January 2010

God is grieved by this amendment.

–The Rev. Mark Asman of Trinity Episcopal Church of Santa Barbara, California, revealing that God opposes either the Nelson or Stupak anti-abortion funding amendments to the health care bills (it’s not clear which, but probably both); he didn’t reveal how he discerned the divine will on these pieces of legislation, though it’s fair to assume that he told the Almighty what to think and obtained agreement by virtue of his superior understanding of legislative language

(Via MCJ.)

No one–and I mean no one–gives Christianity a worse name in this country than the members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. You’ve heard of them, I’m sure. They’re the people who show up at military funerals and various sundry public events with signs that say “God Hates Fags” (among others; given all the people they claim God hates, near as I can tell the only ones He doesn’t hate are the denizens of that “church”). Anyway, a group of San Franciscans has, I think, found the perfect response to Westboro: absurdist ridicule. At the Laughing Squid, Ed Hunsinger offers photos. First, here’s an example of Westboro’s schtick, if you’ve never seen it:

They’ve added “God Hates Jews” to their collection because, believe it or not, they were in San Francisco to protest a production of Fiddler on the Roof! Because, you know, it’s evil to have Jews be the good guys in a play. Or something. Anyway, the “I Have A Sign” guy gives you an idea of what the response looked like:

So, in honor of these merry pranksters, who know that the best answer to creeps like Westboro is to laugh at them, I offer some suggestions for signs folks can make for the next counter-demo, and solicit your suggestions as well:

Squiggy Sent Me

Barnacles Are Itchy

God Hates Nags

What’s It All About, Alfie?

Tea And Crumpets, Anyone?

Bring Back the Edsel!

Monty Python Was Right!

I Love Pizza

That’s enough for now. Contribute yours in the comments, and I’ll highlight the best of them in a future post.

(Hat tip: Alan Michaels on Facebook.)

Perhaps America’s most aggressively obnoxious atheist organization is the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Under the guise of being a church-state separation watchdog, it pursues a Soviet-style agenda of trying to drive religion from the public sphere altogether. Their latest crusade is directed at the U.S. Postal Service, according to Fox News:

An atheist organization is blasting the U.S. Postal Service for its plan to honor Mother Teresa with a commemorative stamp, saying it violates postal regulations against honoring “individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings.”

I wonder why the Postal Service has that regulation at all–I mean, why is acknowledging the contribution of religious people doing religious stuff that benefits humanity out of bounds, as opposed to literally any other field of human endeavor? Mother Teresa, after all, didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize because she was a nun or prayed a lot. But leave that aside, and note what the real objection is:

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is urging its supporters to boycott the stamp — and also to engage in a letter-writing campaign to spread the word about what it calls the “darker side” of Mother Teresa.

This is straight out of Christopher Hitchens’ bizarre campaign against Mother Teresa embodied in his book The Missionary Position. So it’s not really about USPS regulations, or church-state separation–it’s really about the hate directed at one of the towering religious and humanitarian figures of the last century.

Freedom from Religion Foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor says issuing the stamp runs against Postal Service regulations.

“Mother Teresa is principally known as a religious figure who ran a religious institution. You can’t really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did,” Gaylor told FoxNews.com.

As far as people like Gaylor are concerned, it doesn’t matter what a person such as Mother Teresa did, or how many people benefited from her work–if she committed the cardinal sin of being identified with religion, America must act as though she never existed. Heaven forfend we give anyone the idea that people with religious motivations and associations ever do any good that others might want to emulate. Of course, Gaylor would probably also dispute that Mother Teresa did good, because she adhered to Catholic positions on birth control and abortion, which cancels out everything else. But it gets worse:

Postal Service spokesman Roy Betts expressed surprise at the protest, given the long list of previous honorees with strong religious backgrounds, including Malcolm X, the former chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Gaylor said the atheist group opposed Father Flanagan’s stamp but not those for King and Malcolm X, because she said they were known for their civil rights activities, not for their religion.

Martin Luther King “just happened to be a minister,” and “Malcolm X was not principally known for being a religious figure,” she said.

“And he’s not called Father Malcolm X like Mother Teresa. I mean, even her name is a Roman Catholic honorific.”

