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5 Spiritual Lessons I Learned From My Pregnancy

Sunday, May 24th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Whether this is your first time out or you’ve already been around the bend, take a moment to congratulate yourself, Ms. Mom. You are a miracle maker. You, hovering over the toilet in the midst of all-day sickness, are in the midst of accomplishing what no one else on this earth but you can do. What pregnancy has taught me thus far is that motherhood, whether it is via pregnancy, foster care, or adoption, is a spiritual calling. Keep these five key lessons in your back pocket when you’re worn out and need a reminder of how divine you truly are.

5. Parenting is a calling, not a career, a chore, or the result of a shopping trip.

“I want a child” is an all-too common phrase in today’s world. If you’ve ever said it, listen very carefully to discern if the emphasis is on “a child” or simply “I want.” Having a child is not the answer to a mid-life crisis or a vision board checklist. Nor should motherhood ever be defined as a chore. If I hear one more person tell me how tired I’m going to be once my child is born I’m going to start wearing a spit up-covered t-shirt that says, “Duh! Who cares?” My child is already my life, not a task on my to-do list that takes away from “me-time,” nor a person who exists to make me feel special. Child rearing is a devout work. Unless you are accepting of the idea that you will, in some way, be on the same level as Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and an ascetic from time to time, just buy a dog and be done with it.

4. Childbirth is a spiritual experience.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth should be required reading for every expecting mother. Regardless of how you choose to give birth, you should be aware of the fact that we have been acculturated to treat birth as an illness worthy of hospitalization. A baby is not a tumor in need of removal for the mother’s survival. Giving birth is not only a life-affirming experience, it is the primary connection we have with God and the source of our continued existence. By ignoring this fact and forcing patients to focus on pain, the medical community has done a huge disservice to women. Instead of believing that our bodies are doing exactly what they are meant to do, women focus on the struggles of pregnancy and the pain of labor, psyching themselves up for an experience worthy of a horror film. As a result their fear diminishes their faith in themselves and the very natural spiritual process of bringing new life into this world.

3. As with any spiritual experience, there are great moments of hope and of doubt.

Episode after episode of Call the Midwife has been running on my DVD player for months. Each baby that is born brings a tear to my eye. Finally, the other day I heard myself saying, “I get to do this. Me. This is for me.” Then it hit me that a part of me had doubted all along that I could have this incredible joy for myself. Sometimes we put up walls of doubt to protect our most fragile emotions. The hope that engulfs you every time you have a good ultrasound, a good doctor’s visit, can easily be consumed the following day when you’re sure you haven’t felt your baby move enough. For me, one nosebleed sent me flying into a state of panic. Doubt creates a tough barrier for faith to crack through. But it must, not only for the sake of our relationship with our child, but so that we may fully partake in this incredible blessing.

Continue Reading…

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Will the 21st Century Reunite Church and State?

Sunday, May 24th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Before, organized, uniformed and relatively disciplined and conventional Arab armies fought under their national flag. Today the armies have been replaced by terrorist gangsters and black-cloaked jihadists. Conventional war has been replaced by terrorist attacks. Battles fought between tanks and infantry in remote deserts have been replaced by battles fought in densely populated civilian areas and behind the protection of human shields.

In my view if such events as the Gaza conflict last summer were played out in the 1960s and 70s, the support for Israel in the West would have been greater than it was even then. The savage and murderous actions of the Palestinians are far more shocking today.

So I again ask the question, what has changed? And the answer is: The morality and values of the West. They have been transformed almost beyond recognition.

The statement was made by Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan, in an address to the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, an Israeli think-tank housed at Bar-Ilan University. The direct nature of his dialogue suits his history as a military leader. It is also a far cry from today’s “polite” approach to anything relating to Biblical values in a mainstream media discussion. “Thanks but no thanks,” is what you’ll usually get, followed by some snide accusation of hypocrisy or inferiority. But has this anti-values attitude truly impacted our culture for the better?

Kemp argues, “The destruction of defining values mean that people will now accept physical acts that would before have been utterly abhorrent to them.” As Richard Dreyfuss recently argued in a PJMedia/Diary of a Mad Voter guest post:

Western kids are reportedly trying to join ISIS; why? Perhaps because the only spiritual movement being discussed in public, however ugly its ideology, is extremist Islam. Judeo-Christian spirituality seems pallid and disconnected; certainly Americans are no longer learning the secular faith of the Constitution, the musculature of republican democracy, its values of individual worth, its religious tolerance, its embrace of opportunity and merit.

