Category Archives: Roman Catholic Church

So many guns, so much time

Ralphie is about 12 years-old, a rescue cat from my local shelter. He’s been with me four years and has established himself as the boss. He was astounded that I apparently went somewhat insane and adopted a dog. Charlie is about 10 pounds, so Ralphie outweighs him even though they are about the same height. I have integrated numerous animals as a family over the years, so I am optimistic. What amazes me is that they manage to posture with each other, hissing and yipping, without anyone drawing blood. I don’t allow them firearms, so we have that going for us.

At the time of this writing, the latest mass shooting was of police officers in Dallas, TX on 1468100638-open-carryJuly seventh. (It’s even likely that before I’m finished editing there will be another.) Texas is considered an “open carry” state allowing citizens to walk around in public with a visible gun. When I was in Texas in December, more than one restaurant had a sign that they didn’t allow guns. I didn’t feel better. That they needed such a sign was upsetting. On July ninth, Dallas mayor was quoted in the Dallas Morning News saying: “It’s logical to say that in a shooting situation, open carry can be detrimental to the safety of individuals.” Oh really? I have to ask, how’s that open-carry working out, Texas?

Dallas Morning News

Back in January, BBC News online reported that way back in 2012 in the US (the most recent comparable data available), “the number of gun murders per capita was nearly 30 times the UK.” In 2015 alone, there were 64 school shootings, including incidents with shootings that did not include murder. I hope we are not so de-sensitized that we can’t see how outrageous school shootings are.  Here’s another nugget from the BBC: So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the US. In that same article the BBC reported that the National Rifle Association boasted that after the Sandy Hook shooting (elementary school), its membership surged to five million.

BBC gun statistics

These statistics (and there are more) demonstrate that Congress has failed, capitalism without any regard to the common good has failed, and we voters (especially non-voters) have all failed miserably. It is time to not let another day go by without writing to your federal senators and representatives and let them know that if they don’t pass gun control legislation, you will work to fire them by campaigning against their re-election. Write an e-mail. Write a letter. Write it now.

And you know who should be leading the charge? Clergy. For those who speak to their congregants weekly, there is the consideration of whether to offer empathy (pastoral care and support), or whether to challenge the listeners to be better human beings (or more devout, if you are more comfortable with that word). And many, many, clergy simply enjoy the sound of their own voice. I worked at a seminary once and I can tell you that there are many different reasons individuals pursue religious leadership – and not all of those reasons are good ones.

There are very few churches showing strong leadership, but I would especially challenge Roman Catholics. I drove past a parish last week that had a sign in the front yard about how many abortions there were last year. I’m sure they used the word murder somewhere on that sign. I can’t find a way to understand why they are so passionate about their perception of “murdered” fetuses and so very mute about everyday gun murders of walking around realized human beings.

After the previous recent shooting in Orlando (one actually loses track), the Episcopal bishop of Philadelphia did call for gun control. I also read a Tweet about a Kansas bishops requiring that no guns are allowed in Episcopal churches, though I remain astounded that anyone has to make that a policy.

Message from Philadelphia Episcopal bishop

Kansas bishops ban guns from churches

Why are the religious zealots so noisy about policies and laws on women’s health and sex but so very quiet about gun control? I’m not saying there are no voices, kudos to the Quakers, I’m saying that if the majority of religious people got as activist as what we saw in civil rights movement, things would change. And I am not the first person to say that they are indeed related.

I read a Facebook post super-imposed over a white model that said: “How about all lives matter. Not black lives, not white lives, get over yourself no one’s life is more important than the next. Put your race card away and grow up.” These kind of comments can only come from white privilege, insensitivity, and ignorance. Look at who has been killed, who has been doing the killing, and who is in jail. The following link is a very in-depth story about the social conditions that have contributed to not only gross incarceration, but also the disproportionate incarceration of minority males. This is not white liberal guilt speaking, it is data. From the article: “The United States now accounts for less than five percent of the world’s inhabitants – and about 25 percent of its incarcerated inhabitants.

The Atlantic on mass incarceration – a must read

Not only do “Black Lives Matter,” there needs to be a whole lot more conversation on white privilege and classism across all races, because ain’t nobody likes being poor. Very often the fear of poverty is acted out in disdain for the poor. And clearly, for many people in this under-educated, unenlightened country, the response to mass incarceration is taking up arms, instead of considering root causes and social failures. Stop the madness.

