Feb 28, 2013

Robert Jeffress Questions Tim Tebow's Manhood

It's getting ugly between Robert Jeffress and Tim Tebow. Well, Robert Jeffress is getting ugly. Tim Tebow seems like a decent enough guy. But he bowed out of a scheduled appearance at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, when Jeffress's record was made clear to him. And Jeffress, who made a series of more politic statements in the immediate aftermath, seems to have finally snapped. Some of the statements in the sermon posted above seemed to be aimed a bit south of the belt-line.

Jeffress is no stranger to controversy. During the Republican primary, for instance, his anti-Mormon views created a little trouble for his good friend Rick Perry. But his belief that Mormonism is a cult wasn't as controversial as his belief that Catholicism is "a Babylonian mystery religion that spread like a cult," which demonstrates "the genius of Satan."

He says things like that but somehow he always manages to look completely mystified when he gets push-back. In the video above, for instance, he explains that he just doesn't understand why anyone thinks he's antisemitic simply because he believes that all Jews will go to hell unless they accept Jesus. It's not like he's singling Jews out. He believes Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists... they're all going to hell, too. He's not antisemitic. He's anti-everything that isn't Christianity, because it's all evil and hellbound. What's wrong with that? And he doesn't know why people think he's anti-gay just because he says that sex should only be between a man and a woman.

You see? It's so crazy the way people take the things he says out of context like that.

This little dust-up is further evidence of a growing divide in the evangelical community that is, at least partly, defined along generational lines. As I wrote here, young evangelicals are not so much about the social issues that defined the rise of the Christian right. That's puts someone like Jeffress at odds with a growing segment of what he fully expects to still be his base.

Tim Tebow is well-known for his Christian views and it's a little unclear where he stands on all the various issues that were cited after he agreed to appear at the dedication ceremony for Jeffress's new church in April. But something in Jeffress's documented history of hate speech pushed him too far and he canceled his scheduled appearance in a series of tweets.

At around the 7:00min mark in the video, Jeffress takes on Tebow's namby-pamby, lovey-dovey faith for the wimpianity it is. Oh, he doesn't mention him by name. He doesn't need to. He makes it abundantly clear what a "real man" of God is.

"I am grateful for men of God like these who are willing to stand up and act like men rather than wimping out when it gets a little controversial and an inconvenient thing to stand for the truth," said Jeffress, who received a standing ovation before he spoke. "God bless men like that."

. . .

"There are some people who would say,'God's given me a different ministry. God has called me to go preach about the love of God. I'm not called to preach about sin and controversial things. I've been called to preach about the love of God.' And they're sincere when they say that. But they are sincerely wrong. The fact is you cannot talk about the love of God. The love of God has no meaning whatsoever unless you understand the judgment of God that all of us deserve."

Is it terribly wrong of me to think that deep down this is about this guy making Robert Jeffress feel like about a half a man?

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The Papal Resignation and the Prophecies

In a few short hours, Pope Benedict XVI will surrender the reigns of the Vatican. For those who are interested in such things, it will be live-streamed here and there and everywhere.

After that the real fun will begin as we see who the next pope will be and how the dynamics of having a new pope and retired pope living in Vatican city will work. And we will see how the escalating dramas, scandals, and intrigues will play out. Whether you're Catholic or not -- and I'm not -- it's hard not to stop and stare in disbelief at this slow-motion train wreck.

The day Pope Benedict announced his pending resignation, my mind went straight to the Malachy prophecy. I don't really know why it did, but it did. Maybe it's just my overall interest in eschatology, but I can't help but be intrigued by speculation that we are about to see the election of the last pope.

Prophecy researcher John Hogue is speculating that the likeliest candidate is none other than Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the current Secretary of State, and the man considered by many to be the current power behind the throne. The final pope in St. Malachy's chronology is Peter the Roman, or Petrus Romanus, and a number of the Papabile have Peter in their full names somewhere, but only Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro Bertone is also Italian. The prophetic ring to his name is by no means the only reason to speculate about Bertone. He's a very sharp, political operator and one to watch for many reasons.

The Coast to Coast interview with John Hogue -- starting at around the 39min mark -- is a lot of fun and very informative, not just for the perspective on the various prophecies that figure into these unfolding events. Hogue also provides background on the Fatima prophecy and some Nostradamus, for good measure.

The part that really stood out for me, though, starts a little before the 2 hr mark. Hogue talks about viewing the apocalypse as something that is hard to conceptualize, given the inevitable darkness of our perspective on this side of "the door" of revelation. He talks about a near contemporary of St. Malachy, Gioacchino da Fiore (Joachim of Fiore), who wrote about three step eras of 2000 years each, patterned on the trinity: the era of the Father, the era of the Son, and the era of the Holy Spirit. By that measure we would be completing the second era and entering the third.

The way he carefully words his statements, so he doesn't get burned at the stake, could mean that he's talking about what a lot of prophetic traditions say might be a glimpse of what's on the other side of the door and that is religion as we know it is no longer necessary. And that God or the Great Spirit or the Great Nothing or whatever you like to call it -- or the great light inside all things -- after this period enters the 2000 year period where we have direct contact with the Great Spirit. There's no need for a Vatican. There's no need for a third temple to be built to end the prophecies of the Jews. Many Jewish Kabbalists tell me that the third temple is meant to be in your heart. There's no need to retake Jerusalem by the Mahdi and the Islamic prophecies of the apocalypse... um... It is in your heart.

For a little more background on the confluence of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic prophecies, see here. And I repeat, "The kingdom of God is within you."

For more on John Hogue's perspective on the papal resignation and how it plays into ancient prophecies, see here.

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Feb 27, 2013

Fox's War on Paganism

The news network that every, bleedin' year goes on and on about the "war on Christmas" has never had much interest in the religious holidays of other, non-Christian faiths. As Jon Stewart famously said to Bill O'Reilly, "If you think Christmas isn't celebrated in this country, walk a mile in Hanukkah's shoes."

Fox did, however, go out of its way to marginalize Wiccan and Pagan holidays. In fact, they were outright derisive.

The trouble started last year when the University of Missouri added the eight sabbats of the Pagan year to the university's holiday guide. Graduate student Christopher White was not amused by the move towards inclusiveness and took to The College Fix to complain

The Wiccan and pagan festivals are listed right alongside major religious holidays such as Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, and several other Jewish and Buddhist observances.

Their inclusion in the religion guide may be considered an indication by some of the mainstreaming of Wiccan and pagan beliefs in America.

. . .

While the percentages of Mainline American Christians have declined over the past twenty years, from 86.2 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2008, they still, in terms of percentage, dwarf the 1.2 percent of American Wiccans and Pagans, according to the American Religious Identification Survey of 2008. These statistics beg the question: why put both Christianity and Wiccans in equipollency?

Not only does the, ahem, graduate student misuse the phrase "begs the question," he apparently doesn't understand that here, in these United States, our rights aren't contingent on majority status. And even if they were, one wonders why Jews at 2.1% of the population deserve to be in the university guide, but Pagans at 1.2% don't. Yes, Judaism comes in at a very distant second to Christianity. Wicca, by the way, is the fifth largest religion, putting it ahead of Buddhism, which White also considers legitimate enough to be in the holiday guide. So I don't know what Mr. White is studying there at the University of Missouri but one assumes it's requires no working knowledge of Constitutional law, logic, or statistics.

