Archive for Religion

Day of Deliverance

Seeing will be believing, but:

Temple activists were euphoric Monday after a precedent-setting ruling by Magistrates’ Court Judge Malka Aviv in the case of Yehuda Glick vs. the Israeli Police, a day earlier. The judge ruled that the police “must make sure that Jews are able to pray on the Temple Mount” – in a ruling replete with harsh criticism of the police’s policies on the Temple Mount.

Activists were quoted on a Temple activists blog as saying: “This day will be remembered for generations in the annals of the struggle for the return of Jews to the Temple Mount.”

The police are legally bound “to ensure that Jews are able to pray on the Temple Mount, and not to act sweepingly to prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount,” the judge determined.

I am not religious, and not Jewish (my father was), but I can’t do justice in writing to how moved I am by this ruling. My inspirational texts are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist (and Anti-Federalist) Papers. Forbidding Jews from even a hint of prayer at their holiest site has always struck me as monstrous. That this was policy, enforced by the Jewish State itself, for decades, offended me as much as any other civil rights violation in the world (with a few choice exceptions by the Chinese, Arab, and certain African governments).

And it is swept away in just a few words: The police are legally bound “to ensure that Jews are able to pray on the Temple Mount, and not to act sweepingly to prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount.”

It’s a far cry from the court’s decree to facts and feet on holy ground—but to use the language of our ObamaCare-boosting friends, it’s the law of the land. Half a century after America’s civil rights laws, Israel now has hers. Maazel tov.


Atheist-Americans are Still Americans

Just because some random folk (singular of folks) randomly shot dead some other random folks does not make it atheist terrorism.

Does it?

When Greg Epstein, prominent atheist and author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, first heard about the tragic murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina Wednesday morning, he was shocked for the victims, but otherwise felt distant from the situation.

“It kind of went in one ear and out the other, unfortunately,” Epstein told ThinkProgress.

But as the day wore on and it was revealed that the suspected killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, was almost surely an atheist like himself, Epstein rushed to his computer to learn more.
“I went on Facebook and I looked up the name of the alleged shooter, and I had 27 mutual Facebook friends with him,” he said. “That knocked me over.”

Epstein, who is also chaplain of Harvard University’s Humanist community…

Wait, what? How can you be a “chaplain” of “Humanists”? Never mind. Forget I asked.

And what kind of chaplain hears of the slaughter of three people—three Muslim Americans—and has it go “in one ear and out the other”? Only at Harvard.

Anyhow, I think it is very important at a time like this to remember that this random act of a random folk does not represent the whole of atheism, which is a long, proud, and peaceful faithlessness. The many atheists in America contribute invaluably to the rich tapestry of disbelief.

But as the case moves to court and scrutiny of Hicks’ beliefs intensifies, a debate has emerged within America’s growing atheist community over how to grapple with the idea that one of their own may have killed in the name of non-belief.

Richard Dawkins — prominent British atheist and author of The God Delusion, which Hicks “liked” on Facebook — swiftly condemned the deaths on Twitter, but also criticized those who tried to blame atheism.

Mehta, on the other hand, wanted more evidence before blaming anti-theist rhetoric, and likened the situation currently facing atheists to instances when moderate Muslims are asked to collectively condemn or apologize for the actions of radical jihadists.

“I know there are so many people, atheists included, who are saying, ‘This is because of the rhetoric of certain vocal atheists and the way they talk about Islam,’” Mehta said. “But we don’t know that … I know Muslims go through something very similar, [such as] when Charlie Hebdo happened. And they’re like, ‘Dude, they’re not following the faith I follow.’”

Atheism is an anti-religion of peace.


How Do You Spell LGBTQ?

If a baker can be forced to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding that might offend his religious beliefs—and he can be—then what’s the problem here?

A bakery is fighting a legal claim after it refused to inscribe a gay slur on a cake.

Thousands of customers are coming to the defense of the Azucar Bakery in Denver.

The owner says a customer came into her shop about a year ago asking to have the slur written on a bible-shaped cake, but she says she had to draw the line.

Marjorie Silva said she’d make the cake, but not write the message.

The customer cancelled the order then filed a religious discrimination complaint.

“We did feel it was not right for us to write hateful words or pictures about human beings,” Silva said.