I’m tired of reading these stories and more so of watching them online and TV. I especially hate writing about this. But I consider it my moral responsibility to challenge myself and you to write some damn e-mails, at the very least. I vote consistently and frequently campaign for a variety of candidates, and I will do more. But it’s not enough because systematic injustice is inevitable when capitalism is absent morality. Democracy without grassroots active involvement becomes oligarchy, which is pretty much where we have arrived. Religious organizations that are mute on social pathology, well that’s pre-World War II Germany when the Christians were silent while Jews were marginalized, persecuted, then murdered. I really didn’t want to mention The Donald here, but when a leading presidential candidate becomes more popular by spewing hatred against Mexicans and Muslims, we really are living in pre-WWII Germany. The front page of Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer said, “This is not who we are.” Really? Apparently it is.

I am left asking the same question so many others have asked: how many more shootings? How does that photo above not look both preposterous and terrifying? There are so many guns and it seems no urgency to change that. No urgency. Why? How many more shootings? How many more deaths? I’m calling all clergy (well, truthfully, I doubt they will read this, but you can tell them) to talk about gun control and keep talking about it until we have it. -J.B.

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#PopeInPhilly

You know a major event is over when businesses start complaining about not making enough money. Philly’s mayor blamed the media, “You scared the s*** out of people,” (9/28/2015 Philly.com for CroppedPopeBobbleheadthe Philadelphia Inquirer – I don’t mind spelling that word out in this blog, but I’m using a direct quote here.) Truth be told, the security was over-the-top and local people mostly got out of Dodge. Overall, the crowds were lower than the pre-event hysteria. I was able to get free tickets to Saturday’s event and even a train ticket two days before. So thanks to Mayor Nutter (who was once my boss when he was in City Council) for scaring the be-jesus out of everyone making it possible for me to get a last minute ticket. And even more important, I was able to get a coveted bobble-head doll.

Mayor highlights papal visit

In the suburbs, my local train station was one of the few regional rail stations that was open. The local NoParkingSignneighborhood responded by gouging pilgrims with daily parking fees of $20 to $40 with threatening towing signs, including at the local UCC church (sign pictured). Not so ecumenical, I think.

My writing history here has demonstrated that I am not a Christian chauvinist. As someone interested in religion, I was sincerely intrigued by the pope coming to Philadelphia though not romanced by the “World Celebration of Families.”  What I was not expecting from the papal visit, was to be moved. I was moved by what he said, and how many people he reached. Philly does have a significant number of Catholics, and of course there were stories of how far people had traveled for the papal appearance, but the crowds far surpassed just pilgrim Roman Catholics. Philly is gritty, corrupt, not very well-mannered, and yet still beautiful and historic. This is a city where no one should expect sentimentality, unless it’s about sports. So seeing thousands of people just trying to get a phone-photo of the popemobile was impressive.

The breadth of Center City is between two rivers is and under four miles from east to west with one IndependenceMallRevevent east and one west. All streets in the pope zone were closed for days, and all the city’s major arteries were closed Friday night to Sunday night. Mass transit was re-routed to accommodate papal visitors for regional rail and most bus routes were cancelled. Though it was possible to walk the four-ish miles from Independence Mall (Saturday event) the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (Sunday event), even sidewalks were closed so it took quite a lot of zig-zagging. Still, I have to tell you that people were patient and polite. The mayor reported only three arrests: one DUI, one probation violation, and one genius trying to take unnamed drugs through one of the security checkpoints.

What’s the take-away? My own observation is that I watched tens of thousands of people captivated VendorsWatching by a religious leader who speaks about poverty and social justice. He calls for compassion and environmental stewardship. I didn’t think it was possible, but compassion was a well-received message. When the pope spoke at Independence Hall even the food vendors stopped what they were doing to watch and listen. I saw many moist eyes and robust applause for messages I had come to believe would be unwelcome, or at least ignored.

This pope not only spoke about religious freedom for all, he spoke of the value and importance of pluralism. I can’t emphasize enough how remarkable I found that. There are very few religious leaders, other than the Dalai Lama, willing to support pluralism and religious tolerance. The secular press is quite incompetent at religious reporting, so the Saturday speech that I heard was reported as an immigration speech. That was accurate, but incomplete.

The pope at Independence Mall

In spite of the pope’s emphasis on compassion, hate did not take a vacation from his visit. There wereIMG_20150926_131617 protesters right outside of security at Independence Mall with large signs and a bullhorn trying to make it clear that everyone of the Roman Catholic faith is going to hell. This is as ridiculous as it was offensive. I admit it pissed me off. I did get in the face of two of the protesters and told them, yes with some vigor, to go home. I said that this is “not what Jesus would do.” They told me I was going to hell and I told them there is no hell. You get the idea. No impact, of course.

