Category Archives: Religion

Benedict Resignation a Ploy

People aren’t used to thinking of the Papacy as political but like most things people aren’t used to thinking this is truer than whatever they do think. The Papacy has been political practically since its inception, and this is one of the most political pontiffs we’ve had in recent generations, which is why the total lack of speculation about the real reason for his “retirement” is just one more sign that even our “best” journalists have become incurious and thus singularly inept. Their acceptance of an excuse so weak they’d see through it in a school board election without the consideration of a single subtler possible agenda.

Let’s face it, next to “I want to spend more time with my family” (which they might well have used if he had one), a resignation for “medical reasons” is one of the most popular political dodges of the decade. Could there be something more behind this move than “I’m getting to old to stand on balconies in the cold and wave?”
Yes, indeed there is and it’s not all that hard to figure out you can purge your brain of the automatic acceptance of anything a religious leader says on the supposition that a “holy” man would never, you know, lie.
Benedict is and always has been the kind of hard-core conservative Catholic who thinks Mussolini was misunderstood and anyway those Jews got what they deserved. During WWII he was happy to ignore “rumors” about gas ovens and exterminations and such and preferred to believe that all the Jews were being rounded up so the Germans could give them macrame lessons so they could learn how to support themselves making pot holders and plant hangers. As Cardinal Ratzinger he was the ultraconservative Curia’s enforcer. As Pope he has been relentless about punishing liberal clergy and even threatened to excommunicate whole countries. His weak-kneed praying for “the poor” never included any suggested actions that might actually have helped and never came close to so much as embarrassing those responsible for that poverty.
Beginning to see it? Ratzinger wants to make sure of his successor and the best way to do that is to resign and spent the intervening 3 weeks making sure the College of Cardinals know and will vote for his chosen successor. You want to know who the next Pope will be? He will be the most conservative cardinal in the bunch if Ratty has anything to say about it.
Which he wouldn’t have if he hadn’t decided to retire.
Ratty wants to try to control the succession to make sure no Pope is elected who might be considered liberal. Another John XXIII would be considered a disaster by Ratty and the wingnut Curia which might have to off him as they did John Paul I.
And so it goes.

Separated At Birth?

You wouldn’t think Iranian President Ahmadinejad and batshit-crazy wingnut blogger Pam “Atlas Juggs” Geller would have anything in common, would you? She hates his guts and he thinks she’s a lunatic. She wants him assassinated and he wants her eviscerated. But you’d be wrong. They’re both Holocaust Deniers. Which is weird because Geller is, like, Jewish.

You know, there is a sort of resemblabce here. They both look like they’ve been injecting way too much botox, Pammy in her forehead and Prez A in his nose. Co-incidence?

And oh yeah, as long as we’re discussing La Juggs, she thinks passing the healthcare “reform” bill on Xmas Eve is blasphemy!!!! (You have to imagine a deep bass voice through an echo chamber on that last word.) I might agree. I tend to suspect that Christ would NEVER want his name associated with a bill that shamelessly molests innocent people. (Via Norwegianity)

Max Blumenthal Interviews Fellow Jews on Gaza

Not much I can say about this except that as you watch you might want to remember that these are the people making our Middle East policy.

The Myth of Christmas

Reprinted from 12.24.06

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950’s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

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Rev Andrew Weaver: A Fighter for Justice to the End

In the world of the intertubes the word “friend” has taken on a whole new meaning. A friend can be someone you’ve never met, never even talked to except through the medium of the web, or never communicated with in any way except reading what they wrote every day, over time coming to feel as attached to them as to the people whose hands you held when they were sick or whose jokes made you groan over a beer at your local pub.

Is it as real? I don’t know but it sure seems that way. I never met Rev Andrew Weaver in person. We talked on the phone a couple of times and emailed each other regularly but I didn’t even know what he looked like. Yet when I called up Talk to Action the other day and discovered that he died over the weekend, I was as bereft as if I had lost the kind of friend who might have introduced me to my first Little Feat record or talked me out of getting serious about that girl who stole every penny from her last boyfriend and then burned down his house.

Andrew would have done either, maybe both, had the need arisen. Fortunately it didn’t. But we did have long talks about Bush, his library, and the nature of god, the universe and everything. I found it odd having the same kind of conversations with Andrew (I never called him Andy; one, well, wouldn’t – he wasn’t the “Andy” type, not to me) in our respective middle age that I used to have in my 20’s, those deep, theological and philosophical discussions about life and love that you never seem to have once the pressures of daily survival grip you with their claws.

Those things still mattered to Andrew, though. He displayed a passion for Large Questions that was somewhat surprising in its width and breadth for a man his age. We were both too old to be as didactic in our opinions as when we were younger and Andrew certainly had a leavening humor that helped keep my sometimes dour cynicism in check but there was no mistaking the deep conviction behind the calm demeanor and the sly jokes he used to maintain his passion for justice and humanity without diving into hatred or despair.

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Tess in the Modern World

At the end of the 19th century when Thomas Hardy was writing novels (Tess of the D’Urbervilles was published in 1891), the Industrial Revolution was already beginning to change milleniums of settled routine, impacting society and culture in ways no one had predicted. Most people were, as usual, slow to catch on but the artists of the turn into the 20th century were struck by the changes as if by a bolt of unwelcome lightning.

In the 18th century, the Age of Reason had already demoted Christianity and other primitive religions to the status of crackpot cults and deified the Mind. Now, with the Industrial Revolution disconnecting humanity from the ancient rhythms of rural life, there came a fervent response to the emotionless rationalists, a worship of “the natural” as opposed to the man-made. Led by Rousseau’s rather silly elevation of the “savage” into a primordial, essential human value, the Naturalists praised the artlessness and honesty of Nature untampered by human hands or social conventions. In its purity, they said, it is a reflection of God Himself and cannot be improved upon.

