Category Archives: Faith

Not-So-Conservative Judaism

Forming a survival strategy: Conservative Jews plan bold new steps to stem tide of secularism,” by Arlene Nisson Lassin, Houston Chronicle, 11 March 2005,

The “Conservative” branch of Judaism is facing obliteration

Dwindling congregations and increasing numbers of interfaith marriages are two issues Conservative rabbis plan to tackle following a four-day international gathering in Houston.

“With increased secularism on the part of Jews in this country, with diminishing support for Israel, and with the tough reality of diminishing demographics, it is more challenging than ever to hold our critical middle ground,” said Rabbi Alvin Berkun, vice president of The Rabbinical Assembly, a Conservative organization.

“In the American Jewish Committee Survey of 2002, 39 percent of Jews were in interfaith marriages,” Schorsch said. “Of that number, in the follow-up Phillips survey, they found of the … interfaith marriages with children, only 8 percent of the mixed families described themselves as Jewish. Twenty-four percent identified themselves as Christian, and 68 percent identified no religion.

How can this be, at a time when “mainline” faiths are fading and socially conservative ones, such as Mormonism, Catholocism, and Evangalical Christianity, are blooming?

Well, Conservative Judaism isn’t conservative, for one.

In other business, the rabbis reiterated support for stem cell research, the peace process in Israel and women’s reproductive rights. The issue of same-sex marriages was referred to a special Law Committee.

The massacre of the innocents is not a conservative ideal. It is not a Jewish one, either.

Canadians from Ontario and Quebec Attack Freedom of Religious Contract

Some Canadians oppose their nation’s heroic defense of the freedom of contract. DU provides a summary and Lynda Hurst’s original column from May

The government has no intention of stopping it.

Muslims can’t be excluded from Ontario’s 1991 Arbitration Act, which allows religious groups to resolve family disputes, says the attorney-general’s office. Hassidic Jews have been running their own Beit Din arbitrations based on Jewish law for years. Catholics, too, even Ismaili Muslims. Rulings are binding, but must be consistent with Canadian laws and the Charter of Rights.

“There are safeguards built into the act,” says Brendan Crawley, the attorney-general’s spokesperson, who has been fielding calls from the world’s press on the unprecedented decision.

“Participation must be voluntary by both parties and there is recourse if a decision doesn’t abide by Canadian law. They can appeal to the courts.”

Arjomand has heard all this and doesn’t buy a word of it.

Now head of the new International Campaign To Stop Sharia Courts in Canada, she and representatives from several concerned groups met last month with senior staff at the attorney-general’s office and with Sandra Pupatello, the minister responsible for women’s issues.

Arjomand told them flatly that under the guise of protecting religious freedom and multiculturalism — the fear, perhaps, of offending the Muslim community’s male leadership — they were about to let the rights of Canadian Muslim women be trampled on.

Most at risk are young immigrants, said Arjomand, who come from the Middle East or North Africa, where sharia is the law and has been used to subjugate them their entire lives. They know nothing different.

Now that sharia tribunals are to operate here, she says, many women will be socially and psychologically coerced into participating. To refuse would mean rejection by their families and the community — or worse.

Yup. The ICSSCC is calling for stripping Muslim women of rights because they may use those rights wrongly.

A DU poster sums up this anti-freedom attitude

Basically it’s to be used in community and family law issues and it’s suppsosed to be voluntary and abide by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Personally I think it’s bullshit and shouldn’t be allowed. People are fighting this tooth and nail.

Good for Quebec!

Perfectly sensible, if you believe half of all Muslims are perpetual minors who can never form consent.

Religious Freedom in East Arabia – or – The Saudis are Jerks

Saud Shiites, Long Kept Down, Look to Iraq and Assert Rights,” by Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times,, 2 March 2005 (from Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog).

A post about religious persecution in Wahabi-occupied East Arabia and the “pagan” nature of Shia Islam.

The images are from various websites, dealing mainly with the three generations of martyrs: Ali, Hussein, and Hussein’s infant son.

The Shiite Muslim minority in this kingdom once marked their Ashura holy day furtively in darkened, illegal community centers out of fear of stirring the powerful wrath of the religious establishment.

