Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Magdalene = Ringo?

Click to read a sharp piece in Wired about the James Cameron ossuary film. (Regarding which, Father A. offers a contemptuous "ho-hum.") Money quote:

"If that's all Cameron has to go on, he's not going to make a very strong case to anyone besides the skeptics who want to destroy Christianity. Yet what will be so ironic about skeptical acceptance of such paltry evidence will basically be that it will involve cynics swallowing many basis Christian beliefs (such as the Bible's reliability and the existence of Jesus) that they have always sneerfully eschewed."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Akinola Threatens Canterbury

Most coverage of the Anglican crisis paints it as a matter of the Global South, led by Peter Akinola, versus the Episcopal Church, led by Katherine Jefferts Schori. But click the link to see a different perspective, from a Somali newspaper.

Briefly, Bonny Apunyu treats the South's ultimatum as a threat to break unity not only with the US province, but also with the Church of England itself. She quotes Akinola to this effect, although not in any detail.

Western reports have assumed that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will be able to negotiate some series of compromises, in which the unity of the Anglican Communion is largely preserved, even if the status of the American church is greatly reduced. But if, in the view of the Africans, even the English church is hopelessly corrupted by gay-tolerating liberal modernism, it is entirely possible that in the near future, there will be two international "Anglican" communities, not in communion with each other -- one led by England, the other by Nigeria.

This possibility raises any number of questions. Is it "Anglican" if it out of communion with England? But the one that piques our interst concerns the conservative Americans. If they are forced to choose between communion with the Mother Church and accommodation to theology they consider heretical, most will surely choose the latter. It is a matter of principle, after all.

But the residual Englishness of Anglicanism is no small matter, and one must suspect that many Episcopalians, perhaps even more in the pews than the pulpits, will be reluctant to surrender the formal connection to Canterbury. This means that the American schism -- predicted to involve something like a quater of the church -- could be considerably reduced. Or the schismatics might divide amongst themselves, both sides agreed that they can't live with the Episcopalians, but one nonethless able to keep its ties to England.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Our Favorite Nixon Staffer

In our misspent youth, it was Liddy. These days -- much as we like John "Worse Than Watergate" Dean -- it's Ben Stein. Why? Well, he used to be the host of a terrific, and funny, game show. That wins him points. But the main attraction is his Times business-section column, which we don't think gets nearly enough attention. Week after week, Stein applies his legal and economic smarts and his traditional (meaning pre-Reagan) values to the present world. Often, he does it with the mordant wit you remember from his show. But sometimes -- such as today's column -- he lets loose with a howl of moral outrage.

O tempora! O mores! Could Ben Stein be our nation's Cicero? You decide:

"Now, you remember how we were having those tax cuts for the very rich so they could invest more and make America grow? Remember that?

"Well, surprise! Some of that money is going to lavish Sweet 16 parties and $10 million bat mitzvahs, with Tom Petty and Kenny G and private jets flying the guests around. Five-hundred-thousand-dollar parties in New York and Malibu are no longer at all unusual. Even million-dollar parties for the rich are not out of the ordinary, according to the party planners on the [Donny Deutsch] show.

"...Is this what America is all about? We’re in a war and we cut taxes to stimulate the economy — and it probably did — and we are having million-dollar parties at home while our soldiers are paid starvation wages to offer up their lives in Iraq? We’re in a war and the government cannot afford to pay for adequate training for our soldiers, but the society at home is routinely having million-dollar weddings and bar mitzvahs?
"Can anyone say 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'?"

Neo-Nazi Fears Extraterrestrial Invasion

Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of France's ultra-rightist National Front, has begun to present himself as an environmentalist.

According to Le Monde, Le Pen has promised that, if elected, he will be "the president who ... goes to the UN General Assembly to boldly propose shared management of of planetary property," by which he means water, food, medicine and education.

On the surface, it sounds like typical French grandiosity -- a centralized economy for everybody! He goes so far as to say that this plan would mark a French "return to the global scene." Yes, we get it -- Old Europe still feels marginalized because Certain People wouldn't listen to them about a Certain Middle Eastern Country. But upon reflection, we think there is more going on here than meets the eye. Le Pen is following the advice of his advisors, including who Jean-Claude Martinez, who have asked for "a more planetary vision."

