September 17, 2014

They were never Arabs to begin with

Israeli Christians' New Nationality: Aramaean, not Arab

Interior Minister Gideon Saar has instructed the Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) to allow the registration of a new nationality – Aramaean – in the identity cards of Christian citizens who were registered as Arabs until now.
--
Saar's decision applies to most of the Christians currently living in Israel, or about 130,000 out of a total of 160,000. They applied as a group to the Interior Ministry in 2010 and will now finally be allowed to register as Aramaeans.
--
The decision “corrects a historic injustice that wrongly defined Israel's citizens of eastern-Christian descent as 'Christian Arabs,' although other than their spoken language, they have absolutely no connection to the Arab nationality,” he wrote.

In an emotional letter to Saar, Nadaf thanked him for Israeli society's “pluralism and its openness to absorbing religious and ethnic minorities out of love and acceptance, without any discrimination, according to the principles of democracy, individual freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of worship.”

Father Nadaf said that the Christians wish to become “an inseparable part” of Israeli society make their voices heard “in the social, economic, academic and political sphere in the state of Israel.”

“This is the first time that a Middle Eatern state recognizes the Aramaean-Christian minority as a legitimate nationality and acts to preserve it, the teaching of its language and its absorption in society,” he wrote.

"In contrast with the region's countries, in which Christians and other minorities are systematically murdered, churches are destroyed and people are forced to hide their identities just because they are defined as Christians – while with every decade that the world progresses, the Arab countries go a decade backward – the state of Israel has made a giant lead forward.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:33 AM | Permalink

August 25, 2014

Spiritual but not religious is not enough

David Mills has a word for People Who Find God in Sunsets

It’s too vague, too hazy, too . . . pointless. It advertises itself as a steak when it’s really made of cotton candy, and sugar-free cotton candy to boot. It says “I’m a serious, grown-up faith,” but it’s not.

A serious, grown-up faith tells us “Thus says the Lord,” or at least “Thus says the universe.” It deals with the problem that we don’t seem to fit in this world very well. It calls us to some ideal we’re not reaching. It offers us a hope that our life and our world will be better. It gives us things to do to be better.

Buddhism, the religion closest to “spiritual but not religious,” is a serious, grown-up faith. It demands something of you. It’s hard work, being a serious Buddhist. Buddhist monks don’t stare at sunsets while drinking wine on the porch.

A serious religion is solid. You may think it completely wrong, but you can see it clearly and decide what you think about it. You can take its measure. This kind of “spirituality,” there’s just nothing there to see. It can be anything and nothing.
----
That a beautiful sunset makes you feel good about everything doesn’t help you when you really need help. The sunset’s still beautiful when your wife has cancer, you’ve lost your job, and you have to be out of your home in a month, but so what? The same nature that produced the sunset is producing the cancer cells threatening to kill your wife.

The man wasting away from pancreatic cancer will, as I’ve written elsewhere, get no help nor comfort from the “spiritual,” which will abandon him when he feels pain morphine won’t suppress. He has no one to beg for help, no one to ask for comfort, no one to be with him, no one to meet when he crosses from this world to the next. He wants what religion promises.

He links to Lillian Daniel, author of When 'Spiritual But Not Religious' is Not Enough who writes

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink

August 21, 2014

"Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here"

Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims.  Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles.  You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values.  If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.

Archbishop Amel Nona, Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil  source

In the NYT, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress writes Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?

WHY is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa? In Europe and in the United States, we have witnessed demonstrations over the tragic deaths of Palestinians who have been used as human shields by Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza. The United Nations has held inquiries and focuses its anger on Israel for defending itself against that same terrorist organization. But the barbarous slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Christians is met with relative indifference.

The Middle East and parts of central Africa are losing entire Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries. The terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed hundreds of Christians this year — ravaging the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, two weeks ago. Half a million Christian Arabs have been driven out of Syria during the three-plus years of civil war there. Christians have been persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan.

---
Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings. Few reporters have traveled to Iraq to bear witness to the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across that country. The United Nations has been mostly mum. World leaders seem to be consumed with other matters in this strange summer of 2014. There are no flotillas traveling to Syria or Iraq. And the beautiful celebrities and aging rock stars — why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?
---
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not a loose coalition of jihadist groups, but a real military force that has managed to take over much of Iraq with a successful business model that rivals its coldblooded spearhead of death. It uses money from banks and gold shops it has captured, along with control of oil resources and old-fashioned extortion, to finance its killing machine, making it perhaps the wealthiest Islamist terrorist group in the world. But where it truly excels is in its carnage, rivaling the death orgies of the Middle Ages. It has ruthlessly targeted Shiites, Kurds and Christians.

“They actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick” a Chaldean-American businessman named Mark Arabo told CNN, describing a scene in a Mosul park. “More children are getting beheaded, mothers are getting raped and killed, and fathers are being hung.”

This week, 200,000 Aramaeans fled their ancestral homeland around Nineveh, having already escaped Mosul.

The general indifference to ISIS, with its mass executions of Christians and its deadly preoccupation with Israel, isn’t just wrong; it’s obscene…..

The Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent. This campaign of death must be stopped.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:53 PM | Permalink

July 20, 2014

ISIS to Christians in Mosul: 24 hours to leave or be beheaded

The "final solution" underway in Iraq for all Christians and few care.

Christian Holocaust Underway in Iraq.  USA and World Look Away  by Sebastian Gorka

When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, there were at least 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Over the last ten years, significantly in the last few months with the emergence of ISIS, that figure has dropped to about 400,000.

One of the world’s leading experts on asymmetric warfare, Dr. Sebastian Gorka, “in the last 48 hours, ISIS, which is now called the Islamic State in Mosul, has painted the letter “N” for Nazarene on the houses of all the surviving Christians in the city. ISIS has basically given an ultimatum to all the Christians left: You can either flee or convert to Islam, or we will kill you.”

Gorka points out that, over the last 20 years, America has stood up around the world to save Muslims. “Whether it was to save the Muslims in Bosnia or the Albanians, Kosovars, and Muslims in Serbia, it is now time for a humanitarian operation to save the remaining Christians in Iraq,” he said. “It is time for the American people and our representatives to do something for our co-religionists remaining in the Middle East.”

Marlow observed that the blatant religious cleansing is horrifying and asked Gorka: “Why is it that the mainstream press is not interested in the story?” Gorka first responded by saying "Let's face it, this is a Christian version of the Holocaust and nothing less.” ….. the media is “post-modernist, sophisticated, and secularist. So when it comes to the idea of religious persecution, they say, ‘Well who really cares because I don’t believe in God. If you are not sophisticated enough to be a post-modernist secularist… tough on you!


Christians Given Ultimatum in Mosul: Convert, Leave or Die

Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop of Baghdad has confirmed a troubling report from Mosul that the Islamic State is now presenting Christians in that city with a final ultimatum of conversion, subservience or death.

Christians have until  tomorrow (Saturday, July 19)  to leave, or face execution.  "In the last hours, the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have forced the few remaining Christians in Iraq's second city to leave their homes. Desperate, Christians immediately fled but were stopped at checkpoints by militias who have looted cars and all their belongings and then summoned them to continue on foot. Most of the families are headed to the North, in the city of Dahuk."
---
It may be the end game Christians have feared for some time, especially since ISIS took over Mosul in early June. Since then, things have gotten progressively worse for Christians. The Associated Press has also reported that the Islamic State has begun seizing the houses of Christian and Shiite families who fled Mosul and giving some of them to Sunni families uprooted from areas like Tikrit and Diyala. "They mark these houses with signs reading Islamic State Properties,"

As Christians are massacred in Iraq, laid-back Obama maintains his shameful silence notes Damian Thompson.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians pour out of Mosul after ISIS jihadis give them deadline to convert, pay or face death

Thousands of Iraqi Christians today poured out of Mosul after ISIS jihadis gave them an ultimatum - convert, pay or face death.
The Islamic State terror group declared that Christians must either convert to Islam, pay a special tax or leave the city, around 250 miles north-west of Baghdad.
If they did not do so by noon (9am GMT) today, there would be 'nothing for them but the sword', it said.
---
Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako, who heads Iraq's largest Christian community, said the terrifying ultimatum had been relayed by mosques in ISIS-controlled Mosul.
He told AFP: 'Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Arbil [in Kurdistan]. For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.'

News from Ninevah by David Warren

It would seem that, this morning, for the first time in more than eighteen centuries, there are no Christians in Mosul, Iraq….

By tradition, the tombs of several Old Testament patriarchs and prophets are to be found within the large area now under Mosul’s modern urban sprawl. (It is the largest city in Iraq, except Baghdad.) This includes the shrine associated with the tomb of Jonah, itself of extraordinary antiquity, which was torched and demolished earlier in the week. All physical evidence that Christians ever lived in Mosul will soon be erased, if it has not been erased already. (Shia Islamic shrines have also been demolished by the Sunni jihadis; and I gather that the museum, one of several sites around Mosul under nominal protection of UNESCO as “world heritage,” has also been trashed by these iconoclasts.)
--
The “final solution” for Mosul’s Christians was blared from loudspeakers in the minarets of the city’s Sunni mosques after Friday prayers. They would have twenty-four hours to flee, taking nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Those found still in the city, after noon yesterday, would be put to the sword. A third option, conversion to Islam, was mentioned only for the record. Any intending to do that would surely have done it by now. The possessions of all Christians had been “nationalized,” according to the announcement — everything they owned now belonged to the Islamic Caliphate of Iraq and the Levant.
--
The Christians have fled, by necessity many on foot under the killing sun of the Mesopotamian summer, mostly towards Kurdistan: the one part of northern Iraq the jihadis have not yet attempted to subjugate. That is also where Western refugee aid is most likely to be available. At this point, we cannot guess how many will make it alive. Certainly the number of dead will vastly exceed those tallied in the airliner that was shot down in eastern Ukraine — the story now at the top of Western media headlines, for the plane was full of Europeans.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:47 PM | Permalink

The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War

The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War

Atheists and secular humanists consistently make the claim that religion is the #1 cause of violence and war throughout the history of mankind. One of atheism's key cheerleaders, Sam Harris, says in his book The End of Faith that faith and religion are “the most prolific source of violence in our history.”1
--
An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature  which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%.

 Wars-Pie-Chart

The truth is, non-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind’s wars. Lives lost during religious conflict pales in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God – something showcased in R. J. Rummel’s work Lethal Politics and Death by Government:

Non-Religious Dictator Lives Lost
  • Joseph Stalin - 42,672,000
  • Mao Zedong - 37,828,000
  • Adolf Hitler - 20,946,000
  • Chiang Kai-shek - 10,214,000
  • Vladimir Lenin - 4,017,000
  • Hideki Tojo - 3,990,000
  • Pol Pot - 2,397,0003
Rummel says: “Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of a myriad of ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people. It is though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power, not germs.”

The historical evidence is quite clear: Religion is not the #1 cause of war.  via Tea at Trianon

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:22 PM | Permalink

July 18, 2014

Good and bad marriages

From Science Daily, Marriage and healthy hearts: Correlation between unhappy marital interactions, cardiovascular disease risk

The affairs of the heart may actually affect the affairs of the heart in ways previously not understood.”Growing evidence suggests that the quality and patterns of one’s social relationships may be linked with a variety of health outcomes, including heart disease,” says Thomas Kamarck, professor of psychology and Biological and Health Program Chair in the University of Pittsburgh Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

He is an author of a new study that correlates unhappy marital interaction with thicker carotid arteries and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. “The contribution of this study is in showing that these sorts of links may be observed even during the earliest stages of plaque development [in the carotid artery],” Kamarck continues, “and that these observations may be rooted not just in the way that we evaluate our relationships in general but in the quality of specific social interactions with our partners as they unfold during our daily lives.” Nataria Joseph, who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship under Kamarck, is the lead author of the paper, published this month in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Given the size of the effect in the study and the relationship between carotid artery plaque and disease, Joseph’s findings, made at Pitt, indicate that those with marital interactions light on the positive may have an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering heart attack or stroke than those with a surfeit of good feelings. 

Dr Greg comments in   Can A Bad Marriage Kill You? Study Says, “Yes, and A Good Marriage May Heal.”

More and more, research is showing that the quality of our relationships has tremendous impact on our physical and emotional health.  I think this is another area where there is increasing agreement between psychology and theology.  For instance, Dr. Dan Siegel– a founder of the developing field of Interpersonal Neurobiology which looks at how relationships affect health and neurological functioning–argues that it is foolish to think of an individual as apart from his relationships.

He argues that, in a sense, there is a flow of energy within the relationships between people that interacts with and impacts the functioning of the mind and body of each individual in the relationship on an atomic level.  The effects of this interaction can be observed–if not the process itself–in the way different relational and environmental states have been shown to impact gene expression and the development of new neural connections throughout the brain and nervous system.  When I read his work, I am often reminded of Pope St. John Paul the Great’s argument in his Theology of the Body that just as the Trinity is a communion of three distinct but united persons, the human beings made in the image and likeness of that Communion are also, at their most basic level, best understood to be inseparable from the communion of persons in which they participate. The Takeaway I realize that’s all rather thick language and if I lost you, it doesn’t really matter because the larger point is still clear enough.  Namely, that the well-being of each human person is intimately tied to the quality of his or her relationship with others and that is exactly as God intended it to be. The takeaway is that taking care of your relationships may be just as important as diet and exercise for longevity and health.   Even if you don’t feel like working on your marriage for the sake of your partner, for instance, you may want to work on it out of a commitment to your own well-being because avoiding the work isn’t punishing your partner as much as it may be punishing yourself. If you fail to do the work that your intimate relationships require, you may literally be breaking your own heart.

As Charles Murray said in Advice for a Happy Life

A good marriage is the best thing that can ever happen to you. Above all else, realize that this cliché is true. The downside risks of marrying—and they are real—are nothing compared with what you will gain from a good one.

Consider Marrying Young.  You've got to wait until the right person comes along. I'm just pointing out that you shouldn't exclude the possibility. If you wait until your 30s, your marriage is likely to be a merger. If you get married in your 20s, it is likely to be a startup.  …What are the advantages of a startup marriage? For one thing, you will both have memories of your life together when it was all still up in the air. You'll have fun remembering the years when you went from being scared newcomers to the point at which you realized you were going to make it.

Even more important, you and your spouse will have made your way together. Whatever happens, you will have shared the experience. And each of you will know that you wouldn't have become the person you are without the other.

Many merger marriages are happy, but a certain kind of symbiosis, where two people become more than the sum of the individuals, is perhaps more common in startups.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:37 AM | Permalink

July 10, 2014

Who Turned Out the Lights and Who Turned Them Back On

 Monks Copying Books
An illustration from a medieval manuscript depicts monks copying books by hand in a monastery.

The Dark Ages: Who Turned Out the Lights?

Polemicists who comment on blogs often blame the Church for the Dark Ages. Actual historians know that the Dark Ages, insofar as they were dark, were darkened by the barbarian invasions that inundated the western Roman Empire, and that it was only in the Church (and in its monasteries in particular) that any light was preserved. It might be a bit of a stretch to suggest (as Thomas Cahill did in his book of similar name) that “the Irish (i.e. the Irish monks) saved civilization,” but it is certain that whatever vestiges of earlier Roman civilization managed to be saved were saved by the Church.

It was the pagan Gothic tribes sweeping down from the north and east that submerged classical Roman and Christian culture in a sea of barbarism. It was the Church that tried to preserve what learning it could, and which strove valiantly to convert them. After centuries of work it did a passable job, and it was only thanks to this that classic learning was preserved to become the foundation for later progress. On that foundation the west has built many things, including modern democracy, modern science, and the concept of human rights. But the foundation upon which they were built was a Christian one, one laid painfully and laboriously by the Church in the so-called Dark Ages. In short: it was the pagans who turned out the lights. It was the Church who kept a lamp burning, and eventually turned the lights back on again.
--
In all these debates about the Church and the Dark Ages, the real disagreement is not between the Church and the secularists, but between real scholars and ignoramuses.  . Real historical scholars know that the concept of “the Dark Ages” is an historical construct of fairly recent vintage, and that the Church of that period was the defender of learning and the arts.

Life and Work in Medieval Monasteries

Some of the most important work carried on during the Dark Ages was done by humble monks copying ancient manuscripts in cold, dark monasteries.

 Monk In Scriptorium

The printing press had not yet been invented and all documents were copied by hand on parchment. Scribes copied thousands of Bibles and classical works for circulation in the Christian areas of Europe. Theirs was the labor that would lift the western world out of the darkness of ignorance and illiteracy.

Fortress Protection From Viking Barbarian Attacks
Viking invasions were a major danger for the peaceful monastic communities in Europe. The scriptorium was the most important room in a monastery next to the chapel itself and for this reason, these writing rooms were often built at the top of an attack-proof fortress tower with curved walls resembling a tall cylinder. The towers were separate buildings enclosed within the walls of the compound. The monks climbed 15 to 20 feet up a ladder to the scriptorium and then pulled a ladder up after them. This made it almost impossible for the attacking warriors to reach them.

A Monastic Scribe’s Workday
After lauds, the morning prayer, each scribe entered the scriptorium and worked hunched over at a tiny table while seated on a backless stool. The desk was placed in front of a small window that provided the only available light in the room. No candles or fires for warmth were allowed because of the flammability of the parchment material. They worked in these conditions no matter how cold or wet the weather might be.

The threat of the Vikings and the perilous nature of life in the Dark Ages is brilliantly told in The Secret of the Kells, the most beautiful animated movie I've ever seen.  Variety called it "A Tour-de-Force!" and  "Absolutely luscious to behold!".    The LA Times movie critic Kenneth Turan said,  "Four Stars! Ravishing! Magical! Glorious!"  Now on dvd, it's a marvelous film for families and children. 

And then there is the engaging classic by Thomas Cahill How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe

But the best is probably by Thomas Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.    You can download as a free ebook chapter 3 How the Monks Saved Civilization here.    You will learn how during a period of great turmoil as Roman rule collapsed all over Europe, Benedictine monasteries were "oases of order and peace".

"“Wherever they came,” adds still another, “they converted the wilderness into a cultivated country; they pursued the breeding of cattle and agriculture, labored with their own hands, drained morasses, and cleared away forests. By them Germany was rendered a fruitful country.” Another historian records that “every Benedictine monastery was an agricultural college for the whole region in which it was located.
--
For the monks,  manual labor was a channel of grace.  "They chose the most secluded and inaccessible sites to reinforce the communal solitude of their life and partly because this was land that lay donors could more easily give the monks. Although they cleared forests that stood in the way of human habitation and use, they were also  careful to plant trees and conserve forests when possible.
--
They introduced new crops" "Here they would introduce the rearing of cattle and horses, there the brewing of beer or the raising of bees or fruit. In Sweden, the corn trade owed its existence to the monks; in Parma, it was cheese making; in Ireland, salmon fisheries—and, in a great many places, the finest vineyards."  They pioneered in the production of wine and one monk Dom Perignon is credited with the discovery of champagne.

Monks as Technical Advisors.  Cistercian monks were superb metallurgists. "In effect, whether it be the mining of salt, lead, iron, alum, or gypsum, or metallurgy, quarrying marble, running cutler’s shops and glassworks, or forging metal plates, also known as firebacks, there was no activity at all in which the monks did not display creativity and a fertile spirit of research. Utilizing their labor force, they instructed and trained it to perfection.  They explored aviation.  In the early 11th century,  a monk named Eilmer flew more than 600 feet with a glider.  Centuries later, a Jesuit priest , Father Francesco Lana-Terzi explored the subject of flight more systematically and earned the honor of being called the father of aviation.  They built the first clocks one of which from the 14th century still sits in excellent condition in the London Science Museum.

Their charitable works ranged from the monasteries themselves that served as gratuitous inns for foreign travelers, pilgrim and the poor
to the building of lighthouses, the establishment of libraries, the preservation of classic texts and the preservation of the Bible.
Above all, they built schools and were teachers  and laid the foundations for universities.  "They were the thinkers and philosophers of the day and shaped the political and religious thought. To them, both collectively and individually, was due the continuity of thought and civilization of the ancient world with the later Middle Ages."

"The monastic contribution to Western civilization, as we have seen, is immense. Among other things, the monks taught metallurgy, introduced new crops, copied ancient texts, preserved literacy, pioneered in technology, invented champagne, improved the European landscape, provided for wanderers of every stripe, and looked after the lost and shipwrecked. "

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:38 PM | Permalink

May 29, 2014

When the Tudors sacked the culture of a 1000 years

How a Protestant spin machine hid the truth about the English Reformation by Dominic Selwood

The last 30 years have seen a revolution in Reformation research. Leading scholars have started looking behind the pronouncements of the religious revolution’s leaders – Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley – and beyond the parliamentary pronouncements and the great sermons. Instead, they have begun focusing on the records left by ordinary English people. This “bottom up” approach to history has undoubtedly been the most exciting development in historical research in the last 50 years. It has taken us away from what the rulers want us to know, and steered us closer towards what actually happened.
--
The conclusion of this modern grassroots scholarship is that bulldozing the Catholic Church off the face of medieval England was not a “bottom up” revolution in which Henry merely acquiesced to his people’s wishes by throwing off a widely hated foreign domination. To the contrary, it looks increasingly like Henry and his circle imposed the Reformation “top down”, unleashing 100 years of deep anger and alienation that was only overcome by sustained politicking and ruthless force. Politics and economics have always fitted together snugly, and it was no different in Henry’s day. By spreading some of the lands and wealth stolen from the monasteries, Henry was able to create a firm coterie of influential landholders who had a financial interest in seeing the reforms through.
--
To change a country’s religion lock, stock, and barrel was no easy task. In the end, it took Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I. ….. Cromwell’s plan only needed three steps: outlaw everything to do with Catholicism; denigrate and malign it at every opportunity in official pronouncements and sermons; and execute anyone who objects.
--
Henry and his inner circle of politicians and radical clerics put to death hundreds of dissenters, pour encourager les autres. None of these people were plotting to kill him or destabilise his rule. Their “treason” was to oppose the destruction of their religion or the despoiling of their property. The brutal strangulation, emasculation, disembowelling, beheading, and quartering they endured as traitors was hideous, as was the total absence of any form of due process or justice.
--
And following Edward’s reign, Elizabeth I repeated the command and finished what he had started. The result was the wholesale destruction of a millennium of irreplaceable English craftsmanship in windows, statues, frescoes, and paintings. The Tate recently estimated that over 90 per cent of all English art was trashed in the period, and scarcely a handful of books survived the burning of the great monastic and university libraries. Oxford’s vast Bodleian, for instance, was left without a single book.
--
In the process of all the destruction, it was not just traditional day-to-day spiritual life, the free medical and social care provided by the monasteries, and a country full of creative thought and art that were obliterated. The reformers hacked out and discarded an entire slice of England’s history, alienating the English from an especially vibrant part of their own amazing past.
--
We are the only European country to use the phrase “the Dark Ages” for the medieval period, and in large measure it is because we have retrospectively made it dark. Henry VIII started it by denigrating and destroying the intellectual, artistic, and spiritual output of ten centuries, emptying out cathedrals and library shelves, leaving them barren and devoid of any human ingenuity or beauty.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:05 AM | Permalink

March 25, 2014

Two Mothers

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation and Simcha Fisher encourages us to see Mary as Hero 

Outsiders may see Mary as passive, as witlessly, helplessly receptive to the intrusion of the demanding angel. But it was her choice -- the choice of a hero -- to step foot outside of her peaceful Shire.  She is the hero who pressed on, the small one who had the heart, the strength, the courage to face the darkness and to unmake it.

She only saw this after reading Joseph Pearce's essay on the Christian themes in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings

Tom Shippey, an Anglo-Saxon scholar and Tolkien expert, states in his book, The Road to Middle Earth, that in "Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradiion both before and after that, March 25 is the date of the Crucifixion." It is also, of course, the Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the absolute center of all history as the moment when God himself became incarnate as man.
---
It is, however, very comforting in the midst of these dark days that the most popular book of the 20th century and the most popular movie of the new century draw their power and their glory from the light of the Gospel.

This Mother Tore Off Labels And Nurtured Her Son’s Hidden Genius

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob was diagnosed with autism when he was 2, and doctors said he would never speak. …. When teachers told her there was no hope, she rebelled and took her own path.
--
Instead of focusing on Jacob’s limitations, Kristine nurtured his interests. Now her 15-year-old son is on track to win a Nobel Prize for his work in theoretical physics.

Relying on the insights she developed at her in-home daycare, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark” — his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could? This philosophy, along with her belief in the power of childhood play, helped her son grow in incredible ways.

“He liked repetitive behaviors. He would play with a glass and look at the light, twisting it for hours on end. Instead of taking it away, I would give him 50 glasses, fill them with water at different levels and let him explore,” she says. “I surrounded him with whatever he loved.”

The more she did that, the more it worked. Then one night, as he was being tucked in, Jacob spoke. “It was like music … because everybody had said it was an impossible thing,” Kristine recalls.”I would tuck him in every night and say, ‘Goodnight, baby Jacob, you’re my baby angel, and I love you very much.’ One night he looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘Night-night baby bagel.’ All along he must have thought I had been calling him a bagel!”

Jacob is now a student of theoretical physics at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, with an IQ measured to be higher than Einstein’s.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:26 PM | Permalink

February 18, 2014

Bloody Bible

Michael Coren on The War on Christians in the Middle East describes the power of a bloody bible.

[M]y guest, who had vast experience with the horrors faced by followers of Christ within Muslim majority states, asked me if he could put a Bible on the desk in front of him. I am always reluctant to resemble the host of a Christian television show. I am not criticizing what they do, but it is simply not my mandate and does tend to exclude many potential audience members. I politely told him that I’d rather he didn’t. Gracious and understanding, he said he fully understood. But, he continued, this particular Bible might be of interest to the viewers as he had been given it by an Iraqi Christian who attended Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad. The church had been attacked during the evening Mass on October 31, 2010 by a Sunni Muslim terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq. At least 58 people were murdered and more than 75 injured in that attack.

The large, heavy book being held in front of me was, I realized, almost beyond reading. Its pages were thick and glued together in lumps, soaked and sticky with the blood of the men, women, and children who had been slaughtered that warm evening in a place of peace, in a city where Christians had lived and flourished before Islam even existed. This was not a holy book to be preached from, but a holy book of martyrdom that preached. Its illegible pages spoke entire volumes, its red turned to brown strains cried out to a still largely indifferent or even hostile world.

I felt guilty that day—ashamed, judgmental, and small….

The British Conservative politician Lady Warsi, a long-term campaigner against extremism within her own Muslim faith, gave a speech at Georgetown University. She warned of the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East, with an exodus of a “Biblical scale” taking place.

“There are parts of the world today, where to be a Christian is to put your life in danger. From continent to continent, Christians are facing discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow. Christian populations are plummeting and the religion is being driven out of some of its historic heartlands. In Iraq, the Christian community has fallen from 1.2m in 1990 to 200,000 today. In Syria, the horrific bloodshed has masked the hemorrhaging of its Christian population.”

Some headlines from the past week:

Lynching of Christian man by Muslims is sign of chaos in Central African Republic - one of his relatives screamed. “They cut his neck like a cow. They are going to kill all of us.”

In Syria, Muslims Defecate In Church, Cover Christian Man In Gasoline And Light Him On Fire (video)

Two Armenian Christians from Aleppo were kidnapped by Muslim fighters from a bus. When the jihadists returned to the bus, they were carrying a box in which, they said, had cakes. But when the box was opened, the severed heads of the two Christians were found.

"On that day I went to buy rice as it was the birthday of my grandson.  When I came back, the police were there and they were torturing my son.  My son could not run or escape as he is crippled.They also beat my daughter-in-law when she tried to defend him.  They they took everyone to the police station and the whole night they tortured my crippled son"

In India, Muslims Attack Christian Professor, And Cut His Hand Off

Jihadists Slaughter man’s family as he’s working in another Country

“The last time they were seen was at 3pm,” one officer said. After the fierce confrontation, the old man’s sister went to see what happened at her brother’s house. Smoke was coming out of the house. She entered the house to find the remains of her brother and his daughter, her niece, as two burned corpses. The doctor confirmed that the cause of death for both was a bullet to the head, but their bodies had also been set on fire. The aged man didn’t have any weapon whatsoever or any affiliation to any political party. He got killed for religious reasons. He was a Christian and had no other faults to his name. He was burned as a sign of utter contempt for his religion, as burning or dishonoring a corpse in any way is a great disgrace in Islamic tradition.

Muslims stormed the Christian village of Izge in Nigeria, making their cries of “Allahu Akbar!”, killing everyone in sight, and indulging in plunder. According to one resident, the Muslim barbarians butchered 93 Christians in cold blood.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:36 PM | Permalink

February 17, 2014

On the Exorcism beat

Local Psychologist A Former Skeptic, Now Trains Priests In Exorcisms 

Once he was a skeptic, but after assisting in nearly 100 exorcisms, his experiences have made him a believer.  Adam Blai studied psychology at Penn State, and studied the most violent criminals, but even in serial killers and rapists, he found at least some humanity – not so with the possessed…
.
Your mind rebels against really believing that this is really real, even after you’ve seen some things,” he says. “But eventually, the evidence piles up, and the pile becomes so large that you really have to accept it.”…..

Demonic Possession: Real or Mental Illness?

While some psychologists would argue that the vast majority of these cases involve psychiatric disorder – schizophrenia or Tourette’s syndrome – the Diocese relies on Blai, who holds a Master’s degree in psychology, to make the determination.

Blai says true cases of possessions have clear characteristic, such as a man in rural Pennsylvania with a high school education who spoke in languages he did not know -“French, German, Latin and Lithuanian.”…There is also the reaction to religious artifacts like crosses or holy water, the knowledge of hidden things and superhuman strength, which does not diminish hour after hour of restraining a person.

Above all, when he comes face to face with evil , Blai says he knows it.  “Their heart is so black and lacking of any hesitation or compassion that you know they would tear you apart and be smiling the entire time,” he says. “There’s a sense of evil with a demon that is so far beyond any human I’ve ever met it’s impossible to convey it to you in words.”

"When it comes to fighting vampires and performing exorcisms, the Roman Catholic Church has the heavy artillery. Your other religions are good for everyday theological tasks, like steering their members into heaven, but when the undead lunge up out of their graves, you want a priest on the case. As a product of Catholic schools, I take a certain pride in this pre-eminence,"    Roger Ebert.
 

It was the most bizarre situation in 30 years of his priesthood. Father Michael Maginot  was asked to save an Indiana family who appeared to be afflicted by demonic possession in 2012.  He discusses his role as exorcist.

The best is this story on a Zen exorcist, Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry in the London Review of Books.

I met a priest in the north of Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami. The ghosts did not appear in large numbers until later in the year, but Reverend Kaneda’s first case of possession came to him after less than a fortnight. He was chief priest at a Zen temple in the inland town of Kurihara. The earthquake on 11 March 2011 was the most violent that he, or anyone he knew, had ever experienced. The great wooden beams of the temple’s halls had flexed and groaned with the strain. Power, water and telephone lines were fractured for days; deprived of electricity, people in Kurihara, thirty miles from the coast, had a dimmer idea of what was going on there than television viewers on the other side of the world. But it became clear enough, when first a handful of families, and then a mass of them, began arriving at Kaneda’s temple with corpses to bury.

Nearly twenty thousand people had died at a stroke. In the space of a month, Kaneda performed funeral services for two hundred of them. More appalling than the scale of death was the spectacle of the bereaved survivors. ‘They didn’t cry,’ Kaneda said to me a year later. ‘There was no emotion at all. The loss was so profound and death had come so suddenly. They understood the facts of their situation individually – that they had lost their homes, lost their livelihoods and lost their families. They understood each piece, but they couldn’t see it as a whole, and they couldn’t understand what they should do, or sometimes even where they were. I couldn’t really talk to them, to be honest….

Amid this numbness and horror, Kaneda received a visit from a man he knew, a local builder whom I will call Takeshi Ono….‘Ono told me that he’d walked along the beach in that devastated area, eating an ice cream,’ the priest said. ‘He even put up a sign in the car in the windscreen saying ‘disaster relief’, so that no one would stop him. He went there flippantly, without giving it any thought at all. I told him: “You fool. If you go to a place where many people have died, you must go with a feeling of respect. That’s common sense. You have suffered a kind of punishment for what you did. Something got hold of you, perhaps the dead who cannot accept yet that they are dead. They have been trying to express their regret and their resentment through you.”’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 PM | Permalink

February 12, 2014

The Bible

Christina Odone wrote in the Telegraph that the Bible has disappeared from our children's lives

Almost a third of children do not know their Adam from their Noah or that David slew Goliath. The Good Samaritan is a stranger and the Nativity just a Christmas play.

The latest Bible Society findings prove that the West has erased its Christian heritage from public life. I'm not surprised – only saddened that No God Zone, my e-book on the subject, has been vindicated. After decades of concerted efforts by secularist zealots, the Bible is a truly alien subject. Future generations will look on "the greatest story ever told" and think it is a 1965 movie starring Charlton Heston and Max von Sydow.

Even Richard Dawkins, our God-hater-in-chief, thinks this a pity. In a very amicable exchange three years ago, we agreed that the Bible represents a precious part of our legacy. I agreed with Prof Dawkins that you don't have to be a believer to delight in its literary merits and recognise its historical value. A few faith schools still teach "the Good Book"; but they are under fire from the atheist brigade, and many feel that they will only survive if they promote a multicultural syllabus that stars Gandhi and Mandela rather than Abraham and Jesus.

The extraordinary, subversive book, with its lessons on charity, compassion and respect for others inspired generations to rebel against tyrannies of all kinds – dictators, addictions, vices. Men and women dedicated their lives to its teachings – and were ready to die for it. But today it seems that a host of martyrs lost their lives in vain: the Bible is just another book that sold more than the Hunger Games trilogy at some point.

The recent poll by the Bible Society in the U.K. revealed that more than half of the adults who responded believe “The Hunger Games” are biblical and one in three say “Harry Potter” could be a storyline from the sacred text.

“While these statistics may appear surprising at first glance, they are symptomatic of the fact that many children indicate they have never read, seen or even heard these stories.” ….. Of the parents questioned, 46 percent did not recognize that the account of Noah’s Ark comes from the Bible, according to the results of the January survey of 800 children ages eight to 15 and 1,000 parents.

The survey was taken in preparation for the launch of the organization’s “Pass It On” campaign which is intended to raise the level of knowledge about the Bible.

More from the poll

  • more than 43 percent of parents feel it is important for kids to have read, heard or seen Bible stories.
  • three in 10 secondary school pupils, aged 12 to 15, did not realize the Nativity was from the Bible
  • one-third of the parents “were unsure or did not recognize the stories of David and Goliath and Adam and Eve as being from the Bible.
  • 27 percent thought the storyline from “Superman” was or could be in the Bible.

“It is impossible to mentally or socially enslave a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom,” wrote Horace Greeley (1811-1872), publisher and journalist

“A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the United States

“It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”  George Washington (1732-1799), first President of the United States

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:01 PM | Permalink

January 24, 2014

Where's the outrage at the near-annihilation of the world's most ancient communities of Christians.

Michael Brendan Dougherty  writes The world's most ancient Christian communities are being destroyed — and no one cares.  Christians in the Middle East have been the victims of pogroms and persecution. Where's the outrage in the West?

Like many Coptic Christians in Egypt, Ayman Nabil Labib had a tattoo of the cross on his wrist. ….Ayman's Arabic-language teacher told him to cover his tattoo in class. Instead of complying, the young man defiantly pulled out the cross that hung around his neck, making it visible. His teacher flew into a rage and began choking him, goading the young man's Muslim classmates by saying, "What are you going to do with him?"

Ayman's classmates then beat him to death.
--
The Arab Spring, and to a lesser extent the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, were touted as the catalysts for a major historic shift in the region. From Egypt to Syria to Iraq, the Middle East's dictatorships would be succeeded by liberal, democratic regimes. Years later, however, there is very little liberality or democracy to show. Indeed, what these upheavals have bequeathed to history is a baleful, and barely noticed legacy: The near-annihilation of the world's most ancient communities of Christians.
--
And yet the Western world is largely ignorant of or untroubled by programmatic violence against Christians. Ed West, citing the French philosopher Regis Debray, distils the problem thusly: "The victims are 'too Christian' to excite the Left, and 'too foreign' to excite the Right."

William Oddie writes, The growing worldwide persecution of Christians shows that Samuel Huntingdon was right: if he was wrong, where are the protests from moderate Muslim opinion? Predictions that after the end of the Cold War we would see a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West have been borne out by events

Two Christians, Firas Nader, 29, and Fadi Matanius Mattah, 34, were traveling by car from Homs to the Christian village of Marmarita. A group of five armed jihadists intercepted the vehicle and opened fire on it. On reaching the car, militiamen, noting that Fadi was wearing a cross around his neck, beheaded him. They then took money and documents, leaving Firas on the ground wounded, taking him for dead. He escaped to safety. And he then gave one more testimony to what we already knew.
--
That silence of moderate Muslim opinion on all this really does pose the serious question as to whether or not moderate Muslim opinion actually exists
--
There is another question, though. Why are our own politicians also so absolutely silent about Islamist atrocities against Christians? Why do we hear nothing from Obama about it? Why do we hear nothing from Cameron? Is it perhaps because they are terrified to say anything which might offend the Muslim vote in their own countries?  Prince Charles, at least, has now spoken out, and in no uncertain tones: and it’s interesting that when he did, he made the headlines not just in the UK but in America too.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:03 PM | Permalink

A Lake of Beer for God

Beers brewed by Trappist monks are regularly on lists of the world's, yet, there are only 10 official Trappist breweries in the world.  The only one outside Europe is, thank God, at St Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass, which will begin to sell its beer this week, but only in Massachusetts.

According to the official website of the brewery, “Our recipe was inspired by the traditional refectory ales known as patersbier (“fathers’ beer” in Flemish). These seasonable beers are brewed by the monks for their dinner table and are typically only available at the monastery. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, preserving live yeast that naturally carbonates the beer in the bottle and keg, and contributes to the beer flavor and aroma.” The beer will sit at 6.5% Alc.10


 Spencer Trappist-Ale-Label

NPR in American Beer Fans, Praise the Heavens tells the backstory.

For more than 60 years, the monks at St. Joseph's have supported themselves by making religious garments and preserves, including jams and jellies.  Still, that wasn't enough, so several years ago, they started looking into brewing.

But there was a problem: The monks knew nothing about brewing — or even drinking — beer. So, one of the monks called up Martha Paquette, the co-founder of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project in Sommerville, Mass., for help.

"They'd maybe drunk some Budweiser," Paquette says. "So, we had a lot of fun with the monks introducing them to hops, dark beers, richer, stronger beers."

Learning to drink beer was the easy part. To learn to brew it, the abbey sent two of its monks to train at Belgian monasteries and hired a professional Belgian brewer.  The monastery also received some major financing — the monks wouldn't say how much — for a sleek, state-of-the-art brew house. Now, the 36,000-square-foot, stainless steel building sits behind the stone abbey and is mostly automated…..

The brew has already passed one major taste test: To get the official "Authentic product label," Spencer Trappist Ale's first had to win approval from the International Trappist Association.

"We tasted the beer the day we gave the approval," says ITA spokesman Francois de Harenne, and it was considered a good product — deserving to bear the logo."

 Brother Isaac Keeley Brother Isaac Keeley is director of the Trappists’ brewery in Spencer.  At the Spencer Brewery website, you can learn about the beer, the monks and even watch a beautiful video of a day in the life of a Trappist monk in Spencer.

I have been on retreat several times to the Abbey and can attest to the beauty and the peace that can be found there.  Now with beer, it will be heavenly. 

In the tenth century, Saint Brigid wrote a prayer that begins

I'd like to give a lake of beer to God. I'd love the heavenly Host to be tippling there For all eternity.

And ends

I'd sit with the men, the women and God There by the lake of beer. We'd be drinking good health forever And every drop would be a prayer.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:04 PM | Permalink

January 9, 2014

Religion as a buffer against the strains of modern life

Religion forms buffer against work stress

Having a religion could be the key to avoiding work stress as a study found those with a faith are less anxious in the work place, healthier and less likely to take sick days.

Religion is the answer to combating work stress because it provides a "buffer against strains" of modern life, research has claimed.  Dr Roxane Gervais, a senior psychologist at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Stockport, surveyed employees to find out how content they were with their working lives.

The study concluded that employees who are more actively religious are more likely to report low levels of anxiety, depression and fatigue and also higher presence of meaning in life, that is feeling that their lives have meaning. Workers said that attending religious services connects them to a higher being as well as makes them feel better about themselves.

Dr Gervais said: “As the pace of work and life accelerates, people long for meaning, and the younger generation in particular is looking for more than just a big pay cheque at the end of the month.
--
“We should hence encourage employers to accommodate, where possible, employees’ religious beliefs while at work, and not shy away from the issue.”

These findings are being presented today (THURS) at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology’s in Brighton. Previous studies have shown that companies who accommodated workers beliefs improved morale, staff retention and loyalty.

The report also found that those who regularly practiced religion were more likely to have healthier lifestyles and so took fewer sick days.  Dr Gervais added: “Religiosity seemed to assist individuals in gaining better well-being and using more appropriate coping mechanisms.”

This story reminded me of what Mother Theresa said when she visited the United States,  "The spiritual poverty of the West is greater than ours… You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness…They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is. What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 PM | Permalink

December 20, 2013

The continuing story that largely goes untold

In the Catholic Church, December 26 is the Feast of St Stephen, the first martyr for Christianity who was stoned for blasphemy and whose  story is recounted in Acts, chapter 7 .    Remembering this first martyr "“dissolves a false image of Christmas: the fairy-tale, overly sentimental image that does not exist in the Gospel.”, Pope Francis said yesterday,

“The liturgy brings us back to the authentic meaning of the Incarnation, connecting Bethlehem to Calvary and reminding us that divine salvation involves the fight against sin; it passes through the narrow gate of the Cross,” he continued.

The Pontiff called for prayer for persecuted Christians, who “unfortunately are more numerous today than in the early days of the Church.”

In Syria, Christians are butchered, thrown into furnaces and children are slaughtered and tossed out windows.    Jihadists killed Christians in a bakery, in a police station, even in hospitals.

What is happening in Adra is unthinkable … Children are being slaughtered and thrown out of the windows. But no one is doing anything. The crisis in Syria continues in an environment where there is no international law, including those relating to the paramilitary operations…..

There was slaughter everywhere The eldest was only 20 years old; he was slaughtered. They were all children. I saw them with my own eyes. They killed fourteen people with a machete. I don’t know if these people were Alawites. I don’t know why they were slaughtered. They grabbed them by their heads and slaughtered them like sheep.

On December 28th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents to commemorate the children under two who were slaughtered in Bethlehem under the orders of King Herod after the visit of the Magi who told him  they were searching for 'newborn king' .  St Joseph, after a warning by an angel, fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

 Feast Holy Innocents Childermaspainting

In the Central African Republic, Muslims Massacre At Least 700 Christians, In Just One Moment 

The streets of Bangui are littered with corpses. The Red Cross buried hundreds of bodies in mass graves.
--
The Red Cross has put the death count at 400, but according to Open Doors, its much higher:

In reality we must speak of at least 700 dead. The Red Cross has not counted the people that have been slaughtered and thrown into the river or buried directly by relatives or by fishermen.


In Iraq, Christmas bombings kill 34, including a car bomb that exploded as worshippers were leaving a Christmas service

"A car parked near the church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye before leaving. The blast was powerful," he said.

"Bodies of women, girls and men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their wounded relatives."

Iraqi Catholic leader asks West, "If they kill us all, will you do something then?"

The only leaders in the West that have forcefully spoken out against the persecution of Christians are Pope Francis, Prince Charles and Vladimir Putin

London Telegraph:  Christians left by the world to suffer  by Douglas Alexander

Across the world, there will be Christians this week for whom attending a church service this Christmas is not an act of faithful witness, but an act of life-risking bravery.  That cannot be right, and we need the courage to say so.

In the UK today, perhaps through a misplaced sense of political correctness, or some sense of embarrassment at “doing God” in an age when secularism is more common, too many politicians seem to fear discussing any matters related to faith.  So the growing persecution of Christians around the world remains a story that goes largely untold, as does proper discussion of its complex roots and causes.  In some countries, this persecution is perpetrated in the name of a secular ideology, while in others it has its roots in religious intolerance.

Christian freedoms are worth fighting for  Before 2003, there were over one million Christians in Iraq. Today, there are as few as 200,000

In today’s paper we carry a welcome and, frankly, remarkable commentary by Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary. It stands out not just as a passionate plea for the human rights of Christians living overseas but also because it comes from a leading member of the Labour Party. It would seem that Labour has decided that it does “do God” after all.

Nevertheless, we agree very strongly that it is time to stand up for Christians facing violent intimidation. He points to research showing that Christians are perhaps the most terrorized religious group in the world. In 2011, religious groups were persecuted in 160 countries and Christians were harassed in the largest number of places. In Egypt alone, 207 churches were attacked this year and 43 Orthodox churches completely destroyed. It is not uncommon for churches to be covered in blasphemous graffiti or sprayed with bullets by men driving past. It has become an act of courage just to express one’s faith and, all too often, the Foreign Office has seemed reluctant to act or speak forcefully.

The Guardian:  Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a crime against humanity

It is a bitter irony that the invasion of Iraq in 2003, launched under the aegis of two devoutly Christian leaders, George Bush and Tony Blair, should have heralded what threatens to be the final ruin of Christianity in the Middle East. It was Iraqi Christians, trapped between the militancy of their Muslim compatriots and the studied disinterest of their western co-religionists, who bore the initial brunt of the savagery. Extortion, kidnapping and murder became their daily fare…..

Since 2003, so it has been estimated by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), almost a million Christians have left Iraq. Those few that remain face an ongoing martyrdom. The warning given in 2010 by an al-Qaida front group, that "the doors of destruction and rivers of blood will be opened upon them", threatens to become all too real.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:08 PM | Permalink

December 16, 2013

On being a saint

Kathryn J. Lopez interviews Emily Stimpson about her wonderful book, These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body,

Q. How can we all possibly be called to be saints?

Stimpson.  I ask God the same thing every day. Sometimes it seems like if he wanted me to be a saint, he should have given me some better raw material to work with. But the call remains. Understanding how that’s possible becomes easier if you spend time with the saints. The more you read their actual words or the stories of their lives, the more you stop thinking of saints as consumptive 14-year-old virgins and start seeing them as real men and women—men and women who sinned and struggled their way to perfect love of God in their own wild, singular, and often downright quirky way. Besides, all it means to be a saint is to be the person God made you to be. It means to be you, uniquely and perfectly you, free from all the fears and sins and lies that keep you from being the person you’re supposed to be and from loving God as he made you to love him. Becoming that person isn’t easy. But it is simple.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:49 PM | Permalink

December 14, 2013

"Faith is the great life-giving force, and the loss of faith is death-dealing"

David Warren writes about demography and faith and the Blessed Virgin Mary in  Cherchez la femme

….the extraordinary role of faith itself in the sequences of history . Faith is the great life-giving force, and the loss of faith is death-dealing. By this we do not mean only Christian faith, for the same principle applies in all cultures, and has applied since time out of mind.

The classical example is “the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.” As the pagan Romans lost faith in their own civilization, they stopped having babies. They rehearsed almost all the features of our modern West in their own later decadence: the sophisticated rejection of religious observances; the confident smugness of the half-educated; the degradation of family life; the acceptance of public pornography, and openly perverse liaisons; couch-potato obsessions with circus and professionalized gladiatorial sports; the shift from pride in productivity, to a shameless consumerism; the aesthetic decline in all manufactures; the spread of dishonorable trade practices; the inflation of money, and in all other kinds; debt crises; the growing dependence upon immigrant slaves and other cheap labour for all unpleasant work, including everything required of the Roman armies; the appeasement of enemies, and extravagant buying off of the tribal savages, now being let inside their frontiers. In a word, “individualism,” or in another, “atomization.” Stage by stage, we watch the implosion, until finally we have that wonderful spectacle conveyed in the painting of Delacroix: “Attila the Hun, followed by his hordes, trample Italy and the Arts.”

A more careful historian would not present this decline as continuous, however. As we focus, we see the Roman hesitation. After taking steps back, they take steps forward. There were decades of recovery, when one could imagine the sage pundits of Rome saying, “What were we so worried about?” and boasting of the new Roman hyperpower after winning obscure bush wars. The sense of invincibility would seem to be returning, along with faith in Roman institutions. Then it falters again, because in prosperity the old Roman chests had been emptying out. They no longer believed in their own future, let alone in their gods. They had no mission any more, and could barely cope with even minor disasters. Still, they put off their fate for centuries, until the last legions scattered or ran home.
--
He concludes by referencing, an mass apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary  in Zeitoun, Egypt  beginning in 1968.  Zeitoun is on the path the Holy Family took when visiting Egypt.

And again, it strikes me, cherchez la femme. A woman comes into this in the figure of Mary, commonly venerated by the grace of God not only through what remains of Christendom, but also what remains of the Dar al-Islam. I think on Fatima, but more especially upon Our Lady of Zeitoun (near Cairo, 2nd April 1968, and multiple subsequent apparitions, before immense crowds, photographed and video-recorded from so many angles and by so many cameras as to obviate any possibility of a hoax). It is she, above all, in her own light as “Our Lady of Light,” upon the roof of her own church at Zeitoun — along with those “bursts of diamonds” and “explosions of incense” to which hundreds of thousands of witnesses attested — who calls upon this world. Before Muslim and Christian alike, she was seen standing, and kneeling, alone; then again and again, presenting the Child, cradled in her arms. It is she, to us all, who, I believe, points the only viable way forward.

 Our Lady Zeitoun

I would bet that most readers never heard of Our Lady of Zeitoun.    Here is a YouTube video that tells the story in 8 ½ minutes.  Here is another page on the apparitions of Zeitoun

Thousands of people from different denominations and religions, Egyptians and foreign visitors, clergy and scientists, from different classes and professions, all observed the apparitions. The description of each apparition as of the time, location and configuration was identically witnessed by all people, which makes this apparition unique and sublime.  Two important aspects accompanied these apparitions: The first is an incredible revival of the faith in God, the other world and the saints, leading to repentance and conversion of many who strayed away from the faith. The second are the numerous miracles of healing which were verified by many physicians to be miraculous in nature.
--
Report of General Information and Complaints Department, Cairo, Egypt, 1968

"Official investigations have been carried out with the result that it has been considered an undeniable fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing on Zeitoun Church in a clear and bright luminous body seen by all present in front of the church, whether Christians or Moslems."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 AM | Permalink

November 25, 2013

St Peter's Bones

 Peterandfrancis  Pope Francis cradling the bones of St Peter

At the closing Mass of the global church's Year of Faith, the relics of St Peter were publicly unveiled for the first time since they were discovered in the 1940s and were held by Pope Francis during the recitation of the Nicene Creed.  In his homily, he said, "God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it."

So How Does the Vatican Know That Those Old Bones Are the Relics of St Peter?    After all, he died nearly 2000 years ago.

It was the Vatican’s art historian, Elizabeth Lev, who first told me the story of the remarkable discovery of Peter’s bones.  It’s a story which has been told often in history books and reports, but I draw some of my information from Paul of Tarsus: A Visionary Life by Edward Stourton.

The Church has had a long tradition that St. Peter’s Basilica, construction of which was funded by the Emperor Constantine, was built in the early fourth century atop the burial site of St. Peter.  But in 1939–less than 100 years ago–a team of workmen digging a grave for Pope Pius XI in the crypt beneath the Basilica uncovered what was plainly the top of a Roman building.  The new pope, Pius XII, ordered further investigation; and archeologists gradually unearthed a well preserved Roman necropolis, or city of the dead, immediately beneath the foundations of St. Peter’s.

In actuality, we don’t know with certainty whose bones those are.  There are strong evidences through history:  writings by early popes and kings, graffiti messages in the tomb, and the placement of the graves themselves.  The early Christians, it seemed, considered it a great honor to be buried near the remains of Peter, the first pope.  And DNA testing has confirmed that the bones are from a male in his 60′s who likely died in the first century.
---
And here is the remarkable truth:  If one were to drop a plumb line from the center of the Dome of the great St. Peter’s Basilica, 460 feet above, it would extend downward

• through Bernini’s baldacchino,
• through the Basilica’s great papal altar, then
• through the twelfth-century altar of St. Callistus.
• through the sixth century altar of Gregory the Great, then
• through the fourth century Constantine shrine.
• to the second-century trophy (a kind of triumphal arch built to mark the burial place of great men), and finally,
• it would land upon the burial place of this great martyr of Christ, St. Peter.

“It doesn’t miss a foot,” writes Stourton.

 Side-View-Red-Wall-Trophy-Peter-Grave Diagram from St Peter's Basilica
 St Peter's Confessio St Peter's Confessio under the Papal High Altar
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:34 PM | Permalink

November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis also died 50 years ago today

Today, CS Lewis is to be officially inducted into Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey

Lewis will join such greats as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, John Keats, William Blake and TS Eliot in a tradition going back 600 years.

 Cslewis Poets' Corner

CS Lewis's memorial stone is set in the floor of Poets' Corner - though he was not known for poetry - and is inscribed with lines from one of his theological lectures : "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else."

Robert Barron on The Triumph of C.S. Lewis

Two famous men died on November 22, 1963. The first did so in the most dramatic way possible, assassinated in the full glare of publicity on the streets of Dallas; the second in relative obscurity, in the upstairs bedroom of his simple home on the outskirts of Oxford, England.

John F. Kennedy's legacy has, of course, been enormous, but I wonder whether C.S. Lewis has actually, in the course of these past 50 years, had a greater impact on the culture than his counterpart.
--
One reason why Lewis has proven so persuasive to so many is that he was compelled to undergo a transition -- halting, painful, anguished -- from non-belief to belief. Though he had been brought up in a Christian environment, he had lost his faith by the time he entered university. He was not someone to whom religious conviction came naturally or effortlessly; he had to work his way to it, in the face of often harsh opposition, both interior and exterior. This very personal struggle gives him credibility with the millions today who want to believe but who find ideological secularism and militant atheism enormously challenging.
--

C.S. Lewis intuited something that has become a commonplace among postmodern philosophers, namely, that the avatar of one worldview overcomes another, not so much through argument, but through telling a more compelling story, by "out-narrating" his opponent. He knew that the Christian evangelist, despite any personal flaws he might exhibit or institutional baggage he might carry, still possessed the greatest story ever told. Lewis told that story with particular verve, bravado, intelligence, imagination, and panache -- and that is why it is well and good that we should celebrate him on the 50th anniversary of his passing.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:41 PM | Permalink

November 19, 2013

"Here I leave my pain"

'It was like being in Paradise. I felt only love': Terribly disfigured man who was held by the Pope relives the moment that moved the world

The shockingly disfigured man, whose full-body tumours were lovingly kissed by the Pope, has been revealed as a 53-year-old Italian suffering from a rare genetic disease.

 Pope Embraces Disfigured Man


Vinicio Riva’s entire body has been ravaged by the growths, a symptom of neorofibramatosis, which is not contagious.
---
The severely disabled man, who is shunned in the street, and has induced horror even in his doctors, has for the first time described the encounter, saying that being caressed by Francis was like ‘being in Paradise’.

He told Italian news magazine Panorama he was left speechless when Pope did not hesitate to touch him.
He said: ‘His hands were so soft. And his smile was so clear and open. But the thing that struck me most is that there has not been thinking about whether or not to hug me. I'm not contagious, but he did not know. But he just did it: he caressed me all over my face, and as he did I felt only love.

He recollected the meeting of a fortnight ago: 'First I kissed his hand while he, with the other hand, caressed my head and wounds. Then he drew me to him in a strong embrace, kissing my face.

'My head was against his chest his arms were wrapped around me. It lasted just over a minute, but to me it seemed like an eternity.'  Mr Riva was accompanied to the Vatican's St Peter's square by his aunt, Caterina and his younger sister Morena, who also suffers from a lesser form of the disease.

The meeting with Francis marked a new beginning for him he said: ‘Later I turned to my aunt and told her: "Here I leave my pain"'.
 V   +Aunt Lotto

Here is Vincio Riva with his Aunt Caterina Lotto  who cares for disfigured man held by the Pope and reveals she fears for him and his sister and worries they will never leave the house when she is gone as she 'makes them feel safe'

Mrs Lotto said that people make cruel comments when the brother and sister venture outside. She said: 'So many times [women] have moved away from him. They are scared that it’s infectious. And some of the old women say that he should be shut away.

'They still have this mentality. I say “Don’t you have children? Don’t you know that however they are born you have to love them?
‘I worry about Vinicio and Morena and their happiness so much. When their mother died she asked me to look after them. I would give them my soul if I could. I have four children of my own, who are grown up with their own children. So I have been left with these two little children.’
The rare disease was passed down from Mr Riva's late mother, Rosaria, who died in 2011.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:23 AM | Permalink

November 5, 2013

Complacency and Cognitive Bias Can Blind

What ties these four articles together is the pernicious effect of complacency and cognitive bias that blinds minds .  Atheists think they know what believers mean by God; Theology is only for the devout.  Peer-reviewed scientific studies are all true.  Automating tasks makes us smarter

Father Robert  Barron on why Atheists Don't Get God

It is not so much that Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins disagree with Thomas Aquinas on the existence of God; it is that neither Hitchens nor Dawkins has any real grasp of what Aquinas even means when he speaks of God.

To a person, the new atheists hold that God is some being in the world, the maximum instance, if you want, of the category of "being." But this is precisely what Aquinas and serious thinkers in all of the great theistic traditions hold that God is not. Thomas explicitly states that God is not in any genus, including that most generic genus of all, namely being. He is not one thing or individual -- however supreme -- among many. Rather, God is, in Aquinas's pithy Latin phrase, esse ipsum subsistens, the sheer act of being itself.
--
I often tease the critics of religion who take pride in the rigor of their rationalism. I tell them that, though they are willing to ask and answer all sorts of questions about reality, they become radically uncurious, irrational even, just when the most interesting question of all is posed: why is there something rather than nothing? Why should the universe exist at all?

Study Theology, Even If You Don't Believe in God  writes Tara Burton in the Atlantic

While the study of history taught me the story of humanity on a broader scale, the study of theology allowed me insight into the minds and hearts, fears and concerns, of those in circumstances were so wildly different from my own.
--
If history and comparative religion alike offer us perspective on world events from the “outside,” the study of theology offers us a chance to study those same events “from within”: an opportunity to get inside the heads of those whose beliefs and choices shaped so much of our history, and who—in the world outside the ivory tower—still shape plenty of the world today. That such avenues of inquiry have virtually vanished from many of the institutions where they were once best explored is hardly a triumph of progress or of secularism. Instead, the absence of theology in our universities is an unfortunate example of blindness—willful or no—to the fact that engagement with the past requires more than mere objective or comparative analysis. It requires a willingness to look outside our own perspectives in order engage with the great questions—and questioners—of history on their own terms. Even Dawkins might well agree with that.

I have to remember when I quote from scientific studies that  Science has lost its way, at a big cost to humanity  writes Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times.

A  few years ago, scientists at the Thousand Oaks biotech firm Amgen set out to double-check the results of 53 landmark papers in their fields of cancer research and blood biology.  The idea was to make sure that research on which Amgen was spending millions of development dollars still held up. They figured that a few of the studies would fail the test — that the original results couldn't be reproduced because the findings were especially novel or described fresh therapeutic approaches.

But what they found was startling: Of the 53 landmark papers, only six could be proved valid.

"Even knowing the limitations of preclinical research," observed C. Glenn Begley, then Amgen's head of global cancer research, "this was a shocking result."

Unfortunately, it wasn't unique. A group at Bayer HealthCare in Germany similarly found that only 25% of published papers on which it was basing R&D projects could be validated, suggesting that projects in which the firm had sunk huge resources should be abandoned. Whole fields of research, including some in which patients were already participating in clinical trials, are based on science that hasn't been, and possibly can't be, validated.
--
The demand for sexy results, combined with indifferent follow-up, means that billions of dollars in worldwide resources devoted to finding and developing remedies for the diseases that afflict us all is being thrown down a rathole. NIH and the rest of the scientific community are just now waking up to the realization that science has lost its way, and it may take years to get back on the right path.

All Can Be Lost: The Risk of Putting Our Knowledge in the Hands of Machines by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic
We rely on computers to fly our planes, find our cancers, design our buildings, audit our businesses. That's all well and good. But what happens when the computer fails?

Automation has become so sophisticated that on a typical passenger flight, a human pilot holds the controls for a grand total of just three minutes. What pilots spend a lot of time doing is monitoring screens and keying in data. They’ve become, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say, computer operators....Overuse of automation erodes pilots’ expertise and dulls their reflexes, leading to what Jan Noyes, an ergonomics expert at Britain’s University of Bristol, terms “a de-skilling of the crew.”
--
Psychologists have found that when we work with computers, we often fall victim to two cognitive ailments—complacency and bias—that can undercut our performance and lead to mistakes.....The way computers can weaken awareness and attentiveness points to a deeper problem. Automation turns us from actors into observers. Instead of manipulating the yoke, we watch the screen. That shift may make our lives easier, but it can also inhibit the development of expertise.
--
Whether it’s a pilot on a flight deck, a doctor in an examination room, or an Inuit hunter on an ice floe, knowing demands doing. One of the most remarkable things about us is also one of the easiest to overlook: each time we collide with the real, we deepen our understanding of the world and become more fully a part of it. While we’re wrestling with a difficult task, we may be motivated by an anticipation of the ends of our labor, but it’s the work itself—the means—that makes us who we are. Computer automation severs the ends from the means. It makes getting what we want easier, but it distances us from the work of knowing.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:02 PM | Permalink

October 25, 2013

What is going on in the Army? UPDATED

What in the world is the Army thinking?  Does Army consider Christians, Tea Party, a terror threat?

Soldiers attending a pre-deployment briefing at Fort Hood say they were told that evangelical Christians and members of the Tea Party were a threat to the nation and that any soldier donating to those groups would be subjected to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A soldier who attended the Oct. 17th briefing told me the counter-intelligence agent in charge of the meeting spent nearly a half hour discussing how evangelical Christians and groups like the American Family Association were “tearing the country apart.”
--
“My first concern was if I was going to be in trouble going to church,” the evangelical Christian soldier told me. “Can I tithe? Can I donate to Christian charities? What if I donate to a politician who is a part of the Tea Party movement?”

Another soldier who attended the briefing alerted the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. That individual’s recollections of the briefing matched the soldier who reached out to me.

“I was very shocked and couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” the soldier said. “I felt like my religious liberties, that I risk my life and sacrifice time away from family to fight for, were being taken away.”

And while a large portion of the briefing dealt with the threat evangelicals and the Tea Party pose to the nation, barely a word was said about Islamic extremism, the soldier said.

Breitbart news has uncovered a Military Training Document: Anti-Christian SPLC a Trusted Source to Define 'Extremism'

For months, the Obama-Hagel Pentagon has promised that reports of military trainers teaching troops that traditional Christian groups are extremists akin to terrorists were isolated incidents by rogue instructors. Now an official Army document contains evidence to the contrary.
--
This is just the latest outrage in a long train of disgraces. Just days ago, soldiers at Camp Shelby in Mississippi were instructed that the Christian conservative American Family Association is a domestic hate group. A month earlier, a security presentation portrayed the Founding Fathers as extremists. Before that, Breitbart News reported on a Christian chaplain who was officially censored by military commanders for talking about the importance of religious faith. And several months before that, Lt. Col. Jack Rich at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, instructed soldiers that traditional Christian beliefs are incompatible with “Army values.”
--
All along, the nation was told these were a series of isolated incidents, not authorized by military leadership. Now military documents suggest otherwise…..

Let's not forget that  the Defense Department told Catholic priests  they would face possible arrest if they celebrated Mass at any military facility around the world during the shutdown even on a volunteer basis.

DOD took this action because Hagel determined--after consulting with Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department--that civilian Catholic priests, working under contract as chaplains, did not, among other things, “contribute to the morale” and “well-being” of service personnel.
--
At Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, the DOD went so far as to lock up the chapel and sequester the Holy Eucharist inside it. -….“The doors to the Kings Bay Chapel were locked on October 4, 2013, with the Holy Eucharist, Holy water, Catholic hymn books, and vessels all locked inside,” said Father Leonard’s lawsuit. “Father Leonard and his parishioners, including Fred Naylor, were prohibited from entering.”

UPDATE:  the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, sent an Army-wide memorandum ordering a halt to all briefings classifying Christian groups as domestic hate groups.

For now, McHugh ordered, Army leaders are “to cease all briefings, command presentations, or training on the subject of extremist organizations and activities, pending promulgation” of a uniform instruction and training program.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:02 AM | Permalink

October 16, 2013

Listen to crickets slowed way down until they become a heavenly choir

Where it not for the Anchoress and Simcha Fisher, I never would have heard this extraordinary recording of Crickets slowed way down

At Soundcloud you read commentary by Tom Waits, " I heard a recording recently of crickets slowed way down. It sounds like a choir, it sounds like angel music. Something sparkling, celestial with full harmony and bass parts - you wouldn't believe it. It's like a sweeping chorus of heaven, and it's just slowed down, they didn't manipulate the tape at all."

Simcha Fisher writes  All Creation Rightly Sings Your Praise

Here is the sound of crickets, slowed down and down until they become a choir.  I listened, first skeptically, then fascinated, and finally almost in tears, waiting for the basso profondos to stake their claim, for the sopranos to vault in exultation above the rest of the choir.  When we say to God "All creation rightly sings your praise, " this is what we mean.  Do the crickets know they are praising God?  Oh, yes and no.  Just being what they are, doing what they are made to do, they send forth this glorious roundsong
-
What the Father wants is for us to rejoice in our very existence, because through our lives we praise Him.  Through our good works, yes, and through our efforts and sacrifices and conversions of heart.  But also just because we are here -- because we are.

This is why our hearts beat even as we sleep, with every beat gushing forth life.  This is why suicides tie their feet together before they dive into the cold river:  because they know they will try to save themselves despite themselves, because life works so hard to be alive.  This is why babies love other babies.  What do they know?  Not a thing.  Only that we are here, we are here, we are here.  Praise God.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:57 AM | Permalink

September 4, 2013

He claims no miracle

19-year-old boy beats stage-four cancer after being blessed by pope during Make-A-Wish trip to Rome

 Pope Blesses Peter Srsich-1

When Make-A-Wish Foundation approached Peter Srsich, a stage-four cancer patient, the 17-year-old boy had an unusual request: he wanted to meet the pope.  Two years later, the Colorado teen is in remission - and he has credited his encounter with the Benedict XVI with helping him beat the cancer.

