out.

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Jan 15, 2013

Must See Graham Hancock Lecture

Marvelous, marvelous, marvelous, presentation by Graham Hancock. I've read nearly all of Hancock's books and listened to countless interviews, and yet, there were delicious surprises in this lecture for me.

Needless to say, I totally agree with Hancock's take-down of Richard Dawkins. Dawkins uses his Oxford credentials to lend credibility to totally unscientific arguments. I tire of saying this but you cannot prove a negative; you can only fail to prove a positive.  But I think I've made my own views on this dogmatic, proselytizing atheist clear here, here, and here.

Hancock also gives a wonderful overview of the Gnostic beliefs in Sophia's error and how this resulted in the Demiurge and the Archons. He also explores the use of shamanic tools to free the mind from archontic manipulation.

He also spends a good bit of time on the correlations between alien abductions, shamanic experiences, and faerie lore. This is a theory that he also lays out well in Supernatural. Another lecture on the subject can be found here.

Of course his discussion of Egypt and the Giza pyramids is thorough and beautiful. That's to be expected.

This is a fairly long presentation and worth every minute of it. I was riveted.

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Jan 12, 2013

The Changing Face of Christian Evangelism

Tammy Faye was a woman ahead of her time. May she rest in peace. As discussed here, her son Jay Bakker has been on the vanguard of a movement towards a far more tolerant evangelical Christianity. In fact, his name was floated recently, by a GLAAD spokesman, as a reasonable replacement for Rev. Louie Giglio to perform the Inaugural Benediction. Giglio was pushed out when his homophobic record came to light.

There are more and more indicators that the sexual politics traditionally associated with the evangelical movement are falling out of favor. Not just with the Presidential Inaugural Committee, or with the military (the Marine Corps in particular), or with the society at large, but with the evangelical community itself. While evangelical Christianity has attracted youth in large numbers, younger evangelicals are not rallying around the sexual morés of the old guard. Even those who accept those values on a personal level, don't want to their social agenda to be defined by them. From Buzzfeed:

Ricky, a 21-year-old evangelical Christian college student, isn't necessarily committed to abstinence before marriage: "If two people are in love and are willing to take the next step, I believe God would approve." He respects both sides of the abortion debate, but thinks churches shouldn't have a say in the matter. And he's an enthusiastic supporter of gay marriage; he thinks Christian opposition to it will be "a black eye on our religion for decades."

He may be progressive, but Ricky isn't alone. A variety of experts say young evangelicals care less and less about the issues of sexual politics — abstinence, abortion, and same-sex marriage — that their forebears brought to the center of the political conversation. And churches that keep focusing on these issues may risk becoming obsolete.

A study released in December by the National Association of Evangelicals found that 44% of unmarried 18-29-year-old evangelicals had been sexually active — but the study defined "evangelical" as someone who attends church at least monthly, believes Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation, and believes the Bible "is accurate in all that it teaches," requirements that may leave out some who still consider themselves part of the group. Another study puts the figure at 80 percent. And a recent poll found that 44% of 18-29-year-old evangelicals favor same-sex marriage, lower than the national figure but much higher than their elders.

An accurate statistical representation of this very broad movement seems to be lacking, and much of the reporting is anecdotal, but there is a pronounced feeling on both sides of the cultural divide that evangelism is going to have to shift its messaging in order to stay relevant in the coming years. Younger evangelicals want to talk about the environment, poverty, war, and stopping sexual trafficking. In other words, they seem much more interested in helping people who are hurting than preventing people from doing the things that make them happy. What's evolving looks more like a compassion agenda.

The Giglio incident has sadly been very polarizing, pitting evangelism, once again, against the prevailing cultural climate. It has sparked outrage amongst the usual suspects about the perceived marginalization of Christians.

Over at Lifeway Research, Ed Stetzer pens a blog on the topic. "This Louie Giglio moment, and the Chick-Fil-A moment that preceded it, and the Rick Warren moment which preceded that, raise the question: Where do people of faith with long-standing traditional religious/scriptural convictions go from here?," he writes.