What’s next? One co-worker told me that her husband was so inspired by the pope he was going to try and be a better husband. Well, even if that lasts one week-end, she got a lovely apple-picking family outing from it. Baby steps, right?

Don’t think I’m turning a blind eye to the unenlightened view of the Roman Catholic CroppedBishopsChurch toward ordaining women and reproductive rights, the latter which is mostly ignored by Catholics anyway. But take a look at this picture. Any organization run by all these old men is not going to improve quickly.

So for one wonderful weekend, compassion, social justice, and environmental stewardship were headline messages. This gives me hope. Recently a co-worker admitted she thought I am “too cynical.”  Well, I don’t think you can be “too” cynical. It’s one of those things that you are or you aren’t. I embrace my PopeQuoteT-shirtinner cynic, because I’m usually right. But the weekend of Pope Francis in Philly gave me the gift of hope. Think about the religious leaders we’ve seen on global mass media. Usually they are doing something awful or asking for money. Here’s a guy who carries his own bag and lives in an apartment but still has rock star appeal.

PA tourism used to have a slogan: “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.” Well, thanks Padre. You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania. Lots of them, actually. Thank you for making compassion and tolerance mass media messages. -J.B.

Wet Suits and Suicide

The first time I was breathing underwater with scuba gear it was in a Kansas YMCA swimming pool. Breathing underwater was as amazing as the final test was terrifying, for which a mandatory free-ascent without oxygen was required. It took me three tries. However, my success had the intended result. I learned that in spite of my instincts, I could ascend from 40-feet of very cold, muddy water on a single breath. Since the test was early spring in a huge Arkansas lake, we were wearing wet suits.

Wet suits are another thing that don’t seem logical. When you get in the water, it soaks WetsuitCroppedyour suit. Your body then warms the water, very quickly, which continues to serve as a layer of warmth and protection from the cold water. I would love to walk around life with a social wet suit, protecting me from the cold-shoulders we inevitably bump into.

The thing about a wet suit is that out of water, walking around is exhausting. What was a layer of protection in the cold water becomes untenable on land. I think that clinical depression, for some, is like walking around land in a wet suit, but without it actually keeping you warm. It is like a permanent, cumbersome weight that you can’t figure out how to peel off. And at the risk of extending the metaphor too far, I would say that the wet suit of depression can convince one that taking it off would be worse than the misery of wearing it. Those on the outside might say, “Just take it off,” as in ‘get over it.’ But of course, it doesn’t work like that.

There are probably many groups of experts on suicide, but one of them which keeps statistics is the American Association of Suicidology (which is a word, and is the study of suicide prevention per Webster). They tell us that more women attempt suicide, but more men succeed, for example. A Washington Post story reports that there has been an alarming spike in the rate of suicide in white, middle-age men since 1999.

The Washington Post on Suicide and Robin Williams

While I am very sad about the loss of Robin Williams, I believe he made a choice that was his to make. We’ll never know what he was thinking at the time, but I can see that maybe he was just tired of walking around on dry land in a wetsuit and flat-out couldn’t figure how to get the damn thing off. The Parkinson’s was one more utterly exhausting obstacle – like trying to run track in a wetsuit. In Robin William’s case, he would have been expected to make jokes for everyone else while doing it.  Maybe he just thought,  “Enough is enough.” That he apparently hung himself does creep me out, but there should be some recognition for him in staying clean-and-sober to the end of his days, after what I’ve read was years of struggle.

In the last few days, in casual conversations in various settings and comments online, on radio and television, I’ve heard people say, “What about those he left behind?” “What a shame.” I remember someone telling a suicide story about an acquaintance saying, “Suicide is an angry act. It hurts everyone left behind.” Suicide may have a ripple effect on those left behind, but it is the most deeply personal act possible. It’s just not about you. That is not said to diminish the pain of those left behind. It is just to ask, why can’t people make a choice about their own exit?

HelenNearingBookCover

Loving and Leaving the Good Life, by Helen Nearing

Helen and Scott Nearing come to mind. They were the original hippies, leaving a comfortable Manhattan life during the Great Depression and teaching themselves subsistence living in rural Vermont, then Maine. Their story is a good one, but what is relative to this topic is that at age 100, Scott was finished. He accomplished what he intended, he had no life-threatening illness, he simply stopped eating. He did indeed make a graceful exit. And it was his to make.

