Robin Williams, Suicide, Depression, and Evil Spirits

My latest at RedState.

People are talking about depression and suicide in the wake of the shocking death of Robin Williams. That’s mostly a good thing – the lives and deaths of celebrities are a common language, and we can use it to discuss the world we live in. But these conversations seem to me to end up oversimplifying the issue in a way that creates pointless conflict and obscures what we really need to understand about depression and suicide.

Continue reading Robin Williams, Suicide, Depression, and Evil Spirits

RELIGION: David Waldman of Daily Kos: Know-Nothing Bigot

It’s time for Democratic politicians like Elizabeth Warren who are courting Catholic voters, or who – like Senator Bob Casey – profess the Catholic faith themselves, to distance themselves from Daily Kos over the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing bigotry of Contributing Editor David Waldman.

Waldman, @KagroX on Twitter, is one of the leading figures at Daily Kos, the largest left-wing blog; a former Hotline staffer, he’s a contributing editor and front-page writer, runs the affiliated site Congress Matters, and his tweets are frequently quoted and retweeted by Markos Moulitsas. In an angry, profanity-laden tirade last night on Twitter over a flap between a local Virginia church and the Girl Scouts, Waldman unloaded his hatred of the Church, grasping for every anti-Catholic trope he could reach (examples: “Catholic Church: the ones we don’t rape, we’ll alienate by calling them communist b****es” or “Catholics are the next Shakers. No one under 35 will ever stay in this church”) and complaining that there are too many Catholics on the Supreme Court (“Oh that’s right. Six Catholics. Fantastic.”) Waldman’s vicious rant would have been right at home with the anti-popery screeds of the Klan in its heyday, the Know-Nothings of the 1840s or the “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” trope that cost James G. Blaine the 1884 presidential election.

Waldman’s full outburst, in reverse chronological order, is below the fold; warning, it includes language I do not ordinarily use on this website):

Continue reading RELIGION: David Waldman of Daily Kos: Know-Nothing Bigot

RELIGION: A Kennedy Tries To Tell The Bishops How To Be Catholic

For all their protestations to the contrary, liberals have an awful habit of trying to tell people of faith, notably the Catholic Church, what their faith means and how it should apply in the political sphere. If you can stomach the irony, let’s take a look at the latest example of this genre, an opinion piece in the Politico by Robert Kennedy’s daughter, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Kennedy (I use her maiden name because it’s the only thing that gets her published) starts off well enough, with the title “On health care, the bishops have lost their way”. There, we agree; the Bishops have inserted themselves into the health care debate by calling for a national health insurance scheme – including their call for it to cover illegal aliens – that may be well-intentioned but will have many dire practical consequences, and which confuses the individual duty of Christian charity with the power to compel others to give to Caesar. These are not problems of Catholic doctrine, they are problems of practical economics and practical politics, two areas in which the Bishops do not have the most sterling record. Worse yet, as far as their purely political judgment, the Bishops seem unable to understand that positive aspects of the proposed bills – restrictions on funding for abortion, conscience protections for Catholic hospitals – may be necessary for their passage into law, but will forever be subject to unilateral renegotiation by Congress, which when it comes to massive entitlement programs always operates on the principle of Darth Vader at Cloud City: “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”
Pray indeed.
But of course, Kennedy wants the Church to agitate for precisely this program; what she objects to is that the Church, having come this far in support of the bill, insists that it can’t support a bill that doesn’t include the Stupak Amendment’s restrictions on abortion funding.
Kennedy can’t resist dripping scorn at the sorts of folk the Bishops have associated themselves with:

As Catholics, are we so laser focused on the issue of abortion that we are willing to join tea partiers…

Presumably, tax collectors and prostitutes would be even worse. No, on second thought, considering who supports this bill, perhaps not. But in making an argument about how the Bishops should prioritize their moral teachings, Kennedy makes not the slightest effort to explain why the Church shouldn’t be “laser focused” on abortion, given that the Church teaches that abortion is a grave moral evil that entails the willful taking of a human life. That failure to consider the core nature of the Church teaching at issue vitiates the entirety of Kennedy’s argument.
Kennedy goes on to defend the weaker provisions of a substitute provision that would not include the Stupak Amendment’s bar on the use of federal dollars to purchase any insurance that covers abortion. As I have explained previously, the intrusive nature of the bill makes any such “middle ground” wholly illusory; either you accept the Stupak Amendment’s functionally pro-life provisions, or you accept a bill that is functionally pro-abortion; the bill leaves no room for a middle ground on this issue. But in doing so, she adds calculated insult to injury:

Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for nonreligious services as long as those funds are separated from religious work. If this solution is good enough for Catholic organizations, then it is certainly good enough for health care reform.

So, now she just told the Catholic Church that it should regard the work of Catholic Charities as equivalent to the work of abortion mills. I’m sure that’s an applause line at MSNBC and the New York Times, but if it’s supposed to persuade the Bishops, she should maybe consider also comparing them to the Nazis.

If Nelson’s amendment is a Senate version of the Stupak amendment, as expected, it will ban abortion not only in the public option but, effectively, throughout the exchange created by health care reform.

This is the point by which she has completely forgotten that she’s still putatively talking to the Bishops, who obviously regard such a ban as a very good thing, perhaps the best thing the bill could do.

There are millions of pro-abortion rights Catholics who understand that women faced with unintended pregnancies or complications in wanted pregnancies have to make difficult, complex decisions for themselves and their families.