 And Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council opines:

This is another example of intolerance from the Obama administration toward those who hold to biblical views on sexuality. Why is the president surprised that an evangelical pastor would teach from Scripture on homosexuality? One would be hard pressed to find an Evangelical pastor who hasn't preached on what the Bible teaches about human sexuality.

But Perkins is mistaken. There are a number of evangelical ministers who don't share Perkins's cherry-picked and blinkered interpretation of the Bible. There's the aforementioned Jay Bakker and others recommended by GLAAD's Ross Murray. There's Jim Swilley, the now openly gay megachurch pastor. The evangelical community is changing all around Tony Perkins. He just hasn't noticed.

Meanwhile, the cultural conservatives are starting to age out of the system. Jerry Falwell, who once upon a time led the charge of the culture warriors, has gone to his reward. And some who are still with us seem to be in the horrible grip of senility -- which is my backhanded way of saying that I'm really starting to worry about Pat Robertson.

I recently wrote about Robertson's jaw-dropping comments on General Petraeus's adultery, which basically amounted to, come on, the chick was hot.

Now comes a diatribe from the ever-moralizing 700 Club preacher on the marriage killing powers of unattractive women. Asked to respond to the Maxim letter of a 17 year old boy who was concerned for his lonely mother, due to his father's immersion into online gaming, Robertson offered this penetrating insight: It's probably your mother's fault, kiddo.

“You know, it may be your mom isn’t as sweet as you think she is; she may be kind of hard-nosed. And so, you say, it’s my father, he’s not paying attention to mom, but you know mom …” he trails off and offers a spiteful little chuckle.

. . .

He launches into another story: “A woman came to a preacher I know — it’s so funny. She was awful looking. Her hair was all torn up, she was overweight and looked terrible …”

So far, this story sounds hilarious Pat, Please continue.

“And she said, ‘Oh, Reverend, what can I do? My husband has started to drink.’”

The hateful punchline is coming. I can feel it. I’m on the edge of my seat.

“And the preacher looked at her and he said, ‘Madam, if I were married to you, I’d start to drink too.’”

Methinks the reverend's Freudian slip is showing. Anyone who was paying attention to Robertson's agenda over the years had to know that underneath it all was simple misogyny. But if you had any doubt, now would be the time to the let that go. (Who is it who's always telling women to stay sweet? Oh. Right.)

Anyway, I think the one-time presidential candidate is losing control of his mouth. It's a hard call, given his long-time propensity for saying incredibly offensive things. But it looks like now he's even offending his sidekicks. It's time for him to retire before he ruins his own dubious legacy.

Many of the stalwarts of the Christian Right are not aging too well. But the evangelical movement seems to be maturing.

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Jan 11, 2013

German Catholic Bishops Scuttle Sex Abuse Study

Reuters is reporting that a criminologist retained for an independent study into sex abuse cases from 1945 through 2010 was fired when he clashed with church hierarchy. In a statement, Bishop Stephan Ackermann blamed Christopher Pfeiffer's communication style for their loss of confidence in him and said they would be seeking "a new partner." 

Somehow, the idea of hiring a "partner" to do an "independent" study strikes me as incongruous. Indeed, Pfeiffer has claimed that the arrangement fell apart when church officials attempted to change the original agreement, demanding veto power over the publication of results.

"Everything was settled reasonably and then suddenly came ... an attempt to turn the whole contract towards censorship and stronger control by the church," said Pfeiffer, head of the Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute.

Tellingly, Bishop Ackermann says more or less the same thing, except that he claims it was Pfeiffer who misinterpreted the agreement, foolishly thinking he could publish his results without their permission.

This decision will probably do little to stem the loss of Church membership in Germany.

In Germany, some 180,000 Catholics left the church in protest in 2010, a 40 percent jump over the previous year, after revelations about abuse in boarding schools prompted about 600 people to file accusations of abuse against priests.

Disenchanted German Catholics seem to want an honest, third party assessment, free of Church control.

