Daily Archives: December 14, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Islam’s Silent Moderates

But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted ”” and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?

Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad’s behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.

But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.

I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

The Papal Address to the New Thai Envoy

In Your Excellency’s remarks you mentioned King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s recognition that the people of Thailand need to offer one another mutual support. His philosophy for economic reform makes that clear, as it seeks to help those at the lowest economic levels by providing access to local resources and technology. I urge your nation to continue to assist those who are most in need so that they may obtain the economic self-sufficiency to which they have a right. One of the most effective ways to ensure this is by safeguarding family life. In fact, family life shapes the social and ethical order of human work and is the true source of genuine economic progress (cf. Encyclical Letter “Laborem Exercens,” 10). In Asia the family has traditionally enjoyed a high level of esteem, regarded not only as the heart of interpersonal relationships but also as a place of economic security for its members. “The Family, therefore, must rightfully be seen as an essential agent of economic life, guided not by the market mentality but by the logic of sharing and solidarity among generations” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 248). It is my hope that your Government will foster an ever greater respect for the importance of the family, convincing young people that material wealth and quick economic gain are no replacement for the loving rapport found in “domestic society.”

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

Christian Children's TV Network on Air in Middle East

An estimated 50 million children in the Arab world woke up this Monday to an early Christmas gift–a new Christian television station with 24-hour program designed just for them.

SAT-7 KIDS is the third channel offered by SAT-7, a Christian satellite network made by and for people living in the Middle East, and the first and only channel dedicated to locally made Christian programming targeted to Arabic children.

The station covers the entire Arab world, 22 countries and five time zones. More than 100 million children under age 15 live in that area, and half have access to satellite TV.

“I had tears in my eyes when the KIDS channel came on the air,” said Rita El Mounayer, director of Arabic programming for SAT-7. “I cried because of God’s blessings. I was so happy to see the SAT-7 KIDS channel finally on the air. It’s amazing to see it, and amazing that God uses imperfect vessels like us to bring about things like this.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Children, Middle East, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture

Church Times: Knowledge of Christmas story is ”˜shaky’

Only 12 per cent of adults and seven per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 really know the story of Jesus’s birth, a survey from the theological think tank Theos suggested this week.

Some parts of the story were better known than others to the 1015 who responded to the poll. Although 73 per cent knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, nine per cent thought it was Nazareth, and ten per cent, Jerusalem.

The percentage correctly identifying an angel as the one who told Mary she would give birth to a son was also 73, but six per cent thought the Wise Men told her, and five per cent thought it was the shepherds.

Correctly identifying Jesus’s cousin proved tricky for more than half the respondents. While 48 per cent said it was John the Baptist, 12 per cent suggested Peter, and six per cent, Luke and James. Asked where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to escape from King Herod when Jesus was a young child, just 22 per cent of respondents gave the correct answer ”” Egypt.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Religion & Culture

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter

The debates about sexuality, significant as they may be, are symptoms of our confusion about these basic principles of recognition. It is too easy to make the debate a standoff between those who are ‘for’ and those who are ‘against’ the welcoming of homosexual people in the Church. The Instruments of Communion have consistently and very strongly repeated that it is part of our Christian and Anglican discipleship to condemn homophobic prejudice and violence, to defend the human rights and civil liberties of homosexual people and to offer them the same pastoral care and loving service that we owe to all in Christ’s name. But the deeper question is about what we believe we are free to do, if we seek to be recognisably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church, with respect to blessing and sanctioning in the name of the Church certain personal decisions about what constitutes an acceptable Christian lifestyle. Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.

This is why the episcopal ordination of a person in a same-sex union or a claim to the freedom to make liturgical declarations about the character of same-sex unions inevitably raises the question of whether a local church is still fully recognisable within the one family of practice and reflection. Where one part of the family makes a decisive move that plainly implies a new understanding of Scripture that has not been received and agreed by the wider Church, it is not surprising that others find a problem in knowing how far they are still speaking the same language. And because what one local church says is naturally taken as representative of what others might say, we have the painful situation of some communities being associated with views and actions which they deplore or which they simply have not considered.

Where such a situation arises, it becomes important to clarify that the Communion as a whole is not committed to receiving the new interpretation and that there must be ways in which others can appropriately distance themselves from decisions and policies which they have not agreed. This is important in our relations with our own local contexts and equally in our ecumenical (and interfaith) encounters, to avoid confusion and deep misunderstanding.

The desire to establish this distance has led some to conclude that, since the first condition of recognisability (a common reading and understanding of Scripture) is not met, the whole structure of mission and ministry has failed in a local church that commits itself to a new reading of the Bible. Hence the willingness of some to provide supplementary ministerial care through the adoption of parishes in distant provinces or the ordination of ministers for distant provinces.