Kids who grow up in a spiritual void may drift to ideological thuggery because we let go of its most powerful enemy, the mobility of mind that comes from Enlightenment values.

Perhaps one of the greatest questions we can ask ourselves as we head into 2016 isn’t who, but why. If the 20th century was defined by the separation of Church and State, the 21st will need to be defined by the reuniting of God and politics across the moral divide.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Point of Human Existence

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Warning: Spoilers regarding the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron will be discussed below. You’ve been warned.

Actor Simon Pegg recently made headlines after a controversial radio interview in which he expressed his desire to “retire from geekdom.” He denounced the current spate of comic book films and other genre fare as “childish” and indicative of “a kind of dumbing down” of society. He went on:

Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk had a fight with a robot.

Reaction to Pegg’s remarks tended to focus on the irony of his fame and fortune spawning from the object of his scorn. However, a higher critique of Pegg’s comments arises from the fact that what he said isn’t even true.

Nowadays, these genre films do portray challenging emotional journeys and ask moral questions, which stands as a significant reason for their continued success. The days of Adam West and Joel Schumacher have long past. Today, we get Christopher Nolan and assorted Oscar-winners.

In his comments, Pegg specifically references Avengers: Age of Ultron, currently playing in theaters. While it’s true that the film boasts a battle between the Hulk and Iron Man, that’s hardly what the movie is about. Weaved between the action beats are some heavy philosophical themes, including the oldest and most profound of existential questions.

What is the point of life? Why are we here? What should we do with the life we have? How far should we go to protect it? What should we risk?

The film doesn’t get bogged down in these mysteries, nor should it. But Age of Ultron does touch upon these questions in a manner which serves the story.

Of particular note during the film’s resolution is a scene between the villainous artificial intelligence Ultron and a virtuous android known as The Vision. These two non-human characters reflect upon the human condition, arriving at every different conclusions regarding its value.

Ultron declares of humanity, “They’re doomed!”

“Yes,” Vision coolly replies. “But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”

In that moment, writer/director Joss Whedon inserts his trademark optimistic nihilism. Looking back through Whedon’s body of work, whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Firefly, or The Cabin in the Woods, a theme recurs throughout. Humanity is doomed. But life is nonetheless worth living.

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Want to Avoid Raising a Brat? Here’s What You Need to Know

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - by Avner Zarmi

Boy confronts his mother

Picture the scenario: Your little boy comes home from kindergarten and you tell him to do something he doesn’t want to do. He responds with the ethos of the playground: “Mommy, you’re stupid!”

There are typically five kinds of maternal reactions (all of which I’ve actually seen, at one time or another), depending on what kind of day you’ve had and on your own personality. But before I get to the typical responses — and the proper responses — I want to explain to you the concept of chutzpah.

In many ways, our present society can be characterized as a time of chutzpah. This handy Hebrew word is almost untranslatable into English; the dictionary offers such terms as impudence, arrogance, presumptuousness, rebelliousness, and so on, but none of these seems adequate. Perhaps the best way to understand it is in terms of an old joke: Chutzpah is the quality exhibited by someone who kills his parents and then demands mercy from the court on the grounds that he’s an orphan.

The Talmud tells us, in the last mishna in Sota, Bë-‘iqvoth Mëshicha chutzpa yisgé (“In the steps of the Messiah, chutzpah will increase”), and then goes on to describe this generation characterized by chutzpah: “The young will put elders to shame, and elders will rise against little ones, ‘son shames father, daughter rises against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the members of his household’ [Micah VII, 6]. The face of the generation is that of a dog, and son is not shamed before his father….”

It sounds like a description of daily life around us.

So, getting back to the kindergarten boy who is mouthing off to Mommy, here are some of the typical responses:

1. You’re so hurt by the outburst that you simply say nothing; the tears begin to well up.

2. You philosophize: “What can I do? That’s how kids are these days.”

In both of the above two examples, you’ve already surrendered and chutzpah has won the day.

3. You respond, “I ask you to speak nicely.” You ask? This offers the chutpadik kid the choice of not “granting” your request.

4. You yell back, “Well, you’re really stupid!” You’ve just reverted to your own childhood. Al ta‘an kësil kë-ivvalto (“Don’t answer a fool according to his folly”; Proverbs XXVI,4). You’re the one who is supposed to know better.

5. You slap the kid. This last is especially dangerous. A slap in the face is never appropriate and is not a punishment; it’s a degradation. The child doesn’t learn from it that he’s done wrong; he learns that Mommy hates him.