Srsich, a devout Catholic who is now studying for priesthood, knows that his cancer was cured thanks to decades of medical research and his doctors' extensive training - but he believes that meeting the pontiff in Rome has restored his faith and gave him strength to fight for his life.

For Peter, the harrowing ordeal started in 2011 with a simple cough. When the lanky 6-foot-6 lacrosse player returned from a canoe trip in July of that year, he felt overwhelmed with the kind of fatigue that he had never experienced before, ABC News reported.

The family suspected that the boy came down with pneumonia, but the reality was much more terrifying: doctors discovered a softball-sized mass in his left lung that was pressing on his heart. The tumor was diagnosed as a stage-four cancer.

Luckily for Peter, he was young, strong and very athletic, giving him a good chance for survival.What followed was six months of grueling cancer treatment, which included seven rounds of chemotherapy that left the teenager completely bald.

Srsich's diagnosis and treatment had another impact on the boy: it plunged him into depression and made him question why all this was happening to him.
--

Finally, his turn was up to meet the pope. Towering over the diminutive pontiff, Peter told him that he had cancer and asked him for a blessing. And then something unexpected happened.

‘He looked at me and said, “Oh, you speak English?” and put his hand on my chest right where the tumor had been, even though I had not mentioned it to him,’ Peter recalled. ‘The blessing is usually on the head.’
----
‘Chemo helped me fight the cancer. Make-A-Wish helped me fight the chemo,’ he told ABC. ‘Knowing the pope was in my future helped me get through that, and in a small, non-miraculous way, helped cure my cancer.’

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:08 AM | Permalink

August 1, 2013

"Christianity, bad; Islam, good."

Michael Barone Obama administration: Some religions are more equal than others

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to a proposed House amendment to the defense authorization bill which would require, in the words of its sponsor, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., “the Armed Forces to accommodate ‘actions and speech’ reflecting the conscience, moral, principles or religious beliefs of the member...

Fleming points to evidence that Christian service members and chaplains are being penalized for expressing their faith. Examples:

•  The Air Force censored a video created by a chaplain because it include the word “God.” The Air Force feared the word might offend Muslims and atheists.
A service member received a “severe and possibly career-ending reprimand” for expressing his faith’s religious position about homosexuality in a personal religious blog.

A senior military official at Fort Campbell sent out a lengthy email officially instructing officers to recognize “the religious right in America” as a “domestic hate group” akin to the KKK and Neo-Nazis because of its opposition to homosexual behavior.

• A chaplain was relieved of his command over a military chapel because, consistent with DOMA’s definition of marriage, he could not allow same-sex weddings to take place in the chapel.
--
There’s a tension between this policy–arguably suppressing expressions of Christian faith–with the White House’s assurance, according to Investor’s Business Daily, that FBI surveillance not including any investigation of mosques.

So, it appears, Christian religious expression must be suppressed, while Muslim religious expression cannot even be monitored. … But it sure looks like a double standard to me: Christianity, bad; Islam, good. I seem to remember, from some ancient reading, the phrase, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:58 AM | Permalink

July 25, 2013

The Great Persecution

Christian Tragedy in the Muslim World by Bruce Thornton

Few people realize that we are today living through the largest persecution of Christians in history, worse even than the famous attacks under ancient Roman emperors like Diocletian and Nero. Estimates of the numbers of Christians under assault range from 100-200 million. According to one estimate, a Christian is martyred every five minutes. And most of this persecution is taking place at the hands of Muslims. Of the top fifty countries persecuting Christians, forty-two have either a Muslim majority or have sizeable Muslim populations.

In Crucified Again, Ibrahim performs two invaluable functions for educating people about the new “Great Persecution,” to use the label of the Roman war against Christians. First, he documents hundreds of specific examples from across the Muslim world. By doing so, he shows the extent of the persecution, and forestalls any claims that it is a marginal problem. Additionally, Ibrahim commemorates the forgotten victims, refusing to allow their suffering to be lost because of the indifference or inattention of the media and government officials.

Second, he provides a cogent explanation for why these attacks are concentrated in Muslim nations. In doing so, he corrects the delusional wishful thinking and apologetic spin that mars much of the current discussion of Islamic-inspired violence.

In Afghanistan, for example, where American blood and treasure liberated Afghans from murderous fanatics, a court order in March 2010 led to the destruction of the last Christian church in that country. In Iraq, also free because of America’s sacrifice, half of the Christians have fled; in 2010, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was bombed during mass, with fifty-eight killed and hundreds wounded.

In Kuwait, likewise, the beneficiary of American power, the Kuwait City Municipal Council rejected a permit for building a Greek Catholic church. A few years later, a member of parliament said he would submit a law to prohibit all church construction. A delegation of Kuwaitis was then sent to Saudi Arabia––which legally prohibits any Christian worship–– to consult with the Grand Mufti, the highest authority on Islamic law in the birthplace of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula.

The Mufti announced that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region,” a statement ignored in the West until Ibrahim reported it. Imagine the media’s vehement outrage and condemnation if the Pope in Rome had called for the destruction of all the mosques in Italy. The absence of any Western condemnation or even reaction to the Mufti’s statement was stunning. Is there no limit to our tolerance of Islam?

it is in Egypt––yet another beneficiary of American money and support–– that the harassment and murder of Christians are particularly intense.
--
Contrary to the apologists who attribute these attacks to poverty, political oppression, the legacy of colonialism, or the unresolved Israeli-Arab conflict, Ibrahim shows that intolerance of other religions and the use of violence against them reflects traditional Islamic theology and jurisprudence.
---
Both Islamic doctrine and history show the continuity of motive behind today’s persecution of Christians. As Ibrahim writes, “The same exact patterns of persecution are evident from one end of the Islamic world to the other––in lands that do not share the same language, race, or culture––that share only Islam.”

David French comments on Our Pathetic Support for Muslim Oppression

It is a sign that we have utterly lost our minds that many Americans worry far more about “Islamophobia” than they do about this very real oppression, and many Americans will mock critics of the Muslim world as bigots or extremists for condemning conduct that should shock the conscience of any civilized person.    It’s one thing to be so blinded by multicultural nonsense (failing to appreciate that it is the Muslim world — not America — that desperately needs to embrace “diversity”) that we can’t clearly identify evil, it’s another thing entirely to subsidize oppression on a grand scale.
---
we subsidize oppressive Muslim governments to the tune of roughly $8 billion per year — collectively far more than we give our closest Middle Eastern ally (and vibrant Democracy), Israel.
--
For too long — through Republican and Democratic administrations — we’ve turned away from abuse of women, ignored the persecution of Christians, made excuses for terrorism, and attached few meaningful conditions to our billions upon billions of dollars in aid. Instead, we’ve wrung our hands about our own “imperialism,” vigilantly policed our alleged Islamophobia, and kept writing checks to intolerant regimes — even as extremism flourished.

At some point this policy moves from naïve, to foolish, to pathetic, and — ultimately — to evil. Right now, we’re pathetic. If we keep paying for this oppression, we’ll be complicit in evil.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:52 PM | Permalink

July 18, 2013

Why the Rise of Zombies in Our Culture

Spengler on The Zombie Apocalypse

Sometime in 2011 the total number of film plots with the keyword “zombie” passed the number of film plots with the keyword “cowboy,” according to the Internet Movie Database. One might argue that the zombie has become the great American archetype of the postmodern era, as the cowboy was the American archetype a century ago. With the release of Brad Pitt’s $200 million zombie epic World War Z, what used to be the stuff of low-budget shockers has entered the American cultural mainstream. Therein lies a lesson.

“The history of the world is the history of humankind’s search for immortality,” I argued in my 2011 book Why Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too). Human beings can’t tolerate life without the hope of some existence beyond our brief mortal span of years. Cultures that know they have made it past their best-used-by date tend to die for lack of interest.
--
Dying cultures are the living dead. Half of the world’s 6,000 languages will disappear by the end of this century. They are zombie cultures. But we Americans are gestating a zombie culture inside what used to be a “country with the soul of a church,” as G.K. Chesterton put it. The hedonistic narcissism that took over popular culture during the 1960s produced a spiritual deadening like nothing in American history. That’s why we are so fascinated with zombies. We identify with them.
---
We think of ourselves as rational folk. And yet we find almost 10 million pairs of eyes glued to the television screen each week when a new episode airs of “The Walking Dead,” enthralled by the same images, but in reverse: the walking dead in place of the dead awaiting resurrection, animated corpses instead of wholesome priests or uncorrupted saints, a terrified band of survivors huddled against encroaching death instead of the happy procession of God’s people to the source of eternal life.

Father Barron on the hand liked World War Z..  Brad Pitt's Story of Salvation

First, it was a competently made thriller and not simply a stringing together of whiz-bang CGI effects. Secondly, it presented a positive image of a father. In a time when Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are the norm for fatherhood in the popular culture, Brad Pitt's character, Gerry Lane, is actually a man of intelligence, deep compassion, and self-sacrificing courage.

But what intrigued me the most about World War Z is how it provides a template for thinking seriously about sin and salvation.
--
But if it [sin] is more like a disease, then sin can be fully addressed only through the intervention of some medicine or antidote that comes from the outside. Moreover, if sin were just a bad habit, then it wouldn't reach very deeply into the structure of the self; but were it more like a contagion, it would insinuate itself into all the interrelated systems that make up the person. The fathers of Trent specify that sin causes a falling-apart of the self, a disintegration of mind, will, emotions, and the body, so that the sinner consistently operates at cross-purposes to himself.

Do you see now why the zombie -- a human being so compromised by the effects of a contagion that he is really only a simulacrum of a human -- is such an apt symbol for a person under the influence of sin?

Richard Fernandez The Rediscovery of Monsters

Dylan Charles says zombies are what we have instead of Homer. “Myth and metaphor play an important role in constructing our culture and creating purpose in our lives. They are tools that help the subconscious mind to digest the happenings of a world that is too complex for our five senses alone. … When we hear tales of Homer and his Odyssey we also receive cues we need to uncover the strength and perseverance required to face personal challenges.”

Today these challenges are mostly posed by ourselves. Charles enumerates them: nearly Unconscious Plebs on the Loose, an army of nearly undead pharmaceutical users, media hypnotized automatons, violence as the solution for everything and every man for himself. These are what we mean by ‘zombies’. In that sense we’re in World War Z already and have been for a long time. And no, the smooth flow of mental traffic will not return momentarily.

The Atlantic Wire, writing in a much more sober vein, says: “The zombie apocalypse has emerged as the metaphor of the decade for all sorts of things, from emergency preparedness to estate planning, and for good reason: It’s a catch-all for the end of humanity and an uninhabitable world, with none of the political ramifications of real scenarios like terrorism or global warming.”
--
It sounds like a survivalism that has gone mainstream. But more importantly it suggests  the authorities and even Hollywood secretly agree with the Tea Partiers: yes we do have a reason to worry. Yes there is a crisis. And Zombies and Kaiju are our way of sending you this subliminal signal even if on the talk shows we’ll tell you that the sun is shining, the birds are singing, employment has never been so good and traffic will return to normal in a few hours
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:35 PM | Permalink

July 17, 2013

The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks To Solve Modern Day Problems

Who knew that cognitive behavioral therapy was based on the philosophy of the Greek Stoic Epictetus?

Anxious? Depressed? Try Greek philosophy
Crippled by social anxiety and burnt out after a decade of hedonism, Jules Evans eventually found inspiration from the ancient Greeks. Here he tells how 2,000-year-old words of wisdom transformed his life and equipped him to help others solve their modern-day problems.

Growing up in the Nineties, my friends and I were amateur neuroscientists. Every weekend, we conducted experiments on our brains with various chemicals, to see what happened: marijuana, LSD, MDMA, amphetamine, mushrooms, all tossed into our system like ingredients in a cauldron. We had some hilarious, beautiful, even spiritual times. Then I noticed my friends beginning to burn out.

My best friend had a psychotic breakdown when he was 16. He’s been in and out of mental care homes ever since (he’s now 35, like me). Other friends developed paranoia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. In my first year at university, I started to get panic attacks, too. My body would be filled with mortal terror, in the most un-mortal of situations. I lost confidence in my ability to know myself or to steer a coherent course through life. I started to distrust myself, to avoid social situations. I was terrified that I had permanently damaged myself before the age of 21.
---
I investigated these disorders on the internet, and found they could apparently be treated by something called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT….. I also found there was a CBT support group for people suffering from social anxiety … For 10 weeks, we listened to the course, practised the exercises, and did the “homework”. And for me, it worked. The panic attacks stopped after a few weeks, and I gradually got back my confidence in my ability to steer a course through life. I steered a course to Russia, where I worked as a foreign correspondent for four fun, vodka-soaked years.

When I came back to the UK in 2007, I decided to research CBT. I went to New York to interview the psychologist who’d invented it, Albert Ellis, and asked him where he’d got the idea for it. He told me he’d been directly inspired by ancient Greek philosophy, particularly by a line from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus: “Men are disturbed not by events but by their opinion about events.”

 Epictetus

Ellis, like the Greeks, suggested that our emotions always involve beliefs or interpretations of the world. Our interpretations may often be inaccurate, irrational or self-destructive, and this will make us emotionally sick.
--
The Stoics were aware of how little we control in life. None more so than Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher of the first century AD, who grew up a slave in the Roman Empire (his name means “acquired”). He divided all of life into two categories: the things we control and the things we don’t. We don’t control the economy, the weather, other people, our reputation, our own bodies. We can influence these things, but we don’t have complete control over them. The only thing we do have control over is our own thoughts and beliefs, if we choose to exercise control.
Epictetus suggested that emotional problems arise when we try to exert complete control over something external. When I had social anxiety, for example, I rested all my self-esteem on others’ judgments of me. This made me feel very helpless, anxious and paranoid.
--
The good news is that we can change our habits. Epictetus said “there is nothing more malleable than the psyche”, and contemporary neuroscience agrees. Every day, we have a choice to either reinforce a habit, or challenge it. The Greeks understood the importance of habits to the good life – their word “ethics” comes from “ethos”, meaning habit – and they developed some great techniques for habit-formation.
--
Today, CBT is available free on the NHS. It has brought some of the Greeks’ ideas to millions of people. Many people have used it to learn to “take care of their souls”, as Socrates put it – which is where the word “psychotherapy” comes from. I hope some of them might go back to the original source in philosophy, because CBT leaves a lot out – Greek philosophy wasn’t just a feel-good therapy, it was also a road map for the good life, and the good society.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:58 PM | Permalink

Science, Fate and Free Will

Brendan O'Neill Standing up to the white-coated gods of fortune  Science has replaced Fortuna in fancying itself as the revealer of men's fates.

We use and abuse neuroscience to claim certain people are ‘born this way’. We claim evolutionary psychology explains why people behave and think the way they do. We use phrases like ‘weather of mass destruction’, in place of ‘gods’, to push the idea that mankind is a little thing battered by awesome, destiny-determining forces. Fate has been brought back from the dead and she’s been dolled up in pseudoscientific rags.

The intellectual challenge to the idea of fate was one of the most significant things about the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. There had always been an inkling of a belief within mankind that it was possible for individuals to at least influence their destiny, if not actually shape it. The Romans, for example, believed Fortuna would be kinder to brave, virtuous men. If you did good and took risks you had a better chance of being smiled upon by Fortuna. ‘Fortune favors the brave.’ But it wasn’t until the Renaissance that the idea that men could make their own fortunes really took hold. It’s then we see the emergence of the belief that by exercising his free will, a man can become master of his fate.
--
But the new determinism isn’t religious or supernatural, as it was in the pre-Enlightened era - it’s scientific determinism, or rather pseudo-scientific determinism.

There’s neuro-determinism, the idea that we’re fundamentally products of the accidental shape or chemical liveliness of our brains. Everything from our criminal instincts to our musical giftedness to our political orientation is now said to have been bestowed on us by the grey matter in our heads. A recent study on the ‘neurobiology of politics’ claimed that whether a person becomes a liberal or a conservative depends on his ‘brain circuits’, particularly the circuits that deal with conflict. So now, we can’t even choose our political outlook, apparently; we’re not even in control of our voting destinies.

Then there’s evolutionary determinism - the idea that we’re compelled by what one author calls our ‘evolutionary wiring’.
---
These modern determinisms are far worse than the old pre-modern belief in fate. At least ancient communities, like the Romans, believed that by being brave and virtuous an individual could offset the harshest judgements of the gods of fortune. The new determinism offers no such scope for the exercise of bravery or autonomy. Instead it demands that we be meek and apologetic in the face of awesome powers like angry nature. It demands that we accept that tiny cliques of experts – whether brain-scanners, parenting gurus or climatologists – are the only ones who can reveal to us our fate and advise us on how to prepare for its inevitable playing out. It tells us we’re not really the subjects of history, but the objects of history, tossed about by this and that powerful force.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:16 AM | Permalink

June 27, 2013

"Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists?"

I always pay attention when Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes.  His latest is in The Spectator

Atheism has failed.  Only religion can defeat the new barbariansThe West is suffering for its loss of faith. Unless we rediscover religion, our civilization is in peril

Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God’s covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.

Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche? Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?

A significant area of intellectual discourse — the human condition sub specie aeternitatis — has been dumbed down to the level of a school debating society. Does it matter? ….Why not leave it at that?

Fair enough, perhaps. But not, I submit, for readers of The Spectator, because religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.

Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality. No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’; instead the will to power. …

The history of Europe since the 18th century has been the story of successive attempts to find alternatives to God as an object of worship, among them the nation state, race and the Communist Manifesto. After this cost humanity two world wars, a Cold War and a hundred million lives, we have turned to more pacific forms of idolatry, among them the market, the liberal democratic state and the consumer society, all of which are ways of saying that there is no morality beyond personal choice so long as you do no harm to others.

Even so, the costs are beginning to mount up. Levels of trust have plummeted throughout the West as one group after another — bankers, CEOs, media personalities, parliamentarians, the press — has been hit by scandal. Marriage has all but collapsed as an institution, with 40 per cent of children born outside it and 50 per cent of marriages ending in divorce. Rates of depressive illness and stress-related syndromes have rocketed especially among the young. A recent survey showed that the average 18- to 35-year-old has 237 Facebook friends. When asked how many they could rely on in a crisis, the average answer was two. A quarter said one. An eighth said none.

None of this should surprise us. This is what a society built on materialism, individualism and moral relativism looks like. It maximises personal freedom but at a cost. As Michael Walzer puts it: ‘This freedom, energising and exciting as it is, is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support, very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members. It opens solitary men and women to the impact of a lowest common denominator, commercial culture.’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:43 AM | Permalink

June 22, 2013

The Exorcist

It's been 40 years since the movie The Exorcist, the scariest movie ever made, was released.  It won 10 Academy awards and become one of the highest grossing movies of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide.

 The Exorcist

William Peter Blatty who wrote the book in 1971 and adapted it for screen, rewrote the book for its 40th anniversary and said, "The 40th Anniversary Edition of The Exorcist will have a touch of new material in it as part of an all-around polish of the dialogue and prose. First time around I never had the time (meaning the funds) to do a second draft, and this, finally, is it. With forty years to think about it, a few little changes were inevitable -- plus one new character in a totally new very spooky scene. This is the version I would like to be remembered for."

He was inspired by the 1949 exorcism case of Roland Doe.  It began in Maryland, ended in St. Louis, and involved several Jesuits from Saint Louis University.  Father Raymond J. Bishop, S.J. kept a day-by-day account of the exorcism.  You can read his account here,

The young boy who was exorcised is still alive and living in the Washington, D.C. area.  It's believed Robbie would be 77 today.

"He's had several children," Waide said. "He's moved back to the Washington D.C. area. He was non-Catholic, Lutheran nominally, but he became a Catholic.  He was baptized during this whole episode."

It's been reported that Robbie named a son Michael. In the exorcism records, Robby tells the priests he was saved by St. Michael the Archangel.
--
In a priest's diary about the exorcism, this is the final footnote entry on page 29:

"Follow up: August 19, 1951. R and his father and mother visited the Brothers. R, now 16 is a fine young man. His father and mother also became Catholic, having received their first Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1950."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:19 AM | Permalink

Lackluster U.S. response to Christian persecution around the world

Finally a congressman speaks up about the lame and feeble response the U.S. is taking on Christian persecution around the world.

Rep. Frank Wolf, co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission,  criticized the U.S. government’s “anemic and at times outright baffling” response to the persecution of Christians in the Mideast, urging the appointment of an envoy to protect religious minorities.

“America has always been a friend to the oppressed, the persecuted, the forgotten. But, sadly, today, that allegiance is in question, as religious freedom and human-rights abuses around the globe increasingly go unaddressed and unanswered,”
--
The congressman noted that the civil war in Syria has killed some 93,000. Its consequences for Syrian Christians are “largely unknown and, unfortunately, rarely addressed by Western media.”

According to Wolf, the plight of Coptic Christians has been neglected by successive U.S. administrations. They now face marginalization under Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government.
--
The congressman lamented the decline in the Jewish population in countries such as Iraq and Egypt and the marginalization of the Baha’i community in Iran.  “It appears a similar fate may await the ancient Christian community in these same lands.
--
The years-long vacancy of the United States’ ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom also gives the impression that religious freedom is not important, Wolf added.

He said that Congress should pass legislation to create an envoy dedicated to advocacy on behalf of religious minorities in the Middle East and south-central Asia.

Some 100,000 Christians killed per year over faith, Vatican says

A staggering 100,000 Christians are killed annually because of their faith, according to the Vatican -- and several human rights groups claim such anti-Christian violence is on the rise in countries like Pakistan, Nigeria and Egypt…."Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders,

Just in the past week:
Syria rebels 'beheaded a Christian and fed him to the dogs'

Putin backs Assad and berates west over proposal to arm rebels.  Russian president says backing 'those who kill their enemies and eat their organs' flouts Europe's humanitarian values.  "“You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support? "

Iraqi MP: Syria collapse would endanger all Mideast Christians

Christian Beheaded for Refusing to Renounce Faith 

‘Pakistan Christian Women Abused For Faith In Christ’, reportedly beaten and forced to parade naked in a Pakistani village due to their faith in Christ.

Fifty-Two Churches Destroyed In Nigeria

Pakistan: A Christian Family plundered, Father abducted and tortured by Muslim Mob

Saudi Arabia declares destruction of all churches in region
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, "The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia--the top Islamic official in the country of Saudi Arabia--has declared that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.'" Nettleton goes on to note that the report hasn't surfaced anywhere except on the Council on Foreign Relations Web site, which was then picked up by The Atlantic.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:33 AM | Permalink

June 3, 2013

"It is not Islam that makes young converts violent; it is the violence within them that causes them to convert to Islam"

Theodore Dalrymple's thoughts on the brutal beheading of Lee Rigby.  I should note he is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist.

What these cases show is that it is not Islam that makes young converts violent; it is the violence within them that causes them to convert to Islam. The religion, in its most bloodthirsty form, supplies all their psychological needs and channels their anger into a supposedly higher purpose. It gives them moral license to act upon their rage; for, like many in our society, they do not realize that anger is not self-justifying, that one is not necessarily right because one is angry, and that in any case even justified anger does not entail a license to act violently. The hacking to death of Lee Rigby on a street in Woolwich tells us as much about the society that we have created, or allowed to develop, as it does about radical Islam preached by fat, middle-aged clerics.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:31 AM | Permalink

May 29, 2013

100,000 Christians violently killed each year

These are astonishing numbers.  Vatican to the UN: 100,000 Christians Killed for Their Faith Each Year.

The Vatican’s representative to the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, released an alarming report this week. Vatican Radio reports that in his address to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the archbishop said, “Credible research has reached the shocking conclusion that an estimate of more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year. Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders — as it recently happened in the case of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, in [Syria].”

“It may be useful that the Delegation of the Holy See should recall” the more than 300,000 Catholic institutions around the world that provide social services - schools, hospitals, care homes, orphanages, rehabilitation centers , refugee centers etc - "without any distinction of religion or race".

Paul Marshall points out

In contrast, our current administration is seeking to define any such services religious groups provide without “any distinction of religion” as therefore, by the very fact, not really religious, and therefore subject to close government control.

Charlotte Allen in the WSJ  Christian Martyrs to Islam, Past and Present 

On May 12 Pope Francis officially canonized more than 800 male Catholic residents of the southern Italian port of Otranto, who in 1480 were beheaded en masse for refusing to convert to Islam after their city was invaded and captured by a Turkish Muslim fleet. The making of the new saints was a vivid reminder of something that many people, including historians, prefer to gloss over: the pattern over the centuries of Islamic persecution of Christians that continues to this day in many Muslim-majority lands.

Despite the fact that 50.8% of Nigerians were Christian in 2011, The deadliest place to be a Christian is Nigeria .

The publicly reported Christian casualties in Nigeria last year were greater than the Christian casualties of Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Egypt combined. In fact, Nigeria alone accounted for almost 70 percent of Christians killed globally.
--
Much of the violence in 2012 was attributed to the Jihadist terror group Boko Haram (3,000 casualties)….

While Boko Haram’s bloody terrorist tactics certainly merit serious concern, the focus on this group has overshadowed a pattern of systemic religious violence in Nigeria. It obfuscates the pervasive history of the killing of Christians by Muslims in northern Nigeria going back over a quarter century.
--
In 1999, after a pro-democracy movement successfully ended military dictatorship and a Christian was elected president, 12 Muslim-controlled states in northern Nigeria reacted by imposing Islamic sharia law in open violation of Nigeria’s constitution. This resulted in horrific violence the following year that left thousands dead when Christians protested peacefully.

Such acts of violence continue to this day with virtual impunity. In November, for instance, the mispronunciation of a dress style by a non-Muslim tailor led to his death – along with several other Christians – and church burnings in spontaneous riots. This ultimately fatal fashion mistake was not the handiwork of terrorists but of average northern Nigerian Muslims.
_
In April 2011, in what was dubbed one of the “freest and fairest” elections in Nigeria’s recent history, Goodluck Jonathan was elected president. Before his victory was announced, violence erupted in the 12 northern sharia states – again.

The final toll for the Christian community was staggering. In a 48-hour period, 764 church buildings were burned, 204 Christians were confirmed killed, more than 3,100 Christian-operated businesses, schools, and shops were burned, and over 3,400 Christian homes were destroyed. While there have been similar death tolls in certain incidents in terms of scope and coordinated scale of destruction, there has been no equivalent attack against the church in recent decades, with the possible exception of government-backed genocides in Sudan.

Yet this was not a government-backed endeavor. Instead, thousands of Muslim youths in 12 states gathered together with machetes, knives, matches and gasoline and carried out this pogrom. The “freest and fairest” elections resulted in one of the “fiercest and most ferocious” violence against innocent Christians that Nigeria has seen.
--
The U.S. State Department, among others, claims that the Muslims of northern Nigeria have been marginalized politically and economically by the federal government and have responded to “legitimate grievances” with violence. This has been used to give unconscionable justification to violence against Christians in northern Nigeria, whether by terrorist actors such as Boko Haram (sect level) or the Muslim community at large (street level).

Raymond Ibrahim, Obama Administration calls for the 'human rights' of jihadi murderers

Nigerian warplanes struck militant camps in the northeast on Friday [5/17] in a major push against an Islamist insurgency, drawing a sharp warning from the United States to respect human rights and not harm civilians. Troops used jets and helicopters to bombard targets in their biggest offensive since the Boko Haram group launched a revolt almost four years ago to establish a breakaway Islamic state and one military source said at least 30 militants had been killed.  But three days after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeast, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strongly worded statement saying: “We are … deeply concerned by credible allegations that Nigerian security forces are committing gross human rights violations, which, in turn, only escalate the violence and fuel extremism.
--
As for Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the group has been responsible for some of the most horrific human-rights abuses. Indeed, of all the human rights abuses I catalog in my new book Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians, Boko Haram’s relentless slaughter of Christians is the most savage, resulting in more Christians killed than in the rest of the world combined.

The group has bombed or burned hundreds of Christian churches, most when packed for service. The Christmas day church attacks — in 2010, 2011, and 2012 — which left hundreds of Christians dead or dismembered, are the tip of the iceberg of Boko Haram’s hate for Christianity. In the group’s bid to cleanse northern Nigeria of all Christian presence, it has threatened to poison the food eaten by Christians and “to strike fear into the Christians of the power of Islam by kidnapping their women.” The group frequently storms areas where Christians and Muslims are intermingled — from villages to colleges — and singles the Christians out before slitting their throats to cries of Allahu Akbar. Pregnant and elderly Christian women and children have been raped, enslaved, and slaughtered simply for being “infidels.”

The fact that Boko Haram’s motives are clear-cut and fueled by Islamic teachings — the creation of an Islamic state that enforces Sharia law and is Christian-free — has not stopped the Obama administration from pointing to anything and everything else to rationalize its bloodlust.
--
At root, Boko Haram’s terror campaign is entirely motivated by Islamic teachings — even as the Obama administration refuses to designate the group as a terrorist organization, wastes millions of U.S. tax dollars on superfluous initiatives (or diversions), and pressures the Nigerian president to make concessions to the jihadis — including building more mosques, the very breeding grounds for Islamic “radicalization.”

And now, when the Nigerian government goes on the offensive to neutralize the terrorists responsible for countless inhuman atrocities, the Obama administration offers “a strongly worded statement” to defend their “human rights.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:45 PM | Permalink

May 28, 2013

Foxholes, Strange Notions and Something that wasn't supposed to happen

From Science 2.0  Atheists In Foxholes? Not Many -

A recent analysis of archived surveys of Army Infantry soldiers after a battle -  Samuel Stouffer's "The American Soldier" World War II  research - found self-reported reliance on prayer rose from 42% to 72% as that battle got more intense.
--
A second analysis of survey results from 1,123 World War II veterans showed that 50 or more years after combat, most soldiers still exhibited religious behavior, though it varied by their war experience. Those facing heavy combat (versus no combat) attended church 21% more often if they claimed their war experience was negative, but those who claimed their experience was positive attended 26% less often.

The more a veteran disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years later.

Brendan Voight has set up a new website Strange Notions as a "digital areopagus"  to encourage conversations among Catholics and atheists on reason and faith.

The atheist orthodoxy that drove me to faith.  Megan Holder reports she was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith earlier this month.

Of course, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Faith is something my generation is meant to be casting aside, not taking up. I was raised without any religion and was eight when 9/11 took place. Religion was irrelevant in my personal life and had provided my formative years with a rolling-news backdrop of violence and extremism. I avidly read Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, whose ideas were sufficiently similar to mine that
--
I started by reading Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address, aware that it had generated controversy at the time and was some sort of attempt –futile, of course – to reconcile faith and reason. I also read the shortest book of his I could find, On Conscience. I expected – and wanted – to find bigotry and illogicality that would vindicate my atheism. Instead, I was presented with a God who was the Logos: not a supernatural dictator crushing human reason, but the self-expressing standard of goodness and objective truth towards which our reason is oriented, and in which it is fulfilled, an entity that does not robotically control our morality, but is rather the source of our capacity for moral perception, a perception that requires development and formation through the conscientious exercise of free will.

It was a far more subtle, humane and, yes, credible perception of faith than I had expected. It didn’t lead to any dramatic spiritual epiphany, but did spur me to look further into Catholicism, and to re-examine some of the problems I had with atheism with a more critical eye.
---
I looked for absurdities and inconsistencies in the Catholic faith that would derail my thoughts from the unnerving conclusion I was heading towards, but the infuriating thing about Catholicism is its coherency: once you accept the basic conceptual structure, things fall into place with terrifying speed. “The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole,” wrote Edith Stein in The Science of the Cross: “If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others.” The beauty and authenticity of even the most ostensibly difficult parts of Catholicism, such as the sexual ethics, became clear once they were viewed not as a decontextualized list of prohibitions, but as essential components in the intricate body of the Church’s teaching.
--
Books had taken me to Catholicism as a plausible conjecture, but Catholicism as a living truth I came to understand only through observing those already serving the Church within that life of grace.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:49 PM | Permalink

May 17, 2013

Fabulous phrases from Francis

Pope Francis has only been Pope for a couple of months, yet, he's already coined fabulous phrases that Matt Schmitz has inventoried together with their context.

"God spray"
"Satellite Christians"
"identity card Christianity"
"Teenagers for life"
"Mr. Whiner"
"Pickled peppers"
"Middle class of holiness"
"Babysitter Church"
"Rosewater faith"
"Apostle of Babel"
"Charitable NGO"
"Odor of sheep"

and yesterday, "gentrification of the heart".

 Pope Francis Dove

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:18 AM | Permalink

May 3, 2013

Is the Pentagon destroying the morale of those in uniform?

What is going on in the defense department?  They are on the search for extremists in uniform but they are relying on extreme groups to advise them on who is an extremist. 

It was just last month that the US Army Labelled Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Evangelicals as Religious Extremists on a par with Al Qaeda, Hamas, the Ku Klux Klan, Sunni Muslims and the Nation of Islam.   

The presentation also warned that members of the military are prohibited from taking leadership roles in any organization the Pentagon considers 'extremist,' and from distributing the organization's literature, whether on or off a military installation.

Turns out the presentation was heavily influenced by Maurice Dees, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center whose fear-mongering has amassed so much money that it's probably the richest anti-poverty organization in the history of the world, an organization that gets an "F" rating from Charity Watch    Dees is called  the "King of the Hate Business" by the late progressive leftist Alexander Cockburn.  Cockburn decried the highly gullible and often highly educated people who continue to respond to the SLPC hate appeals with millions of dollars.

Now let's turn to the new Pentagon consultant on tolerance, Mikey Weinstein.

You probably saw the story earlier this week, Pentagon Taps Anti-Christian Extremist for Religious Tolerance Policy

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), in a column he wrote for the Huffington Post. Weinstein will be a consultant to the Pentagon to develop new policies on religious tolerance, including a policy for court-martialing military chaplains who share the Christian Gospel during spiritual counseling of American troops.

Weinstein decries what he calls the “virulent religious oppression” perpetrated by conservative Christians, whom he refers to as “monstrosities” and “pitiable unconstitutional carpetbaggers,” comparing them to “bigots” in the Deep South during the civil rights era.  “Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.” ….Regarding those who teach orthodox Christian beliefs from the Bible, Weinstein concludes, “Let’s call these ignoble actions what they are: the senseless and cowardly squallings of human monsters.”

Weinstein then endorses the ultra-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who publishes a list of “hate groups.” Alongside truly deplorable organizations like the KKK, the SPLC’s list includes a host of traditional Christian organizations (for their support of traditional marriage) and Tea Party organizations (for supporting limited government). Weinstein says SPLC correctly labels them all as “hate groups.”
--
In other words, it should be the official policy of the United States to decree what a human being’s spiritual needs are, and punish for violations a military officer who is an ordained clergyman who attempts to share his own personal faith with another service member when discussing religious matters. You cannot imagine such a thing ever happening under any previous president.
--
God help us now when someone with such visceral hatred of conservative Christians—literally tens of millions of Americans—who says sharing this gospel is “spiritual rape” is helping develop policies for how to deal with Christians in the military.

Weinstein says those guilty of this “treason” must be “punished.” Under federal law, the penalty for treason is death. And the Obama administration is sitting down to talk with this man to craft new policies for “religious tolerance” in our military.


What is this hater doing consulting with the Pentagon on tolerance?  I have been reassured that there's been no change in policy at the Pentagon.
But, but.  The Pentagon's hiring of Mikey Weinstein, a raving anti-Christian as a consultant on tolerance is extremely troubling.

David French in Are Military Leaders and the MSM Embracing an Anti-Christian Extremist?

And the Washington Post, CNN, ABC News and others treats him as a serious commentator on faith in the military? Substitute “Muslim” for “Christian” in any of these comments and the brass wouldn’t let him darken the Pentagon’s doors.
--
Sadly, because he meets with generals – because the likes of the Washington Post take him seriously — he may very well exercise influence over the military’s religious policy. I have no problem with the Pentagon meeting with a wide vareity of credible voices as it formulates and refines religious policies, but this is a man who literally demands courts-martial for speech he dislikes, a man who declares that servicemembers exposed to Christian ideas are “spiritual rape victims.” 
--
Mikey Weinstein meets with generals because the media give him power. Blinded by their own fear, ignorance, and hate, they give voice to an extremist they would condemn in virtually any another context. It’s pathetic and embarrassing.

The Pentagon has been clueless in the past.    But clueless is not the right word.  Pathetic cowering so they would not been seen as politically incorrect is more exact.

Remember  Major Nidal Malik Hassan who  shouted  "Allahu Akbar "  as he killed 13 people and injured 32 others at the Fort Hood military base in November, 2009 . The Senate described the Ft Hood shootings  as "the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001."    The Department of Defense classified the shootings as "workplace violence."    He has been judged sane and is being tried in a military court .  Hassan has twice offered to plead guilty, but Army rules prohibit the judge from accepting a guilty plea in a death penalty case.

While enlisted in the Army, Hassan earned his medical degree and completed his internship and residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  In 2009 he received a promotion from Captain to Major and was transferred to Ft Hood despite a poor performance evaluation.  Since 2004 he become increasingly radicalized.  He was against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, visited violent Jihadist web sites where as a commentator he supported suicide bombers and carried on email correspondence with Anwar al_Awlaki, the American Al Qaeda jihadist living in Yemen, who repeatedly called for violent jihad against the US until his death by a drone attack in Yemen in 2011.

Despite the fact that Hassan's colleagues and superiors were deeply concerned about his aggressive, agitated behavior and extremist comments which they described as "paranoid" and "schizoid", nobody raised any red flags.    Cowardly behavior that can not be justified but only explained by surrender to political correctness.

Perhaps the Hassan case explains why the military is hunting for extremists in its ranks.  But it doesn't explain the deeply confused thinking by the Pentagon whose spokesman is trying to make a distinction between evangelizing and proselytizing that doesn't exist..     

We are justifiably proud of the brave men and women who make up  our all volunteer army.    A 2008 survey found that Christians make up 77% of those in military service, 22% claim no religion and about 1% is made up of other religions.    Is there any evidence whatsoever of the "virulent religious oppression" by conservative Christians that Mikey Weinstein claims? 

What does it do to their morale to have the Pentagon, in an appalling exercise of moral equivalence, calling them religious extremists?  What do they think about a Pentagon advisor calling them "spiritual rapists" and "monstrosities"?  Would this be tolerated for a second if Muslims were called that?

We ask these men to be ready to die at any time to preserve our freedoms.  Surely they deserve better.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:53 PM | Permalink

March 29, 2013

Good Friday and the Sacrifice of the Lamb

 Zubaran's-Paschal Lamb

The Suffering Lamb of God

“That’s what happens to Passover lambs. They don’t make it out alive.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:33 AM | Permalink

March 27, 2013

Spy Wednesday

Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday is the day in Holy Week when Judas Iscariot made his deal with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

The Sanhedrin was gathered together and it decided to kill Jesus, even before Pesach if possible. In the meantime, Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper. Here he was anointed on his head by a woman with very expensive ointment of spikenard. In John's Gospel, this woman is identified as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Some of the disciples, particularly Judas, were indignant about this. Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on, Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

 Caravaggio - Taking Of Christ - Dublin - 2
The Taking of the Christ by Caravaggio

The painting above is the "lost' Caravaggio that is the subject of Jonathan Harr's best-selling 2005 book, The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece . 

It reads  more like a thriller with real characters that include a young female graduate student in art, a 91-year-old Caravaggio expert and a restorer at the National Gallery of Art who "ultimately discovers the lost masterpiece  grime-covered masterpiece in a house owned by Jesuit priests.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:41 PM | Permalink

March 19, 2013

Smearing the Pope

The New York Times has run, at last count, 10 pieces in the past six days bringing up the allegations that the new Pope assisted the old Argentine junta in the “Dirty War” period. Which is quite a lot for a story based on hearsay and supposition as opposed to evidence, no?

How the New York Times Smeared Pope Francis Today  Who'd have guessed the Gray Lady would recycle attacks engineered by a left-wing wannabe dictatorship?

At Get Religion, Is CNN pushing the "Dirty War" story?

I would contrast CNN’s articles with those found in the three main Parisian dailies: Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Liberation.  The French papers all reported the accusations made by Mr. Verbitsky as well as the denials by the Vatican but framed the stories so as to give Francis the benefit of the doubt. The French papers provided the context as well as the facts allowing readers to decide whom they want to believe. CNN believes Mr. Verbitsky and wants you to also. That may be appropriate for an opinion magazine like the New Republic. But is there enough information out there from CNN to do this? I don’t think so

Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope by  Mary Anastasia O’Grady. Argentines who want their country to be the next Venezuela see Francis as an obstacle.

One might have expected a swell of pride from Argentine officialdom when the news broke that the nation has produced a man so highly esteemed around the world. Instead the Kirchner government's pit bulls in journalism—men such as Horacio Verbitsky, a former member of the guerrilla group known as the Montoneros and now an editor at the pro-government newspaper Pagina 12—immediately began a campaign to smear the new pontiff's character and reputation at home and in the international news media.

The calumny is not new. Former members of terrorist groups like Mr. Verbitsky, and their modern-day fellow travelers in the Argentine government, have used the same tactics for years to try to destroy their enemies—anyone who doesn't endorse their brand of authoritarianism. In this case they allege that as the Jesuits' provincial superior in Argentina in the late 1970s, then-Father Bergoglio had links to the military government.

This is propaganda.
--
Intellectually honest observers with firsthand knowledge of Argentina under military rule (1976-1983) are telling a much different story than the one pushed by Mr. Verbitsky and his ilk. One of those observers is Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize. Last week he told BBC Mundo that "there were bishops that were complicit with the dictatorship, but Bergoglio, no."
--
Former Judge Alicia Oliveira, who was herself fired by the military government and forced into hiding to avoid arrest, told the Argentine newspaper Perfil last week that during those dark days she knew Father Bergoglio well and that "he helped many people get out of the country." In one case, she says there was a young man on the run who happened to look like the Jesuit. "He gave him his identification card and his [clergy attire] so that he could escape."

Here's another good report on Francis, the Jesuits and the Dirty War

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:44 PM | Permalink

March 14, 2013

Habemus Papem, Franciscum

The emoticon for Habemus Papem from Vatican Communication's Twitter account

\o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/

Lorenzo Albacente on What the Pope Really Is for Catholics

Before being someone with a job to do, he is the one sent to us to hear, see and touch, whose physical presence is what links us to Christ.  He is the custodian of the Incarnation.

 Cardinal-Bellingor-Kissing-Feet

Could anything be more counter-cultural than a media-shy Pope?  Cardinal Bergoglio once refused a Curial position, saying it would kill him

Don’t you just love it when the Holy Spirit pulls the rug from under all our feet? I have to admit that when I heard the name of the man who had been elected Pope after little more than 24 hours of conclave, I was taken aback. But then I heard the name he had chosen as Pope, and I realised all was well: Francis. One of the beauties of faith is that it gives us a language which cuts to the chase. No one who knows anything about St Francis can fail to note that the beginning of his mission was rooted in those words Christ said to him from the Cross at San Damiano: “Francis, rebuild my Church!”
--
He is a man for the poor, zealous for social justice in a continent where this is a crucial issue. He is a man for the weak and defenceless, defending the lives of the unborn, and the right of children to be brought up with the “human maturity that God willed them to have, with a father and a mother”. He is a man who leads by example, giving up a sumptuous palace and a chauffeur-driven car and washing the feet of Aids victims and drug addicts. He has encouraged an ecclesial movement – Communion and Liberation – which has brought countless young people back to the Church but has remained independent, a Jesuit whose life of prayer is founded on Jesuit spirituality. He comes from Latin America, but he has Italian parentage, which gives him the ability to speak directly to his brothers in Christ in his new home – having once refused a Curial position, saying that it would kill him (that is, according to the Vatican commentator, Sandro Magister).

The First Pope Named Francis by Sandro Magister

By electing as pope at the fourth scrutiny the archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the conclave has made a move as surprising as it is brilliant.

Surprising for those — almost everyone — who had not noticed, during the preceding days, the effective appearance of his name in the conversations among the cardinals. His relatively advanced age, 76 years and three months, led him to be classified more among the great electors than among the possible elect…
---
A name that reflects his humble life. Having become archbishop of Buenos Aires 1998, he left empty the sumptuous episcopal residence next to the cathedral. He went to live in an apartment a short distance away, together with another elderly bishop. In the evening he was the one who saw to the cooking. He rarely rode in cars, getting around by bus in the cassock of an ordinary priest.
But he is also a man who knows how to govern. With firmness and against the tide. He is a Jesuit — the first to have become pope — and during the terrible 1970′s, when the dictatorship was raging and some of his confrères were ready to embrace the rifle and apply the lessons of Marx, he energetically opposed the tendency as provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina.
He has always carefully kept his distance from the Roman curia. It is certain that he will want it to be lean, clean, and loyal.

From a 2002 article about Cardinal  Bergoglio by Sandro Magister

There isn´t a politician, from the right to the extreme left, who isn´t dying for the blessing of Bergoglio. Even the women of Plaza de Mayo, ultraradicals and unbridled anti-catholics, treat him with respect. He has even made inroads with one of them in private meetings. On another occasion, he visited the deathbed of an ex-bishop, Jeronimo Podestá, who had married in defiance of the Church and was dying poor and forgotten by all. From that moment, Mrs. Podestá became one of his devoted fans.

But Bergoglio has also had his difficulties with his ecclesiastical environment. He is a Jesuit of the old school, faithful to St. Ignatius. He became the provincial superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina just when the dictatorship was in full furor and many of his confreres were tempted to take up the rifle and apply the teachings of Marx. Once removed from his position as superior, Bergoglio returned to obscurity. He came back into the public eye in 1992 when the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Antonio Quarracino, made him his auxiliary bishop.

Quiet thunder in Argentina (This profile of Cardinal Bergoglio first appeared in The Catholic Herald on October 7 2005

Bergoglio is admired as being far from the powers of this world, indifferent to his media image, preoccupied by the future of society, and a man looking always for new forms of social solidarity and justice in a country where 15 per cent are unemployed and thousands rummage through the bins at night looking for something to eat.

The media do not punish him for his silence, but speak of him with awe and respect. Many, including agnostic critics of the Church, regard him as the most credible social leader in a country in which, it ought to be said, politicians, union leaders and businessmen are regarded with considerable scepticism.

In Crisis magazine, Pope Francis knows what must be done by Scott P. Richert

Dinner with the new pope,  Cardinal Dolan gives us an  insider's look

Inside the residence, during the dinner, Dolan said the new pope showed his humorous side.

"We toasted him and when he toasted us he said: 'May God forgive you,' which brought the house down," he said.

Much funnier the way Cardinal Dolan tells the story as  you can see on this YouTube link.

 Pope On Bus

Three keys to Pope Francis - humility, reform, evangelization

Headlines from the MSM

NY Times “Argentine Pope Will Make History, but Backs Vatican Line.”
NBC News, Status quo leader: Same-sex marriage, abortion unlikely under Pope Francis
James Taranto deals with all the  Popes and Dopes so I don't have to.

Would you believe the translator the BBC chose  clearly didn't know the Lord's prayer given the mess he made in translation of both the Lord's prayer and the Hail Mary.  Listen to the link to see what an abysmal choice the BBC made to translate the new Pope's remarks.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:05 AM | Permalink

March 6, 2013

Lies, denial and ignorant incompetence about Christianity

The film The Magdalene Sisters is described by IMDb : Three young Irish women struggle to maintain their spirits while they endure dehumanizing abuse as inmates of a Magdalene Sisters Asylum.  When the film  came out in 2002, I accepted as truth what they depicted when I should have known better.

The Magdalene laundries were used as reformatories where girls were sent without due process. But they were not brutal: anti-Catholics have lied about them

The laundries were tough places, undoubtedly. But there was no sexual abuse and no physical punishment.

John Stonestreet at Breakpoint comments about on the widespread ignorance about religion on the part of the mainstream press (Crow's ear!) and has a terrific analogy to sportswriters.

As Faiola told Post readers, “He walked with a gilded cane in the shape of a cross” as people cheered “Long live the Pope!”  The “gilded cane in the shape of a cross” he’s referring to was actually a crosier, the shepherd’s staff that symbolizes a bishop’s role as the leader of his flock.

The Post isn’t alone in its apparent ignorance of this most ancient of Christian regalia. Eight years ago, the New York Times, referring to the same object, called it a “crow’s ear,” which given the anatomical improbability of the phrase, should have caught an editor’s attention.
--
As Terry Mattingly documents regularly over at “Get Religion,” the media doesn’t “get religion.”

And given the centrality of religion to so many people’s lives, this ignorance and tone-deafness is bizarre. Imagine a sportswriter repeatedly referring to the “last two innings of the Super Bowl.” You would rightly question his competence and go elsewhere for your sports news.

How Hollywood De-Christianized Johnny Cash

Leaving out Cash’s Christian faith from his life story is like leaving out half-naked 19-year-old girls from Hugh Hefner’s. It’s like telling the story of Jackie Robinson without ever mentioning race or segregation.

The tension between the flesh and spirit, between things of this earth and things of heaven, animated all of Cash’s music. It’s what drew audiences to him generation after generation. Sin and redemption, good and evil, selfishness and love, and the struggles of living by a standard set not by man but by God — all were driving forces in Cash’s work and life.
---
Cash wasn’t walking just any line. He was trying his best to walk a Christian line.
---
But there wasn’t a single Gospel song on the Walk the Line soundtrack. Somehow, the screenwriters left out that important dimension of his musical catalogue. And there wasn’t a single mention of the greatest love of Cash’s life: Jesus Christ. That’s a love story the screenwriters of Walk the Line just couldn’t wrap their minds around.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:33 PM | Permalink

February 28, 2013

Pope Benedict Leaves the Vatican

I couldn't agree more with William Oddie who wrote We have all now grown used to the idea of the Pope’s abdication: the reality will be harder to take in. It remains a great sorrow to have to live through

 Benedict-Waving-

But his departure is still a terrible blow. As I wrote after the announcement, “Catholics love their pope; and for the pope simply to disappear, for this beloved person to say, in effect, that after the end of this month we will never see him or hear from him again is like a kind of bereavement without a death and the final closure that a good death brings.”
--
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Queen sent a very powerful message, read out by the British Ambassador at a memorial service in St Thomas’s Church, Fifth Avenue: it included an unforgettable sentence: “grief is the price we pay for love”. Don’t misunderstand me: this isn’t of course a tragedy on anything like the same level of desperate horror. But the premature end of this particular pontificate, all the same, still feels to me to be not without its tragic dimension
--
This has been a very great pope; and part of his greatness has been his unique combination of great intellect with a very real and visible fatherly tenderness for all his people. Intellect and love, reason and faith; his has been a genius unique in its power to bring together means of perception and understanding which are often thought to operate in quite distinct ways, even to be incompatible.  In many of his addresses, writes Professor Tracey Rowland, in a brilliant assessment of his pontificate, “Benedict … emphasized that love and reason are the twin pillars of all reality. The relationships between love-and-reason and faith-and-reason were themes to which he often returned. One sensed that he was trying to reconcile the Thomist and Franciscan traditions in a higher synthesis: rather than a system which gives a typically Thomist priority to truth, or one which gives a typically Bonaventurian priority to love, he insisted that love and reason are equally foundationally significant – hence the image of ‘twin pillars’.”

He won't be the Holy Father anymore, Oddie writes, but the Holy Grandfather

The Anchoress calls the Pope's resignation, the supernatural gambit

Benedict, having faced it, realized that the Church’s disorientation—and thus the world’s—would not be righted by yet another professorial speech, or another pilgrimage. A ship in profound danger requires a profound action, and Benedict has taken it. He is throwing all of us into the arms of the Lord in the belief that, as he said after his announcement, “the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking.”

You might call it a supernatural gambit as in one move Benedict is both teaching by example and subverting the world in a way perhaps only the evil one understands; the prayers and penances of a Vicar of Christ, unimpeded by the trappings and distractions of an office, will be powerfully efficacious.  Those who think Benedict has simply lain down his staff do not understand that he lays it down to pick up a flamethrower of sorts. For however long he lives as a monastic, he will be a conduit of prayer, praise, adoration and supplication for the rest of the world. He is taking on huge duty.

 Popeb16 Window Candle

The Pope's Final General Audience

Speaking on life after his resignation goes into effect, the Pope stated that he could not return to a private life, nor spend his time travelling or attending meetings and conferences. “I am not abandoning the cross,” he said, “but remain in a new way with the Crucified Lord. I no longer carry the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter's bounds.”

Pope's Final Tweet

"Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."

Benedict XVI Leaves Vatican

During his last general audience Wednesday, Benedict XVI invited firm trust in the Lord, "like children in the arms of God."  The serenity of that trust has been reflected on his face today, the last of his pontificate. This morning, he addressed the cardinals for the last time, and then greeted each of them personally.

Pope's Address to Cardinals on last day of his pontificate.

"Among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope, to whom already today I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience"

 Pope Leaves Vatican

From Castel Gandolfo, Pope's Final Farewell

"I wish still with my heart, my love, my prayer, my reflection, with all my inner strength, to work for the common good and the good of the Church and of humanity"
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:05 PM | Permalink

Thou shalt report, not distort.

Elizabeth Lev has done a smash-up job in The Ten Commandments of Reporting on the Vatican

Make no mistake, information is power and those who wield it are accountable.

1)    Thou shalt leave your personal prejudices at the door. I have often seen Al Qaeda treated with more respect than Pope Benedict and the Roman Catholic Church. While you may disagree with the Church’s teaching on any number of things, there is no excuse to let your personal agenda define your coverage. In reporting on other world events, it is unthinkable to insert one’s personal ideas, so why is it acceptable when reporting on the Church? If all you can focus on is birth control, gay marriage and abortion and how the papacy should change its teaching, you should probably just go home. Whether you agree or disagree isn’t really the question. Your job is to understand and to report, to give background and help viewers and readers to get a sense of the bigger picture. Pope Benedict XVI has led the 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church for 8 years, drawn crowds of millions in gatherings worldwide and brought a message of hope and love to the farthest reaches of the earth. The Pope’s CV is impressive to say the least, and he deserves respect.
---
4)  Thou shalt report, not distort. Millions are unable to follow these events in person, many more will not have the option of channel surfing or perusing myriad blogs for news.  It is the responsibility of those who are present to report with clarity and accuracy. Many people deeply care about what is going on, and would be grateful for an unbiased account of this event.
--
8)    Thou shalt not resurrect anachronistic terminology. …. Constant reference to a sex abuse “crisis” is another expression that now makes no sense. Crisis is a critical event or a turning point. The crisis in  clerical sex abuse took place in 2001, over 10 years ago. Since then the Church has instituted guidelines and screening so that from an average of 50 cases per year in the 70s and 80s there were only 7 credible accusations of abuse in 2010 out of 39,000 priests in the US. If any institution has shown the world how to turn things around, it is the Catholic Church.  Talk of a “crisis” can only stem from disingenuousness or lack of imagination.

9)    Thou shalt not apply ecclesiastical affirmative action. The Church is universal but doesn’t need to fill quotas. There are Catholics all over the world. Just walk into a Pontifical University and the colors, languages and cultures are as numerous and varied as Raphael’s pigments. The Church elected popes from Africa (Milziade 311-314), and Asia (John V from Syria 685-686) long before the Americas were even discovered. The idea that the Church should select a new pope merely based on skin color or somatic features is absurd and unnecessary.

10) Thou shalt not dismiss age or beauty. The Church has been around for a very long time and has weathered arrested, disgraced and murdered popes, invasions, persecutions and the complete loss of their lands. It has survived a reformation and a Risorgimento and is still here. For every disaster, the Church has produced something beautiful to show for it, whether it be a work of art, a spectacular structure or the glorious life of a saint. St Peter’s was made during the reformation, the Pietà carved during one of the most corrupt reigns of the Renaissance, and St Maximilian Kolbe flowered in the Holocaust. The Church knows that hardships come to an end, but in the moments of greatest pressure our finest diamonds are forged.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:31 PM | Permalink

Washington Post openly confesses bias in reporting on social issues

The Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton is leaving and will not be replaced.  His column Is the Post 'pro-gay'? reveals the astonishingly bigotry of an anonymous reporter when it comes to social conservatism in a three-way dialogue including a reader who wrote in to say

that Post stories too often minimize the conservative argument: “The overlooked ‘other side’ on the gay issue is quite legitimate, and includes the Pope, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, evangelist Billy Graham, scholars such as Robert George of Princeton, and the millions of Americans who believe in traditional marriage and oppose redefining marriage into nothingness. … Is there no room in The Post for those who support the male-female, procreative model of marriage?”
Replied the reporter: “The reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time. Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that’s the ‘view of the world’ that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law.”
The reader: “Contrary to what you say, the mission of journalism is not justice. Defining justice is a political matter, not journalistic. Journalism should be about accuracy and fairness.

Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion gives the Post what-for in WPost: Yes, we fear and loath religious traditionalists.

Why, we all know how much the Washington Post cares about civil rights, right? I couldn’t even begin to quantify how much ink has been spilled advocating for an entire class of humans deemed not deserving of even the most fundamental right to life. Why, sometimes I think the Washington Post almost cares too much about the scourge of abortion, don’t you? Oh wait, that’s right, they actually don’t care about that civil right at all. What’s more, they don’t even agree that the unborn human’s right to life *is* a civil rights issue — at least for the unborn children involved.

And guess what, unnamed reporter and your army of close-minded scribes: Whether or not there *is* a civil right to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples or other groupings is precisely — precisely — the debate at hand.
--
Refusing to learn the arguments of those who oppose changing the law must end. It simply must end. The ignorance and bigotry with which reporters have covered this topic is a scandal. It’s destroying civil political discourse, it’s embarrassing and can’t continue.

Reporters don’t need to change their deeply-held biases in favor of changing marriage law. But they do need to learn even a little bit about the arguments of those who oppose such a change.
-
Failure to understand the basic (and, frankly, not even that difficult to understand) arguments of those who oppose redefining marriage is inexcusable bigotry, particularly after years of witnessing what happens in the coverage of this debate. Reporters close their eyes, slam their fingers in their ears and shout “racist!” anytime a traditional marriage defender opens his or her mouth. -
--
Pexton’s column becomes something of an embarrassment, too. He reveals himself as blind as the reporter to any angle on this story other than the one advanced by advocates of redefining marriage. The only “fairness” story he can see is from the perspective of same-sex couples wanting to change marriage law. He can’t even imagine how redefining marriage law would affect marriage norms, business law, religious liberty, the rights of children, or any of the other myriad “fairness” stories that a truly diverse and open-minded press might be able to stumble upon in the midst of the cheerleading for change.
--
Pexton’s statement reveals just how blind he and his colleagues are to how changes in law have many intended and unintended consequences that affect everyone’s freedom.

To sum up then, Pexton and the unnamed Post reporter refuse to hear the arguments of those who oppose redefining marriage, make incorrect claims as to what those arguments are, issue slurs of racism and religious zealotry against those who disagree. 
-

George Neumayr comments in Equating Christians with Racists

Last Sunday, the Washington Post’s ombudsman casually revealed that the official policy of reporters at the paper is to treat opponents of gay marriage as the moral equivalent of racists.
--
In other words, reporters don’t cover debates but decide them. On the basis of their notions of “justice and fairness,” they tailor all coverage and determine in advance the winners of debates. This admission—that there is no difference between the paper’s front page and editorial page—would have been bad enough on its own. But then the reporter dug the hole deeper by telling the reader that opponents of gay marriage are no more legitimate than segregationists: “As for accuracy, should the media make room for racists, i.e. those people who believe that black people shouldn’t marry white people? Any story on African-Americans wouldn’t be wholly accurate without the opinion of a racist, right?”

Rod Dreher sums it up.  WaPo: ‘Error Has No Rights’

In a nutshell, when it comes to reporting on the debate and events around the same-sex marriage issue, the Post feels it has no responsibility to report fairly and accurately on people who oppose same-sex marriage, because they are morally wrong.
--
To the extent this opinion informs the Post‘s coverage — and I would bet my paycheck it does — it is a gross abdication of professional responsibility. The reader isn’t asking the Post to take the side of traditionalists; he or she is simply asking the Post to report the news in an evenhanded way. And the reporter refuses to do so……the reporter lays it right out there, saying that bigotry in news reporting against orthodox Christians and other marriage traditionalists is an act of virtue.
--
The contempt with which so many within newsrooms hold social conservatives and traditional Christians is real. Stories like this one temper my sorrow over the demise of my profession. They really do hate people like me, and consider us not worthy of the basic fairness they would use in approaching their reporting on criminals and terrorists.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:54 AM | Permalink

February 19, 2013

"“In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished" UPDATED

In the U.K., William Oddie on Pope Benedict's  warnings on secularism and religious liberty

One of the most central insights of Pope Benedict’s pontificate was summed up in his phrase “the dictatorship of relativism”. In his now famous conversation with the German journalist Peter Seewald (the same one on which he said that popes can abdicate), he said this, in explanation: “In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished; this is a real threat we face. The danger is that reason – so-called Western reason – claims that it has now really recognized what is right and thus makes a claim to totality that is inimical to freedom. I believe that we must very emphatically delineate this danger. No one is forced to be a Christian. But no one should be forced to live according to the ‘new religion’ as though it alone were definitive and obligatory for all mankind.”
--
There can be little doubt that this secularist dictatorship is being rolled out in this country today, notably in the education system, where in certain key areas, certain forms of behaviour must be presented as being valid and acceptable whether or not teachers believe they are.
--
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury spoke out about the implications for religious liberty of the vote last Tuesday on the same sex “marriage” bill now being pushed (probably irresistibly) through the Commons by the “Conservative” Prime Minister, David Cameron. Bishop Davies last week told married couples gathered from all over his diocese to celebrate landmark anniversaries at an annual Mass of Thanksgiving for Marriage that it was possible to “see the absurdity of changing the identity of marriage in the name of a false understanding of equality by the desire to even strike out the cherished names of ‘mother’ and ‘father’”.

That was a predictable enough criticism. But he also repeated a warning he has given before: having said that recognising the truth of marriage was not “an injustice to be remedied” he went on to predict that soon it could even become an offence to repeat “the beautiful teaching of Christ” that marriage is the lasting union of one man and one woman which forms the foundation of the family.

Update:  Today's example.  Andrew Cuomo’s Radical Abortion Regime

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks to impose a radical new abortion regime on the state, one that goes far beyond the euphemistic byword “choice.” The bill would in fact limit many choices, for instance the choice of Catholic hospitals and other institutions with moral objections to decline to allow abortions to be performed in their facilities. It would limit the choices of organizations that counsel pregnant women if their counseling were held to be insufficiently enthusiastic about abortion. It would limit the choices of organizations that seek to help women in crisis without involving themselves in the politics of abortion.
--
Governor Cuomo’s bill is not about easing access to abortion — those bloody skids already are well-greased. The issue is political domination. The abortion party does not brook resistance, and it steadfastly seeks to ensure that everybody has a hand in its grisly business: taxpayers, employers, priests. All must be implicated. If a religious hospital declines to provide abortions, then it must be forced to do so. If a counseling center treats adoption as preferable to abortion, it will either change its mind or have its mind changed for it by the gentle persuasion of the State of New York.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:19 PM | Permalink

February 15, 2013

Ignore the 'Council of the Media' when it comes to Catholicism

“There are not over a 100 people in the U.S. that hate the Catholic Church, there are millions however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” —Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Michael Walsh on The Clueless Media

The instant Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement, the American media went into politics mode — and got even that wrong.

No, the focus instead was on whether the church — despite centuries of fidelity to a well-defined set of moral precepts — will take this opportunity to “expand its appeal” by compromising its teachings on birth control, homosexuality and divorce.  And, given the church’s decline in Europe but its dramatic rise in the Third World, whether the next pope would better “represent” the demographic shift if he were black or Hispanic.

Translation: Will the Catholic Church finally start imitating the Democratic Party? Why no
---
But nothing makes lefties madder than Benedict’s deaf ear toward their petulant insistence that the Church “modernize” — in other words, destroy the moral foundation of the world’s longest surviving institution.  It never seems to occur to the critics that the church’s explosive growth outside Europe and North America is precisely due to the steadfastness of its moral teachings — and that its decline in the West is a result of a loss of faith in those very principles among intellectuals. (You see the same decline in Reform Judaism and liberal Protestantism.)

Media Waste No Time to Display Ignorance

Our faith remains a mystery.  No time has been wasted stirring up a frenzy of speculation about what will happen next in the Catholic Church, not from the perspective of its place in the hearts and lives of 1.1 billion Catholics around the globe, but through the prism of the mainstream media’s political priorities.

In the Washington Post The Catholic Church can’t change

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but the Catholic Church is not going to change its teaching on any of the fun stuff (contraception, female “ordination,” homosexuality, abortion, etc.) with the next pope.  Nor will it ever.

When news of the pope’s retirement broke, Nicholas Kristof pondered on Twitter: “At some point, the church will accept contraception and female and non-celibate priests. Could it be in the next papacy?” Countless groups issued press releases clamoring for a “progressive” pope. The Rainbow Sash Movement called for the next pope to stop emphasizing “purity.” The Women’s Ordination Conference announced it would hold vigils and raise pink smoke to raise awareness of the need for “female priests.” I can’t wait to see what Maureen Dowd will say.

Tim Stanley Pope Benedict XVI resigns: the mainstream media just doesn't get God or Catholicism

For Lent, I’m giving up. How can anyone of faith not feel like surrendering after this week’s largely bad media coverage of the papal abdication?… The Guardian’s ideal Pope is someone who isn’t a Catholic.    Let’s name and shame a few media sins:

1. Defining Pope Benedict as a “conservative”. In Catholicism there is no Right or Left but only truth and error. A Pope is there to articulate doctrine, not to “turn the clock back” or “embrace progress.
--
3. Giving excessive air time to the Church’s critics. If someone retired at work, who would you invite to give the farewell speech? Someone who liked and understood them, or someone who hated or never even met them? Parts of the media seem to overwhelmingly favor the latter,
---
4. Insisting that the Church needs to reform to survive. Whether it does or not, it won’t happen because the Catholic Church doesn’t do change….In a world where everything seems to be up for negotiation, religion offers stability and certainty. The Catholic Church is like your dad: you might not agree with all his prejudices, but there’s reassurance in trusting that he believes what he believes and he’s always there for you.

The Anchoress Media Uses Assault Weapons of Ignorance on Benedict

Weigel does a good job of gently informing his host that no one is forced to be a Catholic, that the Catholic church is not a democratic republic whereby the Pope/President can issue an “executive action” decreeing that “yeah, everything we’ve thought through and taught for 2,000 years is nonsense in the face our enlightened progressive age…”. Time constraints, however, preclude his addressing the (to me) most obnoxious lie — because it’s one that utterly betrays MSNBC’s incuriosity and their unwillingness to do the barest research — the “pope hates stem cell research” lie.

