Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Time To Ring Out The Old, And Ring In Christ

I don't know if I'm getting a little older or what, but this year has gone by extremely fast. It feels like it should be September or something. I look out my window and see snow, so Mother Nature has kept pace with the pace, but I know I haven't.

In other respects time seems to be dragging. It seems like Barack Obama was elected two years ago rather than just under two months ago. Maybe that's just me getting impatient for a change from the Bush/Cheney years, which now that I think about it, seems to have lasted three decades.

In too many respects the Bush/Cheney years actually have lasted three decades. Bush/Cheney were nothing more than a direct extension of the Reagan revolution, and since we learned nothing from the Reagan years, we get an even deeper recession and even more unfathomable debt this time around. And like last time, our corporate and family elites got a lot richer at the expense of our futures and our children's futures, and probably their children's futures. Good for them.

For the last couple of days I've been researching Pope John Paul I. That has put me back 30 years ago and has sparked a lot of memories, and a lot of connections.

1978 marked the mid point of the Carter administration. It was a time of inflation and recession and the world's poorest were paying the biggest price. AIDS was just coming on the radar screens, although most people were only aware of it if they had gay friends. Iran had 50 some American hostages and it's successful revolution had brought about the first real Islamic theocracy. Our CIA, along with Britian's MI6, was heavily involved in raising and supporting right wing dictatorships in Latin America. The Roman Catholic Church was in the midst of it's own theological war and that war revolved, not around Latin and sexuality, but around the issues of social justice, poverty, and papal authority.

John Paul I represented the liberal wing of the Church. He had some serious ideas as to how the Vatican would operate in the future. In his last television address before he died, JPI had this to say:

"Believe me, we who live in opulence, while so many are dying because they have nothing, will have to answer to Jesus as to why we have not carried out his instruction, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself'. We, the clergy of our church and our congregations, who substitute gold and pomp and ceremony in place of Christ's instruction, who judge our masquerade of singing his praises to be more precious than human life, will have the most to explain."

This Papal statement is 180 degrees away from the interests of our current Vatican which is following in JPII's reformation and precisely putting the pomp and ceremony and singing praises, above human life. JPI believed the Church had amassed it's gold and opulence on the backs of the poor, and it should start giving it back to the people from whom it was taken. In some respects, Jimmy Carter was the American equivalent of JPI. In both situations they paved the way for the resurgence of the right.

Some of the things I learned do not fit well into the myth of St John Paul II the Great. Within days of his election to the papacy he authorized a 250 million dollar renovation of Castel Gondolpho and the Papal palace. The heated papal swimming pool at Castel Gondolpho is probably the most famous. The very next day after his election he put the Vatican bank directly under his own control, meaning he was not accountable to the curia for any of his transactions with regards to this bank.

The Vatican Bank is not a bank so much as a financial clearing house for religious organizations and Peter's Pence. It's day to day management was in the hands of members of Opus Dei, and it did numerous transactions for a group of neo fascist Free Masons known in Italy as P2. In fact the treasurer of both the Vatican Bank and the P2 was the same member of Opus Dei. The biggest religious institutional depositor, by far, was Mother Theresa. JPII's renovations were financed by this bank. Under his laisez faire leadership it became a major source of money laundering for the Mafia.

Today the Vatican Bank still makes the top ten on a list of financial institutions suspected of money laundering. This is not surprising given that it is completely free from international scrutiny and answerable only to Benedict. It's lack of transparency and recent history, make it ripe for this list. "By their fruits you shall know them."

I'm not making any of this up. Do a simple google search and you will be directed to The Vatican Bank scandal. There are numerous citations of testimony from court cases involving all the major players except for the ones JPII protected with diplomatic immunity when he made Opus Dei a personal prelature. The prelature decree was post dated to the day before the scandal blew up in his face. Somehow he still managed to come up with 250 million dollars (this is close to a billion in today's money) to return to investors whose money had been 'lost' through Vatican Bank transactions. The numbers of assassinations and 'suicides' associated with this scandal is mind boggling.

I bring all this up to explain something we will all see more of in the coming year. One of JPI's assertions is that greed and bigotry go hand in hand. Someone must be put down in order for other's to climb over to keep their excessive portion of the pie. When threatened, the powers that derive the most benefit from unequal distribution of wealth, identify an 'other' to stir up fear in populations to keep themselves in power. After the depression, it was the Jews. In this deep recession, just like the one Reagan put us into, it will be gays and abortion, but mostly gays. The powers don't give a damn about gays. They do care about how the issue plays politically. It plays well, far better than abortion, especially with minority groups.

The object is not to convert the left, or the right, the object is the center. It was the centrists in Germany who brought Hitler to power, and by the time they woke up, he had already made his position certain and unchangeable. The International wealthy, who have no national allegiance, will use the collusion of the Vatican to play the gay card against the center. GW Bush even went so far as to travel to the Vatican in 2004 to ask that more pressure be put on American Bishops to speak out on the gay and abortion issues. This pattern will continue and intensify.

My hope is that in 2009 more Catholics will begin to understand that the Vatican (as opposed to the Church) is very much a political organization before it is a spiritual organization. I hope that more Catholics will look into the connections between Opus Dei and the intelligence and financial communities. Opus Dei has way too much influence in the Vatican. I hope Catholics will look past the "gays threaten civilization' garbage, understanding these are the same things said about the Jews during the last Great Depression.

I hope people will read this article so they can see how this scenario played out for the German industrialist Fritz Thyssen and his good American buddy George Prescott Bush and really really understand there is no such thing as National Interests when it comes to making and keeping personal family fortunes.

I hope Catholics come to understand that the real oppressors and threats to humanity are those who are bound and determined to keep the world enslaved to unfettered unregulated greed. It's time we understood that the Vatican has amassed a great deal of wealth through criminal capitalism and that it too has thrived on the poverty of others. It's time to stop confusing the Vatican with Christ and way past time to hear the words of John Paul I. "It is the inalienable right of man to own property. But it is the right of no man to accumulate wealth beyond the necessary while other men starve to death because they have nothing." May 2009 bring the Change We Seek.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel And Gaza, Paranoia On Steroids

The definition of hope in the Gaza strip.

By Johann Hari, London Independent

The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment-beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide-vests or rockets. Israel's leaders have convinced themselves the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.

To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight, but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other in vast sagging tower blocks, jobless and hungry. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean Sea, and the Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall - as they do now with more deadly force than on any day since 1967 - there is nowhere to hide.

There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says: we withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Some 16 civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice? It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it - but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years, and view the runway to this war dispassionately.

The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 - in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior advisor Dov Weisglass was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders - so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn't have been my choice - an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions - but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 percent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 percent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.

Rather than seize this opportunity and test their sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. They announced they were blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. They surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine - but not enough for survival.