Fox News, which has apparently given up fact-checking entirely, took the ignorance wide. They erroneously deduced that this meant that these would all be vacation days and students would no longer need to "cram for exams" on Pagan holidays, prompting a stern correction from the university. From there it was pretty much open season on the "fringe belief systems" that those kooks in Missouri strangely consider legitimate enough to be in a calendar.

Tammy Bruce described the decision as "beyond political correctness; it's almost like an excuse to do nothing. It's like social nihilism, where nothing matters."

Honoring Pagan holidays, according to Bruce is "less about elevating other religions and other individuals and more about diluting the dynamic about what's important in people's lives," which I think is her way of saying that including Pagan holidays is all part of the "war on Christmas."

If you can suffer through the video above, you'll hear Bruce explain that respecting Pagan holidays is exploitative... of Pagans. Pagans and Wiccans "should be very angry at how they're being used by the establishment," says Bruce, "to downgrade what's important to the majority of Americans."

Dizzy yet?

Tucker Carlson seemed to find the whole thing too trivial and geeky to be threatening.

"Any religion whose most sacred day is Halloween, I just can't take seriously," Carlson said on the Feb. 17 broadcast of "Fox and Friends" weekend show that touched off the controversy. "I mean, call me a bigot."

"Every Wiccan I've ever known is either a compulsive deep Dungeons and Dragons player or is a middle-aged, twice-divorced older woman living in a rural area who works as a midwife," he said.

Two petitions totaling more than 40,000 signatures, a Facebook page demanding an apology, and outrage on the Missouri campus later, Carlson apologized... twice.

Once on Twitter:

Two days after the Feb. 17 show, Carlson apologized on Twitter: "To Wiccans and pagans: Sorry for my pointlessly nasty remarks. Your holidays still confuse me, but you seem like nice people."

And later, on the show:

"Comments in the story offended a number of people -- that was never my intention," Carlson said on the show Saturday (Feb 23). "I also violated one of my basic life rules, which is live and let live. The Wiccans have never bothered me or tried to control my life. I should have left them alone. Sorry about that."

To my knowledge, no one else from Fox News has apologized.

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Feb 26, 2013

The Vatican and the "Ticking Gay Bomb"

According to openly gay, former friar Mark Dowd, gays are "overrepresented" in the Catholic clergy. His back of the envelope calculation tells him that about half of the men drawn to Catholic seminaries and religious orders are men who love men. This, he believes, is a "ticking time bomb" in the Catholic Church.

Days before Pope Benedict XVI is officially set to resign from papal office, two bombshells rocked the Catholic Church. First, On Feb. 21, an article published in Italy's La Repubblica newspaper alleged that Benedict was influenced to resign by an unsourced report claiming the Vatican has been influenced by multiple internal lobbys, including a gay one.

The report also claimed members broke the Sixth Commandment, which is "linked in Catholic doctrine to the proscribing of homosexual acts," according to The Guardian.

Then, three days later, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, known for his anti-gay rhetoric, was accused of "inappropriate" behavior with other priests and offered his resignation.

In a recent CNN interview, the former Dominican friar discussed the challenges of a half gay Church that doctrinally oppresses gay people.

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Cardinals: When Will Abuse Victims Stop Whining?

Say what you will about Cardinal Keith O'Brien. He may have made unwanted advances on young priests. He may not have. He may be a hypocrite -- publicly condemning homosexuality while privately pursuing dalliances with men. Then again, he may simply be a bigot. He deserves his day in court. But whatever the case may be, at least he had the good grace to step down. It appears he saw the wisdom in bowing out of the upcoming conclave given the cloud of suspicion over his head. And the Scottish Catholic Media Office also gets mad props for this little turn of phrase:

Given the imminent Vacant See, the Holy Father has now decided to accept the said resignation definitively.

Vacant See... vacancy... get it?

Although I have to admit, I have some lingering concern that the expediency of this decision had more to do with O'Brien's having wandered way off the farm when he said that the celibate priesthood is "not of divine origin" and that it might be better they should marry. We all know by now where illicit sexual behavior falls on the list of priorities as compared to publicly breaking with the Church's most regressive doctrines. Leave say, I wish I could have been a fly on the Vatican wall for that discussion.

Be that as it may, Cardinal O'Brien has acceded to mounting public pressure to recuse himself from the selection of a new pope and graciously stepped aside.

The same cannot be said of Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Faced with a petition signed by nearly 10,000 Catholics, the disgraced cardinal is as defiant as he is self-pitying. Once again, he has taken to his blog to vent about the injustice and indignity of his being expected to face any consequences whatsoever for conspiring to protect and enable pedophile priests.

He has also taken to his Twitter account.

Wow... indeed.

The prolific cardinal set the Catholic blogosphere ablaze with a post entitled "Tough Lenten Challenge."

But Jesus calls us to something far different and much more difficult:  we are to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us.  In today's world, to follow Jesus and his Gospel message means to "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."  That's a really high bar for all of us, and certainly for me.

My daily prayer list includes both loved ones/friends, as well as those who dislike or even hate me.  One prayer group involves those suffering from cancer and other illnesses, those who have been sexually abused by clergy and others in our Church, those who can't find a decent job, those in danger of losing their homes, our immigrants who live in the shadows of society.

But another prayer group includes individuals who cannot forgive me for my past hurts or offenses, those in the media who constantly malign me and my motives, attorneys who never focus on context or history in their legal matters, groups which picket me or otherwise object to me, and all those who despise me or even hate me.

If I don't pray for all of these people, then I am not following Jesus' specific discipleship demand.

What strikes me is how hard Mahony is finding it to feel the necessary Christian compassion for these "enemies." And he wants us to know it. This compassion thing Jesus demanded is really hard work!

However difficult it may be, Cardinal Mahony can find it in his heart to pray for his "enemies" who "persecute" him... just because he participated in a criminal conspiracy to avoid reporting abusive priests and then spent millions of dollars preventing disclosure of damning internal communication long enough for the statute of limitations to run out.

My favorite line is in an earlier graph where he complains about "gossip" and pre-judgment with "no regard for other people who may be harmed." It's kind of funny -- well, darkly comic -- because he helped serial abusers avoid prosecution with no regard for how many other children might be sexually abused with such criminals on the loose.

See, the problem with Mahony's outrage over people not getting the "real facts" is that, despite his years long efforts to hide "the facts," the records were unsealed. What's upsetting people is not so much rumors as it is his own words, in context. And it's not like he's denied the substance of the complaints. He has admitted his many mistakes. But now that he's apologized, everyone needs to move on, and if they can't, they're "enemies" who "persecute" him.

In both this post and the open letter to Archbishop Gomez, who relieved him of his duties in the Los Angeles Diocese, he just seems stunned at the prospect that there should be any consequences -- that he should have to give up a single privilege -- now that he's acknowledged his wrongdoing and apologized. It's all just so terribly unjust!

Cardinal William Levada, who raises tone-deaf commentary to an art form, has come to Mahony's defense. Says this other embarrassment in red representing the US in Rome:

"There are some victims groups for whom enough is never enough, so we have to do our jobs as best we see it."