Yeah, and King was the Rev. Martin Luther King, a man who pastored churches and preached countless sermons, whose Ph.D dissertation was “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.” and whose civil rights work was inspired and informed by his Christian faith. But he “just happened to be a minister.” That calls out for a Captain Picard moment:

This nonsense wouldn’t be complete without a big dollop of anti-Catholic bigotry:

Gaylor said the foundation’s only concern is the “other things that deserve to be commemorated but are not because the people behind it didn’t have the power of the Catholic church.”

“It’s enormously difficult to get them,” she said, referring to commemorative stamps, “and people have huge campaigns, and to me this speaks of the power of the Roman Catholic Church in hierarchy.

“They want to make her a saint and this is part of the PR machine.”

Fortunately, there are atheists who recognize this for the idiocy it is:

Some atheists, too, spoke out against the group’s objections, including Bruce Sheiman, author of “An Atheist Defends Religion.” He said the Freedom from Religion Foundation is being “hypocritical” and really “stepping over the line.”

“Clearly there are a number of things that you can point to and say it’s religious and a number of things you can point to and say that it’s areligious,” Sheiman told FoxNews.com. “So it really doesn’t make sense to protest it.”

He said the Foundation’s campaign stems from concern that the abundance of humanitarian work done by believers will overshadow that done by atheists.

“Like billboards and bus ads, this is just part of the whole campaign that they’re doing to make non-belief more visible,” he said.

Good for you, Bruce.

I haven’t seen the pro-life ad featuring University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow that will air during the Super Bowl. Neither have any of those who are yelping so loudly about it. Among those is–surprise, surprise–the Priesthood of Moloch Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which put out this screed today:

As people of faith, we have a sacred responsibility to protect women’s health, lives and dignity. That is why I am urging you to contact CBS now and tell them not to air a religiously-focused ad that celebrates a woman who ignored medical advice to have an abortion. The fact that the ad will air on Super Bowl Sunday and that the child she delivered is a football star makes it all the more insidious. Super Bowl viewers – last year, more than 97.5 million people watched the game – will be told that it is noble for a woman to sacrifice her health and life, in this case for the game of football.

Stuff like this makes me want to throw up, to be perfectly honest. Tim Tebow’s mother didn’t risk “sacrificing her health and life” for football; she did it for her baby. I know that’s got to be hard to RCRC to understand–the idea that a mother might be willing to risk everything for the sake of another, even for something as icky as an unborn child. But as hard as it might be for an allegedly Christian minister like Carlton Veazey to understand, there actually are Christians who take seriously the idea that sacrifice for the sake of another is the highest form of love, one that is embodied in the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve got to ask: since when are doctors infallible oracles? Tim’s parents, Christian missionaries in the Philippines, decided to make a decision that was faithful to their Lord, and in the process demonstrated that the doctors were wrong. Or is it only when doctors recommend abortion that their patients are supposed to surrender their role as responsible decision-makers and do whatever someone with an M.D. tells them?

The ad – developed and paid for by the anti-equality, anti-choice conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family  – will feature Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. Pam became sick during a mission trip to the Philippines in 1987 and ignored a recommendation by doctors to have an abortion. It is a blessing that Tim’s birth was healthy, but it is irresponsible to encourage other women to take such a risk….

Got it. It is “irresponsible” to encourage women to listen to their conscience. It is “irresponsible” to suggest that doctors aren’t infallible. It is “irresponsible” to suggest that there are times when one might not choose abortion. It is “irresponsible” to suggest to women that they should ever think about anyone other than themselves, or for that matter that they should think for themselves rather than letting the priests of the religion of abortion do it for them. Once again, would someone please get me a barf bag?

Every time I think the RCRC could go no lower, they surprise me by sinking even farther down into the morally and spiritually deadening cesspool that is the culture of death.

I’ve just been notified by my blog hosts that my post on J.D. Salinger is on the front page of WordPress.com, and I’ve also noticed that the traffic has gone way up today, surely as a result. So to all who are visiting this blog for the first time, greetings! Have a look around, and don’t hesitate to comment, whether on Salinger’s passing or anything else that tickles your fancy.

You may remember the “oven mitt and lederhosen” look that Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts-Schori blitzed Jerusalem with a while back. Well, turns out that ensemble had nothing on her audition costume for the latest production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:

She wore this at the consecration of the new bishop of Georgia. Needless to say, the South surrendered all over again.

(Via Chris Johnson of MCJ.)

He died this morning, according to the Washington Post:

Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger has died at age 91 in New Hampshire.

The author’s son, in a statement from the author’s literary representative, says Salinger died of natural causes at his home. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.