Goodlife Website on Scott and Helen Nearing

Disclaimer: I realize depression it is a treatable condition, not all people with depression are suicidal, and not all suicides can be linked to depression. Some would say that suicide can only be the result of mental illness. America may be a financially wealthy country but when it comes to mental health this is a primitive, unenlightened society. So, maybe the argument that suicide is linked to a treatable mental illness is often correct, but it is a moot point when mental health treatment is even less available and/or affordable than physical healthcare, for many of the non-wealthy. There’s the added problem that even if you have some insurance to help, you really don’t want mental health problems on your medical record. You know I’m right about that.

In our less-than-enlightened society, medical advances have outpaced ethics and common sense. People are living much longer, but not necessarily doing it well. Human beings are lingering beyond their ability to be productive, or even happy. Many are suffering painful, prolonged illnesses without the opportunity to get off the runaway train of medical science that lengthens life but can’t help us live it.

I was a hospice volunteer for several years. I learned that religion does not always support the dying or the suffering. In fact religion contributes to the shame around suicide. If someone is in so much pain they see suicide as a viable option, shaming them exacerbates the misery. One argument religions have used in condemning suicide is to assert the unerring sacred value of life – at all costs. This position is promoted even while all the major religions venerate martyrs. There are religious martyrs who died at their own hands and those who engaged in behavior that would make their death inevitable – that doesn’t even count religious wars. So a sweeping assertion about the unerring sacred value of life doesn’t hold consistent with how religions have been practiced historically.

As the article linked below says, it is not that long ago that a funeral mass was denied if the deceased committed suicide. While the Roman Catholic Church is now responding to suicide with more compassion, church teachings still make it clear that suicide is morally wrong. I single out the Roman Catholic Church because it is an easy and obvious target, but don’t think it is the only religion with discomfort around suicide.

CatholicDigest.com on Suicide

The thing about shaming suicide is that it makes people less willing to talk. The American Society for Suicide Prevention counts “Positive connections to family, peers, community, and social institutions such as marriage and religion that foster resilience,” as “protective factors for suicide prevention.” If someone is too ashamed to talk, how can they make those “connections?”

Preventing Suicide

I remind you that when it comes to faith, there are no certainties. That is actually what faith means – believing what can’t be seen or proven. So since it’s all speculation, maRobinWilliamsFBybe we could do the right thing and back off the judgment of the suffering and the tired. Suicide is mysterious. We can’t truly know what was going on. We can only try to pay attention to the people around us. And in any case, every adult deserves the opportunity to make a choice about their exit. To Robin Williams I say: Thank you. I respect your choice. Though we wanted more, you gave us plenty. – J.B.

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Past post on the Roman Catholic leadership

In light of the pope’s extraordinary resignation, I re-offer some thoughts from a previous blog on the Roman Catholic Church and make the distinction between the established leadership and many of its devout practitioners on the link below.

Sins of the Fathers: The original sins of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy

-J.B.

 

 

Sins of the Fathers: The Original Sins of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy

If you are reading this column only because you want to see what those crazy religious people are talking about now, stick with me.  I intend to address why what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome and why Vatican policies and activities affect both Catholics and non-Catholics around the world.  And I warn you this blog is longer than usual.

When I was in junior high school my mother took me along to the wedding of one of her students at a Roman Catholic Church.  It was the most beautiful ceremony I had ever experienced and I felt drawn to the mass.  When I was old enough to drive sometimes I would sneak to Christmas Eve mass and allow my parents to assume I was going to a Protestant Church so as to avoid stirring their bigotry.  It was early middle age when I converted to Catholicism after many years of being one of those people who said they were “spiritual but not religious,” or “unaffiliated.”  After five sincere and dedicated years of not missing mass one week and putting money in the basket, I began taking mass with the Episcopalians, where I still participate.  (The details of all this are not pertinent to the column but you can e-mail me at goodreligionjb1@gmail.com  if you have any questions.)

Since I started this blog I have written very little about the Roman Catholic Church for several good reasons – but what matters more is why I am writing now.  I read online news every day.  I seek out mainstream media, as well as sources that feature religion.  I want to know what is being said, as much as what isn’t being said.  In the last month, it has been impossible to avoid news about Catholics, and it’s not good.  (I posted a select few of these on my Web site at http://allthingsreligiousonline.com/ .)

