Category Archives: Church and State

March on, Democracy. March on.

When you look up at the sky, what do you see? Meteorologists must see the presence or absence of clouds and the likelihood of precipitation. Astrologers probably think, “When are we finally going to rotate away from that sun so I can 16142735_10211738442004652_2931030917139632431_nsee stars?” Religious people often look up there and imagine God in Her heaven, wistfully, blissfully, earnestly, or desperately. I’m not sure what atheists see. Maybe they just say, ‘I’m glad I’m alive to look up at this sky.’ That’s close to what I was thinking on Saturday, January 21st when I was in our nation’s capitol for the Women’s March on Washington. I looked up to the sky and said, “I am glad I am here.” And just in case Mother God was listening, I said, “Thank you.”

When I first decided to march, it was to protest the election of a wannabe Emperor who has boasted about assaulting women and inspired millions to freely come out to express their inner bully and wide-spread bigotry. His character flaws and shocking mental health issues are too numerous to waste words here. As we got closer to the March day, I just wanted to make myself a better citizen. I traveled with three acquaintances whom I barely knew before the March and I now consider good friends. They stayed overnight at my house so we could make a 5:15 a.m. bus with as little pain as possible. The night before we all admitted to both hope and skepticism that the March would make a difference.

The March program opened with one of the most deeply spiritual expressions I’ve ever experienced  – and please note here I’m a religion writer who has been in quite of few religious gatherings in my life. The program started with what the organizers called a “song” but I would call a chant or a musical prayer. If YouTube is correct, it was the Native American Norine Hill from #IndigenousWomenRise. I hope you will find a quiet place and click on this link. Please imagine yourself outdoors under an overcast sky with people in every direction, and even in the trees. Then listen. I don’t know if there were words, or what her intention was, but I heard a call to all of our souls, to rise to the greater good.

Native American opening song

I don’t really like crowds. I like to be home where it’s quiet with my dog and cat at my side. It takes something to get me out, other than working for a living, of course. But the experience started much before daylight when three buses left from my small suburban community and joined 1,900 of them in the stadium parking lot. Then a very diverse river of people climbed stairs, walked to the Metro station, got in and out of subway cars, then inched out onto the street. All the while in the metro station there were sweeps of chants and a sort of woo-hoo kind of high musical sigh that was to your ears what the wave at a sports stadium would be for your eyes.

The YouTube video was shot close to where I was standing, which was blocks from the stage. You can see people actually climbed the tree to get a better look. This img_20170121_100727street was intended to be a route for the walking part of the March, but it was too crowded. After a couple hours of standing with a crowd pressing in, I got a little claustrophobic, so we inched our way from where the crowd was packed to an area where it was only slightly less packed behind the Smithsonian and toward the Mall.  All the while, people were pouring in from every direction. We walked about 10 or 15 blocks to find something to eat. The whole time we were walking away from the stage, people from every direction were streaming in. While we ate lunch we watched the March on a muted CNN in the restaurant and realized that it so much bigger than we could comprehend at street level. When we went to return to the marching part of the March, it was everywhere. It was not just one street, but many streets, all filled with people marching. There were spontaneous chants to fun rhythms (picture Bill Murray in “Stripes”). The one I’m still chanting while I walk my dog is: “This is how democracy works!” Oh, yes it is.

It was difficult to hear all the speeches while we were there, so I’ve been listening online. (Thank you New York Times; link follows.) I was able to hear most of Gloria Steinem and some Michael Moore live, and they remain my favorites.

New York Times online speeches

What was clear on Saturday, and is even more vivid listening online, is that the speakers were embracing multiple issues, not just their own agenda. The over-arching theme was democracy, tolerance, equity. These values were more powerful than the crowd’s clear disdain of the newly elected  “Groper-in-chief,” (quoting Jane Fonda on Bill Maher’s show). In fact, much more potent than the mass dissatisfaction with the incoming president was the urgent need to put common values in place that assure people are treated fairly and have more equal opportunity.

It’s important to ask: What started all this? One idea, from one woman in Hawaii on Facebook. Her what-if/what-can-we-do moment launched an important action for millions that was not just an expression but a movement to a more engaged populace willing to work to keep democracy vital. One woman’s idea started this. As Steinem told us, “…370 marches in every state and on six continents…” Check out the New York Times article with photos from around the globe and highlights of signs and chants.