But this year Ashura fell on the eve of the 10-day campaign for municipal council elections, to be held here on Thursday, and a bolder mood was readily apparent. Thousands thronged sprawling, sandy lots for hours to watch warriors on horseback re-enact the battlefield decapitation of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, in 680.

A few young men even dared perform a gory, controversial ritual no one can remember seeing here in public – beating their scalps with swords until they drew blood to mirror Hussein’s suffering.

“Maybe now, after all that has happened in Iraq, we will take something political from the story of Hussein,” Mr. Ibrahim added, echoing a common sentiment. “Now the issue will take another route, because Shiites have started the growth of their political culture.”

Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment, which is dominated by the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, still damns such rites as pagan orgies. But the fact that Shiites, at least in this city, their main center, no longer feel the need to hide reflects a combination of important changes here and elsewhere in the Middle East.

But the little that has changed outside Qatif raises questions in the community about the government’s commitment to tolerance. Ashura celebrations are banned in Dammam, a neighboring city of some 600,000, including 150,000 Shiites.

There is only one officially sanctioned Shiite mosque there, and no functioning Shiite cemetery. The distinctive Shiite call to prayer is banned, and even the small clay pucks that Shiites are supposed to rest their foreheads on during prayer are outlawed.


Saudi textbooks contain passages that describe Shiite beliefs as outside Islam – the original split emerging because Shiites supported the claim of Muhammad’s heirs to control the faith. Wahhabis believe that Shiite veneration of the Prophet’s family, including worshipping at tombs in the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf, incorporates all manner of sins, including polytheism.

Such practices prompt some to revile Shiites as a lower order of infidel than even Christians or Jews.

Now, some might note the suspiciously Catholic nature of the iconography, passion plays, and holy family-veneration. Some might observe there is no strong evidence of these celebrations before the 16th century. Others might opine that the early 16th century saw a large influx of Spanish Jews into the Muslims lands, and that many of these had been employed in traveling passion play companies. But heh, if fellow “Christians” can call Catholic-rites pagan, I’ll give the House of Saud a pass.

But anyway…

Wahabist Arabia is not our friend. It is a retrograde nightmare whose people attack us and whose “virtue police” attack their fellow subjects. The least we can do after liberating the Iraqi Shia is to encourage the self-liberation of the Shia of East Arabia.

A Life Worth Living

‘Precious’ Suffering,” by Christopher Dickey and Rod Nordland, Newsweek,, 28 February 2005 (from The Corner).

Of all Catholic orders, none has done more good than the Society of Jesus. Therefore, to find a Jesuit agreeing with me on this sensitive topic is wonderful

Indeed, as the pope’s weakness becomes more pronounced, critics wonder if the Vatican’s bureaucrats will be doing his bidding, or making up their own policies in their own interests. After all, if John Paul dies or resigns, their own power in the church hierarchy is likely to evaporate. Hence the suspicion with which some theologians view the new doctrines about sustaining terminal patients through extraordinary means. “The right-to-life types want to renounce brain death and keep everyone going forever,” says John Paris, a Jesuit theologian at Boston College who has been writing about end-of-life issues for 30 years. “It seems that Lenin’s mausoleum will be the model for the future. The entire enterprise is mischief-making at the Vatican.”

Not every future is worth creating. Not every life is worth living. While certainly most of history, and most of the Gap today, is biased in the other direction, as society progresses it is important that dedication to the Gospel of Life does not make us lose sight of this fact.

The Blogger Crusade

The Rapid Development,” by Ioannes Paulus II, Libreria Editrice Vaticana,, 24 January 2005.

Dated to coincide with the Feast of the Patron Saint of Journalists, the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter on the Media clearly references the power of New Media (and connectivity to boot!)

The rapid development of technology in the area of the media is surely one of the signs of progress in today’s society. In view of these innovations in continuous evolution, the words found in the Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Inter Mirifica, promulgated by my venerable predecessor, the servant of God Paul VI, December 4, 1963, appear even more pertinent: “Man’s genius has with God’s help produced marvelous technical inventions from creation, especially in our times. The Church, our mother, is particularly interested in those which directly touch man’s spirit and which have opened up new avenues of easy communication of all kinds of news, of ideas and orientations

Many challenges face the new evangelization in a world rich with communicative potential like our own. Because of this, I wanted to underline in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio that the first Areopagus of modern times is the world of communications, which is capable of unifying humanity and transforming it into – as it is commonly referred to – “a global village”. The communications media have acquired such importance as to be the principal means of guidance and inspiration for many people in their personal, familial, and social behavior. We are dealing with a complex problem, because the culture itself, prescinding from its content, arises from the very existence of new ways to communicate with hitherto unknown techniques and vocabulary.