Yes, the old “church hates science” narrative, promulgated by people who do not know, or care to know, that the scientific method originated with her, as did the idea of a university. It takes precisely a minute to google “Pope Benedict Stem Cell Research” do you know the first news story one finds?  At a recent conference on stem cells endorsed by and held at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI announced the Catholic Church’s support for adult stem cell research.  The next headline found: Vatican to Fund Adult Stem Cell Research.
 

Brendan O'Neill Catholic-bashers have embellished the truth about abuse in Catholic institutions. It's time to put the record straight

In the Irish mind, and in the minds of everyone else who has seen or read one of the many films, plays and books about the Magdalene laundries, these were horrific institutions brimming with violence and overseen by sadistic, pervy nuns. Yet the McAleese Report found not a single incident of sexual abuse by a nun in a Magdalene laundry. Not one. Also, the vast majority of its interviewees said they were never physically punished in the laundries. As one woman said, "It has shocked me to read in papers that we were beat and our heads shaved and that we were badly treated by the nuns… I was not touched by any nun and I never saw anyone touched." The small number of cases of corporal punishment reported to McAleese consisted of the kind of thing that happened in many normal schools in the 1960s, 70s and 80s: being caned on the legs or rapped on the knuckles. The authors of the McAleese Report, having like the rest of us imbibed the popular image of the Magdalene laundries as nun-run concentration camps, seem to have been taken aback by "the number of women who spoke positively about the nuns".

Even the Pope took the opportunity to set the record straight this week when he met with the parish priests and clergy from the Diocese of Rome to talk about his experience of the real council of Vatican II and the "Council of the media"

I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers - the true Council - but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers….the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.
___
And we know that this Council of the media was accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy trivialized … and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real strength of the Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that 50 years after the Council, we see how this Virtual Council is breaking down, getting lost and the true Council is emerging with all its spiritual strength.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:58 AM | Permalink

February 12, 2013

Reflection and roundup on Pope Benedict's resignation

 Cartoon-You're Giving-Up-What-For-Lent

" I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry…. in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. " - Pope Benedict XIV's announcement of resignation.

The Pope has had a pacemaker for years.  He reportedly suffered strokes in 1991 and 2005.  He has arthritis in his hips, knees and ankles making it difficult to walk.  He has problems with balance and has frequently fallen, most recently last summer when he broke his wrist.  And for the past 8 years, he's  been carrying  a schedule of meetings, ceremonies and global  travel that would exhaust a 40-year-old.

If the number of Catholics are declining in Europe,  the number is booming in South America, Africa and Asia.  Today, the Church with over 1.2 billion members is a global ministry requiring a global presence necessitating frequent travel.  The increasing persecution of Christians around the world demands a strong response almost daily.    In the 20th century the Papacy has been a bulwark against the tyranny of Nazism and Communism.  In the 21st century, the strongest defense of Western values and Christianity against radical Islamism and aggressive secularism has come from Pope Benedict.  For that, I began reading closely to what Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict had to say.

When Cardinal Ratzinger gave his speech on the dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires, I was struck to the heart because I recognized myself and how shallow my life was.  That's when I decided to explore the God thing in a serious way.  Ultimately, Pope Benedict brought me back into the Church.  As I began reading Ratzinger and other theologians, I became so impressed with their intelligence, openness, moral seriousness and intellectual coherence, I had to be at least open enough to try it out.  So I did and then I experienced extraordinary grace and surrendered to the Great Mystery.  For that, I have profound gratitude to Benedict personally. 

I admired Pope John Paul II, but I loved Pope Benedict.  For the clarity of his teaching,  for his intellectual fearlesssness, for his emphasis on reason and for showing the mind is a way to God,  for bringing back the Latin Mass and more and better sacred music,  indeed for showing us that art and the saints are the greatest evangelists,  for his ecumenism and the ordinates for Anglicans, for his delight in the young, for embracing the digital world to evangelize the culture, and for his calm joy, spiritual simplicity and great love.

I was first dumbfounded, then saddened when I learned of Benedict's resignation.  The shock was like learning of a sudden death.  But, a day later, I'm grateful and happy that he will live on in monastic seclusion where he will have plenty of rest and time for prayer, more writing and playing his piano.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals,  was present at the consistory when Pope Benedict announced his resignation and responded,  “We have heard you with a sense of astonishment, almost in disbelief…"Your Pontificate Will Shine Like a Star".

Startled by his resignation, Timothy Cardinal Dolan said

"The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with His God in all he did. His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church. We are sad that he will be resigning but grateful for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St. Peter." —

The Anchoress has the best roundups.  Her first  Benedict Announces Retirement (It’s what he WOULD do!)

If John Paul went out like the sustained note of a grand organ, fading into silence, Benedict simply senses his tiredness and the hour, closes up his piano, and bids us adieu. Ratzinger, in the end, is still Ratzinger: he does his work, kisses it all up to the Holy Spirit and moves on, not particularly concerned about the peripheral yakking of man or media.

Her second. First — best comment of the day; “Pope joins Twitter. Loses interest in job.”

I think part of the reason some people have had trouble processing what Benedict is doing — aside from the fact that we’ve never seen this in our lifetimes — is that we have become so habitually ironic that we don’t know how else to be. But even irony has grown stale. Only authenticity can still surprise us, and being shaken from our torpor today suggests that authenticity has been in short supply. That can’t be a good thing.

Wall Street Journal's Andrew Nagorski: The Pope Who Made History in His Leaving

This fundamentally conservative pope has taken a bold step that is truly exemplary. Not only his successors but any number of religious and secular leaders would do well to keep his precedent in mind as they contemplate how long they should stay in office.

In The London Telegraph  The pope who was not afraid to say sorry

Pope Benedict XVI was a  courageous pontiff who made a sincere attempt to restore the good name of the Church.
In January 2009, for instance, he wrote to every Catholic bishop in the world to confess to his own mishandling of the case of Bishop Richard Williamson

The Reason Benedict Resigned William Fahey

Benedict XVI has marked his pontificate by humility.  If anything, he has tried to depersonalize the use of authority, even that uniquely personal authority, the Petrine Office.  Yet we must always remember that the “person” of the Papal ministry is St. Peter, who with his successors acts in the person of Christ.  The papacy is a lived authority and a living authority and one that must respond to the needs of the Age.
---
The Holy Father’s reasons for resignation spring from a grave sense of office and a faithful belief in what that office truly is. He has remained through his pontificate faithful and true to his vocation of father and teacher. Both father and teacher must daily put aside themselves to be true to their calling.

President Obama,

"I have appreciated our work together over these last four years.."

Samuel Gregg in the National Review

Ever since I started writing about Joseph Ratzinger in the late 1990s, two qualities about the man impressed me. The first was his quiet but clear love of Christ as a living Person rather than the vague abstraction of liberal, often atheist theologians.  The second was Ratzinger’s genuine humility.
---
Which brings me to what I think will be this great Pope’s last legacy….. arguably the most intellectual pope to sit in Peter’s Chair for centuries…..As Benedict spelt out in four key addresses that repay careful re-reading—the famous 2006 Regensburg lecture, his 2008 address to the French intellectual world, his speech to the Bundestag in 2011, and his remarks to the world of British politics in 2010 in Westminster Hall (the site, not coincidentally, of St Thomas More’s show-trial in 1535)—man, especially Western man, has lost confidence in reason’s power to know more-than-empirical truth.

And what’s the result? It means very basic discussions in the realms of politics and universities are no longer conducted along the lines identified long ago by figures such as Aristotle and Aquinas. Instead it’s all about power, who is stronger, and who can evoke the highest degree of sentimental humanitarianism from people looking for guidance in increasingly incoherent societies.

David Goldman, ‘I Have a Mustard Seed, and I’m Not Afraid to Use It’

Pope Benedict's commitment to theological truth as he understood it at the expense of political correctness is unique among today's religious leaders….The West has lost a great spiritual leader. We will be hard put to find another like him.

Andrew Klavan, Turn Out the Lights of Europe When You Leave, Pope

I think Joseph Ratzinger — aka Pope Benedict XVI — is one of the greatest men of the age — possibly the only great man of the age — and almost certainly the last great man Europe will produce. As far as I’m concerned, he should turn the continent’s lights out as he steps down at the end of the month.

The Vatican Insider The Opus Dei and Benedict XVI’s “silent clean-up" operation

Richard Fernandez discusses the possibility the new Pope will be a non-European in After Benedict

the identification of Christianity with Europe is over now. And perhaps Benedict will be remembered a herald of that sea-change.

One immediate effect of the broken linkage is that it will no longer be possible to depict Christianity as a “white man’s” or “colonial” religion. The only people who will continue to parrot that line will be those on the Left who after all live mostly in the past. But more importantly it will allow Christianity to sharpen the distinctions between itself and the only indigenous world-religion of Europe: Marxism and its derivatives.

For Christianity is fundamentally at philosophical opposition to the zeitgeist of the PC West. Thus, newly freed, the way will lie open to a debate over such things as the nature of truth, the sacredness of human life, the possibility of transcendence. Such questions can be openly discussed again
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:08 PM | Permalink

February 5, 2013

Not Since the French Revolution Have the Bells at Notre Dame Rung in Harmony

Ever since the French Revolution,  the bells at Notre Dame have been discordant, out-of-tune, but that is about to change.

 New Bells2 Notre Dame

The chimes they are a-changin': Nine new bells arrive at Notre Dame cathedral to mark its 850th anniversary

The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be jumping for joy at the news.

Nine new enormous bronze bells have arrived at the Paris cathedral to replace the old ones that had been discordant for decades, and to help the landmark rediscover its historical harmony.

The bells, named after saints, and prominent Catholic figures, will be on display at Notre Dame from Saturday until February 25 when they will be hoisted to its iconic twin towers.
--
The old bells, which dated from different periods throughout Notre Dame's history, were out of tune with each other and with Emmanuel, which has hung in the cathedral since the 17th century, according to cathedral officials.

 New Bells Notredame

--
The arrival of the bells ‘is historic precisely because since the 18th century, we haven't experienced such an event,’ said the cathedral's rector, Patrick Jacquin.  ‘During the French Revolution, they (the bells) were all brought down and broken except the great bell, Emmanuel, which is here and four other bells that were recast in the middle of the nineteenth century…. This will complete in a definitive manner the entire set of 10 bells as conceived … in the Middle Ages.’

The €2 million (£1.7 million) bell-casting project was funded via donations, cathedral officials say.

‘Historically the idea of this project was to recreate the old bells of Notre Dame in terms of power, in terms of tune, which means that there will be again 10 bells ringing into the cathedral as it used to be in the Middle Ages and up until the French Revolution,’ said Paul Bergamo, president of the Cornille-Havard Foundry in Villedieu-les-Poeles.

The new bells will be installed in time to ring out for Palm Sunday (March 23) and Easter.  If you want to hear the clear tone of one of the bells, watch this short video of the blessing of the bells.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:02 AM | Permalink

January 17, 2013

The Quantum World of Angels

Amazing.  Electrons and Angels

Remember learning about electrons in science class? How atoms are made up of protons and neutrons in the nucleus with electrons orbiting around them in energy levels, similar to how solar systems orbit a center of mass? It is perplexing to a young mind to conceive of electrons because we do not think of them moving as planets, but rather as a cloud in the whole orbital at once. Further, when electrons move from one orbital level to another, we do not think of them moving through space, but jumping instantaneously from one level to another.

Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, called these states “quantum levels”. According to quantum mechanics, electrons are either here or there, but not in between, and when they are here or there, they are moving in that whole place all at once.
--
St. Thomas described angels and their motion at length in the Summa Theologica. They can move as we describe quantum motion, discretely, not through space. It blew my mind when I read a story about a luncheon conversation between Niels Bohr and a Thomistic philosopher named Mortimer J. Adler in the 1920′s. They were discussing electrons and angels.

In his book, Angels and Us, Mr. Adler wrote that he was the only philosopher at a table of eminent physicists, among them Mr. Bohr. The physicists were noting how original this quantum movement of electrons was, like nothing they had ever heard before. Mr. Adler replied that it was not a novel idea at all! This kind of movement was described in the thirteenth century by St. Aquinas in his writing about the discontinuous movement of angels. Angels sometimes move like Niels Bohr’s electrons of early quantum mechanics, from one place to another instantly, surrounding the whole place where they are.

No doubt there was quite a surprise to learn that a theologian had deduced a movement that modern science would not discover for another 650 years. One can only wonder what might happen to scientific progress if students were once again taught scholastic philosophical thought.

I immediately thought of this quote by Robert Jastrow, an American astronomer, physicist and leading NASA scientist.

"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Many people have trouble with understanding angels.  The early Church fathers thought of angels as executing God's law regarding the physical world and maintaining the orderly harmony of the universe.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:13 AM | Permalink

January 10, 2013

Valjean based on Hugh Jackman's father

 Hughjacklesmisposter

Bring him home: Hugh Jackman talks about modeling Jean Valjean on his own father’s conversion

His performance is both a tribute and a thank you to his father Chris, who brought him up after his mother walked out of the family home in Australia when Hugh was just eight years old. Both parents are English-born, but settled in Australia, where Jackman was born.
--
Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Without him, I wouldn’t have had an inspiration for my role in Les Miserables. Dad underwent the same kind of life-changing experience that my character undergoes in the film.
--
‘Dad was converted by the Christian evangelist Dr Billy Graham when he was 30 years old, and underwent a life-changing epiphany, too.

‘I thought about that constantly when I was playing Valjean, I tried to inject as much of Dad’s goodness, and change of life, into the character I was playing.
--
‘And he was wholly sincere. He lived —and lives — his life through a firm foundation of principle and he is both my inspiration and my hero.’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:09 PM | Permalink

December 26, 2012

"Brillant. They won't be expecting that"

When children imagine how God came up with the idea of Christmas.  Absolutely charming.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:56 AM | Permalink

December 21, 2012

How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas

Why Dickens’ ‘Carol’ is the most important Christmas tale in The Capital Hill Times via Deacon Greg.

I'm also using the same image he did because Alistair Sims in the 1951 production of The Christmas Carol directed by Brian Desmond Herst was the very best Scrooge.  You can watch the entire movie on YouTube

 Alistair Sim Scrooge

Dickens came to write “Carol” while at a low ebb. His pervious book had not been popular and he was struggling. He was working on nonfiction pamphlets about the horrendous working conditions of children in Manchester. But the visions of Ignorance and Want that he saw on the faces of the starved, overworked and ragged children inspired him, and he worked backwards from the scene in which the Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge those children to compose the whole tale.

He “laughed and wept and laughed again” as he walked 15 to 20 miles a day in the streets of London, composing the story in his head, then locking himself away from friends and his family for weeks.

It was an immediate hit. Instantly plagiarized onstage and sold in bootleg editions, the story made Dickens little money in its fancy first printing. But it made him famous. When he died decades later a little girl was heard to say, “Mr. Dickens is dead? Is Father Christmas dead as well?”
--
Dickens invented the Christmas tale with “A Carol,” and it has been played on by many subsequent authors, but what makes it the best of all the Christmas tales is its thesis: Stop and think about your life. Live in a thoughtful fashion, filled with compassion. Have hope and love your fellow man. Christmas Day is just the focus of this spirit.

Some historians believe that this story, and this story alone, is responsible for our continued observance of Christmas. It revived very old customs that had been on the verge of dying out. But there is an urgent subtext that drives this tale, and it is in the mouth of Scrooge when he says to a group of businessmen who came to him for a donation to the poor, “If they had rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
--
This was a popular contention spurred by the influence of Thomas Malthus, a pernicious science essayist of the late 18th century, who argued that poor people were a social burden to all and should die. This is partly why so many Irish died in the Irish Potato Famine a few years after “A Carole” was written. The English government, which had controlled and occupied Ireland for centuries, took the position that these poor and starving people were surplus and a burden. Millions of Irish died by inches of starvation, even as their country was exporting food. The English government stopped charitable organizations from helping the Irish.

This story was Charles Dickens’ rebuke of this kind of thinking. He shows the reader the Cratchet family, with many children and one, Tiny Tim, dying by inches because he did not get enough food or medical attention.
--
Let us be compassionate to each other, see past the blinding and thick commercial haze that covers this holiday, celebrate our affection for each other and open our hearts to all. As Dickens wrote, “We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:50 PM | Permalink

December 6, 2012

" I seek in every way to show with my face a good humanity "

 Fr. Michel-Marie  Fr. Michel-Marie, a Cassock in Deep Marseille

The life, works, and miracles of a priest in a city of France. Who has made the faith blossom again where it had withered

A pastor whose Masses are crowded with people. Who hears confessions every evening until late at night. Who has baptized many converts. Who always wears the cassock so that everyone may recognize him as a priest even from far away.

Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine was born in 1959 in Nice, to a family a bit Russian and a bit Corsican. As a young man he sang in the nightclubs in Paris, but then over the years there emerged the vocation to the priesthood he had had since his childhood.
--
From the feature by Marina Corradi

But in reality the story is even more complicated: Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine, 53, is descended from a Russian Jewish grandfather who immigrated into France and had his daughters baptized before the war. One of these daughters, who escaped from the Holocaust, brought into the world Fr. Michel-Marie, who on his father's side is half Corsican and half Italian. (What a bizarre mix, you think: and you look with amazement at his face, trying to understand what a man is like who has such a tangle of roots behind him). But if one Sunday you enter his packed church and listen to how he speaks of Christ with simple everyday words, and if you observe the religious slowness of the elevation of the host, in an absolute silence, you ask yourself who this priest is, and what it is in him that draws people, bringing back those who are far away.
---

Why the cassock? "For me" – he smiles – "It is a work uniform. It is intended to be a sign for those who meet me, and above all for those who do not believe. In this way I am recognizable as a priest, always. In this way on the streets I take advantage of every opportunity to make friends. Father, someone asks me, where is the post office? Come on, I'll go with you, I reply, and meanwhile we talk, and I discover that the children of that man are not baptized. Bring them to me, I say in the end; and I often baptize them later. I seek in every way to show with my face a good humanity. Just the other day" – he laughs – "in a cafe an old man asked me which horses he should bet on. I gave him the horses. I asked the Blessed Mother for forgiveness: but you know, I said to her, it is to befriend this man. As a priest who was one of my teachers used to tell those who asked him how to convert the Marxists: 'One has to become their friend,' he would reply."
--
And the new evangelization? "Look," he says as we say goodbye in his rectory, "the older I get, the more I understand what Benedict XVI says: everything truly starts afresh from Christ. We can only return to the source."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:20 PM | Permalink

Christianphobia when 200 million Christians suffer oppression even to the point of death

A Church Besieged

As anxious as many Christians are about religious freedom in America, nothing we’ve experienced—and God willing, never will—comes close to the brutal persecution of Christians abroad. The stunning extent of this persecution is documented in Times Literary Supplement religion editor Rupert Shortt’s evenhanded and unsettling new book, Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack.

Some 200 million Christians—two-thirds of the entire population of the United States—are now suffering oppression, even to the point of death, on account of their faith. Yet, if you ask the average person about it, they probably wouldn’t know anything about Christianity’s modern martyrdom, much less know where and why it’s occurring.
---
Speaking to Shortt last week, we discussed the crisis, and he underscored the complexities and difficulties involved in overcoming it.

This story is being downplayed, he said, because of subliminal reasons, both secular and religious. On the secular side, much of the media has disdain for Christianity, and considers it not only regressive, but dangerous—an attitude broadly shared by intellectuals, academics, and celebrities. Christianity is mistakenly seen as an exclusively “Western” religion, and part of the West’s assumed imperialism.

Given that perspective, who wants to be seen openly sympathizing with such an unfashionable lot as practicing Christians? Shortt calls this “the blind spots that can affect bien-pensant opinion-formers.” Add to this the latter’s reluctance to question any aspect of Islamic culture (even though many reform-minded Muslims do); and the idea that Islamophobia is more intense and widespread than Christianophobia (even as human rights organizations document just the reverse), and you begin to understand the depths of the problem.

And yet, paradoxically, it is Christian theology itself that also explains the current situation. Christianity’s teachings on love, humility, forbearance, and forgiveness create a non-confrontational ethos—which is a genuine strength of persecuted Christians—but also makes it more challenging to communicate their plight.

Here is Rupert Shortt in the Telegraph: The problems faced by Christians are not by any means restricted to the Muslim world.

Take India, where minorities – Muslims included – are menaced by Hindu extremists who consider the monotheistic traditions to be unwelcome imports.
--
Elsewhere, the culprits include not only Communists, but also Buddhist nationalists in countries such as Burma and Sri Lanka. The scale of Communist intolerance is a matter of record. Curbs on freedom of worship in countries including China, Vietnam and Cuba are draconian and sometimes exceptionally sadistic.

Just this week.  Suspected Islamists  kill 10 Christians in Nigeria with guns and machetes after burning down their houses.  Boko Haram the Salafist Islamist movement which literally means "Western education is sinful" continues on its rampage against Christians, killing over 450 in the first six months of 2012.

More details of persecution at the Bulletin of Christian persecution Oct 30-Nov 30, 2012 and Persecution.org and Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy Father.

Despite persecution, the Church is growing.  Theologian says China to have largest Christian population within the next two decades.

During a recent book launch in Rome, a noted theologian ( Harvey Cox, professor at the Harvard Divinity School) said that China will be home to the majority of the world's Christians within the next two decades.
--
There are two world phenomena happening right now,” he added. “The first is that we can't recognize Christianity as a western religion anymore and the second is that countries with the fastest growing number of Christians don't have a Christian culture or traditions.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:31 AM | Permalink

November 12, 2012

The First Evangelization

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI opened up a new Year of Faith and called for a re-evangelization, a pilgrimage in the spiritual desert of the contemporary world. 

Pope Benedict said, it’s by using this desert as a our starting point that we can once again re-discover the joy of believing and the value of what is essential for life. In our contemporary world “there are numerous signs of that thirst for God” and the ultimate meaning of life.

The focus of the New Evangelization

calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on 're-proposing' the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of the Gospel "to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.

So how did it go in the early days?  Mike Aquilina in an interview by MercatorNet, Early Christianity: a tough gig

For believing Christians the re-evangelization of Europe looks like a tough job. How long did the first evangelization take?

If you look at the odds against Christianity in the first, second, and third centuries, there was really no chance the Church would survive. Rome had brute power. And it controlled everything -- the jobs you wanted, the media and entertainment, travel. And even if Rome had somehow managed to lose its grip, its enemies were no warmer toward Christianity. It's not like the Church could have played the Persians against Rome.

The first evangelization took place at a time when Christians really had no advantages. They were outcast by everyone. Their religion was a capital crime. They were denied a voice in the public square.  Yet Christianity prevailed, and the empires died. I suppose you could say it took just shy of three hundred years,
--
What were the obstacles faced by the first Christians in the world ruled by the Roman Empire?

The criminalization of Christianity was a big deterrent. Remember, executions were public, and they were enhanced for entertainment value.
-
What was the moral climate at the time?

It was a pornographic culture. Entertainment was all about sex and spectacular violence. Abortion and infanticide were considered a normal part of family life. Adultery was so common that private investigators were among the few growth industries in third-century Rome. It was legal to sexually abuse a slave. It was socially acceptable to sexually abuse children. All the emperors did it. Domitian was considered moderate because he kept only one boy lover.

There was great material prosperity in Rome, but no hope, really.
--
What was the appeal of Christianity to the citizens of the Empire? The background of the first Christians was Jewish and alien; the doctrines were strange; you had to give up the baths and circuses… It doesn’t seem like a good deal.
--
The "good things in life" are just things. They bring momentary pleasure, but never satisfaction. If you're living for pleasure -- and that was the assumption of Roman imperial culture -- you've condemned yourself to dissatisfaction and misery. If you're just living for the next thrill, you're not really living.

Christians had love, so they had peace. They had happiness, even when they were ostracized, insulted, when they lost their jobs. Whatever. They had it all, even when they were put to death. So many of the early Fathers were converted because they saw Christians martyred, they saw Christians put to death. Christians had something to die for, so they had something to live for. The pagans had no such purpose in life, and they found life hardly worth living and not at all worth passing on to the next generation.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:25 PM | Permalink

October 31, 2012

All Hallows Eve

 Halloween

Father Steve Grunow on Halloween and Catholicism

The origin and traditional customs associated with Halloween require no other explanation than that they are examples of the kinds of festivity that served as a means of celebrating the various holy days of the Catholic Liturgical Year. This includes everything from masquerades, feasting, and the associations of a given day of the year with supernatural or spiritual truths.

I would draw a distinction between the violent, macabre imagery that characterizes the modern appropriation of Halloween as a kind of secular celebration and the more traditional customs that are characteristic of a Catholic cultural ethos. The descent of Halloween into the madness of an annual fright fest is a relatively recent development, but the true substance of Halloween belongs to the Church. Halloween (or “All Hallows Eve”) is the festive precursor to the celebration of the Church’s public commemoration of All Saints Day.
--
I think that the association of Halloween with paganism has much more to do with the Protestant Reformation than anything else.
--
it was Catholics pulling back from their own festival that gave rise to the contemporary version of Halloween. The goulash version of the festival that we have today is in many respects a result of Catholic accommodation to a Protestant culture. And in a another strange twist in the history of Halloween, most everything that the devout Protestant detests about Halloween have become all the more pronounced as a result of their protests.
--
In terms of customs that a specific to Catholicism, it is all pretty much derivative from the kinds of stuff that you find in the public festivities of Catholic culture. In this regard Mardi Gras is probably the best point of reference. We think of Mardi Gras and its attendant festivities as specific to one day, but it used to be that that kind of festival environment occurred with great frequency throughout the Church’s year. Think of all the customs associated with Halloween as a Mardi Gras before All Saints Day and I think you get a perspective in regards to all the excess and tomfoolery. The party was meant to culminate in Solemn Worship, after which one returned to the routine of life. Unfortunately, the Church has surrendered the party to the secular culture. It has happened with Halloween. It is happening with Christmas.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

October 25, 2012

Awe, time out, banning Christian groups and why do Catholic high school graduates make way more money than everyone else

How Awe Can Change Your Life

Awe is a beautiful little emotion, but one that is not very well understood. In the field of psychology, where emotions are academically studied, awe has received very little attention. In a way, it makes sense. Awe, which Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant calls, “the most ‘spiritual’ of the positive emotions,” is not exactly suited to our secular times. But awe may soon make a comeback as psychologists discover all of the beneficial effects it can have on our well-being.

Awe is a special and little-understood emotion that operates on the fringes of human experience. Triggered by an intense event — like being in the presence of stunning beauty, witnessing an incredible feat, or feeling the touch of the divine — awe leads to the recognition that there is something much greater than the self out there, something vast and unknowable.

Why young people are setting aside time for faith

While the statistics paint a picture of waning affiliation and spiritual apathy, our view from the front lines is different. As leaders working with young people from many faiths, we are witnessing the beginnings of a religious renaissance through an embrace of the Sabbath. And for a stressed-out, anxious generation seeking strength and solace, it’s just in time.

Tufts University bans Christian Student Group for requiring leaders to embrace 'basic biblical truths of Christianity'.

There’s a troubling pattern developing on college campuses across America, as universities are increasingly preventing Christian campus groups from requiring that their leaders be practicing believers. If these clubs fail to comply with so-called “non-discrimination policies,” they are often de-legitimized and banned from official-recognition.
--
While non-discrimination policies are well-intentioned, the notion that a Christian group would be forced to allow leaders who don’t embrace the faith is relatively silly. Similarly, a gay rights group being forced to allow someone opposed to same-sex marriage to lead would also be problematic.

From Business Insider, Catholic High School Graduates Make Way More Money Than Everyone Else

private high school graduates earn 2.6 percent more than their public school counterparts. This increase, however, is not statistically significant.
In contrast, Catholic high school graduates earn a statistically significant 13.6 percent wage premium…This result could indicate that there are significant differences in unquantifiable aspects of school quality that could affect earnings later in life.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:59 AM | Permalink

September 28, 2012

Religious practice has resources that help stabilize marriages

Are Christians Just As Likely to Divorce?

‎“Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else.” Have you ever heard this? I get this comment all the time when I’m doing speaking engagements or radio interviews. People treat it as an established fact, not even a question. The short answer is: NO THEY DON’T! The long answer is: It depends on what you mean by Christians. If you’re talking about everyone who describes themselves as Christian or Catholic, maybe you’ve got something. But sociologists have verified many times that regular religious practice is a huge protective factor against divorce.
--

For instance, nominal Catholics are 5 percent less likely, active Catholics 31 percent less likely, and “average Catholics” 18 percent less likely to divorce than is the general population. Among Protestants, nominal Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce than the average person. Conservative Protestants are 10 percent less likely to divorce, and active Conservative Protestants are 35 percent less likely to divorce than the population at large.

This false belief is harmful because:
  • it contributes to a general sense that divorce is inevitable.
  • it demoralizes people both at the personal level (everyone gets divorced anyway, even the Christians) and at the policy level (we might as well make peace with divorce, even Christians get divorced).
  • it makes Christians appear to be hypocrites.
  • people can’t see that religious practice has resources that help stabilize marriages.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:25 PM | Permalink

September 25, 2012

Yom Kippur, Blasphemy in NYC, 'Sullying' Mormonism, 'The Boy They Couldn't Kill' and Thought-police in Canada

Yom Kippur: Dying So We May Live  Rabbi David Wolpe

Yom Kippur is a powerful existentialist statement. In its best known prayer, the Unetaneh Tokef, we are reminded that we are fleeting, that our lives are like the wind that blows, like the flower that fades, as a passing shadow. On Yom Kippur we dress in white. It has connotations of purity, because white shows the slightest stain. But the deeper reason is that a robe is reminiscent of the shrouds in which we will be buried. We emulate corpses: not eating, not drinking, freed of the body. This will one day be our fate.
--
Judaism asks us to grasp both ends: We know we will die, and therefore should savor all that life offers. Our time is given vividness and urgency by being limited. Love is more precious knowing the sun will set.
--
To live with an awareness of death is to live in gratitude for the realization that we are passing through. At moments it feels like we have forever. Yet we know it is not so. Yom Kippur arrives to remind us that time is limited. We beat our chests, the Jewish defibrillation, to revive our hearts, to awaken ourselves to our own swift passage. Today, though, on this day, it is our privilege to be alive. Let us repent, renew and live the time we are lucky to have with vividness, brio, goodness and in gratitude to God.

Celebrating Blasphemy in New York

As if by divine intervention, the revoltingly sacrilegious “Piss Christ” portrait will be going on display this Thursday at a ritzy Manhattan gallery right around the corner from the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly. For those who don’t know, this particular instance of free speech consists of a photograph taken of a crucifix floating in the artist’s urine. It caused a stir in the late 1980s and 1990s because the artist (Andres Serrano) had been subsidized by NEA and other public grants. Of course, Democrats staunchly defended both the work and the funding, and Serrano is a star among Manhattan’s elite liberal socialites.

Coming so soon on the heels of Obama’s condemnations of the Mohammed spoof trailer, Representative Michael Grimm (R., N.Y.) is calling on President Obama to condemn the Piss Christ exhibit. 

That’s wrong. First of all, the president shouldn’t be condemning any work of art. But if you really want him to condemn the Piss Christ, this is what you have to do: Find an enterprising young artist willing to create a “Piss Mohammed” version of Serrano’s work, and ask the museum to hang it right next to the Piss Christ. It could be part of a “Piss Religion” exhibit.
---
Every last person who complains will have to explain why they said nothing during the 20-plus years that the revolting Piss Christ has been touring art galleries around the world. They will be forced either to treat Islam and Christianity the same (i.e., stop trashing the latter) or finally admit the cowardly truth, which is that their degree of respect for any given religion is proportional to its proponents’s propensity for violence.

Astonishing that anyone would say this much less the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.  But since there is no depth down which he will not go to be partisan, Harry Reid said, "Romney has sullied Mormonism", the religion they both share.  Jennifer Rubin comments:

It is not as if Reid were some low-level staffer or an overly zealous donor. He is, for goodness sakes, the majority leader in the U.S. Senate. Yet, vile comments such as these get less attention than a birthed outburst from Donald Trump. When the vice president says to an African American audience that the Republicans want to keep “y’all in chains,” the mainstream media shrugs or makes excuses. The outrage only travels in one direction.

Imagine if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the president had “sullied” the face of Christianity and is “not the face of Christianity”? He would be denounced in every newspaper, and his resignation would be demanded. Imagine if Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in 2000 had said the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), had “sullied” Judaism and is “not the face of Judaism.” I suspect he’d no longer be in the U.S. House.

"Look for a building with a cross on it."

Escape from North Korea chronicles the only good-news story out of North Korea: People are getting out.  Almost all of them flee first to China, where they trade one circle of hell for another.  China’s immoral policy is to track them down, arrest them and repatriate them.  Since it’s a crime to leave North Korea without permission, the returnees are treated very harshly – thrown in to prison and sometimes even executed for such “crimes” as meeting an American missionary in China or plotting to go to South Korea.

In China, the North Korean who finds his way to a church is likely to be safer than one who doesn’t. It’s illegal to help a North Korean in China, but church people routinely dare defy the law and do so anyway. The sooner a refugee hooks up with the Christian network, the greater his chances of avoiding arrest and repatriation and of finding a way to disappear safely into Chinese society. If he wants to go to South Korea, church people can help him navigate his way to the underground railroad and obtain passage out of China. This is risky business.

Egypt: Muslims distribute leaflets telling Christians to leave city or have their property destroyed

Mollie who called it the best magazine piece of the year. The Boy They Couldn't Kill The grandmother of "unwavering love" is Saundra Adams.

Thirteen years ago, NFL receiver Rae Carruth conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn son. The child has not only survived but thrived—thanks to the unwavering love of his grandmother

She could have filled him with hate, for his father and his Carruth blood; or anger, for the loss of his mother; or bitterness, for the loss of who he could have been. She filled him with something more powerful. He hardly ever cried as a baby, so quick was she to feed him and hold him and change his diapers, and as time went on he seemed to cry only for others. He would cry if one child hit another child, or at the suffering of a movie character, or when his godmother had a nosebleed. When G-Mom had food poisoning, so severe she had to crawl along the floor, there he was, crawling beside her.

She taught him that the rain was a shower of God's blessing, and he believed her, so that when his schoolmates ran inside to stay dry he just stood there and let it fall on him. She taught him that he could do anything, that he had no limits, even though a neurologist told her he would never walk or talk, and now of course he can do both. He can ride horses. He started sixth grade at the end of August. He makes his bed and cleans his room without being told. He wakes up smiling and goes to sleep smiling and in between he looks like the happiest person in the world. On the spectrum of cerebral palsy, he is somewhere near the middle. Conventional wisdom says he will always need help, always be catching up, never quite get to normal. But you never know. Medical technology is advancing. He runs through his therapy with a blazing intensity, and Sturkey thinks he could one day dress himself, prepare his own meals and walk safely around his own home. His grandmother believes he will get a job, get married, prolong the Adams bloodline and do many other amazing things. It may not be wise to bet against her.

Canadian thought police vs. concerned father

A Hamilton (Canada) -area Christian father is suing his children’s public school board after they refused to allow him to withdraw his children from controversial lessons on homosexuality. Dr. Steve Tourloukis, a dentist, says the suit comes after he has been asking for accommodation from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board since Sept. 2010. A member of the Greek Orthodox Church, he has a daughter in grade 1 and a son in grade 4.

The Hamilton-Wentworth board ‘equity policy’ has been controversial. It states:
If a student writes an essay defending the traditional definition of marriage one man and one woman – they can now be sent to “reeducation” classes, in an attempt to change their homophobic (i.e. “anti-homosexual”) views.
If a student gives a speech arguing that homosexual activity isn’t normal they could well be suspended – or even expelled – under the School Board’s new “Equity Policy”.
If a teacher expresses their view that marriage is between one man and one woman they will face disciplinary action, and could face termination.

Tourloukis said, ‘[I want them] to acknowledge my inherent parental rights to direct the spiritual and moral education of my own children,’ he said. ‘They’re my kids, not the government’s, not the Hamilton-Wentworth School Board’s. I don’t believe that teachers are ‘co-parents’ with equal say in my children’s religious beliefs.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:19 PM | Permalink

September 20, 2012

The Epidemic of Christian Persecution in the World including Crucifixions

Simply astonishing. 150,000 Christian martyrs every year, 17 an hour.    Playing politics with the global war on Christians  by John Allen.

The fact that there isn't yet a broad-based movement to fight anti-Christian persecution suggests something is missing in public understanding.,,,In part, too, it's because of the antique prejudice that holds that Christianity is always the oppressor, never the oppressed.
--
the doors of a Trappist monastery in Latrun, near Jerusalem, were set ablaze, with provocative phrases in Hebrew spray-painted on the exteriors walls, such as "Jesus is a monkey……..The assaults on Christian holy sites also reflect a nasty, if little-discussed, streak of broader anti-Christian animus in some Israeli circles. Local priests have reported that sometimes Yeshiva students chant insulting slogans at them, or even throw stones and spit in their direction.
--
To be clear, so far these outrages haven't resulted in any deaths -- as opposed to, say, the thousands of Christians killed in Nigeria by the radical Islamist "Boko Haram" movement, or the hundreds who died in the Indian state of Orissa during anti-Christian pogroms in 2008. Israel remains a fundamentally safe environment for Christians, certainly as compared to most places in its immediate neighborhood.

Word on Fire has a round-up with links of the "malicious and continual persecution of Christians worldwide. In some cases it's groups that are targeted, in other cases it's individuals, but in all cases it's a deeply disturbing trend that only awareness can help quell."

Crucifixions of dissidents in Egypt and Yemen Worry Christians  The picture below shows a victim crucified on an electric pylon in Yemen.

 Memri-Crucifixion-Lg

a sign affixed above the victim’s head displayed the flag of the Al-Qaeda-linked group and a text from verse 5:33 of the Koran: “The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off from opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter.”

Walid Shoebat, a former PLO operative who is now a terrorism analyst, said that the inscription in one of the photos reads, “He was crucified for three days in accordance with shariah.” According to Shoebat,  the group carried out the Shariah-prescribed penalties as retribution for allegedly giving information to U.S. forces which then carried out drone strikes against terrorists in Yemen.
--
A report on the Arabic Sky News notes that crucifixions are being carried out in Egypt, virtually under the nose of the newly elected President Mohammed Morsi, who has long been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.  An English translation of the Sky News report stated that members of the Muslim Brotherhood crucified dissidents and  and “crucified” them “naked on trees in front of the presidential palace.”

Christians risking life to help North Koreans escape

A new underground railroad run significantly by Christians has formed to help North Koreans escape their oppressive regime, Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick told The Daily Caller.

“The new underground railroad is a secret network of safe houses and escape routes that carries North Koreans across China to safety in neighboring countries,” Kirkpatrick, author of the new book “Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad,” explained to TheDC. “From there, most go on to South Korea, though a few come to the U.S. or go to Europe or Canada.”

“Two groups of people operate the new underground railroad,” she continued, “brokers, who are in it for the money, and humanitarian workers — especially Christians — who are in it to serve God. It is against Chinese law to assist North Koreans, and anyone who helps them is subject to arrest, prison, and, if he’s a foreigner, expulsion

Sadly, American and European reporters who write about religion all too often have no idea what they are talking about as John Hinderaker points out today.      (Get Religion does it every day)

The Yahoo News article is written by Benjamin Radford, who bills himself as a “paranormal investigator.” Radford writes:

In the Muslim world, blasphemy (especially insulting their prophet Muhammad) is considered a grave offense, punishable by death. Islam, however, is hardly unique in that regard. Early Christians were intolerant of blasphemy, and in fact, Leviticus 24:16 specifically calls for blasphemers to be killed.

Hmm. So this guy thinks the Book of Leviticus was written by “early Christians?” And Yahoo News is publishing his ignorance to an audience of millions?

The Hebrew Bible goes even further,…

So there is no ambiguity at all, this guy actually doesn’t know that Leviticus is part of the Hebrew Bible.

…specifying that those who offend God should be butchered alive and their homes destroyed (Daniel 3:29). So there is scriptural basis in both Islam and Christianity for condemning blasphemers to death.

Actually, the verse from Daniel quoted by Radford is part of a decree by King Nebuchadnezzar–not God–after Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unhurt by the fire. And there is not a single line anywhere in the New Testament about killing those who blaspheme against Jesus. But all of that is almost beside the point. It is blindingly obvious that Muslims all too often commit or threaten murder against alleged “blasphemers,” while Christians and Jews never do. Radford’s article is both ignorant and tendentious.

…Yahoo, with a market capitalization of almost $19 billion, needs to get its act together and stop peddling rank ignorance and bigotry to its audience of many millions.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:48 PM | Permalink

September 19, 2012

Her faith kept her alive

'I asked the lord to satisfy my stomach as if I’d had a full meal': Woman who survived SEVEN WEEKS stranded in Nevada wilderness after husband died seeking help says her faith kept her alive

A Canadian woman found on the verge of starvation after seven weeks in a Nevada wilderness area told an Idaho church congregation that she had been prepared to die the same day hunters came across her stranded van. Rita Chretien, of Penticton, British Columbia, spoke on Sunday during a service at First Church of the Nazarene in Twin Falls about her ordeal.

She was found weak but alive in May 2011 in the rugged mountains of northeastern Nevada, near the Idaho state line.  Aged 56 at the time, Mrs Chretien survived 49 days on trail mix, boiled sweets and melted snow. But it was her faith, she told the church, that saved her.

'I asked the lord to satisfy my stomach as if I’d had a full meal,' Mrs Chretien said, adding that 'I’ve always walked with the lord ever since I was a little girl.'

She and her husband, Albert, 59, had become stranded after their van got stuck on a muddy road on Mach 22, having lost their way because they were 'foolishly following a GPS without a lot of experience,' Mrs Chretien said.  Mr Chretien set off on foot after three days to seek out help but failed to return. His body was never found and he has been presumed dead.

After being stranded 49 days, Mrs Chretien said her strength was almost gone and she thought she was going to have a heart attack.  She pulled on fresh socks, wrapped herself in a blanket and prepared to die.... Minutes later she heard the sound of off-road vehicles.

'I thought I was dreaming,' she said. 'Then I thought, "Hey, I'm not dreaming. This is really happening".'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:03 PM | Permalink

August 31, 2012

A Remarkably Good Man

Congratulations to Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan for  a well-run convention with some great speeches.  I watched the convention last night on streaming video because I wanted to see what the delegates saw and I've had enough pundits and opinionaters to last me for quite  a while.

The two most affecting speeches were by people you never heard and who didn't leave a dry eye in the house.  You wouldn't have seen them unless you watched CSpan

First Pat and Ted Oparowski share the story of Mitt Romney's kindness towards their son diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, first 
buying him fireworks and later writing the will of the dying 14-year-old boy, and then at his funeral delivering the eulogy.

When Pam Finlayson, a newcomer to Massachusetts,  joined a new church and Romney the pastor visited her at home and helped with the laundry and visited her in the hospital after her daughter was born prematurely.

Other stories of a remarkably good man here, Joey's Park, Romney the firefighter, Christmas spirit and the search for Melissa, all at Little known facts about Mitt Romney 

In Slate

One of my personal friends, Kenneth Hutchins, the former chief of police in a Boston suburb who also worked closely with Romney at church, shares: “I’ve seen him visit with needy families in gang-ridden neighborhoods, show up in his jeans to help a family move, counsel with individuals who were grieving. I’m also confident that he helped many financially, but he has never disclosed his generosity, nor would he.”

Mark Krikorian comments on 'With No Cameras and No Reporters'

Romney sees it as unseemly to boast about them. As one of his sons said, “but when it comes to personal stories, especially the ones where he rescued someone or helped people, it feels like he is bragging, and he is a little reluctant to tell them.”

It’s that reticence to talk about acts of Christian charity that I find most encouraging. We’re never going back to the days of John Quincy Adams, who thought “the Presidency of the United States is not an office to be either sought or declined.” But the idea of a nominee who is uncomfortable prostituting every aspect of his life in order to gain office is deeply reassuring.

It somehow reminds me of the scene in Sergeant York where Gary Cooper, presented with numerous offers to be a celebrity endorser, tells the Cordell Hull character, “What we done in France is something we had to do. Some fellows done it ain’t a-comin’ back. So, the way I figure, things like that ain’t for buying’ and sellin’.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 PM | Permalink

August 21, 2012

"Something that contains great truths has been almost universally reviled"

Mary Eberstadt:  I was ‘blown away’ by Pope Paul VI’s accurate predictions about the sexual revolution

BJ: It certainly underscored the importance of everything you’re talking about. Your book does not discuss health care but renders a more valuable service, which is to talk about the ramifications of widespread recreational sex and its effects. You pick up the baton from none other than Pope Paul VI, as you mention. You flesh out the predictions of his encyclical Humanae Vitae in your book’s last chapter very well. What did you find prophetic about it, and were you surprised it was as indicative as it turned out to be?

EB: I was indeed surprised. I did not read Humanae Vitae until just a few years ago, just a few years shy of its 40th anniversary, and when I finally read the document through I was just blown away by its understanding of what the world would look like if the sexual revolution proceeded.

The main thing that surprised me was its understanding of what would happen to the relation between the sexes. Humanae Vitae predicted that in a world of contraceptive sex, men and women would not get along as well, that once you sever procreation from recreational sex men would look down on women. He also advanced the idea that there would be a lowering of standards of conduct between the sexes. All of this, I argue, has come true, and yet the secular world has refused to acknowledge its truth. That to me is a paradox, because if you were to ask which document of modern times was the most unwanted and reviled document it would have be Humanae Vitae, right? Across the world, it is seen as a laughingstock in some places, as a profoundly undesired testament in others, yet this document contains more truth about the sexual revolution and the world it would usher in than any other document. We’re left here with a great paradox – I really believe that – that something that contains great truths has been almost universally reviled. And that in itself was justification enough to undertake this book.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:15 PM | Permalink

Religion Roundup

In Syria Over 12 thousand Christian faithful "starving" in the village of Rableh: humanitarian law is invoked

Over 12 thousand faithful Greek-Catholics are trapped in the village of Rableh, west of Qusayr, in the area of Homs. Food is scarce, the faithful are living on "bread and water", medicine is lacking to treat the sick and wounded.

Christian boy tortured and killed in Pakistan
The tortured body of an 11 year old Christian boy has been found in a town in Punjab, Pakistan, days after a young Christian girl was arrested on blasphemy charges.  The body was found with the ears, nose, tongue and limbs torn from the body, the belly ripped open and internal organs (including the liver and kidneys) taken, perhaps to be sold on the black market. As if this were not enough, the killers then poured acid on his face, possibly to make him unrecognizable.    The long list of Christian children raped or killed in Pakistan

Video report confirms Egyptian crucifixions.  Translated Sky News Arabia: 'Crucifying dissidents in front of the presidential palace'

A German district  court ruled that circumcision was illegal because it inflicted 'damage on children and could not be protected by freedom of religion.  Shortly  thereafter,  a German rabbi was arrested for 'harming' infants by performing a bris,  ' the covenantal ritual at the heart of Judaism'.

While the rabbi has not yet been tried, let alone convicted, the spectacle of German courts prosecuting a Jew for practicing Judaism doesn’t just awaken echoes of the Holocaust. It also sounds a warning that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is not a passing phase.

While stopping short of recommending routine circumcision, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its guidelines to say that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks

Obama Campaign will hold Muslim Juma at DNC but refused Cardinal Dolan's request to say a prayer which he will do at the RNC.

The Catholic owners of a Vermont Inn pay $30,000 in an out-of-court settlement for expressing their religious beliefs despite the fact they never told the plaintiffs, a lesbian couple, that they would not host a same sex wedding reception.  The inn's wedding coordinator  did tell the couple that and also admitted that she lied about it under oath

A shepherd to his flock: Pastor risks life to stay with woman kidnapped in Egypt.

Louis told the Bedouin captors that he would not simply let them take Alphonse by herself. “Take me, too,” he told them. “I have to go, too.” As a pastor and the leader of the group, Louis felt responsible for Alphonse’s safety.
---
kidnapped tourists have become unfortunate tools of negotiation that the some Bedouins have used to extract concessions from the transitional Egyptian government.
--
Details are sketchy as to what, if any, promises were made to secure their release, but on July 16, Abu-Masuh drove the three captives to meet a police inspector to whom the kidnapper release Louis, Alphonse, and their interpreter. Some reports indicate that Egyptian authorities have promised to work to free his uncle, but Abu-Masuh said what motivated him to release his captives was a change of heart. He said, “We are people of mercy, and they don’t have anything to do with this.”

In Texas, Pentecostal Christian Woman Fired from Burger King for Wearing Long Skirt Instead of Pants.  The EEOC is now filing on behalf of the 17-year-old  for religious discrimination by not making a reasonable accommodation for her religious beliefs.

The Soul-Crushing Scorched-Earth Battle for Gay Marriage

Since my article came out, I have been through far worse than I ever thought would happen. …Gay basher?  What the heck has this movement come to?  For God's sake, I am a bisexual raised by a lesbian couple, who helped countless people dying of AIDS.  I've spent my life cleaning up the messes left by gay politics.  I wrote an honest essay.  That's bashing?

Belief in Hell Makes People Better.  Belief in Heaven Not So Much

Eric Metaxas, A Christian Nation?

So what's the truth? I think my friend Os Guinness offers terrific clarity in his new book A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future.   Friends, I simply cannot overstate how important this book is at this moment in our history.  In the book, Os points out that revolutions are not rare in the history of nations, nor is the pursuit of freedom. History tells plenty of stories about how freedom is won through revolution. But what made the American experiment unique is not that freedom was won, but that the founders provided a formula for how freedom could be sustained.
---
In A Free People's Suicide, Os Guinness calls this recipe "The Golden Triangle of Freedom." The critical thing we must understand, Guinness says, is that the three truths that make up this triangle - freedom, virtue and faith - are interdependent.
In other words, freedom requires virtue. Virtue requires faith. And faith requires freedom
. If freedom, virtue or faith cease to be central to the American way of life, the most radical and effective experiment in self-government in the history of the world will fail.  That's why we care so deeply about the HHS mandate, or the Chick-fil-A fiasco, because they reflect the cultural and political trend to push faith from the center of our public life.

Finally, Father Robert Barron on Paul Ryan and Catholic Social Teaching.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:16 PM | Permalink

Religion Roundup: In Egypt, call to kill Christians, Pakistani Christians flee, Pope Pius XII framed, quality of Israeli sperm plummeting

Murder of Copts Begins After Genocide Call

Hours after leaflets from Egypt’s jihadi organizations were distributed promising to “reward” any Muslim who kills any Christian Copt in Egypt, specifically naming several regions including Asyut, a report recently appeared concerning the random killing of a Christian store-owner.

A 12-year-old Pakistani girl who is retarded has been arrested for blasphemy.  She either burned a Koran deliberately or inadvertently and she's now in jail facing the death penalty and her family is in protective custody.  As many as 600 Pakistani Christians Fearing Backlash Flee the Area.

The Framing of Pius XII - From Skepticism to Belief

Professor Ronald J. Rychlak is an expert on the “Hitler’s Pope” controversy surrounding Venerable Pope Pius XII.  But despite being a defender of Pius XII’s wartime record in saving Jewish lives from the Holocaust, the American law professor at the University of Mississippi was initially skeptical of claims, first disclosed by former Romanian intelligence chief General Ion Mihai Pacepa in 2007, that efforts to blacken Pius’s name were driven by a Soviet plot.

Yet after two years of research and regular contact with Pacepa, his perception changed, and he is now convinced that the KGB played a key role in framing Pius XII by promoting The Deputy – Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play that gave birth to the “Black Legend” of Pius as a Nazi sympathizer.

'I can still see the horror that made me flee Pakistan - in the haunted eyes of girls raised HERE': Nadira Naipaul exposes arranged marriages and honor killings in the UK

When I married V.  S. Naipaul and moved to England in 1996, I thought I had left the horror behind.  Pakistan had drained my resolve, and I was tired of fighting a losing battle. To me, England, for all its ills, was the promised land.

Instead, I have found the horror I fled has followed me here. It is all around, eroding the very core of everything Britain believes in.

Israeli sperm banks find quality is plummeting

But finding such super sperm isn't as easy as it used to be. Only 1 in 100 donors makes the cut. A decade ago, it was 1 in 10….
Simply put, the quality of Israeli sperm is falling at an alarming rate, and no one's sure exactly why.

Fertility is a major issue in Israel, where memories of the Holocaust genocide are fresh, and having children is an entrenched part of Judaism.
--
"People in Israel are getting quite a load of estrogen," said Laurence Shore, a retired hormone and toxicology researcher at the Kimron Veterinary Institute near Tel Aviv. "I don't think it's a good idea to expose children to such high levels of estrogen."
He said that no studies so far have determined that estrogen levels in Israel are harming humans, adding that exposure may be too low for that. But he said it might be a factor in the sperm decline.  His research has found Israeli milk and associated products such as butter and cheese can contain 10 times as much estrogen as products from other countries because of Israel's aggressive milk-production practices.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:36 AM | Permalink

August 3, 2012

"Sorry, not Catholic enough"

Just  how narrowly drawn is the religious exemption in the HHS mandate? Cardinal Dolan gives some examples

A Catholic hospital founded and still sponsored by nuns, striving to carry out our Savior’s command to care for the sick?  Sorry, not Catholic enough.  No religious freedom here!  After all, its purpose is not the inculcation of religious values, and it hardly asks for a person’s religion before admitting a patient.

A Catholic Charities homeless shelter, providing a bed, a shower, and a nutritious meal?  Sorry, not Catholic enough.  No religious freedom here!  After all, it serves all seeking help, regardless of their religious beliefs.  (Would the government prefer us to turn away anyone who can’t produce a baptismal certificate and recite the Nicene Creed?)

A Catholic high school founded and still run by a religious order, which has proudly educated young men, preparing them to succeed in college, in the work place, as husbands and fathers?   Sorry, not Catholic enough.  No religious freedom here!  After all, the student populations is more than 50% non-Catholic.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:57 AM | Permalink

Why persuade and convince when you can browbeat

Some comments on the HHS mandate now in effect.

George Weigel writes

The administration has not made any serious effort to address the concerns over the mandate that have been vigorously pressed by Catholic bishops, Catholic employers, pro-life Americans of all religious persuasions and none, and civil-society advocates. The administration’s alleged “accommodation” of these concerns — after the White House appeared to have been blindsided by the ferocity of the response to the original mandate — was quickly recognized for the accounting shell game it was and is. As such, it was rejected as an unacceptable governmental intrusion into the unique mission of religious bodies, even by religious institutions and associations that had supported Obamacare.

Speaker John Boehner issued a statement

The administration’s mandate stands today not because it is sound policy; not because it reflects the will of the people; not because it is consistent with the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.  The mandate stands today because the Democratic-controlled Senate preemptively blocked legislation that would have reversed this attack on religious freedom.  And it stands because the President of the United States has refused to listen to the people and institutions that built a great nation.

David French in Self-Indulgence as a Foundational Virture

The imposition of the HHS mandate combined with the continuing — and inane — campaign against Chick-fil-A demonstrates how we’re replacing our founding virtues of industry, honesty, marriage, and religiosity (as described in Charles Murray’s invaluable Coming Apart) with a new prime virtue — self-indulgence. What is remarkable about the Chick-fil-A controversy is the extent to which the company’s entire portfolio of work, its excellent food, welcoming environment, extensive charitable interventions with at-risk families and youth, are nothing but ashes and dust unless Chick-fil-A gets on board with a sexual revolution that places self-indulgence (and defense of that indulgence) over every other cultural value.

He makes another valuable point, Stigma Beats Dogma.  Why persuade and  convince when you can browbeat.

In the battle of ideas, stigma always beats dogma. In other words, through stigmatization, one can defeat a set of ideas or principles without ever “winning” an argument on the merits.
--
Here’s a question for conservative parents and teachers: Are we really equipping young people to face the challenges of college if we teach them arguments? Or should we instead be primarily preparing them to face scorn and hate with inner toughness and good cheer? After all, when a professor calls you a “fascist bastard” for defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, what is he doing if not trying to defeat dogma with stigma?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:45 AM | Permalink

August 1, 2012

Potpourri of interesting articles you may have missed

Some interesting articles that you may have missed.

When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up  "We had the potential of being the McKenna-Thomas Camera-Smith household. Which sounded too much like a law firm, really."

PJ Tatler  What Obama could learn from  West Wing

The president’s speech calls to mind a second-season West Wing episode, in which speechwriter Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) explains to the staff of some liberal house members why he won’t insert a line in President Bartlet’s upcoming speech. They want the president to attack Republican tax cut proposals as financing “private jets and swimming pools” for the wealthy. As Seaborn argues:

Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, “It’s time for the rich to pay their fair share,” I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I’m happy to ’cause that’s the only way it’s gonna work, and it’s in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads, but I don’t get twenty-seven votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn’t come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn’t come out of my faucet twenty-seven times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for twenty-two percent of this country. Let’s not call them names while they’re doing it, is all I’m saying.

The Big Mistake

The CEO of Peregrine Financial, a futures trading brokerage firm in Iowa, is accused of stealing over $200 million of the customers' money over a 20 year period.  This is one mistake that Russ Wasendorf made.

The bigger mistake was trying to commit suicide and leaving notes for his business partners and his wife. That leaves no question he was trying to commit suicide.  He made the mistake of hooking his tailpipe exhaust to a hose into his car as his suicide method.

Being a successful CEO he undoubtedly has a new car. In order to asphyxiate yourself with carbon monoxide you must use an automobile dating before 1992. Since then catalytic converters have been so successful that there is not sufficient carbon monoxide to commit suicide.

The Washington Post admits that Dan Quayle was right 20 years ago about Murphy Brown; single parenthood should be discouraged.

Why you should 'grin and bear life's problems - it's good for the heart.  Your grandma was right again.

Ed Driscoll, Reality, What a Concept .  For example, what the liberal Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam discovered about ethnic diversity.

...as communities become more ethnically diverse they in fact become socially frayed. In a survey that included interviews with over thirty thousand people, Putnam found that as a community becomes more ethnically and socially varied, social trust plummets. People tend to “hunker down,” in Putnam’s words banding together with a shrunken and shrinking group of friends or alone in front of the TV. Trust in political leaders, the political process, and even voting decline precipitously. Volunteerism, from charitable giving to carpooling, deteriorates. Political activism increases as people look to government to solve problems that once might have been solved by a simple conversation across a coffee table or a shared fence between neighbors.

Note: Putnam did not find that diversity fuels racism; the vast bulk of the people interviewed for the study were not bigots. What he found was that diversity promotes alienation, disengagement, and social isolation. This all runs counter to a host of prevailing clichés and pieties.

In Nature, The mind reader

Adrian Owen has found a way to use brain scans to communicate with people previously written off as unreachable. Now, he is fighting to take his methods to the clinic.

Walter Kirn Confessions of an Ex-Mormon.  A very affecting  personal history of America’s most misunderstood religion.

IPCC Admits Its Past Reports Were Junk

Hidden behind this seemingly routine update on bureaucratic processes is an astonishing and entirely unreported story.  The IPCC is the world's most prominent source of alarmist predictions and claims about man-made global warming.  Its four reports (a fifth report is scheduled for release in various parts in 2013 and 2014) are cited by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. and by national academies of science around the world as "proof" that the global warming of the past five or so decades was both man-made and evidence of a mounting crisis.
--
In 2010, we learned that much of what we thought we knew about global warming was compromised and probably false.  On June 27, the culprits confessed and promised to do better.  But where do we go to get our money back?

Diesel won't save you money.  Great diesel myth: They DON'T save you money and petrol models 'are more economical for most makes of car'

"Totally re-writing" fashion history is the discovery of medieval bras and bikini panties from the 15th century

Doctors hail jab that can stop Alzheimer's in its tracks for three years.  Bad news: it won't be on the market for years.  Extensive human trials are next

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:58 PM | Permalink

"'Those people, they think they did a bad thing to me, but they brought me closer to God"

There are wonderful people in the world who live out their Christian faith in a way that is remarkable.  Case in point, Lee and Gloria Ervin, a couple in the seventies who took her a horrifically burned woman from another country, Julie Aftab.

She was a 16-year-old Pakistani girl, a Christian who wore a small crucifix on a chain around her neck, when was brutally attacked in her office with battery acid that was thrown on her face by one man and down her throat by another while they shouted she would go to hell for shunning Islam.    A woman heard her cries for help and poured water over her head before taking her to the hospital.  The hospital refused to treat her because she was Christian.  Eventually a hospital was found to treat but they could do little.

Aftab could not speak or move her arms and the acid had burned through her skin to leave bone-deep wounds.  As a result of the attack, Julie lost most of her esophagus, one of her eyes and both of her eyelids.  What remained of her teeth could be seen through a gaping hole where her cheek had been.  She was labelled a pariah in her neighborhood, her family was persecuted and their home was burnt down.

But arrangements were made for her to be treated in Houston and to live with a local couple in their seventies, Lee and Gloria Ervin, whom she now calls Uncle Lee and Auntie Gloria.

Supported by her host parents, Aftab has said that the attack has made her faith stronger, adding: 'Those people, they think they did a bad thing to me, but they brought me closer to God. They helped me fulfill my dreams.'

She spoke no English when she arrived in Houston in 2004 but was granted asylum in 2007.  She graduated from high school, and then from San Jacinto College, before enrolling at the University of Houston-Clear Lake - where she is an accounting major.

She says that the acceptance and the outpouring of love she receives from Texans is overwhelming. She came to the U.S. for treatment at Shriners Hospital for Children. Each one of her operations have been paid for or donated by medical staff and hospitals in Houston.  Her immigration case was overseen by Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston, which found a prominent Houston law firm, Baker Botts LLP, to take on her asylum case without charge. 

Yesterday, she took the oath of citizenship and became an American citizen.  She said afterwards "'This day means so much to me… I never thought I would be the person I am today, and it is all because of God and his people.'

 Julie Aftab

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:31 PM | Permalink

July 31, 2012

"Approval of state-sponsored homosexual unions has very quickly become a litmus test for bigotry"

Cardinal George, a native of Chicago, responds to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's statement that Chick-fil-a is not welcome in Chicago because it does not share 'Chicago values'.

I was born and raised here, and my understanding of being a Chicagoan never included submitting my value system to the government for approval.  Must those whose personal values do not conform to those of the government of the day move from the city? Is the City Council going to set up a “Council Committee on Un-Chicagoan Activities” and call those of us who are suspect to appear before it?  I would have argued a few days ago that I believe such a move is, if I can borrow a phrase, “un-Chicagoan.”

The value in question is espousal of “gender-free marriage.”  Approval of state-sponsored homosexual unions has very quickly become a litmus test for bigotry; and espousing the understanding of marriage that has prevailed among all peoples throughout human history is now, supposedly, outside the American consensus
--
People who are not Christian or religious at all take for granted that marriage is the union of a man and a woman for the sake of family and, of its nature, for life.  The laws of civilizations much older than ours assume this understanding of marriage.  This is also what religious leaders of almost all faiths have taught throughout the ages.  Jesus affirmed this understanding of marriage when he spoke of “two becoming one flesh” (Mt. 19: 4-6).  Was Jesus a bigot?  Could Jesus be accepted as a Chicagoan?  Would Jesus be more “enlightened” if he had the privilege of living in our society?  One is welcome to believe that, of course; but it should not become the official state religion, at least not in a land that still fancies itself free.

Surely there must be a way to properly respect people who are gay or lesbian without using civil law to undermine the nature of marriage.  Surely we can find a way not to play off newly invented individual rights to “marriage” against constitutionally protected freedom of religious belief and religious practice.  The State’s attempting to redefine marriage has become a defining moment not for marriage, which is what it is, but for our increasingly fragile “civil union” as citizens.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:12 PM | Permalink

July 25, 2012

Speak of the Devil

After reading about the Suspect's Rapid Descent, I got the chills and the only word that came to mind was demonic.  I suppose anyone familiar with movies about  exorcism or who has read serious books about exorcism would have the same reaction on reading this.

On June 25, the Lead Valley Range received Mr. Holmes' online application with answers to basic questions about age, gun ownership and drug use; all seemed normal, said range owner Glenn Rotkovich.

Mr. Rotkovich called Mr. Holmes to set up an orientation time, and heard an "incoherent, bizarre" voice-mail message, which he described as "very guttural." "There was all kinds of low groaning in the middle," Mr. Rotkovich said. He called twice more and left three messages. The range never heard from Mr. Holm

The Anchoress

You know where my friend’s head went, with that, right? Exactly the same place yours just went, and mine went, when I read it. Chilling but then, we have always understood that what took place last Friday was a rampage of evil.

The Aurora Murders and Demonic Possession, Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Demonic infestation is a rare, strange and terrible psycho-spiritual affliction. It's also real. Was James Holmes possessed?
--
When faced with mindless massacres, we don't have a rational answer—and that is the rational answer. What I mean is that the further one goes down the path of Evil, the more it becomes irrational and mindless. Evil, by its very nature, is a lie, a subterfuge, a deceit and a vast web of contradictions and inconsistencies. Evil is, by it's nature, the darkness and the chaos—where what seems reasonable is only a smoke screen for the absurd, and what seems logical is a pretext for irrationality.
--
Is James Holmes demon possessed? It is impossible to say without a detailed diagnosis. Even then, it is a slippery question. We are dealing with a reality that is rubbery. In many ways this is the wrong question. Better to ask, "Was James Holmes taken over by Evil?"

Yes. Something happened to the mild mannered science geek. He turned into a monster. Something twisted in his mind and heart, and Evil made an entry. Evil infested his life. It took him over. Whether the twist was through mental illness, some inner wound or some terrible dark intelligence, we cannot say. The fact that we can't say what went wrong and don't have a neat and tidy answer is the key to understanding the terrible conundrum of evil.
--
All we can do when faced with mindless evil is recognize that it is mindless. The only answer is that there is no answer. The murders in Aurora and the crazed face of James Holmes remind us that real evil is random and meaningless. It is deadly and ruthless and cruel simply to be deadly, ruthless and cruel. All we can do is gaze on in fascinated horror at the senseless suffering.
Then we can pick ourselves up and also remember that goodness always overcomes evil. Evil is the absence of rationality, the absence of good, the absence of love. Evil is the dark compared to light. Evil is cold compared to heat. The cold and dark feel bad, but they are the absence of light and heat. Likewise, Evil is the absence not only of Good, but the outgoing power of Good which theologians call Love.