New York Times global photos

The United States is a secular democracy with a constitutional commitment to the separation of church and state. I remind you that it matters because while all religions are protected, it assures you can practice the one of your choosing, or none at all, without fear of imprisonment. The new president is threatening to require Muslims to register. With no exaggeration at all, this is not unlike what Hitler did to Jews before he started the genocide. It’s also a short walk from registry to rounding people up for camps like the Japanese in this country after Pearl Harbor. Make no mistake that the current governance threatens to take us into very dark times. Are you going quietly?

In spite of the efforts of the White House to make shameless bigotry and greed the new policy, Steinem tried to give us perspective and said, “I have been thinking about the use of a long life and one of them is that you remember when things were worse…This, [she waved her hand across the crowd] this is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of energy and true democracy like I have never seen in my very long life.” Right with you on that, Gloria.

Saturday’s global March proved that we don’t need laws or religion to guide us into a secular morality that can be embraced by diverse masses. Click on the link below and scan the list of speakers, most of whom mentioned other issues in their own speeches. And when is the last time you heard someone running for office even talk about the common good? Well, of course, we can thank Hillary for: “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.”

List of speakers

Rhea Suh, NRDC president said, “Each one of you is an individual that made a powerful decision – a choice to be here…because you believe in the fundamental principles that we matter…We are not helpless. We are still a democracy.” The March was a call to remember that democracy only thrives with engaged citizens, who are watching to assure the balance of power. Democracy also needs a free press to recognize and publicize corruption. Some work needs to be done there since they largely failed us in this last election cycle. But we need to do our part by buying newspapers and turning off fake news and reality TV. We need to demonstrate that as media consumers and citizens, we want more than unsubstantiated or un-investigated sound bites.

And, since this is a religion column, I am compelled to remind you that freedom of religion means you get to make your own choice and practice it as you want. If you want the government to impose your religion on others, then prepare yourself for the day when what they impose is not your religion. That said, if they really do impose a Muslim registry, I’m with Madeleine Albright and I’m signing-up as Muslim. -J.B.

New York Times photo: Chang W. Lee

 

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Got soul?

When comparing the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic, perhaps many would find the Jersey Shore lacking.  I am not one of them.  Living in Pennsylvania, I enjoy proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.  This summer I am part of the large group of Americans to whom the euphemism ‘under-employed’ is applied, so I have contented myself with day trips and good books.  Sitting on the beach, even in Wildwood or Atlantic City, comforts me and heals my soul in a way that church never has.  So here’s what I was reading on the beach this summer:

Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore (1992)

What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter and Me, Rielle Hunter (2012)

In his introduction, Moore said, “When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning” (p.xii).  Well, between daytime talk television and online or mass media news, the violence is abundant.  As Moore said (p.270), “We can only treat badly those things whose soul we disregard.”

In this country, I would add misplaced moral outrage to the symptoms that Moore names, which brings me to Rielle Hunter.  Part of the reason I read her book is because of the angry rants aimed at her by complete strangers on Facebook, online book reviews, and in casual social circles after her book was released early this summer.  She had a relationship with a married public figure that resulted in a child.  That is not an unusual occurrence and has no actual impact on the public at large.  But she does have the right to tell her story and it was interesting.  I don’t know how Moore would respond to Hunter’s story, but here is the quote I would select:

“One of the difficulties in care of the soul is to recognize the necessity of pathos and tragedy.  If we view love only from a high moralistic or hygienic peak, we will overlook its soul settling in the valleys” (p.85).

The entire U.S. Civil War is an example of misplaced moral outrage by the South.  I am astounded by how the rich got the poor to suffer and die in such numbers when there was no possible gain for them.  One book (The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara) suggested the wealthy Southerners convinced poor whites that the North would take away their “rights.”  What rights? – Was it their right to be poor?  The Southern propaganda machine kept the details vague, invented falsehoods, and turned on the outrage with all vigor.  They exploited ignorance, racism and xenophobia to other (used as a verb here) black slaves and inspire a to-the-death-rising-up.  If slavery had been defended by wealthy Southern whites alone, the Civil War would have been over quickly.  The prolonged and painful years of Civil War was only possible with the ongoing support of the Southern ignorant poor and their misplaced moral outrage.