Weisglass quipped the Gazans were being "put on a diet." According to Oxfam, this November only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza this November - to feed 1.5 million people. The UN says poverty has reached an "unprecedented level." When I was last in besieged Gaza, I saw hospitals turning away the sick because their machinery and medicine was running out. I met hungry children stumbling around the streets, scavenging for food.

It was in this context - under collective punishment designed to topple a democracy - that some forces within Gaza did something immoral: they fired Qassam rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities. These rockets have killed 16 ordinary Israeli citizens. This is abhorrent: targeting civilians is always murder. But it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to claim now to speak out for the safety of civilians when they have been terrorising civilians as a matter of state policy.

European and American governments are responding with a lop-sidedness that ignores these realities. They say that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate under rocket-fire, but they demand the Palestinians do so under siege in Gaza and violent military occupation in the West Bank.

Before it falls down the memory hole, we should remember that last week, Hamas offered a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises. Don't take my word for it. According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security services Shin Bet, "told the Israeli cabinet [on the 23rd] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms." Diskin explained Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet - high with election-fever, and eager to appear tough - rejected these terms.

The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas - like much of the Israeli right - dreams of driving their opponents away, "they have recognized this ideological goal is not attainable, and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" - and towards a long-term peace based on compromise. The rejectionists on both sides - from Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh to Bibi Netanyahu - would then be marginalised. It is the only path that could yet end in peace - but it is the Israeli government who refused to choose it. Halevy explains: "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas."

Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means they can keep the slabs of the West Bank on 'their' side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements, and control of the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today - and compromise with them.

The sound of Gaza burning should be drowned out by the words of the Israeli writer Larry Derfner. He says: "Israel's war with Gaza has to be the most one-sided on earth.... If the point is to end it, or at least begin to end it, the ball is not in Hamas' court - it's in ours."


This latest Israeli/Palestinian war is another example of the real culture of death. Israel isn't interested in co-existence with the Palestinians, they want domination of the Palestinians. They want control of all regional resources, most especially water. If this was ever a religious conflict it ceased being so a long, long time ago. It's now about who controls the resources.

As an American who has just spent eight years listening to the neo cons convince us of the moral duty of America to spread democracy, Israel stands as the perfect example of what 'spreading democracy' really means. It means spreading democracies controlled by and dependent on the West. It's a new form of colonization under the guise of freely elected governments.

Gaza Palestinians made the mistake of actually freely electing their leadership. In Israeli eyes it was the wrong vote. That's the trouble with democracy. One doesn't always get the result they envision. Now Israeli tanks are poised on the Gaza strip to get what Israel wants the old fashioned way, taking it by force.

What's fascinating to me is the dearth of articles in the West criticising Israeli actions. Israel is taking far more criticism in their own press than Israel is getting from the West. Our government, not surprisingly, is blaming Hamas for inciting Israel to engage in this massive retaliation. Hamas may have launched the first rockets after the cease fire ended, but Israel was the one who refused to negotiate.

I'm at a loss to understand why it's in our interests for the Israeli's to exact a 300-1 kill ratio in their retaliation for rocket attacks on their territory. And I can't forget that they are using our latest weapons technology in this assault. I suspect it's not the first time the Israeli military has been used to 'hot fire' our latest weapons. How wonderful then, that we managed to ship our best and brightest just in time for this latest test. Unless one happens to be a Palestinian civilian.

And just for some icing on this rotten cake, Egyptian border guards are firing on Palestinian refugees who are desperately trying to get away from the Israeli aerial assault. Egypt is also increasing it's military presence on their border with Gaza, while Israeli bombs close the tunnels which became a major route for supplementing the meager supplies the Israeli's were letting through their blockade. I have no doubt military supplies for Hamas also came through these tunnels. Placing whole populations on a 'diet' frequently leads to those populations supplementing their 'diets' anyway they can. It seems Gaza will now be on an even stricter diet making it even easier to find thin suicide bombers.

I don't know how the violence will ever end if nobody in the West will get serious with Israel. Hamas is not going away because Israel 'surgically' bombs the Gaza strip and enforces an inhumane blockade. Hamas is willing to negotiate a cease fire if two things are done, ending the Gaza blockade and establishing a cease fire on the West bank. Israel is being asked to give up nothing more than what they themselves unilaterally put in place.

This is no longer about territory or Israeli national security, it's about humanitarian steps to end what is a de facto Gitmo for 1.5 million people. There are very real differences though, between our Gitmo and the Israeli version in Gaza. Our detainees have enough food and access to adequate medical care. They don't have to watch their children starve before their eyes or get blown to smithereens. Gitmo detainees have the hope that the incoming Obama administration will end their incarceration. The Israeli Gaza Gitmo has none of the above.

If the current situation in Gaza demonstrates anything, it's that Israel has become a domineering paranoid nation out of emotional control. This, coupled with Gaza's current misery, is extremely dangerous for the West. How dangerous? Dangerous enough that Deal Hudson and I are on the same wave length. I never thought I'd see that day.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Tribute On The Feast Of The Holy Family

Today is the Feast Of The Holy Family. Once again Spain is having a huge gathering in Madrid to uphold the importance of The Traditional Family. Once again our Pope, who is not a Rock Star, will be beamed in on huge television screens to deliver the homily. I suspect that pre event estimates of one million people will be the number of people the Church claims will have attended and the much smaller number estimated by police will be ignored. Still 250,000 people is a lot of people. I suspect gay humanity will once again be blamed for whatever ills mankind. Last year gays were told they were the biggest current threat to civilization. Oh well, so be it.

The truth is, if one is being honest, the Holy Family, as a model for the heterosexual family, would be a bigger threat to future civilization because it's a family based in total celibacy. Celibacy leaves no descendants. If Catholic marital relationships truly did reflect the procreative message left by the Holy Family, adoption would be the eighth sacrament.

But of course the Holy Family isn't the model for family because it's based on self chosen celibacy. It's the model because we are to believe that Mary was submissive in all things to her husband and took fabulous care of Jesus, never complaining, apparently silent in all things until the wine runs out.

We don't know much about Joseph except that he listened to his dreams and got his wife and child out from under a death sentence. After that he exits stage left. One has to assume he had children from a previous marriage because the Gospels do speak about the brothers of Jesus. Andrew being most prominent. This makes Mary his second wife, which means we have to assume Joseph was a widower of some years and that he was not exactly the young Mary's contemporary in age. In this day and age we tend to frown on older widowed men marrying teen age girls. I guess this makes us not very traditional when it comes to marriage.

Actually when I was a child, it wasn't the Holy Family that I found offensive. To me they weren't the Holy Family. They were too remote and quite frankly I didn't know anything about procreative sex. The real notion of Holy Family I couldn't get my head around were the ones on television. The kind of families portrayed in Ozzie and Harriet, Father's Knows Best, and Leave It To Beaver. My family was not at all like those families.