Do you see yourself here? You’re not alone. But it doesn’t have to be this way, at least, not in your family.

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Why We’re Addicted to Nihilism: The Psychology Behind Mad Men’s Empty, Pointless Ending

Monday, May 18th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
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Sonia Saraiya, writing for Salon, observes the frustration of many fans in the wake of Mad Men‘s rather un-poignant series finale:

I left this finale believing myself to be disappointed in Don Draper, but I’m really disappointed with myself. Disappointed for this narrative of settling for the modern world—which, along with its many perks, like lower infant mortality and longer life expectancy, comes with a horrifying feeling of emptiness from time to time, as we all seem to strive to live an existence that is not great or searing but just okay, just fine, just good enough to get by. Most of us in the first world don’t go bed hungry anymore—but as Peggy observed to the Burger Chef executives, “you’re starving, and not just for dinner.” Don and Peggy and Joan and Sally can’t really flame out beautifully in “Mad Men” because they are modeled to be people just like we are people, and yes, it is disappointing. Some kind of conflagration, of either the body or the soul, would have been so much more cathartic, so much more satisfying. It would have given voice to the roiling emptiness within. But instead we just get scenes from one more day in the lives of these people. One more day is all any of us ever get, until the day we don’t.

It’s a powerful statement coming from a mainstream media source. Not too many are willing to confront the rampant nihilism in today’s media landscape, let alone admit how personally depressed they are by it. Further case in point: Fox’s Backstrom ends with the lead going into rehab because he knows there’s more to life than misery: the show gets cancelled. CBS’s Elementary, facing a similar ratings struggle, has the lead succumb to his heroin addiction: the show is renewed. “Some kind of conflagration” seems to be the ethos of the day, the way to save a dying show. Give the viewers one more train wreck and they’ll keep staring. Depressing doesn’t begin to describe it.

The root of Saraiya’s complaint is that paradise, perfection, nirvana — whatever you want to call it — has been crafted into a commodity that we buy, sell and trade based on personal need. It’s a lame complaint at best, one that accepts the Marxist demand that world perfection is a human struggle instead of a Divine gift. In pursuing the Divine at a hippie retreat, Don retreats into his advertising ethos. Saraiya turns this into an argument against capitalism and, in doing so, caves to the inevitable reality that fed hippie-turned-yuppie disillusionment: You can’t force everyone to drink the Kool Aid (or, in this case, Coke).

Capitalists didn’t turn perfection into a commodity. Marxists simply took it upon themselves to manifest perfection on earth. Like every other revolution before them, the hippies got stuck in the “struggle” bit and have been caught in the muck ever since. Taking a cue from Burning Man, Saraiya’s wish for conflagration echoes the belief that complete destruction is the only way to start over. Think wacko environmentalists who believe humans are a disease on earth and you get the picture. The Kardashians may not be as extreme, but they’re just as pointless.

The sick truth is, no Mad Men fan was hoping for Don to enter some kind of therapy and exit a repaired human being. That was never the way the show was going to go. Right now they’re standing around their office water coolers relishing in their post-series misery the way one would reminisce about a good one-night stand. It was naughty, and now it’s all over, oh woe is me …I can’t wait to do it all again.

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Of Course America Is Giving Up on Christianity — We Gave Up on God Ages Ago

Sunday, May 17th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

If Ben Shapiro’s simply stated point isn’t enough to drive home the idea that the latest Pew survey on religious life in America reported absolutely nothing new, just check out one of the latest episodes of the Kardashians in which Kim Kardashian has to Google who baptized Jesus before concluding that she wanted to “find a guy named John” to baptize her daughter, North West. What’s worse, the “guy named John” concept, the fact that she had to Google it, or the reality that my Jewish friends took more offense to this absurdity than did a supposed Christian?

Jewish Americans had their panic attack over Pew two years ago when it was revealed that a full 66% of Jews agree you don’t need to believe in God in order to be Jewish. Sure, we’re the people who exist because God called us out and made a covenant with us, but really, we’re in it for the 6-figure salary potential. Now the Christians, genetically always two steps behind, have finally gotten their own slap in the face and panic over the moral integrity of America sets in, as if we’ve always believed our presidents and political leaders are really good Christians on the inside. You know, in that Sally Langston sort of way.