People from across the world have sent messages in support of the owner’s decision.

A state agency will hear the case in March.

Boilerplate disclaimer: I support gay marriage, and oppose gay slurs.

But I also support religious freedom (as areligious as I am), and can’t get my head around a baker who does not discriminate against gay customers being compelled by the state to participate in a celebration he finds privately offensive.

That being the case, however, if the customer wants “fa**ot” written on a cake, start writing or we start seizing assets.


Shiva’t Up Your A**

We printed the Mohammed pix, so…

A New Zealand bar manager in Myanmar has been arrested for allegedly insulting Buddhism after posting an online advertisement showing a psychedelic image of Buddha wearing headphones, police said Friday.

The offense carries a penalty of up to two years in prison.

Police arrested Philip Blackwood on Wednesday along with two Myanmar nationals, including the bar’s owner, Tun Thurein, and an employee. Authorities then shut the V Gastro Bar, a tapas bar and lounge, which had opened just two weeks earlier in an upscale Yangon neighborhood.

Is Yangon anywhere near Rangoon? I can’t find it in my 1960 edition Golden Book Encyclopedia. Of course, I can’t find Myanmar either.

But what little I know about Buddha suggests he wouldn’t throw people in prison for such an “offense”. Indeed, if he was offended at all, he’d just chalk it up to suffering. Which is to Buddhism as forgiveness is to Christianity, tikkun olam is to Judaism, and, um, well, uh, peace is to Islam (whew!).

PS: I tried to find an image of Mohammed wearing headphones, but failed. Apparently no one is that depraved.


Congress Shall Make No Law…

But boy, does it ever.

I support gay marriage, but with one nagging doubt. Once we decide we have the right to change the definition of marriage, do we have the right to stop? What are our criteria for defining what is not marriage? Wherever we draw the line, aren’t we just giving in to another set of prejudices and biases?

That’s not enough to change my mind about two men or two women marrying with full legal rights, but my prejudices and biases are piqued. Indeed, we have heard of challenges to marriages from polygamists, incest advocates, and others who want to speed the “evolving paradigm” of marriage. Who are we to bar the courthouse door?

It’s not enough to allow gay marriage; it must be celebrated under penalty of law:

Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission on Friday ordered a baker to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, finding his religious objections to the practice did not trump the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.

The unanimous ruling from the seven-member commission upheld an administrative law judge’s finding in December that Jack Phillips violated civil rights law when he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. The couple sued.

“I can believe anything I want, but if I’m going to do business here, I’d ought to not discriminate against people,” Commissioner Raju Jaram said.

Phillips, a devout Christian who owns the Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, said the decision violates his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of his religion. “I will stand by my convictions until somebody shuts me down,” he told reporters after the ruling.

He added his bakery has been so overwhelmed by supporters eager to buy cookies and brownies that he does not currently make wedding cakes.

Perhaps that’s the best solution. Rather than allow a business owner to refuse service to someone (a practice with a very bad history), the business just changes its practices. Phillips never discriminated against customers for being gay—even baking cakes for them—he just refused the business of baking their wedding cakes. As with a lot of thorny social problems, I see both sides. His solution to stop baking wedding cakes altogether seems the best solution. His business is booming, and the gay couple who felt discriminated against feel vindicated. Both claim victory.

Or perhaps not. What was the exact damage down to the gay couple looking to purchase a wedding cake? How many other bakers do you suppose would have refused? I’d say none. In fact, I find it almost astonishing that they had the bad luck to choose the one devout Christian baker who would decline to accept their business. No, that’s not right. He would happily accept their business—for muffins, rolls, scones, even cakes—just not a wedding cake. To do so would violate his religious belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. How did these three find each other?

I am certain that Adam and Steve (I can’t be bothered to check their real names) would have found joy at just about every other bakery they went to. There was no systemic discrimination against them (as there was with black people at lunch counters and water fountains in the 50s), just one man with a religious conscience. But that could not be tolerated. Tolerance is a one-way street, and that street leads inevitably to acceptance, and thence to celebration. Woe betide you if you try to go against the prevailing direction.

And why stop at marriage?

Medicare will now be covering sex change surgeries–meaning it won’t be long before private insurance is required to do likewise.