So... yeah... wow.

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Feb 25, 2013

Rupert Sheldrake's Takedown of Scientism

Hat-tip to Graham Hancock for this wonderful TEDx presentation by Rupert Sheldrake. In it the biochemist enumerates a list of assumptions that are accepted as indisputable facts among those for whom science is a belief system rather than, well, science. I've been whining about the dangers of scientism and its bedfellow new atheism for some time. It's dangerous to those of us who see more to the world than meets the eye, but worse, it's dangerous to the practice of science.

Pay particular attention to an anecdote Sheldrake shares at around the 11 minute mark, because it's really telling. After finding records of the speed of light having apparently slowed between 1928 and 1945 -- which raises a question as to whether the constants of physics are actually constant -- Sheldrake took the problem to the head of metrology at the National Physical Laboratory. He described it as an "embarrassing" episode but said they had solved the problem. How? They fixed the  definition of the speed of light in 1972. If the speed of light were to vary, no one would notice because the speed of light is now the standard metric. Defining reality by adjusting the rules to marginalize painful truths is a process I've seen way too many times in scientific practice. It's handy if your goal is making reality appear thoroughly predictable. If you define a scientific principle carefully enough, outliers aren't even outliers anymore. For all intents and purposes, they cease to exist. Which is all well and good unless you're experiencing one of those things that "can't be," and are, therefore, "imagining things."

The title of Sheldrake's newest book, The Science Delusion, is an obvious parody of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. (The title of the US publication is Science Set Free.) Needless to say, it's now added to my must-read list.

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Feb 24, 2013

An Astronomer's Paean to a Solar Flare

In what some might call "sun worship," astronomer Phil Plait waxes rhapsodic on how the sun giveth and the sun taketh away.

That barely constrained violence can be difficult to square with the grace and elegance of the motion. The Sun can damage our civilization, yet we also depend on it for our existence. But there you go: The Universe is full of such dichotomies.

It is harsh, inhospitable, destructive, and capable of crushing indifference.

It is pleasing, habitable, serene, and capable of life-altering beauty.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The video is a time-lapse movie of a solar flare raining in beautiful arcs onto the sun's surface. It is hard not to appreciate the beauty of the thing as we offer thanks to Sol Invictus for not taking out our entire power grid and plunging us back into a pre-technological era.

So what causes the fiery phenomenon? Coronal rain occurs when plasma in the solar atmosphere cools and gets attracted by magnetic field lines on the Sun's surface. As NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center explained in a written statement, "This plasma acts as a tracer, helping scientists watch the dance of magnetic fields on the sun, outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface."

. . .

This eruption was special, NASA said, because it combined three out of three possible events: a solar flare, an ejection of solar material (called a coronal mass ejection) and coronal rain.

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Vatican Predictably Attacks the Messenger

For the second day in a row, the Vatican responded to the "gay lobby" report in la Republicca. After an evasive statement on Friday, in which he refused to either confirm or deny the existence of a damning, internal report or its contents, Father Federico Lombardi took to Vatican Radio on Saturday to strongly condemn the media... and to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of the internal report or its contents.

Lombardi impugned the motives and methods of reporters in one of the longest, run-on sentences ever uttered.

"There is no lack, in fact, of those who seek to profit from the moment of surprise and disorientation of the spiritually naive to sow confusion and to discredit the Church and its governance, making recourse to old tools, such as gossip, misinformation and sometimes slander, or exercising unacceptable pressures to condition the exercise of the voting duty on the part of one or another member of the College of Cardinals, who they consider to be objectionable for one reason or another," he said.

It gets better.

Lombardi also questioned the moral authority of the media. "Those who present themselves as judges, making heavy moral judgments, do not, in truth, have any authority to do so," he said.

Get it? Only a religious authority like the Vatican dare sit in judgment of anyone's morals. It's not for the little people to make judgments about them. They can call gay people "objectively disordered" but the rest of us apparently lack the objectivity to call them hypocrites just because they hire male prostitutes... as they call gay people "objectively disordered" and actively lobby to deny them civil rights, respect, and basic human dignity.

"Those who consider money, sex and power before all else and are used to reading diverse realities from these perspectives, are unable to see anything else."

Says the spokesman for an institution that reeks of financial impropriety, is rife with illicit sexual activity, and has abused power on every conceivable level with impunity. Lest we forget, this is the organization that took untold millions from a flagrant, prolific, sex offender, and went to tremendous lengths to bury the details of his many abuses.

I think it's fair to assume at this point that the la Republicca story is true. Lombardi has now spoken to the press twice without once saying that the substance of their reportage was untrue. He also did not dispute that the internal report in question factored into Pope Benedict's decision to resign. As per John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, that was the only genuinely questionable aspect of the story. Too much prior history backs up the basic issues claimed to be in the report.

In terms of the story's specifics, I don't know whether it's accurate that a commission of three cardinals created by Benedict XVI to investigate the Vatican leaks affair, composed of Cardinals Julian Herranz Casado, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi, actually considered possible networks inside the Vatican based on sexual preference, but frankly, it would be a little surprising if they hadn't.

Here's why. In 2007, Msgr. Thomas Stenico in the Congregation for Clergy was suspended after being caught on hidden camera making contact with a young man posing as a potential "date" in gay-oriented chat rooms, then taking him back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a "Gentlemen of the Pope" named Angelo Balducci was caught in a wiretap trying to arrange sexual hookups through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes were highly public and caused massive embarrassment.

. . .

However, it's probably a stretch to draw a straight line between all of this and Benedict's resignation. For the most part, one has to take the pope at his word: He's stepping aside because he's old and tired, not because of any particular crisis.

Allen goes on to say that the cumulative weight of this and other, mounting scandals -- let alone the daunting task of cleaning up a fractured Vatican -- may be more than a man of his advanced years and flagging health is up to. So in that sense, it may well have been a contributing factor.

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Feb 23, 2013

Christianist Group v. "Neopagan" Yoga in Encinitas

Well. I knew it. As soon as I saw that a group was suing the Encinitas school district over its yoga program and claiming it violated the separation of church and state, I knew it was only a matter of time before I could draw a straight line to some Christianist group far more concerned with what religion these kids might be exposed to than with religion in schools per se. And I was right. Both the plaintiffs and the attorney are every bit as supportive of Christian-based school programs as they are derisive of the vaguely Hindu incursion represented by yoga.

One of the parents spearheading the lawsuit, a Mary Eady, works at Truthxchange, a Christian group dedicated to stopping the "rising tide of neopaganism." Attorney Dean Broyles works for the National Center for Law & Policy, or NCLP, whose slogan is Faith + Family + Freedom. It's an affiliate of the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, a conservative Christian advocacy group.

In a broad sense, the plaintiffs could have a point. Yoga is born of religious tradition and has some spiritual overtones, even if, as practiced in the West, those overtones are, dare I say it, spiritual but not religious.

If anything I'm as ambivalent about the idea of yoga as a strictly secular exercise program as I am at the targeting of yoga as if it were equivalent to prayer in the schools. That spiritual lineage is now not only secularized, but trivialized. I'll never forget the sense of horror I felt when I first saw a yoga shirt with the printed slogan "Have a Namaste." Namaste is a mystical concept that roughly translates to "me bow you," and translates idiomatically as "The God in me bows to the God in you." There is something a little sickening about yoga as a commodity, completely devoid of all spiritual context or that subverts the spiritual precepts that underlie it.