By now, the pretense of talking to the Bishops is completely gone, as she’s instead pitching for the support of Catholics who reject the Bishops’ teachings on a core issue. There are also millions of Catholics who are adulterers, drug addicts and hoodlums. The Bishops are supposed to minister to them and seek correction and forgiveness of their sins, not accomodate their embrace of sin.

The U.S. Senate recently took an important vote toward improving women’s access to preventive health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The women’s health amendment would guarantee health insurance coverage, at no cost sharing, for women’s preventive care, including lifesaving screenings, well-woman exams and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy.
This amendment captures the very essence of what health care reform is supposed to be about…

Again, Kennedy ignores here the possibility that perhaps the Bishops don’t consider access to artificial contraception to be a good thing either.

I want Catholic bishops to heed the Vatican’s call for charity and justice for all, not just for the wealthy and well connected.

The irony of this last coming from a Kennedy is staggering. Ted Kennedy, in his dying days, managed to get the ear of the Pope himself, and to get a Catholic funeral despite not only his personal sins – which after all, may be forgiven – but more importantly his lifelong, public and utterly unrepentant advocacy of legal abortion. There is perhaps no greater stain on the American Catholic Church’s commitment to any sort of egalitarianism than the persistent favor and preferential treatment it has showered on the Kennedy family. There can be no less persuasive messenger to make such a claim than a Kennedy.
The Catholic Church is a human institution. As such, has been slow, terribly slow, to recognize the practical dangers presented by the healthcare bill. But even its belated efforts to avoid lending its support to a pro-abortion bill are apparently too much for Kennedy-style “Catholics” to bear. They have the right, of course, to reject the Church’s teachings. But the last thing the Catholic Bishops need is a lecture on moral judgment by a Kennedy.

The Anti-Catholic Times

Archbishop Dolan, the new Archbishop of New York, takes the gloves off regarding the New York Times’ persistent anti-Catholicism and its role in the Left’s larger public campaign against the Church (which is not to say that every Democrat is anti-Catholic, but when you encounter virulent hatred of the Catholic Church it’s almost always from left-wingers, and when you encounter efforts to use the force of government against the Church, especially its ability to run schools and hospitals consistently with its teachings, it’s almost always from the Democrats).
It’s worth reading the whole thing. One example he cites is wholly typical of the double standard applied to sex-abuse cases, which the Left would have you believe is primarily a Catholic clergy problem; as Archbishop Dolan notes, this perception is fed mainly by playing up such cases in the Catholic Church while systematically downplaying such cases in other faiths, in the public schools, and elsewhere (contrast the defenders of Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson to the broad-brush treatment of the entire Church commonly meted out by anti-Catholic bigots):

On October 14, in the pages of the New York Times, reporter Paul Vitello exposed the sad extent of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. According to the article, there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone. Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency. Instead, an attorney is quoted urging law enforcement officials to recognize “religious sensitivities,” and no criticism was offered of the DA’s office for allowing Orthodox rabbis to settle these cases “internally.” Given the Catholic Church’s own recent horrible experience, I am hardly in any position to criticize our Orthodox Jewish neighbors, and have no wish to do so . . . but I can criticize this kind of “selective outrage.”
Of course, this selective outrage probably should not surprise us at all, as we have seen many other examples of the phenomenon in recent years when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse. To cite but two: In 2004, Professor Carol Shakeshaft documented the wide-spread problem of sexual abuse of minors in our nation’s public schools (the study can be found here). In 2007, the Associated Press issued a series of investigative reports that also showed the numerous examples of sexual abuse by educators against public school students. Both the Shakeshaft study and the AP reports were essentially ignored, as papers such as the New York Times only seem to have priests in their crosshairs.

As he notes, there remains pending legislation in Albany to repeal the statute of limitations for sex-abuse cases against the Church, and of course – given the near-impossibility of defending such antique cases (this is why we have statutes of limitations in the first place) – this would be financially ruinous for the Church in many places at a time when it’s already in financial straits during a recession. The Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware recently became the seventh US Diocese to file for bankruptcy. But that’s precisely the point – it’s why the bill pushed by the Democrats in Albany doesn’t apply the same treatment to the public schools.
There are, of course, many valid criticisms of the Church’s institutional handling of sex-abuse cases, but let us be serious: the critics on the social Left were never interested in those cases except as a club with which to beat the Church, as evidenced by their continuing disinterest in similar cases not involving the Catholic Church.

Christmas in June!

crazyeddie.jpgThe tradition of celebrating Christmas in December is, as most people familiar with the history of the early Church know, not based on a December birthday for Jesus – the Bible mentions nothing of the sort – but on accomodation of the Church calendar with the Roman traditional holidays around the winter solstice. The exact date of Christ’s birth has generally been lost to history. There are two documentable historical events, however, that the Biblical narrative can be tied to – the Roman census under Caesar Augustus, and the Star of Bethlehem.
Here you can read one of the latest efforts to nail down the latter, an atronomical historian trying to pinpoint the “star” as being a particularly close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the night sky (such as we’ve been experiencing in less complete form the past few weeks – I had the kids on the lawn with the telescope a few weekends ago):

The researchers claim the ‘Christmas star’ was most likely a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single “beacon of light” which appeared suddenly.


Australian astronomer Dave Reneke used complex computer software to chart the exact positions of all celestial bodies and map the night sky as it would have appeared over the Holy Land more than 2,000 years ago.
It revealed a spectacular astronomical event around the time of Jesus’s birth.
Mr Reneke says the wise men probably interpreted it as the sign they had been waiting for, and they followed the ‘star’ to Christ’s birthplace in a stable in Bethlehem, as described in the Bible.
Generally accepted research has placed the nativity to somewhere between 3BC and 1AD.
Using the St Matthew’s Gospel as a reference point, Mr Reneke pinpointed the planetary conjunction, which appeared in the constellation of Leo, to the exact date of June 17 in the year 2BC.