But that won’t be the end of it. Over at Human Exceptionalism I nominate Body Integrity Identity Disorder–sometimes called “amputee wannabe”–as the next affliction for which surgery will one day be required to be a covered service. In this time of identity-is-all politics, what principled reason can there be to say no?

I have no good answer. Do you?

PS: The title of the post is misleading. It’s not the legislative branch (or not just) that’s leading the charge against the traditional definition of marriage, but the judicial branch. Marriage is defined in state laws across the country, but court after court now insists those laws are discriminatory. Again, I agree. But now what?


Thank God

It’s Constitutional, bi—…blessed:

The Supreme Court says prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity.

The court said in 5-4 decision Monday that the content of the prayers is not critical as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.

The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester.

In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature and said that prayer is part of the nation’s fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday’s ruling was consistent with the earlier one.

Raised by a pair of atheists (one nominally Christian, one nominally Jewish), I was occasionally made uncomfortable by public prayer. So the [bleep] what? I lived, I got over it. In fact, I’m a little jealous of those with a religious upbringing. Faith is the one thing I find hard to fake.


Bad Nuns

A staple of sports cliches (a realm crowded with cliches) is to refer to an overmatched team as “The Little Sisters of the Poor”.

These ain’t your daddy’s Little Sisters of the Poor:

The Little Sisters of the Poor run a nonprofit Colorado nursing home and hospice and therefore ought to be exempt under what the White House calls its “accommodation” for religiously affiliated institutions like parochial schools, hospitals and charities.

The problem is that to qualify under the “accommodation,” religious organizations must sign a legal contract with their insurer certifying that the religious organizations refuse to subsidize contraceptive services. “This certification is an instrument under which the plan is operated,” the contract notes, then informs the insurer of its “obligations” under the rules.

Those include a command that the insurer “shall provide” contraception to all enrollees, supposedly independently and for free. The political point of the accommodation was to pretend that the costs of contraception or abortifacients are nominally carried by a third-party corporation, but the insurers are really only the middle men. The Little Sisters thus argue that signing the certification contract directs others to provide birth control in their place and makes them complicit.

Boiled down, the Justice Department’s legal response on Friday was: Shut up and sign the form. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argues the Sisters’ claims have “no legal basis.”

The Little Sisters can’t be bought off, and they can’t be intimidated.

But they can be fought:

Speaking at a fundraiser for NARAL Pro-Choice America in October 2011, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius declared that those of us arguing for conscience rights in the face of Obamacare were not only backward but belligerent:

They don’t just want to go after the last 18 months, they want to roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America.

We’ve come a long way in women’s health over the last few decades, but we are in a war.

Much commentary today — and many of the reporter’s questions — insist, as the administration has for a while now, that the Sisters have no religious-liberty problem: sign a form, all’s well. Except it’s not, and the Sisters won’t. Being told it has to green-light insurance coverage is not religious freedom in America. This accommodation/arbitrary exemption/exception business is for the birds.

Nancy Pelosi once threaten to “deem” Obamacare passed; Obama promised you could keep your doctor and your insurance plan; the Sisters are told they won’t get their precious little hands dirty with abortifacients. But they are buying none of it. I can’t say they’ll win—we are very far gone in terms of individual and religious liberties—but they won’t lose. If you keep your conscience, you never lose your soul.

That’s why the Sister will survive and America is very much in doubt.


Little Sister of the Poor 1, Obamacare 0

You want a piece of us?

It really is a Happy New Year. … American Freedom Law Center … worked tirelessly and down to the 2013 wire to persuade the DC Circuit to issue the injunction Kathryn posted about last night. That ruling prevented the Obamacare mandate from going into effect – i.e., from coercing religious believers, against the tenets of their faiths, to provide coverage for abortifacients and contraceptives. Of course, as we’ve seen before, President Obama often does not deem himself bound by such trifles as judicial rulings and congressional statutes, so we’ll have to see how the administration reacts. Here, meanwhile, is the press statement AFLC released:

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted the American Freedom Law Center’s (AFLC) emergency motion for an injunction, thereby halting the enforcement of the Obamacare contraception mandate as applied against religious organizations pending appeal of a lower court ruling.