First, we had way too many children. Second, according to mom, my dad did not know best and because of his job, he wasn't around all that much. Third, my brothers were total self absorbed jerks who left nothing for anyone else, especially left overs. Fourth, younger sisters were never seen, and I had one who always had to be seen. Fifth, no body ever argued or fought with each other. This last was the knife in my idea of our family. We fought and argued a lot, and even given all the other failures to conform, this one was the most egregious.

I spent a lot of my time figuring out how I could restore my family to the idyllic status portrayed by the families I saw on TV. Problem was, no one else felt compelled to cooperate. Eventually I stopped trying and also stopped watching these particular TV shows. I just couldn't reconcile the ideal with my reality. I can't imagine what angst I would have undergone had I tried to reconcile my reality with the real Holy Family. My dad was an accomplished fine carpenter, and that's as far as I would have gotten. But even this would have been compromised because it wasn't his job, it was his hobby.

It wasn't until the advent of All In The Family that I realized the same family shows that gave me such angst were also causing angst in the rest of my family. All In The Family portrayed a family like us, with all our warts, but also all our redeeming qualities. Gloria may have been an only child, but there was also Meathead, a perfect combination of the best and worst traits of my brothers. I couldn't fail to note that there were never any leftovers around when he was at the dinner table. And that dinner table, with all the pontificating and arguing over politics, was our dinner table.

All In The Family became our must see TV. All of us watched it, as a complete family unit. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Whenever dad would make some off the wall bigoted comment, invariably one of us would say: "So sayeth Archie." Dad would then insist he was nothing like Archie and my mom would laugh and laugh and laugh. Actually, we all would.

One time dad made the mistake of referring to mom as Edith, and from then on she would sing the opening song, her ability to sing being the only thing she had in common with Edith. We would laugh and laugh and laugh and beg her to stop. Unlike Edith, she didn't. Now that I think about it mom had more in common with Archie than Edith. She was the one who had the 'never sit in recliner' from which she ruled the TV. I guess this was a form of gender bending on her part. Now I guess it would be a sin against sexual complimentarity and the traditional family and somehow threaten the Rain Forest. Archie would approve this reasoning.

I can remember very vividly when my daughter first saw an episode of All In The Family. She was about ten and Nickelodian was showing comedies from the seventies. She watched her first episode and turned to me and said, "Oh my god mom, that's our family".

I freely admitted she was right, and told her how much that show had actually meant us. It gave us a way to see aspects of ourselves mirrored, and opened up a lot of avenues for conversations about things like racism and sexism and stereotyping. Stuff we were good at and never looked at and finally realized probably weren't reality and we should probably stop doing them. All In The Family had been a good thing, an almost sacramental thing for our family.

She watched following episodes religiously. I guess it was her way of trying to understand a very smart but very blue collar family. I could tell the genes bred true when she saw the episode where Archie loses a bet to Meathead and has to kiss Sammy Davis Jr. She is just roaring with laughter, knowing full well grandpa would follow through on the bet, and grandma would temporarily disown him. In any event, it would remain All In The Family.

So on this day celebrating the Holy Family, I celebrate a not so Holy Family. One which spoke to me far more about what real family is all about, all the warts, all the idiosyncrasies, all the compromising, all the forgiveness and all the love under all the arguments. It's too bad all the folks in Madrid won't get a chance to see this family on their large screen TV's. They might relate better to a fantasy family based in reality.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Very Neglected Story From 2008

John Allen posted his year end top ten neglected stories on the National Catholic Reporter website, and I really have to agree with him about the story he listed as number one--at least from a global perspective. Here is his analysis:

1. The Crisis in India

The anti-Christian violence that broke out in India over the summer was hardly just a Catholic story, but Catholics were dramatically affected: A lay Catholic missionary was burnt alive as she tried to rescue children from a church-run orphanage; a young nun was raped; parishes, convents, hospitals and schools were sacked. Beyond the human toll, the crisis offered an important wake-up call. India is a rising power, but it also faces a rapidly metastasizing form of Hindu extremism. If things break the wrong way, the Indian subcontinent could become the new Middle East -- a perpetually destabilized region whose animosities seed conflict around the world, radicalizing a global Hindu diaspora.

India is also a great 20th century Catholic success story. The church exploded from less than two million faithful to 18 million, and by 2050 there could be almost 30 million Indian Catholics. It’s an inspiring social as well as spiritual triumph; some 60 to 75 percent of Indian Catholics are either from rural tribes or the “untouchable” caste, and both groups experience the faith as a liberating force from oppression. All of that, however, could be at risk if India can’t resolve its cultural and religious tensions. American Catholics may be in a special position to help, given that improving relations with India has been one of the few foreign policy success stories of the Bush administration. (John failed to mention that 85% or better of Catholic clergy are Brahman. The caste system, at least at this time, is still mirrored in Catholicism.)


Although I haven't posted much about the situation in India, I have followed events there with a great deal of concern. The recent attack in Mumbai is another example of the religious extremism the secular government in India faces. Given the ongoing Pakistani border conflict over the Kashmir province and the recent attacks from Islamic terrorists, expecting the Indian government to do much about the Hindu persecution of Christians may be a little naive.

Allen's point about this area and it's potential for becoming a new Middle East is undoubtedly being taken much more seriously by our government than our media would credit. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, a situation which does not yet exist in the Middle East in which only Israel has nuclear capability. Our future fear for the Middle East is a reality in this region.

There are other similarities between the two situations for Christians. In both cases a nexus of three different faith systems puts Christianity on the bottom of the religious pile. The plight of Christians in Palestine and Iraq is mirrored in the southern states of India. As with Israel, the fate of a minority of Christians is not a particular burning issue for the majority of the Indian populace. Given the recent attack in Mumbai, it's hard to blame them.

In both situations the US has serious vested interests and seems to be the major outside power broker. Under the Bush administration the US has not given much of a voice to the persecution of Christian minorities in either situation. For the Bush administration economic interests have always taken first priority, oil in the Middle East, and corporate outsourcing and import/export factors in India. It remains to be seen how the incoming Obama administration will deal with these two situations, but I have doubts as to how loud the US voice under Obama will be when it comes to the persecution of Christian minorities.

In my mind, Islamic terrorism is all about attacking the prevalent economic powers in a given region. It has nothing to do with spreading the word of Allah or defending Allah from infidels.

Christianity's problem is that historically it has spread hand in hand with the economic exploitation of indigenous populations. In too many cases indigenous people, through naivete or coercion, have traded their assets on earth to Western colonial and economic powers for a religious promise about a future kingdom of heaven. It is a legacy that can't be denied and is used by extremist religious groups to justify attacks on Western economic powers and their ethnic allies.