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Archbishop of Canterbury

Bill Plaschke: Baseball will survive, but first it has to feel our pain

Four hundred and nine pages.

Eighty-six players.

One fatal injection into the heart of a national pastime’s history.

Baseball will survive the steroid-bloated Mitchell report, which was released today with countless stories of cheating by players, compliance by owners and protection by the union.

Baseball will survive, but Roger Clemens will not.

If Barry Bonds is going to be shunned from Cooperstown and our hearts, then so must Clemens, a Hall of Fame arm who will now forever be remembered for his butt.

“McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times with testosterone,” reads the report.

Baseball will survive, but Andy Pettitte will not.

Read the entire piece.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Sports

Zev Chafets: Preaching to Wall Street

Dan and Ann Stratton are a Wall Street power couple, even if Wall Street doesn’t know it. Dan is a tall, blond, muscular Minnesota boy turned Yale football star who, by the time he was 30, had parlayed his college connections into a small fortune as a commodities trader. Today, at 47, he is the founder and pastor of Faith Exchange Fellowship, a fundamentalist Christian congregation in Manhattan’s financial district. He is also a “five-fold minister” of Yahweh, a self-described evangelist, apostle and prophet, and spiritual warrior king. Ann is a North Jersey Catholic schoolgirl turned born-again miracle worker, a lithe beauty with deeply sympathetic eyes and a sexy wardrobe ”” Carmela Soprano endowed with Protestant superpowers ”” whose prayers once supposedly raised a German au pair from the dead on the street in front of the Blue Moon Mexican Cafe in Englewood, N.J.

Together they are on a mission to banish Satan from the financial temples of Wall Street and transform New York City into “ChristTown.” But first they have to find a decent piece of downtown real estate.

Usually, Faith Exchange Fellowship holds its Sunday services in a ballroom at the Marriott Financial Center Downtown Hotel on West Street, at least for the past five years, since they lost their permanent home on 9/11. The most recent Sunday I was there, a congregation of about 400 had gathered. They stood for half an hour before the service began, clapping and dancing to gospel tunes. The singing was led by Carolyn Miller, who once toured in a national company of “The Wiz,” and a small choir that includes professionals who perform in clubs and shows around New York. The band featured Billy (Spaceman) Patterson, a local guitar legend who has played with Miles Davis and James Brown and whose current night job was musical director of Melvin Van Peebles’s raunchy off-Broadway musical, “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death.”

Faith Exchange Fellowship attracts a lot of downtown artists and performers. It is probably the only fundamentalist church in the country whose active members include a radical feminist poet, a homeless transsexual and a fellow who specializes in choreographing Shakespearian fight scenes.

This suits Dan Stratton, who once took private opera classes at Lincoln Center, just fine. “A lot of my Yale friends regard me as a bigot, close-minded, sophomoric, a redneck,” he says. “But when it comes to sin, my motto is: fight the demand, not the supply. The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination, but I don’t sermonize about that or come down too hard on it. The artists in my church wouldn’t be there if I did. I let the Bible speak for itself on the subject of what is and isn’t a sin.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Religion & Culture, Stock Market

Notable and Quotable

A short while ago we heard the Word of God that helps us better to understand the solemn moment we are now experiencing. In the Gospel passage, Jesus had just recalled for the third time the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem, but the ambition of the disciples gets the upper hand on the fear that for a moment assailed them. After Peter’s confession at Caesarea and the discussion along the way about who was greatest, ambition drives the sons of Zebedee to claim for themselves the best positions in the messianic kingdom at the end of time. In the race for privileges, the two know well what they want, just as the other 10 do, despite their “righteous” indignation. In truth, however, they do not know what they are asking for. It is Jesus who makes them understand, speaking in very different terms of the “service” that awaits them. He corrects the coarse conception of merit that they have, according to which man can acquire rights before God.

The Evangelist Mark reminds us, dear and venerable brothers, that every true disciple of Christ can aspire for one thing only: to share in his passion without claiming recompense. The Christian is called to assume the condition of “servant,” following in the footsteps of Jesus, spending his life for others in a gratuitous and disinterested way. It is not the quest for power and success but the humble gift of self for the good of the Church that should characterize each gesture and each word of ours. True Christian greatness, in fact, does not consist in dominating but in serving. Today Jesus repeats to each of us that he “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life for the many” (Mark 10:45). This is the ideal that must orient your service. Dear brothers, in entering the College of Cardinals, the Lord asks of you and gives to you the service of love: love for God, love for his Church, love for our brothers, with a total and unconditional dedication, “usque ad sanguinis effusionem” [even to the shedding of blood], as is said in the formula for the imposition of the biretta and as is shown in the garments that you will put on.