Though I hope it is evident in most of my blogs, I do not believe Christianity is the only path to truth, heaven, or anything else.  I embrace pluralism and work to be an equal-opportunity critic of religion.  There are two reasons I’ve gone a little easy on the Roman Catholic Church.  One reason is that there is so much deservedly bad press, it doesn’t require my comment.  The other reason I have been reluctant to comment is that I understand how very large the Catholic Church is and how many different Catholics there are.  The most important distinction for non-Catholics to grasp is the vast difference between the practicing Catholic laity and their supposed leadership.  In my view, the Catholics in the parishes are really the Church and the Rome-based leadership is as corrupt as any other large organization with wealth and power.

I was taught ‘once a Catholic always a Catholic,’ though there was always a difference between ‘Cradle Catholics’ and converts.  Many Catholics feel this way, so when their Church rejects them it is devastating and not as simple as just choosing a different church.  Like all other Christian denominations, the pews are emptier than they used to be and there’s less money.  Catholic schools are a source of revenue and retention for parishes, but with shrinking enrollment many are being closed, along with also shrinking parishes.  Most organizations would consider this a wake-up call.  Not the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.  It ruthlessly enforces authoritarian rule as the ultimate Good Ol’ Boys Club, clawing to survive in a world that has passed them by and now sneers at them.

Here’s what should matter to everyone else: do not forget that the Roman Catholic leadership, based in, well – Rome, is a political organization, and that is a literal definition.  People forget that the Vatican is its own country and functions accordingly.  Not only that, as the wealthiest organization in the world it claims influence on millions of Catholics around the globe.  All these things make the Boys in Rome very appealing to global politicians, and Rome wants to assert that influence in ways that shouldn’t be overlooked by any of us.

Please allow me a sidebar story as an example of our government’s willingness to pay attention to enemies of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.  Meet late author Penny Lernoux, to whom I was introduced in Matthew Fox’s book The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s secret crusade has imperiled the Church and how it can be saved.  He cites much of her work and met with her prior to her 1989 death from cancer.  In her obituary, the New York Times said, “Ms. Lernoux, who had lived in Latin America since 1962, was a knowledgeable interpreter of religious and political changes in the Catholic Church. Her freelance work appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, The Nation, Harper’s, Newsweek, The Washington Post and other publications.”  She was an established and respected reporter and author.  When Fox met with her in California she showed him the CIA agents that were following her.  Your tax dollars at work, people.  She was of interest to the U.S. government  because she was an investigative reporter who wrote about the unholy alliance between the U.S. government, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and Latin American dictators.  (The stories she reported are very ugly and too complex for this blog.)

Rent the movie “Breach.”  This fact-based movie was about a CIA principal who was one of the most infamous traitors in recent history.  He was a member of “Opus Dei,” a secret cult within the Roman Catholic Church and whose membership includes priests and bishops, chosen and placed by the Vatican.  As Fox said, “Opus Dei has been called the ‘holy mafia,’” (p.115.).  It’s more than Dan Brown’s imagination from the Da Vinci Code.  This is the branch of the Church Hierarchy that gets its hands dirty for the Vatican.

The Original Sin of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy has been the intentional melding of governance and religion, using situation ethics and distorted theology.  The Roman Catholic Church Hierarchy needs to get out of governance, local and global politics, and tend to their own business, which should be spiritual.  Now I do not for one minute expect this to happen any more than I expect them to give up their wealth and influence, but while they cling to the things of this world, no one should take them seriously regarding things of the spiritual world.

The second sin is a result of the first.  Patriarchy.  The institutional misogyny and systematic exclusion of women from church leadership has been a negative and destructive force within the Church.  Make no mistake there is no solid theological basis for this.  I strongly believe that if women were an integral part of leadership, not just nuns treated like slaves and servants, the global pedophile scandal would not have existed.  There would have still been some sick bastards abusing their power (that exists in every organization – religious and secular), but it is less likely they would have been so protected or that it could have been so wide-spread.

To the real, everyday Catholics, I encourage you to stop letting go of your money to such a corrupt hierarchy.  To others I encourage you to distinguish between the hierarchy and the human beings.  For every story of gluttony, I can offer you a story of sacrifice.  There have been many priests, nuns and laypersons who have died trying to help protect the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people, for example.  And that has been to help them survive as human beings, not to proselytize.   As Father Riegler told me, “The Catholic Church has a rich and colorful history.”  I’m looking forward to history and karma catching up with the Hierarchy.

Catholics and Episcopalians say the “prayer of contrition.”  Here is an excerpt I would offer to Rome as a reminder: “Father forgive us.  For what we have done and what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.”