Here’s the positive side: There is something to be learned from the Jewish world when it comes to faith. It just means looking towards Israel, a nation that is statistically happier than we are, statistically less religious than we are, and statistically holds a higher rate of faith in God than we do. This past week, Israeli professors became overnight media sensations simply by supporting family values in their classrooms in the most practical way possible: By literally becoming the caretakers of their students’ babies while continuing to teach. When one American professor proceeded to breastfeed her sick baby while teaching in 2012, a national controversy ensued. Because you know how it goes with boobs and the Internet on this side of the ocean. So much for the efficacy of state-mandated sex ed.

Forget panicking over the fact that fewer Americans attend church. Churches (and synagogues, for that matter) have rendered themselves relatively meaningless in this day and age. If you wanted to panic over church attendance you should have done it 40 years ago when the pews began emptying out in favor of drug-laden music festivals and yuppie pursuits of McMansions and “having it all.” My colleague Michael van der Galien is right, we need to counter the secularization of America with biblical values. The answer, however, first requires countering secularization in our religious institutions instead of using them as a mere litmus test for the value and power of our belief.

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Feminist Media Ignoring Greatest Thing to Happen to Muslim Women on YouTube…Of Course

Thursday, May 14th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz play Shugs & Fats, short for Shugufta and Fatima, two Muslim women attempting to negotiate their way into Western culture by encountering every feminist trend in the pop culture playbook. Their YouTube series reminds you of what Saturday Night Live could be, if it were still funny. An irreverent examination of culture clash, Manzoor’s experience as a world traveler pairs nicely with Vaz’s impressive improv resume to generate a fearless take on being Muslim and female in New York today.

Although the pair don hijabs, one of their goals is to throw off the culture of shame associated with Muslim women within Islamic culture. Needless to say, they haven’t always gotten a positive response from fellow Muslims. Using comedy as a shield, Manzoor and Vaz explore how Western culture can liberate even the most traditional of Islamic women. So, why the lack of attention from feminist media? Are they afraid that if they support the benign YouTube series they’ll be considered Islamophobes? If so, who exactly are they seeking to empower?

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Time to Worry: Americans Are Turning Away from Christianity

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 - by Michael van der Galien

The last several decades, the Left has done its best to change America’s religious landscape. According to a new Pew study, they’re succeeding better than many thought possible:

The number of Americans who don’t affiliate with a particular religion has grown to 56 million in recent years, making the faith group researchers call “nones” the second-largest in total numbers behind evangelicals, according to a Pew Research Center study released Tuesday.

Christians are still the majority, but their numbers have fallen from 78 percent to just under 71 percent. The main reason? Increasingly, more Americans consider themselves “non affiliated” with any particular religion.

The good news? This doesn’t automatically mean that Americans have become atheists. There is a large group of people who consider themselves to be “spiritual” and who believe there’s likely a God, but who just don’t have a bond with any particular religion.

Sadly, that’s all the good news I’ve got for today:

Last year, 31 percent of “nones” said they were atheist or agnostic, compared to 25 percent in 2007, and the percentage who said religion was important to them dropped.

In short, there are fewer religious people and those who don’t consider themselves “religious” in the traditional sense are moving towards atheism — fast.

Although the Left will undoubtedly welcome that development, I do not. A society that loses its bond with God loses its morality. And I don’t just mean that as in the Ten Commandments, but in everyday values, too: personal responsibility, the importance of working hard and taking care of your family, and the need for civilized, decent behavior in society. It’s a cliché, but true nonetheless: when religion falls — especially enlightened Christendom — civilization ends.

This increasing secularization has me worried tremendously. One of America’s major strengths is that it is founded on what’s often called Judeo-Christian values. When those values are no longer shared by large parts of the population, the nation’s unity and morality are at stake. It’s of vital importance that religious Americans understand that and try to counter this secularization. The pulpit should be used for that purpose, but conservative columnists, bloggers, and politicians should also have the courage to point out the importance of faith when they share their views on politics and society at large.

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Hollywood Reporter Uses Natalie Portman to ‘Sh*t on Israel’

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

In the wake of the right-wing victory in Israel’s most recent elections, a number of famous Israeli artists made news in the Jewish blogosphere for their anti-Netanyahu tirades. Apparently the Hollywood Reporter caught on to the trend and attempted to manifest it on this side of the ocean with Israeli-American star Natalie Portman.

One huge problem surfaces at the beginning of the interview. She’s not as bold as her Israeli counterparts. Despite her Harvard education and worldly upbringing, she manages to sound equal parts informed and ignorant on a variety of topics ranging from Israeli politics to French socialism. The confusion is intentional. This is how Hollywood actors get away with “being political” without saying anything politically relevant that could later come back to bite them. Appearing informed while remaining vulnerable is how best to win your audience, as Portman illustrates throughout:

She sits, ramrod straight, plunking her iPhone in the middle of the table and hit­ting “record” before she has said a word, as if challenging me to quote her with razor-sharp accuracy — which, I must admit, casts a pall over our conversation.