Be apostles of God, who is love, and witnesses of evangelical hope: The Christian people expects this of you. Today’s ceremony highlights the great responsibility that weighs on each of you, venerable and dear brothers, and which finds confirmation in the words of the Apostle Peter that we have just heard: “Adore the Lord, Christ, in your hearts, always ready to answer whoever asks you the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Such a responsibility does not exempt you from risks, rather, as St. Peter adds, “It is better, if God wills it, to suffer for doing the good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17). Christ asks you to confess his truth before men, to embrace and share his cause; and to accomplish all of this “with sweetness and respect, with a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:1-16), that is, with that interior humility that is a fruit of cooperation with the grace of God.

Pope Benedict XVI.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

Steroid report implicates top U.S. baseball players

Roger Clemens, who won the Cy Young award a record seven times, and seven players who won baseball’s most valuable player award were among dozens of players named Thursday in the former Senator George Mitchell’s report on his investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport.

“For more than a decade there has been widespread anabolic steroid use,” Mitchell said in a news conference announcing the results of a 20-month investigation he led at the behest of Major League Baseball. He said the use of performance-enhancing substances “poses a serious threat to the integrity of the game.”

Clemens was the most prominent name in the report, along with the Most Valuable Player award-winners Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, José Canseco, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Mo Vaughn and Miguel Tejada.

The report also includes the names of three of the top 10 home-run leaders of all time: Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero.

Clemens was among several players named in the report from the Yankees championship teams of the late 1990s, which put together one of the most dominant performances in baseball, winning three consecutive World Series from 1998 to 2000. Others from those teams included Andy Pettitte, David Justice and Chuck Knoblauch. Other players named included Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Lenny Dykstra, Denny Neagle, Todd Hundley, Mike Stanton, Paul Lo Duca and Eric Gagné.

“Each of the 30 clubs had a player or players involved in taking illegal substances,” at one time or another, Mitchell said. He called the years on which he focused his investigation “the Steroids Era.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Sports

USA Today: Surge's success holds chance to seize the moment in Iraq

Iraq remains a violent place, but the trends are encouraging.

U.S. and Iraqi casualties are down sharply. Fewer of the most lethal Iranian-made explosive devices are being used as roadside bombs. In community after community, Sunni groups who were once in league with al-Qaeda have switched sides and are working with the U.S. forces.

On the Shiite side of Iraq’s sectarian chasm, something similar is happening. About 70,000 local, pro-government groups, a bit like neighborhood watch groups, have formed to expose extremist militias, according to Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Iraq War

Chris Sugden: Church on the Tipping Point

The Church of the Epiphany, near Dulles International Airport, in Washington DC is the home of the CANA offices. Some 1,000 people gathered there last Sunday for a three-hour service for the consecration of two Nigerians and two Anglo-Americans as bishops of CANA. The Convocation of Anglicans in North America has 60 congregations in 20 states in the USA, with a total average Sunday attendance of approx 8,600, larger than 70 per cent of TEC dioceses. A senior leader said CANA expected to grow to 200 congregations in the next year. All the glories of Anglican worship were there: a splendid liturgy, the great hymns of the church, enthusiastic African praise songs accompanied by drums and the celebrant on tambourine led by a dominant Nigerian soprano, and robust biblical exposition. It was impossible to tell if this was a Nigerian service in which Anglo-Americans took part, or an Anglo-American service in which Nigerians took part. CANA and other Anglican entities on North America are working hard to express true partnership across cultures. It is hard to see what else other than the crisis we are in could have brought about such a deep desire from Westerners for Global South help.

Archbishop Edmund Akanya of Kaduna insisted in his sermon that the antidote to prevailing heresy is the faithful teaching of the whole Bible. ”˜We will continue to face the growth of heresies. Teach the Word, it is your duty to protect and preserve what God has given to our hands. The divisions in the Anglican Communion are not about sexuality. It is the beginning of a new kind of religion which not only reinterprets traditional doctrines but jettisons many altogether.’ To this task the new bishops, Roger Ames, David Anderson, Amos Fagbamiye and Nathan Kanu were consecrated.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, CANA, Episcopal Church (TEC), Global South Churches & Primates, TEC Conflicts

N.J. lawmakers vote to ban death penalty

New Jersey will become the first state in four decades to abolish the death penalty under a measure lawmakers approved Thursday and the governor intends to sign within days.

Assembly members voted 44-36 to replace the death sentence with life in prison without parole. The state Senate approved the bill Monday, and Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill within a week.

A special state commission found in January that the death penalty was a more expensive sentence than life in prison, hasn’t deterred murder and risks killing an innocent person.

“We would be better served as a society by having a clear and certain outcome for individuals that carry out heinous crimes,” Corzine said. “That’s what I think we’re doing, making certain that individuals would be imprisoned without any possibility of parole.”