The critical lay Catholic movement We Are Church called the decision "a devastating signal for the credibility of the church leadership" that showed the bishops could not accept an independent inquiry into the scandals.

The Catholic Church has demonstrated repeatedly that they only want research done if they can control the results. The wages of that control have produced things like the hideous abuse of scholarship that issued from John Jay College in 2011. Discussed here and here, that study misrepresented source material, failed to source contentious assertions, contradicted itself on key points, and ultimately blamed all those dirty hippies in the sixties for causing vulnerable, naive priests to start raping children.

Pfeiffer found early in his research how committed the Church was to hiding its dark past. He learned that files of abusive priests could be destroyed ten years after they were convicted.

Pfeiffer intends to finish his study but will rely on the accounts of abuse survivors.

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Jan 10, 2013

A Tale of Two Anglican Churches

Here in the US Capitol...

The Washington National Cathedral had been ready to embrace same-sex marriage for some time, though it took a series of recent events and a new leader for the prominent, 106-year-old church to announce Wednesday that it would begin hosting such nuptials.

The key development came last July when the Episcopal Church approved a ceremony for same-sex unions at its General Convention in Indianapolis, followed by the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland, which joined the District of Columbia. The national church made a special allowance for marriage ceremonies in states where gay marriage is legal.

Longtime same-sex marriage advocate the Very Rev. Gary Hall took over as the cathedral's dean in October. Conversations began even before he arrived to clear the way for the ceremonies at the church that so often serves as a symbolic house of prayer for national celebrations and tragedies.

The Episcopal bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, authorized use of the new marriage rite in December for 89 congregations in D.C. and Maryland. Each priest then decides whether to marry same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, back in Merry Old England...

The Church of England on Friday (Jan. 4) confirmed that it has dropped its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops -- but only if they agree to remain celibate.

Speaking on behalf of the Church's House of Bishops, Bishop of Norwich Graham Jones said in a statement: "The House of Bishops has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task."

Jones added that the bishops agreed it would be "unjust" to exclude gay men from becoming bishops if they were otherwise "seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline."

Ah, well. Baby steps, baby steps.

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Jan 9, 2013

The Increasingly Blatant Symbolism of Doctor Who

"There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes." ~ Doctor Who

A while ago Stephen Fry made waves when he bemoaned the infantalizing nature of BBC programming and characterized Doctor Who as "not for adults." Perhaps Fry, for all his many talents and artistic sensibility, is one of those hardcore atheists who has no appreciation for the power of myth. Admittedly, I haven't spent a lot of time on the mythical underpinnings of the show, although I did explore one episode's point towards indigenous creation mythology here

I will also give Fry benefit of the doubt and assume his comments in 2010 pertained entirely to the pre-Matt Smith years. There is no question that with the massive production changes after David Tennant's departure, came a more interesting, and I dare say, more adult show. Smith, as an actor, has more depth and gravitas than Tennant. (Christopher Eccleston was also brilliant and I took his departure hard. I know. I know. David Tennant was the most beloved Doctor ever. Blah, blah, blah... whatever.)

Not only is the writing under Steven Moffat darker and edgier, there has been a peeling away of the veils that obscured the core mythos. It seems rather obvious in discussing a show that opens with a trip through a wormhole, that we're talking about alchemy/kundalini/stargate mythology. But with the recent Christmas episode, "The Snowmen," key archetypes were even more blatant than they were in the London Olympics. Even the advertising was provocative.

Note the Blue Pearl opening above the Doctor's head. William Henry explains a bit about the mystical experience of the Blue Pearl in Secret of Sion.

As I discussed in Starwalkers and the Dimension of the Blessed, traditional shamanic peoples around the world describe a Blue Pearl, an exquisite, enchanting blue light that is a mode of transport. It appears in a flash, without any provocation or thought, and opens like a lotus or a wormhole.

. . .

In fact, says Muktananda, it contains the whole universe It is the seed of the heart, the Supreme within us. It has been described as vibrant, electric blue, brilliant indigo, azure, cobalt, and cerulean.

. . .