The great challenge of our time for believers and for all people of good will is that of maintaining truthful and free communication which will help consolidate integral progress in the world. Everyone should know how to foster an attentive discernment and constant vigilance, developing a healthy critical capacity regarding the persuasive force of the communications media.

Also in this field, believers in Christ know that they can count upon the help of the Holy Spirit. Such help is all the more necessary when one considers how greatly the obstacles intrinsic to communication can be increased by ideologies, by the desire for profit or for power, and by rivalries and conflicts between individuals and groups, and also because of human weakness and social troubles. The modern technologies increase to a remarkable extent the speed, quantity and accessibility of communication, but they above all do not favor that delicate exchange which takes place between mind and mind, between heart and heart, and which should characterize any communication at the service of solidarity and love.

The apostle Paul has a clear message for those engaged in communications (politicians, professional communicators, spectators), “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another… No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (Eph 4: 25, 29).

Until Christ’s bodily return, human causes will have human leaders. We are lucky that Christ’s Vicar is here to guide us spiritually and remind us of truths. He also reminds us how technologies can be used to promote justice and a more Christian world. The letter emphasizes that communication tools are real tools for the Faith. It is right and question to consider their use seriously.

Given that, which of the following does not promote justice but instead spews foul language ungracefully

  1. Bloggers discover a major news anchor used false documents to tar a sitting President
  2. Bloggers discover a major news executive claimed U.S. troops targeted journalists, but then refused to support his claims
  3. Bloggers discover a minor news reporter is homosexual

The Holy Father’s closing words:

To those working in communication, especially to believers involved in this important field of society, I extend the invitation which, from the beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the Universal Church, I have wished to express to the entire world “Do not be afraid!”

Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank “among the marvelous things” – inter mirifica – which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom.

Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world! Jesus has assured us, “I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33)

Do not be afraid even of your own weakness and inadequacy! The Divine Master has said, “I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). Communicate the message of Christ’s hope, grace and love, keeping always alive, in this passing world, the eternal perspective of heaven, a perspective which no communications medium can ever directly communicate, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor 2:9).

To Mary, who gave us the Word of life, and who kept his unchanging words in her heart, do I entrust the journey of the Church in today’s world. May the Blessed Virgin help us to communicate by every means the beauty and joy of life in Christ our Savior.

To all I give my Apostolic Blessing!

Disgust /n/ Intense Dislike

Sister Hillary,” by “Lexington,” The Economist,, 27 January 2005.

The Party of Carter, America’s first evangelical President, is rediscovering religion

George Bush is not the only American politician with a penchant for “God-drenched” rhetoric (to borrow a phrase from Peggy Noonan, chief speechwriter for Ronald Reagan). Last week the lioness of liberalism herself, Hillary Clinton, engaged in a bit of God-drenching of her own at a fundraiser organised by the Reverend Eugene Rivers, a leading campaigner against teenage violence. She lavished praise on faith-based organisations, repeatedly invoked God’s name and declared “I’ve always been a praying person.”

Mrs Clinton’s speech was part of a growing debate on the left about how to close the God gap. Democrats want to change the focus of religious debate from abortion and gay marriage to, say, war and poverty. Jim Wallis, who has the rare distinction of being both an evangelical preacher and a Kerry voter, points out that the Bible has 3,000 references to alleviating poverty.

Democrats are also talking about softening their image on divisive cultural issues, particularly abortion. Howard Dean urged his party to embrace pro-life Democrats. Tim Ryan, a Democratic congressman from Ohio, pointed out that his party has paid a heavy price in the heartland for its inflexibly liberal position on partial-birth abortion and parental notification. And the hyperactive Hillary told a throng of pro-choice activists not only that abortion represents “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women” but also that “religious and moral values” are the primary reason why teenage girls abstain from early sexual activity.

