Category : History

(Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) Never forget how we, so small, are blessed to be part of a universe so great

I was riveted by a television program this week called The Day the Dinosaurs Died. It was about a team of scientists who’ve been drilling deep into the rock beneath the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico at the precise point where a 9 mile wide asteroid crashed into the Earth 66 million years ago with an impact equal to ten billion Hiroshima atomic bombs. The result was a dense cloud of sulphur that plunged the planet into a global winter, killing the dinosaurs and causing the greatest mass extinction in history. The result was space for small mammals to flourish, including eventually Homo sapiens, i.e. us.

What was fascinating was the scientists’ conclusion that what made the difference wasn’t that the asteroid struck but precisely where. Had it fallen thirty seconds earlier in deep waters, or thirty seconds later on dry land, the impact wouldn’t have been so great. The dinosaurs would have survived and we might never have emerged. Thirty seconds isn’t that long, even in a Thought for the Day, let alone when set against the four and a half billion years of the existence of planet Earth.

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Posted in Energy, Natural Resources, History, Judaism, Science & Technology, Theology

(Gallup) Americans Hold Record Liberal Views on Most Moral Issues

Americans continue to express an increasingly liberal outlook on what is morally acceptable, as their views on 10 of 19 moral issues that Gallup measures are the most left-leaning or permissive they have been to date. The percentages of U.S. adults who believe birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable practices have tied record highs or set new ones this year. At the same time, record lows say the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Sociology

(BBC) Victoria Cross recipient Michael Heaviside remembered 100 years on

A memorial stone has been unveiled to mark the 100th anniversary of a World War One hero’s bravery.

Pte Michael Heaviside, of the Durham Light Infantry, was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 for the rescue of a soldier who had been lying in no-man’s land for four days.

To mark the anniversary, a stone has been unveiled at St Giles Church, Gilesgate, where he was born.

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, History, Military / Armed Forces, Parish Ministry

(WSJ) Matthew Hennessey–A Roman Catholic World Fades Over a Lifetime

Early last month I attended my Uncle Joe’s funeral Mass at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the same Morristown, N.J., Catholic church in which he had been baptized 89 years earlier. In an ancient tradition meant to recall baptism, his casket was covered with a white linen pall, blessed with holy water by a priest, and positioned in the sanctuary before the Paschal candle. Decorated with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega, the candle denotes our fundamental belief in the resurrection of the body made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

The mourners that day were few. Uncle Joe had simply outlived a lot of people. Of the 50 or so friends and family assembled to pray for the repose of his soul, only a handful seemed familiar with the liturgy. A regular Sunday Mass-goer couldn’t help but notice: Almost no one knew what to say and when to say it, or what to do and when to do it.

This wasn’t entirely their fault. In 2011 the Catholic Church issued a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the texts and rubrics of the Mass that have been in use since 1969. But most of the baptized Catholics standing mute in their pews at Uncle Joe’s funeral hadn’t been regular churchgoers since well before the new translation came out.

It’s a deep problem. Only 22% of American Catholics attend weekly Mass, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

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Posted in History, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(1st Things) Samuel Moyn–Restraining Populism

In short, from 1914 to 1945, Europeans endured political and then military agony. It was during this period that Christians, especially Catholics, at first imagined that modern populism could serve as a vehicle for the restoration of traditional norms, only to discover themselves either co-opted or crushed. That experience forced a reassessment of core political principles. Traditional Christians learned to premise their search for political influence on a deeper commitment, one that gave them a place to stand over and against the power and violence of the modern nation-state. Human dignity emerged as a central concept.

As Europe rebuilt after the war, human dignity and the rights that flowed from it functioned in ways that parallel the role of the Bill of Rights in the American constitutional system. This was especially true in Germany and Italy, where nationalistic populism had led to disaster….

These criticisms [of Germany’s current leader] should be taken seriously, but the problem remains. Today’s populism, which is once again nationalist and secular, presents conservative Christians with opportunities to gain political advantage over the secular progressivism they see as a threat. That rhymes with the interwar years. Do Christians therefore need to speak, yet again, about human dignity in ways that put limits on populism, too?