The Catcher in the Rye with its immortal teenage protagonist – the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield – came out in 1951 during the time of anxious, Cold War conformity.

Salinger wrote for adults, but teenagers all over the world identified with the novel’s themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy.

In later years, Salinger became famous for not wanting to be famous, refusing interviews.

He also became famous in part because despite being one of America’s best known authors solely on the strength of one novel, he has refused to publish anything for over forty years (his last published work came out in 1965).

As might be expected, I loved Catcher in the Rye when I was 17, but it comes across as somewhat dated now. Trouble is, I’m not sure whether that’s an indictment of the book, or our culture.

UPDATE: Changed “terribly”to “somewhat” with reference to Catcher being dated. A lot of its language is dated, but in the same way that movies from the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s can still be watched and enjoyed even with what sound to our ears like oddities of language, Salinger’s novel still merits reading from the standpoint of language, for its historical value among other things. And certainly as commenters have pointed out, teenage angst, though it may be expressed differently, appears in every generation.

There’s a lot of evidence out there that Great Britain is slowly losing its adjective, but this item from the Daily Mail is just incredibly silly:

When it comes to hiring staff, there are plenty of legal pitfalls employers need to watch out for these days.

So recruitment agency boss Nicole Mamo was especially careful to ensure her advert for hospital workers did not offend on grounds of race, age or sexual orientation.

However, she hadn’t reckoned on discriminating against a wholly different section of the community – the completely useless.

When she ran the ad past a job centre, she was told she couldn’t ask for “reliable” and “hard-working” applicants because it could be offensive to unreliable people.

When she ran the ad past a job centre, she was told she couldn’t ask for “reliable” and “hard-working” applicants because it could be offensive to unreliable people.

Even the authorities found this ridiculous, and an opportunity for some dry British humor:

The Equality and Human Rights Commission added: “This is in no way in breach of any discrimination law.

“Mrs Mamo should consider very unreliable any advice that she may have received implying that this aspect of her advert was discriminatory.”

Fortunately, most British employment agencies are more like this:

(Hat tip: Richard Belzer via Facebook.)

Did you know that the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision last week threatens freedom of religion? Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance seems to think so:

Today’s campaign finance ruling by the United States Supreme Court should be of great concern to anyone who values freedom of religion. Interfaith Alliance has been a long time supporter of campaign finance reform based on the idea that equality, integrity and fairness are fundamental to the vast majority of faith traditions. Today’s ruling dismisses those principles in favor of unregulated spending by corporations and special interest groups.

Given that the court based its ruling around a misguided understanding of free speech, I am also concerned that this ruling may foreshadow the direction of the court on a church/state issue like clergy endorsements from the pulpit.

Got that? The decision undermines “equality, integrity, and fairness” (a debatable but defensible proposition), and therefore threatens freedom of religion. Because…a less egalitarian society is one that will shut down churches? I don’t know–your guess is as good as mine.

As for the claim that the court might overturn the IRS regulations that prohibit clergy endorsements of political candidates, that may or may not happen, and may or may not be a good thing, but what I don’t get is what it has to do with freedom of religion. You can argue that churches shouldn’t endorse candidates (I would agree with that completely), and you can argue that the law should prohibit churches from doing so (I’m of two minds about that–I can see it either way). But I don’t see how permitting churches to say things they currently aren’t allowed to can be anything but an expansion of freedom (whether a wise one or not). But let’s get real–the point here is that Welton Gaddy and supporters of the Interfaith Alliance are political liberals, and don’t particularly care whether their invocations of religion and religious principles make sense, as long as the political point is made.

Ever the Don Quixote, the National Council of Churches is determined that Americans WILL, despite their reservations, have health care reform. Accordingly the NCC has declared this “Nationwide Faith Call-in Week for Health Care,” and urges…well, you can guess:

Over the past year, millions of Americans have joined together in witness to the desperate need of children and families for affordable health care.  After decades of work, and a historic grassroots effort this year, advocates for national health care reform have come further than ever before toward enduring and meaningful change.

Congress, which had reached the final stages of passing health care reform legislation, is now at a standstill as the Senate leadership lost the 60th vote it needed.  In this partisan climate people of faith and others of goodwill join together to remind Congress of the moral imperative of insuring that none of our brothers or sisters are left sick or dying due to insufficient access to quality, affordable to health care.