– J.B.

Happily Ever After – Fairy Tales and Religion

You may not agree with me, but I really don’t like the movie “Pretty Woman.”  I can watch Richard Gere do almost anything, but trying to pass off Julia Roberts as a prostitute and Richard Gere as someone who needs to hire one was unconvincing and ridiculous.  What is offensive about “Pretty Woman” is perpetrating the mythology of women in need of a rescuer.  There are times when all human beings need or desire a rescue, but that is not exclusively experienced by women.

In The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives, Sheldon Cashdan tells better stories like “The Adroit Princess” (p.144-8) who saves herself and her sisters from an evil prince while her father is away at the Crusades.  There’s also (my favorite), “The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet.”  She had a talking dog and was tall and smart.  She tried to dumb it down for her intended prince by not talking and sitting down a lot so he wouldn’t be intimidated by her height, which he was.

The Princess eventually punted the dolt to the chagrin of her parents who gave her a condescending lecture about her duty as a princess.  She said, “I have other duties: a princess says what she thinks.  A princess stands on her own two feet.  A princess stands tall.  And she does not betray those who love her.”  I wish I had heard her story when I was growing up.

Fairy tales didn’t become children’s literature until the 19th century and have evolved to offer the “power to help children deal with internal conflicts they face in the course of growing up,”  said Cashdan (p.10).  Charles Perrault (1628-1703) is credited with establishing the moral of the story and highlighting the good versus evil struggle when he wrote down and edited oral tales.  However, women had already been taking folk tales and infusing magic to create fairy tales in France during Perrault’s time.  According to Jack Zipes in The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (p.xxii) female writers established the genre.  I bring all of this to your attention not as a bedtime story to lull you to sleep, but to provide context and to suggest what fairy tales and religion have in common.

Cashdan asserts, convincingly, that fairy tales address common fears of children.  In danger or crisis, it’s natural for children to look for a rescuer.  And that’s why I believe this rescue mentality, when applied to religion, is a juvenile interpretation of god.  Many religions apply a parental analogy to help practitioners in how they view their religious leaders, or their god(s), especially in looking for rescue from hardship.  It is understandable, but it is limiting.

In the United States we talk about “fundamentalists” by which we mean Christians who have a fundamental interpretation of their religion and read much of the Bible literally.  And no matter what they tell you, they do not ever take all of it literally or as a verbatim instruction book.  For example, the “Song of Solomon” is an “Old Testament” book that is romantic and erotic poetry.  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t get quoted much.  In book seven, verse 11 (NAS) it says: ‘Come my beloved, let us go out into the country.  Let us spend the night in the villages…There I will give you my love.’  I am not aware of any group of Fundies recommending we all go out in the country and have sex, or even that God is telling us to have sex outside.  That is a juvenile and erroneous interpretation of text.  Abstracting passages from their context and applying a literal interpretation is how Fundamentalist Christians are abusing the Bible to justify gay-bashing.  It’s childish bullying.  Here’s what Jesus said about homosexuality: NOTHING.  The link below is a Huffington Post column that goes into greater detail.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-cunningham/what-were-jesus-views-on_b_554230.html

I posted a CNN story on my Web site (www.allthingsreligiousonline.com) about a North Carolina “pastor” who sermonized on how to “get rid of gays.”  I watched the YouTube video of only part of his sermon because I couldn’t stomach the whole thing.  That his brand of vitriol and ignorance is connected to any religion is appalling.

Last night “Modern Family” had an episode with the gay couple trying to adopt a second child and being disappointed.  Yes, I know it’s fiction, but there are terrific real life gay couples like them.  There are probably some dysfunctional ones, too, but being straight doesn’t prevent bad parenting.  So how about the religious fanatics quit bitching about abortion and gay marriage and get all the already born unwanted children adopted to the gay couples that want them?  And while we’re at it, how about the Roman Catholic Church start ordaining women to address the shortage of priests?  Women in the priesthood would start to breakdown the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club that’s been protecting sexual predators.  In my fairy tales, there would be justice and common sense, heroes and heroines, and protagonists solving problems for ourselves so that we all live happily ever after – not just princes, princesses, the wealthy or the religious.  That would be heaven on earth, and we wouldn’t need to be rescued from it, or each other.  –J.B

Rick Santorum and Blue Jays and Burqas

Blue Jays seem like they should be the stars of the “Angry Birds” game.  They are always caw-cawing at everyone, all the while making sure they are getting enough for themselves.  Cardinals and Robins don’t seem to take them too seriously, though they do intimidate the smaller, meeker birds.  That’s why they remind me of Rick Santorum, with apologies to Blue Jays, that is.