…On life with her husband, French ballet dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, 37, whom she met on the set of Black Swan in 2010 and married in 2012: “The disappointments are always in myself…”

…she’s been fearless in proclaiming her Jewishness, even though she now lives in a country where anti-Semitism is terrifyingly on the rise. I ask if Portman feels nervous about being Jewish in Paris. “Yes,” she says, “but I’d feel nervous being a black man in this country. I’d feel nervous being a Muslim in many places.”

[On Paris:] “I feel like this country has a lot of religion and a lot of freedom around that; and there, the religion is almost like love. Love and intellectualism is their sort of way.”

And the grand poobah of her collection of double-edged lingo: While she made it clear that she is “very much against Netanyahu,” she quickly clarified that she didn’t want her opinions to be used to “sh*t on Israel.” That was the beginning and the end of it. So much for “sounding off.”

I once celebrated a hardcore Israeli Leftist’s (pardon, the term is “Labor Zionist” which translates best into American English as “Socialist”) 60th birthday party by being growled at repeatedly by the party boy himself that, in no uncertain terms, I needed to “change my politics” as guests looked on in awkward confusion. The guy literally ruined his surprise party for me in the name of Labor Zionism. Portman’s problem? She lost her teeth when she left her homeland. J Street has no problem “sh*tting” on Israel at this point and they’re a bunch of American Jews in suits. The most controversial thing about this interview? A pot-stirring headline employed the same anti-Semitic ethos for which Hollywood has become all too well known.

So, Portman, so much for not being used to “sh*t on Israel.” Did you really think the folks in Tinseltown would give a crap about your little Israeli movie?

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Is There Too Much Jesus in Republican Politics?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

As Republican presidential candidates, both announced and presumed, begin to woo social conservatives in Iowa, the role of religion in politics has once again become the subject of debate. Mark V. Kormes, an Objectvist and therefore non-believer, took to social media expressing his frustration.

Kormes1It didn’t take long for such a provocative decree to attract condemnation.

Kormes2

Was Mark expressing bigotry against believers? Or was he offering a valid point regarding the stakes in our political discourse? He asked me to chime in.

Kormes3

Tabling the issue of online etiquette, let’s consider Mark’s initial point and whether it properly ought to offend believers. First, recognize that a particular group of believers are being addressed, those who view an imminent return of Christ as an escape from political consequences. I’m not sure how large that contingent is or how engaged they are in the political process. But Mark seems to ask that they leave the realm of politics to those fully vested in life on earth.

As a Christian, I would modify Mark’s point. My appeal to fellow believers would be to remain vested in political consequences because, until further notice, this is the world we live in.

Imagine the secular equivalent. If a non-believer checked out of their earthly responsibilities under the reasoning that they will eventually die anyway, we would likely recognize theirs as an unhealthy state of mind. Why then should believers exhibit effectively the same attitude?

There’s a difference between retaining faith in the sovereignty of God and appealing to that sovereignty as an excuse for shirking personal responsibility. Jesus offered a parable to that effect when relating the tale of the three servants found in Matthew 25:14-30:

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver[a] to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, “Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.”

The master was full of praise. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together![b]“

The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, “Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.”

The master said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!”

Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.”

But the master replied, “You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.”

Then he ordered, “Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The point proves valid both within and beyond Christian theology. There is no virtue in sitting around waiting for the master to return. We ought to work diligently at our earthly responsibilities until relieved of them.

To Mark’s point regarding social conservatives, the question becomes whether believers’ earthly responsibilities include wielding the force of the state to regulate sinful but non-rights-violating behavior. I find nothing in the Bible mandating such a course. Instead, believers engaged in politics should be concerned with the same things that non-believers should be, the preservation of liberty so that each can live according to their conscience.

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Dennis Prager’s Inspiring 10 Commandments Project Sets a New Media Standard

Monday, April 20th, 2015 - by Dave Swindle

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Everyone make a point to take in Dennis Prager’s extraordinary 10 Commandments videos and essays, now available in print and in DVD.

Released last year from the non-profit Prager University, the 11 videos and the full text are available online, however the presentation that Regnery has put together in the small, comfortable book makes all the difference.