While I am tempted to use this as a jumping off point to correlate the wealthy Civil War Southerners to today’s wealthy Republicans, instead I want to ask you to think about the soul’s place in our world.  Perhaps you would be more comfortable if I would use the word spirit.  Even Moore in 305 pages refused to define soul.  In defining soul Merriam-Webster online said, “the immaterial essence…of an individual life.”  Moore extends soul to be present in places and things.  For me that has happened most easily, and sacredly, with my animal friends.

For you skeptics or atheists I would say there is an essence or spirit in us and around us that offers energy and life lessons.  These forces, as I have experienced them, have both light and darkness.  Many people label energy, people and events as good and evil, of God or the Devil.  As you wish.  The problem is that when you are busy labeling the source, you may miss the message.  Socially this matters because in the labeling, we distract each other from the root of the suffering that then goes unaddressed.  The most powerful tool of propaganda and oppression is DISTRACTION.

I choose to believe we are more than eating, working and procreating carbon life forms.  But how we define our humanity is made real by how we exercise our spirit as individuals and as a society.  Even as we search for meaning we lash out externally instead of exploring internally.  Moore said it best on page 296.

“We want to steal fire from the gods for the sake of humanity.”

So I thank Rielle Hunter for telling me an interesting story on my vacation.  And I thank Thomas Moore for reminding me to listen to the subtle and too quiet songs of my soul.  I don’t usually have patience for poetry but I want to leave you with these final thoughts, from my soul to yours.  -J.B.

I want to die after winter
on a grey, windy day.
The spring winds will know
to carry my ashes,
to the place where the animals rest.

There is a pond
where the goldfish swim,
having given their lives for games at the fair.
The frogs share the pond,
forgetting their hall pass from biology class.

Rabbits from tractors and possums from roadsides,
will meet unwanted domestics who were too long at the animal shelter.

There is a place
where murdered parent orangutans
will be reunited with their stolen baby,
and toothless circus tigers,
will regain dignity.

Pigeons from recreational shoots and three-legged muskrats from traps,
will know rhinos that bled to death for their horns.

There is a vast meadow
where veal calves find their mothers
and learn to graze,
while mice from adhesive traps
run free to fresh grain.

This is the place I will go
to be whole.

I will listen to animal spirits.
I will hear and understand
what I only imagined before.
I will not be lonely for humans
my humanity, forgiven.

And I will be with the animal friends who passed through my life, but left before.
And they will remember me fondly.

The near dead young bunny I found on the road,
will welcome me home.
She will let me hold her without trembling,
and take me to the place
where kittens are kittens forever.

©J.B.Good July 1993

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.

The Mean Streets of Capitalism

When I think about how many bad bosses I’ve had, I lose count.  One of the worst was a seemingly non-threatening short, middle-aged white female who was a cross between the Snapple Lady and Darth Vader.  She would interrupt me whenever I tried to speak in a meeting, though usually she just excluded me entirely.  She lied about me to her supervisor – and you can bet that it wasn’t flattering.  She routinely requested reports from the database with criteria that didn’t exist and when I miraculously pulled something together (after working late) she either didn’t read the report, or asked for endless modifications.  Of course she was pleasant to everyone else in the department, so they thought she was “sweet.”  While I worked there the organization had a hiring freeze that made it impossible for me to transfer out of her purgatory.  My husband was scheduled for life-threatening/saving surgery, so I could not do anything to jeopardize our health insurance.  It was at this point I begged my doctor to please schedule a colonoscopy so I could get two days out of work – better a camera than her foot.  And I believe there are many people out there with similar stories.

A 2010 study by MetLife (“Study of the American Dream,” April 2010, reported on MSNBC) reported that 55 percent of Americans were worried about losing their jobs.  At the time of that survey 9.5 percent of Americans were out of work.  The numbers are only slightly better now.  There are many Americans who feel they are permanently unemployed or painfully underemployed (which I think is a euphemism for a low-paying job that sucks).  There are also people who may not live in daily fear of job loss, but have awareness that it could go away at any time for no reason related to their own performance.  Then there are the hard-working folks who get an undeserved bad review so the organization doesn’t have to make good on a promised raise or bonus.  If you want to keep your job, check your conscience at the door and don’t question authority.  May I just say this is no way to run a country?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38417262/ns/business-personal_finance/t/many-fear-job-loss-have-no-savings-it/#.T8L3p1J0mSo

When corporations were originally established in the last century it was considered a “privilege.”  A worthwhile viewing on this is the 2004 documentary, “The Corporation.”  In it Richard Grossman of the “Program on Corporations” said, “In both law and culture the corporation was considered a supported entity that was a gift from the people in order to serve the public good.”  Ah, the common good.  Remember that notion from antiquity?  We don’t need Old Time Religion, we need Old Time Capitalism.  We need the kind of patriotic capitalism where corporate executives are ashamed of layoffs and see a diminished workforce as personal and organizational failure, not shrewd cost-cutting.