It’s an interesting theory; such theories tend to be pretty common in Bliblical history, but as Reneke notes, astronomy is a fairly precise science, and identifying a specific astronomical event that fits so neatly with the Gospel account at least adds one small piece to a historical picture that is likely to remain somewhat elusive.

RELIGION: Disbelieving Obama

One of the recurring themes of the Obama campaign is that his supporters dismiss anything they find inconvenient in his record, platform or statements on the trail on the theory that he was just doing or saying stuff he doesn’t believe to pander to somebody else, whereas when he says something I like, that of course must be what he really means. Only the shallowness of his record – the fact that he’s almost never had to stick to any one position under enough fire to prove that he means it, never had to build a record of deeds and not just words – enables people to sustain this sort of wishcasting, which Iowahawk brilliantly skewered in his “who are the rubes?” post (for the Harry Potter fans, Tom Maguire has compared him to the Mirror of Erised in which one views one’s deepest desires). It’s almost a willful choice to get suckered. Obama gave millions of dollars to Ayers and ACORN and joined the New Party? Just needed to pander to the far left. Obama spent 20 years with a racist, America-hating preacher? Just needed to pander to African-Americans who thought he wasn’t black enough. Obama spent years cozied up to and trading favors with the Chicago machine? Just needed to buy their support…of course, he’s really a reformer. Etc.
It doesn’t stop with his shady associates – Beldar finds example after example of this in the Washington Post’s endorsement of Obama:

Continue reading RELIGION: Disbelieving Obama

I guess I’m on a roll

Posted by Ricky West

I’ve long heard the charges that the right was leaning too much on the Falwells & Robertsons to bring evangelicals to politics. Now, there are charges that the left is allowing Jeremiah Wright & this Pflegler guy to define lefty religion/politics. After hearing those two over the past few months and reading many of their comments, I must ask: when did it become en vogue for reverends to curse? I guess this is a lot like the Mel Gibson episode, where everyone was aghast about what he said about Jews (and I’m not ignoring that) and basically forgot the part about him driving drunk. In this case, you have preachers saying things that are politically – and in Wright’s case, patriotically – incendiary, and virtually everyone has overlooked the fact that those two are dropping four-letter words on a constant basis. Is this a regional thing? I know in the south, to say it’s be frowned on by the community would be an understatement.

RELIGION: The Gospel According To…

I know it’s not really a revolutionary notion, but if further proof were needed that (1) some people have waaaaaaay too much time on their hands and (2) the internet is the greatest thing ever created for pouring that time down an endless hole, I present to you:
1. The Bible – the whole Bible – translated into lolcat. Via Ace. If you don’t know what lolcat means, I can assure you, it’s not worth finding out.
2. But wait, there’s more! There’s also The Brick Testament, the stories of the Bible rendered in Legos. This one, at least, is entertaining beyond a few lines, and I can understand why someone would bother doing it, but still. It may sound like a cool educational idea, but like the Bible itself, there’s a lot of stuff in there you would not show your kids.
(On the other hand, this is just coolness beyond description).


Lileks on debating the existence of God:

Hugh Hewitt had a three-hour debate between Hitchens and Mark D. Roberts the other night over the subject of God, and it was quite enjoyable, both for its depth and civility. I think Hitch won, ergo God Does Not Exist. Dynamite the churches! Of course, in such situations the atheist always wins, because he doesn’t have to prove anything. It’s like a color-blind man debating someone without sight about the existence of Red – a fascinating intellectual exercise that tests and reveals the talents and character of the debaters, but has little to do with the hue of the stuff that runs through your arteries.

Jerry Falwell’s Legacy

Like a lot of conservative pundits, I could exhaust my server with examples of things Rev. Jerry Falwell said that I would not want to associate myself with, the short summary of which is that for much of his career, he was not a political asset to the conservative movement. (Go here, though, for one example of me defending Falwell on theological grounds)
But a man’s passing has a way of focusing attention on the big things he did with his time on this Earth, rather than the raw, rough edges of his public statements. And an article in the current New Republic inadvertantly gives Rev. Falwell a legacy any man would be proud to leave behind:

The Catholic Church was the first to attack abortion: Even before Roe, the Church hierarchy coordinated a parish-by-parish effort to stop any sort of reform bill, including those for therapeutic abortions. This predominantly Catholic movement didn’t broaden into the more ecumenical one we know until the late ’70s and early ’80s, when Protestant evangelicals first joined in. In 1978, Jerry Falwell preached his first sermon on abortion; a year later, the newly formed Moral Majority put abortion at the top of its list of secular humanist scourges. Two years later, Ronald Reagan was the first presidential candidate in U.S. history to run on a party platform that condemned abortion.

PS – That TNR piece also claims – revealingly, of the dehumanized mindset that sets in on this issue – that partial-birth abortion isn’t a big deal because “only” 2,200 of them are performed a year . . . how, I ask, would the writer of that piece respond if a conservative said that “only” 2,200 deaths from the Iraq War per year was too small a number to be of concern to anyone, or that “only” 2,200 executions a year shouldn’t be enough for anyone to care about.
I thought so.