Amidst the boilerplate I was amused to hear about “this partisan climate,” considering the only reason health care reform wasn’t passed in 2009 is that Democrats couldn’t agree among themselves about what to do. Anyway:

As Christians we believe in a kingdom of God, in which we each will live in fellowship and solidarity with others, and embody the healing ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We know that God will someday deliver us to this kingdom, and in gratitude for that promised act we work to embody its likeness in this moment.  Passage of  meaningful health care reform would be one such a testament done in faith and love.

This is about as theological as the NCC ever gets, and it shows. How passing a federal program of unimaginable complexity and doubtful efficacy, enormous cost and questionable constitutionality (and that will still leave millions without health insurance) would be bringing into existence a “likeness” of the Kingdom of God is anybody’s guess.

In this spirit, the National Council of Churches joins other faith organizations and allied partners in asking all to call their U.S. House representative and senators and urge them to act with courage and mercy by enacting health care legislation now.  Remind them that families are still struggling to access and afford health care.  As people of faith and their constituents, we still need and expect reform.

So call your congresscritters, because they are much more responsive to phone calls than election results that make them break out in a cold sweat. Anyway, here’s what in some ways is the most interesting part of this press release:

Members of Congress can be reached toll-free at 866-699-9243, courtesy of the SEIU Faith Initiative, or via the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. [Emphasis added.]

The “SEIU” is the Service Employees International Union.” It was Barack Obama’s single biggest supporter in the presidential election, spending $85 million to elect him and other Democrats. I don’t know what the “SEIU Faith Initiative” is, except that there’s nothing about it on the SEIU Web site, it doesn’t have one of its own, and the only evidence of it is the signature of someone named Cliff Frasier (“Faith Coordinator”) on a number of petitions and letters. I do know that the SEIU was in the middle of the attempted payoff to unions that would have exempted their members from taxes that lots of other Americans would have paid on “Cadillac” health insurance plans. I do know the SEIU been involved in unethical if not illegal campaign practices and coercive attempts at unionizing unwilling workers. Its members have on occasion used violence to stifle dissent and achieve its goals. Is this really the kind of “partner” that the National Council of Churches wants to be in bed with as it pursues its public policy goals?

UPDATE: I found out who Cliff Frasier is:

Rev. Cliff Frasier, of the United Church of Christ, is the Faith Initiative Coordinator of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). SEIU is the nation’s largest union of health care workers. From 1995 through 2004, Rev. Frasier served Presbyterian and UCC churches in pastoral and program positions. He is a member of The Riverside Church in New York City.

He’s a certified Obama worshiper, as excerpts from a piece of his at ArtDish indicates:

But Obama has already risen above the symbolic level and has entered into the iconic realm prior to taking the oath of office. We can almost surely say this even without the benefit of hindsight. He has joined the subset of Presidents whose images stand for much more than their cabinets and slices-in-time of American executive leadership.

Political icons are super-charged symbols that tell a story about public values. They are historically fixed, and as such are capable of informing new generations. Political icons are familiar to nearly all citizens, regardless of educational level. When ordinary people gaze upon them, little or nothing may be known about the subject’s original career but nevertheless citizens have ideas and feelings about what the image “means.”…

As Obama takes his place within the constellation of presidential icons, my argument is that his phenomenal lift-off was fueled, in part, by signifiers suggesting spiritual and even savior qualities. But this is not an adequate explanation. His talent in the form of charisma, intellect, organizing skill, and command of rhetoric must take most of the credit for his iconographic rise, in tandem with his shattering of racial-ethnic barriers – themes widely recognized. Even if, by some malignant fate, he falls from grace within the next four to eight years, I argue that these themes collectively will secure his image within the American consciousness in perpetuity….

The Harvard philosopher and aesthetician Elaine Scarry, in her book On Beauty and Being Just, theorizes links between aesthetics and ethics, implicitly challenging the Kiergegaardian separation of these two fields into an irreconcilable “Either/Or.” She argues that insofar as beautiful phenomena suggest the concepts of relational symmetry and reproduction, the experience of such phenomena presses us over wide arcs of time towards creating symmetry (“fairness”) within social relations.

Is it possible that Obama — in the company of precious few American leaders before him — manages to synthesize subtly in his person the aesthetic and the ethical realms? Is it possible that his iconic quality draws energy from such a synthesis, hardly acknowledged among the public but felt nonetheless?

Yeah, I know–gag me. But I’m sure he fits right in with the folks at the NCC. But while I could find out about him, still nothing substantive about the “SEIU Faith Initiative.” Must be an underground movement.

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