Sep 24, 2013

Two Popes?

In a very strange turn of events, the former pope -- Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI -- has broken his public silence to defend against allegations that he covered up sex-abuse.

The comments - which a victims' group rejected - were made in an 11-page letter to Italian author and mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi, who had written a book about the problems facing the Roman Catholic Church before the pope resigned in February.

"As far as you mentioning the moral abuse of minors by priests, I can only, as you know, acknowledge it with profound consternation. But I never tried to cover up these things," said Benedict, who now has the title Emeritus Pope.

Excerpts of the letter were published in the Rome newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday with the former pope's permission.

It was believed to be the first time Benedict has responded to the sexual abuse accusations in the first person, although the Vatican has always said he did much to put an end to sexual abuse of minors by priests and never tried to cover it up.

Even stranger than the public nature of retired pontiff's statement is the fact that it appears to echo a letter from Pope Francis to the publisher of La Repubblica -- or does Pope Francis's statement echo Pope Benedict's?

The letters indicate that the two men in white – who live across the Vatican gardens from one another – are pursuing an active campaign to engage non-believers. It's a melding of papacies past and present that has no precedent and signals that the popes – while very different in style, personality and priorities – are of the same mind on many issues and might even be collaborating on them.

. . .

Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign when he retired Feb. 28, setting the stage for the election of Francis two weeks later. Benedict said at the time that he would spend his final years "hidden from the world," living in a converted monastery tucked behind St. Peter's Basilica, reading and praying.

Benedict's decision to cloister himself was in part due to his own shy, bookish nature, but also to make clear that he was no longer pope and that his successor was in charge.

Fear of schism in the church had prevented popes for centuries from stepping down, and Benedict's resignation immediately raised some not-insignificant questions: How would the Catholic Church deal with the novel situation of having one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side, each of them called "pope," each of them wearing papal white and even sharing the same aide in Monsignor Georg Gaenswein?

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied that the two living popes were acting in concert and claimed the fact that they both wrote letters on the same subject matter to two prominent atheists in as many weeks was entirely coincidental.

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Sep 22, 2013

The Surprising Nature of the New Pope

Pope Francis created shock waves again this past week with his surprising ability to not hate on entire groups of people. Of all the comments in his interview with fellow Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, what has gotten the most press was his blunt assessment of the Church's relentless focus on divisive issues. The Church is "obsessed," he said, with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

The pontiff reveals much more than the radical nature of his thinking here. He reveals that he has been "reprimanded" for it. By whom, one wonders.

People as diverse as John M. Becker of the Bilerico Project and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League have quite rightly pointed out that there has been some overreach in the reading of the pope's remarks. This is not a break with Church doctrine. What it is is a shift in tone and emphasis. He's reading from a different part of the Catechism. Where his recent predecessors were focused on the homosexuality as "objectively disordered" portion, for instance, Pope Francis is more interested in the "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" portion. At no point is he calling on the Church to dispense with its moral teachings, however backward they may be. He is, after all, a "son of the church." 

What both sides of this debate miss, however, is just how drastic this shift in tone is. I don't think Bill Donohue -- like much of the Catholic hierarchy -- has the self-awareness to realize how hateful he sounds most of the time. And I don't know if Becker is considering fully the potential power of compassion.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., said Francis’ comments amount to a “new dawn” for the Catholic Church.

“Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people,” DeBernardo said. “His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.”

What the uproar over the pope's most publicized comments reflects more than anything is how out of alignment with Christ's core teachings the Catholic Church has been. As I wrote here, there is something horribly wrong when a pope's announcement that he won't judge people is seen as a radical departure.

What I found even more striking than his more tolerant focus was his introspection, self-examination, and humility. This excellent analysis by John Reese puts some of these statements in the context of Jesuit principles. But you don't have to be a Jesuit, or even a Catholic, to see that this pope strikes a very different posture than his predecessors. When he describes himself as a "sinner" it doesn't sound like lip-service to an ideal -- mainly because he goes on to discuss some of his transgressions in very frank terms.

In the interview, Pope Francis explains why he was labeled a conservative by many Jesuits in Latin America. He confesses it was his own fault.

In my experience as superior in the Society, to be honest ... I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself.

My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.

This method of learning from one's mistakes is very Ignatian and reflects how imbued Francis is by the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola as experienced in his Spiritual Exercises. Pope Francis may sometimes look like a Franciscan, but he always thinks like a Jesuit.

That kind of humility is something the Church hierarchy has been unable to muster -- even as the sex abuse crisis makes its sins nakedly apparent. Pope Francis's articulation of personal responsibility marks a sharp departure from that Hierophant energy that has been so reflexive whenever Church officials have been challenged by the press, concerned clergy, and their own flock. Pope Francis seems unwilling to float above the fray in the rarefied air of spiritual superiority. He'd rather live in modest surroundings and wash all the wrong kinds of feet. And he seems to be really serious about putting the needs of the poor above the comfort of the priesthood.