Sunday (3/11/2012) morning Santorum was one of the talking heads on the weekly television news shows (this one with David Gregory).  In the seconds it took me to wrestle the remote control from my spouse I had to listen to this Blue Jay in my living room caw-cawing about moral issues like he had been appointed by god – which he does seem to think is the case.  Even worse, he repeatedly mentioned that he was running for president because he and his wife had prayed about it.  If you are trying to convince me that god wants you to be president then your ego is too big and your god is too small.  Ironic, the prayer part though, since many of us in Pennsylvania having been praying Santorum would just go away.

Without taking a breath, he rambled on about what government should stay out of while insisting what government should take over.  Particularly, what the federal government should take over is the control over women’s bodies.  Here we go again, Ricky Blue Jay.

I have never written about abortion before because I consider it a personal ethical issue, not a religious one.  If you are opposed to abortion, then don’t have one.  The rest is none of your business.  I don’t object to the Roman Catholic Church, or any other religion, taking a position on this for its own practitioners.  However, in this secular country, it is not only wrong, it defies the U.S. Constitution for any one religion to impose its morality on everyone else.

Usually the louder the Blue Jay the more likely you will find situation ethics.  Santorum likes to brag about “home-schooling” his children.  Well, that’s not quite accurate.  They are enrolled in a Pennsylvania online charter school, paid for by Pennsylvania tax-payers, even though they are living in Virginia.  His caw-cawing-of-the-day can be found on the link below to a CNN story.  I wonder if he and his wife asked god’s permission to rip-off Pennsylvania like that?

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/13/santorum-rails-against-maher-on-christian-madrassa-comment/

But let’s go back to Virginia, for a visit to the Dark Ages.  It is not really for lovers, as their bumper sticker used to say.  It’s for rednecks and misogynists.  My very first blog in April 2010 was about Governor Bob proposing “Confederate History Month.”  The same governor was involved in Virginia’s latest plan to force sonograms on women seeking abortions.  This is legally-required rape using a medical instrument, since the law initially would have required a vaginal probe.  That it passed, minus the “probe,” is a small consolation.  That burqa is sounding pretty good right about now, isn’t it?  (You can read the Reuters update on the Virginia law at the link below.)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/29/us-abortion-virginia-idUSTRE81S0DR20120229

A more subtle form of demeaning women can also be considered in the context of freedom of religious expression.  For example, I support the right of Muslim women to wear a hijab, but I sure wish they didn’t want to.  In Lancaster County Amish women, and many Mennonites, wear “coverings.”  These are sort of a large yarmulke for women made of stiff white netting.  They cover their heads in deference to God and men.  Ask yourself, do men have to do it?  Of course not.  Again, the same principle as a burqa.

The rhetoric associated with the Virginia law is the ‘War on Women.’  If you actually think it was not going on underground (without regard to political party) then you are either lucky or oblivious.  The same system that patronizes and oppresses women regularly commits other sins.  Listen to the mean-spirited talk by Republican presidential candidates or radio-mouth-piece /hate-mongers and see how fashionable it is to pillory the impoverished, like poverty is synonymous for lethargy, not disadvantage.

When all the children of (at least) this country are well-educated and well-fed, then I am willing to engage in a conversation about abortion, but not before.  To caw-caw about protecting fetuses when already-born children are abused and neglected is a mask for oppressing poor women.  Keep in mind that women of means will always be able to get an abortion, so all the moral superiority by the Santorum Blue Jays of the world is moot for the wealthy.

There is a difference in both religion and ethics between influencing individual behavior and oppressing select human beings or groups of people.  I have written this before, but it bears repeating: protecting patriarchy is about power and control, not about God.  Religious folks trying to bully others into their own ethical system are just arrogant.  Politicians using religious rhetoric to procure votes are the worst sort of prostitutes.  Shameless politicians and religious bullies need to watch some Bill Maher and make less noise.  When I hear Blue Jays I just want to tell them to shut-up already.

-J.B.