Internationalism and ecology aren't traditional talking points for the right wing in any nation, are they? What those guys care about is race or, in its new variation, immigration. So when Le Pen and his ilk start talking about a "planetary vision," it can only mean one thing: they want to protect our whole planet -- from immigrants.

I'm thinking Klingons. Or maybe Romulans.

George Bush, Sodomite

According to a new biography of Ariel Sharon, President Bush once told the former Israeli premier that, if he ever caught up with Osama bin Laden, "I'll screw him in the ass."

I hope that Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria never hears about this. His branch of Anglicanism has a very firm policy against ass-screwing.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Amazon Apes

In my youth, feminists were accustomed to argue that, if only women were in charge, there would be no wars or violence. After all, they argued, women are by nature pacific and nurturing, while men are violent and aggressive.

Needless to say, this argument depended upon a Victorian vision of women, dismissed by later versions of feminist theory as "essentialist." Apart from matters of theory, it would have been politically inconvenient to advocate for assigning female soldiers to combat duty while maintaining that they were genetically averse to violence.

Well, no problem. It turns out that women may have invented weapons.

Such, at least, is the hypothesis emerging from recent studies of some chimpanzee populations, in which the meat is scarce, and the males are disinclined to share what they kill. The female chimps -- lacking the brawn of their male competitors -- sharpen sticks with their teeth, and use them as spears. Apparently, the boys aren't bright enough to figure this out.

When is 100-Year Sentence Too Short?

When the crime is the gang-rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by an American soldier.

According to his guilty plea, Sgt. Paul Cortez, of the 101st Airborne was one of five US soldiers who took part in the premeditated violation of the girl in Mahmudiya. His conviction is the second so far; two more soldiers are awaiting courts-martial, while the accused ringleader -- who has been dicharged from the military -- will be tried in Federal court.

Apart from the horror of the crime, the thing that pisses us off here at the Egg is that, under the terms of his plea-bargan, Cortez does not get life in prison, but a 100-year sentence. Under military sentencing rules, he could be out on parole in 10 years.

I'm sorry, Mister Cheney. Did you say we would be greeted as liberators?

God Help the Muslims

That's not a sentiment we at the Egg have expressed very often. But we just learned that Michael Jackson has converted to Islam.

This means that the soi-disant King of Pop (or NY Post-disant Wacko Jacko) is no longer a publicity nightmare for the Jehovah's Witnesses -- a fact which saddens us just a bit, as his ertswhile affiliation added so much zing to those Saturday-afternoon chitchats with wide-eyed doorbell-ringers at the rectory. ("So Jehovah has given you a distinctive moral code, eh? Hey, I read about this guy with a glove and a giraffe ....")

But it also means that Jackson, in the waning days of his career, has managed to hook himself up to one of the greatest publicity-engines imaginable. He is already absurdly famous overseas, a fact long since confirmed for me in remote Andean villages and Indian schoolrooms. But now he will have the fame of a prestige convert to the world's second-largest faith. It will help him sell millions of his lousy records in Muslim nations -- at least the ones that permit people to buy records.

Old News, But Worth Hearing

There are gay priests! We've said it before, and we'll say it again. Anybody who is surprised by this just hasn't been paying attention for the last thousand years (that being about how long when celibacy has been effectively enforced in the West).

Still, the Egg just stumbled on a 2005 Mother Jones article by JoAnn Wypijewski which talks about the Vatican's ill-advised crackdown on gay (as opposed to, say, criminally pedophilic) clergy. And along the way, she gives a beautiful and touching description of how people of the last few generations have managed to avoid paying attention to the inconvenient presence of all those purple stoles. Here's a sample:

"For a long time, heterosexuals didn’t think about this much, because no one in the straight world had a clue about the way gay people hid. Even the most flamboyant priest was beyond sexuality. It was all part of the old world, and the church ladies loved the gay priests, the way they loved Liberace, because they were at an angle to the gender universe. No one who grew up in the church pre-Stonewall could miss the way the priest who organized the talent shows and liturgical pageants, decorated the church, drank martinis, and dressed just so dazzled the women, and if in private he rued the deception of it, we wouldn’t have guessed. It wasn’t all deception, of course, but a complex bargain in which renegades from straight sex roles got a measure of authenticity, safety, certainly prestige, though not without sacrificing their most intimate selves in loyalty to policies that declared them deviant, dangerous, sick."

Read the rest, if only for her jaundiced reflections on the "saintly" Padre Pio.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Scariest Thing We've Read Today

The torture of Guantanamo 063.

An article by Steven Miles on the "American Journal of Bioethics" describes in detail the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani. It is a blood-curdling account. FBI agents participating in the "interrogation" left the room at certain points (the dogs were too much for them), and later filed a complaint which prompted an official investigation. The stunning part is that the Army's official report effectively clears the torturers of any wrongdoing. Read the description of what they did and decide for yourself whether it was right or wrong.

Father A. is very proud of the FBI. And he is very, very deeply ashamed of the United States Army.

The Genius of President Bush

John Gartner, at Wired, does a funny bit with the President's newfound enthusiasm for ethanol (he calls is "worshipping at Biomass"). Here's the best bit:

Always the master at understanding the subtleties of how things are interconnected, the President understands the relationships between cars and fuel, as quoted by the Washington Post: "If you really want to reduce the amount of oil that you consume, you have to reduce the amount of gasoline you use."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

NY Guv Supports Vice

New York's newly-elected governor, Eliot Spitzer, came into office in a cloud of self-proclaimed virtue. In years of pre-campaigning as Attorney General, he had gone after Wall Street heavies, and at a time when Empire Staters generally found Albany to be both corrupt and ineffective, he cultivated a tone of moral indignation. That's why we elected him.

So we are a little perturbed to see that, in one of his first major decisions, Spitzer has thrown his considerable weight behind the plan to build a casino in the Catskill Mountains.

The casino plan, promoted by the Mohawk tribe, has been tossed around for several years. The Indians (whose reservation, btw, is no where near the Catskills, a fact which will require some legal loopholing) like it because they will make money; real-estate developers feel likewise. Let's admit it: they have a case. Some of the locals like it because they have been led to believe that the project will generate jobs, and bring back the supposed good old days of the Borscht Belt. Their case is a lot weaker. Casino jobs pay badly, offer no significant benefits, and are more than offset by the social costs. Don't believe me? Ask Atlantic City or Connecticut how well their Average Joes and Janes have done.

Environmentalists oppose the plan because the Catskills are forest preserve, and protect a fragile watershed. Father A. is himself a native of this forest, and would be heartbroken to see it ruined. So that's a problem. But let's be clear: the biggest problem with casinos isn't that they despoil the environment. The biggest problem with casinos is that they are evil.

That is to say, casinos are places where people go to smoke, drink and gamble. They are places set apart for vice, and specifically for the purposes of exploiting those who are addicted to vice. And where these vices are indulged, others -- prostitution, drug abuse, usury (in the form of "payday loans") -- are likely to be found as well.

And yes, beloved. Father A. knows perfectly well that some people can shoot craps all night without surrndering their dignity, self-control or mortgage. But you know what? Some people can shoot heroin without paying the penalty; that doesn't mean we make it legal, and it certainly doesn't mean we provide governmental assistance to shooting galleries.

Wake up, America: Gambling is not your friend!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Silence of the Dems

Click the link to read a Times piece about Democrats closing the purported "religion gap." It's an interesting bit, especially for those who accept uncritically the periodic Republican claim to be America's "Party of God," protecting us from godless secular humanists like Jimmy Carter.

Yes, we know all about John Edwards' naughty staffers -- but the truth is that the Dems have always been a pretty religious bunch. They just don't talk about itas much as the GOP.

Al Gore, Gary Hart and Jerry Brown all studied for ministry. Carter teaches Sunday School. The traditional base of Democratic support in the North was massively Roman Catholic, at least until the Reagan revolution. Some of that support remains: Nancy Pelosi is a weekly Massgoer, and sent her kids to parochial school. Of the Bennett Brothers -- Bob and Bill -- it's the Republican who has strayed from the party of his upbringing, to choose a life of moralizing and million-dollar poker losses. Oh, and of course there are the Revs. King, Coffin, Berrigan and (we may as well admit the facts) Jackson and Sharpton.

But they don't talk about this much. In recent years, they have barely talked about it at all -- John Kerry is a reasonably devout Catholic, but could barely be forced to say so in the '04 campaign. (He did, on a couple of occasions, give long and articulate testmimony as to why he wouldn't testify to his faith. Classic Kerry). Instead, Dems of the present generation have tried to keep religious faith -- including their own -- out of the public square. They have sat by, silently, while Reagan talked about God but never went to church. They have been mute while Bush I apealed to his own (Episcopal) bishop for a ruling that Iraq I was a "just war," and when that was not forthcoming, ran off to Billy "Even Vietnam was Just" Graham. They stayed mum when Bush II -- already famous for his love of executing the disabled -- offered sermons instread of policies, and when his henchman Novak appealed to the Pope for a "just war" ruling on Iraq II, which was also denied.