I'm not sure that what is being taught in Encinitas, can even fairly be called yoga.

"We're not teaching religion," [Superintendent Timothy B. Baird] said. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It's part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it."

At the same time, I can personally attest to the physical benefits of yoga. When taught properly it is a harmonious practice that encourages students to listen to and respect their bodies' needs and limitations. The movements are fluid and patient in a way that most physical fitness regimens cannot claim. All of that can certainly be gained without religious overtone. But without knowing the specifics of the yoga curriculum being offered in Encinitas, I can do little more than speculate as to either the benefits or the drawbacks, which it would seem, the school district is still evaluating.

To a large extent, it seems that Broyles is arguing a straw man by railing against the religiosity of yoga, writ large, rather than the specific program being taught. And it has brought about some rather comical hyperbole. He has deemed the Salutation to the Sun sequence as "sun worship" -- something that after years of doing yoga would never even occur to me.

But Eady was disturbed by what she heard when she observed one of the classes.

“They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth," she said, "and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises."

Some of us would consider that an acknowledgment of a basic, scientific fact. Without the heat of the sun, there would be no life on Earth. My daughter learned the same thing in grade school science classes. Kind of a stretch to call that a religious observation, let alone a Hindu teaching. But for all I know, Eady may be anti-science, as well.

Equally risible is her contention that the character-building component is "very different from sports programs."

“It’s stated in the curriculum that it’s meant to shape the way that they view the world, it’s meant to shape the way that they make life decisions," she said. "It’s meant to shape the way that they regulate their emotions and the way that they view themselves.”

I have yet to encounter the sports program that doesn't claim to teach values and life skills: teamwork, leadership, confidence, loyalty, etc.

Said Broyles, "If you research yoga and Hinduism, most people would say Hinduism is yoga and yoga is Hinduism." I don't know who "most people" are but his own employer, the NCLP, said in a press release that yoga is "inherently and pervasively religious, having its roots firmly planted in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and western metaphysical religious beliefs and practices."

So which is it? Is it a Hindu practice or a multicultural practice, drawing from numerous Eastern and Western traditions? And how can anything be firmly planted when it derives from that many different influences?

As Superintendent Baird points out, here in the States, 90-95% of yoga practitioners are not Hindu. I don't know from whence he draws that statistic but I, for one, don't know a single practicing Hindu among the many, many yoga practitioners and teachers I count among my friends and acquaintances. I know they're out there and a number of yoga schools trace back to Hindu gurus, but that doesn't mean they require their students to convert to Hinduism. I can't say that's never happened but I've never encountered it. The yoga teachers I've known through the years have been Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and, of course, those who ascribe to no particular religion.

It would appear that the Jois Foundation, which is partially funding the Encinitas yoga program through a grant, is similarly multicultural. Director Eugene Ruffin points out that, “Our organization is made up primarily of people who are members of the Abrahamic faiths." But the Jois Foundation is connected to the K. P. Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute and Jois was a Hindu, even if his yoga practice was very much outside of his family's religious background. A quick scan of his life story illustrates how absurd is Broyles's contention that "Hinduism is yoga." Yoga, as we know it, came out of a narrowly defined sectarian practice and is not something practiced by all Hindus. Hatha grew out of Tantra, which as I recently pointed out is sometimes erroneously and reductively described as a "sex cult." Imagine what Broyles would do with that if he knew it, which he apparently does not. But Hatha and its many derivatives like Ashtanga, have wandered very far from those roots. As practiced, in yoga studios all over the Western world, the Hindu influence is vestigial, at most, and amounts to some Sanskrit words and very general concepts of union with spirit.

It would appear that the curriculum offered in Encinitas is also far removed from Ashtanga "Power" Yoga. Not only is the Jois Foundation legally separate from the K. P. Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute with a different mission, the curriculum is set by the school district, not the Jois Foundation. This is not a rapid sequence of asanas geared towards raising inner heat.

"We are probably using some of the poses found in Ashtanga yoga," Baird told ABC News. "But we have modified this extensively to be done by students of this particular age. And all body types can be successful [with] what we are doing in our classes."

While the program is popular with most of the school district, a number of parents, like Eady, opted their kids out of the classes. According to Broyles, these kids are being unfairly ridiculed and bullied by their peers. If true, that's unfortunate, but it's got nothing to do with yoga.

Kids will bully other kids for being different. Period. That's in no way specific to kids whose parents pull them out of yoga classes. It's also hardly an argument against kids being different, or parents making choices they deem necessary for whatever reason. The problem is the bully behavior which is better targeted by anti-bullying programs. But the ADF opposes anti-bullying programs because they interfere with their Christian right to teach their kids to hate gay people.

The ADF and its allies also invest considerable efforts in seeking to overturn some anti-bullying school guidelines on the grounds that such policies persecute the “Christian perspective” on LGBT rights and that demanding tolerance is a front for promoting  “homosexual values.”

The ADF advocates for a roster of faith-based programs such as abstinence only programs and "character development" programs that are little more than teasers for evangelical events. They are quick to accuse civil libertarians who try to stop them -- like the ACLU -- of a "war on Christianity." I'm betting we won't be hearing from the Jois Foundation that this lawsuit constitutes a "war on Hindu."

Finally, let’s consider fundamentalist Good News Clubs, which are presently in well over 3,000 public elementary schools around the country. Good News Clubs, which are sponsored by an organization called the Child Evangelism Fellowship, are ostensibly after-school “Bible study” programs that require parental permission to join. But that description is misleading. Good News Clubs are not about “study,” they are about religious indoctrination. Further, the clubs produce the false but unavoidable impression in very young children that they are part of the school; they set up shop in public school classrooms immediately after the bell rings, so as to appear a seamless part of the school day. And finally, Good News Clubs instructors tell kids attending the clubs to recruit their peers at school.

It turns out that Encinitas public elementary schools that sparked the national outcry over yoga stretching are rife with Good News Clubs: all nine public elementary schools in the district have a club, reported Assistant Superintendent Miyashiro. And their presence has been made possible by the legal firepower of the ADF and lawyers like Dean Broyles. When it comes to unhealthy entanglement between church and school, a classroom of first-graders stretching their hands to the sky seems to be, for now, a matter of far less concern than the well-organized conservative Christian proselytism that is already making deep inroads into public education.

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Feb 22, 2013

The Pope, the Vatican, and the Gay

Did Pope Benedict resign because of a powerful gay lobby within the Vatican? That's the contention behind a newly published article in la Republicca. If, like myself, you don't speak Italian, there's always the Google Translate version. It's possibly even less intelligible than a foreign tongue but it's worth reading if only for lines like, "What's the weeds, there are the bad fish."

Fortunately there are some breakdowns of the story for those of us who read better in English. A brief overview of the story can be found in The Huffington Post.

The problem apparently started with an internal report -- one that had been commissioned by Pope Benedict following the Vatileaks scandal. The findings of Cardinals Julian Herranz, Josef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi, who were tasked with the investigation, point to massive corruption within the Vatican. As per la Republicca, it was actually these revelations that Pope Benedict was referring to in comments widely interpreted as referring to the sex abuse scandal.

