Maiello: Human Rights and the Stock Market
Doc Cleveland: Fear Itself: Ukraine Edition
And on a Lighter Note, CPAC Starts Today!
For days now, since I heard about the death of Jamie Coots, the snake-handling preacher from Middlesboro, Kentucky, I've been struggling with my own thoughts about it. There is no reason in the world why I should be involved in any of it. I didn't know him. I had never before heard of his church. And I didn't know before this weekend, when I read about his death, that he had been the star of a National Geographic Channel series called "Snake Salvation".
The title of this post comes from the subject line of an email that I received from Dr. Gary L. Cass, head of the "Christian Anti-Defamation Commission." If you read on, you'll notice that none of the "top ten anti-Christian acts of 2013" represent actual discrimination against Christians. Most of them are about Christians' "right" to discriminate against gays and lesbians. [Read more]
When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Amy Winehouse was still alive and the launch of Apple's first iPad was a month away. We are talking ancient history, here. Yet, as I write this, we are less than 12 hours away from a government shutdown caused by a budget impasse caused by Republican insistence that the law now known as Obamacare be delayed and then defunded. The Republican struggle to unpass the ACA has not ceased since it became law. Along the way the name "Obamacare" changed from a term of derision to one that the President now owns. [Read more]
Fox News's hostile interview with Reza Aslan has lit up the internet. (See Michael Maiello and Historiann for two of the smarter takes.) Obviously, interviewer Lauren Green's insistence that something must be very wrong for a Muslim to write a book about Jesus, and that such a book must be wrong, is a problem. But Green (and her producers) are simply peddling a toxic version of an idea that lots of us entertain in various forms. [Read more]
So one day somebody at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Mississippi came up with the idea to hold a series of mandatory Christian assemblies, where students would be required to watch a Christian video and listen to ministers (and fellow students) from the Pinelake Baptist Church preach to them about the importance of being a Christian.
The Supreme Court spent Holy Week (or, as Jesus would call it, Passover) debating gay marriage, which Chief Justice John Roberts clearly opposes. Religious opponents of gay marriage like to argue that the purpose of marriage is to beget children, so that only heterosexual marriages are "real," because only biological fertility makes a marriage "real." By this standard John Roberts's own marriage is not real, and neither is mine. I do not believe that, and neither should he.
There is a touch of hypocrisy in Mitt Romney's strident defense of free speech. It is hard to imagine that "freedom of speech" would be the first words out of his mouth if Jesus Christ were the target of ridicule instead of Muhammad.
Still, though Romney and his supporters would surely bristle at an offensive caricature of Jesus, the ambassadors of Muslim nations have nothing to fear from mobs of Christian fanatics. The United States has its fair share of religious zealots, but they are not prone to rioting and violence when their sacred symbols are profaned.
Why is that? Why are the Middle East and Indian subcontinent so much more more susceptible to religious explosions of mob violence than Western countries? [Read more]
As we all know, there are two - and only two - sides to every story. It's an article of faith in contemporary American political life. He said one thing, she said another. We must, of course, exhibit both sides in order to get a fair and balanced view of any issue. After all, the truth will invariably be found somewhere in the middle. [Read more]
As I watched that hideous video showing Pastor Charles Worley's recent headline-grabbing rants about penning gays and lesbians inside miles-long electrified corrals until they die, I couldn't help but notice his surroundings. (Okay, go and watch it if you haven't seen it. But then come back and we'll talk.)
He preaches his particular style of self-righteous, good ol' boy hate from the pulpit of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC. This is not a store-front or a rustic, backwoods building, it's a beautiful traditional church, obviously designed and built with the prospect of honoring the Christian God. [Read more]
In 1975, the Catholic Church of Ireland sent Father Sean Brady to interview two teenage boys who had been abused by their priest, Brendan Smyth. Brady recorded their harrowing testimony and submitted it to his superiors, who transferred Smyth to a different parish, again and again. Twenty years later, Smyth was finally imprisoned after being convicted on 153 counts of child abuse in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, Father Sean Brady moved up the Church hierarchy. He is now Cardinal Sean Brady.