The secular Christian west may be better off recognising religious terrorism as a function of wealth distribution rather than religious fanaticism. As long as the focus is on religion, we play into the very hands of the terrorists who have determined to use religion to define the playing field. The Israeli's have taught their terrorist opponents a lot about playing the religious card, because they themselves have undergone a Christian history which was all about playing the religious card against them.

In many respects the Christian west is reaping the seeds sown in it's past history, but that history had far less to do with Christ and far more to do with economics. Maybe it's time we admitted this before someone's nuclear weapons go off in India or the Middle East in the name of someone's 'God. None of this is about God, it's about distributing finite and shrinking global assets.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Angels Heard On High, And Low, And Everywhere In Between

The following link is to an English translation of the Pope's homily at midnight Mass. In it he speaks to some of the prayers I mentioned I had for this Christmas:

" In every child we see something of the Child of Bethlehem. Every child asks for our love. This night, then, let us think especially of those children who are denied the love of their parents. Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace. Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul." (Apparently even the Pope and I share connections.)

As I previously mentioned, I also prayed for the world's women. Specifically, that those who birth and nurture our children might also find some relief from the same dynamics which oppress children. This dynamic, which puts some ideas and people above other ideas and people, is not in the Christmas story.

In that light of hierarchical dominance, there were other things in his homily which gave me pause to think. I wondered what kind of God Benedict envisioned when he prayed. Does he really think of God like he says here:

"The Creator of the universe, the one who guides all things, is very far from us: or so he seems at the beginning. But then comes the surprising realization: The One who has no equal, who “is seated on high”, looks down upon us. He stoops down. He sees us, and he sees me. God’s looking down is much more than simply seeing from above. God’s looking is active. The fact that he sees me, that he looks at me, transforms me and the world around me.

Does Benedict really believe God is up there somewhere, 'seated on high' looking down on us? Completely separate and so not us, that we are threatened by Him? He quotes a Church Father about this:

"The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God – from the time of Adam – saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now – this God who has become a child says to us – you can no longer fear me, you can only love me."

It's an interesting take on the Nativity. Not one I necessarily agree with given Jesus's teachings as an adult. I'm more inclined to see the Nativity as God reminding humanity of it's true origins. We are, in these human forms, every bit as much a part of the totality of God as we ever were or will be. We are not 'less than' because we are in a material manifestation. We just get lost and forgetful. Christmas reminds us of our true state, one with the angels, beings of light and love.

Speaking of angels, Benedict had some interesting words about them as well, also from the fathers of the Church.

"The Fathers of the Church offer a remarkable commentary on the song that the angels sang to greet the Redeemer. Until that moment – the Fathers say – the angels had known God in the grandeur of the universe, in the reason and the beauty of the cosmos that come from him and are a reflection of him. They had heard, so to speak, creation’s silent song of praise and had transformed it into celestial music. But now something new had happened, something that astounded them.

The One of whom the universe speaks, the God who sustains all things and bears them in his hands – he himself had entered into human history, he had become someone who acts and suffers within history. From the joyful amazement that this unimaginable event called forth, from God’s new and further way of making himself known – say the Fathers – a new song was born, one verse of which the Christmas Gospel has preserved for us: “Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace to his people on earth”.

I like to think that the angels also sang because God was telling humanity that His grandeur and beauty resided in humanity every bit as much as it does in angels and the created cosmos. The problem humanity has is that in incarnating we lose this knowledge, our sense of wholeness and our sense of connection. The child in the manger was another of God's gifts about the truth of our humanity. God is in us as He always has been and will be. Our flesh is an illusion of separation, as it too, is an aspect of, and therefor in, God.

So maybe the angels rejoiced because of God's willingness to help us with our sense of separation, as that sense of separation impacts them as well as us. We are all connected and they know it far more intimately than we do. The child in the manager was a gift to them as well. They are, after all, part of our family and like concerned loving family members, angels want us to remember and live the God with in. That's their task. To help us remember, and in that remembering, bring peace, love, and joy to our aspect of God's creation. In other words to bring in the fullness of God's kingdom on Earth.

To me the Nativity is not just about the birth of Jesus, it's secondarily about the love and concern for humanity that is core to the angelic race. Just like God, they are not 'up there' and 'out there', they are here, in their legions. They see with crystal clear eyes, those who can accept Jesus's message about the true nature of humanity, and those who can't, but they seek to enlighten all of humanity.

And so angels addressed the shepherds, in a clearly visual and auditory way, and with their two fold message. The first was about the birth of Jesus, and the second about the reality of the angelic concern and love for humanity. These messages seem to say it is not the Holy God who has forgotten humanity, it is humanity that has forgotten our own being in that Holiness. It isn't angels who have forgotten humanity , it is that humanity has forgotten that we are not alone in the universe. There are many sentient beings who share our life in the Creator. Angels are foremost amongst those races whose love inspires them to help us remember our fullest and truest nature. We are all one in being with the Creator.

Angels are all over the nativity story. They come to the mother of John the Baptist, they come to Mary, they come to Joseph, they come to shepherds. They continue to stay involved in the life of Jesus. They are visible signs of the importance of his life, his teachings, and finally his resurrection. Make no mistake, the Nativity leads directly to the Resurrection when Jesus manifests God's ultimate design for conscious material reality. It's why the angels never leave Jesus, because Jesus becomes True man, fully one in being with the Creator.

In his new material reality Jesus even sounds like angels. "Be not afraid." he says, whenever he manifests amongst his disciples. This Divine connection we share with each other, with Jesus, with the angelic realm is a gift we can receive when ever we understand the gift being offered. We need not be afraid for lumps of coal. These are gifts of knowledge about a shared Being. The messages are endless, all around us, but like Benedict speaks to in this homily, it takes being watchful and open to the notion.

We don't have to earn these gifts. We have them already. The trick is believing we do, and acting on those beliefs. When enough of us do, we will have peace, love and joy, and the mountain of misery and domination will move. All we have to do is trust enough to recognize and unwrap the gifts. To "be not afraid".

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Benedict Gives GLBT'S Coal For Christmas

Pope in eco friendly non transgendered parade.

Pope likens "saving" gays to saving the rainforest
Mon 22 Dec 2008, 13:48 GMT

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

"(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed," the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.
"The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less."

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. It opposes gay marriage and, in October, a leading Vatican official called homosexuality "a deviation, an irregularity, a wound".

The pope said humanity needed to "listen to the language of creation" to understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations as "a destruction of God's work".

He also defended the Church's right to "speak of human nature as man and woman, and ask that this order of creation be respected".

He turned his attention to those people who call themselves in Italian “gender” or “transgender” — a broad term that includes anyone who doesn’t identify entirely with their assigned sex and can include homosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals and others.

“What’s often expressed and understood with the term ‘gender’, is summed up definitively in the self-emancipation of man from the created and the Creator … But in this way, he lives in opposition to truth, he lives in opposition to the Creator,” the pope said.