Lexington proceeds to describe Democratic hopes of a religious left movement, until savaging the thought

All this sounds plausible until you take a look at today’s religious left. To begin with, it is split by race. The black churches (such as the one that Mr Rivers runs) are vigorous enough, but their impact is necessarily limited. The white churches include all the mainstream denominations, but they suffer from what might be called a European problem: they are haemorrhaging members and are run by an unrepresentative elite that is far to the left of the people in the pews.

Far-Left Christians are threatening to take the Democratic Party further into the wilderness

The Democrats are also deeply divided about what winning the religious vote means. Does it mean moving to the left? Many religious Democrats claim Jesus was a socialist pacifist. Or to the right? Some New Democrats want to recapture “conservatives of the heart”. Or staying where they are, but sugaring their policies with a few spoonfuls of Christianity?

All that in the context of fundementalists disgusting secular Leftist Democrats

The biggest problem for the Democrats is that many of their hard-core supporters would rather lose another election than court the religious vote. Mr Wallis worries about Democrats being depicted as secular fundamentalists, but that is not far off the truth. The number of people who deny any religious identification has doubled from 14.3m in 1990 to 29.4m in 2001—and many of them will do anything to stop the Democrats from drenching themselves with God. No pro-lifer has been allowed near a Democratic podium for years. Will People for the American Way allow the Democrats to let religion flourish in the public square? Will feminists allow them to compromise on abortion? Will the Hollywood crowd allow them to crack down on obscenity? Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio, two academics, point out that in 1996 and 2000 one in three white Democratic voters “intensely disliked” Christian fundamentalists.

Too bad. We need two good parties. Not a responsible party and a kamikaze party.

Saint Paul on Barnett

The Weak and the Strong,” by Saint Paul, Letter to the Romans,, circa Anno Domini L.

Describing the works of The Apostle as part of the epistleosphere may be a stretch, but surmising his probable views on The Pentagon’s New Map is not.

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ ”So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Paul was concerned about rule sets, not rules. He was concerned about direction, not speed. He worked for a future worth creating.

Throughout his writings, Paul stressed that rules were important but not important in themselves. He saw no cosmic importance in the drinking of wine or eating of meat or day of worship. However, these cosmically irrelevant rules have the most effect on indivduals. Whether or not to eat a McRib or to rest Sunday morning are the dillemas that make up the day. Paul saw through the situation. What is celestially important are not distinct rules but the sort of actions an individual’s internalized rule set produces. In the same way, it does not matter whether or not invested banks generate “interest” or “dividends” (Islamic banking). What matter are the actions enabled by the socialized rules. If the actions are peaceful and build connectivity, they are good. Else they impede peace and joy.

Paul had to recognize a danger caused by overly strict rules. Condemnation among Christians concerned Paul, because it was self destructive. Still, Paul’s criticisms of Judaizers is very muted. Paul splits people into the “strong” and the “weak.” Barnett prefers the “fast” and the “slow.” But it’s the same grouping. What matters is not strength or speed but direction.

Paul new what sort of future he wanted to create. Paul Who Was Saul wanted a righteous world that one would want to be in. He wanted a world of peace free from revolt and tyranny and terrorism that one would be safe in. He wanted a world of joy one would be happy to be in. None of these conditions are met by the Gap. More than ever in history, all of them are met by the Functioning Core.

Today in the Gap, when there are horrible democides we debate: “how much is a genocide is it, really?” While in the Core, we are justifiably sad when some people are to anxious of nothing to work.

Every person is part of Christ’s body. That person is better and more tenderly cared for in the Core than in the Gap.

Shroud of Turin

Shroud of Turin: Old as Jesus?,” New York Times,, 27 January 2005.

Without comment

The Shroud of Turin is much older than the medieval date that modern science has affixed to it and could be old enough to have been the burial wrapping of Jesus, a new analysis concludes.

Since 1988, most scientists have confidently concluded that it was the work of a medieval artist, because carbon dating had placed the production of the fabric between 1260 and 1390.

In an article this month in the journal Thermochimica Acta, Dr. Raymond N. Rogers, a chemist retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory, said the carbon dating test was valid but that the piece tested was about the size of a postage stamp and came from a portion that had been patched.