There are still open questions about how this very different communication style will translate into meaningful action and an eyebrow raising track-record. Pope Francis has remained in lockstep with some of the most regressive decisions of his predecessors -- the crackdown on those uppity nuns, for instance. But he sure has changed the conversation.

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Sep 20, 2013

The Unbreakable Woman in Red

For anyone with an interest in Warren Jeffs and his FLDS, this Dateline episode is must viewing. Rebecca Musser -- former wife of Rulon Jeffs, witness for the prosecution against Warren Jeffs, and red wearing apostate -- has written a book. The Witness Wore Red tells the story of her life before and after breaking from the church she grew up in. Musser was instrumental in putting Warren Jeffs behind bars and this Dateline episode gives a fairly thorough overview of the long process of bringing this unrepentant pedophile to justice. The whole show is in the embed above and can also be viewed here. Some of it is hard to take. The "desecrated" temple with its sacred, holy beds is every bit as creepy as other well-hidden rape rooms Jeffs has constructed.

Musser is one brave woman, risking hell-fire and damnation to free herself from total domination by dirty old men of God. One can't help but marvel at the strength of women like Musser, her sister, and other apostates, who have not only found their voices but used them to put a far too powerful sex offender in prison.

In other news, the FLDS empire continues to crumble. The Alta Academy, where Warren Jeffs raped children and taught such unassailable facts as how the moon landing was faked because God would never allow such a thing, is slated for demolition. Good riddance.

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Sep 19, 2013

Natural News Notices That TED's Dead

"Allow me to be the first to announce that TED is dead," says Mike Adams of Natural News. But Mr. Adams is a little late to the funeral, having only just noticed TED's "bad science" letter of December 7, 2012, previously discussed here. Natural News has observed that among the many areas of inquiry proscribed from the TED brand is any health topic not sanctioned by mainstream science, aka. pharmaceutical and chemical companies.

In that letter, TED says that people who talk about GMOs are engaged in "pseudoscience." Those who discuss the healing potential of foods are spreading "health hoaxes."

The letter also advises TEDx organizers to, "reject bad science, pseudoscience and health hoaxes," meaning anyone who talks about GMOs, "food as medicine" or similar topics.

Natural News overstates TED's policy guidelines. The letter does not say these subjects are banned outright. What it says is that these topic areas are "red flags" that should alert TEDx event planners to likely "health hoaxes" and other "pseudo-science."

That letter sets a bar that few natural health advocates are likely to meet. As stated, not even Einstein's groundbreaking work would have met TED's criteria.

TED has also let TEDx organizers know what it finds distasteful with this letter -- and what could put their affiliation on the chopping block. What organizer would want to test those limits by hosting a "red flag" topic, no matter how well-sourced? TED has made it very clear with its high profile actions against Graham Hancock, Rupert Sheldrake, and TEDx Hollywood that they will silence speakers and pull sponsorship without reasonable notice and without explanation. I repeat: without explanation. Note that Chris Anderson has never bothered to justify the decision to quarantine Hancock's and Sheldrake's talks even when directly asked to do so. What TEDx organizer would want to risk having their fate quietly decided in TED's star chamber?

There is no question that last December's letter and TED's subsequent actions can only have a chilling effect on anything but its nice, corporate-friendly, mainstream science -- no matter how poorly sourced, blatantly incorrect, or incredibly dull.

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Sep 14, 2013

Television and the Quest for Immortality

Torchwood: Miracle Day begins tonight
Sept. 14 at 9:00 pm EDT on BBC America

I've not been doing much writing lately... obviously. I'm still settling in after our most recent move. But, on my breaks from unpacking boxes, I've mostly been staring at that other box... the idiot box. It was supposed to be passive, relaxing entertainment -- a restorative after long, hard days of hating the entire process of moving.  Instead, I've once again been pulled down a rabbit hole into a network of intertwining symbolism and myth. I pretty quickly noticed that a theme was emerging and that the theme was immortality.

I finally had the opportunity to see Torchwood: Miracle Day when it came on Encore. I'd been wanting to see it since it came out but I don't have or want Starz. The previous Torchwood miniseries Children of Earth was excellent if very, very disturbing. I had wanted to write about some of the symbolism of that series when it aired but after I watched the final episode, I was just too emotionally wrecked and I never wanted to look at the series again. Miracle Day is also very dark. The mythic symbolism is, once again, so veiled, you could easily miss it.

Human immortality is suddenly, inexplicably achieved and the world discovers that it's really very inconvenient. This is not a good version of immortality. It's not an ascension of any kind. It's just an inability to die no matter how sick, old, injured, or executed one might be. But underneath all the gruesome dreariness of that Torchwood sensibility, there are subtle points to some greater themes, which keep this from being pedestrian science fiction of the "wouldn't it be weird if" variety.