Here is the response from the International GLBT human rights commission:

“In a season in which the immorality of genocide, lawless governments, lust for money and power and the destabilization of the world’s economy are destroying the lives of hundreds of millions around the world, the Pope’s obsessive focus on gay, lesbian and trans people who simply seek the right to live and love is out of touch with what humanity needs right now from its religious leaders.”


I have to ask as well, what does the Church think it's doing with this obsessive focus on GLBT humanity. This year alone Benedict has said gay rights represent the single biggest threat to civilization and now he is comparing gays with polluting human ecology and equating that with saving the rain forest.

What is really generating this over the top hyperbole? I still maintain it has everything to do with feminism and not the 'gay agenda'. It has to do with repopulating Europe and America with obedient Catholic families where the man serves as head of household and is tasked with bringing his child-wife and children to the throne of entrenched male power. This is sometimes referred to as 'bringing his family to Christ'.

I suspect we are going to see more of this strategy of defining a 'human ecology' coupled with green interests. It's designed primarily to convince younger generations, who truly are concerned with ecology, of the TRUTH of the one size fits all 'traditional' concepts of male/female complementarity. Benedict may run into some problems convincing our eco youth that overpopulating the planet with the 'products of procreative sex' is really eco friendly. I could make a case that God understood population density issues so well, that he created a class of people who would not contribute much to the problem. Just as he did in the animal kingdom.

In this sense, encouraging gay families does more to save the Rain Forest than encouraging unlimited family growth and therefor is far more in tune with God's Natural Law.

I have to admit I burst out laughing when I read his more specific notions on the transgendered. As he liturgically parades in lace trimmed skirts and yards of gold silk, who is really going to take that notion seriously.

Gender bending is prevalent in all the theology around the priesthood. It has to be if the theology really seeks to protect an all male priesthood while claiming this priesthood represents both the divine feminine and divine masculine. If human ecology is all about sexual complementarity then you have to have gender bending in the theology of priesthood in order to fill those requirements. We certainly do.

Make no mistake, gays are taking the brunt of the bashing, but it's really women who are the target. This Christmas I will spend time praying for the women of the world who are systematically being raped as a war strategy, forced into pregnancy, beaten by their husbands, stoned to death in the Islamic world, and dieing by the droves from AIDS and pregnancy related complications.

I will also be praying for their children who are too many times born into dismal circumstances not of their choosing, being used as cannon fodder in too many wars, traded as chattel on the sexual slave market, exploited as workers by corporations, and left to rot in orphanages when they aren't as 'cute as puppys'.

So are gays really the number one source of pollution in the ecology of humanity? I think not.

I will take my lump of Christmas coal from Benedict for what it's worth, and burn it on a consecrated altar in an effort to purify it, for that's exactly how lumps of coal becomes diamonds.

PS, I'll be taking the next two days off, and want to extend a truly holy and peaceful Christmas to all who read this blog. May peace, love, and joy enter all our hearts in this time of changing energy and upheaval. As the Archangel Michael says to me every time he's going to blow my mind, I offer you his words. "Be not afraid".

The following is a Christmas message from Cardinal Maida of Detroit. It really could have been inspired by Michael, who has a yet to be explained, strange interest in the city of Detroit. It's also much better than Benedict's offering. Namaste.

Christmas 2008 will undoubtedly be quite different for most of us. Given the economic uncertainty of the times and the fact that many have lost employment, and even their homes, we will be celebrating in a way that is more simple and modest. In fact, for many, there will probably be little reason for celebration and for some, perhaps no opportunity for celebration at all.

No matter what our circumstances, every one of us feels somewhat overshadowed by fear about things we cannot control. We wonder where the future will take us – individually, in our families, and as a society. Our metro area and the automobile industry are going through a time of major transition, causing every one of us to take a second look at who we are and what we do.

More than ever, we need to reflect on the hope-filled message of Christmas. Again and again in the Christmas Gospels, whenever an angel appears, consistently the message is the same: "Do not be afraid.…" Mary heard those consoling words at the Annunciation. Joseph heard those same words several times in St Matthew's account of Christ's birth.

Aged Zachariah was given the same advice as he and his wife, Elizabeth, were about to receive the surprising gift – and challenge – of the birth of a son, John the Baptist. As I mentioned at the outset of the column, the shepherds who first heard the Good News were also commissioned not to be afraid.

Fear is a natural human reaction; it is instinctive for humans to be afraid of the unknown or things that are unpredictable and unfamiliar. Every manifestation of God should make us feel a bit off-balance, overwhelmed by the surprising gift and mystery of God's presence and commitment to us in sending His own Son. We need the right kind of fear – "fear of the Lord," not fear of human forces. "Fear of the Lord" – one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – means a loving respect for the wonder, majesty, and mystery of God – all powerful yet humbly very near to us.

As we grapple with fears within our hearts and fear around us, we need to be ever-more sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit trying to calm us from within, assuring us that not only will we survive but we will indeed grow closer to God as we give up any false pride or illusive desire for control. We need to set aside human fears and embrace fear of the Lord.

The Christmas story reminds us of the way God chose to show His abiding love for us – by sending His Son to dwell among us at a particular point in time and to a particular group of people. He came in such a hidden way that no one recognized His presence. The message of Good News was first proclaimed to shepherds, people who were social outcasts and, therefore, not acceptable or credible witnesses.

Yet the Lord entrusted to them the Good News and commissioned them to share it. Why did He pick shepherds? Possibly because shepherds had to be people of great courage, spending all night through every season guarding and protecting their flock from wild animals. Shepherds were attentive and patient, humble and strong – an excellent combination of traits, the same qualities we need in the midst of these challenging times.

The Christmas message has a very intimate and personal quality to it, but at the same time, the Christmas experience is a public and communal event, a manifestation for all to see, a mystery for all to encounter and share. We need to express our faith in public ways – participating in the Mass and the Sacraments, singing Christmas carols, putting our faith into action through visiting the sick and reaching out to the disadvantaged, proudly displaying our Christmas creche and so forth. As we do these things, however modest or simple, we are helping to proclaim a hope and a joy to our brothers and sisters in these times of darkness and anxiety.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Refuting' The Myth Of Reincarnation?

I'm going to play Shirley McClain and go out on a limb. I think Roman Catholicism is going to be in for a rough ride in the future and not just because of liberal dissent, and the culture wars in which it has chosen to engage. It is going to be in for a rough ride because it is deafening in it's silence about paranormal psychic activity and the influence of reincarnational thinking in the West.

This morning I was reading on article on Inside entitled "12 Myths Every Catholic Should Be Able To Answer". The twelfth myth was reincarnation, and the refutation was absolutely pathetic. Anyone who does even the most simple of Google searches will find website after website of scientific investigation on life after death, and website after website of both anecdotal and more stringent scientific verification of past life experiences and information.