“We’re darned sure that part of the cloth was not original Shroud of Turin cloth,” he said, adding that threads from the main part of the shroud were pure linen, which is spun from flax.

The threads in the patched portion contained cotton as well and had been dyed to match.

From other tests, he estimated that the shroud was between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

Anti-Arab Violence

Major Fighting in Ramadi, Mosul, Kut: Son of Sistani Aide Killed, al-Khafaji Targeted,” by Juan Cole, Informed Consent,

Al-Abbudi: Sistani Endorses the United Iraqi Alliance,” by Juan Cole, Informed Consent,, 17 January 2005.

Archbishop abducted in Iraq,” BBC News,, 17 January 2005.

The actions of our enemies over the last few weeks have been brutal, calculating, and instructive

They killed the son of an aid to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Ali al-Khatib, son of Sheikh Habib al-Khatib (the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Wasit) was shot down in an internet cafe in Naaman on Sunday. His father had survived an assassination attempt two months ago.

They attacked an associate of Muqtada al-Sadr

Al-Zaman reports that the nephew of Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr of Kadhimayn was wounded and one of his chiefs of security–Jasim Muhammad al-Saadi– was killed on Saturday. Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr is the uncle of Muqtada al-Sadr but is pro-American and relatively liberal, unlike the populist, radical Muqtada. Hussein al-Sadr is supporting the list of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and his bodyguards and nephew were out putting up posters for his “Iraqiyyah” slate (Allawi’s party was the Iraqi National Accord, but not all the Iraqiyyah candidates are INA). Then they were attacked.

They abducted a Syrian Catholic Archbishop

A Catholic archbishop in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has been kidnapped by insurgents, the Vatican says.

Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, 66, was abducted from outside his church in the east of the city.

Our enemies of not honorable. They are neither soldiers nor warriors. The Salafists-Ba’athists are using the clan structures of the Sunni Arab minority to fight a tribal war. The civil war in Iraq is a terrorist tribal war.

Why have we disarmed ourselves?

They attack male relatives of Iraqi leaders. They abduct peaceful religious leaders. Why do we not respond in kind? Why do we not immediately arrest for the duration of the tribal unrest all male relatives of every known or suspected Sunni Arab insurgent? Why do we allow friendly religious leaders to be kidnapped, but suffer enemy mosques to exist? Why not give every Sunni mosque seized to Shia leaders, for them to oversee as they wish?

Evangelical Lutherans

Lutherans Release Report on Homosexuality,” by Pauline J. Chang, Christian Post,, 13 January 2005 (from Democratic Underground).

(Insert the stereotypical “The best decision made by a Lutheran since not swallowing the diet of worms” joke)

The Studies on Sexuality Task Force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) released its long-awaited report on the contentious issue of homosexual ordinations and the blessing of homosexual unions on Thursday, January 13, 2004. The report, which took nearly four years to draft, addressed the two questions that have been causing greater rifts within the conservative and liberal factions within the 5-million member denomination: Should homosexuals be ordained and should same-sex unions be blessed in the church?

In regards to the two questions, the task force recommended the church maintain its current stance and refrain from ordaining homosexuals and blessing their unions.

Specifically, it recommended the church “continue to respect the pastoral guidance of the 1993 statement of the Conference of Bishops regarding the blessing of homosexual relationships” and “continue under the standards regarding sexual conduct for rostered leaders as set forth in “Visions and Expectations” and “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline.”

The 1993 statement of the Conference of Bishops states that clergy should not bless homosexual unions within the church since there is a “basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship.” It also said it did “not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry.”

For those without German or Swedish relations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is not “evangelical” in the current sense of the word. It is a mainline protestant denomination which has been declining in numbers and influence for years, like the rest of the mainliners.

Upholding the 1993 statement is a victory for two reasons. First, it obviously blunts the homosexualist advance. While accept homosexual unions would help undermine ELCA’s reach, a rejection of the 1993 statement nonetheless would help to normalize them.

Second, it gives hope to those who wish to see the ELCA eventually welcomed back into a Catholic communion. The statement uses the phrase “neither in Scripture of tradition.” The sin qua non of Lutheranism has always been sola scriptura. Not only a statement, but a reaffirmation, that puts scripture on the same level as [T]radition is great news (now to get them both Capitalized…)