As Doctor Who fans know, Jack Harkness's immortality is an aberration -- a fluke that the Doctor finds disturbing and wrong and against the natural order. But there are subtle nods to a deeper mythos. In Children of Earth, for instance, Jack is killed, dismembered and buried in cement, only to be reassembled and resurrected. He has become Osiris. In Miracle Day we again see him playing out a resurrection mythology as he is effectively crucified -- hung by his arms, tormented by townspeople, and put to death, only to rise again... and again and again.

Sep 11, 2013

William Henry on 9/11

William Henry has been talking about the symbolism of the World Trade Center Memorial architecture for some time. Above, in the player, is a video blog he did in 2011 which lays the groundwork for his new interview with Mark Gray; also in the player. In it they discuss, among other things, the startling connection between the new architectural vision for Ground Zero and it's relationship Mecca. And, no, it has nothing to do with the radical Islamists who apparently leveled the original towers.

Meanwhile, coincidence?

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James Ray: Felon

James Ray Sports Guru-do Upon Release

James Arthur Ray will remain a convicted felon. Arizona's Court of Appeals has granted Ray's request of last week to drop his appeal. It appears that he weighed an attempt at clearing the conviction from his record against the very real possibility of being convicted again in any potential retrial and facing more than the paltry sentence he's already served. He's opted not to risk his recently gained freedom from incarceration.

In documents filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals Thursday, Ray, 55, signed an affidavit stating that he wishes to "avoid any possibility of a retrial and a resentencing."

Had he not dropped the appeal, oral arguments would have begun today. He would have also faced a cross-appeal from the State claiming, among other things, that the jury should have been informed of Ray's duty to act when participants were in distress.

Tom Kelly is unhappy with Ray's decision to let the matter drop.

His local attorney during the trial, Tom Kelly, said he was less than pleased with his former client's decision to abort the appeal. He said he met with Ray, who has remained in the Phoenix area pending the end of his parole, earlier this week.

"I was disappointed with his decision and I believe justice requires a resolution of the points raised on appeal," Kelly said.

But since it appears that Kelly's passion for "justice" does not include his continued representation of the harmonically destitute Ray, who cares.

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Sep 9, 2013

The Holy War Against Pop Culture Pagans

A trio of pretty, karate trained teens are battling demons around the world. Charmed? No. Worse. Brynne Larson, Tess Scherkenback, and Savannah Scherkenback are evangelical Christian exorcists who have been touring impoverished mining towns in Ukraine armed with nothing but crosses, holy water... and Larson's preacher father. Their efforts at saving these lost souls from the tortures of hell have received mixed reviews... from the director of their documentary.

[Charlet] Duboc said: ‘The way they come across on camera is just the way they were when we turned off the camera, they never stopped the vacant smiling,’ the British film-maker said.

They weren’t horrid, they weren’t unpleasant, they were just a bit creepy. It was a bit like talking to the Stepford Wives, I was like “where are the humans behind this?”’

The girls will be taking their glazed expressions and vapid smiles to the heart of the dragon, which is to say Potterworld, which is to say London. Someone has to protect unwitting entertainment seekers from demonic possession!

The threesome, from Arizona, believe the spells in J.K. Rowling's best-selling fantasy series are real, and dangerous.

In fact, they see Britain as a hotbed of occult activity whose origins go back to pagan times.

Savannah explains: 'It has been centuries in the making, but I believe it came to a pinnacle with the Harry Potter books.'

'The spells you are reading about are not made up,' adds Tess. 'They are real and come from witchcraft.'

Well, no. The Potter series is actually based on Western Alchemy, but why quibble.

Meanwhile, Methodist minister Keith Cressman is keeping his battle against idolatry closer to home -- Oklahoma, to be precise. It would appear that the state has graced its official license plate with the image of a the "Sacred Rain Arrow." The sculpture on which it is based depicts an Chiricahua warrior shooting an arrow into the sky to make it rain.

Said Cressman, through an attorney, putting such a plate on his car makes him a "mobile billboard" for a pagan religion. Despite his insistence to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that he holds Native American "religion, culture, or belief" in a fair bit of contempt. That, however, is his right, so I'm not really sure which side of this debate bothers me more -- Cressman's fear of the unholy savages who lived in Oklahoma first or the State's trivialization and cooptation of Native practices by reducing them to a logo.

Oklahoma no doubt meant this to be a way of honoring its large -- and largely discriminated against -- Native American population. But by putting an image of an Apache ritual on a state issued plate, they're effectively saying that those beliefs are not a religion. Would they put a an image of the Eucharist on a license plate? I'm betting not -- not even those Oklahomans who don't believe in separation of church and state.

“(T)he case presents legal issues of freedom of speech and religion that I feel are important for all Americans of all religious, non-religious and ethnic backgrounds,” Cressman wrote.

“The case may help define personal liberties and freedoms protected by the Constitution of the United States.”

. . .

Hemant Mehta, author and board member for the humanist-based Foundation Beyond Belief, wrote of the ruling:

“If this image goes too far, then surely a cross or other religious symbol can’t be allowed on a license plate, either. A devout Christian may have done a huge favor to all of us who support church/state separation.”

Okay, I've picked a side.

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