Everyday Saints

Whenever a bunch of men meet in secret with their own private rituals and then decide things, the rest of us should be skeptical.  This is true whether it’s the Masons, the Klan, or the College of Cardinals.  These groups represent patriarchy on steroids, clinging to days that most of us (except Wal-Mart executives) wish would stay lodged in the past.  That is the biggest problem and the gravest sin of the Roman Catholic Church: legitimized, organized, protected patriarchy.  If the Church weren’t ruled by patriarchy, then priests as sexual predators would be dealt with in an entirely different manner.  Be reminded the Roman Catholic Church is not the only organization with a Good Old Boy Network.

Patriarchy has nothing to do with actual religion or theology.  It’s a human construct that has to do with power.  Non-Catholics have difficulty understanding how practicing Catholics can overlook the sins of the bureaucracy, but in reality, we all do this with organizations we like.  In any organization, there’s the official party line, and then there’s what happens locally.  Everyday Catholics relate to the Roman Catholic Church one parish, one priest, and one nun at a time.  In that context, there are a lot of devoted, inspirational people practicing their faith within the context of a deeply flawed institution.  Couldn’t that also be said about the U. S. democracy?

Another common misunderstanding by non-Catholics is about saints.  They are not demigods worshipped like idols in violation of the Ten Commandments.  As I was taught by Sister Kathleen, they are a community of spiritual souls from whom believers can learn and pray for intercession to God.  You may consider it a subtle distinction, but it is different from polytheism.

When it comes to saints, there are the official ones, and the ones that are accepted culturally.  Not surprisingly, there are fewer women and it takes longer for them to be sainted.  Sometimes they are burned alive by the Church, as with Joan of Arc who died in 1431, and was “beatified” (made a saint) in 1909.  There are about 2,500 saints, but the Institutional Church likes to approve them with a process the patriarchy created in the year 993 so many observed saints are not official saints.  (You can learn more at the link below, from which most of this information is sourced.)

http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/byname.aspx

Of course it is easy to laugh at some of the patron saints.  In case you were wondering, there is one for advertising and one for astronauts, and that’s just the first letter of the alphabet.  The next time I’m waiting tables and get stiffed on a tip, I will think of St. Martha, the patron saint of food servers.  (I welcome her intercession here.)  More importantly, there are recent saints, Everyday Saints, who inspire us, challenge us, and humble us.

My friend Nick wrote an article which I hope gets some traction outside academic and Catholic circles.  I’m posting the link without permission, by the way.  He writes about two Everyday Saints of our generation.  It is a compelling story about these two women and how they knew each other.

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/us_catholic_historian/summary/v027/27.4.rademacher.html

Both Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and Mother Theresa (1910-1997) were devout Roman Catholics and social activists.  Dorothy Day was the champion of the working class and underclass.  She founded The Catholic Worker paper which had a circulation of 150,000 at its peak. She was a poor, unwed mother who opened homeless shelters and soup kitchens, living in a public tenement until the day she died.

Most people know more about Mother Theresa who was born in Yugoslavia and entered the religious order at 18.  She taught for 15 years when she felt called to serve in India.  It took her two years to get the Church’s approval to start her new order.  She did receive that permission though did so without financial support.

Both of these women served the poor and disenfranchised their entire lives making tremendous personal sacrifices.  Mother Theresa was more deferential to the Patriarchy than Dorothy Day, who was comfortable criticizing the institutional Catholic Church.  While the Church has taken steps to recognize both women as saints, the progress on Dorothy Day is slow.  Contrast that to the fast-track beatification of the late John Paul II who spent his papal days living in the luxury of the Vatican.  Pope John Paul II is the saint of the Patriarchy.  Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa are Everyday Saints.  They are saints for regular people.  You don’t have to be Catholic to be inspired by these women.

Though I can’t put him in the same paragraph with Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa, I do want to acknowledge another Everyday Saint, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who died June third.  His work was controversial, but he also followed a call to assist those who couldn’t assist themselves, and for that he deserves recognition.

There are more Everyday Saints all around us.  These are the people that inconvenience themselves to help others.  My friend Sue is 70-something and works nearly full-time.  After work she gardens at the church.  She has children and grandchildren whom she enjoys, but still visits shut-ins, though I can’t really figure out when she does that.  She and her husband are the kind of people you just want to have in your life.  Whether you have good news or bad, they are there for you – front and center.  They are regular folks who watch baseball games and have a glass of wine now and then.  These are the Everyday Saints from whom we all benefit that the Patriarchy will never understand or appreciate.

Consider this my salute to the under-recognized Everyday Saints that make things better for the rest of us.  It feels good to know there are still real heros.  – J.B.

Other sources for this blog were:

Chittister, Joan: A Passion for Life

Coles, Robert: Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/tag/miracles/feed/