As entities, corporations are amoral.  In practice, situation ethics emerge as the elite of the organizations work to protect their own interests.  People without conscience are more valuable to these organizations, and exercising one’s conscience may mean demotion, alienation, or job loss.  Though some attention is paid to public perception (have you seen the new BP tourism ads for the Gulf Coast?), I believe that is to insure we are distracted from the ugly truth.  Corporations relentlessly pursue quarterly profits – even at their own long-term expense.  That pursuit is at the cost of jobs and the health and welfare of our country’s resources and the human beings who live here.  It’s just plain mean out there.

Many people make the mistaken assumption that morality comes from religion.  Religions are just one source for ethical guidance.  This is a secular country and we need a stronger common moral code to keep corrupt and unbridled capitalism from trampling us.  Even in a pluralistic society, that is not an impossible task.  The following are selected ethical suggestions I’ve extracted from several mainstream religions, with the helpful review of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.

  • Buddhism – The Eightfold Path: Right intent, Right conduct, Right livelihood
  • Islam – The Five Pillars: Guide us on the straight path
  • Judaism – The Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness
  • Christianity – The Greatest Commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself

The majority of people in this country believe in God and the majority of religions have a valuable moral code.  If we look to how we are alike rather than how we are different it should be possible to reinforce commonality and morality.

It’s just not too much to expect any corporation to serve the common good.  That is not Marxism or Socialism, it is common sense.  Real patriotism is about taking back the Mean Streets and remodeling this country so it is not only there in the future, but more fit for all of us today.  Ranting about abortion or gay marriage while the everyday work place is mean and immoral can’t possibly be what any God wants any of us doing.  Respect your own religion, or respect Secular Humanism, but going to work or finding a job should not be at the expense of our dignity or our soul.  -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.

Religion and democracy and blogging

Why does religion matter in a secular society?  First of all, I am thrilled this is a secular democracy, even when the democracy part isn’t working very well.  That means that there is not an official state religion and those governing are expected to separate their religious views from their governance.  In other words, clergy (of any religion) do not have the right to approve government action.

I don’t want a state religion because it will inevitably be a religion I don’t like; also, because it’s not fair.  Remember how we learned about what’s fair by either having siblings or getting to kindergarten?  Well, democracy should be fair.  It’s not fair to impose your religion on someone else.  I really think that is a kindergarten-simple value.

The vast majority of folks in these United States believe there is a God.  (Feel free to e-mail me if you want citations, I have several.)  We are increasingly a pluralistic society, with practitioners of many different religions in close proximity to each other (learn more in A New Religious America by Diana L. Eck).  The majority (over 70 percent) of religious people in this country claim to be part of some kind of Christianity.  That is the rub: how to manage undue influence by the majority religion.  That is a secular issue.  That is a subject that should matter to everyone, especially the non-religious and those in minority religions.  It matters to Christians who disagree with each other.  It matters in society and it matters in how religion is covered by the press.  And that, my friends, is why I write.

I have been writing this blog since April 2010 and the views are nearly at 3,000 now.  This particular column is intended to provide new readers with some general information on how and why these blogs are posted.  In high school, one of my favorite English teachers, Murphy, told me you can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader.  It was one of the smartest things he ever taught me.  I do not ever write a blog without research and some general reading.  Though I quite enjoy musing and an occasional rant, the actual writing is the result of research and reflection and is not just reactionary.  Honest.

I recently completed a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania.  In order to graduate from Penn I had to be able to read, write and be competent at doing primary research.  My master’s research was a content analysis of the Philadelphia Inquirer in contrast with the Wichita Eagle (Kansas) and Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (public television).  Sparing you tedious (and perhaps sleep-inducing) findings in this column, I will summarize by saying that I entered the research with low expectations and was still amazed at how poorly religion is covered by most of the press.