The author of the refutation of the reincarnation myth chose to focus on the story of Bridey Murphy, a story which was thoroughly debunked in the sixties. Much has changed and developed in this field since the sixties, not the least of which are sophisticated genealogical sites which can be used to verify past life information.

Reincarnation poses significant theological challenges, especially to notions of atonement theology and definitions of heaven and hell. Reincarnational explanations for the presence of evil in the world make more reasonable sense than resorting to the machinations of demons and an indifferent and vengeful God. They also threaten the theology of the ordained cleric as a necessary intermediary between man and God. The power of Catholic clericalism is fully vested in the notion of human life as a one time shot. Human life as a multiple life time spiritual learning experience doesn't carry the same fear based obedience as single shot Christianity feeds on.

For these and other reasons, I was shocked with how the notion of reincarnation was dealt with in this article. I strongly suspect that many Catholics find reincarnation a far more palatable belief system than the Church wants to admit.

Christianity and reincarnation don't have to be mutually exclusive. Clericalism and reincarnation may be a different story. After all, if we actually got what Christ taught about the spiritual aspects of humanity and how these are to be acted out, reincarnation would be a moot point. We'd be enlightened enough to have finished the temporal learning curve and on to bigger and better things.

On the other hand, I often wonder how many women who feel called to be priests are actually remembering in some way, a lifetime when they were a priest. Maybe there is something to that theological notion that one is a priest forever and carries an ontological mark on their soul.

More on this tomorrow, and some thoughts about mediums and people who have crossed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

TARP provides Christmas Cheer For Wall Street Execs

Wall Street Christmas tree. Connotes trickle down economics as it pertains to use of TARP money.

From the AP. 12/21/08

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services committee and a long-standing critic of executive largesse, said the bonuses tallied by the AP review amount to a bribe "to get them to do the jobs for which they are well paid in the first place.

"Most of us sign on to do jobs and we do them best we can," said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. "We're told that some of the most highly paid people in executive positions are different. They need extra money to be motivated!"

The AP compiled total compensation based on annual reports that the banks file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The 116 banks have so far received $188 billion in taxpayer help. Among the findings:

_The average paid to each of the banks' top executives was $2.6 million in salary, bonuses and benefits.

_Lloyd Blankfein, president and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, took home nearly $54 million in compensation last year. The company's top five executives received a total of $242 million.

This year, Goldman will forgo cash and stock bonuses for its seven top-paid executives. They will work for their base salaries of $600,000, the company said. Facing increasing concern by its own shareholders on executive payments, the company described its pay plan last spring as essential to retain and motivate executives "whose efforts and judgments are vital to our continued success, by setting their compensation at appropriate and competitive levels." Goldman spokesman Ed Canaday declined to comment beyond that written report. (The only operative word here is 'competitive'.

The New York-based company on Dec. 16 reported its first quarterly loss since it went public in 1999. It received $10 billion in taxpayer money on Oct. 28.

_Even where banks cut back on pay, some executives were left with seven- or eight-figure compensation that most people can only dream about. Richard D. Fairbank, the chairman of Capital One Financial Corp., took a $1 million hit in compensation after his company had a disappointing year, but still got $17 million in stock options. The McLean, Va.-based company received $3.56 billion in bailout money on Nov. 14.

_John A. Thain, chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch, topped all corporate bank bosses with $83 million in earnings last year. Thain, a former chief operating officer for Goldman Sachs, took the reins of the company in December 2007, avoiding the blame for a year in which Merrill lost $7.8 billion. Since he began work late in the year, he earned $57,692 in salary, a $15 million signing bonus and an additional $68 million in stock options. (This is 1.5 months salary for 8000 GM UAW employees, based on around 50.00hr which includes individual benefits, but not legacy hourly benefits of retired employees and their spouses. Add this to the 54 million given to the CEO of Goldman Sachs and we're talking about 13,000 GM employees.)

Like Goldman, Merrill got $10 billion from taxpayers on Oct. 28.
The AP review comes amid sharp questions about the banks' commitment to the goals of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), a law designed to buy bad mortgages and other troubled assets. Last month, the Bush administration changed the program's goals, instructing the Treasury Department to pump tax dollars directly into banks in a bid to prevent wholesale economic collapse.

The program set restrictions on some executive compensation for participating banks, but did not limit salaries and bonuses unless they had the effect of encouraging excessive risk to the institution. Banks were barred from giving golden parachutes to departing executives and deducting some executive pay for tax purposes.

Banks that got bailout funds also paid out millions for home security systems, private chauffeured cars, and club dues. Some banks even paid for financial advisers. Wells Fargo of San Francisco, which took $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money, gave its top executives up to $20,000 each to pay personal financial planners. (We're not talking health insurance here, we're talking 'personal financial planners'.)

At Bank of New York Mellon Corp., chief executive Robert P. Kelly's stipend for financial planning services came to $66,748, on top of his $975,000 salary and $7.5 million bonus. His car and driver cost $178,879. Kelly also received $846,000 in relocation expenses, including help selling his home in Pittsburgh and purchasing one in Manhattan, the company said. (We're not talking paid vacation here, we're talking personal chauffeurs and limos.)

Goldman Sachs' tab for leased cars and drivers ran as high as $233,000 per executive. The firm told its shareholders this year that financial counseling and chauffeurs are important in giving executives more time to focus on their jobs. (Paid vacations only allow one to focus more time on their families.)

JPMorgan Chase chairman James Dimon ran up a $211,182 private jet travel tab last year when his family lived in Chicago and he was commuting to New York. The company got $25 billion in bailout funds.

Banks cite security to justify personal use of company aircraft for some executives. But Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., questioned that rationale, saying executives visit many locations more vulnerable than the nation's security-conscious commercial air terminals. (There's that risky time though, between getting off the private jet and getting into the private limousine.)

Sherman, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, said pay excesses undermine development of good bank economic policies and promote an escalating pay spiral among competing financial institutions — something particularly hard to take when banks then ask for rescue money.

He wants them to come before Congress, like the automakers did, and spell out their spending plans for bailout funds. (But these financial institutions have no blue collar jobs with which Southern senators can beat them over the heads. Where's the fun in that?)

"The tougher we are on the executives that come to Washington, the fewer will come for a bailout," he said.


Merry Christmas Wall Street upper management. While you're enjoying your end of year bonuses remember the city of Detroit. Remember to Thank God for the UAW, who has been the whipping boy deflecting the heat from you, and also all those Southern Senators who deemed it equitable to compare the Big Three and their labor issues to the transplant Japanese companies in their own back yards.

They forgot to tell us those Japanese companies don't have a retired legacy work force which exceeds their current work force. In fact Japanese companies don't have hardly any retirees to speak of at all. They haven't been in the US long enough. No wonder they don't have to add $25 dollars an hour over the actual cost of a UAW hourly employee.