Robert Muise, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel of AFLC, commented: “The circuit court’s order was nothing short of a Christmas blessing, coming literally at the 11th hour. Without this injunction, beginning on New Year’s Day the federal government would have forced Priests for Life to either violate its sincerely held religious beliefs or face crippling fines of $100 per employee per day that it is not in compliance with Obama’s unconstitutional and unconscionable mandate.”

David Yerushalmi, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel of AFLC, commented: “We won this battle for religious freedom, but the war—and it is a fiercely fought war at every step along the way between the culture of life and the culture of death—continues. No doubt that this case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

I won’t speak for Aggie on every nuance, but we support gay marriage, and generally support access to abortion (as long as it’s safe, legal, and rare). But we do not support liberal fascism, which is what this mandate amounts to: government coercion to act against personal and religious beliefs.

It’s time to drop “liberal” from “liberal fascism”, in fact, as the only fascism is liberal fascism. The GLAAD jihad against Phil Robertson; humiliating the Romney grandson because he’s black; Obamacare’s requirement that priests and nuns sign off on aborting unborn children. You might say that race, abortion, and gay rights are the holy trinity of the Left; on those subjects their behavior is its most intolerant and hostile. Don’t ask us to supply more examples; that’s why we have archives. Start at Liberal Fascism; move on to Liberal Ignorance, Loony Leftists, Media Bias, etc. You might even find a few others under the search heading “Left-Wing Civility Watch”.

“The culture of life and the culture of death”—let me think about it.

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Arab Spring Update

Sheikh disturbed:

Following are excerpts from a statement by Sheik Omar Raghba in the Yakubiya village of Syria, which was posted on the Internet on October 23, 2013.

Photographer: Go ahead.

Sheik Omar Raghba: Allah willing, Allah alone will be worshipped in the Levant, which will be ruled only by the law of Allah. The idols will be worshipped no more in the Levant, Allah willing.

We shall accept nothing but Allah, His religion, and the Sunna of His prophet.

Smashes the statue of the Virgin Mary that he was holding

Say: “Allah Akbar.”

People around him: Allah Akbar.

Allah Akbar, baby!


Allah Will Not Be Mocked

Sarah Palin teased President Obama and his—let’s be honest—imbecilic policy toward Syria:

So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot?

As I said before, if we are dangerously uncertain of the outcome and are led into war by a Commander-in-chief who can’t recognize that this conflict is pitting Islamic extremists against an authoritarian regime with both sides shouting “Allah Akbar” at each other, then let Allah sort it out.

Outrage ensued:

She could’ve easily translated “Allah Akbar” into English, noting that the combatants were screaming, “God is great.” Or as Sen. John McCain remarked Tuesday on Fox News, “Allah Akbar” is no different than an American Christian saying, “Thank God.”

But Palin went with the Arabic. Why? Because I think deep down she loves the language. And I bet Palin knows even more Arabic words such as humus, falafel and possibly babaganoush.

Oy. I’m already regretting this. What are the odds that this guy has a point? (And did John McCain really say that?)

But my cynical side tells me that Palin was just trying to use inflammatory language to get attention. (I know what you’re saying: “No, our Sarah Palin would never do that.”)

But let’s not forget what Palin said about President Barack Obama’s comments on Libya: “Obama’s shuck and jive shtick with these Benghazi lies must end.” Palin was roundly criticized for using “shuck and jive,” which is a term dating back to 1870s and was originally a “Southern ‘Negro’ expression for clowning, lying, pretense.”

Palin denied she was being racially insensitive in using that phrase. Was it just an inadvertent slip or a ploy to draw media coverage?

So what’s the genesis of Palin’s statement, “Let Allah Sort them out”?

Genesis? That’s the first book of the Holy Bible! One-fifth of the Pentateuch!! How dare this Mohammedan (if he is one) defile two great faiths by taking in vain the story of G-d’s creation of the universe?

See how tiresome this can get?

In the future, if Sarah Palin is going to show off her Arabic vocabulary, it’s my hope that she doesn’t use it to encourage the world to turn a blind eye as innocent people are butchered.

Instead, she might use an Arabic word such as “salaam,” which means “peace,” and encourages people to support a policy that brings an end to the fighting. After all, peace means the same thing in every language.

Oh, I think Sarah Palin knows the word, or at least its Hebrew equivalent, “shalom”.