Also known as the Pearl of Infinite Power, the Blue Pearl, Stone or Apple is actually how our soul travels to the inner realm and it is inside of a quantum egg or in an "interphasic state of existence" (it enables us to jump through time and cross great distances or even to use this skill locally.)

Hmmm... What does that sound like?

In "The Snowmen," the Doctor meets Clara, who susses out his hiding place... in the clouds. This she does by locating something akin to Jacob's ladder.

She ascends a spiral staircase.

And at the top she finds the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space). So, she ascends a stairway to heaven where she encounters multidimensional awareness.

Later in the episode Clara is invited into the TARDIS and given the key -- the ritual by which the Doctor initiates his companions into the mysteries of time-space travel.

The TARDIS has been given a bit of a redesign for the new season. And I can't help noticing that the circumpunct imagery has also become more blatant.

So the connection between wormhole physics that was always implied in the show was underscored with alchemical imagery in "The Snowmen." Other mystical and kundalini themes are hinted at but they are subtler and require, to some extent, stripping the context from the archetype. For instance, we are introduced to the concept of a "memory worm" which wipes memory from all who touch it.

The plot also centers around the mystical idea of reflective reality. "The snow reflects." A strange, new, memory snow patterns itself on the people, personalities, thoughts, emotions, and objectives, its exposed to, and takes on form.

I can't help wondering if the plot line was influenced by the, albeit deeply flawed, water experiment made famous in What the Bleep Do We Know? I say flawed because the results have not proved to be replicable and Masaru Emoto has been less than transparent about his research methods. All of which leads us back to that fundamental question? Does the world reflect our thoughts or our consciousness? Because they are not the same thing. But I've discussed this little problem of new age reductionism at far too great a length already.

"The Snowman" explored the metaphysics of the TARDIS but the physics has long been a subject of discussion.

Something clicked for me a while ago when I was watching The Science of Doctor Who, which explored some of the theoretical physics of the show with prominent physicists. Michio Kaku's offered his explanation for why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.

People forget that the phone booth is not the TARDIS at all. It's the door.

The humor of the cloaking mechanism that got stuck in police box mode back in the '60s, when they were ubiquitous in London, has provided writers with many challenges and opportunities through the years. But whether it was conscious or unconscious on the part of the show's creators, I've long thought the cubic form of this "door" implied a tesseract, or hypercube. It appears that I may be onto something.

The explanation is that a TARDIS is "dimensionally transcendental", meaning that its exterior and interior exist in separate dimensions. In "The Robots of Death" (1977), the Fourth Doctor tried to explain this to his companion Leela, using the analogy of how a larger cube can appear to be able to fit inside a smaller one if the larger cube is farther away, yet immediately accessible at the same time (see Tesseract).

There have been many indications since Steven Moffat took the helm that Doctor Who is taking us into the heart of the mysteries. I thought at the time that "The Impossible Astronaut" was playing with Gnostic themes. Specifically the Silence suggested, to me, the Archons.

Let's see... They're an ancient alien order who've been controlling human history from time immemorial but no one can remember seeing them. And like the Archons, there are allusions to both the greys (look at them) and the "men in black" (they erase your memory). Men in black were most notably associated with the Archons -- as Smith, et al. -- in The Matrix trilogy, where they also notably distorted memory and cognition. For a little more background on the elusive Archons of Gnostic lore, see here.

I have tried a few times to write something more in depth regarding the archontic symbolism of the Silence but my head goes all mushy. Not surprising, I guess, given the subject matter. Bloody Archons. Perhaps I should take to crosshatching my forearms every time I contemplate the deeper allusions of the Silence and get derailed.

It began to dawn on me over the past few seasons of Doctor Who that the Doctor should not simply be viewed as a frequent savior and protector of humanity. Rather, he can be seen as a symbol of our human potential.

Amy: But you look human.
The Doctor: No, you look Time Lord. We came first.
~ Doctor Who, "The Beast Below"

As we learned in "Human Nature," Time Lords have an ability to hide their expanded, Time Lord consciousness inside a fob watch and become human.  In so doing, they forget the bulk of their awareness. In that sense, we're all Time Lords.