RELIGION: Preaching at Volume

So the Ninth Circuit rejects claims that San Francsico discriminated in applying its noise ordinance against roving Christian evangelists, rejecting a rare marriage of evangelical Christians and the ACLU. Maybe it’s just me, but my reaction to this case is that I can think of higer-leverage uses for dedicated Christian evangelists than preaching by loudspeaker on the streets of San Francisco.

Quick Links 9/20/06

Yeah, another bunch of links and quick hits, heavy on politics and war.
*First of all, for my own purposes I should note here that as of this week I have been at my law firm for 10 years. A milestone, of a sort.
*This putatively hostile profile of Mitch McConnell makes him sound like the ideal leader for a legislative majority – a guy who’s a brilliant master of parliamentary rules and techniques, a workhorse rather than a showhorse who has a keen understanding of how to hold his caucus together and has been an instrumental player in some of Bill Frist’s biggest successes. The authors criticize him for not writing “landmark legislation” or taking to the airwaves, but they have to concede that McConnell has done, in his fight against campaign finance regulation, the very thing the Framers most hoped a a Senator would do – wage an unpopular one-man battle against landmark legislation that is simultaneously self-interested (by protecting incumbents) and hostile to our constitutional guarantees of free speech. And as for his partisanship, (1) the authors don’t really even pretend that Tom Daschle wasn’t an arch-partisan and (2) “bipartisan” legislation is usually a warning to watch your wallet anyway.
*While I share David Frum’s frustration that Bush didn’t spend more of his UN speech pressing the case against Iran, I thought this passage in the speech was one of the best articulations yet of why the battle against tyranny in the region is so important to the battle against terrorism – as Bush’s predecessor would say to himself, “it’s the propaganda, stupid”:

Imagine what it’s like to be a young person living in a country that is not moving toward reform. You’re 21 years old, and while your peers in other parts of the world are casting their ballots for the first time, you are powerless to change the course of your government. While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country’s shortcomings. And everywhere you turn, you hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and regain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom. For many across the broader Middle East, this is the dismal choice presented every day.

This is, by the way, a signal difference from the Cold War – the Communist bloc may have fed its citizens propaganda, but at least they were literate and educated, and thus easier to reach with a contrary message. Illiteracy is a particular problem in Egypt and one of the reasons why Egyptian society presents a greater danger than, say, Iraq or Iran of the populace embracing Islamist nutcases if given the vote.
*Links on the continuing saga of the threats of violence against the Pope for implying that Islam preaches violence: was Pope Benedict trying to build pressure for Christians to receive the treatment in Muslim lands that Muslims receive in Christian lands?; the archbishop of Sydney isn’t backing down; David Warren on the BBC; and Fr. Neuhaus at First Things has some reflections. More detail on the violence and threats of violence here, here, here and here. Josh Trevino offers trenchant analysis, especially this parallel:

There’s an illuminating historical incident from the tenth century that deserves wider dissemination, and that the Pope might have used in lieu of Manuel II Paleologue’s quote. That Emperor was the last to enjoy a full reign in a free Empire; but nearly four hundred years before, the Empire was enjoying a resurgence. Manuel II Paleologue ruled barely more than Constantinople itself – but Nikephoros II Fokas ruled from Italy to the Caucasus, and from Bulgaria to Syria. He was a longtime foe of the Muslim Caliphate, and he observed that a signal advantage of the Muslims was their jihad doctrine. The Orthodox Church then – as now – regarded war as a regrettable necessity, with emphasis on the regrettable part, and soldiers returning from war would be made to perform some manner of penance before again receiving communion. By contrast, Nikephoros II Fokas observed that the Muslims who went to war were directly fulfilling the commandments of their faith, and were accordingly more motivated, violent, and relentless. The Emperor decided that the Christians needed a similar spiritual edge, and so he asked the Patriarch Polyeuktos in Constantinople to declare that any Christian who fell in battle was automatically a martyr. In effect, he requested a Christian version of jihad. The Patriarch and the entire Church hierarchy, so often in that era mere tools of Imperial policy, refused. The Emperor was forced to back down, and within a few short centuries, the Empire was overrun by the Muslims.

Trevino also points out something else. While the founder of Christianity was martyred by the State and the Church endured three centuries of persecution from its founding, Islam began as, and has for most of its existence been, the religion of power and the powerful, united with the State. There are examples of Muslims living under both the culturally light yoke of colonialism (in British India and the brief Western mandates over the former Ottoman territories from 1918 until just after WW2) and Communist opression (mainly in Kazakhstan and the other southern republics that left Russia at the collapse of the Soviet Union), but Islam for the most part does not share the heritage of other faiths in surviving separate from and in opposition to the State. None of this suggests that Islam is necessarily or by nature bad or dangerous, but it does underline why Islamic doctrines have been such potent and hard-to-defuse weapons in the hands of actual and would-be tyrants.
*I had hoped to get to the issue of the Senate Intelligence Committee reports on pre-Iraq-War intelligence sooner and in more detail, but I have only thus far had the chance to read parts of the reports. Critics of the reports have been out in full force on the Right – Stephen Hayes says the report glosses over Saddam’s history with jihadist extremists, as does Deroy Murdock, Byron York looks at the fact that Chuck Hagel, a Republican on the committee, had a former Kerry campaign staffer on the committee staff, Wizbang has a link here to a piece that appears to rehash some of Hayes’ reporting, and here to a CNN report from 1999 (quoted by Hayes in his book) claiming that Saddam offered asylum to bin Laden. Read and judge for yourself – like I said, I haven’t had time to digest all of this yet.
*From the National Law Journal on the Supreme Court’s new term:

“There are some stand-out cases and each of them will test whether this is a ‘restrained’ Court,” said constitutional law scholar Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University School of Law, referring to the abortion, affirmative action and punitive damages challenges.