But she can be forgiven, I think, for being confused by the president’s (and this writer’s) pursuit of salaam via the contrails of a barrage of cruise missiles.

Just as I have to confess confusion by the writer’s evident ignorance that the “butchery” of “innocent people” is by Muslims on Muslims. In Syria, and in too many other countries to list here. And he’s upset with Sarah Palin? Such fatuousness practically makes him an accessory to after the fact!


Christian Charity

Nothing better expresses a person’s true self than reveling in the death of another person’s child:

Pastor Rick Warren, the best-known name in American evangelism after Rev. Billy Graham, lost his 27-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide this week.

[A] shocking number are taking this moment of media attention to lash out at Warren on the digital tom-toms. The attacks are aimed at him personally and at his Christian message

Some unbelievers want to assure Rick and Kay Warren, his wife and Matthew’s bereaved mother, that there’s no heaven where they’ll meet their son again.

You can find, among hundreds of comments on USA TODAY’s news story on Matthew’s death, comments such as the Cincinnati poster who says, “Either there is no God, or God doesn’t listen to Rick Warren, despite all the money Rick has made off of selling false hope to desperate people.” In another comment, the same poster counsels Warren to “abandon primitive superstitions and accept the universe for what it is — a place that is utterly indifferent to us.”

Some rush to add pain to the Warrens’ world because, in their view, he did not show sufficient compassion for the unremitting pain suffered by gay youths rejected by parents and peers. They were outraged when Warren took a political stand for Prop 8, which overturned legal same-sex marriage in California in 2008 and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are, however, people who won’t let the vitriol unleashed on social media infect the little corners of the world under their own name.

John H. Armstrong fought back on Facebook, saying, “I just blocked someone that I do not know from my wall for saying that Rick Warren’s son went to hell. What is it with people being so sure that they know God’s final judgment? I fear for people like this. This man added that Rick Warren was being judged for being a ‘false prophet.’ Pathetic, cruel and reckless all come to mind. If I’ve seen the evidence of a false prophet this comes close.”

A day ago, Warren tweeted to his 943,000+ followers: “We pray ‘Thy WILL be done on earth AS IT IS IN HEAVEN’ since in heaven God’s Will is done #always On earth, it’s done rarely.”

The journalist refers to a “shocking” number of mean-spirited comments. But were you shocked? I wasn’t. I was waiting for this.

Socially, I probably have more in common with the hateful types than I do with Pastor Rick and his followers. I am close to several gay couples who are quick to anger (anger like this) when they feel their rights are challenged. But as much as I may love these people, I pity them and fear them too. Their minds are poisoned, their souls crippled, by hate. If Rick Warren believes in heaven and hell, such critics are the best evidence of the latter.

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Best Foot Forward

While the battle rages on in the comments about Jesuits, Catholics, celibacy, and perversity, I’d like to stay above the fray. (You know me, too good for that sort of thing.)

What do Catholics themselves make of Pope Francis so far?

Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world’s poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy.

Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.

One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, ‘‘Rorate Caeli,’’ reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict’s eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council’s modernizing reforms.

‘‘The official end of the reform of the reform — by example,’’ ‘’Rorate Caeli’’ lamented in its report on Francis’ Holy Thursday ritual.

A like-minded commentator in Francis’ native Argentina, Marcelo Gonzalez at International Catholic Panorama, reacted to Francis’ election with this phrase: ‘‘The Horror.’’ Gonzalez’s beef? While serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s efforts to revive the old Latin Mass so dear to Benedict and traditionalists were ‘‘non-existent.’’

Virtually everything he has done since being elected pope, every gesture, every decision, has rankled traditionalists in one way or another.

I don’t want to tell these people how to think. It’s their faith, not mine. But I would ask or observe that wasn’t it as revolutionary for Jesus to wash the feet of his (all male) disciples as it is for Pope Francis to wash the feet of women and Muslims? Isn’t the Pope’s action in keeping with the spirit of Jesus and not just the letter of canonical law?

Really, I’m just asking.

And, of course, looking for any excuse to play clips from Pulp Fiction.

(As fans of the movie know, this is the G-rated scene on foot massages. The profanity-laced scene is not suitable for a family blog—in other words, look it up yourself.)


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