If you haven’t seen the series yet online then I suggest checking them all out here. Imagine the good they could do in some of your friend’s or family member’s life by just dropping an order in the mail…

 

 

These videos do such an extraordinary job of introducing complex concepts and clearing up common moral misinterpretations.

 

 

I hope that Prager and others take this approach — the substantive “list post” grown to a series of multiple videos and then in a long, published pamphlet, both a basic version and one aimed more at  youth — and continue to do more in this style.

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Has Pope Francis Opened a Door That He Might Not Be Able To Close?

Sunday, April 19th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

In a first installment of the synod held last year, concerns were raised by many that some in the Catholic hierarchy, apparently supported by the Pope himself, were willing to consider changes in the Church’s teachings regarding such issues as communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitation, and homosexuality.

Those issues seemed to be questioned with the possibility of moving toward some kind of modus vivendi after notes from the meeting were released prematurely and triggered a feeding frenzy in the media. The feeler, if such it was, was met immediately with pushback by the forces of traditionalism, including lay groups and many high ranking bishops.

In the end, the notes were dismissed as simply that and a formal summary report of the Synod’s position on the issues released that upheld the status quo.

 

That said, despite recent comments to the contrary, the Pope’s apparent support for continued exploration of how the subjects might be addressed within the framework of the Church’s Majesterium has kept the matter alive and has even discouraged some in the hierarchy from dropping the issue completely.

Enter Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Germany, who has hinted that decisions on what to do with or how to treat homosexuals, divorced and remarried persons, and those in social circumstances outside the mainstream of traditional Christian practice be handled on the national level rather than on a Churchwide basis.

Such a path, if chosen, would Balkanize the universal Church into a patchwork of different teachings some that would undoubtedly condemn certain practices, others that would take a more forgiving approach, while still others could fall anywhere in between.

The practice of what are now sometimes referred to as “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose what Church teachings they will accept while rationalizing the others away, will in effect become institutionalized, permanently condemning the wider Church to confusion and uncertainty.

Eerily echoing a position often taken by President Barack Obama, Cardinal Marx has said in a recent interview that the German Church “cannot wait” for the formal processes of the Vatican to work their way through the issues; instead, local episcopal conferences should be able to state their own position on the issues and proceed accordingly, albeit without violating Church doctrine.

“We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” said Marx in an article for Die Tagespost. “Each episcopal conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture and has to proclaim the Gospel in its own unique way. We cannot wait until a synod states something, as we have to carry out marriage and family ministry here.”

 

Already, some German bishops have expressed support for finding ways to draw in divorced and remarried couples by describing a period of penance before ultimately allowing them to receive communion. Meanwhile, homosexual couples would be welcomed to serve in various Church run institutions.

Marx’s position is one of inclusion and to find ways to get people and the Eucharist together.

On the other hand, there are those who warn that such practices could seal off pastoralism from the teachings of the Majesterium, in effect, making the Majesterium toothless.

Which could end up putting the Church itself into a worse position than simply being the target of the angry left, it would become irrelevant.

Marx, however, doesn’t represent the entire German Church and has been refuted by fellow Cardinals Paul Josef Cordes and Gerhard Müller.

As reported in the National Catholic Register online, Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that doctrinal, or even disciplinary, decisions regarding marriage and family are not up for determination by national bishops’ conferences.

It is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” said Müller.

Part of the driving force behind Marx’s move to be more conciliatory toward the Eucharistically disenfranchised is likely the rapidly declining numbers not only of German Catholics but of Christians there in general.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt, only 12.3 percent of Catholics in the country attend church regularly.

But with a population half of which does not even believe in God, would compromising on the Church’s teachings be worth it just to bring in a few more congregants, a trickle that in all likelihood, would peter out within a few years anyway?

Cordes doesn’t think so, even going so far as to reprimand Marx for taking such a bold stance in light of German Church’s poor record in evangelizing his fellow countrymen.

In an article published by the Catholic News Agency, Cordes characterized Marx’s glowing description of the Church in Germany as “wishful thinking.”

“The existing German ecclesial apparatus is completely unfit to work against growing secularism,” declared Cordes, noting that Church leaders there were asked by Benedict XVI in 2011 to tone down their worldly attitudes.

 

But beyond the immediate question of the state of the Church in Germany, is Marx’s position indicative of something more? Does it, for instance, suggest that the Church may be entering a period of internal dissent? Not among lapsed or cafeteria Catholics this time, but among the hierarchy itself? Not since the liberation theology movement of the 1970s or the later leftist infiltration of the religious formation process of the 80s and 90s has the Church faced such a threat.

The looming situation appears to leave the Church with just two choices: It can agree with these new calls for compromise (as a result of which, it will likely go the way of mainline Protestantism, ie shrinking congregations, drift from the traditional teachings of the Church, and irrelevancy) or it can stick to its principles, preserve its teachings, and become a beacon of reliability in a world that is rapidly losing direction.

Look for this fall’s Synod on the Family to yield first signs of which it will be.

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Christian Persecution Is a Resurrected Form of Antisemitism

Sunday, April 19th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Paula,

I found your piece to be very timely based on the thoughts coming from my Christian friends regarding the growing persecution of the Christian church abroad and at home. One comment I received regarding a recent Tatler post acknowledges what many of my friends have already expressed:

Ms. Goldberg,
I have heard the expression “Sunday comes after Saturday,” which as I understand is the answer in the Muslim Middle East to why they persecute Jews so much and persecute Christians less. This is confirmed by your article. Once all the Jews have left, they will come after the Christians.
–Andrew W.

When we Jews hear your shock we respond with all-too familiar nods, as you are beginning to understand what we have experienced for thousands of years. I would like to reach out to you to highlight an essential concept you and my Christian friends have missed in the important discussion of how to fight back against persecution, so that you may be better equipped to handle what is already coming your way.

You cite Peter (Hebrew name Kefa) who was a Jew who wrote to a primarily Jewish audience (1:1 “exiles of the Dispersion” – i.e. the Diaspora of 70 A.D. that followed the destruction of the second Temple, or even the descendants of the first diaspora — Jews lived everywhere in that area in ancient times) who, joined with gentile counterparts, believed in a Jewish Messiah. These were outcasts because they were adherents to Jewish culture in a Roman (pagan) world. From that perspective I’d encourage all Christians to think along the lines of understanding the Biblical persecution which they reference as a contemporary form of antisemitism.

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Should Christians & Jews Fear a Muslim Majority?

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Should this projected demographic shift worry non-Muslims?

Some controversial research suggests that an increase in the percentage of the Muslim population in a country correlates to increasingly aggressive rights-violating behavior from that population. Taken at face value, the numbers present a concern.

However, for Christians and Jews in particular, it would help to remember that minority status does not necessarily translate to domination. The early church was a minority from its conception and remained so for centuries.

Plus, when Christians look at their shared heritage with the Jews, scripture demonstrates that God reveals his sovereignty most dramatically when His people appear to be on the ropes. If a time of persecution approaches, we would do well to retain our faith – not in birthrates and conversions – but in God alone.

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When Salon Went Hunting for Christian Terrorists…

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Robert Spencer

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Ever heard of the Army of God? Or Concerned Christians? As far as Salon and other leftist media outlets are concerned, they’re just as lethal as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda – and the only reason why you haven’t heard of them but have heard of the Islamic terror groups is because of the mainstream media’s deeply ingrained “Islamophobia.”

If this sounds absurd, it’s only because it is. The mainstream media, especially organs like Salon that are even more leftist than the others, are always avid to exonerate Islam and establish the claim that Christianity is just as likely to incite its adherents to violence as Islam is. To try to do this, they have to resort to increasingly desperate stratagems, in an effort to convince you that these nefarious Christian terrorists are all over the place, and you would know that, except for the evil right-wing media’s constant Islamophobic ranting. So it is with Alex Henderson’s “6 modern-day Christian terrorist groups our media conveniently ignores,” which Salon reprinted from Alertnet on last Tuesday.

It’s all about the vile Right, you see: “In the minds of far-right Republicans,” Henderson writes,

Obama committed the ultimate sin by daring to mention that Christianity has a dark side and citing the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition as two examples from the distant past. Obama wasn’t attacking Christianity on the whole but rather, was making the point that just as not all Christians can be held responsible for the horrors of the Inquisition, not all Muslims can be blamed for the violent extremism of ISIS (the Islamic State, Iraq and Syria), the Taliban, al-Qaeda or Boko Haram. But Obama certainly didn’t need to look 800 or 900 years in the past to find examples of extreme Christianists committing atrocities. Violent Christianists are a reality in different parts of the world—including the United States—and the fact that the mainstream media don’t give them as much coverage as ISIS or Boko Haram doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

No group has a monopoly on evil, and certainly Christians have in history committed terrible atrocities in the name of their religion. The difference is that the Christian perpetrators of these atrocities did not and could not justify them by pointing to exhortations to such violence in Christian texts and teachings, while Islamic jihadis can and do justify their actions and make recruits among peaceful Muslims by pointing to Islamic texts and teachings exhorting the believers to be violent.