Kmiec concedes that it is “very difficult at first blush” to see why a conservative, restrained court would take the [partial-birth] abortion challenges, since there is no circuit split and there is a recent precedent.
“Maybe the answer is: It’s not a fully restrained court, especially in this case where Justice Kennedy has been waiting to prevail, and justices [Clarence] Thomas and [Antonin] Scalia have not fully signed on yet to the Roberts-Alito method of decision-making,” said Kmiec.

Um, the Executive Branch has asked the Court to reverse lower court rulings that struck down an Act of Congress. I don’t care what your judicial philosophy is in deciding a case like that, the Court is almost always going to take a case in those circumstances; it would be a serious dereliction of its institutional role not to.
*A female Supreme Court justice in Yemen? Baby steps.
*Lawrence of India: funny how this statute didn’t get mentioned in Justice Kennedy’s discussion of international precedents in Lawrence v Texas. Remember, foreign law only counts if it helps one side.
*Jane Galt has more on the illnesses of Ground Zero workers.
*Correction: Hekmyatar wasn’t actually captured.
*Ricky West on Keith Olbermann’s guest list.

RELIGION: The Pope and the Jihadis

Ace nails this one.
Everyone who complains about the Pope’s quotation should first be asked: is it, or is it not true, that Islam commands that the faith be spread by the sword? Anyone who doesn’t explicitly and unequivocally renounce that doctine should not be listened to.
A couple more random thoughts:
*Frankly, if it is controversial for the Pope to speak negatively about another faith, we’re in trouble. As a matter of earthly politics, we expect our religious leaders to espouse tolerance; as a political strategy, it is sometimes prudent for people of many faiths to form alliances within free societies against secularists. But as a matter of propagating the faith – the first duty of the clergy – of course, the Pope is entitled to explain why another faith is false prophecy and leads to ill.
*If these guys take a shot at the Pope, they will have enemies they have not previously dreamt of.

RELIGION: Saint Thurgood?

A group of Episcopalians wants to make Thurgood Marshall a saint. Via Bashman. Now, Marshall was a fine litigator who did a lot of good in his years as a practicing lawyer, and for the most part I wouldn’t hold against him, in this particular context, the fact that he was a poor judge, as he was in most cases a well-intentioned one. But I do wonder about sainthood for a man who joined Roe v. Wade and, so far as I can tell, never repented of it.

RELIGION: What’s Italian for “Michael Newdow”?

Luigi Cascioli. Personally, I don’t understand how anyone – regardless of their position on the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth – can believe that the man never walked this Earth, and I certainly don’t understand how you would go about proving that in a court of law.
Of course, what is menacing here is the threat to use the legal system to outlaw Christianity.

RELIGION: Scalia Strikes Again

In a post on Harriet Miers, Jonathan Last quotes the conclusion of an article by Justice Scalia in the journal First Things, featuring some vintage Scalia. An excerpt:

Could it be, however, that Smith is inviting, tempting, seducing his fellow academics to consider the theological way out of the quandary–the way that seemed to work for the classical school?
As one reaches the end of the book, after reading Vining’s just-short-of-theological imaginings followed by Smith’s acknowledgment of “richer realities and greater powers in the universe,” he (she?) is sorely tempted to leap up and cry out, “Say it, man! Say it! Say the G-word! G-G-G-G-God!” Surely even academics can accept, as a hypothetical author, a hypothetical God!

RELIGION: It’s Just Pat

We hardly needed his latest blunder – publicly musing about the wisdom of assassinating Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez – to remind us that Pat Robertson is a fool and a liability to the conservative cause. (And proof that a good resume is no substitute for good judgment: among Robertson’s attainments, in addition to his ministry, he is a graduate of Yale Law School and a combat veteran as a Marine in the Korean War).
What’s so grating about this remark is that Robertson is a man of God, and as such ought to be much more careful about indulging speculation about resorting to violence than the average public figure. Assassinating tyrants may well be morally justifiable, but if a man of the cloth can’t at least offer caution and restraint on our impulses in that direction, he’s really not doing Jesus or His followers any favors.
And in that regard, this is considerably more problematic than just praying for the Lord to engage in some Old Testament-style smiting of Chavez. That, after all, is the distinction I find so troubling about many Muslim leaders; as I’ve written before:

I have no problem with people who believe that God is going to send me to Hell for being a Catholic. They believe their thing, and I believe mine. I have a major problem with people who think that they, rather than God Himself, should send me there.

(More on related topics here, here and here).
Of course, unlike many of the pronouncements of radical mullahs, nobody can seriously believe that anyone will threaten the life of Chavez as a result of Robertson’s statement, so it’s not really comparable in terms of the direct mischief caused. Instead, what’s much more damaging about Robertson is simply that it gives Chavez, who like most tyrants thrives on his self-arrogated role as a victim of American plots, an excuse to further consolidate his power and spread yet more anti-American propaganda in Latin America. Thanks, Pat. You’ve given the real bad guys ammunition just as much as Dick Durbin ever did.
Finally, two last notes:
*Predictably, there was no such hue and cry when George Stephanopolous called for assassinating Saddam in 1997. (Via Wizbang). But in fairness, the situations were not the same. Chavez was orignally democratically elected, and while his re-election was likely the result of violent intimidation and outright fraud, he has considerably more plausible claims to some sort of legitimacy than Saddam did. Also, by 1997 we’d been to war with Saddam once, and appeared to be on the eve of war with him again as part of his decade-long failure to comply with the terms of the cease-fire; he’d tried to assassinate a former US president himself, he was openly paying terrorists in Israel, he’d been to war with Kuwait and Iran and bombed Israel and Saudi Arabia, he’d used chemical weapons in battle and against his own people . . . you know the drill. Chavez has made all sorts of trouble and promises more to come, but he doesn’t (yet) have the kind of rap sheet Saddam did as far as putting himself beyond the pale of even the kind of conduct we have wearily grown to expect from rogue states, let alone civilized nations.
*Byron York argues that Robertson isn’t as irrelevant to conservatism as some commentators make him out to be. Although he may in some ways be right, I find York’s argument a bit unconvincing, as all he really points to is Robertson’s TV ratings, and not everyone who still watches his show necessarily takes his political meanderings all that seriously.