In retrospect they, too, were silly and terribly naive but they had hold of a genuine and important truth nevertheless – that, contrary to the teachings of Christianity as they’d been dogmatically defined for centuries, the human body was neither sinful nor “dirty” and shouldn’t be suppressed and strenuously restricted but rather loosed from its ludicrous theocratic bonds to be the joyous nexus of life that God had always meant it to be.

Naturally (pun intended) this included sex.

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The Bush Library (8): Opponents Fight Back

Last we heard from the Bush Library fight, the Methodist General Conference had just rejected the Bush plan for a library and propaganda center at Southern Methodist University, and the Bishops, kowtowing to pressure from the White House, had agreed to ignore that vote. The fight goes on, however. Rev Andrew Weaver & friends have just started a new website called What Would John Wesley Do? that is assembling the arguments and evidence for rejecting the Library/Propaganda Center as well as making the case for the legal necesssity of accepting the GC’s decision. One of its first additions is a scathing letter from Tex Semple, an SJC Delegate for 20 years.

On March 14, 2007, Southern Methodist University asked the Mission Council, a meeting of SCJ representatives, for permission to lease campus property to the Bush Foundation as the site for the President George W. Bush library, museum, and policy institute. 

In January 2008, following the Mission Council meeting, the SCJ College of Bishops interpreted the action of the Mission Council and gave the assurance, requested by the Bush Foundation, that the Mission Council had authority to approve the lease of the jurisdictional property on the SMU campus.

But the College of Bishops does not have this authority according to Paragraph 56, Article II.4 of the constitution of The United Methodist Church (p. 38).  In the 2004 Book of Discipline, it specifically states: “The Judicial Council shall have authority to hear and determine the legality of any action taken therein by any jurisdictional conference board or body, upon appeal by one-third of the members thereof in a Jurisdictional Conference.” 

By giving their interpretation, the SCJ College of Bishops not only preempted the authority of the Judicial Council but also set the stage for the lease signing and for closing the door to a Jurisdictional Conference vote.

(emphasis in the original)

Which was, of course, the whole point. The Bush forces would probably lose the SJC vote the same way they lost the GC vote, which went overwhelmingly against them, 844-20. Their solution is the usual Bush Solution: go around the will of the majority and use raw power to bring leaders more sympathetic to your position in line. The Bishops, like everybody else who comes in contact with the Bushes, knuckled under, violating their own laws and procedures. Mr Semple suggests they couldn’t have picked a worse subject to support.

The greater problem is the partisan multi-million dollar Bush Institute, which will be totally under the control of the Bush Presidential Foundation, not SMU.  While any viewpoints expressed by Institute Fellows will accordingly be identified with the Foundation, it nevertheless makes SMU the location and signifying marker of this partisan think tank.  Furthermore, the purpose of this Institute is to promote the politically partisan and ethically questionable ideas and policies of George W. Bush. 

The influence of neo-conservative and supply-side economic thought and policy has been dominant in the United States now for more than 35 years, and the Bush Administration the most disastrous example of it.  These politics and economics have contributed to a sharply growing inequality in income and wealth, a tax system that serves the rich, an increasing insecurity for middle class families, the flattening of wages for workers while their productivity increases, growing concentrations of power in corporate America and in the media, and the loss of regulation of corporate activity resulting in devastating disruptions of our national life, such as Enron and the sub-prime loan housing crisis.  This list names only a few of the problems with neoconservative politics and supply-side economics. 

Furthermore, commitment to a so-called “free market” without regard to the common good is a violation of Christian teaching.  Not to mention that commitment to a “free market” oblivious to concentrations of economic power is delusional fantasy when it is not a self-serving worldview committed to the interests of the few at the expense of the many.  What we have in neoconservative politics and supply side economics is what someone has called “feeding the horses so the birds can eat.”

(emphasis added)

 Mr Semple’s point isn’t that he doesn’t like trickle-down and thinks it doesn’t work. His point is that the very idea goes against Methodist teaching, a point I wish the hell somebody had brought up 30 years ago when Reagan sold it to a country not paying much attention to what he was saying. He goes on to quote the Methodist Book of Social Principles to show how Bush has been systematically ignoring them.

Even worse, Bush’s pre-emptive war against Iraq, the complicity of his administration in torture, and the serious disregard for human rights in the Bush administration campaign against terrorism raise even more sharply the question of why we would permit this institute on the SMU campus. The Social Principles state: “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ…” (165, C).  Is this not even more so when the war is pre-emptive?  The Social Principles further declare: “the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching” (164, A).  The complicity of the Bush administration in torture stands clearly in opposition to this teaching.  

Further, the Social Principles assert that “We strongly reject domestic surveillance” (164, A), yet this has become policy in the Bush administration.  I have not mentioned at least five other violations of The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles by the Bush Administration: environmental abuses (Par. 160), the health of children (162, C), the death penalty (164, G), social services and poverty (163, E), and freedom of information (164, D).

All in all, it is one of the most cohesive indictments of the Bush Administration’s disastrous policies that I’ve read in months, and the only one I think I’ve ever read that identifies his actions as anathema to specific religious teachings, something else I wish someone had done a long time ago because Mr Semple is quite right: the Bush/Cheney Administration has done so many things forbidden by any number of religions that they’re beyond the pale. Had anyone else done what they’ve done, Bill Clinton for instance, they would have been excommunicated.

Not Bush. Bush buys off the Bishops – or scares them, or manipulates them – and gets his Rove-run propaganda center on the campus of a college that used to pride itself on teaching Methodist principles. If the bishops have their way – by breaking their own Methodist law – they won’t be able to say that much longer.