But this all worked to your advantage and we all kind of forgot about your executive bonuses which come at tax payer expense and really are gifts since they don't come with any accountability.

I bet your counterparts in the Big Three really do wish they weren't partnered with a blue collar union, because then they could have gotten the free hand out you did. Conservative politicians wouldn't have seen the need to teach them a lesson about letting their hourly employees run the asylum, and how the Japanese do it better.

All in all, it's a great Christmas for you guys. I'm sure you'll be toasted fondly in Detroit.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

When It Comes To Human Rights We Are All Connected

Iraqi execution victims: Were they gay, Christian, or maybe both?

The United States, along with the Vatican have refused to sign the UN Declaration calling for the worldwide end to the criminalization of homosexuality. In both cases their official statements called for an end to the practice of criminalizing homosexual acts, but both felt that the language used in the declaration was open to legal issues. Here is the US reasoning:

According to some of the declaration's backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.
Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States _ despite its unwillingness to sign _ condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation.

Here is the corresponding Vatican reasoning:

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Roman Catholic Church opposed the death penalty and other harsh repression of gays and lesbians, but he expressed concern that the declaration would be used as pressure against those who believe marriage rights should not be extended to gays.
A new Vatican statement, issued Thursday, endorsed the call to end criminal penalties against gays, but said that overall the declaration "gives rise to uncertainty in the law and challenges existing human norms."

Both the US and the Vatican seem to be saying, it's not right to kill or imprison gays for being gay, but we reserve our right to discriminate against gays for being gays. A sort of "We're better than you Islamic types because we don't criminalize gays and execute them, we just marginalize them and refuse to grant them equal status. We aren't going to sign any document which we think might threaten our legal notions of justice for gays."

And the Islamic response:

Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued a joint statement Thursday criticizing the initiative as an unwarranted attempt to give special prominence to gays and lesbians. The statement suggested that protecting sexual orientation could lead to "the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts" such as pedophilia and incest.

I guess a special class of sexual law which calls for the criminalization of GLBT behavior and their execution in some eight Islamic nations, isn't seen as giving gays 'special prominence'. Oh, and where have I heard the gay = pedophile argument? Then there is the slightly overlooked fact that by far the most incest and pedophilia happen in traditional heterosexual marriages. I wonder where the Islamic Conference got their arguments?

The US and the Vatican were the only Western nations which refused to sign this declaration. Why doesn't that surprise me. I bet it also doesn't surprise Tom Monaghan, Bill Donahue, Deal Hudson, Fr. Neuhas, George Weigel, or Fr. McCloskey.

Those men, who undoubtedly strongly approve of our refusal to sign this declaration, even though it meant aligning ourselves with the Islamic Conference, are also the same men who would think nothing of nuking the crap out of Iran for being a 'potential' threat to US interests.

In doing some research for this article, I looked at the current situation in Iraq, which I guess we invaded in order to spread our version of democracy. Here's what I found. Under Sadaam Hussein homosexuality was not a crime until 2001, but the active persecution of gays started shortly after Hussein's loss in the first gulf war. Insiders feel this was an attempt to appeal to the religious conservatives in both the Shiite and Sunni camps. At this time family honor killings were also recognized to be legal as they applied to gays and women suspected of adultery.

When Paul Bremer took over the management of Iraq after our invasion, he instituted that Iraqi law would revert to the 1969 penal code, and the civil code to it's 1972 edition. Bremer did not deal with the Iraqi religious courts of personal status. This was a major loop hole in which family honor killings still happen with impunity.

In the current Iraqi criminal code Paragraph 41 (1) creates a legal right of a husband to "punish" his wife as the law and custom dictate. In the same paragraph, (2), their is a legal right to commit acts of violence against persons who have committed a felony or a misdemeanor, if it is a part of a plan to apprehend them. There are numerous sections of the criminal code which could be used to justify the 'acts of violence against persons who have committed a felony or misdemeanor' which would give license to the beatings and killings of both gays and women in the 'effort to apprehend them'.

In 2005 Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa, published on the Arabic portion of his homepage, stating that homosexuality and lesbianism are both 'forbidden' and that they should be "Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing." The fatwa for males was removed in 2006, although not revoked, the fatwa against lesbians is still on the site.

Human rights observers in Iraq point to this message of Al-Sistani's as precipitating the spike in gay killings from Shiite militias from that point to the present. Why does this matter? Because gay rights, women's rights, and the rights of non Muslim religions are all at risk in Iraq, and all from the same source--the Iraqi religious courts of personal status. A fatwa against one group justifies fatwa against all infidels and heretics, and we've seen this play out in the recent organized attacks on Iraqi Christians.

In Iraq we have a solid case for the intersection of the human rights of gays, women and Iraqi Christians. Islamic Sharia law does not make much of a distinction. If I was an Iraqi Christian I would not be pleased that both the Vatican and the United States refused to sign off on this declaration on Gay rights. It sends a hell of a message about just where our commitment to human rights extends, and what our version of democracy really means.

Like in Iraq, apparently our commitment to human rights end where national law begins. Both the US and the Vatican have forfeited any right to complain about the human rights violations against Christians in 'democratic' Iraq. In this case 'protecting traditional marriage' gives the green light to Iraq's notion of who deserves full rights and who doesn't, and like gays, that does not include Christians.

When it comes to human rights, we are all connected. To think otherwise is not just sheer folly, it's immoral.

Friday, December 19, 2008

An Interview With A Pastor Who Actually Gets The Gospel

Bishop Kieran Conry, a progressive who also gets around well in Latin.

Here's part of an interview with Roman Catholic Bishop Kieran Conry of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton in the UK. In it he makes some stunning admissions, given that he's a diocesan bishop. I'm sure he will take a huge amount of flack from the right.

Could the Church be more radical? Talk about the serious questions - repentance, salvation?

"You can't talk to young people about salvation. What's salvation? What does salvation mean? My eternal soul? You can only talk to young people in young people's language, really. And if you're going to talk to them about salvation, the first thing they will understand is saving the planet. You're talking about being saved and they will say: 'What about saving the planet?'

"Doesn't Jesus talk in black and white terms, as if we might be in danger?

"Shoulder my yoke and learn from me," quotes the bishop, "for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light."

Doesn't he also say we should repent, beware of sin - a stark message?

"Not stark. According to where you look in the Gospel, and again if you go to Matthew 25, the final parable of Jesus, only in Matthew's Gospel - 'When I was hungry, you fed me ... naked and you clothed me ... you visited me in prison.' That would resonate much more with young people."

Does he think people should have a sense of personal sin?

"Yes [firmly]. And I think young people do." He gives an example: the helpers' reconciliation service on the diocesan Lourdes pilgrimage. It started at nine o'clock and the last young person left the chapel at 11.15.

Is it a good idea to go to Confession regularly?