RELIGION: Beating a Dead Language

OK, we all know that when the new pope was announced, they made the announcement with the Latin phrase for “we have a pope”. But what’s the proper spelling of that phrase? There certainly is plenty of disagreement:
1. Habemas Papam? (See here and here)
2. Habemus Papam? (See here and here).
3. Habemus Papem? (See here and here).
4. Habemas Papem? (See here).
5. Habemus Papum? (See here and here).
You say potato, I say . . . Any Latin scholars out there? Looks like #2 is the correct answer, since that’s what’s on the official Vatican website. Slate concurs.


Breaking. No name yet.
UPDATE (which I’m correcting on the fly): It’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, 78 years old, reportedly now Pope Benedict XVI, one of the few cardinals appointed before the papacy of John Paul II. Ratzinger is considered, in common parlance, a “conservative” on matters of Church doctrine. He’s the 265th pope, and – I believe – the first German. [Correction: first in a very, very long time; this article on papal names says the first German pope was in 996]
MORE: Sam Ser in the Jerusalem Post on Ratzinger’s time in the Hitler Youth (membership was compulsory – the Nazis, you will recall, were big fans of compulsion – but Ratzinger was exempted from activities due to his religious studies) and his years in Nazi Germany (he lived under Nazi rule from age 6 to 18, and only becoming a priest saved him from induction into the SS). All of which may make the timing of this unfortunate.

RELIGION: Not Looking Very Hard

I’m still digging out from the combination of work and Opening Day, but this one is a classic, from Powerline on Saturday: the NY Times ran a web obit of Pope John Paul II that included carefully pre-arranged criticisms of the Pope – including from an “eminent Swiss theologian, who was barred by from teaching in Catholic schools because of his liberal views” – but still included a space marked “need some quote from supporter.”
Typical Times. How hard, really, is it to find not only a supporter of the pope but one of equal prominence to an “eminent theologian”? The National Review certainly didn’t have trouble locating supporters of this pope.

Getting Tolerance Wrong

This Nicholas Kristof column in last Wednesday’s NY Times, denouncing the “Left Behind” series of novels popular among evangeical Christians, rather perfectly captures a misunderstanding of religious tolerance that is found too often on the Left, and one I’ve dealt with before. Here’s Kristof:

The “Left Behind” series, the best-selling novels for adults in the U.S., enthusiastically depict Jesus returning to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The world’s Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics, along with many Catholics and Unitarians, are heaved into everlasting fire: “Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and . . . they tumbled in, howling and screeching.”
Gosh, what an uplifting scene!
If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.


I accept that [the authors] are sincere. (They base their conclusions on John 3.) But I’ve sat down in Pakistani and Iraqi mosques with Muslim fundamentalists, and they offered the same defense: they’re just applying God’s word.
. . . [I]f I praise the good work of evangelicals – like their superb relief efforts in Darfur – I’ll also condemn what I perceive as bigotry.

See, here’s the problem. Kristof isn’t just asking the authors of these books to allow for people of other faiths to practice their own faiths in peace; he’s demanding that the authors change what they themselves actually believe to be the Word of God. That’s not a plea for religious tolerance; it is, in fact, religious intolerance, as Kristof is saying that the beliefs of these Christians are so offensive to him that they must be branded as “bigotry” and driven from public expression.
Let me put this another way to explain why the comparison to radical Muslims is so offensive. I have no problem with people who believe that God is going to send me to Hell for being a Catholic. They believe their thing, and I believe mine. I have a major problem with people who think that they, rather than God Himself, should send me there. It is right and proper and necessary to denounce religious extremists who are unable to accept the peaceable coexistence of people of different religions, who call for earthly violence and political opression against those of different faiths. But to demand that people give up the tenet of their faith – a central one in many faiths – that says that they are following the one and only path to salvation, that’s what Stephen Carter has referred to as demanding that people treat “God as a hobby” rather than taking faith seriously. While it may in some circumstances be rude to say it, I wouldn’t want to live in a country where people could not feel free to profess that theirs is the only true faith; such a country would be one in which no one really believed in anything at all.
The “Left Behind” guys aren’t asking that anyone be harmed in the here and now; they are content to wait for Jesus to take care of that. By failing to distinguish between the two, Kristof shows that he still views religious beliefs as something that can be bent to the needs of human society rather than the other way around. Which is to say, not religion at all.