The true answer to the absurdity of evil is the supernatural rationality of love, for love is the outgoing goodness that counters evil. By "love," I do not mean merely sentimental or erotic love. I mean a power that is positive and creative and dynamic and pro-active in the world—the power which Dante said "moved the Sun and the other stars."

The Anchoress too ends on a hopeful note in The Alleluia That Defeats the Chill of Evil, "But something else took place last Friday; beer and hymns among the Lutherans, led by Preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber. And it was full of truth and victory:

I think Mary would not shy away from naming the darkness and despair of an event like Friday’s massacre.  She was familiar with darkness after all– Luke tells us that it is from Mary Magdalen that Jesus cast out 7 demons.  Then having been freed from her demons she followed Jesus and as the text tells us, even supported the ministry from her own pocketbook. And at the end it was Mary Magdalen who did not deny Jesus nor betray Jesus nor high tale it out when things got rough but she with just a couple other faithful women stood at the cross.  And after Jesus died, it was Mary who came to his tomb, as we are told, while it was still dark.

My Bishop Allan Bjornberg once said that the Greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty although these are all beautiful in their own way.  The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.

And in some ways Mary Magdalen is like, the patron saint of just showing up.

Because showing up means being present to what is real, what is actually happening.  She didn’t necessarily know what to say or what to do or even what to think….but none of that is nearly as important as the fact that she just showed up.  She showed up at the cross where her teacher Jesus became a victim of our violence and terror.  She looked on as the man who had set her free from her own darkness bore the evil and violence of the whole world upon himself and yet still she showed up.
--
And I think that were Mary Magdalen here she would have very little tolerance for the platitudes and vapid optimism of so much overly-churched Christianity.  Those are simply luxuries of people who’ve never had demons. But equally would she abhor nihilism or the idea that there is no real meaning in life – ideas present in so much of post-modernity…that too, is a luxury but it is one of those who have never been freed from demons.
I think she would show up and tell us that despite it all despite the violence and fear that it’s still always worth it to love God and to love people and always, always it is worth it to sing alleluia.  For surely the devil hates the sound of it.

The Anchoress again

When I hear about these terrible acts of evil, it always makes me wonder: did this person have anyone in the world, anyone in his life, praying for him? I know what it’s like to go unsprayed for, by anyone. It’s an awful, desolate thing, a daily darkness. It is a vast emptiness, and one that seeks to fill itself, which is difficult to do when our culture itself is, in many ways, a vast emptiness that may temporarily distract but can never fill our voids.
If loss seeks loss, in order that it may not be so alone, we will see so much more of this as we become an increasingly empty, cut-off, isolated and secularized people.

To understand what Christians mean by the devil and the powers of evil, I recommend Father Barron, via Marcel

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:37 PM | Permalink

July 20, 2012

A philosopher atheist finds faith

Edward Feser, The Road from Atheism

And once you have allowed yourself to see the truth that reason leads you to, what reason apprehends is (given the convertibility of the transcendentals) as good and beautiful as it is real.  If you find yourself intellectually convinced that there is a divine Uncaused Cause who sustains the world and you in being at every instant, and don’t find this conclusion extremely strange and moving, something that leads you to a kind of reverence, then I daresay you haven’t understood it.

Speaking for myself, anyway, I can say this much.  When I was an undergrad I came across the saying that learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back.  As a young man who had learned a little philosophy, I scoffed.  But in later years and at least in my own case, I would come to see that it’s true.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:19 AM | Permalink

July 17, 2012

Loneliness and Friendship

It's a sign of just how lonely many people are that one woman chose to keep her the death of her companion Charles Zigler secret for 18 months.

She kept him in his chair after he died, keeping him dressed and cleaned. His body did not stink, she said. She would talk to him and watch NASCAR races on television with him.
--
Chase kept Zigler's body around for more than NASCAR races, however. She's admitted to cashing his social security checks, saying "I'm probably going to prison." She's currently being investigated. When family members, with whom Zigler did not have a close relationship, tried to contact him, Chase would tell them that he was gone. She told the paper that "It's not that I'm heartless. It's just that after so many bad things happen to you, I don't know.

"I didn't want to be alone. He was the only guy who was ever nice to me."

In the New York Times, Alex Williams asks Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.
--
External factors are not the only hurdle. After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with, said Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore.” “The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita,” she said.

Metafilter opens the discussion, We the People ….Are Lonely  and offers links to social sites with the explicit goal of platonic matchmaking and a political take as well.

For a more political view of friendship, you might want to look for Giles Slade's forthcoming book, "The Big Disconnect." Writing in the Times Comments Section, he sees the demise of friendship as a result of late-stage capitalism: "Life has become increasingly isolated for more than a century now. This happened when we left the large extended agricultural family and community for the economic competition of our growing urban centers.

 We are increasingly encouraged to live single lives and the single life has become a growing trend. Romantic coupledom and lifelong unions are decreasing radically in favor of serial monogamy. We are alone more often than ever before.

 This is simply an economic condition of consumerism. Solitary consumers need more goods than family groups which shares its appliances, cars, housing…." And "[a]s everything in our lives becomes commodified (time, leisure and relationships) we become less generous and less skillful with others."

The loneliness that characterizes the lives of so many Americans is not  new.  From  Emailed Conversations with Four Trappist Monks

Mother Theresa, visiting the U.S. for the first time in the 70s, said she had never seen poverty like what she saw here and she meant the loneliness of Americans. The breakdown and relinquishment of shared value systems and traditions, has left individuals adrift in a private search for God and meaning. This is a terribly lonely way to live. In America, loneliness can become like the blueness of the sky. After a while, people don't think about it anymore.  Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.

Mother Theresa knows what she is talking about. 

One of the most surprising consequences of my reversion back to the Catholic faith  after 40 years living a secular life with occasional bursts of spirituality was the number of friends I've made.  By being part of a parish community of practicing Catholics, I see many of them every Sunday and others at parish events and concerts.

At every Mass in the Confiteor each person acknowledges before God and our brothers and sisters that  'I" have greatly sinned in  what I have done and what I have failed to do and together  we ask the angels and saints and brothers and sisters to pray for us before the Lord, Our God.  In the most diverse community I have ever been in, our unity comes from the faith we share and want to grow in.  I now have several people that I can confide in and they in me.  iBeing part of a faith community over time satisfies all three conditions of friendship.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:05 PM | Permalink

July 12, 2012

Obama, "It's Not Fair"

An astonishing remark for a President who supposedly was well-schooled in history and in constitutional law.  Free birth control is more important than the Freedom of Religion guaranteed us in our Constitution and Bill of Rights for which hundreds of thousands of people have died for. 

Obama: “Not Fair” To Deny Contraception Coverage

Religious liberty is critical, President Obama says in an interview, but not as critical as providing contraceptive coverage:

Yeah. Well it’s absolutely true that religious liberty is critical. I mean that’s what our country was founded on. That’s the reason why we exempted churches, we exempted religious institutions, but we did say that big Catholic hospitals or universities who employ a lot of non-Catholics and who receive a lot of federal money, that for them to be in a position to say to a woman who works there you can’t get that from your insurance company even though the institution isn’t paying for it, that that crosses the line where that woman, she suddenly is gonna have to bear the burden and the cost of that. And that’s not fair.

Whatever one’s views on the morality of contraception….  it simply is not a part of medicine as traditionally defined. To include contraception in a health plan on the same level as any other treatment—to assign it such importance that it overrules any claim of religious liberty—is very nearly to make the bizarre suggestion that fertility is a disease.

William McGurn on What Chicago would be like with the contraceptive mandate and without Catholic Charities

On Monday, Catholic Charities of Chicago—the social-welfare arm of the archdiocese—joined other Illinois Catholic organizations to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration's mandate that would force these Catholic groups to offer free contraceptives through their insurance, in violation of church teaching. The suit's message is direct: Mr. President, your mandate will make it impossible for us to do our jobs.
--
In terms of religious liberty, the new lawsuit breaks no new legal ground. What it does is offer a window into how much the decency of daily American life depends on churches using their free-exercise rights. Our nation's third-largest city provides an especially compelling example.

Chicago's Catholic Charities employs 2,700 full- and part-time staffers delivering relief aimed at helping people achieve self-sufficiency. They do everything from stocking food pantries to helping people with HIV/AIDS, resettling refugees, housing seniors, and training people for jobs.

Last year alone, that translated into 19 million meals in the form of groceries for single moms, another 2.5 million meals served to the hungry or homeless, 458,000 nights of shelter for families and children, and 897,481 hours of homemaker services for seniors. And these numbers don't include the thousands of inner-city children served by the archdiocese's Catholic schools but not on the Catholic Charities budget.

When you ask the Rev. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, what percentage of those he serves are Catholic, he answers that he doesn't know, because they don't ask. The Obama administration's mandate would change that. Particularly galling, he says, is the charge that his church is engaged in a "war on women"—when 80% of those his organization serves are women and children.

As the lawsuit puts it: Enforcing the mandate could soon require Catholic Charities to "stop providing educational opportunities to non-Catholics, stop serving non-Catholics, and fire non-Catholic employees—actions that would betray their religious commitment to serving all in need without regard to religion."
--
Does anyone really believe we would be better off turning over the work of Catholic Charities to states or the feds—with their higher costs, greater bureaucracy, and loss in efficiency?

In a recent report, Catholic Charities notes that it costs Medicaid (read: taxpayers) $43,000 per year for every senior in a nursing home. By contrast, Catholic Charities provides day care for seniors at $6,461 per year, home-delivered meals at $1,188 and services such as housecleaning for $4,028. Any one of these services can keep an elderly citizen in his own house instead of being sent to a nursing home (one of the great drivers of Medicaid's escalating costs).
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:07 PM | Permalink

May 31, 2012

Test of Fire

Daniel Henninger, Church Is Still Not State

How ironic it will be if Catholic voters, about 27% of the electorate, put the first Mormon in the White House some 50 years after John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president. More telling, though, about the current state of the American mind will be the fact that after more than a thousand days and events in Barack Obama's presidency, the reason for this result will be an unexpected reaffirmation of an American principle older than the country's first presidential election: the free exercise of religion.
--
The backlash among Catholics to the HHS order, across the political spectrum, was an astonishing thing to witness. One anecdote sticks with me from the first days. A friend in Ohio told of talking to a diocesan priest of no apparent political persuasion who said, "I hope these bishops are prepared to go to jail over this."

Go to jail? What's going on here?
--
Some things don't change, though, and among them is an American antipathy to being pushed too far. Americans are a tolerant people, but past some point they push back. With the HHS mandate upon them, a lot of Catholic voters are thinking resistance. It's an old American tradition.
--
The Obama administration is effectively saying that all the practices and beliefs embedded in the Obama health-care law are established in America and consent is required, no matter what some religion purports to believe. It is this attempt to displace religious belief with an alternative belief system that goes against the American grain and has Catholics up in arms.

The New Yorker magazine is often touted for its fact-checking.  Yet there is an egregious error in its essay Why is the Catholic Church going to Court. Ed Whelan explains;

1) Talbot claims that the “lawsuit” (actually, there were twelve lawsuits filed last week, on top of the several that were already pending) “proposes . . . that religious freedom means that they [the Catholic plaintiffs] can deny access to birth control to people who don’t share their faith or that article of it.” (Emphasis added.) But that’s an outrageously false claim. If and when the lawsuits succeed, Americans will continue to have ready access to birth control. What is at stake in the lawsuits is the separate matter of whether the Obama administration can dragoon those employers who have religious objections to facilitating the use of contraceptives, abortifacients, and/or sterilization services to be the vehicle for implementing its agenda.
--
4} Talbot contends, “Going to court will embed the Church in partisan politics and yoke it to the right wing.” But, as Archbishop William Lori nicely put it last week:

This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing.

This is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:03 PM | Permalink

May 22, 2012

"The Catholic Church has unleashed legal Armageddon on the administration"

Harvard Law School Professor Mary Ann Glendon explains Why the Bishops Are Suing the U.S. Government.

The main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women's health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions.
---
More is at stake here than the mission of all churches, including the Catholic Church, to provide social services like health care and education to everyone regardless of creed, and to do so without compromising their beliefs. At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.
--
If religious providers of education, health care and social services are closed down or forced to become tools of administration policy, the government consolidates a monopoly over those essential services. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it, we are witnessing an effort to reduce religion to a private activity. "Never before," he said, "have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith."
--
Religious freedom is subject to necessary limitations in the interests of public health and safety. The HHS regulations do not fall into that category. The world has gotten along fine without this mandate—the services in question are widely and cheaply available, and most employers will provide coverage for them.

But if the regulations are not reversed, they threaten to demote religious liberty from its prominent place among this country's most cherished freedoms. That is why Cardinal Dolan told CBS's "Face the Nation" on April 8: "We didn't ask for this fight, but we won't back away from it."

This is the Biggest Religious Lawsuit in U.S. History and the network news shows ignored it writes Brent Bozell in Newsbusters.

The fact is that the Catholic Church has unleashed legal Armageddon on the administration, promising ‘we will not comply’ with a health law that strips Catholics of their religious liberty.  If this isn't 'news' then there's no such thing as news. This should be leading newscasts and the subject of special, in-depth reports. Instead, these networks are sending a clear message to all Americans that the networks will go to any lengths – even censoring from the public an event of this historic magnitude – to prevent the release of any information that will hurt Obama’s chances of re-election.

This is the worst bias by omission I have seen in the quarter century history of the Media Research Center.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:34 PM | Permalink

May 18, 2012

Muslim Persecution of Christians in April

Raymond Ibrahim documents month by month the Muslim persecution of Christians. 

Because the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching epidemic proportions, "Muslim Persecution of Christians" was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:

To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, Muslim persecution of Christians.
To show that such persecution is not "random," but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Sharia.

In his report for April, he writes

"500 Muslims had gathered and were watching in amusement as the extremists chased and harassed the Christians, attempting to murder them all, for about 90 minutes."

As Easter, one of the highest Christian holidays, comes in April, Christian persecution in Muslim nations—from sheer violence to oppressive laws—was rampant: In Nigeria, where jihadis have expressed their desire to expunge all traces of Christianity, a church was bombed during Easter Sunday, killing some 50 worshippers; in Turkey, a pastor was beaten by Muslims immediately following Easter service and threatened with death unless he converted to Islam; and in Iran, Easter Sunday saw 12 Christians stand trial as "apostates."

The persecution of Christians has come to regions not normally associated with it. As in Nigeria, Muslim militants are now also running amok in Timbuktu, Mali—beheading a Christian leader and threatening other Christians with similar treatment. Sharia law has been imposed, churches are being destroyed, and Christians are fleeing Timbuktu in mass.

The categories in which he groups his country-by country report are church attacks, death or prison for apostasy and blasphemy and dhimmitude.  The reports are horrifying.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:31 PM | Permalink

April 25, 2012

Comparing the historicity of Muhammed and Christ

This is out of left field and fascinating.

Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology has concluded that The Prophet Muhammed probably never existed,

When Prof. Kalisch took up his theology chair four years ago, he was seen as proof that modern Western scholarship and Islamic ways can mingle -- and counter the influence of radical preachers in Germany. He was put in charge of a new program at Münster, one of Germany's oldest and most respected universities, to train teachers in state schools to teach Muslim pupils about their faith.
---
Prof. Kalisch, who insists he's still a Muslim, says he knew he would get in trouble but wanted to subject Islam to the same scrutiny as Christianity and Judaism. German scholars of the 19th century, he notes, were among the first to raise questions about the historical accuracy of the Bible.
--
The earliest biography, of which no copies survive, dated from roughly a century after the generally accepted year of his death, 632, and is known only by references to it in much later texts.
---
He was struck, he says, by the fact that the first coins bearing Muhammad's name did not appear until the late 7th century -- six decades after the religion did.
---
He traded ideas with some scholars in Saarbrücken who in recent years have been pushing the idea of Muhammad's nonexistence. They claim that "Muhammad" wasn't the name of a person but a title, and that Islam began as a Christian heresy.

At the same time, Robert Spencer has come out with a new book, Did Muhammed Exist? I learned in a book review who lays out Spencer's evidence.

1.  There are no documents from the 7th and 8th centuries written by independent observers.
--
2.  Even among Arabic documents and artifacts, there is no mention of or example of any Qur’anic text until the year 691, a full 80 years after Muhammad supposedly started dictating it, and 60 years after it was completed and purportedly became the central text of Arab society.
--
3. The name Muhammad actually appears in the Qur’an only four times, and in three of those instances it could be used as a title — the “praised one” or “chosen one” — rather than as a proper name. By contrast, Moses is mentioned by name 136 times, and Abraham, 79 times. Even Pharaoh is mentioned 74 times. Meanwhile, “messenger of Allah” (rasul Allah) appears in various forms 300 times, and “prophet” (nabi), 43 times.
--
4. While the Qur’an is nearly silent on Muhammad, the Hadiths — a sort of second-tier commentary on the Qur’an written much later but nonetheless regarded as sacred and authoritative Islamic texts — discuss Muhammad and his life in endless detail….none of which date from earlier than two centuries after Muhammad’s death.
--
5. The earliest biography of Muhammad, upon which all subsequent biographies are based, was not written until a century after his death, in an era of few or no written records, when all potential eyewitnesses were long dead; and furthermore, that original biography is itself long gone, and all we have left is a much later copy, the author of which frankly confesses he left out all the embarrassing parts?
--
Did Muhammad Exist? is essentially one big hoisting of Islam by its own petard. A religion that purports to be “revealed,” and perfect and unchanging from its inception, has a serious burden of proof; but as Spencer shows, Islam fails to supply that proof.

By contrast, the proof that Jesus really existed is overwhelming despite the fact that many, atheists in particular, dispute this.

Here you can find laid out extra-biblical sources for the historicity of Jesus Christ

Secular sources.  The Roman historians: Tacitus (55-120 AD), Suetonius (69-130AD),  Thallus (~52AD), Pliny the Younger (63-113 AD), Celsus (~178 AD), Lucian of Samosata (12-~180 AD)

Jewish evidence.  The Babylonian Talmud and the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote in Antiquities 18.63-64

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared

Extra-Biblical (Christian) Evidence.  Clement of Rome (?~98AD), Ignatius of Antioch (? - ~ 100 AD), Quadratus of Athens (126 AD), Aristides the Athenian (126 AD), Justin Martyr (~100-165 AD), Hegesippus (110 AD - 180 AD)

The dates of the writing of the gospels was most likely prior to AD 70 when the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing and eyewitnesses were still around

Dating back from the Acts of the Apostles which was written about 62 AD

Gospel of Luke around 60 AD
Gospel of Mark, sometime in the 50s AD
Gospel of Matthew, the first gospel written in AD 41 according to Church father Eusebius by the apostle Matthew, an eyewitness.
Gospel of John  prior to 70 AD by the apostle John, an eyewitness.

Then there is the matter of prophecy.    There are none for Muhammed.  By contrast, the 300 Messianic prophecies were written by various prophets in the thousand years before Christ.

They spoke of a Messiah who would one day come to earth and walk among mankind. These prophecies mentioned
specific names, locations, and even the timing surrounding His appearance. The known date of completion for the
Old Testament writings is 430 B.C., so these prophecies were in circulation at least 430 years before the time of
Christ.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:57 PM | Permalink

April 16, 2012

"I don't know what is awaiting me" says Pope Benedict on his 85th birthday

Happy Birthday Holy Father.  Benedict on his 85th Birthday

Earlier in the day, in an impromptu homily, the Pope had said: “I find myself on the last stretch of my journey in life, and I don’t know what is awaiting me.”

“I know, however, that the light of God exists, that he is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness and that God’s goodness is stronger than any evil in this world, and this helps me go forward with certainty,” he said.

 B16 At 85
10 Bavarian children dance the skirt-swirling, shoe-stomping, thigh-slapping 'Schuhplattler' before the Pope

Michael Cook at MercatorNet.  Benedict XVI's analysis of the crisis of Western culture is outstanding in its depth and clarity.

Although insiders say that Benedict is slowing down, he lives at a pace which would kill younger men: a relentless succession of trips in Italy, trips overseas, daily speeches, a multitude of official visitors and the constant pressure of global attention.

And Joseph Ratzinger is still a one-man ideas factory. Since he was elected in 2005, he has written two books of his own as the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, has collaborated in a book-length interview, has written three encyclicals (more or less book-length theological position papers) and his collected addresses have been compiled into several books.
--
There is no denying that Western humanism is tottering. It was born in the cradle of religious belief and is grounded on the twin cornerstones of respect for reason and awe at the dignity of mankind. But – to telescope 200 years of cultural history into a few sentences – it is quavering in a crisis of self-confidence. Religion is shut up in a closet. The ambit of reason is restricted to only those things which can be touched and measured. And human dignity is being suffocated by technology.
--
Books have been and will be written about Benedict’s achievement. But I’m not risking anything by highlighting out the following themes.

If the ideal society is thoroughly secular, why is depression one of the leading causes of disability?
Even before he became Pope, Benedict has stressed that Christianity offers a coherent answer to our search for happiness.

Joy as the secret weapon of Christianity is a theme to which he returns again and again. "Faith gives joy. When God is not there, the world becomes desolate, and everything becomes boring, and everything is completely unsatisfactory,”
--
If atheism is a sign of progress, why have we trashed the environment? Few people have noticed, but ecology is a recurrent theme in Benedict’s writing. This stems not from a vague pantheism or nostalgic conservatism, but from the Biblical conviction that man is the steward of creation. A desolate environment mirrors interior desolation.
--
If science is so convincing, why is it so difficult to agree on fundamental issues?…Questioning moral relativism is fundamental to his program. He keeps reminding his listeners that if reason cannot deal with intangible issues like what is good and what is just, they will be defined by whoever is most powerful.
--

More at the link.

The Anchoress says Benedict is A Cloister Unto Himself.

Some people think the pope is a very complicated man, but really, he is very easy to get, because he is very open. He is not a politician; he is not a diplomat; he is simply a man who is humbly all-for-God, who lives his faith so completely that there are no shadows. His words are words of Be-ing, primarily.
---
Even before he was Benedict, back when he was Joseph Ratzinger, I loved his humility; he has always struck me as the shy old uncle who — once drawn out — keeps you enthralled with the openness, depth and breadth of his intellect, which is never pedantic, and always accessible.
--
His pontificate, which some thought would be “transitional” may very well end up being transformational.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:30 PM | Permalink

April 9, 2012

"Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies,"

Pope Benedict's Easter Homily

"Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies," Benedict, wearing white robes in a symbol of new life, told the faithful in a packed St. Peter's Basilica.

Still, Benedict worried in his homily: "The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil."

"The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general," the pope said.

"If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other 'lights,' that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk," Benedict added.
--

Benedict, who has made protection of the environment a theme of his papacy, made a reference to urban pollution in his homily. "Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars in the sky are no longer visible," he said. "Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?"

"With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify," Benedict added, saying that faith was the "true enlightenment."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:14 PM | Permalink

April 4, 2012

Loving the Rapist's Child

A remarkable story, Loving the Rapist's Child

Today, we celebrate nine wonderful years with Rachael, our only daughter. It seems like a bad dream now that we ever considered living without this amazing little girl. She is a constant reminder to us, not of rape but of the startling beauty one can find hidden in tragedy.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

March 28, 2012

"The sacred is especially difficult for liberals to understand"

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt reviewed by David Goodhart in Prospect.

Elite colleges produce WEIRD people: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic.

[see Science Daily report: Psychological research conducted in 'WEIRD' nations may not apply to global populations]

...[i]n the formulation of a group of North American cultural psychologists, WEIRD—,,, from a sub-culture that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. They are, as we have seen, universalists, suspicious of strong national loyalties. They also tend to be individualists committed to autonomy and self-realization. Balancing that they are usually deeply concerned with social justice and unfairness and also suspicious of appeals to religion or to human nature to justify any departure from equal treatment—differences between men and women, for example, are regarded as cultural not biological.
--
Haidt is a liberal who wants his political tribe to understand humans better. His main insight is simple but powerful: liberals understand only two main moral dimensions, whereas conservatives understand all five. (Over the course of the book he decides to add a sixth, liberty/oppression.
---
Liberals care about harm and suffering (appealing to our capacities for sympathy and nurturing) and fairness and injustice. All human cultures care about these two things but they also care about three other things: loyalty to the in-group, authority and the sacred.

As Haidt puts it: “It’s as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning.” This does not mean that liberals are necessarily wrong but it does mean that they have more trouble understanding conservatives than vice versa.
--
The sacred is especially difficult for liberals to understand. This isn’t necessarily about religion but about the idea that humans have a nobler, more spiritual side and that life has a higher purpose than pleasure or profit. If your only moral concepts are suffering and injustice then it is hard to understand reservations about everything from swearing in public to gay marriage—after all, who is harmed?

In the New York Times, Haidt himself writes "Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness"  to better understand what the cultural wars are about.
 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:27 PM | Permalink

March 21, 2012

Progressive Inhumanity

From one of my favorite essayists, Anthony Esolen, Progressive Inhumanity, Part Two: The State against the Churches

With the significant exception of Islam, almost every war fought in the west over the last five thousand years has had nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with those secular things that men fight for: power, glory, revenge, wealth, land.  What did religion as such have to do with the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War?  What did religion have to do with the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, and the Boer War?  What did it have to do with the Franco-Prussian War, or the Russo-Japanese War?  Even the Crusades would never have been fought, if the Turks had not swept into the near east, slaughtering and conquering, feared by both the Byzantine Christians and the Baghdad Muslims whose lands they seized.  Instead, if we want to identify the real instigator of war, we need look no farther than the secular man who wishes not to worship God but to have the power of a god: Napoleon, Bismarck, Garibaldi, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, Tito, Mao, Idi Amin, Kim Jong-Il.

But when I join with my fellows in the worship of God, there above all do we break out of our lean and hungry selfishness.  To kneel beside another person – an old man beside a little child, a janitor beside a professor, a woman who struggles with the sin of envy beside a woman who is the cause of envy in others, a college graduate beside a dropout, a gangly boy beside a woman who shakes as she takes the host – this is a communion the secularist can never know.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:00 PM | Permalink

March 20, 2012

"Creative, daring, life-giving healthcare for women and children"

Timothy Cardinal Dolan on Protecting Health Care for Women and Children

When it comes to the health of women, their babies, and their children, the Catholic Church is there, the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around.
--
I could go on and on:  if you want to see creative, daring, lifegiving healthcare for women and their children, look at what the Church is doing.
--
We’re on the offensive when it comes to women’s health, education, and welfare, here at home, and throughout the world.  We hardly need lectures on this issue from senators.

We just want to be left alone to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.  We cherish this, our earthly home, America, for its enshrined freedom to do so. Those really concerned about women’s health would be better off defending the Church’s freedom to continue its work.

A couple of years ago I visited a woman’s prison. The warden asked me if I wanted to visit the expectant and new mothers’ healthcare center. It then dawned on me that, of course, some women would enter prison pregnant. I was so happy to see the expectant moms, getting good health care for themselves and their unborn babies, and to see the moms with babies under two getting classes in childrearing and parenting skills, with the babies receiving tender care right next to their moms. When I told the warden how grateful I was to see such excellent care for these women and children, he replied, “Thank yourself. Catholic Charities runs it.”

We can not grasp the degree of social chaos that will result if Catholic schools, hospitals and charities are forced to shut down because of the HHS mandate.

The Anchoress comments

The lie that the church “hates” women and wants to keep them down is an an old one and a lazy one and a convenient one, and — unsurprisingly, it’s the lie the media and folks with an agenda will run with. Reality, of course, is quite different and can’t be explained in a slogan or with a bumper sticker:
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:51 AM | Permalink

March 16, 2012

"Strongly unified and intensely focused"

U.S. Bishops are strongly unified and intensely focused in its opposition to the various threats to religious freedom.

This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church’s hand and with the Church’s funds. This is not about the religious freedom of Catholics only, but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops’ somehow “banning contraception,” when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church—consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions—to act against Church teachings. This is not a matter of opposition to universal health care, which has been a concern of the Bishops’ Conference since 1919, virtually at its founding. This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing. Finally, this is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.
---
Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry. HHS thus creates and enforces a new distinction—alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law—between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none.

A mandate to act against our teachings. The exemption is not merely a government foray into internal Church governance, where government has no legal competence or authority—disturbing though that may be. This error in theory has grave consequences in principle and practice. Those deemed by HHS not to be “religious employers” will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions. This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effective proclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world. For decades, the Bishops have led the fight against such government incursions on conscience, particularly in the area of health care. Far from making us waver in this longstanding commitment, the unprecedented magnitude of this latest threat has only strengthened our resolve to maintain that consistent view.
--
A violation of personal civil rights. The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values. They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing “services” contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption.
 

George Weigel writes in No Compromise

There will be no compromise here, for there can be no compromise of first principles. Those who understand that will gather their energies and continue to defend both Catholic and American tradition.

Would Obama's Mandate Fly With the Founding Fathers?

The young American republic was largely born from a Protestant dissenting tradition. The freedom to worship freely was a deep root of the colonial experience; as scholars like Barry Alan Shain and Donald Lutz have shown, colonial America was made up of countless small congregations wanting to live as their beliefs guided them.

Thomas Jefferson :  “That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

James Madison: ‘The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right....It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:58 AM | Permalink

March 14, 2012

"True religion is not a set of beliefs - it is a set of practices"

An orthodox priest, Father Stephen says religion and belief are not the same thing.

The God Who Is No God

There is a divide in our culture between the ideas we think and the lives we live – and the division is often accepted as normal. This is more than mere hypocrisy – our problem is not that we fail to live up to our ideas – our ideas frequently fail to have anything to do with the life we live.

In secularized culture, religion is not eliminated – it is placed at a remove. The remove in which religion is placed is anywhere that does not matter, anywhere that does not touch our daily lives. The secular genius of the modern world (including America) was its contention that religion and belief are the same thing. The acquiescence of believers to this arrangement was, in effect, an agreement to render their faith impotent.

The fatal flaw in this agreement can be summed up simply: true religion is not a set of beliefs – it is a set of practices.
--
Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 confronts Christians with their practices: feeding the hungry; visiting the prisoners; clothing the naked; giving drink to the thirsty. No mention is made of Creed. It is not that belief is unimportant – but the dogma of the faith undergirds and informs our practice of the faith. “Faith without works is dead,” because it is no faith at all.
--
We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner because in doing so we do this to Christ. Every practice of kindness and mercy is an act of union with Christ. The Church’s life of feasts and fasts, sacraments and services are the practice of worship – the life of union with Christ. They are not religious entertainment nor mere educational events: they are the visible manifestation of the inner life of God in man.
--
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:12 AM | Permalink

March 13, 2012

Cameron's conservative government will argue Christians have no right to wear cross at work.

At the Farm, Maggie makes an essential point that should be blazoned in neon

Britain again: Christians have no right to wear cross at work, says Government - Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work, the Government is to argue in a landmark court case.

There is a deep confusion there. The government does not dispense or remove rights. Government is supposed to be there to protect freedom.


The Mayor of London Boris Johnson says

I don’t know the process by which government lawyers have decided this is the right way to go, but someone needs to march into their room, grab them by the lapels, and tell them not to be such confounded idiots.
---
Mrs Eweida is a member of a group — Christians — and she wanted to express her membership of that group in a small and inoffensive way. She was suspended and sent home. She was told she could not have contact with the public. She was discriminated against. She did suffer disadvantage. It is plain as a pikestaff. Government lawyers should run up the white flag now. Never mind Strasbourg: it is time for some common sense.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:50 AM | Permalink

March 9, 2012

The Church of Big Government

The West may been too worn out to care about protecting religious freedom, free speech or much of the Constitution at all.  Still

it ought to bother you that in the cause of delegitimizing two millennia of moral teaching the state is willing to intrude on core rights — rights to property, rights of association, even rights to private conversation.

Mark Steyn in a must-read article The Church of Big Government

Discussing the constitutionality of Obamacare's "preventive health" measures on MSNBC, Melinda Henneberger of the Washington Post told Chris Matthews that she reasons thus with her liberal friends: "Maybe the Founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, but they did."

Maybe. A lot of other constitutional types in the Western world have grown increasingly comfortable with circumscribing religious liberty. In 2002, the Swedish constitution was amended to criminalize criticism of homosexuality. "Disrespect" of the differently orientated became punishable by up to two years in jail, and "especially offensive" disrespect by up to four years. Shortly thereafter, Pastor Ake Green preached a sermon referencing the more robust verses of scripture, and was convicted of "hate crimes" for doing so.
__

[M]ost of the West now believes in the state as church — an all-powerful deity who provides day-care for your babies and takes your aged parents off your hands....  America's Catholic hierarchy, in particular, colluded in the redefinition of the tiresome individual obligation to Christian charity as the painless universal guarantee of state welfare....They were gung ho for Obamacare. It never seemed to occur to them that, if you agitate for state health care, the state gets to define what health care is.
--
As Tocqueville saw it, what prevents the "state popular" from declining into a "state despotic" is the strength of the intermediary institutions between the sovereign and the individual. But in the course of the 20th century, the intermediary institutions, the independent pillars of a free society, were gradually chopped away — from church to civic associations to family. Very little now stands between the individual and the sovereign, which is why the latter assumes the right to insert himself into every aspect of daily life, including the provisions a Catholic college president makes for his secretary's IUD.
___
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:50 PM | Permalink

February 21, 2012

"Anti-Catholic and Un-American"

Father Barron on the HHS mandate.  Clear, calm and considered as always.

Added bonus Where are the women?

Bonus No. 2  Soft tyranny via Maggie's Farm

..."taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrial animals of which the government is the shepherd."

Alexis de Toqueville,
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:18 PM | Permalink

February 20, 2012

"Rendering moot the very first clause of the First Amendment"

The Audacity of Power: President Obama Vs. The Catholic Church by Charles Kadlec in Forbes via The Anchoress

In one of the boldest, most audacious moves ever made by a President of the United States, President Barack Obama is on the brink of successfully rendering moot the very first clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (emphasis added). If he forces the Catholic Church to comply with the Health and Human Services ruling to provide its employees with insurance that covers activities the Church has long held sinful — abortion via the morning after pill, sterilization and contraceptives — then the precedent is clear: when religious beliefs conflict with government decrees, religion must yield.
--
Before our very eyes, President Obama is on the verge of establishing the principle that the right to religious freedom comes not from our Creator, but from those who rule us. A government endowed right granted to women now trumps our unalienable right to act in accordance with our religious beliefs and conscience. Not only does this overturn the First Amendment, it also tramples the nation’s founding principles as announced in the Declaration of Independence. Such an achievement would be the true audacity of power.

The fundamental question is whether the Catholic Church, and by extension, individual Americans have to engage in activities according to the rulings of this and future Presidents, or are we free to live our lives as we choose as long as we do not harm another. Are we free to engage in long standing religious practices that have never before been deemed unlawful, or has the federal government established a de facto state “religion” that it is prepared to enforce through the full coercive power of its financial resources and the imposition of financial penalties.
--
I am not a Catholic, nor do I believe in the Church’s opposition to contraception. But I pray that the leadership of the Catholic Church will have the faith and courage to stand for its core beliefs and use all of its moral power and political influence to defeat the President’s edict. I pray they will reach out across the political spectrum to people of all faiths, agnostics and atheists in the name of religious freedom and individual liberty

Paul Ryan on Meet the Press

“What we’re getting from the White House on this conscience issue, it’s not an issue about contraception, it’s an issue that reveals a political philosophy the president is showing that basically treats our constitutional rights as if they were revocable privileges from our government, not inalienable rights from our creator,”

David French

Religious employers are asserting rights of conscience and free exercise of religion grounded in the First Amendment, arguably the single-most important constitutional provision protecting individual liberty from state power. Competing against this 200-year-old foundational legal principle is . . . an executive branch regulation (not even a statute) establishing a “right” that has never before existed in the history of the Republic — a “right to contraception coverage at no additional cost”

David Warren, a Canadian, in Matters of Conscience

Americans do not yet fully realize that ObamaCare is a "work in progress." What they see now is only the thin end of the wedge, and the current controversial HHS Mandate is modest compared to what will arise farther down the road.

A "Preventive Services Task Force" has been empowered to "prioritize" (thus effectively decide) everything to be covered by private health insurance - and with perfect Kafkaesque serenity, for it makes all decisions behind closed doors, need not announce decisions in draft, and is under no obligation to consider any external suggestions. Its decisions cannot be directly appealed, and it cannot be sued for the consequences of them.

If the Americans fail to repeal ObamaCare, they will soon learn it was a stalking horse for the full "socialization" of their health-care system.

Obama Deceives Catholics on Compromise, J. Christian Adams

Give the Obama administration their due, they sure are great deceivers. In an effort to escape the firestorm engulfing them because of the ObamaCare mandate that forces churches to violate their theology, the president announced a “compromise” on February 10. The details of this compromise demonstrate that President Obama simply cannot be believed.
--
Lies, all.

First, nothing was changed from the original rule.  The Department of Health and Human Services, Friday night, hours after Obama’s big “compromise,” issued the final regulation in exact form as the regulation first issued in August 2011 “without changes.”  Church-affiliated entities, such as Catholic hospitals, were still not exempted in the issued final regulation.

This is Not Just a “Culture War,” It’s An Attack on The First Amendment by Ron Futrell

This is also a fight much larger than “culture.” Culture is something that defines art and common belief. Culture is something that changes with the times and can actually be defined as you wish. Much of our culture today is not what it was 50, 100, or 200 years ago.
--
For the media to call this a “culture war” greatly diminishes its value, this is a battle over the First amendment of the US Constitution. Obama wants the Constitution circumvented to pander to his base, I would hope that most of us would be united with the Catholic Church in wanting it protected.

It Isn't Just Catholics Mad About ObamaCare Mandate

This week, two non-Catholic Christian colleges are proving that Obama-Care's contraception-sterilization requirement isn't just a Catholic concern. They are suing for their religious freedoms, too.
--
The two schools argue that the "compromise" President Obama announced earlier this month, forcing insurers themselves instead of religious institutions to provide the controversial services — and for free — "is entirely fictitious."


Memo to Jews: After They Come for the Catholic Church, They Will Come For Us
  David Goldman

Today it is contraception and the morning-after pill. Tomorrow it will be kosher slaughter, or matrilineal descent, or circumcision, or other matters of existential importance to Jewish observance. If the Obama administration gets away with forcing Catholic institutions to step across lines of life and death in the name of “health,” the federal government will have a precedent to legislate Judaism out of existence — as several other countries have already tried to do.
--
Open the door to “scientific” determination of matters of life and death, and America’s Orthodox Jews — a minority within a minority — will be vulnerable to a new Inquisition. On this issue, there can be no compromise. Agudath Israel is right: Jews should stand by the right of the Catholic Church to determine what is acceptable by its standards, just as we one day will ask the Catholic Church to stand by our right to determine what is acceptable by our standards. To its credit, Britain’s Catholic Church stood by us in 2009 when the English courts shamefully and wrongly ruled that our most basic religious criteria were “racist.” Shamefully and wrongfully, some Jews have failed to stand by the Church under the Obama administration’s persecution. I appeal to these Jews: Don’t be naive. We’re next.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:50 PM | Permalink

February 13, 2012

Spiritus contra spiritum

In the New York Times, A Rabbi’s Teachings on Recovery Find a Wide Audience

Rabbi Taub’s thesis, the central insight of his teaching and writing. Addiction, he argues, is less a chemical dependency or a mental illness than the consequence of an individual’s absence from God and of the psychic pain that absence inflicts.

“The substance isn’t the addict’s problem,” Rabbi Taub put it at one point in his talk. “The substance is the addict’s best attempt at a solution.” The only true solution, he went on, is “a personal God experience,” a spiritual breakthrough that supplies “the deep-seated need for union with God.”
--
In saying overtly what the recovery movement often leaves deliberately ambiguous — the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous refer to a “Higher Power” without defining it — Rabbi Taub has become a phenomenon. Even as he is anchored within the Hasidic world, he has transcended it, first by reaching unaffiliated and secular Jews and then, most unexpectedly, by finding an eager audience among Christians.
--
Without any formal training in addiction treatment, Rabbi Taub entered the field experientially in 2006, leading a weekly group at a Chabad House in Milwaukee for Jewish men in recovery. Through the efforts he was struck by how many of the men had become observant in the course of getting clean and sober. He considered that turns of events no coincidence.

In the next several years, as he began to conduct research into addiction treatment, Rabbi Taub made a surprising and affirming discovery. It was a 1961 letter from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. In it, Jung, the legendary psychiatrist, directly recommended “union with God” as essential to recovery.

“Alcohol in Latin is ‘spiritus,’ ” Jung wrote, “and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” (The approximate translation would be spirituality against spirits of the alcoholic sort.)
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:33 AM | Permalink

February 11, 2012

Persecution of Christians

In Newsweek, Ayaan Hirsi Ali:The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World

From one end of the muslim world to the other, Christians are being murdered for their faith.

We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Spring’s fight against tyranny. But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway—an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.
---
But a fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other. The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity—and ultimately of all religious minorities—in the Islamic world is at stake.
--
It should be clear from this catalog of atrocities that anti-Christian violence is a major and underreported problem. No, the violence isn’t centrally planned or coordinated by some international Islamist agency. In that sense the global war on Christians isn’t a traditional war at all. It is, rather, a spontaneous expression of anti-Christian animus by Muslims that transcends cultures, regions, and ethnicities.

Each month, Raymond Ibrahim documents Muslim Persecution of Christians.  The report for January 2012, is horrifying.  Each month is.

She was flogged -- given 40 lashes as hundreds of Muslim spectators jeered -- for embracing a "foreign religion."

More documentation of persecution for apostasy, attacks on churches, dhimmitude, abductions, ransom and murder.

Enraged by the voices of children singing carols at a nearby church, Muslims praying in a mosque decided to silence them—including with an axe: "The children were preparing for mass to be celebrated the next day which was a Sunday. The loud cheers became terrified whimpers when suddenly four men, one of them with an axe, barged into the church. The men slapped the children, wrecked the furniture, smashed the microphone on to the floor and kicked the altar. "You are disturbing our prayers. We can't pray properly. How dare you use the mike and speakers?" (Islam forbids Christians from celebrating loudly in church, banning bells, microphones, and other aids).
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:10 PM | Permalink

February 9, 2012

Speaking Truth to Power

Mark Joseph on The President and the Prophet, Obama's Unusual Encounter with Eric Metaxas.

If the organizers of the national prayer breakfast ever want a sitting president to attend their event again, they need to expect that any leader in his right mind is going to ask — no, demand — that he be allowed to see a copy of the keynote address that is traditionally given immediately before the president’s.

That’s how devastating was the speech given by a little known historical biographer named Eric Metaxas, whose clever wit and punchy humor barely disguised a series of heat-seeking missiles that were sent, intentionally or not, in the commander-in-chief’s direction.
---
But before the president could utter a word, it was Metaxas who delivered a devastating, albeit apparently unintentional critique of such God-talk, recounting his own religious upbringing which he described as culturally Christian yet simultaneously full of “phony religiosity.”

“I thought I was a Christian. I guess I was lost,” he matter-of-factly stated.

For some reason I can't embed the video from C-Span , but Justin Taylor did, so watch it here.  Metaxas is charming, funny, serious and profound Christian.    It may be the best thing you've seen all week whether you are a believer or not.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:09 AM | Permalink

February 2, 2012

The big story in Washington that not many in the political class understood

Peggy Noonon on A Battle the President Can't Win

The big story took place in Washington. That's where a bomb went off that not many in the political class heard, or understood.

But President Obama just may have lost the election.

The president signed off on a Health and Human Services ruling that says under ObamaCare Catholic Institutions—including its charities, hospitals and schools—will be required by law, for the first time ever, to provide and pay for insurance coverage that includes contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures. If they do not, they will face ruinous fines in the millions of dollars. Or they can always go out of business.

In other words, the Catholic Church was told this week that its institutions can't be Catholic anymore.

I invite you to imagine the moment we are living in without the church's charities, hospitals and schools. And if you know anything about those organizations, you know it is a fantasy that they can afford millions in fines.

There was no reason to make this ruling—none. Except ideology.
---

The church is split on many things. But do Catholics in the pews want the government telling their church to contravene its beliefs? A president affronting the leadership of the church, and blithely threatening its great institutions? No, they don't want that. They will unite against that.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:11 PM | Permalink

January 31, 2012

The Slap in the Face of Catholics

Some argue that if was the Catholic vote that gave Obama his victory in 2008,  If that is true, I am even more surprised at the Administration's decision to battle the Catholic Church.  Politically, it's a dumb-headed move surpassing even the decision against the Keystone pipeline.  In a completely unnecessary battle, Obama has managed to unite the Catholic left against him as William McGurn points out.

In a post for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters minces few words. Under the headline "J'ACCUSE," he rightly takes the president to the woodshed for the politics of the decision, for the substance, and for how "shamefully" it treats "those Catholics who went out on a limb" for him.

The message Mr. Obama is sending, says Mr. Winters, is "that there is no room in this great country of ours for the institutions our Church has built over the years to be Catholic in ways that are important to us."
--
Catholic liberals ...understand that if left to stand, this ruling threatens the religious institutions closest to their hearts—those serving Americans in need, such as hospitals, soup kitchens and immigrant services.

Obama plays his Catholic allies for fools in his radical power grab on health care writes Michael Gerson

Catholic leaders are still trying to process the implications of this ambushThe president had every opportunity to back down from confrontation. In the recent ­Hosanna-Tabor ruling, a unanimous Supreme Court reaffirmed a broad religious autonomy right rooted in the Constitution. Obama could have taken the decision as justification for retreat.

There would have been no controversy at all if President Obama had simply exempted religious institutions and ministries. But the administration insisted that the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s Hospital be forced to pay for the privilege of violating their convictions.

Obama chose to substantially burden a religious belief, by the most intrusive means, for a less-than-compelling state purpose — a marginal increase in access to contraceptives that are easily available elsewhere. The religious exemption granted by Obamacare is narrower than anywhere else in federal law — essentially covering the delivery of homilies and the distribution of sacraments. Serving the poor and healing the sick are regarded as secular pursuits — a determination that would have surprised Christianity’s founder.

the astounding ambition of this federal precedent will soon be apparent to every religious institution. Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.

What the President has started is a culture war.  111 Bishops Speak Out Against Obama/HHS Mandate.  One fiery bishop wrote in a letter read out to all in his archdiocese.

“We cannot and will not comply with this unjust decree. Like the martyrs of old, we must be prepared to accept suffering, which could include heavy fines and imprisonment,”...Our American religious liberty is in grave jeopardy,”...“This means that all of our Catholic schools, hospitals, social-service agencies and the like will be forced to participate in evil,” ...

Another bishop, Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh said

“The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’” the bishop said in a column posted on his diocesan website. “There is no other way to put it.”
-“
It is really hard to believe that it happened. It comes like a slap in the face,”
--
Let’s be blunt,” said Bishop Zubik. “This whole process of mandating these guidelines undermines the democratic process itself. In this instance, the mandate declares pregnancy a disease, forces a culture of contraception and abortion on society, all while completely bypassing the legislative process.

“This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone--not only Catholics; not only people of all religion,” said the bishop. “At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom not only with regard to religion, but even across-the-board with all citizens.”

Yuval Levin in Religious Liberty and Civil Society

The particulars of what the Obamacare insurance mandate rule does, and the unwillingness of the administration to exempt religious employers, are just stunning. Religious institutions are basically going to be fined for holding views regarding contraception, sterilization, and abortion that are different from the Obama administration’s views. For instance, Notre Dame University, which employs more than 5,000 people, is going to be given the choice of either expressly violating its religious convictions or paying a $10 million fine to the federal government. It’s bad enough that any employer with a moral objection has to spend his money this way, but it is especially egregious to compel religious institutions to do so.
--
what is at issue in the controversy over the administration’s rule is not just the question of religious liberty but the question of non-governmental institutions in a free society.
--
Does civil society consist of a set of institutions that help the government achieve its purposes as it defines them when their doing so might be more efficient or convenient than the state’s doing so itself, or does civil society consist of an assortment of efforts by citizens to band together in pursuit of mutual aims and goods as they understand them? Is it an extension of the state or of the community? In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state, and to clear out civil society—clearing out the mediating layers between the individual and the state—when it seems to stand in the way of achieving the president’s agenda.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:27 PM | Permalink

January 22, 2012

"Unconscionable" challenge to religious liberty

The Other Health-Care Mandate: Good Samaritan Turned Upside Down

From the outset, the administration sought to camouflage the mandate’s radical assault on conscience by inserting an exemption for “religious employers” who objected to paying for contraception and abortion. It is a pitifully small fig leaf, however.

An organization cannot qualify if it has a “non-religious” aim (such as caring for the sick or feeding the hungry), or if it hires or serves persons of different faiths. In other words, the administration has managed to legislate a grotesque inversion of the parable of the Good Samaritan: A religious group loses the protection of the law precisely because it reaches across boundaries to help the outsider.

Religious Liberty the Latest Target of Obamacare

The Obamacare regulation gives faith-based institutions, like Catholic universities and hospitals, the choice of violating the fundamental tenets of their faith by covering the federally mandated coverage in their employee health plans, or of dropping health insurance for their employees — in which case they would be fined for violating the employer mandate.

This is an outrage...

here is a war on religion from the Left, and it is very dangerous to the institutions that make our civil society function.

The Catholic Church historically has been a vital part of the safety net — providing aid for the poor, care for the sick, shelter and food for the homeless, and care for mothers in need, as a few examples.

The health-care law threatens to tear gaping holes in that safety net by forcing Catholic health plans to cover contraception, by denying funds to Catholic adoption agencies, and ultimately by forcing taxpayers — including Catholics — to fund abortion.

This is dangerous to the very fabric of our society. It’s a crucial reason why the whole health law, with its centralized control over health-care decisions, must not stand.

" A Foul Ball, By Any Standard" U.S. Bishops vow to fight this edict.

Unconscionable to force citizens to buy contraceptives against their will.

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty."

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan

“Almost every employer and insurer in the country to provide sterilization and contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans… Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

"...the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our conscience"

Beginning August 1, 2012 (less than eight months from today), the insurance premiums we pay, including the insurance premiums paid by Catholics for employees of churches and schools -- will be used to cover drugs and procedures that are in direct conflict with the teachings of our Church.

That's right. Our government will now force us to pay for insurance coverage for birth control, sterilization and even some abortion drugs.
---
Abortion-rights groups immediately applauded the decision.

"Birth control is not just basic health care for women, it is an economic concern," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "This common sense decision means that millions of women, who would otherwise pay $15 to $50 a month, will have access to affordable birth control, helping them save hundreds of dollars each year."
--

Was it for this that President Obama cut $500 billion from Medicare?  Why are contraceptives and abortifacients 'privileged' as opposed to every other drug, like statins for instance?

As you might recall, it was primarily orthodox Catholics and conservative Evangelicals who kept saying during the last presidential campaign that then-Sen. Obama's record revealed a man with an unswerving, ideological obsession with making access to contraceptives and abortion available to just about anyone, anytime, anywhere—and on the taxpayers' dime. Yet it is those very folks who are continually painted as the extremists and the rigid zealots, blinded by their religious faith. But, really, who are the extremists and zealots here? How much physical, familial, cultural, social, and spiritual damage must take place before the scales fall from the eyes of those who want a drug for every problem, an excuse for every sin, and the government's heavy hand at every turn in the road of life?

Just last week Pope Benedict XIV  spoke to the American bishops in Rome on their "ad-limina" visit about the alarming state of religious freedom in America.      What the bishops told him.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:58 AM | Permalink

January 7, 2012

Epiphany

Though most people have already tossed their trees and put away their decorations, Christians end Christmastide with Epiphany, the Feast of Light, celebrated this year on Sunday, January 8.

Msgr Charles Pope asks  Have You Ever Really Seen the Stars? Most city dwellers have no idea of the glory the ancient Magi saw

Heather King on The Epiphany Star in the January Magnificat

The Magi appear.  The star hovers in the East.  The star that points both heavenward to God, and earthward, to a family.  The Holy Family.  Mother, father, child.  The family soon to be on the run, hunted by brutal murderers.  The family, perpetually under siege.  The family, our sanctuary and our exile.  The family, fount of all that is good in us, and all that can become so terribly wounded.

Right f rom the beginning, Christianity is "a religion you could not have guessed," as C.S. Lewis observed.  "It has just that queer twist about it that real things have."  The Savior of the universe born wth a bounty on his head.

 Magnificatjan-Cover

Pope Benedict XVI's homily on the Feast of Epiphany

The Epiphany is a feast of light. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). With these words of the prophet Isaiah, the Church describes the content of the feast. He who is the true light, and by whom we too are made to be light, has indeed come into the world. He gives us the power to become children of God (cf. Jn 1:9,12). The journey of the wise men from the East is, for the liturgy, just the beginning of a great procession that continues throughout history. With the Magi, humanity’s pilgrimage to Jesus Christ begins – to the God who was born in a stable, who died on the Cross and who, having risen from the dead, remains with us always, until the consummation of the world
--
The wise men from the East lead the way. They open up the path of the Gentiles to Christ...The experts tell us that they belonged to the great astronomical tradition that had developed in Mesopotamia over the centuries and continued to flourish. But this information of itself is not enough. ...They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). They explored this promise. They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language. But they were also courageous, yet humble; we can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews, at the cost of so much effort.

Sandro Meisel on The Wise Men from the East , who they were and how they fulfilled ancient prophecies.

These foreigners, the first Gentiles to see the Light, recognize what Herod and the Temple priesthood cannot: the newborn Savior. The wealthy, learned, alien Magi of St. Matthew's Gospel complement the poor, ignorant, local shepherds of St Luke's Gospel. Foreshadowing the universality of the Church, these Gentiles and Jews worship God Incarnate to show that salvation is offered to all men.

Walter Russell Mead concludes The Light at the End of the Yule Blog

This is what I have been trying to say all along: Christmas is important to Christians because from their point of view the baby Jesus is the meaning of Christmas, and the meaning of Christmas is the meaning of life. That meaning is the source of our life, the goal of our lives, and the light of all life and of all human beings. It has existed forever and somehow both lives with and is God on high, but it came into our world and into a Jewish family on a special day when Augustus Caesar ruled in Rome and Herod was king in Jerusalem. We had somehow lost touch with the Meaning of it all, but the Meaning hadn’t lost touch with us. It was intent on finding us anyway — and it did. That is what Christians have been celebrating since December 25 and what in many ways we go on celebrating all year.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:11 PM | Permalink

December 30, 2011

Eucastrophe, An Explosion of Good

It's the sixth or seventh day of Christmas, so we're only halfway through Christmastide

Party On! It's Biblical

Postmodern man– and postmodern woman– doesn’t know how to give a good party. It’s up to us Catholics to reclaim this lost art and share it with the world.  Why? Because good parties are intrinsic to our Catholic faith.

Seven 2011 events that will change the Chuch's Story in America

the best example of the new Catholic excellence in media is Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism series. This DVD review of the beauty, truth and goodness of our faith is itself a model of beauty, truth and goodness. And it is not just a great achievement of its own. It is a sign that our talk of the New Evangelization is bearing real fruit.

A Christmas Meditation on how the Word Must Become Flesh in Us  by Msgr Charles Pope

True faith is “incarnational,” in that it takes on flesh in my very “body-person.” Remember, we human beings are not pure spirit, we are not intellect and will only, we are also flesh and blood. Therefore our faith cannot remain merely immaterial. What we most are, must be reflected in our bodies, in what we actually, physically do as well.

1
Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato


In Forbes, Christmas, Kurtosis, Fat Tails, Black Swans and Risk Management by Jerry Bowyer

Which brings us to Christmas. What is more barren than a virgin’s womb? (Perhaps only the tomb, but that is a topic for a column in April.) The late Christopher Hitchens quipped more than once that if civilization suddenly collapsed, would we really need to remind ourselves that Christ was born of a virgin?

The obvious implication is that the Christmas story (Fact? Myth?Both?)is useless for the rebuilding of civilization. That is a very odd observation from a man who prided himself on his knowledge of history, because, in fact, that is exactly what civilization did remind itself of after it collapsed. What Civilization?

Why Christopher Hitchens’ civilization and yours and mine: Western civilization.

When Rome fell and barbarian hordes raped and murdered their way across the dark ages, civilization was rebuilt on the Christmas story. Mary, a woman, was the Chris-bearer (in Greek, Christopheros) after whom Mr. Hitchens was named. She assented to that role willingly. If an all-powerful God does not rape, then neither should you. If God prized human life enough to bind himself to it through incarnation, then you, barbarian warrior, should not murder. If God comes as a child through a woman, then women and children are fully human, endowed with no less dignity than men.
--
Christmas is a good time for us to recognize that though the world generates catastrophes, but it also has been given what JRR Tolkien called eucastrophes. Eucatastrophes are sudden, unexpected, but perfectly logical-in-hindsight explosions of good. Tolkien coined the word first to describe the incarnation which Christians are currently celebrating.

What Literature Owes the Bible by Marilynne Robinson

Biblical allusions can suggest a degree of seriousness or significance their context in a modern fiction does not always support. This is no cause for alarm. Every fiction is a leap in the dark, and a failed grasp at seriousness is to be respected for what it attempts. In any case, these references demonstrate that in the culture there is a well of special meaning to be drawn upon that can make an obscure death a martyrdom and a gesture of forgiveness an act of grace. Whatever the state of belief of a writer or reader, such resonances have meaning that is more than ornamental, since they acknowledge complexity of experience of a kind that is the substance of fiction.

History shows contributions of Catholic Church to Western Civilization

modern historians of science freely acknowledge the church's contributions — both theoretical and material — to the Scientific Revolution. It was the church's worldview that insisted the universe was orderly and operated according to certain fixed laws. Only buoyed with that confidence would it have made sense to bother investigating the physical world in the first place, or even to develop the scientific method (which can work only in an orderly world). It's likewise a little tricky to claim the church has been an implacable foe of the sciences when so many priests were accomplished scientists.
--
The early church also institutionalized the care of widows, orphans, the sick and the poor in ways unseen in classical Greece or Rome. Even her harshest critics, from the fourth-century emperor Julian the Apostate all the way to Martin Luther and Voltaire, conceded the church's enormous contributions to the relief of human misery.

The spirit of Catholic charity — that we help those in need not out of any expectation of reciprocity, but as a pure gift, and that we even help those who might not like us — finds no analogue in classical Greece and Rome, but it is this idea of charity that we continue to embrace today.

The university was an utterly new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, come to us directly from the medieval world.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:48 PM | Permalink

December 25, 2011

Christmas Round-up

Christmas day marks the end of the American celebration of Christmas and the beginning of the religious celebration.

First, the American celebration.
From Vanderluen's American Digest , The Gift of the WalMagi

It’s a manufacturing, wholesale, supply chain, retail miracle on such a staggering scale that we can’t even begin to perceive it up close. We just walk into any one of the thousands of Wal-Mart stores and buy a winter coat for what it would take a homeless beggar about thirty minutes to cadge out of passing people on a downtown street on an average afternoon. It’s more than amazing. It’s a magical gift of modern American corporate capitalism.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was invented by a department store ad writer.

Curious to know more about how Rudolph really went down in history? It's all in the pages of a long-overlooked scrapbook compiled by the story's author, Robert L. May, and housed at his alma mater, Dartmouth College.

This first edition of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, bottom, and original layout, top, are from the estate of Robert May, who wrote the famous story in 1939 as part of a Montgomery Ward marketing campaign.

May donated his handwritten first draft and illustrated mock-up to Dartmouth before his death at age 71 in 1976, and his family later added to what has become a large collection of Rudolph-related documents and merchandise, including a life-sized papier-mache reindeer that now stands among the stacks at the Rauner Special Collections Library.

26 of the Best of the Worst Family Holiday Cards

Anonymous "layaway angels" are rescuing Christmas for needy families across the nation.

Santa Pulls Man Out from Burning Car, video

"Nobody could ever give me a better Christmas present than this -- ever, ever, ever," said his mother, Susan Regan

Creche by the side of the road
Miles from any sign of human habitation, there to be seen only from the road and at a high speed, some anonymous person had placed this endangered sign of an endangered season.

Grieving at Christmas, Arlington National Cemetery

Sugar Plum Fairy on the Glass Harp beautiful

The Anchoress gives us A Brother's Lesson on Christmas

My brother S is 41 years old and he will never be 42. He has something to say, and he would like to say it to you . . . and to those like you who sneer at Christmas Carolers, and goofy Mice Christmas Villages, and who need a stiff dose of brandy in order to contemplate angels. He wants to say it to everyone who believes they are too smart, too cool, too clever and too enlightened to fall for any of that claptrap.
---
Christmas, they will tell you, keeps people alive – even terribly, horrifically ill people alive – because it brings wonder, and it brings love, and love always brings hope. They will remind you that beyond Santa Claus and Frosty and going to the right parties, Christmas is a gathering of angels on a clear starry night; it is a proclamation, and an affirmation: God condescends to join flawed, terrified, confused, sickened humanity – to confirm that life is worth living. He comes to lie in a manger – food for the animals? No, food for the world. He comes to say “love is worth dying for. It is worth living for, too, because the more you give away, the more you seem to get to keep.”

Turning to the religious

What if there were no Christmas and we celebrated Sol Invictus instead?

Taylor Marshall gives a convincing Biblical Argument for the Birth of Christ in Late December

"The un-contemplated Christmas is hardly worth celebrating.”  Rev Robert Sirico

The Scandal of the Babe-God  It’s no wonder that the Incarnation is a scandal to many.

Love Came Down

“God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him and love him.”
So said Pope Benedict at Midnight Mass for Christmas 2006.

Pope Benedict Midnight Mass 2011. Christmas is an epiphany.  God has revealed himself

He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared”. But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness.
--
Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

The Pope's Urbi et Orbi speech on Christmas Day

This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God”. Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high. Dear brothers and sisters, this hand is Christ, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his Truth and his Love

Father Barron on Christmas

And with that, a Merry Christmas to all.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:00 PM | Permalink

December 24, 2011

Persecution and murder of Christians a vastly underreported story UPFATED

Too few people realize how dreadful and dangerous the situation is for million of Christians around the world because they are Christian.  The media underreports the violence.  Human Rights NGOs have a Giant Blind Spot.  Western governments don't seem to care.

On this Christmas Eve,  take some time to learn about, remember and pray for all those persecuted Christians for whom these are the worst times.    Persecution Map

Midnight mass cancelled

Chaldean Catholic officials have canceled traditional Christmas Eve midnight Masses because of security risks.

Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told the agency Aid to the Church in Need that Christians will spend Christmas in "great fear" because of the risk of new attacks.

All services and Masses have been scheduled for daylight hours, he said in an interview with Rome-based AsiaNews.

"Midnight Christmas Mass has been canceled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians," he said, citing the Oct. 31, 2010, attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral that left 57 people dead in the Iraqi capital.

Christianity May Be Eradicated in Iraq and Afghanistan says Chair of U.S. Religious Freedom Commission

Silent Night For Christians In Afghanistan And Iraq

As our nation celebrates Christmas, Christians in the nations we shed blood and treasure for to establish democracy face extinction. For Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan, it may be the last Christmas ever.

 Persecution. Remember Then

John Allen reports

According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular NGO based in Germany, fully 80 percent of all acts of religious intolerance in the world are directed at Christians. A recent symposium organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe asserted that 200 million Christians are currently the victims of violence, oppression or harassment.

Just in the last few days:
• A well-known Christian catechist was killed in the Indian state of Orissa, site of a ferocious anti-Christian pogrom in 2008 that left roughly a hundred dead, hundreds more wounded, and thousands homeless.
• A Sister of Charity of Jesus and Mary was killed in the Indian state of Jharkhand, allegedly by mining interests threatened by her activism among poor tribals.
• Catholics in Kirkuk, Iraq, erected a monument to 36 Christian martyrs since 2003, a reminder of the decimation of Iraq’s once-sizeable Christian community.
• In Pakistan, a 38-year-old Christian mother of two is facing a death sentence under the country’s blasphemy law, allegedly for challenging the treatment of women in Islam during a 2010 discussion about religion in her village.

In Egypt, Christians endure their ‘Kristallnacht’

Recently Jews in synagogues around the world heard an ancient prophesy about a time of tribulation for the Christians. In the haftarah, the Prophet Obadiah hears G-d warning the Edomites (traditionally a Jewish term for the people who eventually made up the Christian world): “Behold on that day… Your mighty ones to the South will be broken… every man will be cut off by the slaughter…”

How eerily reflective of the moment: Within just the last couple of weeks, the Washington-based Christian Solidarity International (CSI) issued a “Genocide Warning” for Christians and other religious minorities across the Middle East, and launched a petition urging President Barack Obama to speak up.
--
Gordon College is a Christian school between Salem and Rockport. A few weeks ago I spoke there at a commemoration of Kristallnacht, Germany’s night of broken glass, the first mass assault on Europe’s Jews and the harbinger of the Shoah. I told the Christian audience how good it was to feel Christian support for Jews in these times, and that even some of the most stubborn of my people were now appreciating Evangelical support for Israel.

I asked how many in the audience of 250 knew of Anne Frank. Almost every hand shot up. Then I asked how many had heard of Ayman Labib. I got a mass blank stare. Ayman was a 17-year-old Egyptian Christian who just weeks ago was beaten to death by his Muslim classmates as teachers watched because he refused their demand to remove his cross necklace.

I asked how many knew about the Maspero massacre, which had left at least 24 Copts dead and 270 injured. And whether they knew that since January, there had been more than 70 attacks on Christian churches or institutions in Egypt.

While tonight you commemorate a Jewish pogrom, I told them, Christianity has just suffered its own “Kristallnacht” … and I have yet to see much of a Christian response.

The Christian martyrs among us

Amariah Masih was 18 years old when she was murdered for refusing to give in to a Muslim man’s advances. A Catholic girl from a small village near Faisalabad in the Punjab province of Pakistan, she was on a motorbike fetching drinking water, not available within the village, for her family.

Typically, a rape victim in Pakistan will be imprisoned for unlawful sex and released on the condition that she marry the rapist, explains Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. And since a Christian cannot be married to a Muslim under sharia law, the woman would be forced to convert to Islam.
The homilist at Amariah’s funeral called her “a martyr.”

How can we remain silent while Christians are being persecuted?

Mark Steyn bemoans the Silent Night  where the "the “Arab Spring” is going so swimmingly that Copts are already fleeing Egypt."

Not merely the media but Christian leaders in the west seem to be embarrassed by behavior that doesn’t conform to their dimwitted sappiness about “Facebook Revolutions”.