The reason religion in the news matters is because even if you are not religious, most of your neighbors have some religious orientation that may influence how they vote, and how they vote has impact on your life.  Sadly, intelligence in not required for voting, so when politicians trot out religious-related rhetoric, most people are ill-prepared (or disinclined) to understand the real implications of that propaganda.  (See my April 1, 2011 column “Newt the Nightmare” for a specific example.)

If you read a number of my columns you may conclude I am more critical of Christianity than other religions.  That is intentional.  The majority religion takes looking after.  Constant reminders are required to challenge the influence of the majority religion and the interpretations by its practitioners.  I have appointed myself to this watch-dog role.

I have a favorite animal communicator, Anita Curtis, who does amazing work.  She said that most of our domestic animal family (my words, not hers) have a perception of what their role is, or what their “job” is.  My cat, Sunny, has appointed herself to watch birds.  (Unlike my other cat Zoey who stalks bugs.)  It is very important to her to be able to go from window to window keeping an eye on those rascals.  She is quite serious about this job and seems to find satisfaction in keeping watch on behalf of the household.  Well, I have appointed myself to be the watchdog of religious rascals, and perhaps to no greater end than my cat watching birds.  I hope you find some measure of interest in reading my blogs as I find in watching Sunny watch birds.  –J.B.

Newt the Nightmare

Newt Gingrich was not morally inspiring the last time he held office.  His situation ethics – which in his case meant he was exempt from the many values he purported – makes his recent pandering to the ‘religious right’ all the more offensive.  So now Newt is back, with a threat to run for president.  Do we really need another ignorant, embarrassing president?

With all due respect to the Texans I like, and there are some, Newt made an appearance at a San Antonia church from which even John McCain rejected an endorsement in the last presidential race.  To put the Cornerstone Church in perspective, their clergy John Hagee, described the Holocaust as fulfilling God’s prophecy.  (For the full CNN story written by Dan Gilgoff, from which the photo here is posted, see the link below.)

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/28/gingrich-fears-atheist-country-dominated-by-radical-islamists/?iref=allsearch

Here’s what Gingrich said about religion in the United States: “I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9.  I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

If Maggie and Robert are in a half-decent school, then they probably know more about American history and civics than their bigoted grandfather.  This is someone who used to be Speaker of the House who clearly doesn’t understand the separation of church and state.  The separation is not an atheist conspiracy.  The United States has a secular government by design.

My abridged description of the origin of separation of church and state is that it was largely a result of squabbling between different Protestant Christian denominations that didn’t want any of the others becoming the official church of the new country, e.g. the Baptists didn’t want to be forced to be Puritans.  The way to protect each other from having an official religion forced on them was to have no state or federal religion.  That also means that the Constitution protects us from Islam becoming the official religion, though I for one am more worried about the Christian extremists.

Howard Fineman put it well in The Thirteen American Arguments (p.61).  “The land we live on was claimed in God’s name, but the world’s first officially secular government sits on it.  We invoked God in making our Declaration of Independence, but not in our governing authority, the Constitution.”

Fineman is not some crazy, liberal journalist spouting off.  His reference is to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”  This is the amendment that protects all of us from a totalitarian government.  Now that’s what it means to be an American.

The Gilgoff story reported that Gingrich converted to Catholicism two years ago.  (I guess he had his annulment fast-tracked.)  Ironically, the early Americans were not too kind to Roman Catholics.  As an example, Philadelphia’s cathedral was completed in 1864 with minimal stained glass windows to discourage the vandalism like had taken place two years earlier in anti-Catholic riots (this information is from a tour I took in 1998).  That’s what it once meant to be an American, Newt.

There are more moderate than “radical” Muslims, just like there are more moderate Christians than extremists.  Those moderates are not suicide bombers any more than most Christians go around bombing women’s clinics.  I just completed research on news coverage of religion.  For the perception of radical Muslims, I do place some blame on the media and the politicians.  Those participating in radical Islam do not represent the majority of Muslims and are usually politicians who have hijacked the religion to serve their own ambitions.  News stories that were better researched and better written would make this clear.  I also remind you than when there was a shooting in Arizona by a crazy white guy, no one talked about his religion.