The Candidates and the Church

With the election getting ever closer, I�m uncomfortable with a lot of criticism of President Bush�s or Senator Kerry�s respective religious convictions (or lack thereof). It seems to me to be entirely possible that either man could be far more or far less devout than they outwardly appear or present themselves. Inquiring about the issue seems unduly speculative, presumptuous and even invasive. However, the actions and stated beliefs of each candidate are fair game.
In that vein, you may want to read Rich Lowry�s column from Friday on Kerry�s approach to issues of concern to Catholic voters, such as myself. Here is a key section:

Kerry’s straddle is to have (nominally) socially conservative positions, so long as they won’t actually serve any socially conservative ends. He opposes gay marriage, but won’t do anything that might stop it from coming about. He thinks life begins at conception (or so he has said, at least once), but won’t do anything to stop its destruction. He opposes partial-birth abortion, but votes against banning it, and supports parental notification, but votes against requiring it.

I think there can be little doubt that on issues of abortion, gay marriage, federal funding for stem-cell research and related �family values� issues, Bush�s positions are far closer to the Catholic Church than are those of Kerry. This might explain, why, despite unsavory attempts by surrogates of John McCain to tar Bush as an �anti-Catholic bigot� during the 2000 primary season, Bush appears to have significant support among the Catholic community, even though it his opponent who is Catholic.
Three primary issues strike me as areas of potential divergence between Bush and Catholic voters: the death penalty, policy towards low-income individuals and the Iraq War. It�s worth considering all three.

Continue reading The Candidates and the Church

RELIGION: Kerry and the Cardinal

I may on some other day deal with the issue of whether the Catholic Church should deny Communion to John Kerry. The interesting subtext: the controversy was touched off by statements by Cardinal Francis Arinze, a prominent conservative Nigerian Cardinal. Why is that interesting? Because the Church in Africa is more conservative and faster-growing than most anywhere else in the world, and Cardinal Arinze is sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II. A black African pope, of course, would be a huge cultural moment – for Africa, which for more than 4,000 years has taken a back seat to civilizations on the surrounding continents; for the Church, which has not had a non-European pope in well over a thousand years; in the war on terror, where it would not be unnoticed if the Church is led by a man from a nation where Christians still fear persecution by Muslims in some parts of the country; and here in the United States, where there would be tremendous symbolism to seeing a black man elevated to what may well be the world’s second-most-influential job.

RELIGION: No Such Thing As The Catholic Church?

The California Supreme Court rules that Catholic Charities can not decline to provide health insurance coverage for birth control to its workers. Of course, only big government run rampant explains why workers get to sue over the precise terms of health insurance coverage in the first place – well, that and the fact that the statute is explicitly targeted at religious employers who have objections of conscience. Tolerance of religion does not go far in California these days. Appalling.

RELIGION: The Passion of the Audience

Stryker, who is something of an afficionado of Jesus movies, has a decidedly mixed review of The Passion of the Christ. Given how infrequently I get out to the theater, I’ll probably wait for this movie to come out on video. But, having read a number of reviews and articles on the movie, I suspect that Stryker has hit the nail on the head with this observation (after comparing the film’s violence to that in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan):

For what purpose, I ask, would someone pay money to watch American servicemen and innocent Jews mocked, beaten, broken, and murdered? And why are those films rightly praised, while The Passion of the Christ seems to be judged by a different standard? For the answer, we have to turn to The Empire Strikes Back. When Yoda instructs Luke to enter the Cave, Skywalker asks, “What’s in there?” Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.” What you bring into the theater will largely determine how you view this film.

Who 3:16?

One observant viewer of the Super Bowl points out that CBS appears to have blotted out the contents of posters behind the end zone, and speculates that CBS may have been concealing “John 3:16” banners.* (Link via Stuart Buck).
*For the uninitiated, John 3:16 is the one sentence of the Bible that many Christians feel captures the essence of Christianity; I can still recite it from memory, as our sophmore theology teacher in high school made us memorize it for every weekly test: “For God loved the world so much that He gave us His only Son, so that all who believe in Him may not die, but have eternal life.”

RELIGION: Serving Two Difficult Masters

The Washington Post carries an inspiring look at Dan Knight, a former Green Beret who’s now a military chaplain on the front lines in Iraq:

“Being a noncombatant is not exactly my cup of tea, but if it’s what God wants me to do, I’ll abide,” said Knight, 37, whose duties are to nurture the living, comfort the wounded and honor the dead. “I don’t crave combat, but I fight to get on every mission I can. There’s nothing more rewarding to me than being on the battlefield, praying with a wounded man.”

It’s a hard life to follow one of those callings, let alone both. As one soldier puts it, “He’s just got an extra chain of command than the rest of us do.”

RELIGION: “George Bush is not my neighbor”

Looks like Howard Dean is still getting the hang of that whole Jesus thing he was so big on last week. Check out this exchange:

“Please tone down the garbage, the mean mouthing, the tearing down of your neighbor and being so pompous,” Ungerer told the former Vermont governor and Democratic front-runner. “You should help your neighbor and not tear him down.”
“George Bush is not my neighbor,” Dean replied.
“Yes, he is,” Ungerer said, to which Dean responded: “You sit down. You’ve had your say and now I’m going to have my say.”

Leave aside the rudeness to a questioner who was, in fairness, something of a heckler (although we expect our politicians to suffer fools a little more gladly than this). If Dean had a shred of Christianity about him, he’d recognize the absurdity of saying that President Bush “is not my neighbor.” The whole point of Jesus’ discussion of the concept of “love thy neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that your neighbor isn’t always who you want it to be.
Dean could have sidestepped this, of course, by pointing out that this isn’t personal between him and the other candidates, that as a candidate for public office he has to give first priority to laying the facts before the voters, etc. But he had to go one step further and basically say that Bush is beyond the realm of decent folk to whom one owes even the slightest shred of human compassion. As I’ve discussed before, Christianity demands more even for Saddam Hussein (although Dean does, at least, feel he owes some measure of fairness to Osama bin Laden). It’s one thing to say that that’s hard to live up to — it is. But by declaring that Bush is not his neighbor at all, all Dean is really doing is declaring that he’s no Christian of any type.