"No, because my own experience when we had Confession every day at St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham was that regular penitents came back with exactly the same words week after week. So there you would say, actually, there is no conversion taking place."

What about the Four Last Things? Has the Church lost the vigour with which it used to talk about Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven?

"Again it would be inappropriate to say 'the Church has lost...' People have lost a sense of sin."

So the Church shouldn't bang on about sin?

"No, not necessarily. Because that won't necessarily re-instil ... and you don't know whether you want to face people with a primary experience of Church which is sin."

Was the Church morbidly obsessed with guilt and sin in the past?

"Might have been, but again I haven't got enough evidence."

Too much emphasis on sexual morality?

"It's sometimes distorted. For instance, we rarely talk about economic honesty, financial honesty, we rarely talk about greed and wastefulness. "

But to young people, boiling a kettle, wasting water, saving the planet, that's language they will understand. Then you can move on from there:

'Right, do you understand what saving means? Do you understand what good and bad is here?' And they'll say 'yes' and you can say: 'Right now, if you look at your own life...'

You don't hear the word "hell" mentioned that often in the average parish church, compared with in the New Testament.

"Why should you? How many times is hell mentioned in the New Testament? Do a word count."

I wanted to pin this down: has the traditional homily featuring fire and brimstone been abandoned for the reason that it puts people off?

"No, no, it's not because it puts people off. It's because the truth is that God loved the world so much that he sent his only son to die for us."

He was speaking from the heart, though he couldn't resist lapsing into Greek jargon:

"That is the basic kerygma of the Church. It has always been. It's not that you are a sinner, but that God loved the world so much, and you see that is the primitive Church's kerygma, its basic message. It's not about us, it's about God, and if we put the emphasis on ourselves we become heretical, we become Jansenists. I become the centre of the Church - an anthropocentric model of the Church, it's all about me and me being saved. It's not, it's a theocentric model of Church which is: God loved the world, this is God's action, stemming from God's love for us. It is not God's wish to condemn."

Is it possible that this image of God seems bland and boring to young people?

"No, I would disagree. Young people want to be loved. We all want to be loved."

Can they get that from other sources?

"They can, but how many do? They need to be told God loves them. They don't need to be told: 'You're heading for hell.' No. I would disagree profoundly with that view, profoundly, profoundly."

Time to move on to something else. It is 40 years since Humanae Vitae. It became acceptable, I suggested, for many otherwise loyal Catholics to routinely disobey a key teaching of the Church.

"Well, first of all, I would disagree that it's a key teaching. The key teachings of the Church are in the Creed. It's not a life issue."

To do with the transmission of life, then?

"It's to do with what family and married life means, being open to procreation. So it's not a life issue because then you tie it in with abortion. The two are completely different issues."

Does it matter if people disobey that teaching?

"In the great scheme of things I don't think it's high up the list. It became a very public issue which affected a significant number of people, not the majority of Catholics. The majority of Catholics are not in that position, where birth control is an issue. Look around on Sunday morning and see 'is birth control an issue for most people here?' No, it's not. But it became the place where the tug of war took place: it was to do with dissent and obedience. Can you be a Catholic and dissent?"

He thinks there should be greater emphasis on the virtues.

"Why do people never go back to the Beatitudes, 'blessed are the poor in spirit'? You know, are you poor in spirit? No. Does that bother you? No. Do you practise birth control? Does that bother you? Yes. We've got a very distorted view of what we think Christian morality is."

The Church has attempted to codify every detail of our behaviour hasn't it?

"Yes, but it rarely in tradition has attempted to codify charity, for instance. Again the basic commandment of God - love God, love your neighbour. That has been left largely unexplored."

Codify charity?

"You can't quantify love. The birth control issue becomes easy because it's measurable. You do it or you don't. But love: you do it or you don't do it, how can you measure that? We fight the easy battles but we ignore the bigger ones."

Was Humanae Vitae a mistake?

"I don't know. I don't know. But at the same time we've seen the disastrous effects of the devaluing of sexual relationships, to say they don't mean anything, which has had catastrophic effects on society, catastrophic effects on the value of women."

He disagrees with environmentalists who attack the Church's teaching on birth control.

"You get people like George Monbiot saying: 'If the Pope changes his position tomorrow, the world would be rid of the scourge of Aids.' He's talking nonsense. Because, first of all, what percentage of the developing world is Catholic? The biggest growth in population is among Islam, not among Catholics. The Church isn't encouraging people to have children, it's the culture. That's not why they're having large families, because the Church is teaching it."

But is the teaching itself wrong?

"It could be. It's not an infallible teaching. Clearly the basic Creed formula, what the Church teaches about the sacraments is infallible but there's only been one strictly infallible statement."

So in a sense it's a matter of opinion?

"Well, it's... It is. It's an expression, however, of something quite profoundly important about human sexuality and relationships. If you really love your fellow human being then you'll have profound respect for them and that has clearly disappeared from large sections of our contemporary society."


The more I read this interview the more I'm like "WOW", and Bishop Conry is not even retired, and at 57, not even close to retirement. Finally some sense and perspective in the sexual culture wars.

Speaking of sense and perspective in the sexual culture wars, it certainly seems Barack Obama has really stepped in the doodoo with his choice of Rick Warren to give the Inaugural Invocation.

It also seems as if Rick has stepped in the doodoo as he is getting blasted by prolife websites who consider him a new Benedict Arnold.

This choice seems to be a perfect example of how 'reasonableness' has left the room on the gay and abortion issues, and will not return. Although I am really disappointed and disturbed by this choice of Obama's, it points out the fact that all these years of rightwing rhetoric has served it's purpose--that of vehemently dividing this country along the lines of their chosen cultural values.

I had sincerely hoped that under Obama, their voices might be muted, but apparently Obama has some delusional belief that he and his buddy Rick can bring civility into situations in which civility is an unwelcome commodity.

Maybe Obama is relying on the insight of Cardinal Basil Hume who once said it was easier to deal with the Looney left rather than the Righteous right, because at least the Looney left were genuinely nice people. If he is, and thinks that the anger and disappointment he has given progressives with this choice of Pastor Warren will blow over, he's making a huge mistake. We weren't the ones who talked about hope and change as he ran for president. We're just the ones who believed in the message enough to help get the messenger elected.

This selection is not just a case of failure to deliver on hopes promised. It's a choice to give a very prominent national stage to a man who did his utmost to take away a hope California gays had been legally given. And Rick Warren did it in the name of Christ, with deceptive and decietful politics. I will pray and pray and pray that Rick Warren doesn't turn out to be the symbol of the Obama legacy.

In my book of spirituality Rick Warren is no different than Jeremiah Wright. Hate preached in the name of the Gospel is still hate. Perhaps Barack should ring up Bishop Conry and talk with someone who actually seems to get the Gospel.