After the BBC recently reported his role in Smyth's investigation, Brady publicly expressed regret. He regrets that his superiors dealt inappropriately with Smyth. He regrets that the Church had no "guidelines" for handling pedophilia by priests. He regrets that he and others did not understand the "full impact of abuse" on the lives of children.
But for his own role in abetting child abuse, Cardinal Brady's regret is rather meager. He explained that he was nothing more than a note-taker without any authority to act. As to why he remained silent when his superiors transferred Smyth, he reluctantly conceded, "I also accept that I was part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society, and the Church."
NPR broadcast this piece, on American Christians' disagreement over Christianity's economic teachings, on Morning Edition today. Unsurprisingly, left-leaning Christians like me feel Jesus taught a basically leftist approach to social welfare issues; we feel that when Jesus is talking about feeding the poor and the hungry, comforting prisoners, and helping the homeless, that he means exactly what he says. Right-leaning Christians, perhaps also unsurprisingly, feel that Jesus forbids public spending on the poor, or taxing the rich, or interfering with personal economic liberty. Their Jesus generally sounds a lot like Ron Paul.
Yesterday, on the same day he stepped down from the podium, he stepped up to the pulpit for a scheduled appearance with James Dobson at his latest "Focus on the Family" smack-down. I'm not surprised. Just as George W. Bush's wishful true calling wasn't really as President of the United States but as baseball commissioner, Rick Santorum's true calling is as Grand Fundamental Firekeeper. [Read more]
I sat quietly several rows back, playing the respectful atheist. My young cousin blushed and simpered on the bema--the wide, raised platform at the front synagogue. This was her day.
The rabbi called out my mother's name in Hebrew. She rose from her seat beside mine and ascended to the bema. Two more honored relatives took their places at either side of a curtained cabinet embedded in the wall--the Holy Ark of the Torah. As they drew back the curtains, the congregation rose and began to chant reverently in Hebrew. Few of us understood the words. Translated to English, they plead, "Arise, Lord! May your enemies be scattered, may your foes be put to flight.'"
The rabbi then reached into the Ark and withdrew the sacred Torah, two massive scrolls of parchment trussed in velvet and silver. He held it up lovingly like a trophy or the urned remains of some revered ancestor.
"One is our God, great is our Lord, holy is his name," sang the congregation in Hebrew. Then the rabbi placed the Torah gently into my mother's arms. As she paraded it slowly around the room, the congregants reached out to touch it with prayer books or pieces of cloth--never bare hands--and then reverently kissed the item that had come in contact with the holy Torah. [Read more]
Anyone on television talking about how they're being persecuted for their religion is not being persecuted. How do I know this?
Because they are on television.
Hello, women of the Republican Party: Democratic female of the liberal persuasion here. I know it looks like we couldn't be any farther apart when it comes to ideology, but I know us. I know when it comes to the big issues--our futures and the well-being of the ones we love--we're sisters under the skin.
We should talk. I mean really talk. I don't mean the usual chit-chat, the talk about kids and work and what's for dinner. I mean about politics. When we're together we do everything we can to side-step the issue and it does keep us friendly, but you must have noticed that the upcoming presidential election is becoming the bull elephant in the room. [Read more]
(Breaking news: President Obama just moments ago provided a brilliant compromise to the contraceptive controversy, as I mention at the end of this piece. I wrote this before he made the announcement, but the arguments still hold and they bear remembering. These are the kinds of battles we'll go on fighting, and a major victory such as today's doesn't mean the war is over. Not by a long shot.)  [Read more]
The brilliant Ramona and Destor have been especially brilliant this week on the Catholic bishops' outrage at having to pay for full employee health insurance. Destor is so smart about the church and state principles involved, and Ramona so good on the women's-health issues, that I have nothing left to add but my own personal experience. I am a former employee of the Catholic Church. I used to have a health-insurance card with the Archdiocese of Boston's seal printed on it. That wasn't an experience of religious liberty. [Read more]
Effective August 1, thanks to a provision in the Affordable Care Act, most working women will have their contraceptives fully paid for, without a co-pay. That's the good news. The bad news (you knew there had to be bad news, right?) is that the unenlightened among us see it as nothing more than an unconscionable threat against virile manhood. Especially Catholic virile manhood.