RELIGION: Random Thought

From a friend, who asks: why is there so much overlap between (a) those Americans who criticize our foreign policy for being too “unilateral” and (b) those Americans who feel that American branches of world religions need to ignore, if necessary, criticisms from their overseas branches when pressing for changes in doctrine (e.g., relating to abortion, ordination of women, homosexuality, etc.)?
But then, “unilateral” means “in opposition to Continental Europe,” whereas criticism from Third World Christians generally gets discounted; they apparently are supposed to be seen, not heard.

RELIGION: Sympathy for the Tyrant

Jason Steffens reminds us to pray for Saddam rather than exulting in his humilaition, which is a more Christian impulse than I’ve been able to muster . . . it’s very good advice, although I’d point out two things:
1. Saddam’s abject humiliation may be a good thing even for Saddam, and is certainly a good thing for the rest of us, because it presents the only practical hope for triggering some remorse on his part. Yes, we believe that the Lord can soften the hearts of the worst sinners, but our faith also tells us not to rely too heavily on miraculous intervention. I’ve always thought that the most important moment in law enforcement — and this applies as well to international affairs — is the point at which either (a) the defendant finally admits that he did what he’s accused of, it was wrong and he’s rightly punished for it, or failing that (b) the point at which society makes him stand and accept that judgment. Saddam needs to be brought to that point and broken of his defiance, and abject humiliation is a good way to do it.
2. This is a different point, since it relates less to Saddam’s humiliation than to the appearance of the same, but of course we need to publicly humble Saddam not only as vindication and relief to his former subjects but as an object lesson to other dictators and tyrants. Taking joy in that lesson is, as well, a positive good.
UPDATE: These guys would agree.

Men of Zeal

Steven den Beste makes an interesting point about al Qaeda’s strategy in the war on terror: it can’t be explained in rational, secular terms because “bin Laden’s strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel.” Moreover, the absence of a rational plan is an essential element in its success:
bin Laden could not create and follow the kind of plan which we’d think was essential. If bin Laden’s plan had been based entirely on temporal power and cogent strategy and real resources, and if such a plan did not rely on miracles, it would have demonstrated lack of faith. If there were no place in the plan for God, it would prove that bin Laden didn’t truly believe God would help.
And it would therefore prove that bin Laden didn’t deserve any help from God, because it would prove that his faith wasn’t really pure. For bin Laden to create such a plan would be a heretical act. . . . [A] rationalist post-Enlightenment Christian . . . faces no crisis of faith in a similar situation. He can make rational plans which don’t rely on miracles because his faith acknowledges that God doesn’t usually work that way. Such a Christian doesn’t pray for victory; he prays for the wisdom to create rational plans and the strength to carry them out.
But for bin Laden and other Islamic zealots bent on jihad, even that would be heresy. The only way to truly prove your faith is to rely on miracles, and that’s what I think they’re doing. I think that was bin Laden’s strategy.
If anything, I think den Beste (who has a fairly firm grip on Christian theology for an aethiest) underestimates the gap between fundamentalist Muslim theology and contemporary Christian theology on this point. It’s true that Christians regard it as an extraordinary display of faith in some situations to put your trust completely in God, but to many Christians, such an egregiously audacious venture undertaken with no earthly hope of success isn’t just overreaching into a belief in more direct divine intervention than we ordinarily believe in; it also trammels awfully close to the Biblical injunction against putting the Lord your God to the test. I’m not sure exactly where that line is, but if I jump off a bridge and ask God to save me, I’ve almost certainly done something wrong by trying to compel the Lord to take a specific action in a specific situation.

Idolatry Part II

Last October, I looked at the essential features of sharia courts and asked if the institution was, in strictly Islamic terms, essentially idolatrous/blasphemous by “effectively set[ting] up the sharia court itself as the object of worship, obedience and devotion, under the harshest of penalties, and in substitution for the devotion of invidual conscience directly to divine authority”. Christopher Hitchens interviews the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a Shiite cleric, who makes a similar point:
A sentence of death for apostasy cannot really be pronounced, or acted upon, unless there is “an infallible imam,” and there is no such thing. The Shiite faithful believe in a “hidden imam” who may one day be restored to them, but they have learned to be wary of impostors or false prophets. In any event, added Khomeini, there was an important distinction between what the Quran said and what an ayatollah as head of state might say. “We cannot nowadays have executions in this form.”

RELIGION: Cycle of Violence

Mac Thomason has some appropriate words for Paul Hill, who was executed for killing a doctor who performed abortions. I’m ambivalent about the death penalty for ordinary criminals for a variety of religious and other reasons, and of course I’m against abortion, but I’m not about to shed a tear for the Reverend Hill.
But if abortion has killed some 40 million Americans, isn’t violent resistance the only moral thing to do? On the surface, that’s a tough question. Alan Dershowitz has argued that the answer is yes: Dersh believes a fetus is not a human life, but argues by analogy to the Holocaust that it might be appropriate to use violence against abortion doctors if you believed it was (he makes the point mostly because he thinks it shows hypocrisy on the pro-life side). Bottom line, though: this isn’t Nazi Germany. We have democracy and the rule of law, and those things stand as bulwarks against further depradations. We have an obligation, a moral obligation, to work peacefully within that system to end the violence — not use the sword to overthrow the good with the bad.