Bear in mind that River Song, as we learned recently, is the child of two human parents but because she was conceived in the TARDIS she has many of the abilities of a Time Lord, including regeneration.

If we begin to look at the TARDIS, not as an alien space ship, but as a symbol for multidimensional awareness, we arrive at the essence of mystical thought. Each of us contains the universe. The microcosm contains the macrocosm. The inside is bigger than the outside.

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Jan 4, 2013

Religious Abusers in Prison Maintain Strict Authority

Incarcerated FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is maintaining an iron grip on followers even as his prophetic proclamations fail to manifest. I say that only because it's 2013 and the world hasn't ended.

“The consensus seems to be that Warren is indicating that by the end of the year, the end of the world will be here," Brower said.

A CNN reporter dispatched to the community's main enclave in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, was rejected by FLDS members who refused to speak to him. Meanwhile, the abrupt closing of the area's only grocery story and "central gathering" point for the community has added to fears Jeff's followers are gearing up for doomsday, according to the report.

The global cataclysm appears to have been rescheduled after an earlier prediction that would have ended the world on December 23rd also failed to pan out.

There is nothing exactly new about Jeffs's apocalyptic prophecies. As his former FLDS follower Isaac Wyler points out, it's one of his best techniques for ramping up fervor in his followers.

“They are all supposed to make these grey or blue backpacks, 2x2x1, pack them with essentials,” Wyler said. “Be ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Wyler said he’s heard it all before: “it’s just Warren whipping them up into another frenzy to gather money.”

And when the end doesn’t come? Wyler said Jeffs will still be right and blame his followers for not having enough faith for it to happen.

Yes, Jeffs seems to have hit on a winning formula for maintaining control. All of his failures can be blamed on his followers for not being obedient enough. They become more submissive than ever and Jeffs's inaccuracy is explained away.

The mutability of doomsday prophecy is hardly unique to Jeffs's FLDS. It's long been known that such spectacular failures can increase rather than decrease loyalty in cult followers. Originally published in 1956, When Prophecy Fails described the seminal research of Leon Festinger, et al., who infiltrated a UFO cult as they awaited alien rescue from a global flood. When neither event occurred at the appointed time, a new revelation from their prophet explained that by their demonstration of faith they had averted the world-ending cataclysm. The group's faith was not only renewed but intensified.

Festinger pointed to this case study as validation of his "cognitive dissonance" theory. As discussed here, when our thoughts, feelings, and actions, are in conflict, we need to resolve the disconnect and regain our equilibrium. When people have sacrificed much of their material lives -- jobs, families, education -- to wait for a prophesized UFO rescue that doesn't come, they are highly motivated to find validation for the tangible commitments they've made, rather than upend their lives again.

In the case of FLDS followers, the commitment is multigenerational. This is the only way of life these people have ever known and they are materially dependent on the continuation of the larger community. They're thoroughly acculturated to the beliefs and morés of the church. To let a little thing like the continuation of a world that was supposed to have ended overwrite the belief and commitment that not only defines but dictates their lives would be far more complicated than simply accepting Jeffs's explanations and trying harder to follow his edicts.

As discussed, FLDS has been subject to increasingly demanding edicts and called to dramatic demonstrations of devotion. FLDS schools now do almost nothing but indoctrinate fanatical devotion to their incarcerated leader.

You may have heard how the FLDS have been told their righteousness and faith will free their prophet, Warren Jeffs, from prison.

Attorney Roger Hoole on Wednesday showed reporter Jim Dalrymple and me a drawing that illustrates the point well. The drawing is of a rose with six words written across it.

"Uncle Warrens Deliverance Depends Upon Me!" The last word is underlined. And, yes, there should be an apostrophe before the final letter in "Warrens."

Hoole says he found the drawing in the Holm School, where many FLDS sent their children until the private school’s leader was excommunicated on Dec. 15, 2011.

As Jeffs becomes more and more demanding, the potential for just how far his followers go to resolve whatever disequilibrium has resulted from his continued incarceration has surrounding communities and law enforcement on high alert.