In normal times, this question seems remote. Our democratic politics involves contests for power, but there’s a settled, pre-political cultural consensus in the background, and for this reason politics restrains itself to a great degree. Populism, however, is a challenge to the establishment, and thus to the pre-political consensus. Which is why the need to protect human dignity was so pressing for de Valera, Hundhammer, and others of the generation that lived through a time when nationalistic zeal was often used to justify illiberalism and violence.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) Robert Jones–Are we Witnessing the Collapse of American Identity?

The profoundness of the American experiment, …[Chesterton] argued, was that it aspired to create “a home out of vagabonds and a nation out of exiles” united by voluntary assent to commonly held political beliefs.

But recent survey data provides troubling evidence that a shared sense of national identity is unraveling, with two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines. At the heart of this divide are opposing reactions to changing demographics and culture. The shock waves from these transformations — harnessed effectively by Donald Trump’s campaign — are reorienting the political parties from the more familiar liberal-versus-conservative alignment to new poles of cultural pluralism and monism.

An Associated Press-NORC poll found nearly mirror-opposite partisan reactions to the question of what kind of culture is important for American identity. Sixty-six percent of Democrats, compared with only 35 percent of Republicans, said the mixing of cultures and values from around the world was extremely or very important to American identity. Similarly, 64 percent of Republicans, compared with 32 percent of Democrats, saw a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs as extremely or very important.

These divergent orientations can also be seen in a recent poll by P.R.R.I. that explored partisan perceptions of which groups are facing discrimination in the country. Like Americans overall, large majorities of Democrats believe minority groups such as African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people face a lot of discrimination in the country. Only about one in five Democrats say that majority groups such as Christians or whites face a lot of discrimination….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President, President Donald Trump, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Meir Soloveichik–The Jews Who Saved Monticello

Thomas Jefferson is buried at Monticello, his estate in Charlottesville, Va. The exact spot is marked by an obelisk bearing the date of his death: July 4, 1826—50 years to the day after the Second Continental Congress declared independence. Also close to the home lies a grave belonging to Rachel Phillips Levy. According to the inscription, she died on the 7 of Iyar, 5591, following a calendar used by traditional Jews.

How did a Jewish grave end up in Monticello? The answer lies in the history of a family whose own story is every bit as American as that of Jefferson himself.

In 1776 a Jewish patriot named Jonas Phillips fled to Philadelphia from New York with the arrival of the British fleet. A decade later, he was well-regarded in his new city, and his daughter Rachel was set to marry a Jewish gentleman named Levy….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Judaism, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Church Times) Death of cathedrals: reports ‘have been exaggerated’

Suggestions that as many as half the 42 Church of England cathedrals are in danger of closing as a result of continuing financial mismanagement have been dismissed by the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman.

The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, called the stories “grossly erroneous”.

Dean Dorber was speaking during the three-day annual conference of deans, in London this week. “There are financial stresses but these are not new,” he said. “I am optimistic, but there is panic in high places, and we need calm rational discussion rather than public hand-wringing.”

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Posted in Architecture, Art, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, History, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

Helena Bonham Carter reads Christina Rossetti’s Song poem for the poet’s Feast Day

Listen to it all there .

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)

Posted in History, Poetry & Literature

Facing the future without fear, together: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks speaks at TED2017

“These are the times that try men’s souls, and they’re trying ours now,” begins Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, quoting Thomas Paine, in an electrifying talk about how we can face the future without fear if we face it together.

It’s a fateful moment in history. We’ve seen divisive elections, divided societies and a growth of extremism — all of it fueled by anxiety, uncertainty and fear. The world is changing faster than we can bear, and it’s looking like it’s going to continue changing faster still. Sacks asks: “Is there something we can do to face the future without fear?”

One way into this question is to look to what people worship. Some people worship many gods, some one, some none. In the 19th and 20th centuries, people worshiped the Aryan race, the Communist state and many other things. Future anthropologists, Sacks says, will take a look at the books we read on self-help, at how we talk about politics as a matter of individual rights, and at “our newest religious ritual: the selfie” — and conclude that we worship the self.