In the article, it is claimed that the cardinals reported that various lobbies within the Holy See were consistently breaking the sixth and seventh commandments, namely "thou shalt not steal" and "thou shalt not commit adultery".

The "stealing" was in particular related to the Vatican Bank, IOR, whilst the sexual offences were related to the influence of an active gay lobby within the Vatican.

Last week, when presiding over the Ash Wednesday celebrations in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict spoke of "divisions" which "besmirch" the face of the church. In a famous homily at the 2005 Via Crucis Easter celebrations in Rome, just days before the death of John Paul II, the then Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken of the "filth" in the church, a comment interpreted by many as a reference to the worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal.

Considering that Pope Benedict can get much more exercised over homosexuality than he ever could over children being raped, there's at least a hint of plausibility to this report.

If this is yet another whacky conspiracy theory, the Vatican is being remarkably cagey about it.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said: "Neither the cardinals' commission nor I will make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter. Let each one assume his or her own responsibilities. We shall not be following up on the observations that are made about this."

He added that interpretations of the report were creating "a tension that is the opposite of what the pope and the church want" in the approach to the conclave of cardinals that will elect Benedict's successor.

In other words, move along folks. Nothin' to see here.

The Guardian also points to la Republicca's assertion that some Vatican officials are being blackmailed by people with whom they have canoodled in various settings around Rome.

They included a villa outside the Italian capital, a sauna in a Rome suburb, a beauty parlour in the centre, and a former university residence that was in use by a provincial Italian archbishop.

This is also not the first time la Republicca has made claims about Vatican officials engaging in the love that dare not speak its name... and hiring male prostitutes.

None of this should come as a shock to anyone who has been following the sex abuse scandal over the years. At a certain point, it becomes apparent that much of the secrecy stems from concerns that if anyone pulls the thread, the whole tapestry of lies about a pure and celibate priesthood will unravel.  Lest we forget, in at least one, documented case, one of the worst serial predators in the priesthood, Robert Trupia, tried to prevent his own defrocking by threatening to expose other clergy with whom he'd had illicit, gay dalliances.

See how much easier this would all be if the Church would just let its priests get married -- or gay married -- and focused on the genuinely sinful abuse of children?

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Fingerprints of the Gods: The Sequel?

Graham Hancock has posted some details on a forthcoming sequel to Fingerprints of the Gods. The post on Facebook appears to be open to the public. Fingerprints was the first of Hancock's books I ever read. As I wrote here, it was put into my hands as if by magic and started a love affair with his work that has spanned more than a decade. So I am thrilled at the prospect of a newly updated version.

I thought I’d share two of the developments, one in the field of archaeology, one in the field of geology, that persuaded me some years ago that it was time to begin work on a sequel to “Fingerprints of the Gods”. Please note, however, that what I’m going to outline in this short post is only a very small part of the much wider range of accumulated evidence I’ll present in the sequel – powerful new discoveries and new understandings in many different fields that have come to light slowly, piece by piece during the past two decades. Taken together, I believe these new findings provide overwhelming support for the thesis I put forward nearly twenty years ago in “Fingerprints” of a titanic global cataclysm in the window between 13,000 and 12,000 years ago, around the end of the last Ice Age, that wiped out and destroyed almost all traces of a great global civilisation of prehistoric antiquity. I’m already well ahead with the research and I aim to complete writing of the book by December 2014 and to publish in the autumn of 2015.

Emerging from mainstream science – which has so often ridiculed and dismissed my work – the first piece of evidence that made me realise there was a new story to be told was proof that north America was struck by several pieces of a giant fragmenting comet 12,900 years ago (i.e. 10,900 BC), causing an extinction-level event all around the planet, radically changing global climate and initiating the sudden and hitherto unexplained thousand-year deep-freeze right at the end of the Ice Age that geologists call the Younger Dryas.

The second early clue was the discovery in Turkey of an extraordinary 12,000-year old megalithic site called Gobekli Tepe, which is on the scale of Stonehenge but 7,000 years older than any of the other great stone circles known to history anywhere else in the world. Furthermore the best megalithic work at Gobekli Tepi is the oldest and the site was deliberately buried 10,000 years ago only to be rediscovered, and to have its importance and mysterious nature recognised long after the publication of “Fingerprints of the Gods”.

According to orthodox history, the period of 12,000 years ago (10,000 BC) is the "upper palaeolithic", i.e. before "the neolithic", and our ancestors then are only supposed to have been hunter gatherers, and incapable of large-scale stone-cutting and engineering works. Yet the scale and perfection of the 12,000-year old megaliths at Gobekli Tepe speak of a civilisation that had already accumulated -- by that date -- thousands of years of experience of working with and setting up large blocks of stone weighing in the range of 10 to 20 tons each with one piece thought to weigh 50 tons. The site appears literally out of nowhere but even the most sceptical mainstream archaeologists (who recognise its importance but have kept very quiet about its implications for the stories we tell ourselves about the origin of civilisation) now admit that there must be a very long and so-far unrevealed background to the wonders of Gobekli Tepe. That background upsets all established models of the time-line of history and directly supports the thesis of a great civilisation, lost to history between 13,000 and 12,000 years ago, that I controversially put before the public in 1995 with “Fingerprints of the Gods”.

For a little more background on Gobekli Tepe and a few observations on how it speaks to Hancock's previous work, see here. Also, posted above is a Coast to Coast interview with Hancock in which he discusses lost civilizations and cataclysms that form the underpinnings for Fingerprints.

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Feb 21, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Conclave

Stop me if you've heard this one. So these two cardinals were getting ready for a trip to Rome to help select the next pope. But first they had to go give depositions because some priests in their former dioceses had sexually abused children -- a lot of children. One of the cardinals had paid off some of these pedophile priests. The other had a history of shuffling them out of the state to protect them from prosecution.... Okay. So it's not so much a joke as it is a horror story. And it's still being written.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, was deposed Wednesday about abuse cases against Roman Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which he led from 2002 until 2009.

. . .

The Milwaukee Archdiocese faces allegations from nearly 500 people. Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the current Milwaukee church leader, sought bankruptcy protection in 2011, saying the process was needed to compensate victims fairly while ensuring the archdiocese could still function. Milwaukee is the eighth diocese in the U.S. to seek bankruptcy protection since the abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in Boston.

. . .

Dolan is one of two U.S. cardinals to be deposed this week. Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, is scheduled to be questioned Saturday in a lawsuit over a visiting Mexican priest who police believe molested 26 children in 1987. The Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera fled to Mexico in 1988 after parents complained. He has been ousted from the priesthood but remains a fugitive.

To hear Dolan tell it, it wasn't so much a deposition as it was a lovely chat. And he says it went "very well."

"I didn't know that's what they called it. I've known for the last two, two and a half years because they had said, 'Would you be willing to answer questions about your happy years in Milwaukee,' and I said, 'You bet I would,'" Dolan said.

The plaintiffs in the case are pretty sure it was a deposition and that he has a lot to answer for -- like maneuvering abusive priests and some creative accounting.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, who succeeded Dolan in Milwaukee, filed for bankruptcy protection, in order settle with the many sex abuse survivors and still keep the archdiocese afloat. They have already racked up around $9 million in legal costs.

In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, 575 people have filed claims saying that they were abused, over many decades, by Catholic clergymen. About 70 said they were victims of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who, church records show, admitted having molested deaf students at a boarding school outside Milwaukee, said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul who represents 350 of the 575 plaintiffs.

Bankruptcy negotiations fell apart last year when the archdiocese argued that many of the 575 cases were invalid. Frank LoCocco, the lawyer for the Milwaukee Archdiocese and Cardinal Dolan, said the cases were beyond Wisconsin’s statute of limitations, or the plaintiffs had already received settlements, or the accused were not employed by the archdiocese.

Lawyers for the victims argue that previous archbishops, including Cardinal Dolan, intentionally stalled and kept allegations quiet so that the cases would fall beyond the statute.

In addition to these all too typical stalling tactics, Dolan has been accused of fraud. He may have shielded $55 million in a cemetery trust.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, will be pushing for a transcript of Cardinal Dolan's little chat with these nice lawyers, so we may have that to look forward to.

In the meanwhile, any Catholics who are displeased at the idea of Cardinal Mahony picking the next pope -- who might even be "dark horse candidate" Cardinal Dolan -- can protest his decision to go to Rome here.

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Feb 20, 2013

Rhode Island Documents Expose Legionaries Fraud

Says Jason Berry in the National Catholic Reporter:

The Vatican is not a defendant in Rhode Island, but decisions by John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI permeate a larger story rising from the files.

In short, had the Vatican not continued to endorse the Legionaries of Christ long after they knew of its leader's many crimes and abuses, devout Catholics like Gabrielle Mee would likely not have been bilked out of their fortunes.

As discussed, Mee's niece, Mary Lou Dauray sued to prevent the Legionaries from inheriting 60 million dollars, contending that they had defrauded the elderly woman into supporting them. The suit was dismissed last fall on the grounds that she lacked the legal standing to bring the complaint. Dauray is appealing. But in the meanwhile, the press succeeded in getting court documents unsealed last Friday. Those documents provide a window into the money-raising architecture of the exceedingly wealthy Legionaries of Christ.

Dauray contends that had Mee known of Maciel's proven crimes and infractions of Catholic doctrine, she would not have devoted her fortune to his organization. And it appears that she was kept in the dark about the bulk of it.

Mee was aware of accusations by nine seminarians in 1997 that Maciel had abused them, but accepted entirely the Legion's contention that these were false accusations. There is no indication that she knew of the revelations that forced Maciel out of his Legionaries leadership position and into "a life of prayer and penitence." She did not know that he had sired children, although Vatican officials knew of at least one daughter as early as 2004.

The unsealed documents show that high-ranking members of the church were aware as early as 2004 that Maciel might have fathered at last one child. The records show that the group's second-highest ranking member, the Rev. Luis Garza, obtained a birth certificate in 2006 of one of Maciel's children.

By the time the ugly details began to be exposed, Mee was deep in the organization's thrall and had dedicated her life to them. She was living something close to a cloistered existence as a consecrated member of the Legionaries lay organization Regnum Christi. She had given up most of her ties to her previous life. Like priests and nuns, consecrated members of Regnum Christi take a vow of poverty and they turn all their assets over to the organization. You know, kind of like a cult.

Like everyone else in the order's closed environment, Mee was taught that Nuestro Padre, as Maciel was called, had his enemies, but that he was a living saint for his leadership as an evangelist, drawing the church back from liberal abuses of the Second Vatican Council and attracting young men to a strict religious life. That was the Legion message.

. . .

At his death, the Legion website announced that Maciel had gone to heaven. Yet at that very time, Fr. Luis Garza and other top Legionaries were scrambling to decide how, and when, to reveal that Maciel had a grown daughter -- a fact the Vatican had known for three years.

Dauray's concern was triggered, in part, by her own experience in the cultish thrall of a Buddhist leader in San Francisco. She too had longed, at one point, for a simple life of spiritual devotion -- something she had enjoyed at a boarding school/convent founded by her monsignor uncle. But over time she began to realize that there was something wrong in a group that worked its followers continuously and began co-opting their wealth. She left it, breaking up her second marriage.

Dauray's life is like something out of a movie. An artist and former covert operative for the CIA under the Kennedy Administration, at 72, she is far from naive. When her aunt told her she was immersing herself in Regnum Christi, she was supportive, although she knew she would probably never see her again. She knew Mee was in great pain from osteoporosis and she understood her desire to live a life of peace and devotion.

In their conversations of family, Mee told her goddaughter she was joining a religious order. Dauray recalled: "She said, 'I am going to join a group where I can offer -- I'm in great pain. Where I can offer all my sufferings to Christ.' "

It was only after Mee's death that Dauray became aware of reports of Maciel's corruption and she was certain that her aunt had been in the dark.

After Mee's death in 2008, Dauray began hearing media reports about her aunt's order (Regnum Christi, a lay wing of the Legion), specifically about Legion founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado fathering multiple children and about a Vatican investigation. From conversations with family and others, she learned her aunt was never left alone, and at times was prohibited from traveling.

The descriptions rang familiar to Dauray's experiences at Ajari's group home. She saw the Legion as a cult -- a term she refrained from applying to Ajari's group, instead calling it "cult-like" -- and inconsistent with her aunt's strong Catholic faith and charitable guidelines.

"I just know my aunt, and if she had known what was going on with the Legionnaires, she would not have turned over all her assets. ... She would have revoked [her support]," Dauray said.

Dauray insists that she is not suing to gain her aunt's assets for herself and has stated that she wants the money to go to a properly vetted Catholic charity, in good standing with the Church. Of course, the Legionaries were in good standing with the Church until 2010, when they were put under the direct control of the Vatican, even though they had long known that the organization was rife with corruption.

Pope Benedict himself admitted that the Vatican had been delinquent in its handling of Maciel.

"Unfortunately we addressed these things very slowly and late," Benedict said in a book released Tuesday. "Somehow they were concealed very well, and only around the year 2000 did we have any concrete clues."

Note the timeline. They had "concrete clues" as early as 2000, yet when he was approached in April of 2002 by ABC, then Cardinal Ratzinger slapped a reporter's hand and told them it wasn't the right "moment" to pursue the story. This, of course, was several years after he'd shelved a lawsuit brought by Legion seminarians who claimed to have been sexually abused by Maciel. He did so without any investigation or asking the men a single question. Pretty hard to find those "concrete clues" if you refuse to look for them.

Meanwhile, the rank and file inside the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi remained in the dark about what the Vatican was incrementally allowing themselves to become aware of, but still attempting to hide from the public.

Throughout, the Legionaries were raising buckets of money for themselves and to spread around the Vatican. They did so largely by grooming wealthy, older women like Gabrielle Mee.