While much of Jeffs' predictions [stet] seem like the mere rantings of a man who will not have the opportunity for freedom until his 93rd birthday, former member Wyler said the continuing obedience of some in the FLDS community is unpredictable and frightening in its strength.

“There’s always that fear that Warren would see how far he could take them,” Wyler told KUTV. “I’ve got a brother-in-law who once told my sister ‘if the prophet told me to I’d slit your throat without even thinking about it."

Meanwhile, in the Amish sect that people have similarly compared to a potential Jonestown, followers await the sentencing of the unfortunately named Bishop Mullet and his merry band of haircutters. A number of the men and women convicted last October remain free on bond until sentencing but are busily making arrangements for their many, many children should they receive jail terms. As per the New York Times, it looks like sentencing was pushed back to February 8 -- I had recorded a date of January 24. They are praying for miracles like short sentences and probation for some members.

One hopes that Bishop Mullet at least will go to jail for a very long time. It seems likely. Judge Dan Aaron Polster has wide discretion due to the kidnapping charges and he has shown little inclination towards leniency with these defendants. He recently refused to grant Sam Mullet a new trial and affirmed his certainty that jury's verdict was correct.

“Suffice it to say, the evidence at trial conclusively established that defendant, as bishop of Bergholz, ran his community with an iron fist,” the judge wrote in a ruling on Dec. 6. “Nothing of significance happened without his knowledge and approval.”

Sam Mullet continues to claim that his only error was in not stopping the attacks once he learned of them. He now even claims that he might have been victimized by his own parishioners if he'd protested their behavior.

“I guess I didn’t want my beard cut off, and that probably would have happened if I had tried to stop them,” he said. “The only thing I did wrong was that I didn’t tell them to stop.”

The suggestion is risible. But Sam Mullet has been casting himself as a hapless victim from the beginning. To hear him tell it, he and his entire community were treated unfairly by all the other Amish, by the police, and now by the criminal justice system. But when push comes to shove, the Bishop is more than willing throw his followers under the bus. He is a victim among victims.

What strikes me over and over with Bishop Mullet is how not characteristically Amish he is. When I was reading up on the disturbing prevalence of sex abuse in Amish communities, one of the things I found most fascinating was the willingness of perpetrators to come clean when pressed. And not just within their own process of repentance and reconciliation. Even police have found them to be surprisingly open about these utterly shameful crimes against children. The Amish consider all sin forgivable and don't seem to see any reason to lie. Coming clean about transgressions is part of their process and part of their culture.

Sam Mullet, on the other hand, lies shamelessly, even when the evidence against him is overwhelming... which it was. He still claims that he did not endorse the haircutting attacks, despite having been caught on tape laughing about future raids and warning followers to keep their mouths shut. He relegates claims that he slept with other men's wives to "lurid rumor" by "rival Amish" despite the fact that when the FBI arrested him, he was in his bedroom with one Lovina Miller, whom he may have impregnated.

Sam Mullet is a "you gonna believe me or your own lying eyes" kind of a guy.

I was surprised early on at the Bishop's willingness to appear on camera. And as the above video demonstrates, his followers are also very open to being filmed and photographed. It seems the surrounding Amish are very aware of how far from traditional Amish values and practices the Bergholz clan is, and find them terrifying. But Bishop Mullet and his followers are convinced that they are the ones who are truly Amish and that it is everyone else whom "God is not with."

The Bergholz community is in a mutually reinforced version of reality that is very much at odds with the world outside of it. And that, even more than the degrading punishments, the sexual exploitation, and the attacks on "sinful" outsiders, is reason for concern in the months and years ahead.

It's very clear from the New York Times coverage that they are sticking by Sam Mullet and are still taking orders from him even as he regales them with sad stories about the horrors of prison life.  Daughter Wilma explains, “No matter if he gets life in prison, he will still be our bishop here.”

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Jan 3, 2013

The Problem Is Choice

Where the writer ends, the director begins.
Where the director ends, the actor begins.
Where the actor ends, the audience begins.