This worship of the self conflicts directly with our social nature, and with our need for friendship, trust, loyalty and love. As he says: “When we have too much of the ‘I’ and not enough of the ‘we,’ we find ourselves vulnerable, fearful and alone.”

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Posted in Globalization, History, Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(Sun Telegraph) 1/2 of England’s Anglican cathedrals could close amid funding crisis

Anglican cathedrals could be forced to charge for entry or face closure, amid dwindling public funding and expensive running costs.

Financial crisis is threatening the future of half of England’s Anglican cathedrals, the chairman of a new working group has warned.

Currently just nine of the 42 cathedrals charge for entry, but that could change amid severe financial difficulties.

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Posted in Architecture, England / UK, History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

(Guardian) Simon Gathercole–What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died

What did non-Christian authors say about Jesus?
As far as we know, the first author outside the church to mention Jesus is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote a history of Judaism around AD93. He has two references to Jesus. One of these is controversial because it is thought to be corrupted by Christian scribes (probably turning Josephus’s negative account into a more positive one), but the other is not suspicious – a reference to James, the brother of “Jesus, the so-called Christ”.

About 20 years after Josephus we have the Roman politicians Pliny and Tacitus, who held some of the highest offices of state at the beginning of the second century AD. From Tacitus we learn that Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea (AD26-36) and Tiberius was emperor (AD14-37) – reports that fit with the timeframe of the gospels. Pliny contributes the information that, where he was governor in northern Turkey, Christians worshipped Christ as a god. Neither of them liked Christians – Pliny writes of their “pig-headed obstinacy” and Tacitus calls their religion a destructive superstition.

Did ancient writers discuss the existence of Jesus?
Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. In the earliest literature of the Jewish Rabbis, Jesus was denounced as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer. Among pagans, the satirist Lucian and philosopher Celsus dismissed Jesus as a scoundrel, but we know of no one in the ancient world who questioned whether Jesus lived.

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Posted in Apologetics, Easter, History, Holy Week

Johnny Cash & The Carter Family–Were you There When They Crucified my Lord? (1960)

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Holy Week, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture

(The Observer) Anglicans launch rescue bid as England’s finest cathedrals battle a financial crisis

The Church of England has launched an investigation into the running of cathedrals, as financial crises threaten the future of some of the country’s most cherished buildings.

As Christians prepare to mark Holy Week and celebrate Easter Sunday, Anglican leaders have become increasingly concerned about reports of staff sacked, heavy debts accumulated and assets sold off.

On Monday the church will announce the 12 members of a working party ordered by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, to look into the way cathedrals are governed, their accountability and how financial decisions are made. The working party will include financial specialists and other experts and will be chaired by the bishop of Stepney, Adrian Newman, with the dean of York, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, as deputy chair.

The inquiry has been prompted by a recent report into the financial problems at Peterborough cathedral, where difficulties had led to the departure of the dean and the risk that the church might be unable to pay staff their salaries. A loan from the Church Commissioners helped deal with the immediate shortfall for the 12th-century former Benedictine abbey, housing Catherine of Aragon’s tomb, but 12 staff were made redundant.

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Posted in Architecture, England / UK, History, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

(FT) England’s churches warn over loss of lottery repair ticket

They are among the country’s most treasured and historic buildings, but England’s listed churches are about to lose the dedicated state funding they have relied on for four decades.

Next week, the Heritage Lottery Fund will announce that it is scrapping its £25m Grants for Places of Worship fund as of 2018. Money for the maintenance of church buildings will instead come out of its overall heritage programme, which supports everything from industrial buildings to neolithic standing stones.

The HLF, part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said church organisations would still be able to apply for funding for repairs and it would “target” a similar amount of spending for churches and other religious buildings.

But Becky Clark, secretary of the Church of England’s church buildings council, said previous funding levels were no longer guaranteed.

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Posted in Architecture, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, History, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture