January 2009

I have refrained from writing about Pope Benedict XVI’s recent lifting of the excommunication of leaders of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), the spiritual children of French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, because it was connected with their repentance for non-canonical episcopal consecrations, a fairly esoteric, intra-Catholic issue.

Since the Pope’s action was announced, it has come out that one of the SSPX bishops, Richard Williamson, is a Holocaust denier. That’s bad, but it isn’t an excommunicable offense (while I think anti-Semitism is, Holocaust denial, technically speaking, isn’t anti-Semitic per se, though it may be a sign of mental illness as well as historical illiteracy, and in fact most Holocaust deniers are anti-Semites).

But the more I’ve read about SSPX, the more I think that the Pope made a big mistake by seeking to reconcile this radical traditionalist schismatic sect to Rome. I’ve taken a look at their Web site, and been disturbed by some of what I’ve seen (I’m not suggesting that all members, or leaders, of the Society are anti-Semites, by the way). For instance, there’s the article entitled “The Mystery of the Jewish People in History,” which jumps from the rejection of Jesus by most Jews to extremist views of Jewish-Christian relations and Judaism specifically:

Judaism is inimical to all nations in general, and in a special manner to Christian nations. It plays the part of Ishmael who persecuted Isaac, of Esau who sought to kill Jacob, and of Cain who put Abel to death….

Christendom and Jewry are destined inevitably to meet everywhere without reconciliation or mixing. It represents in history the eternal struggle of Lucifer against God, of darkness against the Light, of the flesh against the spirit….

If the Gentile people now considers this genuine greatness of the medieval age as gloomy or obscurantist, and wishes to be great with the material greatness of Babylon, then it can have it: but only as a servant of Judaism. In the domain of the material, it is the Jewish people who have the superiority. History tells us (Werner Sombart) that the renowned greatness of English and American Capitalism is only a Judaic creation. While Capitalism fulfills its promises and is unquestionably of incomparable material greatness, it compromises the work of millions of Christians for the benefit of a much smaller number of the Jewish people….

The relations of Christians and Jews cannot be governed by the common law of Christians, but only by an exceptional legislation which takes count of the theological status of the Jewish people. The Catholic Church’s teaching is that they should neither be eliminated from among us (as antisemitism seeks) nor given equality of rights, which leads to their superiority (as is advocated by liberalism or philosemitism).

In an article with the title, “Are the Jews Guilty of Deicide?”, from a 2004 edition of the SSPX magazine Angelus, the response is given:

The Jews were consequently directly responsible for the crucifixion. Deicide is the name given to the crime of killing the person who is God, namely the Son of God in His human nature. It is those persons who brought about the crucifixion who are guilty of deicide, namely the Jews.

Apparently Pilate, who had Jesus executed despite thinking Him innocent, had no responsibility for his actions.

There’s more, but the point is that there are real questions that can be about a strain of thinking (or non-thinking) in the Society of St. Pius X that makes the Vatican’s efforts to reconcile with it a questionable policy, not simply from the standpoint of relations with Jews, but as a matter of theological and moral integrity.

UPDATE: Williamson “apologized” to the Pope today in a letter to Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos–not for Holocaust denial, but for bringing it up when he did, and for the grief that has caused Benedict and Cardinal Hoyos:

Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

I hope it isn’t uncharitable of me to say that, as apologies go, that’s pretty pathetic.


–Austin, Texas highway sign that hackers got into on January 19

UPDATE: I forgot the attribution. I got this from Hot Air.

The director of the National Council of Churches’ “eco-justice” programs was among the onlookers when Barack Obama signed his executive order on auto emission and gas mileage standards. As usual, her response was hyperbolic rather than realistic, attributing almost mythical efficacy to an order that is unlikely to do anything other than further hobble the auto industry. According to NCC News:

Cassandra Carmichael was present in the East Room as the President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant state waiver requests to strengthen tailpipe emissions standards. The new guidelines cover 2011 model-year cars.

“The President’s executive orders can help us pave the way for a energy future that is sustainable not only for God’s planet, but for God’s people,” said Carmichael.

“By allowing states to have stronger emission standards and mandating that cars be more fuel efficient, we can not only protect human health from air pollution but also help reduce global warming, which threatens both the planet and people.”

Not really. With regard to fuel efficiency standards, the executive order was unnecessary–it simply calls for follow though on standards that had already been passed as part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. And there’s reason to think that even that isn’t all that great an idea; according to the Congressional Budget Office, “given current estimates of the value of decreasing dependence on oil and reducing carbon emissions, increasing CAFE standards would not pass a benefit-cost test.”

As for the emission standard order, that is more problematic. There’s no question that putting new regulatory requirements on the auto manufacturers at the same time that the government is putting out billions to bail them out makes little economic sense. From the regulatory standpoint, giving California this waiver essentially puts all American environmental policy in this area in the hands of one state’s bureaucrats, given the size of the market and its subsequent influence on Detroit decision-making.

But what’s really sad about Carmichael’s enthusiasm for this order is that it will have little if any actual impact on the climate, since it will effect only new cars in the United States, which means a very small portion of the world’s carbon output. Some numbers: total atmospheric CO2 amounts to about 780 billion tons. Annual U.S. auto CO2 emissions amount to about 315 million tons (meaning U.S. cars contribute less than 0.5% to a system that involves the exhange of the gas between oceans, vegetation, and marine lifeforms in amounts of almost 250 billion tons a year). That is to say that American autos contribute a tiny fraction of the CO2 that is at play in the entire ecosystem. Take that, and realize that California isn’t trying to eliminate CO2 emissions, just reduce them by some percent, and would only be able to do so in increments in the years ahead. Anyway you slice it, we’re talking about relatively very small amounts, and for that, which is unlikely to have any impact on global climate at all, we’re talking about making it harder for the auto industry to make it through some extremely tough times.

Carmichael’s goals–cleaner air, better use of available energy resources, climate stability are laudable (though the last is thoroughly utopian). But if she thinks that steps like these are going to make a difference, she needs to get her tire pressure checked.

You’ll be glad to know that there’s at least a possibility that all the stuff that seems so dire about our world–credit crisis, failing banks, Iranian nukes, Israeli-Palestinian war, terrorism, the Oscars shunning The Dark Knight–may not matter come this summer. According to Fox News:

Still worried that the Large Hadron Collider will create a black hole that will destroy the Earth when it’s finally switched on this summer?

Um, well, you may have a point.

Three physicists have reexamined the math surrounding the creation of microscopic black holes in the Switzerland-based LHC, the world’s largest particle collider, and determined that they won’t simply evaporate in a millisecond as had previously been predicted.

“Reexamined the math.” Don’t you just love it when the fate of the world hangs on the question of whether someone forgot to carry the 2?

Rather, Roberto Casadio of the University of Bologna in Italy and Sergio Fabi and Benjamin Harms of the University of Alabama say mini black holes could exist for much longer — perhaps even more than a second, a relative eternity in particle colliders, where most objects decay much faster.

Kind of like the ethics of some politicians.

Under such long-lived conditions, it becomes a race between how fast a black hole can decay — and how fast it can gobble up matter to grow bigger and prevent itself from decaying.

Kind of like Michael Moore.

Casadio, Fabi and Harms think the black hole would lose out, and pass through the Earth or out of the atmosphere before it got to be a problem.

“We conclude that … the growth of black holes to catastrophic size does not seem possible. Nonetheless, it remains true that the expected decay times are much longer (and possibly >> 1 second) than is typically predicted by other models,” the three state in a brief paper posted at the scientific discussion Web site ArXiv.org.

Well, that’s good to know.Of course, it does rather seem like the philosophy adopted by a voracious dog in the Mystery Science Theater presentation of 60s British sci-fi flick The Deadly Bees:

Well, here we go again. The Episcopal Church seems to have become the home of choice for Christian clergy who want to go the syncretistic route. Episcodruid Bill Melnyk and Islamopalian Anne Holmes Redding come immediately to mind. Now, it seems the Diocese of Northern Michigan is prepared to elect as its bishop a priest who has also received lay ordination as a Zen Buddhist. According to the Living Church News Service:

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, rector of St. Paul’s, Marquette, and St. John’s, Negaunee, was put forward by the diocesan search team to stand for election as bishop/ministry developer under the “mutual ministry model” used by the small, rural diocese on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A priest of the diocese since 2001, Fr. Forrester also serves as ministry development coordinator and newspaper editor for Northern Michigan.

In recent years, he also was a practicing Buddhist, according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the late Rt. Rev. James Kelsey.

In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

Fr. Forrester did not respond to requests for clarification or comments on how as presumptive bishop he would model the two faiths in his episcopacy.

I’ll bet. It should also be noted that the Episcopal News Service story, which concentrated on Northern Michigan’s unusual process for seeking a new bishop, doesn’t mention this salient fact. Why am I not surprised.

Now, I know lots of Christians go all gooey over Buddhism, and think that Christianity and Buddhism are somehow compatible. But the truth is that in almost every respect, Christianity and Buddhism are polar opposites. Christianity posits a loving and righteous personal God who created the universe, called a people to Himself, and redeemed them when they were dead in sin. Buddhism is atheistic, sees salvation in terms of personal extinction, and requires that people free themselves from the worldly bonds that ensnare them. As for the spiritual practices of Buddhism that many Westerners find so fascinating, they do so in part because they don’t know the extraordinarily rich and deep spiritual traditions of their own faith. None of this is to say that Christians can’t learn some things from Buddhists, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with seeking to understand a religious tradition other than your own. But the evidence seems to be that Forrester isn’t in dialogue with Buddhists, or seeking to understand them, but has become one. I can only imagine what kind of theological contortions he must go through in an attempt to keep the inherent contradictions of the two faiths from blowing up in his head. But I got some picture of those contortions by finding this piece that he wrote in the July/August 2004 edition of the diocesan newsletter:

My soul-work has led me to see that the way of Jesus is the way of truth and life. Anointed by the Spirit, Jesus reveals to humanity that the way of God is the path of boundless compassion and of utter regard for all God’s creatures. I remember my astonishment upon first understanding that Jesus realized he was beloved by God at his baptism, and he had not even done anything yet. He had not achieved, changed, perfected, anything. He was loved by God simply because he was God’s child. We are beloved of God as we are, and nothing can ever change this. This is the simple truth so hard for each of us to know in our heart of hearts – at least it has been for me. Our hearts ache to know this love for ourselves. Awareness of belovedness, is, as I see it, the very life blood of the way of Jesus. For me it is sacred salve to the soul – salvific. It is the way of salvation – offering us healing from the fears, anxieties, and greeds of our own blinding egos.

I see now a Jesus who does not raise the bar to salvation, but lowers it so far that it disappears. Our own children, Miriam and Liam, have been welcomed to communion since birth not because of anything they know, but because of who they are – God’s beloved. There is nothing we can do or need do to win God’s love. That is precisely the good news. Human beings always want to make conditions. Jesus reveals that for God to love us there are no conditions. We are of God and belong to God because God has made us – each and every one of us, who are both beautiful and broken.

And yet, it has not been easy for me to see this belovedness in my own life, or in all of God’s creatures – such as those who flew planes into the Twin Towers. I seem to thrive on setting-up conditions for God’s love. My fear and ego needs have been blinding all too often. Sin is another word for such blindness. Sin has little, if anything, to do with being bad. It has everything to do, as far as I can tell, with being blind to our own goodness. And when we are blind we hurt ourselves and others – sometimes quite deeply.

Zen , for me, is about learning how to see the bedrock truth of our baptism – we are beloved. To say this may sound odd, at first. But 2,500 years ago, an Indian prince became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, because he courageously sat and faced his fears, and after years of facing them, saw this basic truth about life: we are one, utterly one, yet we do not know it. We suffer because we fearfully cling to this or that thing (for me, trying to be perfect) in the hope that it will bring us happiness.

After his awakening, or enlightenment, it is said that the Buddha encountered some of his earlier friends. They noticed the change in him and asked if he were a god? He said no, I am simply a human being who is finally awake. The way of the Buddha is essentially about waking up to who we are, and what creation is – utterly one and sacred.

Universalism? Check. Pelagianism? Check. Gnosticism? Check. Pantheism? Check. Bishop of the Episcopal Church? Probably, but there are those who will squawk, according to the Living Church:

If Fr. Thew Forrester was an Episcopalian-Zen Buddhist, and if he was elected by the special convention as bishop, objections to his being seated in the House of Bishops would be raised, according to one senior diocesan bishop. That bishop said he hoped the House of Bishops was “still sufficiently faithful to recognize the total self-contradiction this would involve and deny consent.”

The House of Bishops? Sufficiently faithful? The same House of Bishops that thinks John Spong’s atheism is hunky-dory? I’ll definitely be preparing the flying pig for that event.

(Via Stand Firm.)

At the same time that PCUSA groups such as the Witherspoon Society and More Light Presbyterians trumpet every presbytery that votes to eliminate the fidelity/chastity standard for ordination, it seems that the early going shows no sign that things will be any different from the last vote on the subject in 2001. According to the Layman Online:

Presbyteries are continuing to follow the voting patterns of past years when considering amendment 08-b, the latest attempt to eliminate the “fidelity/chastity” ordination requirement (G-6.0106b) from the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Three presbyteries held votes on Saturday and one Thursday evening to bring the grand total to 15-7 against changing the Book of Order.

As you can see by looking at the vote chart at the Layman site, no presbyteries have changed sides since 2001. Specific vote totals, yes, but not the results that matter. So far, 22 of 173 have voted, leaving 151. Of those 151, 80 would have to vote for the amendment for it to pass, but of those 151, only 39 voted for the change the last time around. That means 41 presbyteries of those that have not yet voted would need to change their vote. That seems very unlikely.

On the other hand, given what has been wrought via judicial decision, as well as other General Assembly actions that don’t require presbyterial approval, does it really make any difference?