When it comes to Newt Gingrich, it’s hard to know where to stop, but I will.  Thinking of people like him ranting ignorantly about religion just ruins my day.  If Gingrich runs for anything anywhere, it ought to be back to school because he could really do with some education. -J.B.

Sarah Palin’s god

When CNN did an online story on Time’s top 100 influential people (as voted online) posting Sarah Palin’s picture, I was again annoyed that she made it onto another list.  Number one is Mir-Hossein Mousavi (former Iranian prime minister-yes, I had to Google it, too) and number five is Lady Gaga.  All things considered, Palin’s number 42 ranking is unimpressive.  Mercifully, the president does rank higher at 21.

The most painful part about writing this is having to read about Palin – or worse, read what she (allegedly) writes, though there’s not much of it out there.  Aside from watching the vice presidential debate in entirety, I know her from sound-bites, in which she does excel, successfully appealing to the lowest common denominator of Americans.  In her latest publishing adventure, Going Rogue, there is no stated co-author.  Her dedication is to “patriots” with a special shout-out to “men and women in uniform” closing with “God bless the fight for freedom.”

Palin’s brand of religion links patriotism and theology in a way that dismisses the separation of church and state and takes folks down the road of the misguided who believe the United States is, or should be, a “Christian nation.”  The most crucial issue the Palins of the world don’t understand is that if there were to be a state religion – one day it might not be theirs.  Ooops.  The second problem is that religion is interpretive and Christianity is especially so.  Even though Christianity is the majority religion in this country, you would be hard-pressed to get those folks to agree on much, including who among them are the real Christians.

This morning (5/3/2010) on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Rev. Franklin Graham (son of THE Billy) reiterated a post-911 comment that, “Islam was wicked and evil.”  Graham was disinvited to a national prayer event at the Pentagon because of those comments and believes his religious rights are being violated.  Graham is free to participate in a national prayer day at his own church, just not at the Pentagon.  Camera face-time is not a constitutional guarantee.  And you are probably not surprised that Palin expressed her concern about him being disinvited  She is the one that asked her Wasilla Assembly of God congregation to pray for a natural gas pipeline from Alaska.

I will be writing again on separation of church and state because it keeps coming up, but the point I want to make here is more theological.  Imagining a God involved in such petty human stuff means you have a very small god.  Most of us perceive God in the image of ourselves, not the other way around.  For Palin, god is an ass-kicking, judgmental, militaristic type that likes the United States better than countries – except of course for the foreigners and minorities.   Hmmm.  That just doesn’t sound Christian to me.

What do you think?  -J.B.

Does God care about Confederate History Month?

Every time politics and religion collide or collude, life gets interesting – and frequently dangerous.  I just returned from three days in Gettysburg, PA, immersed in history.  While the fighting only lasted three-days in the four years of Civil War (1861-1865), it represented a turning point in favor of the Union.  I have long avoided any extensive consideration of Gettysburg prior to now but with the Virginia governor declaring April “Confederate History Month,” I have been asking myself what about religion and the Civil War.

Like many prior wars, both sides thought they had God on their side.  The Confederate soldiers were all white, largely Protestant volunteers.  The Union army had ethnic and religious diversity and more professional soldiers, along with militia groups of temporary recruits.  Any reading of soldier or officer letters or dairies will include frequent and easy references to God.  Some thought fighting in this war was their duty to God and many prayed to God for victory, approval, support, survival, blessing – you name it.  And both sides had similar expressions.

If there is a personal God, I don’t think he/she cares about Confederate History Month, nor do I think God is taking sides in human wars.  An argument could be made for God having a preference regarding the underlying issues, like slavery, of course.  What I hope people of conscience – secular and religious – do care about is the willingness of a governor to celebrate a sad, gruesome and divisive part of this country’s history.  I guess Virginia is not for lovers but racists.  This takes us back to when Southern churches used their pulpits to defend slavery.

Somebody blog Governor Bob and remind him that no matter what the Virginia Confederate soldiers contributed to the Civil War, they still lost, and the majority of us are grateful.  It seems he is waxing sentimental about a dark part of this country’s history.   Even though his proclamation denounced slavery as evil and said that it deprived people of their “God-given inalienable rights,” I am not convinced of his sincerity.  Governor Bubba, do you really want to go backwards in time?

What do you think?  -J.B. Good