Worst of all, they have spoken the language of politics and prudence when faced with policies designed to aid the rich, crush the poor, despoil the environment, and wage an unjust war so brutally and incompetently that it strengthens our enemies and drives away any decent friends we ever had. To this, they have talked politics when they should have talked morality, and justice, and the Gospel. They should have spoken not only of their convictions, but of the place from which those convictions spring -- the Magnificat, the God who "lifts up the lowly" and protects the poor.

The silence of the Dems has helped to comfort the rich and oppress the poor, and has brought us the present Middle Eastern bloodbath. It has been a disaster, politically, theologically and morally. Thank God it is beginning to end.

And yes, the Democrats have also been the party, of the two big ones, most hospitable to those of little faith, or none at all. Perhaps too much so, in the specific sense that the silence of the faithful has allowed the faithless to feel that they were the ones in charge. But doesn't Scripture urge us to welcome the stranger? Of course it does. There is much to be said for being a big tent, a party in which those whose reasons differ may join together in the quest for civil justice. The presence of a few "cultured despisers" in the ranks, while embarrassing today, is no great shame. The shame has been the silence of those who believe.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Omnibus Novissimi

Lunch-hour site for Latinists: Ephemeris, a website offering the news in Latin.

Now, this isn't some traditionalist Roman Catholic site, full of "news" about how great Robert Bellarmine was. When Ephemeris writes, for example, "Madonnae imminêre anathĕma ecclesiasticum," they are talking about the pop singer, not the Blessed Mother. But then, that was obvious from context ... right?

"...Full of Grace?"

Bradley Schmeling has lost his case. For those who don't know, Schmeling is the pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Atlanta. Some months ago, he informed his bishop, Ronald B. Warren, that he was in a committed relationship with another man. The bishop asked him to resign both from his call and from pastoral ministry; Schmeling refused, and his congregation stood beside him. Because ELCA bishops don't have the canonical authority to remove pastors, the case was referred to a disciplinary committee of the national church.

The committee's decision reveals a lot about where the ELCA is these days. They found that Schmeling had indeed violated the standards prescribed by the church for its ordained leaders, and accordingly instructed that he be removed from the clergy roster. (For those unfamiliar with the ELCA's tepidly corporate lingo, that means defrocked.)

But the committee also found that, if the rules in question were not in place, they would with near-unanimity endorse Pastor Schmeling's ministry. Bishop Warren said much the same thing, but the committee went a step further and recommended that the denomination change its protocols, to permit permanently partnered gay people to serve as pastors.

(Pr. A's opinion is that the ELCA will not change the protocols at its churchwide assembly this summer. The arguments over sexuality have been so divisive, and the stalemate of the past few years has been achieved with such difficulty, that few voting members will likely want to rock the boat.)

It appears, then, that we have an instance in which none of the interested parties -- pastor, congregation, bishop or discipline committee -- thinks that Schmeling is doing a bad job. On the contrary, they seem to think he is doing a very good job, providing the pastoral are that his community needs with scandalizing or giving offense to the faithful. But they are duty-bound to respect rules which conflict with their own observations, as well as their own convictions. And although they have recommended a change in the rules, it is unlikely -- although not impossible! -- that their recommendation will be followed.

This means, to put it simply, that the church is enforcing rules in which a great many of its leaders do not believe. This curious situation, in which unity and the comfort of the rear-guard are valued over one's own convictions, probably occurs often when slow-moving institutions are in the midst of change. It is a position doubtless famiiar to many Roman Catholic priests just before Vatican II -- or on the eve of the Reformation.

It is understandable, and even pitiable. But let's be fair: it's also hypocritical.

And to make it all more piquant, the date upon which Pastor Scmieling will again be simply Mister Schmeling, at least in eyes of his denomination, is August 15th. For Lutherans, that is the Commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As in "Hail Mary, full of grace," the angel's greeting. It will be a strange occasion upon which to mark the victory of rules over reasons, or of law over grace.