David Warren writes A prayer for our brothers and sisters and in it, he quotes Lord Sacks, chief rabbi in England, who when he

rose in the House of Lords to speak about the persecution of Christians, he quoted Martin Luther King. "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

UPDATE: Christmas Day Bombings in Nigeria

Islamist militants set off bombs across Nigeria on Christmas Day - three targeting churches including one that killed at least 27 people - raising fears that they are trying to ignite sectarian civil war.

The Boko Haram Islamist sect, which aims to impose sharia law across the country, claimed responsibility for the three church bombs, the second Christmas in a row the group has caused mass carnage with deadly bombings of churches. Security forces also blamed the sect for two other blasts in the north.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:41 PM | Permalink

"In the Bleak Mid-Winter"

By now all the shopping is done, cookies made, gifts wrapped, cards sent  and the final preparations for Christmas dinner underway.  Now is the time to enter into the spirit of Christmas through religious services and beautiful Christmas carols, like the one below

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:03 PM | Permalink

December 21, 2011

Explaining the God particle

Michael Gerson writes  The search for the God particle goes beyond mere physicsT

The God particle — really the Higgs boson — still resists confirmation, though scientists at the Large Hadron Collider recently reported “tantalizing hints” of its existence. They also reject the notion that their search has anything to do with God, which is only technically true.

Modern physics can explain just about everything, except why anything has mass. The Standard Model of physics, which emerged four decades ago, employs an elegant mathematical formula to account for most of the elemental forces in the universe. It correctly predicted the discovery of various leptons and quarks in the laboratory.

But the equation doesn’t explain gravity. So the Standard Model requires the existence of some other force that seized the massless particles produced by the Big Bang and sucked them into physicality. The detection of Higgs bosons would confirm this theory — which is why scientists are smashing protons into one another in a 17-mile round particle accelerator and picking through the subatomic wreckage.

 Cern Inside
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN

--
Not only does the universe unexpectedly correspond to mathematical theories, it is self-organizing — from biology to astrophysics — in unlikely ways. The physical constants of the universe seem finely tuned for the emergence of complexity and life. Slightly modify the strength of gravity, or the chemistry of carbon, or the ratio of the mass of protons and electrons, and biological systems become impossible. The universe-ending Big Crunch comes too soon, or carbon isn’t produced, or suns explode.
--
One reasonable alternative — the one advocated by Louis — is theism. It explains a universe finely tuned for life and accessible to human reason. It accounts for the cosmic coincidences. And a theistic universe, unlike the alternatives, also makes sense of free will and moral responsibility.

This is not proof for the existence of God. But the conflict here is not between faith and science; it is between the competing faiths of theism and materialism, neither of which can claim to be proved by science. Modern physics has accelerated smack into the limits of the scientific method. It raises questions it cannot answer but that human beings cannot avoid — matters of meaning and purpose. This is not a failure of science, just a recognition that measurement is not the only source of meaning.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:19 PM | Permalink

December 13, 2011

"Has Europe Lost its Soul?"

In London, a magnificent speech well worth reading in its entirety,  Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks asks, "Has Europe Lost its Soul?"

For the task ahead of us is not between Jews and Catholics, or even Jews and Christians in general, but between Jews and Christians on the one hand, and the increasingly, even aggressively secularising forces at work in Europe today on the other, challenging and even ridiculing our faith.

If Europe loses the Judaeo-Christian heritage that gave it its historic identity and its greatest achievements in literature, art, music, education, politics, and as we will see, economics, it will lose its identity and its greatness, not immediately, but before this century reaches its end.

When a civilisation loses its faith, it loses its future. When it recovers its faith, it recovers its future. For the sake of our children, and their children not yet born, we – Jews and Christians, side-by-side – must renew our faith and its prophetic voice. We must help Europe recover its soul.

 Jonathan Sacks Eu

He then cites a quote, I've repeated often in various blog posts.

the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was given the task of discovering how the West, having lagged behind China for centuries, eventually overtook it and established itself in a position of world pre-eminence. At first, said the scholar, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we concluded it was because you had the best political system. Then we realised it was your economic system. "But in the past 20 years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.”

What happens when a trust economy turns into a risk economy.

George Soros writes of how in his early years as an investment manager he had to spend immense time and energy proving his credentials, his character and integrity, before people would do business with him. Nowadays, he says, deals are transactional rather than personal. Instead of placing your faith in a person, you get lawyers to write safeguards into the contract. This is an historic shift from a trust economy to a risk economy. But trust is not a dispensable luxury. It is the very basis of our social life. Many scholars believe that capitalism had religious roots because people could trust other people who, feeling that they were answerable to God, could be relied on to be honest in business. A world without trust is a lonely and dangerous place.

It was precisely the breakdown of trust that caused the banking crisis in the first place. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the market is a shrine to materialism, forgetting that its keywords are deeply spiritual. “Credit” comes from the Latin “credo” meaning “I believe.” “Confidence” comes from the Latin meaning “shared faith.” “Trust” is a word that has deeply religious resonance. Try running a bank, a business or an economy in the absence of confidence and trust and you will know it can’t be done. In the end we do not put our faith in systems but in the people responsible for those systems, and without morality, responsibility, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity, the system will fail. And as it happens, the system did fail.

What lasts.

Economic superpowers have a short shelf-life: Spain in the fifteenth century, Venice in the sixteenth, Holland in the seventeenth, France in the eighteenth, Britain in the nineteenth, America in the twentieth. Meanwhile Christianity has survived for two thousand years, and Judaism for twice as long as that. The Judeo-Christian heritage is the only system known to me capable of defeating the law of entropy that says all systems lose energy over time.

Stabilising the Euro is one thing, healing the culture that surrounds it is another. A world in which material values are everything and spiritual values nothing is neither a stable state nor a good society. The time has come for us to recover the Judeo-Christian ethic of human dignity in the image of God. When Europe recovers its soul, it will recover its wealth-creating energies. But first it must remember: humanity was not created to serve markets. Markets were created to serve humankind.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:21 PM | Permalink

December 3, 2011

Why the obsession with sex and death?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin in Captivated by Death

Entertainment was always obsessed with sex and death, but while sex is easy to depict and always titillating, waiting around for people to age and die is neither easy to depict nor titillating
--
Ironically, people reject the best avenue for grasping spiritual reality when they reject religious faith. They are making a choice to remain in the grip of materialism. This simply means that they experience little or nothing in their daily lives that is not constrained by the natural limitations of physical matter. They have chosen not to relate to anything they cannot see, touch, eat, or wear. Their life is, well, limited.

Thus their only glimpses into a transcendent eternity are the transforming moments into and out of physical life. Conception is the magical moment that brings matter into existence, and death is the moment that bids it farewell. People are captivated by sex and violence because their souls yearn for contact with the infinite.

Hollywood manufactures sex and violence, legitimately in my opinion, because that is what the market wants. People want it for the same reason that folks outside Seattle use instant coffee. It is what you do when you cannot obtain the real thing. The real thing is regular contact with the infinite through the wonderful world of religious faith.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:22 PM | Permalink

" If Christianity goes, the lot goes"

Peter Mullen brings a sigh of relief after learning that the calvary in the form of the US Federal Reserve rode to the rescue of the European financial institutions, but not for long.

If Christianity goes, so does Europe

Whatever the future holds, we need to understand that the economic collapse is not the main crisis which engulfs Europe. More significantly, we see the EU developing into the ever-tighter totalitarianism which was envisaged from its inception. The founding fathers of the EU never foresaw a democratic union.
--
But this creeping totalitarianism is not the root of our problem. Our crisis is a spiritual crisis, a crisis of identity.
--
all references to Europe’s Christian character have been expunged by the EU bureaucrats. Europe is now officially secular.  Pope Benedict XVI identified our real crisis with terrifying clarity:

“The EU is godless. But then it is unthinkable that the EU could build a common European house while ignoring Europe’s identity. Europe is a historical, cultural and moral identity before it is a geographic, economic or political reality. It is an identity built on a set of values which Christianity played a part in moulding.”
--
The mistake of the secularists and the bien pensants who now control every aspect of our lives is to imagine that we can throw off our Christian identity and yet all the political liberties and other good social consequences we derive from that identity will remain in place.

They won’t and already they haven’t. If Christianity goes, the lot goes.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:06 PM | Permalink

November 11, 2011

Cardinal Chaput out and about

The new Archbishop of Philadelphia is certainly getting out and about

In The Public Discourse, Archbishop Chaput speaks about human dignity.

Being Human in an Age of Unbelief,

We remember Bonhoeffer, Solzhenitsyn, and other men and women like them because of their moral witness. But the whole idea of “moral witness” comes from the assumption that good and evil are real, and that certain basic truths about humanity don’t change. These truths are knowable and worth defending. One of these truths is the notion of man’s special dignity as a creature of reason and will. Man is part of nature, but also distinct from it.
....
Something elevated and sacred in men and women demands our special respect. When we violate that human dignity, we do evil. When we serve it, we do good. And therein lies one of many ironies. We live in a society that speaks persuasively about protecting the environment and rescuing species on the brink of extinction. But then it tolerates the killing of unborn children and the abuse of human fetal tissue as lab material.

In First Things, Chaput writes about Catholics and the American Future  an essay based on a talk he gave at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, yesterday.

Without the restraints of a common moral consensus animated and defended by a living religious community, the freedom of the individual easily becomes a license for selfishness. The meaning of right and wrong becomes privatized. And ultimately, society ends up as a collection of disconnected individuals whose appetites and needs are regulated by the only project they share in common: the state.
--
The genius of Catholic higher education is the schooling it gives in the mutual dependency of faith and reason. At its best, it refuses to separate intellectual and moral formation because they are inextricably linked. It gives primacy to the disciplines that guide the formation of a holistic view of reality—philosophy and theology. It aids in the creation of a Christian culture and explains what this means for human thriving. It offers a coherent anthropology that treats the human being as a whole, and actually gives meaning to the words "human dignity" instead of turning them into a catch-phrase for the latest version of individualism. It offers an immersion in the virtues, and an appreciation of humanity’s material and spiritual realities—the visible and invisible world—all of which get their life from belief in Jesus Christ.


To put it another way, Catholic higher education is heir to the greatest intellectual, moral and cultural patrimony in human history. It has a deeply satisfying answer to who and why man is. It’s beautiful because it’s true. It has nothing to be embarrassed about and every reason to be on fire with confidence and apostolic zeal. We only defeat ourselves—and we certainly don’t serve God—if we allow ourselves to ever think otherwise.
--
The vocation of a Catholic college is to feed the soul as well as the mind; to offer a vision of men and women made whole by the love of God, the knowledge of creation and the reality of things unseen; to see the beauty of the world in the light of eternity; to recapture the nobility of the human story and the dignity of the human person.

This is the work that sets fire to a young person’s heart. It starts the only kind of revolution that really changes anything: a revolution of love. Jesus said, I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled.

Our task is to start that blaze and then help it grow.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:30 PM | Permalink

November 9, 2011

Why are atheist feminists attracted to Mormon mommy blogs?

Emily Matchar says she can't stop reading Mormon housewife blogs

Their lives are nothing like mine — I’m your standard-issue late-20-something childless overeducated atheist feminist — yet I’m completely obsessed with their blogs. On an average day, I’ll skim through a half-dozen Mormon blogs, looking at Polaroids of dogs in raincoats or kids in bow ties, reading gratitude lists, admiring sewing projects.

I’m not alone, either. Two of my closest friends — both chronically overworked Ph.D. candidates — procrastinate for hours poring over Nat the Fat Rat or C. Jane Enjoy It. A recent discussion of Mormonism on the blog Jezebel unleashed a waterfall of confessions in the comments section from other young non-religious women similarly riveted by the shiny, happy domestic lives of their Latter-day Saint sisters.
--
Well, to use a word that makes me cringe, these blogs are weirdly “uplifting.” -- I do think women of my generation are looking to the past in an effort to create fulfilling, happy domestic lives, since the modern world doesn’t offer much of a road map.

 Mom-With-Baby-And-Computer

--
... the basic messages expressed in these blogs — family is wonderful, life is meant to be enjoyed, celebrate the small things — are still lovely. And if they help women like me envision a life in which marriage and motherhood could potentially be something other than a miserable, soul-destroying trap, I say, “Right on. I won’t be inviting the missionaries inside for hot cocoa now or ever, but I don’t plan on stopping my blog habit any time soon.

Jennifer Fulweiler, a former atheist who became a Catholic, mother of 5 and prolific blogger herself writes about the Secret that Makes Housewife Blogs So Irresistible.

One of the great surprises of the human life is that complete autonomy makes you miserable, and it’s only when you give yourself fully in the service of others that you’ll find lasting happiness. It is a counter-intuitive truth that taps directly into our spiritual selves, which is why people of faith typically understand it best.
--
Back in my career days, I thought that living life to the fullest meant racking up impressive credentials and being as self-sufficient as possible. But the universal truth that I stumbled across in my own life, that bursts from the pages of countless mommy blogs by women of faith, is that the meaning of life is to give, to share, and to open yourself to the point that your life becomes inextricably entwined with the lives of others.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:11 PM | Permalink

November 1, 2011

The Lights of All the Saints

Father Barron remarks on the extraordinary diversity of personalities that are the saints with a striking metaphor:  when the bright white light of God passes through a prism, a million shades of color can be seen.    Saints are lit up from inside with the fire of Christ and they become a source of illumination to others.  They light up the world around them.

Today we celebrate all the saints, known and unknown.  He quotes the French spiritual writer Leon Bleau who said, "The only one real sadness in life is not to become a saint."  To be a saint, Barron says, is to become a friend of Christ and to find your deepest self.

In reflecting on the light of the  saints, I remembered the following story about Malcolm  Muggeridge  and Mother Theresa.   

In 1967, he conducted a half-hour interview with Mother Theresa that he thought was unexceptional except for the extraordinary response by people who had listened in on the BBC.

Although no appeal for funds had been made, letters containing cash, cheques, money orders, even securities, altogether some twenty-five thousand pounds, poured into the BBC.  The accompanying letters said pretty much the same thing: "This woman spoke to me as no one ever has, and I want to help."

A year later, Muggeridge  took a BBC documentary crew to India to film Mother Theresa and her work with the dying.  When the BBC cameraman went inside the Home for the Dying Destitute, he didn't see how it could be filmed since the light from the small window high on the walls was totally inadequate.  Still he was persuaded to give it a go.

By any natural explanation this part of the film should have been a failure; instead, as anyone who has seen it can attest, it is bathed in an unearthly lambent illumination, less light than a glow. Muggeridge was convinced that this was the first - perhaps the only - miracle recorded by television.
---
The interior of the hall was very dark with only one small window and the film crew was not equipped with lights. The very experienced BBC cameraman was quite adamant that nothing would come out, but because of Mother Teresa's insistence went through the motions of filming. When processed it was found that: “The film was suffused with a particularly beautiful soft light.” Muggeridge wrote that The House of the Dying is overflowing with love, and this love is luminous, like the haloes that artist paint on saints. The luminosity that is registered on the film, everyone agreed, is quite extraordinarily lovely. The same batch of film was subsequently tested under similar circumstances elsewhere and produced images that were dark and completely useless. Furthermore, back-up footage that was shot for the Mother Teresa documentary outside the Home of the Dying, turned out to be blurred and unusable.

The film Something Beautiful for God, and the ensuing book, had an incalculable impact as it introduced Mother Theresa of Calcutta to the world.

The broadcaster, Malcolm Muggeridge, said that he had never met such delightful, happy, women - nor experienced such an atmosphere of joy that they create.
--
In the presence of Mother Teresa people may burst into tears, and in a fleeting moment she could create an ineffable impression of great deep and abiding love. Malcolm Muggeridge described the faces of people gathered for a talk. He wrote: “I was watching the faces of people - ordinary people listening to her. Every face, young and old, simple and sophisticated, was rapt with attention, hanging on her words - not because of the words themselves which were quite ordinary, because of her. Some quality came across over and above the words. A luminosity seemed to fill the hall, penetrating every heart and mind.”

An agnostic most of his life, disillusioned with communism after seeing purges and famine in the USSR,  Muggeridge became a iconoclastic broadcaster and satirist of great fame.  He became a Christian in 1969, writing Jesus Rediscovered.  In 1982, he entered the Catholic Church, largely as result of Mother Theresa, and wrote about that as well Conversion: The Spiritual Journey of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:40 PM | Permalink

October 30, 2011

How the left uses environmentalism to gain power

One of the more useful quotations I know by heart is one by G.K. Chesterton,

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing,
they then become capable of believing in anything."

Useful because it applies in so many circumstances, like this article by Daniel Greenfield,  The Materialism of Environmentalism

There is no understanding environmentalism without also understanding the function of religion as a means of infusing spirituality into the material. The politicization of consumerism is an attempt to mimic the religious dimension of life without a guiding deity.
---
The fusion of science and politics gave the left what it had always been lacking. An apocalypse. ..Human apocalypses, wars and revolutions, had been the left's stock in trade. It predicted them and than rallied its followers to come to power so it could ward them off. Environmentalism gave it its own apocalypse.  Its old arguments against capitalism depended on the oppressed rising up. Its new argument was that capitalism would destroy the world...

The old left had borrowed social justice from religion, while discarding everything but the moral imperative. The new left combined it with the grandiose spectacle of apocalypses while replacing the deity with the mechanics of consumerism as a vehicle of climate change. What the left created was an irreligious religion with a moral imperative encompassing every aspect of life.
--
What the left understood was that a society without religious conviction could be convinced of religious ideas if they were passed off as irreligious ones. A secular priesthood could rise to power by acting as shamans of social justice and protectors of the planet.

One more quote from Chesterton,

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:24 PM | Permalink

October 24, 2011

Believers are nicer

Best known for his book, Bowling Alone, the book that made "social capital" a key indicator of society, Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard a non-believer, He has co-authored a book with David Campbell, a Mormon, called, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.    

Simon Smart  summarizes the book in  God's truth, believers are nicer people

Their most conspicuously controversial finding is that religious people make better citizens and neighbours. Putnam and Campbell write that ''for the most part, the evidence we review suggests that religiously observant Americans are more civic, and in some respects simply 'nicer' ''.

On every measurable scale, religious Americans are more generous, more altruistic and more involved in civic life than their secular counterparts.

They are more likely to give blood, money to a homeless person, financial aid to family or friends, a seat to a stranger and to spend time with someone who is ''a bit down''.

A sobering note for believers is that this study reveals that the content of a person's belief isn't what matters so much as their level of involvement in a religious community.  An atheist who comes to church to support her partner will rate as well as any believer on these scores.

What can't be denied, according to Putnam and Campbell, is that there is something unique about a religious community, that has an impact on people for good.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:55 PM | Permalink

October 5, 2011

God in Madrid

James Schall on Vargas Llosa with “God in Madrid”

About World Youth Day, Robert Royal wrote that the secular press was uninterested in the million and a half young Catholics there with Benedict XVI. This indifference, he thought, was not a bad thing. The real forces that move the world are usually under the radar screen of the media and often of the universities.

L’Osservatore Romano (English, September 21) reprinted an essay, “God in Madrid,” by the Peruvian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, from the Spanish paper El País about the meaning of the papal visit.

Vargas Llosa’s remarks are of considerable import. To establish his credentials, he writes that he is an “agnostic,” though he reads like a “pseudo-agnostic.” As Benedict often hints, the world gets nervous when atheists and agnostics realize that Christianity provides a better explanation of reality than they do.

This event saw the largest gathering of Catholics in Spain ever. It was peaceful. It was young. Was it just a show or was it a sign of an unperceived Church vitality? The Church is declining in numbers in Spain and elsewhere. The World Youth Days, however, under John Paul II and Benedict, reveal liveliness in the Church not her “inevitable decline and extinction.” The secularist mind has a vested interest in explaining this phenomenon away, in not grasping what is occurring.
--
What happened in Madrid was remarkable. Vargas Llosa is right. In those days, “God seemed to exist and Catholicism seemed to be the one true religion.” No wonder much of the world’s press and media did not want to report on “God in Madrid.” They thought God was dead.

God in Madrid  by Mario Vargas Llosa

The present Pope is a man of ideas, an intellectual, whose natural setting is in the library, the university lecture hall and the conference room. His shyness in the face of the multitudes is apparent in the way he addresses the masses, as though he were justifying himself, almost as if he were ashamed of himself. But this frailty is misleading since he is probably the most cultured and intelligent Pope the Church has had for a long time, one of the rare pontiffs whose encyclicals and books can be read without yawning even by agnostics like me (his brief autobiography is enchanting and his two books on Jesus are more than fascinating).
--
in our day culture has ceased to be a serious and deep response to the great human questions about life, death, destiny and history as it sought to be in the past. On the one hand it has become an inconsequential light entertainment and on the other, a cabal of incomprehensible and arrogant experts, who have taken refuge in unintelligible jargon...

The majority of human beings finds answers — or at least the feeling that a higher order exists, of which they are a part and which gives meaning and tranquillity to their existence — solely through a transcendence that neither philosophy, nor literature nor science have managed to justify rationally. 
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:04 AM | Permalink

September 26, 2011

Persecution of Christianity here, there and everywhere

British Postal Service Refuses to Deliver Christian CDs after deciding they were 'offensive material'

Postal workers refused to deliver CDs of Bible readings after deciding they were ‘offensive material’.  Several churches had paid for discs with recordings of St Mark’s Gospel to be produced to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. They were due to be delivered to all households on the Channel Island of Jersey, but church leaders were stunned when they were told postal workers would not handle the 45,000 CDs.

Some British MPs want to "Force Churches to Perform Same-Sex Unions or Close Them Down."

British police ban display of bible texts on a video screen in a Christian cafe because it breaches public order laws.

Raymond Ibrahim reports on the Muslim Persecution of Christians that occurred in just the month of August and it is astonishing.  This is news that rarely, if ever, reaches the mainstream media.  Ibrahim  writes the persecution is habitual, if not chronic, and it is  "systematic, interrelated, and ultimately rooted in a worldview inspired by Sharia Law."

whatever the of persecution that took place, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; apostasy and blasphemy laws; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya, the additional tax that can be imposed on by Muslims on non-Muslims in a Muslin state; overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or second-class "protected" citizens; and simple violence.

Lest you think this couldn't happen In the United States where the Free Exercise of Religion enshrined in the Bill of Rights is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" , think again.

In Imagine No Religion, Adam Freedman reports that  In the San Diego school district, teachers display all sorts of posters and banners -Tibetan prayer flags with images of the Buddha,  posters of Mahatma Gandhi, images of the Dalai Lama, Malcolm X and John Lennon and the lyrics of Imagine.  Singled out for discipline was a teacher who had displayed for decades

a quotation from the Declaration of Independence ("All men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator..."), the official motto of the US ("In God We Trust"), and the phrase "One Nation, Under God" -- a phrase inserted by Congress in 1954, and reaffirmed by Congress in 2006

The teacher won in the district court on Free Speech and Establishment clause ground but the Ninth Circuit reversed  ruling

the teacher's banners are not protected by the free speech clause, and that State action that allows teachers to promote Buddhism, Hinduism, and Atheism, while prohibiting "judeo-christian viewpoints" presents no Establishment Clause problem.

In Capistrano, California, a city founded as a Christian mission and home to California's oldest building still in use where Father Junipero Serra celebrated mass, city officials fined a Christian couple $300 for holding a bible study in their home because they did so without getting a city permit.

Texas school punishes boy for opposing homosexuality

An honors student in Fort Worth, Texas, was sent to the principal’s office and punished for telling a classmate that he believes homosexuality is wrong.
--
Dakota was in a German class at the high school when the conversation shifted to religion and homosexuality in Germany. At some point during the conversation, he turned to a friend and said that he was a Christian and “being a homosexual is wrong.”

“It wasn’t directed to anyone except my friend who was sitting behind me,” Dakota told Fox. “I guess [the teacher] heard me. He started yelling.

These are not just outlying cases.  Look what's happening at the highest federal levels where the threat to religious freedom is unprecedented as the Obama Administration's redefines  religious freedom. 

The Department of HHS has promulgated new regulations to govern which religious organizations may receive an exemption from other Obamacare regulations that require them to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations, abortions and other services that violate their religious beliefs.  The definition of a qualified religious organization is so narrow  Jesus Christ Himself Wouldn't Get ObamaCare Religious Exemption.  Really.   It excludes Catholic non-profits, colleges and social service agencies that do not primarily teach religion or who employ non-Catholics or who serve non-Catholics.  So much for the church's mission to serve the poor whoever they may be. 

The Fight to Be Catholic  outlines the threats not just from HHS but also from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board. 

Two years ago, the Administration declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by Congress.  Today it attributes prejudice and bias to those who continue to believe in traditional marriage.  Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to the President last week.

We as Bishops of the Catholic Church recognize the immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction, and we reject all hatred and unjust treatment against any person. Our profound regard for marriage as the complementary and fruitful union of a man and a woman does not negate our concern for the well-being of all people but reinforces it.

"Mr. President, I respectfully urge you to push the reset button on your Administration‟s approach to DOMA. Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman. Nor should a policy disagreement over the meaning of marriage be treated by federal officials as a federal offense— but this will happen if the Justice Department's latest constitutional theory prevails in court. The Administration‟s failure to change course on this matter will, as the attached analysis indicates, precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:10 PM | Permalink

September 25, 2011

"It's been such a long time since I heard anything that gave me some hope."

I found this story profoundly moving.  It comes from Sandro Magister, The Pope in Germany. In the Desert of Faith

"Where God is, there is the future" is the title Pope Benedict XVI wanted to give his third visit to Germany.
--
In Berlin and Erfurt, Benedict XVI enters into the area of Europe farthest from God. He wants to make it a new mission territory. A report from Chemnitz, where atheists are in the majority and almost no one is baptized anymore.
--
The protagonists of the renewed evangelization are a few families of Neocatechumenal Catholics, who have gone there as missionaries from other European countries.
--
It is moving, the little crowd of young Christians this evening in Chemnitz, formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt. Because in this corner of the former German Democratic Republic, civilization was born, in the year 1136, from a handful of Benedictine monks who founded an abbey, bringing in their wake Christian families who lived around the convent and cleared the forests for farmland, and those families also had about a dozen children apiece.

Can the story begin again, when it seems finished? You ask yourself this in this silent and spent city, where one out of every four inhabitants is elderly, and the only children of broken families are alone. Here the people turn around and look if a Neocatechumenal family goes out with even half of its children. And if a classmate happens to come over for lunch, he takes a picture of the crowded table with his cellphone, in disbelief.
--
"You're so lucky," they often say to us, "you go home from school and you all eat together. We eat alone, or with the cat." In a flash of longing for a real family.
--
Two generations without God are a lot, to the memory of men. But when, one day, some of Professor Rebeggiani's children began to sing from the balcony of their home – for the pure joy of it – the ancient song "Non nobis Domine sed nomini tuo da gloriam," the neighbors came to the windows to listen. And a widow asked the young people to sing the same song at the cemetery, in memory of her dead husband. They did, and one of those present approached them at the end: "It's been such a long time," he said, "since I heard anything that gave me some hope."

Who knows, you ask yourself, if it didn't begin the same way for the handful of Benedictine monks and laypeople who arrived here in 1136: with the astonishment of men who glimpsed something beautiful in them, and felt a mysterious longing for it.

Not to us, not to us, O Lord,
But to your name give glory.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:35 PM | Permalink

September 23, 2011

Pope Benedict in Germany

Before Pope Benedict traveled to Scotland and England last year, the conventional wisdom was that it was going to a disaster.  It turned out to be a resounding success.   'He routed his enemies and brought  joy to the faithful' and  'Benedict Wows Britain' were two headlines.

Human nature abhors a vacuum, and now into this vacuum of moral leadership strode Pope Benedict, proclaiming truths that might not be welcomed by a secularized audience, but must be recognized as consistent and compelling, worthy at least of some consideration—enough to make people “sit up and think.”

Something very similar is happening in Germany.

In a speech before the German parliament, the Bundestag, the Pope gave a powerful defense of the natural-law tradition and an equally powerful critique of moral relativism and warned of 'cultureless' Europe.

In his September 22 speech to the Bundestag, the Holy Father said that the Nazi regime illustrated how a government that does not recognize objective standards of justice can become a nightmare regime.

"Without justice, what else is the state but a great band of robbers?" the Pope asked, citing the words of St. Augustine. He continued:

We Germans know from our own experience that these words are no empty specter. We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the state became an instrument for destroying right--a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.
--
The tradition of government based on the fundamental principles of natural law has been the basic foundation for the legal system of Germany and other European nations, the Pope said. However, that tradition is now imperiled:

The idea of natural law is today viewed as a specifically Catholic doctrine, not worth bringing into the discussion in a non-Catholic environment, so that one feels almost ashamed even to mention the term.

In the absence of natural-law reasoning, the Pope observed, politicians find it impossible to discern clear and objective standards of justice.

On concluding his speech, the parliamentarians gave him a two-minute standing ovation.

Rainer Bruederle, head of the ruling coalition’s Free Democratic Party, welcomed the speech as “an important support” for politics, which “strengthened the basis for responsible action, based on the inner foundations of democracy and the rule of law.” The Pope, Bruederle said, “brilliantly” put this across in “clear, simple lines, making it clear and understandable for everyone.”

In Der Spiegel Online

It has been billed as Pope Benedict XVI's most difficult trip abroad to date. But so far in Germany, the pope has not sought to shy away from controversy. His bluntness has surprised many -- and could transform the visit into a rousing success.
--
He did not mince words. He spoke about nature and reason and demanded from the parliamentarians an increased sense of moral responsibility for ecology and equality. It was a very political speech. It was courageous. And it was unique.

A politician's "fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain," the pope said. "Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace." A politician's success, he continued, should be "subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:21 PM | Permalink

September 14, 2011

China will soon become the largest Christian country on earth

Liao Yiwu spent four years in jail for writing and recording "Massacre", a poem about the killing of democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and when faced with jail again for the publication of his book God is Red slipped out of China to take refuge in Germany writes Ellen Bork in Hammer and Sickle and Cross

"God Is Red" consists of informal profiles of Christians in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu and Dali and in remote areas of the southwestern province of Yunnan. Beginning with a 100-year-old nun and ending with a recovering slacker in his 20s, his subjects describe the days of Western missionaries, the advent of communism—"like hearing the sinister caw of dark ravens," the nun recalls—and the ambiguous tolerance of the post-Mao era.
--
Mr. Liao is an unlikely chronicler of China's roughly 70 million Christians. Though skeptical about the vicious, anti-religious Communist propaganda he was raised on—he is 53—he is also skeptical of religion itself.
--
Mr. Liao became interested in the topic after encounters with two doctors who gave up successful careers to pursue missionary work, one in the mountains, the other in the underground "house churches" of Beijing (an alternative to the official churches controlled by the state). At the time, Mr. Liao himself was struggling, broke and on the run from security agents whom he had provoked by reporting on the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement. His research proved redemptive. "These trips have exhilarated me, lifting me out of my drunken depression," he recalls. "In these remote corners, I have discovered a center point, where East met West, and although there has been a collision of cultures, there is now a new Christian identity that is distinctively Chinese."

 Jesus In Chinese Arts

The BBC reports on Christians in China: Is the country in spiritual crisis?

“There are already more Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe.”

Christopher Landau has recorded two fascinating programs for the BBC as he journeyed through China and reports on why Communist authorities are allowing Christianity to flourish so freely now.

Christianity in China. episode 1
Christianity in China. episode 2

For BBC4, Tim Gardam reports on God in China where Christianity is exploding: China will soon become the largest Christian country on earth. 

As the Communist Party seeks to address the effects on Chinese society in becoming manufacturer to the world, combined with rampant consumerism and its own one child policy, it is turning to religion to fill the void.
God in China Christianity and Catholicism

There are more Christians in China (70 million) than there are people in Britain (62 million in 2009).  Some estimate the number of Christians in China to be closer to 80 million, even 100 million, when you count all the practicing Christians in underground churches that are not approved by the government.  If you take the latter number, there are more Christians in China than members of the Communist party.

Xun Jinzhen, a Christian convert who runs a beauty salon in Beijing, put it eloquently when he said: "We have very few people who believe in communism as a faith. So there's an emptiness in their hearts."

The growth of the Christian churches in China is a story of great courage and belief in the special status of man as a moral creature, for whom good and evil are eternal truths that cannot be redefined by politicians. It gives enormous hope for the future happiness of a people who have suffered under the dying creed of communism for much too long.

 Chinese Icon Mary Babyjesus

One reason the Chinese government is allowing Christianity is because of the social services they provide - old age homes and orphanages and more  - at little or no cost to the government. 

Another is a quote from Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power that I repeat one or more times every year since 2006.

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.  That is why the West is so powerful.

“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

But not all in the government are happy because the Growth of Christianity in China may lead to social change.

Beijing's often brutal crackdown on those of the Christian faith, have included roundups, blacklisting and jailing. The government has driven thousands of followers underground, spurring on the house church network. It's estimated that 60 percent of Chinese Christians attend unregistered house churches.

 Chinese Crucifixion

Catholic Christians in China have faced increasing hostility with the growth of what is called the "Patriotic" Church, a State sponsored Chinese Catholic expression which seeks to undermine the authority of the Pope and the teaching office, the Magisterium, of the Roman Catholic Church.

Recently, this Patriotic Church proceeded with the consecration of one of its own Bishops with no approval from the Holy See. Catholic bishops and Priests loyal to the Church were coerced and compelled to attend or face persecution. Pope benedict XVI has heroically and publicly spoken out against this persecution and encouraged the Chinese faithful to persevere.

 Resurrection-Chinese

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 PM | Permalink

September 11, 2011

The spiritual impact of 9/11

 Wtccross Rubble

The Meaning of the Cross at Ground Zero by Father Brian Jordan who celebrated most of the Sunday Masses at Ground Zero.

I must say this: "We saw evil at its worst and goodness at its best."
--
Christmas Eve was the coldest night recorded during the 10-month recovery period at Ground Zero. Nevertheless, more than 150 worshippers came for midnight Mass. We sang Christmas carols and prayed for all who died on 9/11. One hour before the Mass, a firefighter's body was recovered, and I joined the Honor Guard from the pit to the top road to accompany the body to be transported by a FDNY fire truck. The Honor Guard participated in the Mass as tears streamed from their eyes in memory of their fallen brothers.
--

One of the most powerful Masses I ever experienced was not planned or even anticipated. Sunday, May 12, was Mother's Day, and we expected a great number of mothers who lost loved ones on 9/11 — husbands, children, siblings, etc. to participate in the Mass. During the homily, unexpectedly, two units of U.S. Special Forces soldiers joined in the Mass.  One unit just came back from a tour in Afghanistan; the other was about to be dispatched there. During the sign of peace, I asked all the mothers to first embrace those coming back from their first experience of war and then the second unit who would experience war for the first time due to 9/11.

 Cross Firefighters

New York's Cardinal Egan remembers 9/11 very well

The first person to appear on a gurney was a woman who had died and was completely burned. I anointed her from head to toe.
--
Standing with me were two doctors. One was trembling and weeping. I went over to him and asked what was wrong. He told me, “My father was on one of the highest floors of the tower.” I asked him if he’d like to sit down and have a cup of coffee.
He said, “No, Your Eminence, I am a doctor, and this is my place.”

Soon after, I told Pope John Paul II about that young man. He asked me, “Has he finished his education?” I said he still faced years of training. The Holy Father asked whether the doctor would have to cover the costs himself, and I said, “Yes.” The Pope said he would like to help him. Later on, Cardinal [Leonardo] Sandri, prefect for the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, delivered a check to the young man.
--
President [George W.] Bush visited Ground Zero and from the stage shouted down to me to say an opening prayer. I shouted my prayer in the sky. Afterwards, the president said, “Isn’t it a shame we don’t always pray with that intensity?”

There were many funerals in the wake of the attacks. There were two or three funerals a day. They were for firefighters, police and emergency workers. The mayor went to almost every one. He was outstanding and gave great leadership. The same was true for those who worked with him. At one Mass, there was a woman, the widow of the deceased. She was pregnant and had a baby in her arms. Her sons were serving at the altar. You would have to be a stone not to be touched.
--
It was a time of great tragedy, but also of great heroes. New York and the world saw examples of self-sacrifice that I don’t think have ever been matched in our time. People worked around the clock, with dust and sand from above or below. No one was thinking about themselves. Police officers, firefighters, emergency workers poured themselves out for others. You couldn’t help but be inspired by that. We saw heroism and self-sacrifice — expressions of great holiness.

Brian Williams, the anchorman and a friend for many years, asked me, “What has been the spiritual impact of the attacks?

It had an amazing effect.

 Wtccross Memorial

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 PM | Permalink

August 22, 2011

"A meek man of mighty action"

Jonathan Sacks, Britain's chief rabbi,  on Reversing the Moral Decay Behind the London Riots

Britain is the latest country to pay the price for what happened half a century ago in one of the most radical transformations in the history of the West. In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint.
--
This was the bursting of a dam of potential trouble that has been building for years. The collapse of families and communities leaves in its wake unsocialized young people, deprived of parental care, who on average—and yes, there are exceptions—do worse than their peers at school, are more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, less likely to find stable employment and more likely to land up in jail.

The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.
--
We have been spending our moral capital with the same reckless abandon that we have been spending our financial capital.

Janet Dailey, UK riots: The end of the liberals' great moral delusion

What real people know – and have known for quite a long time – is that the great tacit agreement which once held civic life together has been deliberately blown apart. There was a time within living memory when all reasonable grown-ups were considered to be on the same side. Parents, teachers, police, judges, politicians – decent citizens of every station and calling – formed an unspoken confederacy to uphold standards of behaviour within their own communities. But their shared values and expectations about human conduct were systematically undermined by a post-Sixties political ideology that preached wholesale disrespect for authority, and legitimised anti-social activity in the name of protest.

 Londonriots-Hooded-Youth

--
Somehow, we are going to have to restore trust that the operations of government and the law are not at odds with the moral inclinations of conscientious citizens. Basic to this will be the acceptance that we do not have to explain – to find legitimate reasons for – acts of wickedness: that people can do bad things for no good reason at all, and that destructive and vicious impulses are, sadly, as “natural” as charitable ones. It is futile to go on asking why the riots happened, when the question that was on the minds of most of the rioters was not “Why?” but “Why not?”

With the exception of few leftists who continue to excuse the rioters,  everyone who is paying attention sees clearly the rot that has infested modern, western culture.  Yet  few understand the important role faith communities have in building up the civic culture and in reversing the downward spiral of culture and society

Damian Thompson Benedict XVI in Spain: a triumph for this 'meek man of mighty action' (despite the best efforts of the BBC)

The crowd-pulling power of Benedict XVI is almost miraculous, given the contrast with his openly charismatic predecessor, and his former image as a conservative “enforcer”.
--
I’m very struck by the rapport – so evident during the Pope’s visit to Britain – that Benedict has established with young people. Partly it’s his grandfatherly charm; partly his spiritual message, expressed in language that is neither platitudinous nor patronising. What a breath of fresh air for young people exposed to bishops’ conferences’ “youth ministries”, with their dumbed-down homilies and 1970s folksy musak. The Herald’s Madeleine Teahan, definitely a young Catholic writer to watch, came up with a lovely phrase for this Pope: “A meek man of mighty action”.

 Papal Mass

James Bradley, a year ago an Anglican, now  a deacon in the Personal Ordinate of Our Lady of Walsingham that Pope Benedict set up,  sang the Gospel in front of the Pope and half a million youth

After hours of liturgical rehearsals, sound checks and walk-throughs I thought I was more than ready for the liturgy, but I’m not sure that anything would have adequately prepared me for the sheer joy which echoed around the streets of the city.

As the papal entourage entered Plaza de Cibeles, more than half a million young adults from five continents erupted with cheers of welcome: “Viva! Viva!.” Faithful to the Church, hungry for Christ, and with a deep respect for the papacy, the volume showed just how vibrant and alive the Catholic Church is among the young, and especially how much they love and revere Pope Benedict.

Spanish leftists harassed the young pilgrims in Madrid as one young woman writes.

We went in and people were shouting filthy slurs and cursing the Pope and it was awful
So we knelt down and prayed a Rosary for them in the crowd and got surrounded by angry protesters, shouting and threatening and spitting and filming us and mocking us and trying to burn our flags.
A gay couple came and made out in front of us but whatever...

 Pilgrim-Madrid Protestors

Atheist Richard Dawkins blasts  the Catholic Church

... It is extremely powerful and its "moral" crusades adversely affect the lives of millions of people in Europe and in the world.

and announces a London march for secularism on Sept 17.

Fr Dwight Longenecker on Dawkins' Rage and WJD

The Catholic Church mounts World Youth Day and over a million young people from around the world turn up to be public about their love for the Catholic Church. You know that million represent another ten million who would love to be there. They are young. They are positive. They are smart. They are energetic, and they are joyful. Watch the video of Antonio--a boy "born deaf and near death" for a shining example of what it means to be young, to be Catholic and to be pro-life.

In contrast have a look at your usual atheist-secularist gathering. They're old. They're dull. They're negative. They're tired and most of all they're angry. The more they organize their graying, baying crowds of worn out sexually exhausted has beens the better. They make our World Youth Day crowds look like the future. Which they are.

-Nuns Wyd Madid

This makes me laugh out loud with joy, for Richard Dawkins in his impotent rage is now raining on his own parade. He is increasingly marginalized as a shrill and incoherent shadow of his former self. Once an eminent scientist his public persona is now of the wild eyed extremist--the sort of irrational atheist who would gladly suppress religion in the name of 'freedom', close church schools in the interests of education, and forbid religious education and enforce atheist indoctrination in the name of 'freedom of thought'.

Father Blake, in advance of WYD, wrote about Dawkins in Two Different Worlds.

Richard Dawkins brought at least one lapsed Catholic back to the Church during the Papal visit to the UK. She saw the the anti-Pope snarling mob led by Dawkins and Tatchel, with their plastic devil horns and inflated condoms, sex "toys" and angry faces and she saw the sheer joy of those cheering the Pope and the banners carried by the enthusiastic youth. She said it wasn't about arguments, it was about faces.  Dawkins & co. glaring and hopeless, those who were there cheering the Pope full of hope and smiling - anger and joy, hate and love. For her it was the contrast between two worlds, signified by the Pope and Dawkins, faith and faithlessness, hope and hopelessness, the spiritual and the material, light and darkness.

 Catechesissm Wyd

A pilgrim to WYD writes in the Huffington Post

Pilgrims will likely not forget hiking with temperatures over 90 degrees in order to encounter the million other people arriving at the same site and looking for a place to sleep, only for their belongings later to be soaked or blown away by the rain and high winds that caused a chapel constructed on the site to collapse. Still, inclement weather was but a preface to the deeper atmosphere at the conclusion of World Youth Day in Spain.

At the beginning of his homily, Pope Benedict expressed that his heart was full of joy in seeing young people from all ends of the world gathered together - and still gathered together, despite how the weather affected the almost entirely tent-less pilgrims who slept outside the night before. Many had responded to the storm with even more singing and dancing, and millions of us here in Madrid had tasted a similar joy during this week.

And the joy was contagious

 Wydpilgrims

--
The 20th-century Jesuit Pierre Teillhard de Chardin said that "joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." After seeing the Pope, encountering over a million fellow young people who share their faith, attending liturgical celebrations in various languages with music that moves their hearts, many young people explicitly attest to feeling as if they have been in the presence of God and that they are "rooted in Christ"-- part of the theme of this year's World Youth Day. All while exuding a contagious joy that can be an indication of that presence.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:03 PM | Permalink

The Pope attracts 1.5 million young in Madrid

In contrast to the London riots, World Youth Day or week unfolded last week in Madrid with one and a half million young people attending to be with each other and to listen to and pray with Pope Benedict XVI.

Andrew Brown writes The pope draws 1.5 million young people to Madrid – but that's not news?
The media focus on the anti-pope protests, but ignore World Youth Day, perhaps because its attendees aren't cool.


the ability of mainstream Christianity to attract a crowd of 1.5 million young people seems to me a damn sight more newsworthy, since we expect people to protest against the pope, and we do not expect them to turn out in large numbers to support or see him.

 Crowdb16 Spain Flags

Indeed, if you wanted to see a truly universal event with people from all over the world, you had to tune in to Catholic TV because the News media skip World Youth Day, ignoring

one of the biggest stories on the planet right now. Certainly, the most positive and hopeful one at the moment.

Where are all the social commentaries now? After weeklong rioting and violence in London by hostile youth mobs seized world media attention in continuous news cycles filled with political and social analysis, we have a weeklong ‘event’ in another European capital with a million young people pouring in from all over the globe and it’s largely and intentionally ignored by big media.
---
This is a hugely important human event. Benedict is talking to them about ‘the full measure of what it means to be human’, about totalitarianism, lack of reference to God, utilitarian ideologies closed to reason, and the authentic idea of a university and the search for truth. He quoted Plato: ‘Seek truth while you are young, for if you don’t it will later escape your grasp.’

-Mass Plaza-Des-Cibeles

John Allen, an astute observer of the Vatican gives us the Big Picture of what's happening.

For the most part, it’s a mistake to diagnose this trend in ideological terms, as if it’s about the politics of left vs. right. For today’s younger Catholics, it’s more a matter of generational experience. They didn’t grow up in a stuffy, all-controlling church, so they’re not rebelling against it. Instead, they’re rebelling against a rootless secular world, making them eager to embrace clear markers of identity and sources of meaning.

USA Today For these millennials, faith trumps relativism

Crowds of young people throng the streets, singing, dancing and waving flags from around the world.
When a diminutive figure emerges in a white car, they erupt, jockeying for the best view of this international superstar. A rock idol? A marquee athlete? A political prodigy?

 Young Girls Madrid

Nope: an old man — more scholar than celebrity — smiling shyly to acknowledge the adulation.

 B16-Arrives Almudena Cathedral

But this is not your average religious conference. The music is loud; the hours, late; the attendees, young, diverse, exuberant.

The whole spectacle might understandably confuse those outside of the church: Why would these young people belong to, much less celebrate, such a backward, oppressive institution as the Roman Catholic Church? And why do they seem to find Pope Benedict, 84, not just endearing but also inspiring? The answers to these questions lie in the discontent and desires of a peculiar subset of the millennial generation.

The author, a millennial herself explains

As a member of this strange millennial cohort, I have wondered this myself. I think the answer comes down to this: 1960s-style liberation — from moral codes, family obligations, religious commitments — has betrayed us. Sometime in the past century, a new creed emerged, saying everyone should make his own creed. This tolerant, open-minded ethos seemed to promise freedom: safe sex with many partners, drugs and alcohol galore and quick, no-fault divorce. So our Baby Boomer parents partied hard, yet in so many cases left us only the hangover: heartbreak, addiction and broken homes, plus rising rates of teenage depression and suicide.

The anything-goes religion of the late 20th century cannot prevent nor even explain these consequences. (After all, if I'm OK, you're OK, and we can do whatever we want, why are so many people unhappy?) When every member of a society does whatever makes him feel good, the inevitable results are not personal fulfillment and communal harmony but selfishness and social breakdown.

With these realizations in mind, many millennials reject the assumptions of 1960s liberationists in favor of something more substantial: the creeds, practices and moral codes that defined religious life for centuries. Unlike reductionistic scientism or vague romanticism, traditional religions propose specific, compelling explanations for the world in front of us — broken, fraught with suffering, enslaved to sin, but nonetheless revealing glimpses of beauty and greatness.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:44 PM | Permalink

August 13, 2011

More reflections on the London riots

Mark Steyn: Lessons for us from London in flames

Big Government means small citizens: it corrodes the integrity of a people, catastrophically. Within living memory, the city in flames on our TV screens every night governed a fifth of the Earth's surface and a quarter of its population. When you're imperialists on that scale, there are bound to be a few mishaps along the way. But nothing the British Empire did to its subject peoples has been as total and catastrophic as what a post-great Britain did to its own.

Andrew Fox: It's J.G. Ballard's World, We Just Live in It

Readers familiar with Ballard’s final quartet of novels, all of which feature middle class professionals either diving into or being pulled into revolutionary, nihilistic violence due to ennui, boredom, or a cancerlike consumerism which has replaced religion and patriotism at the center of their psyches, will certainly nod with recognition at this article from The Daily Mail, which reveals that arrested looters and rioters included a law student, a social worker, a ballerina in training, and the school-age daughter of a millionnaire.

Telegraph editorial

This crisis has been building for years. It is the result of a major cultural shift that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and the long-term decline of the conservative values and institutions that had underpinned British society since the late 19th century. This process was marked by a collapse in the belief in marriage, a retreat of the police from the streets, a move away from tough penalties for property crime, the rise of moral relativism and rampant consumerism, the diminution of stigma as a restraint on bad behaviour and the entrenchment of welfare dependency. It was not about poverty, but a collapse in values.

 Woman Jumping From Fire London

The woman who leapt from the flames

Miss Konczyk, who is from the Polish town of Koronowo and has a ten-year-old son called Damian, had made the huge move to England after divorcing her husband and leaving behind a job that paid her a pittance.
She said she moved to England because she considered it a great place

'I thought London was a civilised society full of gentlemen and ladies - but it is not like that. England has become a sick society.'
--
'I found myself jumping for my life after being attacked by thugs and thieves. They set fire to my building without any thought for anyone's safety.

'They were happy for me to die.
They were like animals - greedy, selfish animals who thought only of themselves.'

Legacy of a society that believes in nothing A.N. Wilson

Raw with grief, in a voice steady but tight with emotion, his appeal for calm on Wednesday was a beacon of hope amid the tumult and carnage of a horribly dark week for Britain.

....Mr Jahan had the dignity, the compassion and the common sense to demand an end to the violence that had shattered his life. ‘Blacks, Asians, whites — we all live in the same community,’ he said. ‘Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home — please.’

--Mr Jahan made an open and straightforward declaration of his faith. ‘I’m a Muslim. I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone,’ he said. ‘And may Allah forgive him and bless him

 Father Tariq-Jahan

All the main religions are unshakeable when it comes to self-evident truths about right and wrong; about stealing, harming others, coveting goods, instant gratification and so on.
--
I interviewed Immanuel Jakobovits on his retirement as Chief Rabbi in Britain...His parting message as he retired, not only to the Jewish community but also to the British people, was that marriage and family life need to be learned; that if necessary we should have classes for young people, teaching them the importance of family life, of how to bring up children, how to discipline them kindly but firmly, and how to instil the sense of that moral law within.
--
Today, we live in a society where religion is something for which apologies must be made.
--
A Christian woman working for British Airways who wears a cross round her neck is asked to remove it for fear of offending other people. A nurse who prays with a patient in hospital is committing an almost criminal act. Catholic adoption agencies which disapprove of gay adoptive parents on religious grounds have their licences taken away.

And all the while, our governing classes and academics and teachers chip away at the fundamental truths of the great religions — truths that have stood the test of time for thousands of years — in their arrogant certainty that there are no moral absolutes and that the human race can make up the rules as it goes along.
--
I suspect that when time passes and we look back on this week, it is the religious sincerity of Tariq Jahan that we shall remember. All of us — Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Christians — have a rich religious inheritance.
At the core of this inheritance is a sense of right and wrong.
And in all these religions, the school where we learn of right and wrong is the family. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus have all, very noticeably, retained this twin strand of family structure and ethical teaching.
--
Faith in Christianity itself began to unravel long ago, and the majority of those whose forebears were Christian are now completely secular. They would not even recognise simple Bible stories.

The events of the past week have shown the enormous value of a living religious faith.

Not only was Tariq Jahan more impressive than any of the commentators or politicians who spouted on the airwaves this week. He was more human.

By his religious response to his son’s death, he humanised not only the dreadful and immediate tragedy. He showed us that without a religion we are all less than human.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

August 3, 2011

The Post Modern Pact with the Devil

David Warren on The Pact

Here is the father of Anders Breivik speaking, to a television interviewer, who asked if he thought his son was insane:  "He must be, he must be, there is no other way to explain it!"

Alas, there is another way to explain it, that contemporary man does not like to think about,...

Yet the alternative explanation is itself no simple thing. It contains enigma; it must be struggled with, intellectually and spiritually, all one's life.

"By their fruits ye shall know them." Acts which are unquestionably evil, proceed from minds possessed by evil.
----
Yet evil persists, whether or not it is recognized; and it continues to lie at the bottom of any possible explanation. Breivik's acts were demonic, in an irreducible way. And the ability to know that, immediately on sight, is written into every human heart - because there is a natural moral order. There was no possible "excuse" for Breivik's behaviour, and the excuses he provided himself, through 1,500 pages of rambling but coherent manifesto, were themselves manifestations of evil. That much is comprehensible.
--
To my mind, Breivik and bin Laden, regardless of claimed religious affiliations, did things immortally evil in a similar way. They felt themselves competent to decide what is lawful, by the power of their own reasoning. This is the distinctively post-modern pact with the devil.

That is not the way we think, today - in terms of "a pact with the devil." For we are ourselves postmodern people, who think we have been emancipated from such "antiquated" beliefs. As Baudelaire put it: "No one believes in the devil any more. Yet his smell is everywhere."

The old, "mythological" account, of Genesis, Faustus, Paradise Lost, explains just what we are at a loss to explain today.  In the Gospels, Christ himself must decline the pact, of worldly power. Nietzsche articulated it again, for our times: this promise of absolute human power, to be grasped in the moment we abandon "conventional morality," and become guilt-free.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:58 PM | Permalink

July 26, 2011

"Anything but silence seems to cheapen the suffering"

"Anything but silence seems to cheapen the suffering"

Walter Russell Mead, From Norway to Hell

The ghastly, shocking news from Norway has stunned the whole world.  Empathy for the young victims and their families, horror at the cold blooded and deliberate evil behind this act, and fearful wonder at the depths of madness it reveals are all joined together. We Godbotherers will be bothering God about this, asking for his compassionate and merciful presence in the lives of those who must now begin a lifetime’s journey in the presence of unspeakable grief.

To respond to events of this kind is a challenge.  The tragedy is so great that anything but silence seems to cheapen the suffering, but it also demand some kind of response.

There are some trying to draw some political conclusion about left and right from the massacre; I would like to go deeper.  This tragedy doesn’t just speak to the state of cultural politics in our time, or remind us (as it surely does) that evil has a home in every human culture and human heart; it challenges some of our deepest beliefs about where the world is headed.
--
The Norwegian horror says less about any shortcomings in Norwegian life and culture than about modern life generally.  It reminds us of the profoundly unsettling truth that modernization may lead to more violence and more death than ever before.  Modernization is not just more golden arches and more bloggers.  It is also about accelerating social change.  Capitalism drives technological change and technological change feeds on itself the more of it we have, the more we get.
--
This accelerating, unpredictable and destabilizing change can cause individuals and social groups to become unhinged: to lose their way in the confusion and mystery of modern life.  Blue collar factory workers lose their jobs by the millions; some adapt, some endure, a few go postal.  The upper middle class feels the earth shake beneath its feet as old certainties are challenged and old ways of making a living cease to work.  Most go about their business; some, like Ted Kaczynski, flip out to the Dark Side.
--

The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that human beings are stuck in a condition of radical uncertainty.  Something big and earth shaking is going on around us, but the information we have does not allow us to predict where it all goes.

In my view, this is one of the reasons that belief in a transcendent power beyond the human mind is intellectually necessary to grapple successfully with the realities of our time. When the determinist progressives threw God under the bus, they threw away the possibility of an integrated world view that has room both for scientific and rational analysis on the one hand and a honest, unsparing appraisal of the radical uncertainty around us on the other.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:53 PM | Permalink

What will help the truly poor in our cities

Another insightful essay from Walter Russell Mead in God and Our Urban Blues: Why Blue Can't Save Our Inner Cities, Part II

The great waves of civil rights legislation and urban policy since the 1960s had successes and some failures.  The great success has been the establishment of a much larger and better educated Black middle class.  Forget the high profile achievements of the few — two of the last three Secretaries of State, the current President and Attorney General, for example.  It is much more important that millions of African Americans all over the country are getting better educations, better jobs and better housing than ever before.

But there have been great failures as well. The deterioration of urban life for those who haven’t made it into the middle class is an ongoing tragedy that fifty years of policy have done little to help.  There are reasons to believe that fifty more years of the same approaches will also fail.

I’ve written about some of these obstacles.  Progressive social policy makes cities expensive and cumbersome places for the kind of businesses that employ poorly educated, low-skilled workers.  Many of our well intentioned urban policies end up steering jobs away from the people who need them most.  Municipal labor practices make everything from infrastructure construction to normal urban administration cripplingly expensive, creating an expense structure and a tax burden that basically makes life impossible for many of the small businesses that could offer jobs to low skilled workers.

None of these points has anything to do with race, and if readers will forgive me, I’d like to keep the discussion non-racial for a while.
--
we need to go on and say that some key urban problems are lumpenproletarian problems: the problems of large groups of people who have become disconnected from the habits and institutions through which their lives can be improved.  This population, often marked now as in Marx’s time by alcoholism and other forms of addiction, and then as now enmeshed in a culture of violence and crime and crippled by weak family structures, encounters many difficulties and makes life more challenging for those who live in and around it.
--
Government and bureaucratic institutions can’t do much to fix these problems.  Drug and alcohol addictions, the consequences of abandonment or violence in the home, the corrosion of soul and self esteem that comes with years of unemployment, forced recruitment into gangs, a culture of sexual exploitation and violence marked by contempt for women and homosexuals: these are the kinds of evils Jesus spoke of when he told his disciples that some evils are only cast out by fasting and prayer.

....when we are talking about uneducated people who have grown up in wasted social landscapes with little exposure to positive role models, little experience with or preparation for employment in the formal economy and for whom hard work at low pay may be the only road forward, the only realistic hope is often the power of faith and the support of a strong and focused religious community.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:54 AM | Permalink

July 21, 2011

Excluding a Christian church from Ground Zero

Given the problems facing the Department of Homeland Security, you would think they would avoid the problems inherent in political correctness if only to maintain their credibility, but no.

A new video from the DHS characterizes white middle class Americans as the most likely terrorists with no mention of its own finding in December "In the last 24 months (2009 and 2010) 126 people were indicted on terrorist-related charges in the United States. All of them were Muslim."

I simply cannot understand why the mayor and the governor are not on the phone demanding the Port Authority to do all it can to rebuild St.Nicholas which was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks with the tenth anniversary less than 2 months away.

Islamic Supremacism trumps Christianity at Ground Zero

While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg works in anxious haste to build the cultural obscenity that is the Ground Zero mosque, the iconic St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was built in 1916 and destroyed in the attack on the World Trade Center towers by Muslim terrorists, remains vanquished, unable to rebuild.
Bloomberg is lobbying for 9/11 taxpayer funds for the Islamic supremacist grifters behind the Ground Zero mosque, but St. Nicholas Church is in purgatory ten years after the worst day in modern American history.
--

I spoke with Evan C. Lambrou, who is a former editor of the National Herald, the country's oldest and largest Greek-American newspaper, and a distinguished graduate of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston.  He explained that it was "wrong for the Port Authority to take the church's original property for its purposes, in exchange for another parcel nearby; extract the church's good faith by promising to actually deliver the promised new parcel; and then not make good on that promise. In short, the Port Authority got the church to do something it didn't really want to do by promising the church something else instead, and then refused to give what was promised. That's just not right. It's morally reprehensible, in fact.

"It's very disgraceful that the Port Authority has compelled the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to file a federal lawsuit just to rebuild one of our churches. And it's simply astounding that people work themselves into such a frenzy about Park 51; that so many elected officials have rushed to defend development of an Islamic community center two blocks away from Ground Zero; and that virtually no one cares about the Port Authority's plans to exclude a Christian church from Ground Zero altogether."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:18 PM | Permalink

July 2, 2011

What is Man?

[T]he essential question of our time is the anthropological question, the question of man.

What is man? What is his nature, his meaning, his duty, his destiny?

Scripture tells us that man is a being mysteriously, almost paradoxically, endowed with a double nature: one physical, and so transient, doomed to the vicissitudes of change and then to pass away; and one spiritual, immortal, destined for eternity.

But the modern world has, for the most part, denied this definition or understanding of man.

The modern world has, for the most part, embraced a reductionist view of man, viewing man as a physical being only, moved by chemical reactions and hormonal drives, condemned by the haphazardness of an essentially meaningless universe to create himself and his own meaning according to his own desires, without any transcendent reference of any type, not to mention the reality signified by the word "God," which only arouses polite snickers in elite circles.

Pope Benedict has often made this point -- that our age suffers from the absence of God.

Robert Moynihan, The Shadow Over Europe 

Because, oddly, it is of the essence of being a man, of being human, that man transcend himself. Unless man transcends himself, he is not man. This is the paradox at the heart of our being, the strangeness of our humanity.

Without God, without the transcendent, without the holy, man is bereft of what is of its essence beyond man, of the divine, of the "above," of the sacred, of that which surpasses the purely digital, the purely numerical....

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:40 PM | Permalink

June 6, 2011

The Misunderstood Virtue of Humility

David Brooks, IMHO, after sitting  on a panel at the Association for Psychological Science and learning that 

Humility has a bad reputation. ...

June Tangney of George Mason University emphasized that humility is not equivalent to low self-esteem. Rather, the humble person has an accurate view of herself. She can acknowledge her mistakes. She has low self-focus. She is aware of her place in the grand scheme of things and is sensitive to larger and possibly higher forces.

The humble person has the ability to be “unselved.”

Humility is not modesty either, Tangney argues. The modest person has a moderate view of himself, but may still think about himself all the time. 
Humility is better seen as the opposite of narcissism. The narcissist has a damaged sense of self and is consequently self-centered a great deal of the time, reacting in defensive ways to ego threat. The humble person has an accurate and durable sense of self and can see the relationship between the self and the larger world.

Jennifer Crocker of Ohio State spoke next and

described the tension between self-transcendence and self-affirmation. Self-affirmation is about being proud and powerful and in control. Self-transcendence is about being engaged in activities in which the self is melded into a task or a relationship. According to various studies Crocker cited, people who have experienced self-transcendence are more open to evidence that counters their own views, and feel more connected to others.

How interesting that scientists are coming around to the view that people who seek self-transcendence feel more connected to others.  This is what religions have taught for millennia

Father Z wrote on the feast of the Ascension

When we read the Church Fathers something important is added. The correct ascent of man occurs precisely where he learns, in humbly turning toward his neighbor, to bow very deeply, down to his feet, down to the gesture of the washing of feet. It is precisely humility, which can bow low, that carries man upward. This is the dynamic of ascent that the feast of the Ascension wants to teach us.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:51 PM | Permalink

June 4, 2011

Every 5 minutes a Christian is martyred

Astonishing number of true martyrs

"Worldwide emergency" says sociologist, Every 5 Minutes a Christian is Martyred 

A sociologist representing a European security organization says that the number of Christians killed each year for their faith is so high that it calculates to one martyr's life being taken every five minutes.

Massimo Introvigne of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported this data at a conference on Christian-Jewish-Muslim interfaith dialogue, which concluded today in Hungary. The conference was sponsored by the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union, and included a variety of high-level representatives from the three monotheistic religions, as well as political and social leaders.

Introvigne reported that
Christians killed every year for their faith number 105,000, and that number includes only those put to death simply because they are Christians. It does not count the victims of civil or international wars.

"If these numbers are not cried out to the world, if this slaughter is not stopped, if it is not acknowledged that the persecution of Christians is the first worldwide emergency in the matter of violence and religious discrimination, the dialogue between religions will only produce beautiful conferences but no concrete results," he stated.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:21 AM | Permalink

June 2, 2011

Pope Jill

Jill Abramson in an interview after it was announced that she would be  the new editor of The New York Times,

Ms. Abramson, 57, said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of The Times to be like “ascending to Valhalla.”

“In my house growing up,
The Times substituted for religion,” she said. “If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

James Tarento of the Wall St Journal responds to this most revealing quote in Give Me That Old Gray Religion

The Times has of late acted a great deal like a corrupt religious institution. This column has chronicled its often vicious and dishonest attempts--both on the editorial page and in the news sections, which Abramson will head--to shore up its own authority by trying to tear down its competitors. Examples:

• In January, the Times responded to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by instigating a witch hunt against "Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media," as an editorial put it--even though by the time the editorial was published, it was clear that suspect Jared Lochner was not motivated by politics.
--
"If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth." No. A newspaper is not a substitute for religion, and a lie is still a lie even if the New York Times says otherwise.

 Jill Abramson

How long before she is dubbed Pope Jill?  Wait.  They already have.  The WSJ was the first.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:34 PM | Permalink

May 14, 2011

Religious belief is human nature

Religious belief is human nature.

So claims a massive three-year Oxford study incorporating more that 40 different studies  of cultures around the world by dozens of researchers, called the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project.

"We tend to see purpose in the world," Oxford University professor Roger Trigg said Thursday. "We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can't see it. ... All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking."

Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg. But adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world, the study found.
---
The blockbuster study may not take a stance on the existence of God, but it has profound implications for religious freedom, Trigg contends.

"If you've got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests," Trigg said.

"There is quite a drive to think that religion is private," he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. "It isn't just a quirky interest of a few, it's basic human nature."

This shows that it's much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It's got to be reckoned with. You can't just pretend it isn't there," he said.

"The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless," Trigg concluded.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink

April 24, 2011

The most important things in life can't be seen with the eyes

How Easter and Christianity undermine atheism

Of course, it’s not quite fair to say that atheists believe in nothing. They do believe in something — the philosophical theory known as Materialism, which states that the only thing that exists is matter; that all substances and all phenomena in the universe are purely physical.

The problem is that this really isn’t a theory at all. It’s a superstition; a myth that basically says that everything in life — our thoughts, our emotions, our hopes, our ambitions, our passions, our memories, our philosophies, our politics, our beliefs in God and salvation and damnation — that all of this is merely the result of biochemical reactions and the movement of molecules in our brain.
What nonsense.
--
But the most important things in life can’t be seen with the eyes. Ideas can’t be seen. Love can’t be seen. Honor can’t be seen. This isn’t a new concept. Judaism and Christianity and Islam and Buddhism have all taught for thousands of years that the highest forms of reality are invisible and mysterious. And these realities will never be reducible to clear-cut scientific formulae for the simple reason that they will never be fully comprehensible to the human mind. God didn’t mean them to be.
--

If human beings were going to invent a religion based on wishful thinking, they could come up with something a lot “easier” than Christianity. After all, why not wish for a religion that promised eternal life in heaven, but at the same time allowed promiscuous sex, encouraged gluttony, did away with all the commandments, and forbade anyone to ever mention the idea of judgment and punishment?

Wouldn’t that make a lot more sense? And yet, atheists persist in this ridiculous notion that human beings “invented” God merely because we’re afraid of death and want to see our dead relatives again. Amazing.
--
Because aside from all the logical arguments for God’s existence and all the miracles and all the truths contained in Scripture, one simple fact remains: 2,000 years ago, on that first, quiet Easter Sunday morning, Christ did rise.

 Resurrection Chronatlantis

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:19 PM | Permalink

April 21, 2011

Triduum

I retreat now to celebrate the Triduum and leave behind links to a few articles I read and liked this Holy Week.

The Entire Mystery of Christ
And so today the week without compare since the creation of the world begins. Suffering, death, resurrection – all of it strange, even the resurrection tough to take in, given how it comes about. You can see that in the way the apostles are still stunned, for no little time, despite the empty tomb.

 Lamb Of God

Good Friday, Holy Day on Ice by John Zmirak
A holy day, but the farthest thing from a holiday, at least in the sense of that Katharine Hepburn movie. Holy means something set apart, stark and appalling, like the burning bush that Moses feared to look on lest he would die; like the precinct of the Inner Temple where once a year the Jewish high priest would, on the Day of Atonement, whisper the Name of God. What rendered that old place sacred was the piling up of prayers and bloody sin offerings, and it's hard for us moderns to fathom what that must have meant -- how ancients could feel reverence and awe in a place full of cattle entrails, smoking corpses, and running blood. But that's what the ancient Temple was, and perhaps remembering that can help us more rightly approach the Cross.

Heather King on Finishing the Race: Christ as Athlete and Agoniste
The Crucifixion was Christ's "race." He trained all his life. He took the gravest of risks. Like my runner friend, he declined to measure effort in a rational or strategic way. He worked up his bloody sweat, his agonia, in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before. He endured betrayal, scorn, ridicule, and all the evil in men's hearts. He bore the scourge, the crown of thorns, the sponge soaked in gall, the nails. With his last drop of strength, he consoled the thief beside him. With his dying breath, he commended his spirit to God. He refused to return violence for violence and thereby established the eternal triumph of faith over fear, love over hatred, good over evil, life over death. He finished the course.

Taking the Measure of Relics of the True Cross

Once he had estimated the weight of the cross, de Fleury calculated the size, or more accurately, volume, of the cross, which came to 10,900 cubic inches. But the total volume of all the fragments he had measured came to only 240 cubic inches. The number surprised him, so he made a generous allowance for fragments that were in private hands or otherwise had not come to his attention, as well as fragments that had been lost over the centuries or destroyed in war or during the vandalism of the Reformation. He multiplied his original number by 10 and arrived at a new figure: 2,400 cubic inches, not even a fifth of the estimated size of the cross upon which Christ was crucified.

Lee Strobel, How Easter Killed My Faith in Atheism
It was the worst news I could get as an atheist: my agnostic wife had decided to become a Christian. Two words shot through my mind. The first was an expletive; the second was “divorce.”

Easter: The beginning of a new and unspeakable joy,
C.S. Lewis captured this basic Christian understanding very clearly when he wrote that, “Christianity is a thing of unspeakable joy. But it begins not in joy, but in wretchedness, and it does no good to try to get to the joy by bypassing the wretchedness.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:17 AM | Permalink

April 14, 2011

The Book That Made Your World

First,  Chinese leaders say that Christianity was the reason for the West's success, now we have an Indian philosopher who says the Bible created the soul of Western civilization and sees India's need for the "reforming power of the Bible".   

While Christianity is scorned and belittled by the secular elites in Europe and the USA, dynamic, growing,  forward-looking countries are seeing  Christianity and its positive impact on society more clearly.

Does the Bible Matter In the 21st Century?

The cancer at the heart of America’s political economy is cultural. This great nation was built by an ethic – a spirituality that taught citizens to work, earn, save, invest, and use their wealth to serve their neighbors. This biblical ethic has been replaced by secularism’s entitlement culture that teaches people that they have a right to this, that and the other without corresponding obligations to work, save, and serve. This new culture forces the state to take from productive citizens or borrow from other nations and spend it on man-made rights. This corruption of character is destroying the world’s greatest economy, but can democracy allow leaders to go against the voters’ voice?
---
The West became great because biblical monogamy harnessed sexual energy to build strong families, women, children, and men.

Human history knows no force other than the Bible that has the capacity to dam sexual energy to build powerful families and nations. Indeed, no non-biblical culture has ever been able to require husbands to “love your wives” and give them the spiritual resources to do so.

The author of this piece, Vishai Mangalwadi, an Indian philosopher, is also the author of "The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization" which will be published in May.

 Vishal Mangalwadi

From his website, his bio

Vishal Mangalwadi (1949-) is an international lecturer, social reformer, political columnist, and author of thirteen books. Born and raised in India, he studied philosophy at universities, in Hindu ashrams, and at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. In 1976 he turned down several job offers in the West to return to India where he and his wife, Ruth, founded a community to serve the rural poor. Vishal continued his involvement in community development serving at the headquarters of two national political parties, where he worked for the empowerment and liberation of peasants and the lower castes.
--
Vishal and Ruth are currently in the United States for the production of a television documentary, The Book of the Millennium: How the Bible Changed Civilization, a project inspired by Vishal and Ruth's recognition of India's need for the reforming power of the Bible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

April 9, 2011

Weekend Catchup: London stags, the Pope and a beggar, morphine, beer and discrimination

London's secret wildlife wonderland revealed by photographer who rose at dawn every day to capture studding images.

 Londonstags Alexsaberi

The photographer is Alex Saberi.

 Swan Dawn Alexsaberi

From the Deacon's Bench, the beauty of humility in a wonderful story  about Pope John Paul 2 and the  beggar

Waste Ash from Coal Could Save Billions in Repairing US Bridges and Roads

Coating concrete destined to rebuild America's crumbling bridges and roadways with some of the millions of tons of ash left over from burning coal could extend the life of those structures by decades, saving billions of dollars of taxpayer money, scientists reported in Anaheim, California at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society on March 29. They reported on a new coating material for concrete made from flyash that is hundreds of times more durable than existing coatings and costs only half as much.

A literary appreciation for paper pushers and makers of boilerplate

Indeed, the boilerplate metaphor could itself be a metaphor for a larger transformation, two centuries in the making, that has taken many of us away from extracting coal and forging iron and assembling boilers toward waiting for an inspector to come sign off on a certificate that needs to be filed with the local Department of Buildings.

Meditation 'better than morphine' at easing pain

'One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain  was that it did not work at just one place in the brain but instead reduced  pain at multiple levels of processing.

The Lenten fast on beer only continues

For the 46 days of Lent, J. Wilson is forgoing solid food and only drinking beer and water - just as Bavarian monks did hundreds of years ago.

Wilson is a husband, father, newspaper editor and beer enthusiast. The 38-year-old is the proprietor of the beer blog
brewvana, where the motto is, "An ideal condition of harmony, beer and joy."

"Three hundred or four hundred years ago, a group of Paulaner monks in a Bavarian region had made a stronger beer in a town called Einbeck and they called it bock. The monks started making a stronger beer, a double beer, called doppelbock," Sorensen said. "The story goes the monks would give up eating and literally would drink this 'liquid bread' to sustain them through their Lenten fast."

How's it going?  Here's Wilson's diary of a part-time monk

In the four months of their honeymoon, a Swedish couple survived six natural disasters: severe snowstorm, cyclone, flooding, bush fires and two earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand and Tokyo. 

Conflict History Browse the timeline of war and conflict across the world and down the centuries.

One man makes a shocking confession.  The Cause of All Discrimination? Me.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

April 6, 2011

""You have to go somewhere where there is sacred ground"

Walter Russell Mead on Life Beyond Blue: Faith and the Inner City

There are two big mistakes most Americans make about our inner city problems:  we believe that the troubles of the inner city are mostly about race, and we believe that they can be solved without God.

The failure of the blue social model to solve the problems of the underclass in America’s inner cities was one of the great tragedies of the last thirty years.  Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent; tens of millions of lives remained blighted, and a culture of violence, degradation and despair has taken hold among some of our society’s most vulnerable and needy people.  Generations of children are growing up in gangs; our scarce financial resources are being consumed by a grotesquely overbuilt prison system; whole segments of our population are unable to cope with even the simplest demands of modern life.
--
But technocratic fixes and government policy however wise and inspired cannot fix everything that is broken in the inner cities of the United States and abroad.  Drug addiction, cycles of violence and abuse, the prevalence and attraction of street gangs and the appeal of religious extremism are not the kinds of things that bureaucrats can do much about.
--
the hard truth is that unless someone reaches the lost generations in our inner city with powerful, life transforming messages, the dysfunctional cycles of violence, poverty and destruction will continue.  The people in our cities need the power to change their lives — and that kind of power, for most of the people most of the time in history, comes through transformational encounters with the power and the presence of God.
--
What I’ve learned from Gene lately is a new appreciation of the importance of the Black church in the redemption of the inner city.  Specifically, I’ve been learning about the importance of the Pentecostal churches.  Historically, the Pentecostal churches in the United States as elsewhere are strongly rooted among the poor.

To see the power of the gospel and the power of gospel music as an art form  and what it means in the lives of young teens who find a way to express their pain and to experience joy, you must watch 60 minutes which last week when Leslie Stahl looked at  Gospel for Teens, Part 1 and Part 2.

"You have to go somewhere where there is sacred ground, where there's hope, where there's  possibility, where there's a better life"    Exactly what gospel music, born in slavery,  was designed to provide in the first place.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:49 AM | Permalink

April 3, 2011

Courtyard of the Gentiles and Prayer to an Unknown God

Sandro Magister reports from Paris on the Courtyard of the Gentiles and the shocking news to me that UNESCO was founded by those who believed strongly in eugenics.

In Paris the Dispute Was about God, But about Man First

the most explosive talk was that of French philosopher Fabrice Hadjadj (in the photo), from a Jewish family, once on the far left but now a convert to the Catholic faith....

Hadjadj made a radical criticism of UNESCO and its founding fathers right on the premises of the organization, in the presence of its directors in a
'blistering talk' against the eugenicist ideology of the founding fathers of UNESCO

And he criticized it precisely on its view of man.  On the alternative between man's openness to Heaven – the "trasumanar" of Dante's Paradiso – and the "transhumanism" of the first director general of UNESCO, Julian Huxley, the reduction of man to a technical object, to be improved with eugenics.

In 1941, at the very time when the Nazis were gassing the mentally ill, Julian Huxley wrote with a certain audacity:
"Once the full implications of evolutionary biology are grasped, eugenics will inevitably become part of the religion of the future, or of whatever complex of sentiments may in the future take the place of organized religion." These statements were written in 1941. But it was in 1947 that they were published in French, when he was already director general of UNESCO.

The initiative of the Courtyard of the Gentiles came from Pope Benedict XVI .

The idea came from Benedict XVI himself. And the name, too: Courtyard of the gentiles. "To the dialogue with the religions," he said, extending Christmas greetings to the Roman curia on December 21, 2009, "must be added today the dialogue with those to whom God is unknown."
--
This was the goal in Paris. Believers and agnostics spoke out in friendship. On borderland terrain. Each with his feet planted in his own space, but ready to listen to the reasons of the other.

The Pope addressed the gathering in a video message.

You young people, believers and non-believers alike, have chosen to come together this evening, as you do in your daily lives, in order to meet one another and to discuss the great questions of human existence. Nowadays many people acknowledge that they are not part of any religion, yet they long for a new world, a world that is freer, more just and united, more peaceful and happy.
--
Dear friends, you are challenged to build bridges between one another.
--
Religions have nothing to fear from a just secularity, one that is open and allows individuals to live in accordance with what they believe in their own consciences. If we are to build a world of liberty, equality and fraternity, then believers and non-believers must feel free to be just that, equal in their right to live as individuals and in community in accord with their convictions; and fraternal in their relations with one another. One of the reasons for this Courtyard of the Gentiles is to encourage such feelings of fraternity, over and above our individual convictions yet not denying our differences.
--
Believers and non-believers, as you stand in this courtyard of the Unknown, you are also invited to approach the sacred space, to pass through the magnificent portal of Notre Dame and to enter the cathedral for a moment of prayer.
For some of you this will be a prayer to a God you already know by faith, but for others it may be a prayer to the Unknown God.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:44 AM | Permalink

March 31, 2011

Jesus in Beijing

Christianity the reason for West's success, say the Chinese

In the West we are doing our best to destroy our Christian heritage but in China, Chinese intellectuals are coming around to the view that it is precisely this heritage that has made the West so successful.

Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, in a review in the Sunday Times of Niall Ferguson's new book, ‘Civilisation: The West and the Rest’, carries a quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in which he tries to account for the success of the West, to date.

He said: “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.

“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.

“Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.

“But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.

“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

The source?

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,  an instrument of the Chinese Communist government which spends a not inconsiderable amount of time and money persecuting Christians and is officially atheistic.

I wrote about this in 2006 in Christians in China and drew quotes from an interview of David Aikma, the author of Jesus in Beijing.

I would like readers of Jesus in Beijing to grasp how Christianity, though assumed by many in the West to be outmoded and irrelevant to modern life, is regarded by many Chinese as the absolute key to a successful, peaceful, powerful modern China in the future.
----
Many concluded that it was Christian ethics and the dynamism of a faith based on a profound hope in the future and a belief that history was not cyclical, as Buddhism and even Confucianism proclaimed, but linear, and with a specific end goal.

Finally, Christians in the fine and performing arts have shown that there is a way out from the often-nihilistic cycle of modernism and postmodernism. This can be very attractive to artists who would prefer a hope-filled universe in which to develop their creative skills.
--
At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.

In fact, there are now More Christians than Communists in China.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:40 PM | Permalink

March 24, 2011

The continuing persecution of Christians - ho-hum

The ongoing, sometimes deadly, persecution of Christians continues unabated and few appear bothered, even when it is happening in the United States.    Freedom of religion is now being interpreted as freedom from religion.    Yet our founding fathers knew quite well that freedom to practice religion or not to practice religion at all was the essential foundation for civil society.

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other," John Adams

     

Out of every ten people, seven can not live their faith in freedom. The most persecuted religion is Christianity with at least 200 million people suffering from discrimination.  

The persecution is particularly acute in some countries with a Muslim majority.

Archbishop Warda: Iraq’s Christian History “Wiped From Collective Memory”

Archbishop Bashar Warda of northern Iraq did not mince words about the plight of Christians and other non-Muslims  in his country. Christians in Iraq face “near genocide” due only to their non-Muslim status as the Iraqi government muddies the waters of jurisprudence.
--
Since 2003, roughly a million Iraqi Christians have either fled their native homeland or been massacred. The damage wrought by Islamists has also taken its toll on Christian buildings dedicated to serving and uplifting the downtrodden....

The first Iraqi church was bombed in June, 2004 in Mosul. Following that event, successive campaigns have occurred and a total of 66 churches have been attacked or bombed; 41 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 5 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramadi. In addition, 2 convents, 1 monastery and a church orphanage was bombed.

Via my friend Gil Bailie in Islam is as Islam Does  is this  bloodstained image of Christ in the Church of Saints in Alexandria, Egypt, where a bomb went off at a  New Year's Eve service, killing 21 and wounding 70.

 Bloodstained Christ

He also points to George Marlin who examines The Forgotten: Christians Persecuted in the Middle East  in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, all countries with a Muslim majority where religious liberty does not have the value it does in Western countries.

A more subtle persecution of Christians is increasing here in the United States  as we can see when the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies 18- pro-family groups as "hate" groups  We're seeing an unfolding process of attempting to redefine Christian teaching on sex and marriage as racism

I used to have a residual respect for the ACLU, though I never knew the its founder Roger Baldwin was a Communist, "Communism is the goal."  But no more after reading ACLU vs. Religious Liberty

An ACLU-crafted Consent Decree has been used as a weapon to threaten school district employees with fines and jail time for merely praying over a meal, and for exercising -- even while away from school -- their sincerely held Christian faith. You read that right. The ACLU is literally seeking to criminalize Christianity.

In August of 2009, Liberty Counsel successfully defended staff member Michelle Winkler from contempt charges brought by the ACLU after her husband, who is not even employed by the district, offered a meal prayer at a privately sponsored event in a neighboring county.
--
During witness testimony, Mrs. Winkler sobbed as she described how she and a coworker, who had recently lost a child, literally had to hide in a closet to pray.

Fortunately, Federal District Court Judge Casey Rogers granted in part a preliminary injunction

Judge Rodgers concluded that even though "a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy," one aspect of the Consent Decree -- its attempt to prohibit school employees from fully participating in private religious events -- is so flawed that it must be immediately halted.

The Court thus enjoined the School Board "from enforcing any school policy that restrains in any way an employee's participation in, or speech or conduct during, a private religious service, including baccalaureate" pending a trial on the merits. 
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:40 PM | Permalink

March 14, 2011

The bravest sermon I have ever read in my entire life

In Von Galen Contra Gestapo,  Donald McClarey tells us about Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, a remarkable German bishop who stood up to the Third Reich with the sermons he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the world.

At this point, when his Nazi foes were their strongest, on July 13, 1941, Bishop von Galen threw down his episcopal gauntlet to the Gestapo, the secret police of the Nazis, who brutally terrorized Germany and occupied Europe:

What follows is an excerpt from the bravest sermon I have ever read in my entire life.

None of us is safe — and may he know that he is the most loyal and conscientious of citizens and may he be conscious of his complete innocence — he cannot be sure that he will not some day be deported from his home, deprived of his freedom and locked up in the cellars and concentration camps of the Gestapo. I am aware of the fact: This can happen also to me, today or some other day. And because then I shall not be able to speak in public any longer, I will speak publicly today, publicly I will warn against the continuance in a course which I am firmly convinced will bring down God’s judgment on men and must lead to disaster and ruin for our people and our country.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:36 AM | Permalink

March 3, 2011

Religious cleansing

Will this Administration ever condemn the murder of Christians in Muslim lands? 

Does no one see the danger to all of us when people are hanged or killed for their religious beliefs  and no one bothers to say anything about it.

Not even the murder of the Pakistan Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz  Bhatti, a Catholic, seems to matter.

Dying on a cross in Pakistan

So it has happened again. It may be time for more showers of rose petals among some — repeat SOME — Muslims in the troubled land of Pakistan. At this point, it would really help to watch the stunning piece of video that accompanies this post. This is the martyred Shahbaz Bhatti, speaking for himself and for religious minorities in his homeland.
 

His blasphemy?  He defended Asia Bibi
The Pakistani minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti was killed this morning by an armed commando. The attack was carried out in the I-8 / 3 neighbourhood by a group of masked men who ambushed the minister on the street. They pulled him out of his car and opened fire at point blank range before fleeing in a car.
--
The killers left a note at the scene of the crime: "Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claims responsibility for the assassination of Bhatti for speaking out against the blasphemy law".
--
He boldly defended Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy on the basis of false accusations. He belonged to the PPP, the progressive party in government. After the killing of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, who Islamic fundamentalists blamed for having defended Asia Bibi, Bhatti had become the radicals “top target”.

And this is what is going on in Egypt.  The continual assault against the Coptic Christians, the indigenous people of Egypt,  is looking a lot like ethnic cleansing.

"Utterly Inhuman": Muslim Governor in Egypt Orders Demolition of Christian Homes and Center for Handicapped Children.

In the London Telegraph, Damian Thompson asks When will Britain wake up to Islam's persecution of Christians?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:37 AM | Permalink

February 23, 2011

"Sneer at faith all you like. Just don’t assume science is on your side."

Tom Knox in the Daily Mail, The tantilising proof that belief in God makes you happier and healthier

I am not a religious zealot. On the contrary, I was a teenage atheist. And although in adulthood I have had a vague and fuzzy feeling that ‘there must be something out there’, I was never a regular church-goer. But what I have discovered, on my voyage through the science of faith, has astonished me.

From Britain, he traveled to Salt Lake City.

Why did I feel safe? Because I was in a largely Mormon city, and Mormons are never going to mug you. They might bore or annoy you when they come knocking on your door, touting their faith, but they are not going to attack you.

The Mormons’ wholesome religiousness, their endless and charitable kindliness, made their  city a better place. And that made me think:  Why was I so supercilious about such happy, hospitable people? What gave me the right to sneer at their religion?

From that moment I took a deeper, more rigorous interest in the possible benefits of religious faith. Not one particular creed, but all creeds. And I was startled by what I found.

--
For a growing yet largely unnoticed body of scientific work, amassed over the past 30 years, shows religious belief is medically, socially and psychologically beneficial.

He reviewed many recent studies and found that  believers have

  • lower blood pressure
  • better mental and emotional health
  • longer life - about 7 years
  • less depression
  • faster recovery from illness, broken hips, cancer, heart disease etc etc
  • greater happiness

These results appear  not just among Americans, but among Europeans as well. 

In 2008, Professor Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics and Doctor Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research conducted a vast survey of Europeans. They found that religious believers, compared to non-believers, record less stress, are better able to cope with losing jobs and divorce, are less prone to suicide, report higher levels of self-esteem, enjoy greater ‘life purpose’ and report being more happy overall.
What is stunning about this research is that the team didn’t go looking for this effect — it came to them unexpectedly.
---

Why might we be hard-wired to be religious? Precisely because religion makes us happier and healthier, and thus makes us have more children.

In the purest of Darwinian terms, God isn’t just good for you, He’s good for your genes, too.

All of which means that, contrary to expectation, it is the atheists who are eccentric, flawed and maladaptive, and it’s the devout who are healthy, well-adjusted and normal.
--
Sneer at faith all you like. Just don’t assume science is on your side. 
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:38 PM | Permalink

February 15, 2011

Convincing stories of divine intervention told by victims of torture

Shoshana Garfield has worked for 20 years to help people recover from torture.

She writes about Faith in the darkest of moments in The Guardian


My clients tell me that their darkest moments have been when they felt deeply alone, bereft of even God. They despaired and were completely hopeless because of the thought that God was allowing the torture to continue, which in effect is either God's powerlessness or implicit permission, either of which is devastating. And yet I have also been told many, many times by clients (often the same ones with these moments of shattering despair) that at other times they knew, deeply knew, that God was with them.

I have heard reports of angels singing comfort, of Mary and/or Jesus whispering to them, of feeling the formless touch of the Divine, of a dream of a prophet or a saint that was real. I have even had multiple reports of literal, physical divine intervention at intense moments of need, in one case dramatically saving the life of my client.
----
However,
beyond displaying typical impacts of deep trauma, 100% of the clients who reported such miraculous interventions in my clinic room were perfectly sane. I can therefore only come to the professional conclusion that these reports are, to the best of our knowledge, generally true.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

February 1, 2011

"So solid a comfort, so durable a satisfaction"

In a review of the new book Never Say Die, Joseph Epstein at first credits the author Susan Jacoby for her role as "reality instructor".

--as a contributor on old-age health matters to the AARP bulletin and other magazines and newspapers, she feels that in the past she often idealized aging. "One of the reasons I am writing this book," she avers, "is that I came to feel, especially as I saw the real, not-for-prime-time struggles of much older friends, that I was presenting a half-truth that amounted to a lie."

...A longtime feminist, Ms. Jacoby expresses anger at her sisters for ignoring the plight of aging for women, especially women living alone. A majority of women will outlive their husbands—two-thirds of those over 85 in America today are women—with diminished finances and in terrible loneliness. "Old age," she writes, "is primarily a women's issue." She also underscores—no surprise here—that aging is even more difficult for the poor, of either gender.

But he wearies at her constant tirade

So complete is her attack that she is not prepared to allow the one possible reward of old age, which is the potential for acquiring wisdom through experience. Depression rather than wisdom, she holds, is more likely to be the lot of the old.

He turns to Cicero who, as Montaigne wrote, "gives one an appetite for old age".

Of course old age, bringing with it diminished strength and desires, cannot do some of things youth can; of course old age makes one more prone to illness and disease—parts, after all, do wear out; of course old age puts one closer to death. But weighed beside these serious detractions, Cicero contended, are the opportunities old age brings for "the study and practice of decent, enlightened living," accompanied by a calm that youth, and even middle age, do not allow.

----As for the attribution of such faults among the old as being morose, ill-tempered, avaricious and difficult to please, Cicero claimed, rightly, that "these are faults of character, not of age."

For Susan Jacoby, the answer to the increasing numbers of old, poor, sick, lonely women lies in benevolent care by the government and doctor assisted suicide when one has lived too long.

For me, that is more fanciful and pernicious than belief in God.

Ms. Jacoby makes no effort to hide or even subdue her politics, which, as you will have already gathered, are liberal, standard left-wing. Brought up a Catholic, she long ago shed any belief in God or the supernatural..

And so, she utterly fails to comprehend the consolations that a strong belief in God can bring. For those who have grown in their faith, aging becomes a natural monastery where one detaches from the things of the world to focus increasingly on God and eternity.

Compare what a blind monk has to say. in the gorgeous movie, ."Into Great Silence (Two-Disc Set)"

“The closer one brings oneself to God, the happier one is. The faster one hurries to meet him. One should have no fear of death. On the contrary! For us, it is a great joy to find a Father once again. … The past, the present, these are human. In God there is no past. Solely the present prevails. And when God sees us, he always sees our entire life. And because He is an infinitely good being, He eternally seeks our well-being. Therefore, there is no cause for worry in any of the things which happen to us. I often thank God that he let me be blinded. I am sure that he let this happen for the good of my soul… It is a pity that the world has lost all sense of God. It is a pity…They have no reason to live anymore. When you abolish the thought of God, why should you go on living on this earth? … One must (never) part from the principle that God is infinitely good, and that all of his actions are in our best interest. Because of this a Christian should always be happy, never unhappy. Because everything that happens is God’s will, and it only happens for the well-being of our soul. Well, this is the most important. God is infinitely good, almighty, and he helps us. This is all one must do, and then one is happy.”

Here's what Cicero has to say On the Immortality of Souls in his Discourse on Old Age which I believe should be required reading for anyone afraid of aging and of death.

" Cicero's Cato major, or discourse on old age. Addressed to Titus Pomponius Atticus. With explanatory notes. By Benj. Franklin, LL.D."

For nature appears to me to have ordained this station here for us, as a place of sojournment, a transitory abode only, and not as a fixed settlement or permanent habitation.

But oh the glorious day, when freed from this troublesome rout, this heap of confusion and corruption below, I shall repair to that divine Assembly, the heavenly Congregation of Souls!
--
Now these, my friends, are the means (since it was these you wanted to know) by which I make my old age sit easy and light upon me; and thus I not only disarm it of every uneasiness, but render it even sweet and delightful.

But if I should be mistaken in this belief, that our souls are immortal, I am however pleased and happy in my mistake; nor while I live, shall it ever be in the power of man, to beat me out of an opinion, that yields me so solid a comfort and so durable a satisfaction.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:09 PM | Permalink

January 25, 2011

"The first thing that religion adds is the idea of the sacred"

Roger Scruton on whether religion is a force for good

The first thing that religion adds is the idea of the sacred. This idea is a strange sediment in human consciousness; it might have an evolutionary cause, but the cause does not tell us what it means. The second thing that religion adds is communion.

The rituals of religion are shared and those who participate in them are drawn into another kind of relationship with their neighbours than those that prevail in the world of "getting and spending". People hunger for this kind of membership and the power of religion resides in its ability to provide it. In the rituals of a religion all worldly differences are overcome: the Sultan bows in submission beside his subjects and the good-natured fool takes communion beside the crook who cheated him. The ritual shines on both of them from a place beyond their ordinary experience and includes them in a community whose home is in some way not of this world. And in the Christian case the ritual records a primeval sacrifice, born of love.

--

Now I don't deny that there are wrong ways of pursuing this religious quest. Those for whom faith is a call to arms and religion a blanket justification for violence against the unbeliever, are a threat to all of us. But although they make the most noise, they are not the most numerous among religious people. For most people religion is what it has always been – a cultivation of piety, a humility in the face of creation and an attempt to live according to a shared moral code. Piety, humility and morality are all things that we are losing. I would suggest that we would do better to keep them and to study how they might be directed to the right objects and in the right way.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:58 AM | Permalink

January 14, 2011

Blood Libel

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Palin Is Right About 'Blood Libel'.

Despite the strong association of the term with collective Jewish guilt and concomitant slaughter, Sarah Palin has every right to use it. The expression may be used whenever an amorphous mass is collectively accused of being murderers or accessories to murder.

The abominable element of the blood libel is not that it was used to accuse Jews, but that it was used to accuse innocent Jews—their innocence, rather than their Jewishness, being the operative point. Had the Jews been guilty of any of these heinous acts, the charge would not have been a libel.

--If Jews have learned anything in their long history, it is that a false indictment of murder against any group threatens every group.

--How unfortunate that some have chosen to compound a national tragedy by politicizing the murder of six innocent lives and the attempted assassination of a congresswoman.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:20 PM | Permalink

January 13, 2011

President Obama in Tucson

Suffering from a bad cold, I've been able to read but not write about the horrific shootings in Tucson last Saturday. What I did read left me so dispirited, even discouraged, that I was driven back to bed.

I wanted to read about the victims, those dead and those wounded and about the heros who wrestled the crazy shooter down to the ground. I wanted to know how this tragedy was affecting people who lived in Tucson.   

Instead the news everywhere was not based on facts but on wild speculation and the unhinged political rants of too many people who ought to have known better.   Even the memorial service seemed a raucous event, more a pep rally with shout-outs and T-shirts, hooping and hollering than a solemn occasion to express solidarity in grief.   

Last to speak, President Obama ennobled the entire event with dignity and grace, in what I think was the finest speech of his presidency. He paid tribute to the lives lost, to the heroes, and to the grieving families.   

He was moving, eloquent, and powerful.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. (Applause.)

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “When I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

--

For the truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind. Yes, we have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. (Applause.) But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. (Applause.) That we cannot do. (Applause.) That we cannot do.

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. (Applause.)

--

So sudden loss causes us to look backward -– but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. (Applause.)

--

We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved — (applause)– and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better. (Applause.)

And that process — that process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions –- that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.

He was inspiring and powerfully consoling, just what we, as a nation, needed. If you didn't see it, take the time to do so here
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:40 PM | Permalink

January 3, 2011

Resist the eclipse of reason, preserve the capacity to see the essential, the very future of the world is at stake

Theodore Darlrymple calls Pope Benedict, the "George Orwell of our time".

A great deal of the hostility to the Pope’s visit was likewise caused by his having been right, at least in some things, such as the insufficiency of consumerist materialism as a basis for a satisfactory existence. There are few human types less attractive, surely, than failed materialists, which is what the British, or at least so many of them, now are. They consume without discrimination what they have not earned: which is why many of them are so grotesquely fat as well as so deeply indebted. Indeed, there is scarcely any kind of debt or deficit to which we as a nation have not resorted in order to continue (at least for a time) on our vulgar and degraded way. A nation that behaves thus is quite without honour or self-respect, collective or individual. All this Benedict XVI has seen with a perfectly clear eye; and if what George Orwell once wrote, that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men, we might even call the Pope the George Orwell of our time.

The Pope is becoming more prophetic, even more apocalyptic . In his Christmas address to the Roman curia he calls to mind

the decline of the Roman empire

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. [Awaken your power Lord and come] Repeatedly during the season of Advent the Church’s liturgy prays in these or similar words. They are invocations that were probably formulated as the Roman Empire was in decline. The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.

----

For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure.

addresses the clergy sex abuse crisis again in all its gravity

when in this year of all years [The Year for Priests] and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.

--

Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again

puts it in context,

We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility. But neither can we remain silent regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light. There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society. The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times. From Bishops of developing countries I hear again and again how sexual tourism threatens an entire generation and damages its freedom and its human dignity.

-

In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world – an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it.

seeks its ultimate ideological source

In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a “better than” and a “worse than”. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.

He talks about an awareness of shared responsibility at this moment in history

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will.

The very future of the world is at stake.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:50 AM | Permalink

December 30, 2010

The Balm of Silence

I love snowstorms and snow days for the quiet they bring. The Anchoress is right. For 2011: Unwrap the Silence

We have allowed silence to become a gift forgotten, one we only consent to unwrap when all of our alternative bows and strings have been unraveled, and our diversions have been utterly played out. Our inability to be silent puts our minds and our souls at a disadvantage, because it robs us of the ability to wonder, and if we are not wondering at the impossible perfection of the world in its creation—if we are not wondering at spinning atoms and Incarnations—then we are lost to humility, and to experiencing gratitude.

And, without gratitude, we cannot develop a reasoned capacity for joy.


_aurora_borealis_Iceland .jpg

Sereba Davies reviews the new BBC Two series on The Great Silence which she calls both moving and profound.

This three-part series not only discusses Catholicism but also offers the agnostic an intelligent way in to understanding some of its fundamental ideas, without taking on the full panoply of organised religion. It suggests, instead, that we be silent.

Father Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth and star of BBC Two’s The Monastery a few years ago, believes that silence is the window to the soul, and the soul the window to God. In the series, Father Christopher invites five volunteers to spend a week at St Beuno’s, a Jesuit Centre in Wales, not speaking.

She compares what she sees in the series

In the programme, after middle-aged entrepreneur John, voluble mother of two Trish and the others finally calm down enough to shut up – something which takes most of episode one – the attention they are forced to pay to themselves starts to have an effect. All five recruits get very upset, facing losses and traumas they’ve had to brush under the carpet. Neither Trish nor advertising executive Carrie have given themselves the space to grieve for their deceased fathers; John has an adolescence of abuse still to get over. Now they have to face doing so.

with her experience on Buddhist Vipassana silent retreats and finds similarities

On the face of it, with their hours of sitting stock still, these demand something very different from the Bible reading and prayer that takes place at St Beuno’s. But despite the difference in activities, this welling up of emotions was also my experience and that of those around me. The silence, it seems, may be a critical element in both practices, despite their different trappings.

What is astonishing is what happens after their emotional unburdening, every one of these agnostics, if not atheists, went on to have some sort of spiritual revelation.

The third phase of deep silence, after you’ve listened a while to your restless thoughts, and then observed the emotions that arise when you give them space, involves a wonderful sense of peace which is remarkable in its contrast to the petty anxieties that normally govern our lives

Is silence a necessary pre-condition to this wonderful sense of peace? It would seem so and yet we do everything we can to avoid it because initially it makes us so uncomfortable.   

No Silence, Please, We're Americans writes Tim Muldoon.

There's noise everywhere. In our homes are screens and speakers with images and sounds of every sort. There are signs outside, along the roads, in the stores, on automobiles. There are screens in gas stations, in doctors' offices, restaurants. There are speakers in airports, on elevators, in our cars. We are bombarded by externally-generated thoughts that muscle in on our own. And often they simply replace our own: hence the tendency to brand our Facebook pages with favorite songs, movies, TV shows, and so on, which allow us "plug and play" personalities. In such a context, silence is like withdrawal.

And there's the rub: we've become addicted to noise, anything that distracts us from cultivating the practice of careful thinking, reflection, and its natural consequent: prayer. For when we think, and reflect upon the things we think about, one effect is a sense of wonder at it all.

Muldoon says most of us perceive silence as alien and do everything we can to avoid it.

Distraction is normal in our culture. Contemplativeness, silence and solitude are not.

This is not a new phenomenon.

Blaise Pascal, a gambler, mathematician, physicist, writer and Catholic philosopher wrote in his Pensees, that great masterpiece of French prose published  after his death in 1670:

" I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room, "


"Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's Pensees" (Peter Kreeft, Blaise Pascal)

What is it like to read Pascal these days? Peter Kreeft describes it in the preface to his book.

It is like a roller coaster or an Irish country road or like an underwater cave: you don't know what to expect....Suddenly, without warning, an arrow pierces your heart. You instantly become very, very quiet. You stop breathing. Time stand still. You listen, really listen. To your heart. Pascal no longer speaks from the page of a book, or from history, from the past. It is exactly as if you were haunted, possessed by his ghost.

And you know, you just absolutely know, you have touched the Truth.

What happened to time is the question Kreeft posed to most every one he met for years and no one gave him an adequate answer until he read Pascal's answer.

We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:12 PM | Permalink

December 29, 2010

An atheist argues that belief in God makes you a better person, both morally and practically

Theodore Dalrymple, an atheist, argues belief in God makes you a better person, both morally and practically.

Why religion is good for us

Over the years, my attitude to religion has changed, without my having recovered any kind of belief in God. The best and most devoted people I have ever met were Catholic nuns. Religious belief is seldom accompanied by the inflamed egotism that is so marked and deeply unattractive a phenomenon in our post-religious society. Although the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are said to have given man a more accurate appreciation of his true place in nature, in fact they have rendered him not so much anthropocentric as individually self-centred.

--

Far from being humiliating, the humility of the religious person is deeply consolatory. The secularist is often embittered by the inevitable dissatisfactions of human existence, which are so much at variance with his infinite expectations; by contrast, the religious person appears to have a mature understanding and acceptance of disappointment and limitation. He is not like a child who is continually having his toys snatched from his hand.

--Moreover, the religious idea of compassion is greatly superior, both morally and practically, to the secular one. The secular person believes that compassion is due to the victim by virtue of what he has suffered; the religious person believes that compassion is due to everyone, by virtue of his humanity.

-- The secularist de-moralises the world, thus increasing the vulnerability of potential victims and, not coincidentally, their need for a professional apparatus of protection, which is and always will be ineffective, and is therefore fundamentally corrupt and corrupting. If a person is not a victim pure and simple, the secularist feels he is owed no compassion.

--The religious person, by contrast, is unembarrassed by the moral failings that lead people to act self-destructively because that is precisely what he knows man has been like since the expulsion from Eden. Because he knows that man is weak, and has no need to disguise his failings, either from himself or from others, he can be honest in a way that the secularist finds impossible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 AM | Permalink

December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas

As a mighty snowstorm wails about us, it's fine time to experience more of Christmas on the web.

Singing your heart out at Christmas is good for you.  

In England, the charity Heart Research UK encourages everyone to sing for the benefits it brings

"As it's an aerobic activity singing improves heart health with related benefits to overall health and is linked to longevity, stress reduction, and general health maintenance.

"Singing also brings a great amount of happiness. It is impossible to sing well with a long face because it affects your pitch. Keeping the positive momentum up is essential. If we smile as we sing then people soon feel the benefit in more ways than one."

Professor Graham Welch says the human body is integrated.

"The physical, mental and emotional - these three things are interwoven.

"Because music is multi-sited in the brain and we're also involving ourselves in strong aerobic activity and singing is a form of exercise, it means there's a release of what's called the pleasure hormone.

"But when we sing we also see a measurable decrease in stress hormones like cortisol - a direct correlation in the physical endocrine system." And communal singing - like in a choir, a church service or even a singsong in the pub - helps boost our sense of self-esteem.

Yo Yo Ma plays and Alison Krauss, she of absolute angelic voice, sings The Wexford Carol, the oldest extant carol in the West, first sung more than 900 years ago in County Wexford, Ireland.



Father Barron, in his inimitable way, comments on the spiritual ancestors of Jesus,   On the genealogy of Jesus  The beginning of St Matthew's Gospel - which itself begins the New Testament - situates Jesus among the people of Israel. Sprinkled among his forbearers were Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and also a prostitute, a murderer, an outsider and several people about whom we know nothing. Barron says God entered fully into the ambiguity of the human condition and all the dysfunction of the human family. That is the good news.

Pope Benedict in his Christmas message said
Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is "Emmanuel", God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.

This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth

One can reflect endlessly on the implications for all of us the startling, astonishing news of the Incarnation of God in a little tiny baby in the little town of Bethlehem. Bing Crosby tells the story of One solitary life.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

--Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.


As Christians celebrate around the world, in Iraq, the requiem for that country's Christians may be tolling.
After Al-Qaida's October 31 massacre at a central Baghdad church, thousands of Christians have decided that their homeland is no longer safe. [...] "Contacting the authorities forces us to identify ourselves, and we aren't certain that some of the people threatening us aren't the people in the government offices that are supposed to be protecting us," one Christian Iraqi told the newspaper Sawt al-Iraq. Others have reported masked men coming to their homes at night and demanding that they "convert to Islam, leave or die."
Defying all the threats, hundreds of Catholics packed Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad
The attack has left many reeling. "Last year, we were all gathering" for Christmas, said Uday Saadallah Abdal. But "this year, I went to the house, and I saw it was empty... I was crying all night, because no one was here any more," he said.
The 28-year-old said two of his brothers were killed in the attack - one of the priests, Father Thair, and another brother Raed. His mother was also shot three times, and is hospitalised in France. "I feel that their souls are still there in the church; that is why I came. They encourage me to come here despite all the danger and threats.
More violence against Christians as 38 killed in Nigerian Christmas Weekend Attacks
Local police suspect radical Muslim group Boko Haram, which has a history of anti-Christian violence, in the church attacks. In the northern town of Maiduguri, armed men dragged the pastor of Victory Baptist Church out of his home and then shot him to death. Two men rehearsing for the carol service at the church and two people walking nearby were also killed. Afterwards, the mob set the church and pastor’s house on fire, according to The Associated Press. Also within the same city and on the same day, another group of men attacked the Church of Christ in Nigeria and killed an elderly security guard.

Now for the fascinating and astonishing astronomical explanation for the star of Bethlehem, the King Star at Word Around the Net .

For a long time people speculated on what this could have been: a nova, a comet, a meteorite, and so on. Each time a little more information was discovered, people got a little closer, but it was the study of Rick Larson which has uncovered the best case yet for the actual star and what it was. The full explanation of this is at Bethlehemstar.net. --
--What they saw which caught their attention was this: Jupiter went into apparent retrograde motion three times around Regulus. It circled over and over - saying "king, king, king" as Larson puts it - which caught the attention of the magi. And what's more, the constellation (again recognized by both Persia and Rome) which Regulus is found is what we call Leo, the lion. The lion is the sign of the tribe of Judah, the ruling tribe of the Israelites. This wouldn't have been significant if the Jewish people had not been so important to and noticed by the Persian people, particularly Daniel and Esther.

-- A few months after the king dance around Regulus, Jupiter aligns with Venus. So now you have the king star, the biggest star in the night sky, lining up almost exactly with the mother star, the brightest star in the night sky. That was enough for the magi to get moving. If they weren't sure what was going on the first event, they had a pretty good idea what was happening now. Because this wasn't something that anyone alive had ever seen before - it happens roughly ever 155 years - and after the first event, it was too significant to ignore.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:54 PM | Permalink

December 25, 2010

"Alpha and Omega is sitting in Mommy's lap"

Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Pope Benedict at Midnight Mass

This child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might. This child builds his kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart.

--

Cantare amantis est says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace.

_nativity -botna.jpg

Monsignor Charles Pope, Touched by God at Christmas

The infinite is an infant. He who looks down upon all creation now looks up from a cradle. He who spoke worlds into existence, now sounds forth with the cry of an infant. Another old Latin hymn captures mystery and the warmth of the moment: Alpha et O, matris in gremio (Alpha and omega is sitting in mommy’s lap). And from his mother’s lap he beckons us to approach and touch him. This day, we touch our God, and God touches us.

the Lord didn’t just come to get us out of trouble, but to get into trouble with us. Today the Lord meets us where we are. And some us are in trouble right now. All of us have known trouble. And the Lord loves us enough to get down into the trouble with us. You see, he is not born in a palace, or even a comfortable place. He is not born into privilege, He is born in poverty. He is, at least for now, homeless, born in a smelly cave intended for animals, unfit for human habitation. Soon enough he and his family will have to flee for their lives and live as refugees in a strange and foreign land. Later he will endure trials and temptations in the desert, exhausting journeys as he preaches and teaches, inept disciples, fickle crowds, mounting persecution and hatred, crucifixion and horrifying death. Yes, the Lord knows our trouble, first hand.


Cosmic Greetings from NASA 2010 via Vanderleun
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:09 PM | Permalink

December 22, 2010

'Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent'

Christmas is almost here. Billboard called Cynthia Clawson "The most awesome voice in gospel music"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink

December 7, 2010

"He brought a sense of tranquility and faith back to the people"

Rev David Beaumont, a Franciscan priest from Hempstead, N.Y. is the American missionary who brings solace to a drug-torn Mexican region.

When Beaumont arrived here 20 years ago as a young missionary, the roads were unpaved, there was no electricity, and there was little to eat besides beans and tortillas. He'd been sent to serve dirt-poor Pima Indians, some of whom were still living in caves, but they ran and hid whenever he arrived in their villages.

"Sometimes I think it was easier back then," said Beaumont, 50, laughing at that memory as he rumbled along a dirt road in a pickup truck and the tattered brown friar's habit he wears over bluejeans. With his long beard and hair, and 6-foot-3 frame, he is an emissary for peace, humility and love in one of the largest and most dangerous drug-growing areas in the world.

Today, Beaumont speaks four local indigenous languages, and English so seldom that his pronunciation has taken on a Mexican lilt. "David has dedicated his life to this place," said Cesar Lozano, an apprentice friar on a one-year assignment to help Beaumont. "He embraces the people wherever he goes, and he does not judge them. He is completely devoted to Christ."

_Fther_Dave_BEaumont_Mexico.jpg

Beaumont has also lived in the Sierra Madre long enough that he does not mention the cartels by name, nor speak out against growing marijuana and opium poppies. The friar's habit is not a bulletproof vest.

"I know the first person who planted marijuana here," Beaumont said, laughing again. "He still comes to Mass sometimes."

After a particularly vicious killing of a 73-year-old man, the people were terrorized.

Three weeks later, Beaumont organized a religious procession along the highway. A thousand people came, marching with icons of Saint Francis and the Virgin of Guadalupe. "The message we wanted to send was: We live here, we have the right to live here, and we will continue to live here," Beaumont said. The Pimas returned to their homes.

"He brought a sense of tranquility and faith back to the people," said Isaul Holguin, a town official in Yecora. "They feel he protects them." The military also put a new checkpoint along the highway. The armed men from Chihuahua have not come back.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 AM | Permalink

December 3, 2010

Light of the World

According to Forbes Magazine, Pope Benedict is the fifth most powerful man in the world just behind Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and just ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Called the "highest earthly authority for 1.1. billion souls", one-sixth of the world's population, he was anoted for "healing old wounds" in September when he became the first pope to visit London's Westminster Abbey.


"Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times" (Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI)

Last week Light of the World, a far-ranging and candid interview of Pope Benedict by Peter Seevald , was published here in the United States by Ignatius Press. For those of you who don't have the time or the inclination to read the whole book, yet are interested in what he has to say, I offer you this review by Robert Barron.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

December 2, 2010

The most persecuted religion in the world

Report shows that Christians are the most persecuted religion in the world.

Out of every ten people, seven can not live their faith in full freedom. And the most persecuted religion is Christianity, with at least 200 million people suffering from discrimination.

“Political oppression and discrimination, come from countries like China, from Cuba, from North Korea, and from countries like Vietnam.”

--

“Places like Saudi Arabia where it's impossible for any Christian or indeed any other group, non-Muslim group, to organize and to have open public prayer. We think of places like Somalia, or we think of Sudan.”

--

The report also reveals that religious freedom has declined in the United States and Europe by the radicalization of secularism. Especially in countries like Spain, which prohibits the presence of religious symbols in public places. France was cited for the discrimination of Islamic communities and Germany for the hostility of some sectors against the Catholic Church because of its position on family issues and defense of life.

Here's an example of the radicalization of secularism: The Southern poverty Law Center has classified 18 pro-family groups as "hate" groups including the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage.

In response, FRC president Tony Perkins charged that the SPLC was engaging in “a deliberately timed smear campaign” against FRC’s nearly 30 years of action “with civility and passion.”

“We hold to the indisputable fact that the family- a Dad, a Mom, and children - is the best building block of a good society, which is why we oppose efforts to transform it based on personal sexual preference,” he said in a Nov. 24 statement.

He called on the law center to apologize for its “slanderous attack and attempted character assassination.”

Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the board for the National Organization for Marriage, spoke about the SPLC article and list in a Nov. 29 interview with CNA. She called it an “absurd distraction” and a “very sad” move for “a once-great civil rights organization.”

“What we’re seeing now is the next phase of the gay rights movement,” she warned. She noted homosexual rights activist Dan Savage’s claim in the Washington Post that the country should get to a point where same-sex marriage isn’t debatable.

“This is part of the unfolding process of attempting to redefine Christian teaching on sex and marriage as the moral, legal and cultural equivalent of racism.”

“I do believe this is the goal of the architects of the gay marriage movement,” Gallagher stated. “And they’re making it very clear.

In a Nov. 29 e-mail to CNA, Princeton University law professor and National Organization for Marriage chairman emeritus Robert P. George compared the action to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s smearing of opponents by accusing them of being communist sympathizers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:18 AM | Permalink

November 15, 2010

Religious are less stressed

Numerous studies have reported on the health benefits — both mental and physical — of religious belief. But precisely why faith is linked to higher levels of well-being and lower levels of mortality remains something of a mystery.

Newly published research provides an intriguing clue: When they make a mistake, religious people are less likely to get stressed out about it.

And God Said, 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff'.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:40 PM | Permalink

October 25, 2010

Faith and Belief

In the Huffington Post,  Philip Yancey answers the question more people are asking, What Good is God?  A journalist, he traveled to six different countries to find whether faith made a positive difference and he concluded, it does in significant ways.

First, the Christian faith has an enormous influence on the broader culture...with one or two exceptions (notably Japan and Singapore), the nations that are most prosperous, most free and most resistant to corruption all have a strong Christian heritage
__
Secondly, the Christian faith affects community...
---
Finally, faith transforms individuals. I visited a conference of organizations that work with victims of human trafficking. There, I interviewed several score former prostitutes or "sex workers," the term they prefer. Far from the glamorous portrayals of prostitutes on television, sex workers in poor countries face hardship, abuse and degradation. One by one they told me of the transformation that took place as they experienced forgiveness from guilt and a dawning realization that God loved them despite their feelings of shame and humiliation

Faced with his own up-close encounter with death when he was told he might not survive the day, he decided only three things matter:

Whom do I love? How have I lived my life? Am I ready for whatever is next? Like others, I have found meaningful answers to those questions in my Christian faith.

But what is this Christian faith?  What does it mean to believe? Father Stephen explains on Believe It or Not

To believe the truth is not the same thing as having a correct opinion – indeed the two have almost nothing to do with one another. And this is a great difficulty – for most of the things that we think of ourselves as believing – we in fact only hold as opinions. What a man believes, in the way the word is used in the New Testament, is not seen or heard in the syllogisms he is willing to confess, but rather in how he lives his life.

Thus, when the Scriptures seek to express what it is to have faith in God, the images cease to have any particular intellectual content (or virtually no such content). Instead, Christ will use images such as a vine and its branches. To believe in Christ, to hold to Christ as Lord and God is to be like a branch to a vine. ... This is not an intellectual image but is a very understandable image of a way of life....  To accept that Christ is the Truth is more like accepting that the air in a room I am entering is breathable (and then breathing).
--

To believe the truth is to venture onto the holy ground of reality and not the fantasy of well-formed ideas. On holy ground we remove our shoes and remain silent – giving voice to words of praise letting words possess integrity. It is a very difficult thing indeed.

It is a rare thing to meet a man who believes in God – but it is a life-changing encounter. May God give us all the grace to believe.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:31 PM | Permalink

October 16, 2010

Viva Chile

To watch these men each enter the capsule Phoenix and then be tugged slowly to the sky and there released embrace family and officials whose efforts made their new lives possible was one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen on television.

I'm with Peggy Noonan who writes Viva Chile!  They Left No Man Behind

the saving of those men gave us something we don't see enough, a brilliant example of human excellence—of cohesion, of united and committed action, of planning and execution, of caring. They used the human brain and spirit to save life. All we get all day every day is scandal. But this inspired.

Viva Chile. They left no man behind.That is what our U.S. Army Rangers say, and our Marines: We leave no man behind. It has a meaning, this military motto, this way of operating. It means you are not alone, you are part of something. Your brothers are with you, here they come. Chile, in leaving no man behind, in insisting that the San José mine was a disaster area but not a tomb, showed itself to be a huge example of that little thing that is at the core of every society: a fully functioning family. A cohering unit that can make its way through the world.
--
So many nations and leaders have grown gifted at talk. .... But Chile this week moved the world not by talking but by doing, not by mouthing sympathy for the miners, but by saving them. The whole country—the engineers and technicians, the president, the government, the rescue workers, other miners, medics—set itself to doing something hard, specific, physical, demanding of commitment, precision and expertise. And they did it.

For two weeks they were entombed deep in the earth and no one knew they were alive.  They had almost no food and no water.    What kept them from descending even further into despair?    I can only think it was their strong faith.  Growing up in a strongly Christian culture gave them the resources that enabled them to survive a disastrous, hellish situation in such a splendid manner. 

It was surely praying at their 'makeshift shrine' that kept the Chilean miners sane.

What nobody has done so far – that I have seen (I may be wrong of course, there has been vast international coverage of this story) – is to give a convincing account of what it is that has kept the men sane and united and undespairing, what has sustained their hope of deliverance from this truly appalling ordeal. And I have no doubt at all that it was their religion and that that there weren’t that many Adventists or Evangelicals down there.

Consider the following CNA report from Santiago, which appeared on August 27: “The 33 miners trapped in the San Jose mine in Atacama, Chile, have requested that statues and religious pictures be sent down to them as they wait to be rescued… Chilean officials say the rescue could take months but that they hope to reach the miners by Christmas… A small passageway has already been put in place so messages and supplies can be sent to the trapped miners.

“Although a crucifix has already been sent down, the miners are continuing to request more statues of Mary and the saints… to construct a makeshift chapel. ‘The miners want to set up a section of the chamber they are in as a shrine,

"God won" writes Deacon Greg

Aren't we supposed to be unfazed by this sort of thing?

Aren't we supposed to shrug it all off, attribute it to science and engineering and the sheer grit of the human psyche? 

Isn't it supposed to have more to do with willpower than wonder? We live in a post-Christian world now, don't we?  To paraphrase Tina Turner: what's God got to do with it?

Well, it seems, everything.

We sit here in our living rooms and offices, sipping coffee and checking e-mails, and hour after hour, another one emerges, up a long dark hole, to a shaft of daylight, and there are cheers and tears -- and then something more.  Something that moves even the most hardened heart.  The world is blinking back tears as we see it, again and again.  One man, breathing his first fresh air in months, falls to his knees and prays. Another makes the sign of the cross. And in the media-saturated aftermath, one of the miners is interviewed on camera, still wearing his dark glasses, still numbed by it all, and he puts it in terms we can all understand. It sounds so simple -- to some, I'm sure, simplistic -- but it all makes perfect sense.

"I've been near God, but I've also been near the devil," he says through a translator. "God won."

 Chileestebanrojas18Threscued

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:30 AM | Permalink

October 8, 2010

"Inhuman Humanism"

Christians cannot ignore the crisis of faith that has come to society, or simply trust that the patrimony of the values transmitted in the course of past centuries can continue inspiring and shaping the future of the human family. The idea of living "as if God didn't exist" has shown itself to be deadly: The world needs, rather, to live "as if God existed," even if it does not have the strength to believe; otherwise it will only produce an "inhuman humanism."

Pope Benedict XVI in his address at the close of the Vatican Congress on the Catholic Press via Whispers in the Loggia, "The Masterful Way of Truth."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:43 PM | Permalink

October 7, 2010

The most fundamental question of the modern age

James Schall reflects on Pope Benedict's visit to Britain and the question he left us all to ponder, "The Ultimate Meaning of Our Human Existence."

On reflecting on this visit, no Briton, I think, whatever be the fame of English practicality, can help but wonder, if he has not before, "What is the ultimate meaning of our existence?" He did not have this question addressed to him in the Times or the Guardian but in the reflections of Benedict XVI, the Successor to Peter. It is still the most fundamental question of the modern age.

More rippling effects of Benedict's visit come from the venerable Bede,  English, atheist and blogger, who subjects Richard Dawkins to a serious intellectual flogging for his speech at the Protest the Pope Rally in London which Bede calls a "miserable performance".

One other thing announces itself with curious clarity in Dawkins's diatribe, and that's his resentment at Ratzinger being acclaimed as an important intellectual.

The only way to dispute Ratzinger's stature as a major intellect is to refuse to listen to anything he has to say; the only way to deny that his view of modern society's ills is cogent and valid is to deny his central thesis, and cling to the 'everything is wonderful in our secular paradise' mantra that Dawkins and all the rest so shamefully endorse.

Ratzinger is a bigger thinker, a better thinker, because he starts from the premise that there is something deeply wrong: the grown-up's premise.

To merely accept this as a starting base takes courage, but without doing so nothing can be achieved. A world view - still more one that assumes entitlement to authority - that does not begin from this base is dangerous, cowardly and irrelevant.

If, like me, you don't like some of Ratzinger's answers then great - let the civilised adult debate begin. But if you'd rather attach condoms to an umbrella and parade through London with a bunch of dipsticks you rule yourself out of all serious consideration. Ratzinger is asking for a debate on some big subjects, and the best these supposed intellectual heavyweights can do is call him names, ignore the questions, and congratulate each other as the waters rise around their ugly necks.

He would trust the Pope before Dawkins.

But compare Ratzinger's rigorous analysis of the "loss of an awareness of intangible moral values" in a culture that "sees in its own history only what is blameworthy and destructive [and] is no longer capable of perceiving what is great and pure" with the ghastly fluffy-bunny 'consciousness raising' of Dawkins's recent sermons and decide for yourself in whose hands your future would be safer.

Britain Gobsmacked by Pope Benedict

At a conference in Rome this evening, barrister and president of Britain’s Catholic Union, Jamie Bogle, told me, “The secular atheist liberals and their friends in the media are going to take a long time to get over this visit. Because they thought they were on a winner. They thought they were going to, if not arrest the pope, at least seriously embarrass him.

“And this little guy in white just flattened them. His gentle, calm, soft-spoken approach just won everybody over. And the demonstrations faded away.”

--
The pope’s addresses, delivered barely above a whisper, made his detractors look “ridiculous, like children throwing their toys out of the pram because they couldn’t have their own way.” And today the pope’s opponents are left with little to say. “They’re nonplussed and confused” Fr. Allan said, “astonished.” “They didn’t expect people to respond as they have done.”

“They don’t understand why the British people listened to him. Why they wanted to see him. Everything the pope said is outside their mindset.”

The pope’s messages, that Christianity has a foundational place in the building of a just society, one that cannot be suppressed without destroying the foundations of freedom, were delivered fearlessly but gently, in a tone that one had to strain to hear and with an accent one had to concentrate to understand.

“He was just stating the truth,” Fr. Allan said. “It’s really swept people off their feet.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:23 PM | Permalink

September 28, 2010

Benedict's Visit to the UK

A round-up of reactions to Pope Benedict's visit to the U.K.

Benedict Wows Britain

Pope Benedict’s declarations over the past few days have been remarkable and, in modern Britain, virtually unprecedented,” writes English columnist Stephen Glover in today’s Daily Mail. “They were delivered in the calmest, meekest and least ranting way possible, and yet they carried a great authority that largely comes, I think, from the Pope’s evident goodness as well as from the dignity of his office. Even hard-hearted cynics and skeptics could not fail to listen.”

At Westminster Hall, the Daily Mail describes the Pope's battle to save Christmas: Don't let atheists crush your traditions.

Easter and Christmas should not be discouraged by fear of offending others
Christians in public roles should be allowed to act according to conscience
Lack of ethical foundation resulted in financial crisis, he tells politicians
Applause for Pope as he continues without incident despite terror threat

Telegraph View:

It was refreshing to hear Benedict XVI, in his Westminster Hall speech, defend Christians against the current wave of militant secularism.
--
Something unexpected is happening during the papal visit to this country: the British public is listening with curiosity and genuine respect to Pope Benedict XVI.
--
Militant secularists have taken our tradition of tolerance and whittled it down to something quite different: toleration for a narrow spectrum of liberal-approved beliefs.

I am the successor of St.Peter, Pope reminds congregation in Westminster Abbey  Damian Thompson writes

That’s what I love about Benedict: he shows the utmost courtesy but never, ever attempts to obscure reality with platitudes.

Prime Minister David Cameron

told Pope Benedict XVI in a powerful farewell speech that his visit had made Britain “sit up and think”.

He cited the Pope’s speech in Westminster Hall on Friday, saying that “faith is not a problem for legislators to solve but rather a vital part of our national conversation”.

He said the Pope’s lesson for Britons had been “to follow our conscience, to ask not what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities; to ask not what we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for others”.

The Pope has routed his enemies and brought joy to the faithful

The richness, volume and sheer variety of the teaching the Pope gave us, and its perfect suitability for each of its many very different audiences, ranging from his intellectually hugely impressive address to the leaders of civil society in Westminster Hall to his call to that enthusiastic audience of schoolchildren to aim at becoming saints, was astonishing. And perhaps the first thing that needs to be said is that this was above all a personal triumph for the Holy Father himself. What came over consistently was the huge warmth, the seemingly inexhaustible loving kindness of the Pope’s gentle but nevertheless powerful personality. After all the caricatures, the man emerged.

The key to the Pope's success in Great Britain writes Phil Lawler

Pope Benedict’s personal style is quiet and ingratiating. His evident humility, and the deference with which he treats others, make it impossible for the public to continue thinking of him as the media had portrayed him. The people of Great Britain did not see a stern, rigid ideologue. They saw a mild, self-deprecating man who treated them with respect—and, because he respected them, told them the truth.

As he said several times during his visit,
Pope Benedict saw Britain as a society longing for faith, thirsting for the truth. The reaction to his words proves that he was right. He offered his audiences the truths of the Catholic faith—without bombast, without polemics, but also without apology. And the crowds were fascinated.
--
Human nature abhors a vacuum, and now
into this vacuum of moral leadership strode Pope Benedict, proclaiming truths that might not be welcomed by a secularized audience, but must be recognized as consistent and compelling, worthy at least of some consideration—enough to make people “sit up and think.”

Roger Scruton calls the Pope, the Missionary to the Multiculturalists in post-Christian Britain

The most positive effect of the Pope’s visit, however, was one that even the BBC could not prevent — and that was the public display of Roman Catholic ritual at its most gorgeous and replete. For many television viewers the mass at Westminster Cathedral was their first experience of sacramental religion. The mystical identity between the ordinary worshipper and the crucified Christ is something that can be enacted, but never explained. It is enacted in the Mass, and as Cardinal Newman recognized, it is the felt reality of Christ’s presence that is the true gift of Christianity to its followers. For those who experience it the quibbles of the atheists and the protestors seem as trivial as BBC News. For many Englishmen, I suspect, the Pope’s Westminster mass was the first inkling of what Christianity really means.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:14 PM | Permalink

September 25, 2010

The Other Hitchens

The Hitchens brothers, Christopher and Peter, were both atheists, one came to robust faith, one didn't. 

Father Robert Barron, the best Catholic evangelist around and the one most likely to cross over into general public awareness and slip into the shoes of Fulton J. Sheen, will begin a nationally televised program October 3 from Chicago, "Word on Fire with Father Barron"

The mission of his  media ministry Word on Fire is to educate and engage the culture.  That he does with YouTube videos discussing current events or articles of faith or reviewing films  which is where I first encountered him.  Here is his penetrating analysis on the current film starring Julia Roberts,  Eat, Pray, Love.

But I want to show you is his video on Peter Hitchens and his new book, The Rage Against God, because it touches on one of my greatest concerns, the slow collapse of our common inheritance, Western civilization with its ideas of the inviolability of the freedom of the individual, through indifference, even hostility, to the foundation that made it possible. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:24 AM | Permalink

September 16, 2010

"Benedict XVI is looking for allies in what he believes is a war for the soul of Europe"

While Pope John Paul II did visit England nearly 30 years ago in a "pastoral visit",  today Pope Benedict XVI begins the first official state visit of a Pope to Scotland and England.

CNN asks a reasonable question, Why is he going?  Terry Mattingly at Get Religon writes

To cut to the chase: Benedict XVI is looking for allies in what he believes is a war for the soul of Europe.

The British blogger known as Archbishop Cranmer welcomes the Pope despite what appears to be an aggressive anti-Catholic and anti-Christian atmosphere.

For Pope Benedict XVI comes to the United Kingdom at a time when the Christian conscience is besieged, the national church cowed and our liberties undermined in ways they have not been for centuries. Nurses dare not pray or wear a crucifix; teachers dare not mention Jesus and the school receptionist dare not ask for prayer. If you work for BA, turbans, karas and hijabs are fine, but don’t even think about wearing a cross. Christians are no longer free to be foster parents, registrars, hotel owners or B&B proprietors. Bishops may no longer uphold orthodoxy, street preachers may not quote Scripture, and adoption agencies must act against their conscience or close.

Elizabeth Scalia, best known as the Anchoress, wrote about the Twentieth Century's Last Great Figures earlier this week.

Both Elizabeth and Benedict have seen war and its woeful aftermath, up close. They have watched totalitarian regimes advance and decline, and seen religion used as a justification for slaughter. They know what the rhetorical jackboot sounds like and how seamlessly it can advance; they can speak to our time, if we let them.
--
Elizabeth and Benedict, despite obvious differences, may take some comfort in each other’s brief company. Almost no one on the planet knows what they know; perhaps no one in current leadership can see and–with the eloquence born of experience–speak to past and future days, from their lonely thrones and balconies.

And sure enough, the Pope in his comments before the Queen who gave him a state welcome at the Palace of HolyRoodHouse in Edinburgh, offered his hand in friendship to the U.K.said

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives.

As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny"

 Pope Holyrood

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

September 9, 2010

Papal Visit Tartan

With Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United Kingdom a week away,  I've been interested in the stories of the artists, musicians and craftsmen who were chosen to create something to use during or to mark the historical event. 

However, this is a first - Custom Scottish plaid created to celebrate papal visit.

Papal-Visit-Tartan
Cardinal Keith O'Brien unveils the worlds first Papal visit plaid, the St Ninian's Day Tartan, also worn by a piper, near the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland,

The North Carolina creator of the design said the interlocking pattern of stripes tells the story of the Catholic Church in Scotland while interweaving elements of next week's trip.
--
Matthew Newsome, director of the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin, North Carolina, drew it up especially for the Sept. 16 occasion.

"Thrilled" that his design was chosen to be woven by a pair of Scottish companies for the trip, Newsome said that every element of the multi-color traditional pattern has a meaning behind it.

The tartan's "white line on blue field draws upon Scotland's national colors while the green reflects the lichens growing on the stones of Whithorn in Galloway," he said, explaining that it was there that the missionary St. Ninian arrived 1,600 years ago.

St. Ninian's feast day will be observed in a very special way this year as it coincides with the arrival of the Pope in Scotland.

Red lines also accompany the white lines, said Newsome, which is in remembrance of the colors of Cardinal John Henry Newman's crest, and thin yellow lines were also put alongside the white to reflect the colors of the Holy See.

He added, "(i)n terms of the weaving, each white line on the green contains exactly eight threads, one for each Catholic diocese in Scotland. There are 452 threads in the design from pivot to pivot, representing the number of Catholic parishes."
--

The design was presented by Cardinal Keith O'Brien and Newsome to members of Scottish parliament on Thursday afternoon. Every one of the 129 members received a tie or scarf with the design.

Cardinal O'Brien noted, “It’s a great honor to be able to hand over the first ever tartan created for a Papal Visit as a thank you to all the Holyrood parliamentarians who have been so overwhelmingly supportive of this visit, knowing it means so much to the Catholic community and many others in this country.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:07 PM | Permalink

September 8, 2010

On the shores of a great ocean

Richard Fernandez in Children of a Lesser God

At the last we are left exactly where we were: on the shores of a great ocean whose extent we do not know, condemned to live out our lives partly on the basis of things we can only guess.

Some will decide that for purely arbitrary reasons we have been granted a glimpse into a mighty, soulless and uncaring mechanism and leave it at that.

Some will strike out on another path. They will not watch, but live on the shores of this great sea. There they will build their homes, care for their children and sacrifice their lives for things that have meaning, yet which others will regard as not only meaningless but as incapable of meaning.

The argument is probably unsettleable and the two tribes are doomed to live side by side for whatever amounts to forever. Blaise Pascal believed that you could never know which of these points of view was correct. He advised everyone to make his wager and live life accordingly. Being the gambler, Pascal decided that if he wagered, he would bet to win.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:58 PM | Permalink

September 1, 2010

Ora et labora and the revalorization of the trades

I thought One of my favorite writers, Camille Paglia,  on a subject dear to my heart, Revalorizing the Trades

Having taught in art schools for most of my four decades in the classroom, I am used to having students who work with their hands—ceramicists, weavers, woodworkers, metal smiths, jazz drummers. There is a calm, centered, Zen-like engagement with the physical world in their lives. In contrast, I see glib, cynical, neurotic elite-school graduates roiling everywhere in journalism and the media. They have been ill-served by their trendy, word-centered educations.
------
Jobs, jobs, jobs: We need a sweeping revalorization of the trades. The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.

The elite schools, predicated on molding students into mirror images of their professors, seem divorced from any rational consideration of human happiness.

One of my earlier posts also quoted Paglia on the same subject.   

Perhaps there's hope of change because of the tens of thousands of liberal arts graduates with expensive degrees who are finding themselves out of work and depressingly marginalized in a society where the manual trades offer guaranteed employment at relatively high wages. A dose of Buddhism might do people good: Sweeping garden sand into oceanic designs around ornamental rocks is considered a spiritual exercise in Asia. I say that landscaping, construction, carpentry, metalworking and all the other trades should be promoted by primary education as worthy careers for both men and women. The pre-college rat race is a sadomasochistic imposition on the young that robs them of free will and saps their vital energies. When will they rebel?

But my favorite old post on this subject is Happy Like the Muffler Man. 

When St. Benedict, later credited as the father of Western monasticism, wrote his rule back in the sixth century, he dignified manual labor and required it of all the monks.  Work was holy and  he believed a balanced life of prayer and work was ideal for the happiness, bonding and contemplative life of the small monasteries then beginning  to spread across Europe.  Ora et labora became the Benedictine  motto.      Even today, monasteries derive their income from physical and manual labor.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:21 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

August 31, 2010

Gerotranscendence

Lars Tornstam coined the word "gerotransendence" to describe a state in later life.


Simply put, gerotranscendence is a shift in meta perspective, from a materialistic and rational view of the world to a more cosmic and transcendent one, normally accompanied by an increase in life satisfaction.

Gerotranscendence is regarded as t
he final stage in a possible natural progression towards maturation and wisdom. According to the empirically based theory, the individual moving towards gerotranscendence may experience a series of gerotranscendental changes or developments. These typically include a redefinition of the Self and of relationships to others and a new understanding of fundamental existential questions. The individual becomes, for example, less self occupied and at the same time more selective in the choice of social and other activities. There is an increased feeling of affinity with past generations and a decreased interest in superfluous social interaction. The individual might also experience a decreased interest in material things and a greater need for solitary "meditation". Positive solitude becomes more important. There is also often a feeling of cosmic communion with the spirit of the universe, and a redefinition of time, space, life and death

I wouldn't have known about gerotranscendence, although I've experienced some of it, it were it not for Paula Span. Nor would I know that this is so contrary to what people expect about old age, that many children and caretakers often label this behavior as "pathological."

Take for example the fact that some elderly people confuse past and present. Are they improperly oriented in time and place? Or are they experiencing a transcendence of the borders of time? Dr Tornstam argues

old people who experience these changes (including greater spontaneity and playfulness, less self-absorption, and feelings of “cosmic transcendence”) take greater satisfaction in their lives.

Her post on Aging's Misunderstood Virtues in in the New York Times includes an interview with Lars Tornstam.

But perhaps there’s nothing wrong, said Dr. Tornstam, who has been investigating aging for more than 25 years. Our values and interests don’t usually remain static from the time we’re 20 years old until the time we’re 45, so why do we expect that sort of consistency in later decades?
“We develop and change; we mature,” he told me in a phone interview from his home in Uppsala, Sweden. “It’s a process that goes on all our lives, and it doesn’t ever end. The mistake we make in middle age is thinking that good aging means continuing to be the way we were at 50. Maybe it’s not.”

An increased need for solitude, and for the company of only a few intimates, is one of the traits Dr. Tornstam attributes to this continuing maturation. So that elderly mother isn’t deteriorating, necessarily — she’s evolving. “People tell us they are different people at 80,” Dr. Tornstam explained. “They have new interests, and they have left some things behind.”
--
When he began publishing his work in the mid 1980s, it made a bit of a splash. “It was so unusual,” recalled Merril Silverstein, a social gerontologist at the University of Southern California, who teaches about Dr. Tornstam’s theory, though he remains somewhat skeptical about it. “It turns on its head the current ideas about ‘successful aging’ — avoiding disease, remaining productive, forming social relationships. This advocates the opposite, a retreat into your own consciousness.”.

If you're interested in learning more about Gerotranscendence, you can download Tornstam's 2 page pamphlet here.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:22 PM | Permalink

August 30, 2010

"The psalms are a perfect reflection of the human condition"

The Anchoress at Summa This, Summa That gives us a refreshing look at what true religion can offer that moral therapeutic deism cannot in The Bliss of the Divine Office.

I cannot tell you how often I open the LOTH and find in the antiphon and psalms the exact reflection of where my heart and mind are.

This should not surprise, though. The psalms are a perfect reflection of the human condition – even the “cursing” psalms, which can be terrifying because they so accurately articulate that which is alive within us that can ultimately destroy us.

That particular morning brought Psalm 102, and it was just what I needed:

I have become like a pelican in the wilderness,
like an owl in desolate places.
I like awake and I moan
like some lonely bird on a roof.

but oh, how it ends – on what a note of triumph:

Long ago you founded the earth
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish but you will remain.
They will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like clothes that are changed.
But you neither change, nor have an end.

A beautiful depiction of the constant-renewal of the world and all Creation in it, including you and me.

----

And in all of that, we are His raiment, and whether we consent to it or not, we will eventually be worn out and put away, and He will go on, living in others, arrayed in whatever garment they offer. Whether we are thin, fat, old, young, fit orparalyzed, or even “born with half a brain,” God suits up within us, and we either let him do his thing, or we hold him back. If we cannot make him a perfect Temple, we have the opportunity, at least, to say “it’s all I have, O Christ, but please use it as you will.”

Well, if God is going to suit up with us–and he is–then no wonder Thomas Merton looked at the people at Fourth and Walnut and saw them shining like the sun!

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:56 AM | Permalink

Mutant Ninja Christians

In More teens becoming 'fake' Christians, CNN reports on a study by Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of Almost Christian

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.

--She says this "imposter'' faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

"If this is the God they're seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust," Dean says. "Churches don't give them enough to be passionate about."

This is not the first time I’ve heard about moral therapeutic deism and teenagers. Albert Mohler wrote about it five years ago about the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:

1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."

2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."

3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."

4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."

5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and "whatever."


American teen-agers, he said, are heavily influenced by the “ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture.”

As the researchers explained, "This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God's love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera.

Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."


What it brought to my mind was a quote from Flannery O’Conner in The Habit of Being: “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”


"Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church" (Kenda Creasy Dean)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:07 AM | Permalink

August 27, 2010

Nature by Numbers

This fabulous video via Aggie Catholics.
  

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:41 AM | Permalink

August 26, 2010

The New Evangelization to Save Western Civilization

Sandro Magister yesterday writes of a remarkable and important speech by Archbishop Chaput in When the Tribunal of the World Condemns the Church.
There are truths that the dominant culture sees as subversive: on life, the family, sexuality. American archbishop Chaput explains why, and calls Christians to a great battle of resistance. "Only the truth can set men free"
---
With respect to the past, the shift represented by the new course of the Church in the United States consists, on the terrain of politics, of abandoning the "Kennedy doctrine," the doctrine of a rigid separation between Church and state, the effect of which – according to its critics – is the privatization of religious belief in the isolation of the conscience and its elimination from the public sphere.
--
And it is against this offensive that Archbishop Chaput is calling Catholics to "resistance." Against the reigning "relativism" that preaches tolerance but in reality produces oppression.
.
But Chaput's appeal is not only defensive. It is above all proactive. And it is connected to the master plan of Benedict XVI's pontificate, for a "new evangelization" of the regions of the world in which Christianity is at risk of being extinguished.

Chaput's speech is entitled Living Within the Truth: Religious Liberty and Catholic Mission in the New Order of the World.
Today, in an era of global interconnection, the challenges that confront Catholics in America are much the same as in Europe: We face an aggressively secular political vision and a consumerist economic model that result – in practice, if not in explicit intent – in a new kind of state-encouraged atheism. [...]
The West is now steadily moving in the direction of that new “inhuman humanism.” And if the Church is to respond faithfully, we need to draw upon the lessons that your Churches learned under totalitarianism. A Catholicism of resistance must be based on trust in Christ’s words: “The truth will make you free” (John 8:32). [...] and --Living within the truth also means telling the truth and calling things by their right names. And that means exposing the lies by which some men try to force others to live.

Two of the biggest lies in the world today are these: first, that Christianity was of relatively minor importance in the development of the West; and second, that Western values and institutions can be sustained without a grounding in Christian moral principles. [...]

Downplaying the West’s Christian past is sometimes done with the best intentions, from a desire to promote peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society. But more frequently it’s done to marginalize Christians and to neutralize the Church’s public witness.

The Church needs to name and fight this lie. To be a European or an American is to be heir to a profound Christian synthesis of Greek philosophy and art, Roman law, and biblical truth. This synthesis gave rise to the Christian humanism that undergirds all of Western civilization.
[...]
--
We live in a time when the Church is called to be a believing community of resistance. We need to call things by their true names. We need to fight the evils we see. And most importantly, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that by going along with the voices of secularism and de-Christianization we can somehow mitigate or change things. Only the Truth can set men free. We need to be apostles of Jesus Christ and the Truth he incarnates.
--
I would argue that the defense of Western ideals is the only protection that we and our neighbors have against a descent into new forms of repression – whether it might be at the hands of extremist Islam or secularist technocrats.


Read the whole thing.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:56 PM | Permalink

August 24, 2010

AA: The Power of the Group

From Wired, Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How It Works

“Doesn’t matter how much snow we get—a foot, 10 feet piled up in front of the door,” he says. “I will leave my apartment tomorrow and go find a meeting.”

He clasps his hands together and draws them to his heart: “You understand me? I need this.” Daily meetings, the man says, are all that prevent him from winding up dead in the gutter, shoes gone because he sold them for booze or crack. And he hasn’t had a drink in more than a decade.

The resolve is striking, though not entirely surprising. AA has been inspiring this sort of ardent devotionfor 75 years.

------It’s all quite an achievement for a onetime broken-down drunk. And Wilson’s success is even more impressive when you consider that AA and its steps have become ubiquitous despite the fact that no one is quite sure how—or, for that matter, how well—they work. The organization is notoriously difficult to study, thanks to its insistence on anonymity and its fluid membership. And AA’s method, which requires “surrender” to a vaguely defined “higher power,” involves the kind of spiritual revelations that neuroscientists have only begun to explore.

What we do know, however, is that despite all we’ve learned over the past few decades about psychology, neurology, and human behavior, contemporary medicine has yet to devise anything that works markedly better. “In my 20 years of treating addicts, I’ve never seen anything else that comes close to the 12 steps,” says Drew Pinsky, the addiction-medicine specialist who hosts VH1’s Celebrity Rehab. “In my world, if someone says they don’t want to do the 12 steps, I know they aren’t going to get better.”

------One thing is certain, though: AA doesn’t work for everybody. In fact, it doesn’t work for the vast majority of people who try it. And understanding more about who it does help, and why, is likely our best shot at finally developing a system that improves on Wilson’s amateur scheme for living without the bottle.

___There’s no doubt that when AA works, it can be transformative. But what aspect of the program deserves most of the credit? Is it the act of surrendering to a higher power? The making of amends to people a drinker has wronged? The simple admission that you have a problem? Stunningly, even the most highly regarded AA experts have no idea.

_joyous_future.jpg

There is evidence that a big part of AA’s effectiveness may have nothing to do with the actual steps. It may derive from something more fundamental: the power of the group....after a review of nearly 200 articles on group therapy, a pair of Stanford University researchers pinpointed why the approach works so well: “Members find the group to be a compelling emotional experience; they develop close bonds with the other members and are deeply influenced by their acceptance and feedback.”

Lots more at the link.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 PM | Permalink

August 19, 2010

Health care better in church-run hospitals



U.S. church-run hospitals provide higher quality care — Thomson Reuters study

Catholic and other church-owned systems are significantly more likely to provide higher quality performance and efficiency to the communities served than investor-owned systems, according to a Thomson Reuters analysis of the quality performance of 255 health systems in the United States.

Catholic health systems are also significantly more likely to provide higher quality performance to the communities served than secular not-for-profit health systems, it said. By contrast, investor-owned systems have significantly lower performance than all other groups.

That's no surprise to me. People who work in a church-run hospital are far more likely to be religious and see their vocation, not only as a way to serve the sick but also a way to serve God. Not by chance do many of elderly Jews I know of reside in Catholic nursing homes. "They get the best care there," says a Jewish friend, "Care that is motivated by love."

Daniel Burke writes about the study in the Huffington Post

The report was short on specific reasons for religious hospitals' success, saying that further study will be required to understand the differences. The performance measures included mortality rates, the number of medical complications, readmission rates, lengths of stay, profitability, and other factors.

The Catholic church in the U.S. runs 624 hospitals and 499 long-term health care facilities, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"When your mission is rooted in Jesus who healed the sick, only top quality care will do," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops. "This study confirms what many take for granted. The church leads in providing quality health care efficiently."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:07 AM | Permalink

August 18, 2010

Place your bet

The Probability of God

By applying Bayesian probabilities, a statistical method devised by eighteenth-century Presbyterian minister and mathematician Thomas Bayes, Urwin attempts to determine the probability of God’s existence. Since 50-50 represents “maximum ignorance,” Unwin begins with a 50 percent probability that God exists (or 50 percent probability that God does not exist) and then applies it to the following modified Bayesian theorem:

urwin formula.gif
------Unwin then uses the following lines of evidence and applies his own, admittedly subjective, figures for their likelihood:
Recognition of goodness (D = 10) Existence of moral evil (D = 0.5) Existence of natural evil (D = 0.1) Intra-natural miracles (e.g., a friend recovers from an illness after you have prayed for him) (D = 2) Extra-natural miracles (e.g., someone who is dead is brought back to life) (D = 1) Religious experiences (D = 2)

and concludes that the possibility that God exists is 67%. Joe Carter rates them differently and comes up with 99%.

Personally, I prefer Pascal's Wager
Pascal1423.jpg

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:30 PM | Permalink

August 17, 2010

Marriage and Prayer

Another study shows the importance of religion in living a good life, this one published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Does your marriage have a prayer?

Couples that study Scripture, pray and attend church together are significantly more likely to say they are happy or extremely happy in their marriage, according to new research in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Likewise, duos who don't agree on religious beliefs or practice the same faith together tend to be less happy in their marriage, regardless of race or ethnicity, says W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.   ----

He co-authored the research with Christopher Ellison at University of Texas, San Antonio, and Amy Burdette, Florida State University. They relied on data from the 2006 National Survey of Religion and Family Life survey of 2,400 adults ages 18 to 59. Who's very, very happy? Folks who pray together: 83% of whites who pray together, compared to 69% of those who don't pray together.. 73% of blacks who do vs. 52% of those who don't. 78% of Latinos who do vs. 65% of Latinos who don't.

Wilcox speculates that close-together-close-to-home religious lives offer road maps for constructive relationships and stress forgiveness when life goes awry. This is a twist on happiness that disengages delight in life from "stuff" or financial success.



Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:27 AM | Permalink

Girls being girls

Here's a great example of why religion is good for kids. Look at these talented girls and the fun they are having.

While Felicita wrote the song she sings with her sisters, her father taped it all to present a thoroughly engaging video of girls acting like real girls, playing and praying perfectly naturally without any self-consciousness.

Wholesome never looked so good.

Particularly when compared to the lives too many young girls now live in our over-sexualized culture, as Mary Rose Somarriba writes in A Girl's Life in the Cyberbubble.

Girls who dress sexy before puberty, are putting themselves on display like objects, not for themselves but for others. As Sax sees it, “our culture pushes girls to define themselves in terms of how they look instead of helping them to develop a sense of who they are,” and this sets them up for depression, anxiety, and unsatisfying relationships in the future.

In concluding, she plaintively asks

How did we get here? And where do we go from here?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:18 AM | Permalink

August 12, 2010

Perseid Showers tonight

Perseid-Meteor-Shower

Miss Kelley alerted me to the annual Perseid shower that peaks tonight when one can see as many as 50 meteors an hour

The Perseids are among the most reliable of the year’s cosmic fireworks displays. In mid-August, Earth passes through a stream of grit left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle in its eccentric 130-year orbit. Flecks of debris burn up as they pass through the atmosphere, at a height of about 60 miles, producing streaks of light — and sometimes leaving behind glowing trails that fade into the night....The Perseids are so called because the point they appear to come from, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Perseus.

The meteors hit the Earth's atmosphere at about 140,000 miles an hour.  The celestial show begins at sundown, NASA said, when Venus, Saturn, Mars, and the crescent moon hang close together until around 10 p.m., when the Perseid shower is expected to start....the shooting streaks of light most visible between midnight and dawn Friday because the moon will not be up during that time.

The showers are also called "The burning tears of St Lawrence" because they appear every around his feast day. St. Lawrence  is the patron saint  of the poor, librarians and cooks.  The latter because he was roasted  to death and yet managed to joke with his executioners,  "Now you may turn me over, my body is roasted enough on this side."

The best way to see the shooting stars is to find a dark place without a lot of competing lights, lie down on the ground, face south and gaze skyward.    Get your kids out of bed and into the backyard.

The only equipment needed is a sleeping bag or blanket.  Telescopes and binoculars restrict the range of vision when what you want is the largest range possible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:49 PM | Permalink

August 9, 2010

The effects of religion on young child development

From Live Science, Study: Religion is Good for Kids

Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development.

The conflict that arises when parents regularly argue over their faith at home, however, has the opposite effect.

John Bartkowski, a Mississippi State University sociologist and his colleagues asked the parents and teachers of more than 16,000 kids, most of them first-graders, to rate how much self control they believed the kids had, how often they exhibited poor or unhappy behavior and how well they respected and worked with their peers.
--

The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services—especially when both parents did so frequently—and talked with their kids about religion were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.
--
Bartkowski thinks religion can be good for kids for three reasons. First, religious networks provide social support to parents, he said, and this can improve their parenting skills. Children who are brought into such networks and hear parental messages reinforced by other adults may also “take more to heart the messages that they get in the home,” he said.

Secondly, the types of values and norms that circulate in religious congregations tend to be self-sacrificing and pro-family, Bartkowski told LiveScience. These “could be very, very important in shaping how parents relate to their kids, and then how children develop in response,” he said.

Finally, religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance, he said.
--
Bartkowski points out that one limitation of his study, to be published in the journal Social Science Research, is that it did not compare how denominations differed with regards to their effects on kids.

“We really don’t know if conservative Protestant kids are behaving better than Catholic kids or behaving better than mainline Protestant kids or Jewish kids,” he said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:35 PM | Permalink

July 20, 2010

A Christian backlash in Africa?

Our ruling class is so uncomfortable with religion, they fail to understand what's going on the world, especially in Africa.

Ralph Peters is not blind to The coming crusade as a Christian backlash brews in Africa against Islamists.

The bombings that recently butchered World Cup fans in Uganda were just the latest in a long line of crazed attacks on African Christians by Islamist fanatics. In the central states of Nigeria -- Africa's most-populous country -- religious pogroms and counter-pogroms between Muslims and Christians have become routine.

In Kenya, al Shabaab terrorists from neighboring Somalia stir up trouble and make grotesque threats. And we all know what bestial acts Sudan's Islamist government has perpetrated against black Christians over the decades.
--
A few years back, during one of four major research trips to sub-Saharan Africa, I visited the traditionally Muslim city of Mombassa on the old Swahili (Arab-slaver's) coast in Kenya. What I found was one of the sharpest religious juxtapositions I've seen in global travels.

Thanks to Saudi funding folly, there were far too many mosques for the congregants, so few hit critical mass. Islam in Mombassa felt sleepy, dusty and dull.

Kenya's Muslims were backward and listless. Condemned to poverty by poor educations (the Saudis pay Muslims to send their children to madrassahs, instead of to state schools), their culture seemed out of steam.

But Christianity blazed. Mega-churches couldn't contain all those who'd accepted Jesus as their Savior: City parks were packed with ecstatic worshippers every Sunday.

All along east Africa's Swahili Coast -- once a necklace of gems on the body of Islam -- the faith of Mohammed seemed like a museum exhibit in a neglected side room. The Christians -- from tribes Muslims had enslaved -- were the rising power.
--
I've never witnessed such religious fervor as I did in sub-Saharan Africa, from Zimbabwe north through Kenya and west to the Gold Coast. When Islamist terrorists attack African Christians, they're playing with a fire that burns white hot.

Pushed far enough, Christians will respond -- and it won't be pretty. The African church could become the church-ultra-militant.
--
In Islamist extremism, we're confronted with a death-cult, not a faith -- while the vibrant Christianity of Africa pulses with life.

The collision appears inevitable.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:09 PM | Permalink

June 29, 2010

"Ancient insights into human nature work best"

In the business of changing lives, the straight path is rarely the best one. A.A. illustrates that even in an age of scientific advance, it is still ancient insights into human nature that work best. Wilson built a remarkable organization on a nighttime spiritual epiphany.

David Brooks on Bill Wilson's Gospel

In a culture that generally celebrates empowerment and self-esteem, A.A. begins with disempowerment. The goal is to get people to gain control over their lives, but it all begins with an act of surrender and an admission of weakness.

In a culture that thinks of itself as individualistic, A.A. relies on fellowship. The general idea is that people aren’t really captains of their own ship. Successful members become deeply intertwined with one another — learning, sharing, suffering and mentoring one another. Individual repair is a social effort.

In a world in which gurus try to carefully design and impose their ideas, Wilson surrendered control. He wrote down the famous steps and foundations, but A.A. allows each local group to form, adapt and innovate. There is less quality control. Some groups and leaders are great; some are terrible. But it also means that A.A. is decentralized, innovative and dynamic.
--
Wilson ...sought to arouse people’s spiritual aspirations rather than just appealing to rational cost-benefit analysis. His group would help people achieve broad spiritual awakenings, and abstinence from alcohol would be a byproduct of that larger salvation.

 -Aa Book Cover

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:09 AM | Permalink

Something's name is God

Via the Brothers Judd

What Scientists Think About Religion (Elaine Howard Ecklund, Ph.D., June 28, 2010, Huffington Post)

From 2005 to 2008, I surveyed nearly 1,700 natural and social scientists on their views about religion, spirituality and ethics and spoke with 275 of them in depth in their offices and laboratories. It turns out that nearly 50 percent of scientists identify with a religious label, and nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month. While many scientists are completely secular, my survey results show that elite scientists are also sitting in the pews of our nation's churches, temples and mosques.

Of the atheist and agnostic scientists I had in-depth conversations with, more than 30 percent considered themselves atheists; however, less than six percent of these were actively working against religion.
Many atheist and agnostic scientists even think key mysteries about the world can be best understood spiritually, and some attend houses of worship, completely comfortable with religion as moral training for their children and an alternative form of community. If religious people better understood the full range of atheistic practice -- and the way that it interfaces with religion for some -- they might be less likely to hold negative attitudes toward nonreligious scientists. The truth is that many atheist scientists have no desire to denigrate religion or religious people.

In fact,
about one-fifth of the atheist scientists I spoke with say they consider themselves "spiritual atheists." Perhaps their stories are the most interesting. One chemist I talked with does not believe in God, yet she says she craves a sense of something beyond herself that provides a feeling of purpose and meaning and a moral compass......

Given the presence of religion in the scientific community, why do Americans still think scientists are hostile to religion?
Within their scientific communities, religious scientists tend to practice what I call a "secret spirituality."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:43 AM | Permalink

June 2, 2010

Value but no price

Some goods, like food and clothes, have instrumental value; other goods, like children and works of art, are valuable in themselves. Love is priceless, not because its price is higher than we can pay, but because it cannot be purchased but only earned. Of course, you can purchase the simulacrum of love, and there are people who are accomplished providers. But love that is purchased is only a pretense. Goods like love, beauty, consolation, and the sacred are spiritual goods: they have a value, but no price.
--
No force has been as strong in protecting human sexual love from the market as the force of religion, which elevates sex to a sacrament and forbids its abuse. Likewise, no force has been so strong in protecting the environment as the religious sentiments evoked by Ruskin and Muir. Almost everyone feels that there are places, scenes, landscapes, and townscapes that are threatened with desecration, and whose integrity and beauty must be respected with a quasi-religious veneration. It is to this vestigial religious sentiment that we owe the national parks of America, the lake lands of England, the city of Venice, and the landscape of Provence -- all of which would long ago have been vandalized had it not been for those who protected them as spiritual sites.

Roger Scruton on Not for Sale

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:19 AM | Permalink

Spiritual but not Religious

It’s a great and self-serving mess, this claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” which we hear from almost anyone who talks about religion in public, ....It’s one of those easily remembered phrases that work like a “get out of jail free” card for anyone who feels he has to explain his lack of religious practice, and as a claim to superiority for those who care about being superior to those who practice an established religion. It’s the religious equivalent of “I gave at the office” or “There’s a call on the other line” or “I don’t eat meat.”
--
The word “spiritual” has no useful meaning if it does not refer to a relation to a real spirit, something from a world not our own, something supernatural, something that or someone who tells us things we do not know, judges us for our failures, and gives us ideals to strive for and maybe help in reaching them. It’s not a useful word if it means a general inclination or shape of mind or emotional pattern or set of attitudes or collection of values. There is no reason to call any of these spiritual.

Unless, of course, you like that little sense of importance and that comforting sense of social approval that our society still gives to “spiritual things,” though not to religious things. It’s a warm and fuzzy word. It’s a cute cuddly bunny word. It’s not like “religion.” That’s a cold and forbidding word. It’s a screeching preacher with bad breath word.


David Mills on Spirituality Without Spirits

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

May 26, 2010

A very restricted circle of potential being

Mark Vernon on spirituality, not machinery

You Are Not A Gadget, the new book by Silicon Valley luminary Jaron Lanieris, he says, fundamentally a book about spirituality. He is at pains to stress that humans are not machines, though the digital revolution has developed the habit of assuming we are. So, he advises, "We should assume supernatural specialness to people." Supernatural? Specialness? Spirituality? It seems misplaced language for the man who coined the term "virtual reality" and is routinely included on lists of leading public intellectuals. Is it anything more than West Coast hippie-speak?
--

He's no Luddite. Rather, "Enlightened designers leave open the possibility either of metaphysical specialness in humans or in the potential for unforeseen creative processes that aren't explained by ideas like evolution that we already believe we can capture in software systems." So,
he prefers a mysterious view of life over a materialist one, not out of any prior metaphysical conviction, but simply because it works – works in terms of enlarging, not restricting, our humanity. It's a pragmatic advocacy of a religious attitude to life, and no doubt shaped by his Californian context. But it's a strikingly religious attitude, no less.

A quote from William James seems apropos:

"Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make very small use of their possible consciousness, and of their soul's resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 PM | Permalink

May 23, 2010

Regaining What Was Won, But Is Almost Lost

One of the more interesting books that came out in 2006 was Jesus in Beijing, How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Balance of Power by David Aikma whose author, David Aikma, said in an interview,

I would like readers of Jesus in Beijing to grasp how Christianity, though assumed by many in the West to be outmoded and irrelevant to modern life, is regarded by many Chinese as the absolute key to a successful, peaceful, powerful modern China in the future.

This is not to defend the Chinese Communist government over the years and its disastrously bad policies, the genocide under Mao Tse Tung in China and Tibet more than fifty million people, the  "gendercide"  of a hundred million baby girls through forced abortion which is now causing great social instability because young men with no women to marry take to rampaging and kidnapping through the countryside and its violent suppression of political opponents and its complicity in the harvesting of organs of executed prisoners.

But what is happening among Chinese intellectuals is fascinating.  Akima says

But another factor has been a very open-minded approach by many Chinese intellectuals into such phenomena as the remarkable historical primacy of Western civilization around the world. How could this happen? What were the core principles of Western civilization that enabled it, time and again, to correct itself rather than plunge into cyclical and eventually permanent decline? Many concluded that it was Christian ethics and the dynamism of a faith based on a profound hope in the future and a belief that history was not cyclical, as Buddhism and even Confucianism proclaimed, but linear, and with a specific end goal.
--
At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.

How the West Was Won

"To sum up: the rise of the West was based on four primary victories of reason. The first was the development of faith in progress within Christian theology. The second victory was the way that faith in progress translated into technical and organizational innovations, many of them fostered by monastic estates. The third was that, thanks to Christian theology, reason informed both political philosophy and practice to the extent that responsive states, sustaining a substantial degree of personal freedom, appeared in medieval Europe. The final victory involved the application of reason to commerce, resulting in the development of capitalism within the safe havens provided by responsive states. These were the victories by which the West won."
Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005)  via Paragraph Farmer

Today, almost alone, Pope Benedict XVI, argues for a return to the vital source that made Europe great, A Revolution of Love is Necessary

It is an exacting challenge. The times we are living in place us before great and complex problems, and the social question has become, at the same time, an anthropological question. The ideological paradigms have collapsed that pretended, in the recent past, to be the "scientific" answer to this question. The spread of a confused cultural relativism and of utilitarian and hedonist individualism weakens democracy and fosters the dominance of the strong powers. A genuine political wisdom must be recovered and reinvigorated; to be exacting in what refers to one's own competence; to make critical use of the research of human sciences; to address reality in all its aspects, going beyond all ideological reductionism or utopian pretension; to show oneself open to all true dialogue and collaboration, keeping in mind that politics is also a complex art of balance between ideals and interests, but without ever forgetting that the contribution of Christians is decisive only if the intelligence of the faith becomes intelligence of the reality, key of judgment and of transformation. A real "revolution of love" is necessary.

More from the Holy Father as he reflects on the "priceless cultural and artistic heritage" of Christianity
"Modern culture, particularly in Europe, runs the risk of amnesia, of forgetting and thus abandoning the extraordinary heritage aroused and inspired by Christian faith, which is the essential framework of the culture of Europe, and not only of Europe. The Christian roots of the continent are, in fact, made up not only of religious life and the witness of so many generation of believers, but also of the priceless cultural and artistic heritage which is the pride and precious resource of the peoples and countries in which Christian faith, in its various expressions, has entered into dialogue with culture and the arts".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

May 10, 2010

Babies and Good and Evil

Before they can even crawl, Babies know the difference between good and evil at six months.

At the age of six months babies can barely sit up - let along take their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.

But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a sense of moral code - and can tell the difference between good and evil.

An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born as 'blank slates' - and that our morality is shaped by our parents and experiences.

Instead, they suggest that the difference between good and bad may be hardwired into the brain at birth.

 Babyandtoyrabbit

Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut, whose department has studied morality in babies for years, said: 'A growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.

'With the help of well designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life.

'Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bones.'

This is very much in accord with Catholic teaching on The Natural Moral Law

The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie:

The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties:

UPDATE

As usual, I never got around to reading the NYT Sunday magazine so I missed the cover story on The Moral Life of Babies

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:23 AM | Permalink

April 21, 2010

Losing our culture, losing ourselves

A profoundly depressing look at the culture of dependency in two former steel towns, one in Northern England, the other in Wales.

Steel Yourself by Theodore Dalrymple

If anyone doubts the existence or reality of a dependency culture, he should visit one of these two towns. They are East European communist towns with a bit more consumer choice, but not much the better for that, and in some respects worse, in so far as there is less intellectual ferment in them.

The people do not walk so much as trudge, plastic bags hanging from them like heavy fruit. They are grey-faced, bowed-down, prematurely aged, arthritic before their time. An astonishing proportion of them need (or at any rate use) walking sticks from their thirties onwards. Many of them are enormously fat, and one can imagine them completely immobile by the age of sixty. The small children – overwhelmingly illegitimate, of course, for more than half of children born in Britain are now illegitimate, and the poorer the area (except for Indian and Pakistani immigrants) the higher the proportion – are devoid of the sweetness of young childhood, instead having a fixed look of malice on their faces by the age of three. Ferret-faced young men, attired in international ghetto costume, often with a hood, stand around talking to one another, at least a third of their words being ‘fuck’ or one of its cognates. The young women are all highly sexualised without being in the least alluring. Their fate is to have children by more than one of the ferret-faced young men.

Hopelessness, indifference, apathy is everywhere, omnipresent like the gases of the atmosphere. No Indian or African slum has ever affected men in the same way: this is far, far worse. Energy is dissipated before it is expended, as if by some kind of magnetism. The people are not starving – if anything, the problem is the reverse – nor are they living in physically intolerable housing conditions, though their houses are depressingly ugly. That so many are festooned with satellite dishes is a bad sign: where satellite dishes are many and prominent, the people are bored and listless. Litter lies everywhere and many people do not clear it even from their own front yards, preferring to wade their way through it to their front doors.

 Abandonned-Church-3

About the loss of religion in both places, Dalrymple writes

the town in the North of England had once been dominated by a magnificent 15th Century church, originally Catholic, of course, but now Anglican. It was totally irrelevant to the life of the town, if life is quite the right word for what went on there.
--
With complete disregard for the aesthetics of this church – a magnificent monument in a wasteland of man-made hideousness - cheap modern furniture had been installed, and even (in place of a lady chapel) a kitchenette, complete with plywood cladding, used for the doling out of tea to lonely old ladies.

Please do not misunderstand me: I am not against the doling out tea to lonely old ladies; indeed, I am much in favour of it. But I do not think that a fifteenth century church is the right place for it, especially if the interior of the church has to be spoiled in the process, and the fact that the Church of England thinks that this is all right accounts in some part for its demise. The kitchenette was visible and obvious evidence of the Church’s lack of belief in transcendence, in anything other than the most earthbound of values. (The ancient tombstones had also been removed from the grass around the church for reasons of public safety.) 
Imagine that.

Father James Schall looks at What Civilizes Us

Yet something strange is always found in civilizations. At their best, all have some relation to an order that is more than civic. This social order, by being what it is, likewise points to what transcends man. Indeed, for man to be himself, he needs to transcend himself. If nothing is found beyond him, he ends up less than human.

 Abandoned-Church2



He refers to the study of Christianity by the Chinese communists, one I referenced in 2006, Christians in China in a review of the book Jesus in Beijing.

But another factor has been a very open-minded approach by many Chinese intellectuals into such phenomena as the remarkable historical primacy of Western civilization around the world. How could this happen? What were the core principles of Western civilization that enabled it, time and again, to correct itself rather than plunge into cyclical and eventually permanent decline? Many concluded that it was Christian ethics and the dynamism of a faith based on a profound hope in the future and a belief that history was not cyclical, as Buddhism and even Confucianism proclaimed, but linear, and with a specific end goal.

Chinese Church Wave

--
At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.

Schall then goes on

Was Christianity a mere sidelight or was it Europe's heart? Were the Chinese scholars more perceptive than the European politicians? Is Europe dying for the same reason the Chinese populace has no belief in anything?

Pell recalls the 1983 remark of Solzhenitsyn that "Men have forgotten God." This forgetfulness is not neutral. It has practical consequences on whether life is worth living. If the individual has no meaning other than what he gives himself – the current doctrine – what is he? Who cares? A world filled with poor, numerous, meaningless people cannot really find motivation to reestablish the moral dignity that makes a civilization humane and honorable.
--
Civilization points not to itself but to what is beyond itself. When it does not, as the Chinese worry, we lose even ourselves.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

April 19, 2010

Living in a False Reality

Two very interesting articles on Islam by Muslims that I admit discouraged me when I saw again how political correctness has put discussion of certain topics 'off limits' making us even more incapable of dealing with the reality of the world that faces us.

The first by Raymond Ibrahim asks Whether Marco Polo was an Islamophobe.

Here, then, is the problem: If today it is “Islamophobic,” that is, irrational, to claim that Islam advocates war against and subjugation for infidels, permitting the latter to be abused, plundered, and enslaved in the process — what does one make of the fact that, some 700 years ago, the same exact claims were made by our Venetian traveler?  Indeed, what does one make of the fact that, centuries before and after Polo, a diverse host of writers — including John of Damascus (d.749) Theophanes the chronicler (d.818), Francis of Assisi (d.1226), Joinville the crusader (d.13th century), and Manuel the Byzantine emperor (d.1425) — all made the same “Islamophobic” observations about Islam? (The latter’s writings, when merely quoted by the pope, caused an uproar in the Muslim world.) This, of course, is to say nothing of the countless Muslim ulema who regularly affirm that Islam teaches war, subjugation, slavery, and plunder vis-a-vis the infidel, tracing it back to the words of the Koran and Muhammad.

In short, the word “Islamophobia” is a ruse — also permitted in Islam under the doctrine of taqiyya — meant to paralyze all discussion concerning Muslim doctrine; and it has been successful: the United Nations has already presided over a conference titled “Confronting Islamophobia” and a Council of Europe summit condemned “Islamophobia.” Moreover, the influential Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) regularly lambasts the specter of Islamophobia, calling it the “worst form of terrorism,” and publishing two reports on the phenomenon.

The second by Sheik Yer' Mami delivers a scathing indictment of the New York Times

First, in its delinquent reports of what was happening in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, again with the deeply misleading coverage of the Stalin's forced famine in the Ukraine by Walter Duranty for which he received the Pulitzer prize.

He helped, by commission, to convey a false reality concerning the Soviet Union and its murderous policies, just as the owners of the Times helped, by deliberate omission and de-emphasizing, to convey a false reality concerning the Nazis and their murderous policies, and chief and earliest victims, the Jews of Germany and then of Eastern Europe.

And it continues today with its lack of coverage of the ideology of Islam.

And The New York Times continues, in ways little and big, to ignore the reality of Islam. It is a case of individual folly and mediocrity – the egregious Tom Friedman comes immediately to mind, and so too does Nicholas Kristof.  But then there are the reporters.
--
Thus the Times is worse than useless. It is not a guide to understanding the world, or the threat to the wellbeing of non-Muslims everywhere from those who take their Islam seriously, either now, or possibly, as a result of any number of promptings (some political and many personal) in the future.
The Times has performed disgracefully, and after the disgraces of the 1930s, it’s quite something to find it failing so badly, with such dangerous consequences, again.

Let us take, for example, something very small, something so small that it never appeared in the Times as a full-fledged article, but rather as a small paragraph under the rubric “World News.” The Paper of Record took the story – The Times does this more and more – from the AP.

Here it is: “Muslims Try to Pray in Spanish Cathedral.”
--
You know, a story that were truthful would go something like this:

A deliberately-planned display of Muslim force took place in the cathedral of Cordoba on April 2, in the very middle of Holy Week, the holiest time of the year for Christians. Nearly 120 Muslims from Austria slowly filtered into the cathedral, so as not to attract the attention of guards and, using walkie-talkies, arranged to meet at a certain time, in one of the naves of the cathedral. There a number of them began, in the hush of the Christian services, to turn toward Mecca and prostrate themselves, and to loudly chant in unison. When asked by the security guards to please stop, they refused, and began to threaten the guards who, in turn, had to call for reinforcements from the Spanish police. When the Spanish police arrived, thus further disrupting the holy hush of ancient sacrifice, and the spiritual tranquility of the Christian worshippers, they found the Muslims unwilling to stop. At least one pulled out a knife, and at least two of the Spanish guards, one policeman and one from the cathedral detail, were wounded sufficiently to go to the hospital.

UPDATE:  Neoneocon writes about the power of words to distort reality, especially if these words are mandated by the government.

Joe Lieberman seems to get it:

“This is not honest,” Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Three thousand Americans were killed not by some amorphous group of violent extremists or environmental extremists or white supremacist extremists. They were violent Islamist extremists motivated and organized by the ideology preached by Osama bin Laden.”

“And unless we’re honest about that,” he said, “we’re not going to be able to defeat this enemy.

Of course, it will take a lot more than honest language to defeat terrorism. But honest language is a requisite step, and dishonest language fools no one. The Obama administration’s refusal to call things by their proper names communicates nothing but pandering and weakness rather than resolve and strength.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:43 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

April 13, 2010

Spirituality for the Second Half of Life

Last weekend I went to a conference at Boston College called Living the Journey, Spirituality for the Second Half of Life.
The conference organizers hoped for 300; 950 came as if to underscore the tremendous thirst for meaning older people have. 

A few gleanings from a very well organized and presented conference which will be available on the web in about 2 weeks at the Church in the 21st century on its webcast page.

John Shea, a professor of Theology and Ministry, wondered why so many adults were satisfied with an image of God from their childhood and adolescence, what he termed a "superego" God with parent-like authority  interested in controlling us.  Our imaging of God is meant to develop as we ourselves develop and mature. 
An adult imaging of God is one transforming love and mutuality in an adult relationship, a living God in whom we personally experience a salvation from whatever imprisons us, a God of Love who offers us unconditional acceptance and a mutual indwelling, a God of mystery, a God of freedom, not freedom from but freedom to experience God as a Living God of wholeness and integrity.

Michael Himes, one of the most popular professors at Boston College, ended his lecture by talking about his mother whom he visits every night in a nursing home now that her dementia is quite advanced.  He spoke with great feeling about the hardest thing in the world is the inability to protect those we love the most .  Still we have to go on loving them knowing how much it will hurt.  One night, he sat in front of his mother and asked her if she knew who he was.  She looked at him for a very long time and then said, "I'm not sure I remember, but I think I love you very much."

That he says is the root experience.  One thing that doesn't disappear is the experience of having loved.

So I was struck this morning to read Alzheimer's Disease Sufferers Still Feel For Loved Ones Even If They Have Forgotten Them

Researchers have discovered that emotions out last memories and that patients with severe amnesia still get a warm feeling from meeting friends and relatives.

The effect is so strong that the scientists are convinced that regularly meeting up with patients with Alzheimer's can profoundly improve their mood.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:31 PM | Permalink

March 17, 2010

Happy St Patrick's Day

St Patrick was a Slave

The accepted facts of his life are few. In his major work, "The Confessio," Patrick described how he was snatched from his Christian home during raids on the west coast of Roman Britain and taken to Ireland as a slave "along with many thousands of others." This occurred sometime in the late fourth or early fifth century A.D.  Naked on the hillsides, herding sheep and swine, he began to have religious visions.
--
Obsessed with memories of Ireland -- hearing "the voices of those same persons who used to be near the wood of U" -- he sought money and permission from Christian bishops in England for an apostolic mission to the pagan Irish.
-
Eventually Patrick gained the necessary financing and embarked on a mission to Christianize Ireland's intellectual leadership -- Druid priests, poets and judges -- and the military bosses of the northern aristocracy.

It is likely that Patrick's aim was to convert and pacify leaders of the slave raids. In his other surviving writing, the "Letter to Coroticus" (a British king), his concern for the victims of slaving -- especially women captured for sexual exploitation -- is clear.
--
In the end, the triumphant, apostolic and slightly macho St. Patrick, the premier saint of the Isle of Saints and Scholars, is less interesting and important than the afflicted, struggling Patrick. This Patrick, who helped to bring the Irish into the mainstream of Western history, who forgave and was forgiven, who suffered enslavement and overcame it, who epitomized the West's central drama -- the outsider who stayed to transform the culture of his conqueror -- belongs to all of us.

St Patrick and the Selfless Life

It is often observed that Patrick led the only bloodless revolution in the whole troubled history of Ireland. Author and Irish Bishop Joseph Duffy notes, “The later compilers of saints’ lives, who were by no means given to understatement, tell of only one martyr in his entire missionary career.” The pen may be mightier than the sword, but Patrick used neither. Instead, his simple faith and plain speaking changed the course of his adopted country.

Here is St. Patrick's famous prayer, his Breastplate, also called "The Deer's Cry" beautifully sung by Angelina.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:30 AM | Permalink

March 9, 2010

From Jihad to Jesus

A most remarkable interview in the Wall St Journal over the weekend of the 'Son of Hamas', "They Need to Be Liberated From Their God'. 

Mosab Hassan (Joseph) Yousef is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding leader of Hamas, the terrorist organization, and he tells his story of how he went from Jihad to Jesus while spying for Israel and shaming his family.

Mr. Yousef tells me that he was horrified by the pointless violence unleashed by politicians willing to climb "on the shoulders of poor, religious people." He says Palestinians who heeded the call "were going like a cow to the slaughterhouse, and they thought they were going to heaven." So, as he writes in the book, "At the age of twenty-two, I became the Shin Bet's only Hamas insider who could infiltrate Hamas's military and political wings, as well as other Palestinian factions."
--

"I converted to Christianity because I was convinced by Jesus Christ as a character, as a personality. I loved him, his wisdom, his love, his unconditional love. I didn't leave [the Islamic] religion to put myself in another box of religion. At the same time it's a beautiful thing to see my God exist in my life and see the change in my life. I see that when he does exist in other Middle Easterners there will be a change.
--
As the son of a Muslim cleric, he says he had reached the conclusion that terrorism can't be defeated without a new understanding of Islam. Here he echoes other defectors from Islam such as the former Dutch parliamentarian and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Do you consider your father a fanatic? "He's not a fanatic," says Mr. Yousef. "He's a very moderate, logical person. What matters is not whether my father is a fanatic or not, he's doing the will of a fanatic God. It doesn't matter if he's a terrorist or a traditional Muslim. At the end of the day a traditional Muslim is doing the will of a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist God. I know this is harsh to say. Most governments avoid this subject. They don't want to admit this is an ideological war.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:41 AM | Permalink

March 6, 2010

Atheists - The "religiously unmusical"

From the New Scientist, an editorial Time to accept that atheism, not God, is odd.

HERE's a fact to flatter the unbelievers among you: the bright young things at the University of Oxford are among the most godless groups ever studied in the UK. Of 728 students surveyed in 2007, 48.9 per cent claimed not to believe in any god, with 49.6 per cent claiming no religious affiliation. And while a very small number of Britons typically label themselves as "atheist" or "agnostic" (most surveys put it at about 5 per cent), an astonishing 57.3 per cent of the Oxford sample did.

This may come as no surprise. After all, atheism is the natural stance of the educated and the informed, is it not?
...Of course, things are never quite that simple. Within the sample, for instance, the postgraduates (that is, the even-better educated) were notably more religious than the undergraduates, in terms of both belief in God and self-description.
--
We, and the scholars who gathered in December last year for a conference at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, think we may have the answer. The problems stem from a long-term, collective blind spot in research: atheism itself.

This oversight might seem remarkable (or remarkably obtuse on the part of the social scientists) but it is one with deep historical roots. Many of social science's 19th-century founders, including Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Auguste Comte and Max Weber, were unbelievers, or "religiously unmusical", as Weber memorably put it. For them, religion was the great explicandum: how, they wondered, could so many people believe in something so absurd? What they failed to recognise was that their own, taken-for-granted, "lack" of belief might itself be amenable to inquiry.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:33 PM | Permalink

March 2, 2010

Prozac and God

Studies: Belief in God relieves depression

University of Toronto psychologists reported last year that "believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress," their research showcasing "distinct brain differences" between believers and nonbelievers.

A new study released Wednesday by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago took the idea a step further.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

Skinhead Puts on Skullcap

In the New York Times, the Changing Face of Poland: Skinhead Puts on Skullcap

When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he was before he covered his shaved head with a skullcap, traded his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

“I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,” said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one. “When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. “Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

February 18, 2010

When guilt can not be expiated

With the beginning of the holy season of Lent, Christians are meant to repent, turn around,  and find their way back to God. 

Father Stephen says, "Our psychologized culture has lost the language and the instinct of repentance"

Repentance is an inner change of heart. Repentance is not concerned with clearing our legal record but with being changed – ultimately into the likeness of Christ.

Modern man is not predisposed to think about a change of heart. We think of psychological wholeness or well-being, but we do not have a language of conformity to Christ. We do speak of “hardness of heart,” but we know very little about how such a heart is changed.

George Weigel in First Things on The Lessons of Jean Marie Lustiger explores what happens when the instinct of repentance is lost.


Pope John Paul II wrote poignantly of the soul-withering effects of a European guilt that could not be expiated, because the notion of “sin” had been displaced: “One of the roots of the hopelessness that assails many people today is found in their inability to see themselves as sinners and to allow themselves to be forgiven, an inability often resulting from the isolation of those who, by living as if God did not exist, have no one from whom they can seek forgiveness.”

Born to a non-practicing Jewish family in France, Listinger converted to Catholicism as a young teen-ager in 1940.  While his family left Paris in 1939,  first relocating in Orleans, later to unoccupied Southern France, his mother returned to Paris to  run the family business when she was picked up and deported to Auschwitz where she was killed

When he became Archbishop of Paris in 1981, he said, "I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it."

He became a cardinal of the church in 1983 and  wrote his own epitaph in 2004, three years before he died.


I was born Jewish.
I received the name
Of my paternal grandfather, Aaron
Having become Christian
By faith and by Baptism,
I have remained Jewish
As did the Apostles.
I have as my patron saints
Aaron the High Priest,
Saint John the Apostle,
Holy Mary full of grace.
Named 139th archbishop of Paris
by His Holiness Pope John Paul II,
I was enthroned in this Cathedral
on 27 February 1981,
And here I exercised my entire ministry.
Passers-by, pray for me.
† Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Archbishop of Paris

I wrote more about this remarkable man on his death.  Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger, R.I.P. for whom Kaddish was read before the doors of Notre Dame in Paris before his funeral.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:30 PM | Permalink

December 27, 2009

Gifts from the Lord

Michael Novak on The First Enlightenment 

Those of us who are of Catholic mind do not believe that the Enlightenment began with Kant (“What is Enlightenment?”), or Locke or Newton, or even with Descartes. We cherish Plato, Aristotle, Cicero. But the first Enlightenment began with Christ Our Lord.

It was only with the Christ that EQUALITY meant every human being, barring none. From then on, no one was “barbarian.” Each bore in his own soul the mark of being called to be a dwelling of the Father and the Son — being called beyond all other calls a son of God. Neither mother nor father, neither civil society nor state, can answer to this call for you or me. None has any deeper bond or precedence than the relation of Creator and human creature. It is a bond of Spirit and Truth.

Thus was revealed each human's LIBERTY primordial, and in that liberty, EQUALITY with all. No other but self can say to the the Father “No,” or “Yes.” That choice is for each single one of us inalienable. That choice brings each into the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all who are equal in the sight of God.

And that is how universal FRATERNITY became a human principle and an object of our striving.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 AM | Permalink

December 24, 2009

In the Bleak Midwinter in Royal David's City

Two gorgeous carols, the first from a poem by Christina Rosetti, published posthumously in 1904 and set to music 2 years later by Gustav Holst.

The second Once in Royal David's City by another female poet , Cecil Frances Alexander, who became a bishop's wife.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:37 PM | Permalink

St. Nicholas

If your children or grandchildren no longer believe in Santa Claus, tell them about St. Nicholas whose real life goodness and generosity has made him beloved down the centuries. 

No place better to learn about St. Nick than the St. Nicolas Center. 

Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:32 PM | Permalink

Pantheism and Christianity

The Christian claim that God became one of us at a certain time, in a certain place is the most spectacular claim ever made.  For Christians, it's the beginning of the new creation in a stable in Bethlehem.

Peter Kreeft plumbs the Deeper Meaning of Christmas

On the shepherds
“They were afraid.” We fear the unknown, the opening skies, the passages between worlds, like birth and death. Even when the angel says, “Fear not,” the event is no less momentous, The awe is now joyful, not fearsome; but it’s still “awe-full.” It is “good tidings of great joy.” Joy can be as awesome as fear. The Good News, the incredible event of the Incarnation, is the most joyful and the most awesome news we have ever heard.

Wise Men Still Seek Him
They make their pilgrimage from East to West. Oriental wisdom must turn West to find Christ, and the West — Rome — must go East. For Christ is born at the center. He is at the center of all things metaphysically, so it’s fitting that He be born at the physical center of the world as well, between East and West, North and South, between ancient and modern times. All time centers on Him; all dates are B.C. or A.D. Everything is relative to Him. He is the absolute.

On Joseph
Joseph provided for Mary and Jesus: travel to Bethlehem, shelter for the birth and later safety in Egypt from murderous Herod. But Joseph could not afford a horse, only a donkey. He could not get a room in the inn, only a cattle stall. He may have thought himself a failure as a provider, as many a man feels today if he cannot afford to give his family “the best.” But he has not failed; he can be “the best.” Look how Mary and Jesus turned out under Joseph’s providence.

And Mary
The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the holy offspring to be born of you will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35). But we are addressed by the same angelic news. Our soul, like Mary’s body, is to receive God Himself if only we, like her, believe, consent and receive; if only we speak her truly magic word fiat, “let it be.” It is the creative word, the word God used to create the universe.

Christmas rescues us from paganism and lifts us up from pantheism. 

Ross Douhat in Heaven and Nature writes on the inadequacies of pantheism which, he notes, represents a form of religion even atheists can support.

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:50 PM | Permalink

An Arabic Christmas Carol

This Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity is one of the most beautiful Christmas carols I've ever heard.

But I listen to this wonderful video with sadness.  Christians in Iraq have canceled services and cautioned worshipers to keep their celebrations private.

ldean bishop of Basra, Imad al-Banna, is asking Christians "not to display their joy, not to publicly celebrate the feast of Nativity" to avoid offending Iraq's Shiite community, whose Ashura holiday falls two days after Christmas this year.

According to Louis Sako, chief archbishop of Kirkuk for the Chaldean Christians, a Catholic sect that originated in Iraq, none of the northern archdiocese's nine churches has scheduled a Christmas Mass this year.

"This is the first time we have had to cancel our celebrations," he said.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq's Christian minority has faced constant persecution, including dozens of church bombings, executions, kidnappings and forced expulsions, devastating some communities and reducing the overall Christian population by at least 25 percent.

All I can do is pray for the poor beleaguered Christians in the country we 'liberated'

"We have taken our security procedures to protect the Christians in their celebrations in the city," said Lt. Col. Jima'ah Aldliamee, a police commander in Anbar province.

"They promised to protect us in the past, but so far they have not succeeded," said Georges Matti, an employee of the state-owned North Oil. "We are the victims of political conflicts between various Iraqi groups or at the hands of some religious extremists who believe that because we are Christians, we are lackeys of the West."

"Psychologically, we cannot have a celebration," said Qais Aboudi, a 56-year-old carpenter and member of a Baghdad Chaldean parish. "But we cannot deny we are Christians. It is our religion, and we are proud of it."

"I'm fed up. I've been speaking with the press for seven years. I have no comment," said Ahad, the Syrian Catholic pastor. "I've been asking the Iraqi government, asking the Americans, and no one has helped us.

"I used to celebrate Christmas with many people, with joy, with visits, with guests," said the pastor at the Virgin Mary church. "Now I am staying here alone. We are living like rats."

All I can hope for these people is the Christmas message: Peace on Earth, Good Will towards Men,

UPDATE: Phyllis Chesler asks whether Jesus Could Live Safely in Bethlehem Today.  However helpless the Jews were under the brutal Roman empire and not forgetting the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt to escape the murderous rage of Herod, Christians today under Muslim rule are not even allowed to worship in their own churches.

Even in America, in Ohio  a young Christian girl is persecuted by her family and completely isolated from other Christians, even from Christmas cards sent her by those who have followed her plight.  The Prosecution of Rifqa Barry

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:01 PM | Permalink

Do you hear what I hear

The tree is trimmed, the cards sent, the shopping done, the packages wrapped and wonderful smells waft from the kitchen.  The waiting is almost over.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:28 AM | Permalink

December 22, 2009

Kwanzaa

Ralph Bailey on the Kwanzaa creator, a secular kook, convict

There are three aspects of Kwanzaa that most folks don't know. First, most blacks DON'T celebrate the invented holiday. Secondly, very few non-Americans even know of its existence and finally, its inventor is a kook and a violent convict.

Karenga went to prison in 1971 for kidnapping a pair of black Organization Us women, stripping them naked, whipping them and, according to their testimony, beating them and sticking a soldering iron in their mouths along with detergent and a water hose.

But this isn't why black America historically all but ignores Kwanzaa. Black folks, as our support for Proposition 8 clearly demonstrated, maintain a religious heritage that dates back to our inauspicious arrival to this country.

Culturally, we are incapable of turning our back on Jesus and celebrating a secular holiday cooked up by a convict! It would be a spit in the eye to all those who, with the support of Jesus, paved the way for black achievement today.

It would be tantamount to poo pooing the beliefs of Martin, Thurgood, Jackie, Harriet, Frederick and martyr Crispus Attucks.

How could we ignore the spirit that saw us through slavery, systematic oppression and a government-opposed revolution that played out on national television in the 1960s?

The church has historically been the focal point of black life. It's where we socialized, where we were educated, where we worshiped and was the birthplace for the civil rights movement.

The one thing all those great black thinkers agreed on was: God is good and AMERICA is our country!

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:02 AM | Permalink

December 17, 2009

British court says they will determine who is a Jew

Britain's Supreme Court says Jewish religious law is "racist" and that British courts have the right to determine who is a Jew.

David Goldman has more on this discouraging development .

Writing in his blog, the Telegraph’s Ed West quotes Neil Addison of the Thomas More Legal Centre, which specializes in religious freedom:


What the decision means is that the historic Jewish definition of ‘who is a Jew’ is now illegal and Orthodox Jewish organisations and schools can no longer apply their own definitions of membership. As a lawyer I can understand the technical legal argument but as a human being I regard it as a profoundly dangerous extension of state power. On the basis of this judgment an adult who Orthodox Jews do not accept as Jewish can apply to become an Orthodox Rabbi and the Orthodox synagogue cannot say no.


What next? Will the courts have the power to say ‘The Pope does not accept that you are a Catholic but we do and so you are entitled to become a Catholic Priest’? On the basis of this judgment that is a possibility because at its heart what the judgment of the Supreme Court does is to attack the right of organisations and religions to have their own personal identity. It is the most insidious form of totalitarianism.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:12 PM | Permalink

December 11, 2009

Father Emil Kapaun a possible saint UPDATED

The older I get, the less I find evil interesting and the more I find goodness interesting.  In movies, television and books  we see so much debased sex, horror, cruelty and violence, I've become inured and bored with it all.

It's great goodness that mesmerizes me.  Like the rivetting story of Father Emil Kapaun, written by Roy Wenzel and appearing in six parts in the The Wichita Eagle.    Kapaun was a Roman Catholic priest and U.S. military chaplain who died in the Korean War.

Part 1.  In Korea, Kapaun saves dozens during Chinese attack
Part 2.  Through Death March, Father Kapaun perseveres and inspires
Part 3.  In icy POW camps, Kapaun shares faith, provisions
Part 4.  As hundreds die, Kapaun rallies the POWs.
Part 5.  Lead camp prisoners in quiet acts of defiance
Part 6.  Father Emil Kapaun forgives guards, welcomes death

Considered a saint by the soldiers he served, their stories about him began to circulate in the wider world when the Korean prisoner-of-war camps were liberated in 1953.  Reading the series online, you can hear the stories by some of the men who were imprisoned along with Father Kapaun

**Capt Emil Kapaun

Emil Kapaun is now being considered for  canonization as a Catholic saint.  A miracle must be proved before anyone can be declared a saint.  An investigator from the Vatican visited two families in the Wichita area who believe the survival of their children from nearly lethal medical crises should qualify as miracles

Afterward, the Vatican investigator said that in years of investigating miracles, he had never seen doctors who made such a compelling case for miracles occurring," Hotze said.

UPDATE:
Part 7.  Father Emil Kapaun: POWs call him 'a hero and a saint.'
Part 8.  Former POWs say his miracle was providing them hope. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 PM | Permalink

November 16, 2009

The Economic Effects of Religion and Religious Liberty

Michael Fitzgerald writes a terrific article on the curious economic effects of religion in the Boston Globe

Satan, the great motivator

A pair of Harvard researchers recently examined 40 years of data from dozens of countries, trying to sort out the economic impact of religious beliefs or practices. They found that religion has a measurable effect on developing economies - and the most powerful influence relates to how strongly people believe in hell.
--
It stands as one of the more intriguing findings in a growing body of recent research exploring how religion might influence the wealth and prosperity of societies. In recent years,
Italian economists have presented findings that religion can boost GDP by increasing trust within a society; researchers in the United States showed that religion reduces corruption and increases respect for law in ways that boost overall economic growth. A number of researchers have documented how merchants used religious backgrounds to establish one another’s reliabity
--
On a larger scale, religious denominations affect economics by
creating bonds of trust and shared commitment among small groups, both necessary qualities for lending and trade. In the Middle Ages, studies show, monk-run estates outperformed those that used serfs, thanks to religiously inspired cooperation and frugality. The Quakers of 18th-century Britain, renowned for their scrupulous honesty, came to dominate British finance. Ultra-orthodox Jews similarly dominate New York’s diamond trade because of levels of trust based on religion. Modern religious kibbutzim on average outperform their secular rivals, in part because of trust built through engaging in communal religious rituals.

Back in 1985 German-born Cardinal Ratzinger who was to become  Pope Benedict XVI  presented a paper entitled ``Market Economy and Ethics'' at a Rome event dedicated to the Church and the economy in which he predicted that  a decline in ethics ``can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.''

It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength. The political formation of a will that employs the inherent economic laws towards this goal appears, in spite of all humanitarian protestations, almost impossible today. It can only be realized if new ethical powers are completely set free.

On his visit to the White House, Pope Benedict quoted his predecessor Pope John Paul II
he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that "in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation", and a democracy without values can lose its very soul ...Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent "indispensable supports" of political prosperity.

But there's more to it.  Arab societies are strongly religious in their profession of Islam.  Yet Arab societies, apart from oil money, have not developed economically as they should have.  Joseph Loconte strongly suggests that  economic prosperity requires religious liberty in Economic Prosperity: A Step of Faith

Christian reformers of the seventeenth century, in fact, were among the first to grasp the importance of freedom of conscience to the stability and economic well-being of the state.
--
Henry Robinson (1605-1664), a merchant and son of a wealthy London tradesman, traveled widely on the Continent...Robinson regarded the right of private judgment in matters of faith as essential to human flourishing, akin to the right to private property or private enterprise. These rights were connected, and the repression of religious freedom produced blowback in the economic realm.
--
These facts still seem to be lost on many Muslim intellectuals. They complain about the “deprivation of human capability” in the Arab world, but exonerate regimes that deprive people of their inalienable rights. They link economic growth to new forms of “social cohesion,” but tolerate political arrangements that guarantee social strife. They even call for a “fundamental rethinking” of how Arab states should approach cultural and religious diversity—yet refuse to rethink their assumptions about the nature of religious belief or the moral demands of human dignity.

It requires no leap of faith—just, perhaps, a little historical memory—to realize this is not the road to economic development. It is the long and fractious and familiar detour to permanent stagnation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:54 PM | Permalink

October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

 Stargazing Dark-Park
the Wigstownshire Astronomical Society

From the soon-to-be official Dark-Sky Park, in Galloway Forest, registering Bortle 2 on the international darkness scale.

Not far away comes the traditional Scottish prayer.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:56 AM | Permalink

October 22, 2009

The Benedictine Revolution

The Anchoress had, by far, the best roundup on Pope's Benedict decision to set up a special provision for Anglicans to come over to Rome and enter into full communion with the Catholic Church as whole communities with their married priests and gorgeous liturgy.  But I like best what  Richard Fernandez had to say in The lighting of the beacons.

For that reason Benedict is picking up stragglers, having judged the Anglicans already shattered. But its real foe, upon which Rome’s eyes are fixed, are the socialist/communists. Osgiliath is driven in and the orcs are hard behind. Roman Catholic Archbishop Nichols, the primate of England, put it bluntly.

He claimed the Pope had made the decision because he wants worshippers to unite in the face of increasing secularism rather than form numerous smaller churchers. … Quoting the Pontiff, he said: “As he has written: ‘In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God.’ “

 Trio Anglican, Vatican, Benedict

The Roman Catholic Church is living through an extraordinary historical moment. It is facing two religious competitors. From one side, there is the religion which pretends to be a political movement — socialism/communism. From the other flank there is the political movement which pretends to be a religion — Islam.  Both religions have massive amounts of money, heavy weaponry and great cultural power. Pope Benedict has probably looked at the ancient but fragile ramparts of Rome and realized that unless something turns up, they may not hold. Indeed, any normal assessment of forces would conclude that Benedict’s Church is doomed.  The future looks like a face-off between socialist secularism and unbending Islam.  How can Christianity even hope to keep the field? The full power of political correctness are marshaled on the one hand, and the multitudinous throngs of the Jihad are arrayed on the other. Never mind Canterbury’s end. What odds would you give Rome? An observer would give none, but for this cryptic prophecy in Matthew 16:18.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

It's so interesting that this comes after the widely successful tour of the relics of St. Theresa de Liseux across England, the announcement of a papal visit to England next year where he will stay with the Queen in Buckingham Palace, and the canonization of the great Cardinal John Henry Newman next year, the most famous Catholic convert from Anglicanism in the 19th century.

Cardinal-Newman

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:08 PM | Permalink

October 6, 2009

A Man of Faith

I never heard of Jack Rushton who, some 20 years ago while body surfing with his son was picked up by a wave and thrown onto a rock breaking his neck and injuring his spinal cord. 

"I learned within days after my accident that any quality of life I would have from that point on would be centered in the mind and the spirit," he said.

Rushton compared it to leaving mortality and entering the spirit world -- having to, in essence, leave his functioning physical body behind.

"Yet my mind was consumed by cherished truths I think maybe I had taken for granted for much of my life," he said. "They brought great peace of mind to me and helped me to deal with a future that looked black and almost impossible to comprehend."

But when I saw his YouTube video, I couldn't believe how funny he was and how inspiring. 

He writes the blog Observations to leave behind for his 6 children and 17 grandchildren.  Here he writes about the enormous effect of receiving loving kindness from others.

There was an African American nurse that worked the night shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. about three nights each week. She radiated a spirit of love and light that penetrated my dark world every time she was with me. Every morning before she would leave to go home, knowing that with the shift change I would probably not see another nurse for at least an hour, she would get a basin full of hot water and with a washcloth she would wash and massage my face in a most loving and caring way. It was not doctor's orders and no other nurse ever thought to do it... but she did, and she did it every morning she was there. No one can know how good that felt, especially when you can't feel anything in your entire body except your face and the top of your head. But as good as it felt physically it even felt better emotionally to have someone, really a stranger, show that kind of love and concern.

Another flash of light that always brought hope and made the worst of times a good time was the care given to me by an African-American nurse's aide. He was a big man, muscular, an Afro hairdo, ear rings, various tattoos, and a loud voice. You wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley late at night. Poor Jo Anne was afraid to leave the hospital that first night that he was to be a participant in my care. How true it is that looks can be deceiving. I was never treated with such respect, kindness, and tenderness by anyone at Rancho than by him. He couldn't do enough for me. I always rejoiced when I realized he was to be my helper during a 12 hour period. It was obvious to me that what he was doing was not being done out of a sense of duty but out of love and deep concern for me and the other young men in our spinal cord injury unit. He had a great sense of humor and made me feel good in spite of myself and the trauma I was going through.

The power of faith is quite extraordinary.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:48 PM | Permalink

Elderly woman witnesses to man trying to rob her

Catching up on all the stories I wanted to post about, here's how one remarkable elderly woman of faith saved herself and possibly her attacker.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:33 PM | Permalink

September 30, 2009

Sisters Honored in the House

I have great respect for Catholic nuns and the extraordinary work they have done and continue to do to educate, take care of the sick and dying and serve the poor, so I very pleased to see their self-sacrifice recognized by the House of Representatives.

A few excerpts from H. Res. 441, September 22, 2009:

Whereas Catholic sisters established the Nation's largest private school system and founded more than 110 United States colleges and universities, educating millions of young people in the United States;

Whereas Catholic sisters participated in the opening of the West, traveling vast distances to minister in remote locations, setting up schools and hospitals, and working among native populations on distant reservations;

Whereas more than 600 sisters from 21 different religious communities nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers alike during the Civil War;

Whereas Catholic sisters cared for afflicted populations during the epidemics of cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, smallpox, tuberculosis, and influenza during the 19th and early 20th centuries;

Whereas Catholic sisters built and established hospitals, orphanages, and charitable institutions that have served millions of people, managing organizations long before similar positions were open to women;

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:07 AM | Permalink

September 16, 2009

"The spiritual edifice of the Church functions obliviously to market share"

Canadian born Conrad Black was at one time the third largest newspaper magnate in the world, publishing The Daily Telegraph in London, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post, Canada's National Post and hundreds of community newspapers in the U.S. through his interest in Hollinger International.

In June of 2007 he was convicted of fraud based on charges of diverting funds for personal benefit from Hollinger when the company sold certain publishing assets.  His conviction is currently on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now he writes from prison in Florida  on How I woke up from spiritual slumber and inched at a snail's pace to Rome.
Former Telegraph proprietor Conrad Black was an agnostic until his 20s, but, after trips to Rome, Lourdes and Fatima, found he could not shut out a sense of God.

My religious upbringing was casually Protestant, a respect for Christian tradition and high religious tolerance, but no encouragement to be a practising or seriously believing Christian.

 Conrad Black

I am attracted to conversion stories  and Black's is quite interesting,  particularly as he sets the context with his observations on Quebec as it changed from a religious culture.
---
When I moved to Quebec in 1966 I was astounded by the omnipresence there of Roman Catholicism....

My research revealed that only the Church had sustained the French language in Quebec, the demographic survival of French Canadians, and the prevalence of literacy, provision of health care, and even most capital formation (as in the caisses populaires and credit unions attached to almost every parish), for nearly two centuries after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759....I saw the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec, and later in most other places, as fiercely dedicated to the kingdom of God, resistant to opportunistic fads, concerned to modernise without eroding faith, armed with intellectual arguments quite equal, at the least, to those of their secular opponents or rivals, and almost always a champion of human rights when it wasn't in common cause with less altruistic elements against the anti-Christ of Communism.
--
The almost exclusive Church provision of education and health care to French Quebec was overly prolonged and averse to competition, but the resulting savings in salary costs of teachers and nurses enabled the government of Quebec to devote most of its budget to what is now called infrastructure. Duplessis built thouands of schools, the new campuses of Laval and Montreal Universities, the University of Sherbrooke, hundreds of hospitals and clinics, thousands of miles of roads, the first Canadian autoroutes, and he brought electricity to 97 per cent of rural Quebec. Quebec was even a pioneer in disability pensions and day care.
--

to a secular one

Now the same people were performing the same educational and paramedical tasks in the same buildings for the same population at 10 times the cost to the Quebec taxpayers, and were frequently on strike, as taxes and debt soared, the birth- rate collapsed, the separatists advanced, and the cultural rights of the non-French were re-defined as "revocable privileges".
--
Now the impecunious parishes, scanty congregations and the apparent anachronism of the contemporary Church seemed to produce a sharp division between those clergy buoyed by the challenge, feeling themselves like the monks of the Dark Ages squatting in forests and on mountain tops, agents of spiritual and cultural preservation, and those who were just the detritus of the old Church, parched, wizened, and passing slowly on. In Quebec as in France, those who persist in the practice of the faith are not the oldest, poorest, most desperate, though those are there, but a very random group, including elegant young women, evidently successful men, bright students, unselfconscious, curious, and assured. The spiritual edifice of the Church functions obliviously to market share, and there is a common strain of intelligent and hopeful faith, regardless of fashion, age, or economics

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:21 AM | Permalink

August 30, 2009

Real Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia?

In tune with the apocalyptic mood of our times, here's a new archeological find in Saudi Arabia that threatens to change the dynamics in the Mid East with consequences no one can imagine.

It may be the biggest archaeological discovery to date, but it is also the most dangerous

Alleged Discovery of 'Real' Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia

A quick look at what has been found easily explains all the fuss. Dr. Moller points out that the site at Nuweiba he identifies as the Red Sea crossing point has an underwater land bridge, upon which damaged [6] chariot parts and bones remain, engulfed in coral. The top of Jabal al-Lawz, the alleged real Mt. Sinai, is black [7], as if burned from the sky as described in Exodus 19:18, where it says “the Lord descended upon it in fire.” This feature sets it apart from all the other surrounding mountains which do not have darkened tops. The BASE Institute’s film shows Cornuke, who snuck onto the mountain, examining the rocks he cracked, observing that they are not merely black rocks and that only the outside had become darkened by whatever had occurred at the site. Moller has a photo of one of these rocks, which he identifies as “obsidian or volcanic glass, a mineral formed at high temperatures.”

Mt. Sinal Jabal Al Lawz
Is Jabal al-Lawz the real Mt. Sinai where Moses encountered God?

One of the greatest — and most doubted — miracles of the Exodus is the story about God instructing Moses to hit a large rock with his rod, which resulted in a flow of water for the Hebrews to drink from. Near Jabal al-Lawz is a large rock, standing about 60 feet high, split [8] down the middle. The edges of the split and the rock underneath it have become smooth, as if a stream of water had poured forth from the rock, creating a river. Given the annual rainfall in Saudi Arabia and the fact that the erosion is only present on that rock and no other ones in the surrounding area, it’s hard to find a plausible explanation for this remarkable find.

 Moses Rock

Is this the rock Moses struck to bring forth water in the desert?

I'm certainly going to keep my eye out the new documentary, The Exodus Conspiracy .

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:32 PM | Permalink

July 24, 2009

The spiritual lives of Alzheimer's patients

The religious sense remains alive.

Not even Alzheimer's can erase God

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:28 PM | Permalink

July 16, 2009

Multi-galaxy Collision or Cosmic Dance

 Galaxycollision1

Four galaxies are involved in this pile-up 280 million light years from Earth. The bright spiral galaxy at the center of the image is punching through the cluster at almost two million miles per hour.

When I saw this photograph, the word that came to mind was  a Greek one,  "perichoresis" used to describe the joyful dance of love that takes place within the Holy Trinity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:39 AM | Permalink

July 15, 2009

Spiritual Barbarism

Thaddeus J. Kozinski calls the Pope A new St Benedict for the new Dark Ages

We tend to associate barbarism with images of primitive savages looting and pillaging villages, razing the walls of cities, and enslaving women and children. However, the Holy Father is suggesting here an entirely new kind of barbarism, one with a distinctly spiritual character. Civility is the quality of soul and society by which we recognize not only that other people exist, but also that they have the right to our courtesy, dignity, and respect. Civilization, then, as the opposite of barbarism, is founded upon the recognition of the dignity and rights of the other. Thus, a culture in which "the highest goals [are] one’s ego and one’s own desires" is the very definition of barbaric.
__
Today’s barbarism is of a distinctly spiritual nature
. It is not so much a physical as a philosophical barbarism that has overtaken Western culture, a barbarism of the soul that is camouflaged by a quite "civilized" bodily façade.
--
The philosophical barbarian does not wish to have any external demands imposed upon him, for he desires all of reality to conform to his presuppositions, prejudices, and plans. He is unwilling to open his soul fully to the objects and entities around him, for he does not trust that any good will come to himself from such vulnerability. Instead of accepting the imposition of an objectively real world with infinite plenitude and profundity, he imposes upon it his paltry perspective, thereby rejecting a rich, resplendent reality for a scanty and superficial one.
He reduces reality to the size of his shrunken soul. Since the less there is to know, the less there is to love, the end result of this barbaric state of soul, tantamount to staring at one’s spiritual navel, is perpetual, relentless boredom.
--
Boredom is the telltale sign of the starving soul, and today’s barbarians are starving for the two staple soul-foods: knowledge and community. Modern secular culture feeds its denizens plenty of "knowledge" in the form of technological know-how, scientific facts, ephemeral trivia, and politically correct aphorisms, but this is paltry fare with little nutritional value compared to the sumptuous banquet of truth they could have if they only recognized their hunger for it: they desire "know-how" regarding their souls; they pine for the meaning of things, not just for facts; they yearn to partake in the complex and elegant conversation with "the best that has been thought and said" that we call the Great Books, not politicized and pre-digested cant.
--
Most of all, these barbarians are starving for friendship, for intimacy, for communion. Growing up in dysfunctional families as orphans in their own homes, in neighborhoods where no one knows each other, in rootless communities in perpetual emigration, and in cities and suburbs where the empty blandishments of consumerism and mall shopping are what passes for festival; their desire for authentic friendship—to know and be known—has become rapacious.
--
Caritas in Veritate, "Charity in Truth." Our new Benedict’s encyclical is out, and its essential message, the power of love in truth and truth in love, when practiced, is precisely what could convert us love-sick and truth-starved barbarians.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:30 PM | Permalink

July 13, 2009

Attack on Faith

Hal Colbatch, writing in the Australian, says

I WROTE here in April that Britain appears to be evolving into the first modern soft totalitarian state, but it seems I didn't know the half of it.

UK bill an attack on faith

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have warned that religious schools and care homes could be forced to remove crucifixes, holy pictures or other religious symbols or icons from their walls in case they offend atheist or non-Catholic cleaners. Under the terms of the bill, Catholic institutions could be guilty of harassment if they display images offensive to non-Catholics.
--
Andrew Summersgill, the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, says: "The practical consequences of this are that a Catholic care home, for example, may have crucifixes and holy pictures on the walls (that) reflect and support the beliefs of the residents. A cleaner may be an atheist or of very different religious beliefs. Nonetheless, if a cleaner found the crucifixes offensive, there would be no defence in law against a charge of harassment."

There is no test of reasonableness in the draft legislation; instead, the test is completely subjective.

"It is tailor-made for people to come up with objections because it puts the emphasis on the person being offended rather than on an objective test of what ought to be considered reasonable,

No surprise that this bill is largely the creation of the Harriet Harman, the Equality Minister, perhaps the most committed of left-wing social engineering activists

London priest Tim Finigan says: "For the government to promote this agenda in extreme form at a time when the political system is suffering unparalleled contempt and the far-right groups have their best opportunity for years is stupid beyond belief."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:24 AM | Permalink

July 7, 2009

Ecce Home

Xavier Le Pichon has a remarkable article up (Speaking of Faith @American Public Media), Ecce Home (Behold Humanity)

A geophysicist, Le Pichon writes of the fragility and evolution of our humanity beginning with a small child dying in Calcutta through the poignant tale of his father taking care of his mother through her long and painful decline.

Who is this child that the tidal wave of human misery has deposited among the dozens of other “dying destitutes”, as announced on the board at the entrance: “Home for dying destitutes”. Why did I have to travel over ten thousand kilometers to meet him so that he would completely reorient my life?

Suffering has suddenly swept my soul: it has washed away everything in me. How so much suffering that I had not even noticed could be present next to me? As I had been standing on the crest of the advancing wave of our scientific and technologic civilization, I did not even glance at the debris left over by its flow. I was looking ahead. And suddenly, among the debris of my civilization, this child becomes for me a person, the most important person in my life.
---

Contrarily to what is often assumed, the weak and imperfect parts are often those that allow the evolution to occur without any revolution. This is true for the evolution of life, which is in great part based on the occurrence of coding errors during the duplication of the genetic information. One can ask whether it is not also true of our societies. We tend to dissociate the individuals who are well adapted to our social life from those that have difficulties to follow the pace that is imposed on them by our life style. Yet a society that separates the producers from the others considered as dead weight, even as marginal or excluded individuals, is a hard society, characterized by conflicts and often by complete rejection of minorities. It is sad and pessimistic. On the contrary a society where all are well integrated has a much more adaptable structure, with a different, easier and more conciliatory mode of life. It is often happier and more optimistic
.

He finds that even Neanderthals fed and looked after severely handicapped members of their communities who were too disabled to contribute to the quest for food. 

this experience of welcoming the suffering of our neighbor is at the very heart of our identity of humans since the origin.
--
Thus human societies have reorganized themselves about a new pole governed by the presence of suffering and death, which is related to the realization of the fragility and vulnerability of its members. Actually, we tend to judge the degree of humanity of a society through the way in which it takes into account in its organization the presence of suffering and death.
--
Taking care of fragile and vulnerable individuals has revealed to humans their own fragility and vulnerability. It has forced them to enter this dark world of fear in order to learn to live with it. They have realized that the human individual is a unique reality that keeps its unity under widely changing aspects from the fetus to the aged person at the end of his life.
--
Father Thomas Philippe co-founder of L’Arche with Jean Vanier said: “If we take away from someone who is suffering, any meaning to his suffering, if we make him feel even indirectly that his suffering is useless and is a burden to the community, what is left for him? Despair.” We must welcome each person in such a way that she retains her full dignity and still have a sense of having something to offer to the community.

He learned from the deep transformation of his father's heart and the suffering humanity of his mother a deep mystery

What my mother and father experienced together during her long and painful illness helps us to understand a little better the nature of this mysterious transformation of relationships which comes when we welcome handicap, suffering and illness. If this welcome is made with dignity and love, the person we welcome becomes the one who leads us into a new deepening of our true humanity. That person changes us deeply as she also changes the nature of the community around them. My mother who had played such an important role during her active life to form the bonds that unified our family had at the end of her painful life an even greater influence in maintaining our unity and in deepening the heart of my father while she appeared to be utterly powerless. One can say that she radiated much more love than what she had received. She had revealed to those who had welcomed her with love a new depth of their humanity. They now better understood that they had a heart and could only find happiness in love.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:21 PM | Permalink

June 25, 2009

In the Field of Faith and Health

Reading Body, mind and Chinese medicine, I was struck by what Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School had to say in 1993 about the Chinese medical system because it's so similar to what I believe.

The whole Chinese medical system is based on the notion that the way you relate to other people, the way you think, and your emotions govern your health and illness -- what kind of life you'll have and what kind of death you'll have...  I think the entire Chinese culture is based on the notion that there is a correct way to live, and that how you live ultimately influences your health. It's not just diet or exercise, it's also a spiritual or emotional balance that comes from the way you treat other people and the way you treat yourself. That has always been the highest goal of living in all the Taoist and Confucian traditions. And since that's the basis of their culture, it spills over into their medicine.

 Stacked Rocks

In a quick search to find what is going in these days in Western medicine, I came across Dr. Harold Koenig.    A pioneer in the field of faith and health, Dr Koenig is co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University Medical Center where he also serves on the faculty as Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Associate Professor of Medicine.

In this interview with Beliefnet, Dr Koenig talks about how prayer and attending church can have a powerful effect on our mental and physical well-being.

Putting aside the ability to be able to prove it or not, do you believe that prayer can heal—specifically help someone, for example, recover from cancer?

Absolutely. I believe that on faith and I also believe it because I've seen that happen with people, including personal friends. Of course they knew they were being prayed for, by their families and their churches, and those people have had remarkable recoveries. ...*** So there's no doubt in my mind that prayers help people—those who are prayed for and those saying the prayer.
--
Beyond the effects of prayer, do you believe religious practice can lead to other health benefits? What are they?

Bear in mind that these benefits are not intended, they're kind of a consequence of going to church or praying or reading the Bible or being religiously committed. They're kind of a side effect of being religious for more valid, more intrinsic reasons.

The benefits of devout religious practice, particularly involvement in a faith community and religious commitment, are that people cope better. In general, they cope with stress better, they experience greater well-being because they have more hope, they're more optimistic, they experience less depression, less anxiety, and they commit suicide less often. They don't drink alcohol as much, they don't use drugs as much, they don't smoke cigarettes as much, and they have healthier lifestyles. They have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, probably better cardiovascular functioning, and probably a healthier hormonal environment physiologically—particularly with respect to cortisol and adrenaline [stress hormones]. And they live longer.

The same benefits do not accrue to those who profess a vague spirituality.
I think the word "spirituality" is much more inviting and it includes religion. But from a research perspective, it's really religion that's studied and been shown to benefit health— not the less definable, more vague, and individualized spirituality.

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey

In a 2005 interview with Bob Abernethy of PBS,  Koenig remarked on the exploding research on the relationship between religion and health since 2000.
In the past two and a half years, there have been over 1,800 articles written -- research studies, discussions on the topic of religion and health. Comparing the three-year periods 20 years apart, there has been, literally, an 18-fold increase in the amount of attention this subject is being paid.
--

Having faith and being optimistic can definitely influence one's outcome. However, what this research shows is that having faith specifically in religion helps people more than having faith in other things. That's what we're studying. We're comparing people with faith in religion versus faith in family or work or hobbies, and the religious people seem to do better.

If you lived a healthy lifestyle, if you had a strong family and lots of friends, if you had a belief system that helped you cope with death and life and suffering and religion had no part of it, you'd have the same health benefits. The problem is, most people aren't in that situation. Most people don't have a worldview that makes sense of death and suffering and loss, don't have a ton of friends that are supportive or a family that encourages and supports them, and don't live a healthy lifestyle because they're simply human and are pulled to these various kinds of temptations that affect our health. So religion is a package of things that brings together all of those different areas in a person's life.

Cologne Cathedral Sunset Fire

Cologne Cathedral at sunset

Now in the London Times, God will save you - believe in him or not.

Interviewing survivors around the world, I have noticed a remarkable pattern. Overwhelmingly, they share a belief that God and faith sustained them through their trials. As many as 75% or 80% cite a higher power as an important reason for their survival. Either they face their crisis with strong faith or they discover it in the crucible, believing God had a plan for them and gave them the strength to overcome.

In trying to find out what this all means, Ben Sherwood interviewed Dr. Koening:
Koenig replies that belief is the most powerful survival tool in the world. Faith and religion, he says, empower you with “the kind of strength that nothing else that I’ve ever seen can give”.

Dr. Harold Koenig is the author of several books including "The Healing Power of Faith: How Belief and Prayer Can Help You Triumph Over Disease" and  "Faith and Mental Health: Religious Resources for Healing" and "Faith In The Future: Healthcare, Aging and the Role of Religion"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:31 PM | Permalink

June 15, 2009

A radically different view of the individual in Islam

In trying to understand the situation in Iran, I've been reading a lot more about what was going on that country.

First, Sex, drugs and Islam from Spengler

Iran is dying. The collapse of Iran's birth rate during the past 20 years is the fastest recorded in any country, ever. Demographers  have sought in vain to explain Iran's population implosion through family planning policies, or through social factors such as the rise of female literacy.

But quantifiable factors do not explain the sudden collapse of fertility. It seems that a spiritual decay has overcome Iran, despite best efforts of a totalitarian theocracy. Popular morale has deteriorated much faster than in the "decadent" West against which the Khomeini revolution was directed
---

Two indicators of Iranian morale are worth citing.

First,
prostitution has become a career of choice among educated Iranian women.
--
Second, according to a recent report from the US Council on Foreign Relations, "Iran serves as the major transport hub for opiates produced by [Afghanistan], and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that I
ran has as many as 1.7 million opiate addicts." That is, 5% of Iran's adult, non-elderly population of 35 million is addicted to opiates. That is an astonishing number, unseen since the peak of Chinese addiction during the 19th century. The closest American equivalent (from the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health) found that 119,000 Americans reported using heroin within the prior month, or less than one-tenth of 1% of the non-elderly adult population.

From a review by Spengler of the book Predicting the death of , The crisis of Islamic civilization  by Ali A Allawi, a "prominent Iraqi politician who recently served as minster of defense and finance in the American-backed Iraqi government".

Muslim countries could join the modern world. But the differences between Islam and the Judeo-Christian West run far deeper than the political surface, Allawi argues, and they begin with a radically different view of the individual, or more precisely, the view that the individual human being really does not exist to begin with.

"Islam departs from the mainstream of modern constructs of the individual and the group," Allawi observes. The notion of a human individual is absent from Islamic thinking and impossible to describe in the Arabic language, he argues. Only God has individuality and uniqueness; the individual is merely an instrument, as it were. Many Western readers will skim uncomprehending over this material, and thus miss the radical thrust of Allawi's argument
. Western political scientists do not learn theology, whereas Allawi argues that in the Islamic world, politics is theology.

Both of which were referenced in Spengler's piece today Hedgehogs and flamingos in Tehran.

I had to review once again the Origins of the Shia-Sunni split and the linked article from NPR by Mike Shuster was invaluable.  Even better, and absolutely essential for seeing the problem was the Shia-Sunni map which can be found at the same link.  With greater understanding, I could turn to the Hedgehogs article.

Why did the mullahs fix the election?  And why so obviously? 

The trumpet which dare not sound an uncertain note was a call to Tehran's Shi'ite constituency, as well as to a fifth of Pakistani Muslims. Religious establishments by their nature are conservative, and they engage in radical acts only in need.

Tehran is tugged forward by the puppies of war: Hezbollah in Lebanon and its co-sectarians in Pakistan. With a population of 170 million, Pakistan has 20 million men of military age, as many as Iran and Turkey combined; by 2035 it will have half again as many. It also has nuclear weapons. And it is in danger of disintegration.
--
Against a young, aggressive and unstable Pakistan, Iran seems a moribund competitor...Collapsing fertility is accompanied by social pathologies, including rates of drug addiction and prostitution an order of magnitude greater than in any Western country.
-

Iran's aspirations for a restored Islamic civilization cannot exclude Pakistan's 30 million Shi'ites. The Taliban's insurgency inside Pakistan is directed against the Shi'ites more than any other target, and to make matters worse, Pakistani intelligence is agitating among Iran's own Sunni minority.

Are we looking at a civil war in Islam?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:21 PM | Permalink

June 12, 2009

After post-modernism, faith

Roger Scruton on the humanities, Farewell to Judgment

People of my generation were taught to believe that there are human universals, which remain constant from age to age. We were taught to study literature in order to sympathize with life in all its forms. It doesn't matter, we were told, if Shakespeare's political assumptions do not coincide with ours. His plays do not aim to indoctrinate; they aim to present believable characters in believable situations, and to do so in heightened language that would set our imaginations and our sympathies on fire. Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty. And that is how you justify the study of English, as a training in this other kind of judgment, which leaves politics behind.
--
--
Conservatives often complain about the politicization of the universities, and about the fact that only liberal views are propagated or even tolerated on campus. But they fail to see the true cause of this, which is the internal collapse of the humanities.
When judgment is marginalized or forbidden nothing remains save politics. The only permitted way to compare Jane Austen and Maya Angelou, or Mozart and Meshuggah, is in terms of their rival political postures. And then the point of studying Jane Austen or Mozart is lost. What do they have to tell us about the ideological conflicts of today, or the power struggles that are played out in the faculty common room?

Deconstructionism and Post-modernism reigns in today's universities, yet no one is happy or could be happy with the poverty of spirit on offer.

Scruton in an interview
The rhetoric of deconstruction is not so widely adverted to today as it once was. But that is not because its tenets are no longer embraced but rather because they have become so familiar that they no longer seem shocking. The nihilistic assumptions of deconstruction have not been jettisoned, they have been internalized: more and more they are simply taken for granted as part of the accepted and expected intellectual furniture of the time.

--
The most flagrant example is the university, an institution that was entrusted with the task of preserving and transmitting what Matthew Arnold called "the best that has been thought and said" but that since the 1960s has become a refuge for radical political activism
--
Dostoyevsky once claimed that if God does not exist then everything is permitted. Considerable ingenuity has gone into proving Dostoyevsky wrong. To date, though, the record would seem to support him.

It just so happens that a British biographer, novelist and man of letters, A.N.Wilson who had made it his business to skewer faith as irrational has recently converted.

 A.N.Wilson

A.N. Wilson explains himself in Why I believe again

Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist “explanations” for our mysterious human existence simply won’t do – on an intellectual level.
--

When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love....Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.
--
My return was slow, hesitant, doubting. So it will always be; but I know I shall never make the same mistake again.

From Look who's a believer now.

Those who later recanted their atheism went on from this common start to begin to doubt their doubts. They gradually decided that their rationalistic method was too narrow: It could pick holes not only in Christianity but in any attempt to distinguish between right and wrong or to articulate the meaning of life. They came to realize that they could only tear down and thus were left intellectually with no habitable place to live. John Henry Gordon, who held the only full-time, salaried secularist lecturer position in England, came to believe that secularism was a creed of "mere negations."

Having realized that their method was flawed, they then began to reconsider faith. Christianity, they discovered, spoke to the deepest realities of human experience.

Even the left-wing German philosopher Jürgen Habermas stunned his followers lately with this statement:
“Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:44 PM | Permalink

June 11, 2009

Anti-Christian and anti-Catholic bigotry growing in U.K.

With increasing frequency, we're seeing Christians being persecuted in the U.K.   

One 43-year-old woman wore a gold crucifix around her neck as many Catholics do.  She was told at a disciplinary meeting that her job as a phlebotomist under the Gloucestershire NHS Trust was at risk unless she removed the crucifix because they claimed her one-inch crucifix could be used as a weapon or could be a source of infections

She told the Gloucestershire Echo: "I just feel it is so wrong - I have always worn my cross inside my uniform and it means a lot to me. They have told me I can carry it in my pocket but it isn't the same.

"My faith is important to me but I'm not a bible basher and don't push it onto colleagues. Now I have to choose between my job and my faith. It is an awful situation."

Christians risk rejection and discrimination for their faith in the U.K., a study claims

The first poll of Britain's churchgoers, carried out for The Sunday Telegraph, found that thousands of them believe they are being turned down for promotion because of their faith.

One in five said that they had faced opposition at work because of their beliefs.

More than half of them revealed that they had suffered some form of persecution for being a Christian.

The abuse in the marriage made it hard, but the mother, a committed Catholic,  made sure her son,  only 5,  was enrolled in a Catholic school.  When the marital abuse led to a nervous breakdown, and the mother was unable to care for her son.  Social workers took  custody of the boy and placed with a homosexual couple who run the hotel in which they live.

Catholic mother's fury after mental breakdown sees son fostered by gay couple

‘She would prefer a Catholic couple, but if that is not possible, at least a heterosexual one. But social services have given her no choice. She cannot understand how he can be looked after by two men she’s never met.

‘Her belief is that they could encourage him into a lifestyle that is against her religious beliefs.

‘The other day he asked her, “Mummy, are you lesbian or gay?” She had to tell him she was neither.’
--
Last night, a leading Catholic lawyer, who asked not to be named, said: ‘I have to ask, would a local authority put a ten-year-old atheist child into a devoutly Catholic home? I think not.

‘Or would it place a ten-year-old hijab-wearing devout Muslim girl with two gay men? Again, I think not.’

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:41 PM | Permalink

June 5, 2009

On Prayer

Two quite interesting posts on prayer from two of my favorite bloggers.

Gerald Vanderleun "While You Were Out"

We don't know much about God. Indeed, there are many among us who make it a point to know even less -- until they are proud, damned proud, to know nothing at all. Once they achieve this brainfade, they encourage the rest of us to follow suit in a paroxysm of self-willed ignorance.
--
We know that God is not finished with us yet in many ways, but the most obvious sign is the fact that, if God were finished with us, we'd have a third set of teeth that would come in around age 45.
--
Since we see, in small ways in our own lives and in larger ways in the realms of the world and history, that prayers are, from time to time, actually answered,
--
In fact, whole elements of religion are centered around having you find and keep a personal relationship with God. But just because you have a personal relationship with God (and you should), doesn't mean God has to have a personal relationship with you. He is, after all, God and He's got a whole universe to run. It's a big place and He's just one God and He's busy.
--
For the most part, God lets the Evolution Factory handle reality. The Evolution Factory is one of his better projects. Brilliant really.
--
As I was saying, prayer -- with or without God -- makes us stronger and our desires and abilities more focussed just by happening. As a result, things you pray for tend to happen to you more often than things you don't pray for simply because your abilities are more concentrated on the outcome. Pretty clever wiring for a God who does not exist.

Doctor Bob in The Prayer of Java

Of course, it is not the prayer itself, but the power it unleashes, which accomplishes such things. Gravity worked the same for Cro-Magnon man as it does for a modern physicist; understanding the force changes it not one wit.
--
And here’s the rub: the power behind prayer is not an inert physical force, but an infinitely wise and caring God. Whether you believe in Him or not, He exists, He listens — and amazingly (given our reprobate nature), always has our best interest at heart. As I look back at my own life, were I to have received a tenth of the things I asked for in prayer, my life would be an unmitigated disaster. God knows when to say “no”, where to say “wait”; He knows how to listen to what I ask for and give me instead what I really need, and truly want.
--
If you’re new to this prayer thing (or even not so new), start small. Praying for world peace or a cure for your cancer is fine, but a bit grandiose for starters. Pray about your misplaced car keys, finding a parking spot, the wisdom to deal with that difficult patient, or co-worker, or child, or situation. Then open your eyes, your ears, your heart for the response. You won’t hear it every time — but I bet you’ll be surprised how often you do, and you’ll learn something about God, about yourself, and in some small way about how this spiritual world works.

If you've lost something, pray to St. Anthony of Padua who is the Catholic patron saint for lost or stolen items,

"Holy Tony please come round, Something's lost and must be found."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

May 27, 2009

Happy Like God

He's a philosophy professor who asks whether the traditional philosophical idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation is really so ridiculous.

Simon Critchley in Happy Like God.

For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. Today, few people would seem to subscribe to this view.
--

Happiness is not quantitative or measurable and it is not the object of any science, old or new. It cannot be gleaned from empirical surveys or programmed into individuals through a combination of behavioral therapy and anti-depressants. If it consists in anything, then I think that happiness is this feeling of existence, this sentiment of momentary self-sufficiency that is bound up with the experience of time
--
As Wittgenstein writes in what must be the most intriguing remark in the “Tractatus,” “the eternal life is given to those who live in the present.” Or ,as Whitman writes in “Leaves of Grass”: “Happiness is not in another place, but in this place…not for another hour…but this hour.”

 Chalice Of Repose

But think about it: If anyone is happy, then one imagines that God is pretty happy, and to be happy is to be like God. But consider what this means, for it might not be as ludicrous, hubristic or heretical as one might imagine. To be like God is to be without time, or rather in time with no concern for time, free of the passions and troubles of the soul, experiencing something like calm in the face of things and of oneself.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:42 PM | Permalink

May 19, 2009

"My wife and I grew up hating Pius XII"

The mitzvah of Gary Krupp, a Jew who was knighted by Pope John Paul, his wife and their Pave the Way Foundation in rehabilitating the reputation of Pope Pius XII,  unfairly called "Hitler's Pope" who, in truth,  saved the lives of up to 850,000 Jews, more than all the international agencies put together.

F0000411

My wife and I grew up hating Pius XII

He is in London because a British television firm is making a documentary about his work on Pius. He is an interesting enough figure to warrant such attention. He is proudly Jewish, a Zionist who, after a successful career fitting hospital suites with new imaging technologies, is spending his retirement battling to restore the reputation of a pontiff maligned as a Nazi sympathiser. Correcting this revision of history is a "Jewish issue", argues Krupp, because Pius was a man who "in just one day hid 7,000 Jews from the Nazis" - nearly six times more than Oscar Schindler saved during the entire war.
---
He believes that Pius will eventually be exonerated. All most people know about him is that he was "Hitler's Pope", says Krupp: "But if you go to an average person with the information that we have found they can only come to one conclusion - that this guy was the greatest hero of World War Two. We can prove it. We have something on our side - documented proof - where the revisionists haven't a scrap of paper to support their theories."

 Pius Xii

To find such proof the foundation has commissioned the German historian Michael Hesemann to search the Vatican archives opened two years ago by Pope Benedict XVI. These cover the period from 1922 to 1939, the years when Eugenio Pacelli served as nuncio to Bavaria and then as Pope Pius XI's "Jew-loving" Secretary of State, as he was referred to by the Nazis.
--
One piece, discovered in the diary of a Rome convent, revealed that Pius directly ordered the religious houses of Rome to hide the city's Jews on October 16 1943, the same day his protest at their deportation was ignored.
--
Since the Sixties most of the evidence in defence of Pius has been unearthed by Jewish historians, most notably by Pinchas Lapide who used Yad Vashem's records to show that the Church under Pius saved up to 850,000 lives - more than all the international agencies put together.

In a piece published in the NY Daily News, Krupp called on Jews to Stop persecuting Pius - WWII pontiff is branded "Hitler's Pope," but he did much to save the Jews

I, along with several researchers, have discovered many documents detailing little-known activities of Pacelli. In 1917, for example, he intervened to protect Jews in Palestine from the Ottoman Turks. In 1925 he helped the head of the World Zionist Organization meet with Vatican officials to promote a Jewish homeland in Palestine. We found a confidential U.S. Foreign Service document reporting the Pope's hatred of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, and a letter signed by Pacelli moving to overturn a proposed Polish law against kosher slaughtering. We located a nun's diary entry stating that her community received orders from the Pope to protect the Jews.
--
More evidence shows Pius secretly moved Jews out of Europe. We conducted dozens of video interviews, among them a witness account of a priest who revealed a secret "underground railroad," directly ordered by the Pope, sending more than 10,000 Jews to the U.S. via the Dominican Republic. Many countries would not accept "Jews," so they were given false baptismal papers to travel as Catholics. Pius successfully stopped the deportation of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews when he appealed to the Regent of Hungary. Similarly, he desperately tried to impact the deportation policies of many other countries to, in his words, "save this vibrant community."


With German rifles posted beneath his windows

Aware of Hitler's plan to kidnap him and seize the Vatican, Pius formed a government in exile and still managed to directly stop the arrest of Roman Jews on Oct. 16, 1943. In literally one day, the Vatican managed to hide, feed and support more than 7,000 Jews in Catholic institutions and private homes - all with German rifles posted 200 yards beneath Pius'  windows.
--
Prominent Jewish and Israeli leaders like Albert Einstein, Golda Meir and Joseph Lichten, as well as the Italian Jewish community, praised Pius after the war. Upon Pius' death in 1958, Israeli historian and diplomat Pinchas Lapide reported that many had suggested a forest of 860,000 trees be planted in the Judean hills to represent the Jews Pius had helped to save.
--

"The most successful character assassination in the 20th century."

The public controversy began in 1963 with a negative portrayal of Pius in a fictitious play called "The Deputy." The highest ranking KGB agent to ever defect recently wrote an article detailing how the KGB planned, financed and edited this play in an operation called "SEAT TWELVE." This illicit KGB effort to discredit the church has been the most successful character assassination of the 20th century.


How the KGB Slandered a Dead Pope

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:10 AM | Permalink

The Incredible Ignorance of NYT Readers about Religion

I wondered for some time why some very smart people, the kind that reads The New York Times, are so abysmally ignorant about religion. And why,  in the words of Bill Schneider, "The press...just doesn't get religion."

Stanley Fish talks God in the New York Times and gives the NYT readers what for.

According to recent surveys, somewhere between 79 and 92 percent of Americans believe in God. But if the responses to my column on Terry Eagleton’s “Faith, Reason and Revolution” constitute a representative sample, 95 percent of Times readers don’t. What they do believe, apparently, is that religion is a fairy tale, hogwash, balderdash, nonsense and a device for rationalizing horrible deeds.
--
Pking gets it right. “To torpedo faith is to destroy the roots of . . . any system of knowledge . . . I challenge anyone to construct an argument proving reason’s legitimacy without presupposing it . . . Faith is the base, completely unavoidable. Get used to it. It’s the human condition.” (All of us, not just believers, see through a glass darkly.) Religious thought may be vulnerable on any number of fronts, but it is not vulnerable to the criticism that in contrast to scientific or empirical thought, it rests on mere faith.
--
Some readers find a point of vulnerability in what they take to be religion’s flaccid, Polyanna-like, happy-days optimism. Religious people, says Delphinias, live their lives “in a state of blissfully blind oblivion.” They rely on holy texts that they are “to believe in without question.” (C.C.) “No evidence, no problem — just take it on faith.” (Michael) They don’t allow themselves to be bothered by anything. Religion, says Charles, “cannot deal with doubt and dissent,”
--

What I say, and I say it to all those quoted in the previous paragraph, is what religion are you talking about? The religions I know are about nothing but doubt and dissent, and the struggles of faith, the dark night of the soul, feelings of unworthiness, serial backsliding, the abyss of despair. Whether it is the book of Job, the Confessions of St. Augustine, Calvin’s Institutes, Bunyan’s “Grace Abounding to The Chief of Sinners,” Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling” and a thousand other texts, the religious life is depicted as one of aspiration within the conviction of frailty. The heart of that life, as Eagleton reminds us, is not a set of propositions about the world (although there is some of that), but an orientation toward perfection by a being that is radically imperfect.
--
So to sum up, the epistemological critique of religion — it is an inferior way of knowing — is the flip side of a naïve and untenable positivism. And the critique of religion’s content — it’s cotton-candy fluff — is the product of incredible ignorance.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:06 AM | Permalink

May 17, 2009

"Seeing deeper into the whole of creation"

A lovely piece by Vanderleun reminding me that Miracles and Wonders Continue

And so, while the petty politicians bleat, and the small and not so small wars rage on in fits and starts, almost everyone on the Earth will sleep tonight with someone they don't really mind all that much. And tomorrow the kids in the playground across the street will run and skip and jump at recess. And tomorrow our planet, one of many like it or perhaps alone in the universe, will turn full of much more goodness and grace than hate and suffering.

And tomorrow, somewhere in mid-heaven, floating weightless between the Earth and the Sun, men and women will carefully repair and refurbish a telescope so that we might see ever deeper into the whole of creation, and perhaps even, just a bit, into the mind and purposes of God.

        cats-eye_nebula

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:33 AM | Permalink

May 4, 2009

"Farrago of nonsense"

In light of the coming debut of  Angels and Demons based on another Dan Brown book, the science fiction writer John C. Wright comes out blazing to set the record straight for the history-challenged.

I thought ANGELS AND DEMONS by Dan Brown would turn out to be just an ordinary run-of-the-mill Catholic-bashing hate-fest. But, no, the whoppers told strain credulity. Do people actually know that little about history? It seems that they do.

Brown claims: Copernicus was murdered by the Catholic Church.
Fact: Copernicus died quietly in bed at age 70 from a stroke, and his research was supported by Church officials; he even dedicated his masterwork to the Pope.

Brown claims: “Antimatter is the ultimate energy source. It releases energy with 100% efficiency.”
Fact: CERN, the lab which plays an important role in his story, actually debunked this claim on their website: “The inefficiency of antimatter production is enormous: you get only a tenth of a billion of the invested energy back.”

Brown claims: Churchill was a “staunch Catholic.”
Fact: Any history buff could tell you that Churchill wasn’t Catholic, he was Anglican; nor was he particularly religious. The only things Churchill was staunch about were cigars, whiskey, and defending the British Empire.

Brown claims: Pope Urban VII banished Bernini’s famous statue The Ecstasy of St. Teresa “to some obscure chapel across town” because it was too racy for the Vatican.
Fact: The statue was actually commissioned by Cardinal Cornaro specifically for the Cornaro Chapel (Brown’s “obscure chapel”). Moreover, the sculpture was completed in 1652 — eight years after Urban’s death.

Brown claims: Bernini and famed scientist Galileo were members of the Illuminati.
Fact: The Illuminati was founded in Bavaria in 1776. Bernini died in 1680, while Galileo died in 1642 — more than a century before the Illuminati were first formed.

With so much bogus scholarship on the History Channel and from respectable publishers, George Sim Johnston takes us Back to the Beginning in a brief introduction to the ancient Catholic Church.

The Da Vinci Code... has sold a staggering nine million copies. Both the New York Times and National Public Radio seem to think that it is based on historical fact. Even its author appears to think so. But a book that claims that Christians did not believe in the divinity of Christ until the fourth century, that a Roman emperor chose the four Gospels, that the Church executed five million witches, and that Opus Dei has monks is obviously little more than a farrago of nonsense.

We live in a sea of false historiography, and so it is worth asking: What exactly happened during the first centuries of Christianity? How did a small band of believers, starting out in a despised outpost of the Roman Empire, end up the dominant institution of the Mediterranean world? What was "primitive Christianity"? John Henry Newman became a Catholic in the course of answering that question. History, he said, is the enemy of Protestantism. It is also the enemy of the newly vigorous anti-Catholicism that circulates among our cultural elites.
--
To paraphrase Hilaire Belloc, there was no such thing as a religion called "primitive Christianity." There is and always has been the Church, founded by Christ around the year 30 A.D. That Church has always been hierarchical and sacramental. And it saved Western Europe from both pagan barbarism and Eastern nihilism.

In fact, almost everything we value in our civilization — hospitals, museums, universities, the idea of human rights — is by origin Catholic. These things did not come from the Vikings or northern German tribes; they certainly did not come from the Gnostics. But our modern secular culture displays a willful amnesia on the subject of our Catholic patrimony.

Here's a short video from Catholics Come Home

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:26 AM | Permalink

May 2, 2009

"the Israelis have something better than security. They have faith."

Why Israel is the world's happiest country, David Goldman in First Things who formerly wrote as the anonymous Spengler.

If any of you are depressed, morose, despondent, pessimistic, and glum, I have a cost-effective solution. For the price of a dozen sessions with a medicore therapist, you can get on a plane and go to Israel. That will cheer you up. Trust me. Insecurity doesn’t make you unhappy. This life isn’t secure. Shut yourself up in a cave ten miles under the earth with all the distilled water and freeze-dried food you can hoard, equip it with an intensive care unit and a dozen physicians… you still are going to die. Being alive is a very insecure condition as the probability of becoming dead at some future point is — let me check the chart — 100%. Care will slip in through the keyhole,  no matter how secure you try to be. But the Israelis have something better than security. They have faith. That’s true even of secular Israelis, for to be an Israeli is a statement of faith.

And that is why Israel is the happiest country in the world. Last year I made this argument in a
Spengler essay:


“In a world given over to morbidity, the state of Israel still teaches the world love of life, not in the trivial sense of joie de vivre, but rather as a solemn celebration of life. In another location, I argued, “It’s easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction.
It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations.” Still, it is remarkable to observe by what wide a margin the Israelis win the global happiness sweepstakes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:07 AM | Permalink

Mac De

In France, Mac Do is MacDonald's, but you'll never guess who Mac De is until you read Why Did They Like Him? over at Brits at their Best.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:02 AM | Permalink

May 1, 2009

Miracle close to home

Marshfield miracle helps sainthood cause

Jack Sullivan, a longtime Plymouth District Court clerk magistrate,  says he experienced a miraculous healing after praying for the help of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman.  This is wants known as intercessory prayer, praying on behalf of another.  Catholics believe that those in heaven, the saints, can intercede for us as well.

 Sullivan Miracle1

Lying in a hospital bed after surgery on his spine, unable to walk and in agonizing pain, Jack Sullivan propped himself up on elbows and prayed.
Not to some vast, unknowable God, but to a specific figure in the Catholic church, vastly respected, yet mortal: Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Englishman who died in 1890.

The healing, as Sullivan tells it, was almost immediate. He felt a tingling all over, was flooded with warmth, and, as easy as that, he could walk.

Now, the recovery that Sullivan, 70, has been describing for almost a decade, a drama that unfolded in August 2001, is on the verge of being deemed a miracle by the Catholic church, and the unassuming Marshfield man, a church deacon and father of three, is at the center of an accelerating campaign to make the late British cardinal a saint.

 Sullivan Miracle2

A panel of theologians, convened by the branch of the Vatican that investigates possible miracles, has concluded that Sullivan's recovery resulted from his prayer, the London Telegraph newspaper reported. A panel of doctors previously researched his claim and found no medical explanation for what happened, Sullivan said. The final decision to bestow miracle status rests with Pope Benedict XVI. If that status is given, as expected, it would lead to beatification for Newman, the last step before canonization, or sainthood.
--

'The most important thing was the sense of exuberance I felt, exuberance and confidence that all would be well, all would be rosy, and a tremendous happiness,' Sullivan said yesterday. 'I got up and walked all over the place, twisting my cane like Charlie Chaplin.'"

Farther afield

The would-be assassin of Pope John Paul II, Mehmet Ali Agca, writes from prison that he is now a Catholic

"I have decided to return peacefully to the (St Peter's) square and to testify to the world of my conversion to Catholicism," he says in the letter written in Italian.

"Just for a day, I would wish to return to Rome to pray at the tomb of John Paul II to express my filial appreciation for his forgiveness," he adds.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

April 27, 2009

A Semester with Jesus

You may have already seen this but if you haven't, read about Kevin Roose, the student at Brown University who "infiltrated" Liberty University

"As a responsible American citizen, I couldn't just ignore the fact that there are a lot of Christian college students out there," said Roose, 21, now a Brown senior. "If I wanted my education to be well-rounded, I had to branch out and include these people that I just really had no exposure to."

Formed in 1971, Liberty now enrolls more than 11,000 residential students, along with thousands more who study through Liberty's distance-learning programs. The university teaches creationism and that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, while pledging "a strong commitment to political conservatism" on campus and a "total rejection of socialism."
--
He lined up a publisher — Grand Central Publishing — and arrived at the Lynchburg campus prepared for "hostile ideologues who spent all their time plotting abortion clinic protests and sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls."

Instead, he found that "not only are they not that, but they're rigorously normal."
---
Roose said his Liberty experience transformed him in surprising ways.
--
Once ambivalent about faith, Roose now prays to God regularly — for his own well-being and on behalf of others. He said he owns several translations of the Bible and has recently been rereading meditations from the letters of John on using love and compassion to solve cultural conflicts.

He's even considering joining a church.

From an interview in Newsweek

Did you ever feel guilty about deceiving your new friends?

I did, and I tried to be as honest as I could. When people asked, I told them I'd come from Brown. I expected raised eyebrows, but often what I got was pity. They thought I was fleeing secularism, and they'd say, "Oh, Liberty must be a breath of fresh air." And I'd be like, "You have no idea."

His book is

"The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University" (Kevin Roose)

He's also started a blog where he promotes his book and discusses other matters like Bible literacy: Why you need to know the Bible (even if you're an atheist)

For all the talk of America as a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values, one humbling fact remains: As a culture, we know startlingly little about the Bible. As Stephen Prothero points out in his book Religious Literacy, studies have shown that only half of U.S. adults know one of the four Gospels by name. More than half are unable to identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and 60% can’t name five of the Ten Commandments. Sadly, our collective slide into biblical illiteracy doesn’t seem to be reversing itself among the younger set–according to Prothero, 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.
--
By getting a solid foundation in the Bible in my Liberty classes, I gained access to an incredible amount of cultural capital. Suddenly, hidden metaphors in classic works of literature leapt out at me from the page, and I caught the subtle scriptural references embedded in political stump speeches
--

Outside the classroom and the newsroom, biblical literacy is also important in our personal lives. For better or worse, America is a nation with a deeply entrenched religious divide, and knowing the language of the Bible can help secular liberals reach across faith boundaries and build common ground with even the most conservative Christians.
--
The Bible is, quite simply, the most influential book in history. It’s the all-time best seller, the book whose pages have inspired wars and toppled regimes, whose words have given hope and comfort to billions of believers. And knowing almost nothing about it–as I did before my semester “abroad” at a Christian college–greatly hinders a person’s ability to participate knowledgeably in our country’s most important cultural discussions. Atheist or believer, Jewish or Christian, I hope–and pray–that this holiday season will inspire us all to learn a little more about the book in whose shadow we all live.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

April 15, 2009

The Cosmic Dance

What is going on in the sky above that is otherwise invisible to your naked eye outside your suburban Boston Home.

Mosaic Sky-Above

  As I grew older,...eventually I made some startling discoveries -- three of them -- and they have changed my life forever. The first of these is the amazing revelation that I am made up of stardust, that every part and parcel of who I am materially was once a piece of a star shining in the heavens. The second discovery is that the air I breathe is the air that has circled the globe and been drawn in and out by people, creatures and vegetation in lands and seas far away. But the most astounding discovery that both awakened and affirmed my early childhood awareness is the fact that I am part of a vast and marvelous dance that goes on unceasingly at every moment in the most minute particles of the universe....

Joyce Rupp

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:41 AM | Permalink

April 12, 2009

Exultent - The Easter Proclamation

The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ

The Exultent is chanted by the deacon during the Easter Vigil

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!
--
This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Happy Easter

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:35 PM | Permalink

April 10, 2009

The Crown of Thorns in the Cosmos

The Crown of Thorns in the Cosmos

 Crown Of Thorns Galaxy

 
A new Hubble image of NGC 7049, a glittering "oddball" galaxy captured by NASA/ESA in the constellation of Indus
The halo - the ghostly region of diffuse light surrounding the galaxy - is composed of myriads of individual stars and provides a luminous background to the remarkable swirling ring of dust lanes surrounding NGC 7049's core. Globular clusters are very dense and compact groupings of a few hundreds of thousands of stars bound together by gravity.

An astonishing meditation on Good Friday by  Richard John Neuhaus, "Father Forgive Them"

But it is just as odd that it should be called God’s Friday, when it is the day that we say goodbye to the glory of God. Wherever its name comes from, let your present moment stay with this day; stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One. There is time enough for Easter.

By these three days all the world is called to attention. Everything that is and ever was and ever will be, the macro and the micro, the galaxies beyond number and the microbes beyond notice—everything is mysteriously entangled with what happened, with what happens, in these days. This is the axis mundi, the center upon which the cosmos turns. In the derelict who cries from the cross is, or so Christians say, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The life of all on this day died. Stay a while with that dying.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:31 AM | Permalink

April 9, 2009

Standing Under The Last Supper

Lastsupperschematic

      Schematic diagram From Restoration of the Last Supper

 The Last Supper Da Vinci
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci finished in 1498 on the refectory wall of of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan

The artist Makoto Fujimara, taking up the invitation to Come and See,  travels to Milan to stand under the masterpiece.

"If you want to 'understand' something," said my friend Bruce Herman, "you have to be willing to 'stand under' it." Bruce, an art professor at Gordon College, went on to cite C. S. Lewis' Experiment in Criticism:

We sit down before the picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.
--

Leonardo painted in a grand, dominating scale for a small space. Even standing in the far back of the refectory, it is difficult for the eye to decipher the whole painting all at once. He painted The Last Supper in such a way as to force the viewer to enter the painting, physically and emotionally, and to viscerally become part of the narrative.

Only when the viewer stands under the painting can it be seen as it was intended to be (plate A). Leonardo had a specific visual message for those who stand under the painting. He had the visual sophistication to carry off what very few artists could even dream of doing: he painted the complex psychology of betrayal. It starts with Philip, and ends in a moneybag. Invited to walk into Leonardo's funhouse of mirrors, we are all meant to be part of this narrative, which is refracted within our own dark journeys.
--
As an artist, I naturally try to identify the source of light in a painting, because I know that artists often use light to reveal what they want the viewer to see. In this painting, it would be easy to assume that the light is coming from behind from the windows, through which we see a Renaissance landscape. But the source of light in this painting actually is the face of Jesus reflecting on all of the disciples – all but Judas, who is under-painted with black, denied a brightened countenance.
--
For him to have painted as he did, he had to be convinced of a center that holds.

So who is at the center? Where does the “vanishing point” end?

It ends on the forehead of the Savior.

And that foundation will hold, no matter how full our moneybags get, nor how little it takes for us to engage in betrayal. To Leonardo, the triangular shape of Jesus literally holds the painting in its visual movement.

A very high resolution photograph (16 billion pixels ) of the painting can be explored here

Timothy Verdon, an art historian and priest explains the profound meaning of the masterpiece from an artistic, theological and liturgical perspective in The Last Supper According to Leonardo published last week in L'Osservatore Romano.

By the use of perspective, the artist focuses the attention on Christ, making him the convergence point of the entire pictorial cosmos defined by the room. In fact, the diagonal lines that draw the eye forward inevitably lead to Christ, everything meets in Him, He is the center of the visual logic of the whole, as well as its narrative logic. He is not the last point, the vanishing point in the perspective; the diagonal lines, instead, converge behind Christ, in the evening sky outside of the window; but that vanishing point remains hidden. Seeking the infinite, our gaze comes to a halt with Christ, as if He were still saying, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:37 AM | Permalink

March 31, 2009

More Christians than communists in China

There are more Christians in China than communists: 100 million believers vs. 74 million members of the communist party.

In fact, across China religion is undergoing a defiant and extraordinary revival. Millions of Chinese are turning to familiar traditional faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism – a mystical belief with about 400 million adherents that is China’s only indigenous creed. Taoist believers, like Buddhists, visit temples across the country to burn incense, present offerings and request readings from fortune tellers. Others are finding comfort in Confucius, but it is Christianity that is leading the battle for China’s 1.3 billion souls.
--

Praying Chinese Christian
More Robert Reinlund photos here.

Why Christianity has such a hold remains something of an enigma. Many Chinese are looking to fill the chasm left by the collapse in Marxist ideology’s credibility in the wake of the disastrous ultra-leftist 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It’s also possible that a religion from the West holds a particular attraction for Chinese looking for a more modern faith to complement the stunning success of capitalist-style economic reforms. But the sense of belonging may be the best way to explain why Christianity has been such a spectacular success story in China in the past few years.
--

“The future of Christianity in China is very different from in the West,” believes Pastor Jin. “In the West, Christianity is in retreat, especially in Europe, but in China it is growing by leaps and bounds.” He cites the stability the church offers to a population buffeted by decades of wrenching political change as one of most appealing aspects of the faith.
--

“China is a land that has been chosen by God. If the government did not interfere then many more Chinese would become followers. Our hearts are thirsty.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:18 PM | Permalink

March 23, 2009

"I have seen the future, and it's riots"

Britain's Naked Public Square

[T]he piecemeal persecution of Christians in Britain is even more damaging—and it has now become routine.
--
Jeremy Vine is a highly visible BBC broadcaster and a practicing Anglican. In a recent interview, Vine explained how difficult it had become to speak of his faith on air. It is, he claimed, now “socially unacceptable” to mention one’s Christian faith in public. Society in Britain has become intolerant of the freedom to express the religious views that were “common currency thirty or forty years ago,” Vine added. “The parameters of what you might call ‘right thinking” are closing. Sadly, it is almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God.” All of which is unsurprising, given that last year Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC and a practicing Catholic, issued an edict stating that the BBC should treat Islam “more sensitively” than Christianity.
--
The problem is that the government and media of Great Britain have put in place over the last few decades a determined program to abolish the influence of Christianity. It’s a little late now for believers to pretend surprise that such a program exists and has consequences—to be shocked that a community nurse should be fired for offering to pray for a patient or astonished that a culture that set out to devalue its values should find itself awash in crime, sex, and social discord. We need, rather, to do as the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, insisted when he asked his congregants to “wake up” and defend their faith before it is further marginalized. “Christians should reclaim,” as the Anglican bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, recently demanded, their “place in the public square.”


If people who believe in the sanctity of life don't speak up or are afraid to speak in the public square, there will be no stopping such abominations such as the recently proposed directive from the EU.  EU 'to put animals before embryos'

The European Union is to radically restrict laboratory testing on animals - by insisting human embryos are used by scientists for research instead.

Toxicology tests on animals will be permitted only after similar research on tissue taken from human embryos has proved fruitless, according to a proposed new directive from the European Commission (EC).

And no one to speak out against  people like Patricia Hewitt, former Health Minister under Tony Blair, who wants to see suicide/euthanasia clinics set up across the country

The future of Europe without practicing Christianity is chilling.  Theodore Dalrymple in Europe is a Riot

As if this were not enough, the government has done all in its power to ensure that there are no forms of social solidarity that do not pass through a government department—it went to the trouble of de facto nationalizing all the major charities well before it nationalized the banks. Forty-two percent of British children are now born illegitimate, and at least 25 percent can expect to live in a single-parent household, while many others live with serial step-parents, which is perhaps worse still. This is not a form of family life that can exist on a mass scale without state subvention, which if suddenly withdrawn or greatly reduced would plunge large numbers of people into real poverty. It conduces to common criminality, which is now rampant in Britain.
--

Not long ago, I had occasion to stay for a few weeks in a once-industrial town in the north of England. The last steel mills had just closed down. I was surprised by the elegance of much of the early 19th-century architecture, now completely overwhelmed by the brutalism of the 1960s and ’70s. The prematurely middle-aged spent their time looking for secondhand clothes in charity shops. Pawnshops had also made a big comeback. Feral young men with an expression of urban predation on their faces stood around on street corners in nylon tracksuits and hoods, muttering f---ing this and f---ing that to one another. About half the people in the street were unemployed young immigrants, mainly of Middle Eastern origin, on the lookout for a bit of small-scale trafficking. Some took advantage of free Internet access in the public library—a concrete building aesthetically suitable as the headquarters of the Stasi—to look at inflammatory political sites or to search for women.

I have seen the future, and it’s riots

The  only hopeful words I could find this weekend were those of Pope Benedict in Angola at a Mass for a Million

The words which Jesus speaks in today's Gospel are quite striking: He tells us that God's sentence has already been pronounced upon this world (cf. Jn 3:19ff). The light has already come into the world. Yet men preferred the darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil. How much darkness there is in so many parts of our world! Tragically, the clouds of evil have also overshadowed Africa, including this beloved nation of Angola. We think of the evil of war, the murderous fruits of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, the greed which corrupts men's hearts, enslaves the poor, and robs future generations of the resources they need to create a more equitable and just society -- a society truly and authentically African in its genius and values. And what of that insidious spirit of selfishness which closes individuals in upon themselves, breaks up families, and, by supplanting the great ideals of generosity and self-sacrifice, inevitably leads to hedonism, the escape into false utopias through drug use, sexual irresponsibility, the weakening of the marriage bond and the break-up of families, and the pressure to destroy innocent human life through abortion?
--
Yet the word of God is a word of unbounded hope. "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son ... so that through him, the world might be saved" (Jn 3:16-17). God does not give up on us! He continues to lift our eyes to a future of hope, and he promises us the strength to accomplish it. As Saint Paul tells us in today's second reading, God created us in Christ Jesus "to live the good life", a life of good deeds, in accordance with his will (cf. Eph 2:10). He gave us his commandments, not as a burden, but as a source of freedom: the freedom to become men and women of wisdom, teachers of justice and peace, people who believe in others and seek their authentic good. God created us to live in the light, and to be light for the world around us! This is what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel: "The man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God" (Jn 3:21).

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 AM | Permalink

March 18, 2009

“It was the emphasis on love"

In today's Britain, a woman who was raped by her father and faced a forced marriage, fled her home, became a Christian and now fears for her life.

My imam father came after me with an axe.

We are all too familiar with the persecution of Christians in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet sitting in front of me is a British woman whose life has been threatened in this country solely because she is a Christian. Indeed, so real is the threat that the book she has written about her experiences has had to appear under an assumed name.

That assumed name is Hannah Shah and her book, The Imam's Daughter, was just published in the U.K. but not yet in the U.S.

The book is called The Imam’s Daughter because “Hannah Shah” is just that: the daughter of an imam in one of the tight-knit Deobandi Muslim Pakistani communities in the north of England. Her father emigrated to this country from rural Pakistan some time in the 1960s and is, apparently, a highly respected local figure.

He is also an incestuous child abuser, repeatedly raping his daughter from the age of five until she was 15, ostensibly as part of her punishment for being “disobedient”. At the age of 16 she fled her family to avoid the forced marriage they had planned for her in Pakistan. A much, much greater affront to “honour” in her family’s eyes, however, was the fact that she then became a Christian – an apostate. The Koran is explicit that apostasy is punishable by death; thus it was that her father the imam led a 40-strong gang – in the middle of a British city – to find and kill her. 

Hannah Shah says her story is not unique – that there are many other girls in British Muslim families who are oppressed and married off against their will, or who have secretly become Christians but are too afraid to speak out. She wants their voices to be heard and for Britain, the land of her birth, to realise the hidden misery of these women....
---


Hannah’s description in the book of the moment when her “community” discovered the “safe” home where she had fled after becoming an apostate is terrifying. A mob with her father at its head pounded and hammered at the door as she cowered upstairs hoping she could not be seen or heard. She heard her father shout through the letter box: “Filthy traitor! Betrayer of your faith! Cursed traitor! We’re going to rip your throat out! We’ll burn you alive!”

Does she still believe they would have killed her? “Yes, without a doubt. They had hammers and knives and axes.”

Why didn’t you call the police after-wards? “First, I didn’t think the police would believe me. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen in this country – or that’s what they’d think. Second, I didn’t believe I would get help or protection from the authorities.”

When she finally confided in a teacher that she was being beaten, still too ashamed to confide about the sexual abuse, the teacher contacted social services who sent out a social worker from her own community. 

He chose not to believe Hannah and, in effect, shopped her to her father, who gave her the most brutal beating of her life. When she later confronted the social worker, he said: “It’s not right to betray your community.

Hannah blames what is sometimes called political correctness for this debacle: “My teachers had thought they were doing the right thing, they thought it showed ‘cultural sensitivity’ by bringing in someone from my own community to ‘help’, but it was the worst thing they could have done to me. This happens a lot.

Her conversion came about because the family who sheltered her were regular church-goers.

She began to go with them and, to put it at its most banal, she liked what she heard.

“It was the emphasis on love.

The Islam that I grew up knowing and reading about doesn’t offer me love. That’s the biggest thing that Christianity can and does offer. I sense that I belong and am accepted as I am – even when I do wrong there is forgiveness, a forgiveness which Islam does not offer.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:05 PM | Permalink

March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick in his own words in his confession


I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation.
--
I am greatly God's debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: 'To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Our fathers have inherited naught hut lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.' And again: 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of' the earth.'

March 17, St. Patrick's Day is a legal holiday in Boston, Suffolk County, but not because of the Irish.    It's Evacuation Day commemorating the day in 1776 when British forces under General Howe evacuated Boston driven out by General George Washington and his continental army. 

The password that day?

"Saint Patrick"

 St Patrick

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 AM | Permalink

March 16, 2009

"Christianity without the guilt, without the work"

The Myth of Relativism and the Cult of Tolerance


The multiculturalist claims that we should not judge others because moral values are culturally relative; i.e., what is right in one society may be wrong in another. 

The concept of right and wrong is, itself, parochial.  The enlightened multiculturalist understands that his culture’s values are just as arbitrary as his neighbor’s.  If pressed for an explanation for why he follows his culture’s mores, he will tell you he chooses to obey them as an obeisance to his tradition -- that and nothing else.

Notice how condescending this person’s attitude is -- not just to his own culture -- to every culture.  Every intelligent and committed Christian, Hindu, Moslem, or Jew (Buddhist’s are a slightly different story) that follows the moral teaching of her religion, not only believes that her values are objectively valid, she can offer arguments, with varying degrees of cogency, for their validity.  (Notice also that many of these values and arguments are the same from religion to religion.  This fact should tell us something.)
--
Of the major religions, Christianity is the most susceptible to this rendition of the siren song of tolerance because it prides itself on not judging others.
--

The cult of tolerance is Christianity without the guilt, without the work; it is Christianity without the faith, the hope, and the love. The cult of tolerance is selfishness disguised as Christianity.
--
Unlike traditional moral relativism where the strongman rules because “might makes right,” politically correct moral relativism claims to be democratic.  In truth, it is far from it.  Tolerance, in its politically correct guise, is the imposition of a standardless standard upon the masses.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:03 AM | Permalink

March 12, 2009

"They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself.' "

That quotation is from Barry Kosmin, co-author of the American Religious Identification Study (ARIS) released this week.

Cathy Grossman at USA Today has the best summary: Most religious groups in USA have lost ground.

The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.

--

"More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,' " says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.

 Aris Guy In Desert
image from Damien Thompson"s Holy Smoke

Among the key findings in the 2008 survey:

• So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

• Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.

• Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.
• Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.

• The percentage of those who choose a generic label, calling themselves simply Christian, Protestant, non-denominational, evangelical or "born again," was 14.2%, about the same as in 1990.

• Jewish numbers showed a steady decline, fr