The measure would spare eight men on the state’s death row, including Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender convicted of murdering 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. That case sparked a Megan’s Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities.

Marilyn Flax, whose husband Irving was kidnapped and murdered in 1989 by death row inmate John Martini Sr., said she seethes at the thought Martini will remain alive “while my innocent, loving, adoring husband lies in a grave.”

Read the entire article.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Capital Punishment

Central Florida Diocese adopts disaffiliation protocol

The Bishop will call a meeting of those members desiring to remain in The Episcopal Church as indicated in the declarations. The Bishop, or his designee, will preside at that meeting. The purpose of the meeting shall be one of mutual discernment regarding two key questions: Is there a viable continuing congregation? And if so, can the continuing congregation maintain its life and ministry within the existing physical plant?

Should the mutual discernment be that a viable continuing congregation does not remain the members shall be asked to dissolve the parish and corporate entity, with all assets reverting to the Diocese of Central Florida. Note that: “whenever the number of persons so associated shall fall below 25, the Ecclesiastical Authority may dissolve the mission.” (Canon XIV.5) While this Canon applies to missions, and not to parishes, the Canon provides guidance as to the minimum number of members the Diocese believes is needed to maintain a viable congregation.

Should the mutual discernment be that a viable continuing congregation does remain, and that the continuing congregation can maintain its life and ministry within the existing physical plant, the members shall at that meeting fill any vacancies on the Vestry. Or, the Bishop may appoint at least five of the members of the continuing congregation as an acting Vestry and will appoint an interim senior warden. The Vestry shall take charge of the continuing congregation and establish a plan for its future operation.

Should the mutual discernment be that the continuing congregation cannot maintain its viability in the existing physical plant the continuing congregation shall be asked to empower the Vestry and Bishop to negotiate the sale or lease of the real and/or personal property.

The Bishop shall report the results of the meeting to all parties within one week of the meeting itself.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Central Florida

NY Times: A Flock of Shows, Touched by Faith

It is almost certainly true that no person, regardless of religious commitment, has ever taken to the freeways with a bumper sticker that reads, “Who took Christ out of the Christmas special?”

Episodic television has always celebrated Christmas the way secular humanists and the neglectfully faithful have: with overcooked turkey, undercooked turkey, too much bourbon, not enough bourbon, mind games, debt, farcical airport delays, injurious gift giving, fractured compromise, teary problem solving, newly found bastard children and the lewd mistletoe enticements to sexual distraction that result in those children.

Since the first breeding of reindeer, in other words, any special Christmas episode of a series might be described more or less as Thursday’s hour of “The Office” is summarized on NBC.com: “A Benihana Christmas: The office sees two competing Christmas parties, and Michael is dumped for the holidays.”

This year, however, the annual adventures in December hedonism come at the end of a fall television season that has taken a vivid interest in Christian faith, portraying it with a variety and complexity, reverence and irreverence, for which it is hard to find previous parallels. It is one thing for a practitioner of Christian Science to wind up as a patient on NBC’s “ER,” screaming against penicillin, but it is another for a plastic surgeon with a bleak soul to rediscover his faith, go to church and thank God for delivering him to an overdosing woman in time to save her life. This happened on the FX series “Nip/Tuck” a few weeks ago ”” as unlikely a place to go looking for sympathetic images of religious fealty as a swingers’ club or any volume of Cattulus.

Throughout the reign of “Touched by an Angel” and network efforts after the 2004 election to reach newly discovered demographics in places like Alabama, Christianity was just a synonym for mysticism and mundane visitation. On the short-lived 2006 series “The Book of Daniel” Jesus showed up in a station wagon bearing wisdom and a willingness (presumably) to pump the gas.

None of that anthropomorphism, which also distinguished the vague spirituality of “Joan of Arcadia” and charges on in TNT’s “Saving Grace,” materializes on “Friday Night Lights.” That series (Fridays on NBC) has given us as close an approximation of religious conversion as any on television, without pandering or patronizing, imagining born-again Christianity in all its challenges and consolations.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture

Mitchell report: Baseball slow to react to players' steroid use

Roger Clemens turned out be Exhibit A in the long-awaited Mitchell report, an All-Star roster of players linked to steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs that put a question mark — if not an asterisk — next to some of baseball’s biggest moments.

Barry Bonds, already under indictment on charges of lying to a federal grand jury about steroids, Miguel Tejada and Andy Pettitte also showed up Thursday in the game’s most infamous lineup since the Black Sox scandal.

The report culminated a 20-month investigation by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, hired by commissioner Bud Selig to examine the steroids era.

“The illegal use of performance-enhancing substances poses a serious threat to the integrity of the game,” the report said. “Widespread use by players of such substances unfairly disadvantages the honest athletes who refuse to use them and raises questions about the validity of baseball records.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Sports, Theology