Robert Sylvestre of Fleet Bank, the Mee's bank, who was somewhat friendly with the affluent widow had become interested in the Legionaries. He became acquainted with a wealthy Canadian named Fred Hill who acted as something of a middle man for Catholic charities like the Legionaries. One charity was so aggressive they threatened to visit Mee while she was in hospital. Sylvestre knew that was wrong and he threatened to call the police. He was more impressed with the far smoother Legionaries. So was Mee.
Their conservatism and emphasis on ordaining new priests to spread the Church's message far and wide appealed to Mee. Their stated values were in alignment with her own. So Sylvestre vetted their financials and pronounced them solid enough for her to contribute. He facilitated meetings between Mee and representatives of the Legionaries. Ultimately she met the territorial director for North America, Father Anthony Bannon, who introduced her to Maciel himself.

The notoriously charming Maciel shared with Mee that the organization was in a "cash crunch" -- which was an absurdity. But, he said, they would "only ask God for what we need."

"And the angel Gabriel came down from heaven," Mee replied, referencing her first name, Gabrielle.

He wrote her a personal note after her first million dollar donation.

"I am deeply moved and very grateful for this extraordinary gift," Maciel wrote. "You have no idea how much good this act of generosity will produce for the church."

Perhaps sensing Mee's desire for an increase in the number of Catholic priests, Maciel also invited her to come to Rome on Jan. 3, 1991, for the seminary's inauguration, which was to include the ordination of 55 Legion priests.

"That the founder of The Legion of Christ has written to me is just overwhelming!" Mee replied in a September 1989 handwritten letter of response to Maciel, whom she addressed as "beloved Father."

Mee was hooked.

In the early 2000s, Sylvestre learned from newspaper accounts of the allegations against Maciel. He never saw fit to tell Mee any of that, but only because he's certain that it wouldn't have mattered. She would not have held the leader's behavior against the organization, he contends.

By all accounts, Mee lived out her life in the bosom of Regnum Christi and she would not have had it any other way. She may have been deluded but she was happy and fulfilled, all of which leaves me feeling a little ambivalent. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. We should all be so lucky as to spend our declining years exactly where we want to be, in peace and communion with God.

She remained protected from the erupting scandal that would eventually take down its leader and ultimately force the organization under Vatican control.

"There is no evidence that Mrs. Mee knew of the detailed allegations against Maciel nor the existence of the Hartford Courant article," plaintiff attorney Bernard Jackvony told NCR. "Rather, it shows that she was in the dark."

Regnum Christi posted a notice in its residences saying that Nuestro Padre was under attack in a false article. But that, it appears, is the extent of what Mee knew.

She also had no idea that her friend Father Bannon was using her money as leverage with Fleet Bank as the organization wrestled with the impact of bad publicity. A memo from a bank official explains:

In terms of additional credit concerns the Legion was concerned about the impact of the surprise on Fleet. Father Bannon offered to pledge the cash flow stream from the Mee trust funds in order to provide additional security in this uncertain period. I thanked him, but communicated that it would be a significant conflict of interest if we were to seek a perfected security interest in the Mee funds because we are also a trustee [for Gabrielle Mee and for the Timothy Mee Charitable Trust].

The Legionaries sued the bank.

In 2001, Bannon obtained sweeping power of attorney, drafted by the Legion's lawyers, for Mee's affairs. The Legion sued Fleet to obtain greater access to the combined Mee funds, with Gabrielle testifying for the Legion. The two sides settled out of court. Fleet later merged with Bank of America. Because of the 2001 agreement, Dauray's lawsuit includes the bank as a defendant with the Legion on allegations of fraud.

All of this happened with Mee's consent. She was a consecrated member of Regnum Christi and had turned her life and all her worldly goods over to them as part of her vow. But one could hardly call it informed consent.

Mee and many like her invested vast sums into an organization that Andrew Sullivan fairly described as a "pederastic cult." It is unlikely that such benefactors knew that the organization, for all its "cash crunches," was keeping a declining Maciel to the tune of $20,000 a month. They continued to foot such bills even as awareness grew within the Vatican that something was rotten in the Legionaries of Christ.

The Vatican played its game of rolling disclosure, trailing the press on revelations about its star priest's debauched life. In 2006, Pope Benedict sentenced Maciel to "a life of prayer and penitence," which we are all supposed to believe settled the matter. In reading a bit more about how that sentence played out, I find I am stunned at my own naivete. I guess I was imagining something along the lines of a secluded monastery. A house in a gated community in Jacksonville, FL, surrounded by a "community" of Legion priests, definitely wasn't what I'd envisioned. It also appears that Norma, one of his mistresses, continued to visit him along with their daughter Normita.

One again, we see the political acumen of Pope Benedict XVI in action.

Yet even with his new home, Maciel pined for Rome. He flew back in September 2006, hoping to attend the canonization ceremony of one of his uncles, a bishop in Mexico. The timing of Benedict's dismissal order was undoubtedly tied to that canonization. Vatican officials did not want a beaming Maciel at the ceremony knowing, as one official later told NCR, that he had molested "more than 20 but less than 100" victims.

In other words, Maciel's "confinement" had far more to do with keeping him out of sight than punishing or reforming him.

So what did Pope Benedict and the Vatican hope to gain from years of playing cat and mouse with the truth about one of the most flagrant, serial abusers in Church history? Jason Berry cites professor, author, and survivor of Maciel's abuse, Jose Barba. He contends that it was to protect his predecessor and "defend the sainthood case against the accusations that John Paul protected predators."

The upshot here is that, once again, abuses and crimes were known by Church officials. They were covered-up and only revealed in a pattern of rolling disclosure as media reportage forced the issue. The crimes were not reported to the authorities. The punishment meted out by the Church was woefully inadequate to the crimes committed. Officials insulated themselves from scandal and protected their own career advancement. Devoted Catholics were kept in the dark which allowed them to be harmed by criminal behavior.

This is a pattern we've seen in diocese after diocese all over the world. But this time the cover-up was enabled, even perpetrated, by the Vatican.

None of the key players in this criminal enterprise are likely to ever experience appropriate consequences. Maciel is dead and buried, as is Pope John Paul II. And Pope Benedict XVI is about to retire to a contemplative life in a remodeled convent, still safely within the Vatican where he will maintain his immunity from prosecution. But the truth will out. Once again, an Angel Gabriel in human form is, however unwittingly, revealing the hidden secrets of the Church. Blow, Gabriel, blow.

The National Catholic Reporter's excellent reportage on the Rhode Island documents can be found here, here, here, and here.

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Feb 18, 2013

Unpacking the Zen Scandal

A recent blog post on The Huffington Post lends more insight into how the Joshu Sasaki scandal unfolded within the Zen community. Adam Tebbe is the editor of Sweeping Zen, which published Eshu Martin's article and started this firestorm. Tebbe discusses what it was like being caught in the backdraft. Both he and Martin were subjected to the hostility of a Zen community bent on shooting the messengers. I suppose that anyone in a position to tell bitter truths should be prepared for that reaction.

Eshu's initial piece was an icebreaker of sorts, a shot across the bow that quickly grabbed the attention of many. Martin alleged a history of abuse and cover-ups involving his former teacher that stemmed his entire career. He received considerable backlash for his piece, accused of being nonspecific in his accusations. And, while it was partially true, readers did not know that at the time there was more information at his disposal which would and could be used if necessary. It was not released instantly because much of it needed to be said by Giko David Rubin, a priest ordained by Joshu Sasaki and his translator of many years (see: Some Reflections on Rinzai-ji). When Giko's reflections on his experiences at Rinzai-ji and of Sasaki were first published, the mood was rather somber. It remains one of the most detailed and painful articles I've ever had to publish in my work at the website.