That old adage -- no I don't know the source -- is a reminder of something crucial that extends far beyond the world of theater. Put simply, you can't control other people. Worse, if you try, you suffocate both life and art.

That fundamental truism popped into my head today when I read a post in The Awl entitled "Advice is Futile."

After editing an advice column for two years, I’ve decided that there is no such thing as advice. There are only problems and the ways people handle them. Advice, on the other hand, is when you hear a description of someone else's problem and then tell the person something about yourself. Hopefully whatever you say is funny or interesting, but it has little to do with actually helping anyone. It may seem or feel like it does, but there are always more variables than we'll ever be able to see or understand, and best case scenario you’re pressing on the problem a little bit in a way that engages the problem-haver.

. . .

Because either the asker doesn't take the advice, since everyone just does what they want or are otherwise going to do anyway, especially if it's cheat on their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, or wives (oh my god, you should see the inbox; at first it was sad but now it's actually kind of comforting that everyone’s the same), which can create a rift between the advice-giver and the advice not-taker. Or they take the advice, except that's not particularly helpful, either, since it strips them of the opportunity to learn the lesson first-hand (presuming there is one), which you already have (again, presumably). And telling someone to trust you blindly can come off as condescending. Or like wrapping a finish-line ribbon around someone’s chest instead of encouraging them to run the race. Kind of. Maybe? I don’t know. More on how little I know in a moment.

Now, one could fairly argue that I give advice for a living. I do, after a fashion. But I learned, long before I started working as a reader, effectively what columnist Edith Zimmerman has learned. Most people won't do what you tell them to do and, much of the time, that's probably for the best. So one thing I have always emphasized with my clients is that anything I say is my opinion based on my interpretation and that I would never tell them what choices they should make. Anything, anyone tells you -- whether they're human, spirit, angelic, or... other (???) -- is really just food for thought. I tend to put a lot more stock in what my guides tell me than mere mortals, but I still give it all fair consideration.

Shaman Christina Pratt talks about our "truth cord" -- a fiber of inner knowing -- against which new information must be "bounced." I've always found that a useful illustration. One way or another, we all need to evaluate for ourselves if recommendations from others, whether we've asked for input or not, feel right.

Neo: But if you already know, how can I make a choice?

The Oracle: Because you didn't come here to make the choice, you've already made it. You're here to try to understand *why* you made it. I thought you'd have figured that out by now.

~ The Matrix Reloaded 

The consequences won't always be pretty.

Many years ago I was at a gathering. There was a man there I'd never met before who shared with his friends that he hadn't been around for a while because of an incident. He had gone to a psychic some time before who'd warned him to be very careful crossing streets and to always look both ways before stepping off the curb. She saw a horrible accident if he failed to heed that advice. She also gave him a time-frame. He'd forgotten about that part of the reading, but he had plenty of time to contemplate it during the months he spent in the hospital, in traction, wearing a full body cast.

I've thought about that story many times since as my clients regaled me with stories of things that went horribly, horribly wrong, because they'd forgotten things I'd said or, simply, went another way. I've had clients who barely, but thankfully, escaped situations I'd advised against with their lives. I've had clients who've been emotionally, or even physically scarred, in relationships I've warned them about. But I've also had clients who did things I did not recommend that saw the evolution of other opportunities that turned out very, very well. The one thing I'm very certain of, is that whether their choices turned out badly or well, they've learned very valuable things that they might not have if they'd followed my advice to the letter.

I understand the frustration of psychics, therapists, well-intended friends, family, and everyone else who has given great advice only to see it ignored. I also learned long ago that, in many cases, when people ask for advice, they really just want someone to listen to them far more than they want recommendations. We just don't have much of a framework in our culture for anyone to ask for that -- simply to be heard without judgment.

If you can't stand having your advice ignored, I would advise against the advice business. More often than not, when someone is going one direction, where you would go another, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. And it's never our place to tell other people what to do.

When you try to control other people you take away their power. Our ability to choose IS our power.

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