There’s a touching item at the World Council of Churches site this morning. Demonstrating yet again that the doctrine of sin is dead in conciliar circles, the WCC waxes poetic about a reduction in the threat from nuclear weapons that going to happen this year when Africa becomes a “nuclear weapon-free zone.” Yep, just like Berkeley:

Prepare for some good news in 2009. Despite the terrible start in Gaza and other endemic conflicts, governments committed to shared security are set to reach an historic milestone this year. Specifically, the number of countries protected by nuclear-weapon-free zones is set to jump to 110 countries from 56 at present.

The change will come from an African capital, like Windhoek or Bujumbura, as soon as two more governments ratify the treaty making Africa a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Churches are promoting the step, and linking Africa’s action to the need for similar progress in the Middle East.

“This will be good news on the nuclear front for Africa and the world,” notes Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat, a senior African statesman. Kiplagat is leading a World Council of Churches (WCC) initiative to help bring the Africa Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty into force, with church action nationally to support an international goal.

A recent ecumenical delegation to Namibia received a positive response from top government officials there. Ratification of the Africa treaty will mean that the whole southern hemisphere and adjoining regions are protected. Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and Central Asia have also set up zones that exclude nuclear arms and related activities.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. No one is in favor of nuclear weapons. Even those who support their possession for deterrence reasons would rather that they not exist. Certainly no one wants to see them spread. And the “nuclear weapon-free zone” in Africa does no harm, not that anyone really thinks that Botswana or the Central African Republic were going to be developing nukes any time soon.

But what I find silly about this is the WCC acting as though it means that “the whole southern hemisphere and adjoining regions” will be “protected.” There’s obviously no threat of nuclear proliferation from nations that can barely keep their roads passable or their people fed. At the same time, this treaty can’t prevent either any of the current nuclear powers or a terrorist group that can get its hands on a weapon from using it within the region covered by the agreement. If al-Qaeda, for some bizarre reason, thought that setting off a dirty bomb in Addis Ababa (remember, Ethiopia is an “infidel” nation) would advance its agenda, does anyone really think that this treaty would stop them? Or if India or China, tired of having their ships hijacked by Somali pirates, thought that dropping a big one on Mogadishu would end piracy cost-free, that they wouldn’t do it? Or that Iran, once it gets nukes, will refrain from throwing its weight around in areas that have declared themselves “nuclear weapon-free zones,” or avoid proliferation in areas where its self-interest and diplomatic agreements clash? For that matter, does anyone at the WCC recall that North Korea was a signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty?

Specifically because human beings are sinful, selfish, often cruel and heartless creatures, paper treaties never provide more than a modicum of relief from the harsh realities of international relations. To say that more than half the globe’s surface will be “protected” from the nuclear threat because a treaty has gone into effect is to forget history and, more importantly, to forget human nature.

Every president to hold office has espoused some version of Americanism; the truths that we hold self-evident, even when those truths are not always in evidence. But for all their grand rhetoric and mostly good deeds, none was able to seal the deal on the trifecta of equality, plurality and socioeconomic ascendancy. Obama has. Obama is the more perfect union. He is a house united. Obama is the New Generation and the hot light of a dawn that goes way beyond clever talk of morning in America.

Quite simply, quite plainly, just by virtue his being, Obama is America. The first true American to lead our nation.

–KCET-TV (Los Angeles) commentator John Ridley

Not a “Messiah” moment, but still so over-the-top that it warrants being a Quote of the Day.

(Via Hot Air.)

The light of the New Age is here.

–Actor Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Battlefield Earth) on the inauguration of Barack Obama

(Via Newsbusters.)

This has been an interesting week. First, we had Martin Luther King Day. The next day, we had the inauguration of the first African-American president. Today, we have the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever issued. Given the convergence, I think that the following ad, from CatholicVote.com, is an appropriate way to wrap up the week’s occasions:

A commenter at YouTube says that this is “a fallacy known as ‘special pleading’. They are showing a special case and wanting you to draw a general conclusion.” That may be. So how’s this for a much broader case: if Roe had never become the law of the land, there’s a good chance that Barack Obama’s margin of victory would have been several percentage points higher. While definitive numbers are hard to come by, African-American children have comprised anywhere from 23% ro 38% of children aborted each year since 1973, a far higher percentage than the population as a whole. Given that about 95% of African-Americans voted for Obama, it is far to suggest that he got at least 12 million votes fewer than he would have gotten if abortion rates had stayed at their pre-Roe levels. And that’s just one way to look at the losses to American society that have come about as a result of almost 50 million children being deprived of the same opportunities that Barack Obama has so marvelously enjoyed.

(Via Stand Firm.)

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