Rubin's piece does indeed make for painful reading -- not just because of the detail it provides on Sasaki's behavior and peoples' varied reactions to it. It's an extremely honest revelation of the author's process of disillusionment over a period of years.

This passage actually made me wince.

Joshu Roshi also has the ability to sometimes know exactly what a student is experiencing without having to be told. This is quite remarkable, and I believe gives his students a feeling they are in the presence of someone with extraordinary spiritual power. As a young man I sat in zazen and felt my hand spontaneously open on my outbreath, and felt my sphere of consciousness expand with it. Then on the next in breath my hand unwillingly closed to a fist. The next time I saw Joshu Roshi, I bowed in silence as usual, and sat up. At once he looked me in the eye, open and closed his hand, and said, “Now you can be a Zen teacher.” How could I not feel this man knew me better than anyone could? I believed I could I trust him completely.

Maybe it's because I'm psychic for a living but immediately my inner cynic piped up. That's it? He knew you opened and closed your hand? Really? This was, of course, hideously unfair of me. And, sitting with that forced me to deal with why I felt tweaked. This is precisely the kind of thing that people who do this kind of work need to be extremely cautious about! What is a very basic level of intuition for someone who does psychic and healing work, can bring life-changing moments for the people receiving that insight. That makes disseminating this kind of information an awesome responsibility. Like all births and rebirths, these moments are very sensitive. Transformational expansion leaves us vulnerable as we shed one skin and await the firming of the next layer. And while these should be moments of personal empowerment, too often people discovering their own power can't seem to give it away fast enough, which looks to be what happened here. Rubin took exactly the wrong lesson in that moment. What was important was that he had been through a spiritual initiation that prepared him to teach. He made it about the teacher who gave him that insight. And Sasaki let him.

It is so important for those of us who do any kind of spiritual teaching to take our egos out of it and keep the focus on clients and students. Sasaki was very good at telling other people that they needed to break down their egos -- often by grabbing their breasts, apparently. No matter how gifted a spiritual leader you are, you are not the source of anyone else's reality. If you didn't tell someone what they needed to hear, they would source another teacher to tell them, simply because they were ready. None of us is indispensable.

Instead, it seems like a whole lot of people were catering to Sasaki's massive ego. There was a very complex architecture of deceit put in place to protect him from consequences for a vast number of sexual assaults over decades.

To keep his inner circle in line, he used blatant emotional blackmail. When confronted he would just threaten to stop teaching (abandonment). This happened on many occasions but reached a fever pitch in 2007, and the realization of how closed Sasaki really was to meaningful change, pushed Rubin to the door.

After the meeting Joshu Roshi began calling people who wanted to discuss his sexual activity his “enemies (taiteki in Japanese). It seemed he was helping to form a party line; to criticize Joshu Roshi is blasphemy. To say he has a serious sexual problem means you don’t understand his teaching. If you are working to have Joshu Roshi face his problem and change then you don’t love him and should leave. The sentiment I remember hearing the most from other Oshos was some version of, “We must weigh the good of Joshu Roshi’s teaching against the bad. The good is incredibly good. He is probably the most enlightened person alive in this world. There is no way to stop the bad, only contain it. He will never change. The good, however, far outweighs the bad. If we try to guide Joshu Roshi towards changing his behavior he will resign and stop teaching, and all the good will be lost.”

He's the "most enlightened" person in the world, but he'll never change his bad behavior. I guess I have a different idea of what enlightenment means. 

When Rubin tried to air his concerns, he was heaped with scorn by Sasaki's devoted following and by Sasaki himself.

When I “came out” and raised my concerns about Joshu Roshi’s sexual conduct some Oshos told me I had no Zen understanding and should be beaten with sticks; I was an arrogant blind fool; I had “kindergarten understanding” and obviously had never passed even one koan. Joshu Roshi told me I would never get enlightened if I thought about these things. I was told by one Osho and one senior student I would be blamed for Joshu Roshi’s death if I tried to make him change his behavior, and that I would be responsible for ruining his legacy. “You are killing him!” was shouted at me more than once. Another Osho told me that Joshu Roshi had demanded I do a special repentance ceremony if I ever wanted to practice with Joshu Roshi again. When I asked the Osho if he had argued my case to Joshu Roshi, or even asked for an explanation he said he hadn’t. I was banned from coming on the property of one Zen Center, and banned from teaching at another. Joshu Roshi began calling me “attached to honesty,” and “bakashoujiki” (meaning “stupidly honest”) to others and to me. [emphasis mine]

I have noticed, through the years, in my dealings with American Buddhists, that the ideal of "non-attachment" tends to be whipped out whenever some Buddhist doesn't want to take personal responsibility for something. It's funny how that works. If it's something you don't want to do, suddenly it's "attachment." It's a hideous distortion of a spiritual principle. But this is not just some American kid being ignorant and hypocritical. This is one of the foremost Buddhist teachers in the Western world abusing a central teaching and in a thoroughly puerile manner. What gives the obvious lie here is that Sasaki was clearly very attached to his power over his monks and to his compulsive pattern of sexually abusing women.

Rubin's article is a strong piece of writing, heartrending and sincere. I can't help noticing that throughout he still refers to Sasaki by the honorific Roshi. It is so hard when we find out that people we admire have feet of clay. Healing from that can be a very long process, especially when there's that much clay.

I just feel the need to point out that Sasaki's behavior is not some little foible. Groping and fondling people against their will is sexual assault, for which any number of his victims could have filed charges. These are sex crimes. He's a criminal, not an old man with a bad habit.

I also have to say, as I learn more about the progression of this unfolding scandal, that I think it telling that women complained for years but it took male teachers of some authority coming forward for the problem to be taken seriously. Sexism, it seems, is alive and well in the world of Zen Buddhism... as is basic, human denial. No, it ain't just a river in Egypt. So I will just close with this passage from Adam Tebbe's post because it's excellent.

I know that many Zen practitioners would like to see this coverage go away. To many, it's time to move on. I get why they want that. This whole thing appears to reflect undesirably on the Zen tradition, and many have criticized the mainstream press for having stereotyped the entirety of our Zen institutions. There's some truth to that. With that said, this isn't exactly a story that lends itself well to backslapping. And, moving on? I thought that's how we got here.

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Debbie Ford Has Passed

I am very saddened to announce that I just learned from one of my Facebook friends that Debbie Ford has passed. She fought a long battle with a rare form of cancer -- something I only knew through mutual friends and did not share for some time. She went public last year with her struggle and her reasons for keeping that part of her life private in a conversation with Oprah.

Ford was a tremendous gift to the spiritual community. She introduced the concept of shadow work to a large segment of the new age world and made it accessible; even palatable. As Jung said, making the darkness conscious is "disagreeable, and therefore, not popular."  She was an amazing teacher with the rare courage to call bullshit on herself, repeatedly. She will be profoundly missed.

Here is a little more of Ford, in her own words, on what she learned from her long struggle with illness.

A site is being set up for people to share their thoughts and feelings. It's not up yet but it will become available at rememberingdebbieford.com.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.