Salon, nonetheless, is determined to obscure that fact and prop up some “Christian terrorist groups” that Americans ought to be as wary of as they are of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Yet none of these groups enjoy anything like the broad support among Christians that the Islamic State or al-Qaeda have among Muslims — have 25,000 Christians traveled from all over the world to join the Army of God? Nor does any sect of Christianity teach that Christians have a duty to wage war against and subjugate unbelievers.

What’s more, almost all of the violence listed in Salon as having been committed by these Christian groups took place many years ago, suggesting that these groups are more or less moribund today — which, unfortunately, cannot be said of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. And even if all these violent acts had actually been committed recently by Bible-quoting Christians with the full approval of numerous Christian clerics and churches (which is not even close to being true), they still don’t add up to anything remotely comparable to the 25,000+ acts of jihad violence that Muslims have committed since 9/11.

Henderson’s first Christian terrorist group is the “Army of God,” which he describes as “a network of violent Christianists that has been active since the early 1980s.” According to Henderson, “the Army of God openly promotes killing abortion providers.” He then lists a handful of these killings and other acts of violence by the Army of God, mostly in the 1990s and none more recent than 2009. Then he adds:

Although primarily an anti-abortion organization, the Army of God also has a history of promoting violence against gays.

No Christian sect teaches that it is right to kill abortionists or gays. And as the Army of God has apparently not killed any since 2009, it seems to have been effectively neutralized.

Henderson’s next Christian terrorist group is “Eastern Lightning, a.k.a. the Church of the Almighty God,” which was “founded in Henan Province, China in 1990.” Henderson informs us that “Eastern Lightning believes that the world is coming to an end, and in the meantime, its duty is to slay as many demons as possible. While most Christianists have an extremely patriarchal viewpoint (much like their Islamist counterparts) and consider women inferior to men, Eastern Lightning believe that Jesus Christ will return to Earth in the form of a Chinese woman.” Despite this oddly feminine emphasis, however,

they are quite capable of violence against women: in May 2014, for example, members of the cult beat a 37-year-old woman named Wu Shuoyan to death in a McDonalds in Zhaoyuan, China when she refused to give them her phone number.

I never heard of this group before, and it sounds very strange: with its Jesus-is-coming-back-as-a-Chinese-woman thing, it is hardly anything close to mainstream Christianity, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. Also, Jesus never says anything in the Gospels about beating women to death if they refuse to hand over their phone numbers.

Does Salon really seriously think that this gang of psychopathic thugs is equivalent to an organized international network of dedicated jihadis such as al-Qaeda?

Henderson follows this odd group with the inevitable reference to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the most commonly referenced group by those who try to claim that Christianity is just as likely to incite its adherents to violence as Islam. “The LRA, according to Human Rights Watch,” says Henderson,

has committed thousands of killings and kidnappings—and along the way, its terrorism spread from Uganda to parts of the Congo, the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan. The word “jihadist” is seldom used in connection with the LRA, but in fact, the LRA’s tactics are not unlike those of ISIS or Boko Haram. And the governments Kony hopes to establish in Sub-Saharan Africa would implement a Christianist equivalent of Islamic Sharia law.

In reality, the Lord’s Resistance Army is funded by Sudanese jihadis, and reflects a Christian theology that is held by no Christian sect anywhere — in stark contrast to the undeniable fact that all the mainstream sects of Islam and schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach warfare against and subjugation of unbelievers.

Henderson then introduces us to the “National Liberation Front of Tripura,” which, he says, is “a paramilitary Christianist movement that hopes to secede from India and establish a Christian fundamentalist government in Tripura.” He says this group perpetrates violence against Hindus, but offers no examples more recent than 2003.

Another neutralized group.

Then comes the Phineas Priesthood, which is, if Henderson’s description is accurate, a white supremacist group. Yet no sect of Christianity, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, teaches the supremacy of any race.

In fact, Christianity teaches that all people are made in God’s image and are equal in dignity before God. Islam does not.

Salon’s last group of Christian terrorists is the Concerned Christians. “In 1999,” says Henderson, “Israeli officials arrested 14 members of the Concerned Christians in Jerusalem and deported them from Israel because they suspected them of plotting terrorist attacks against Muslims.” After that there was apparently nothing until 2014, “when Adam Everett Livix, a Christianist from Texas, was arrested by Israeli police on suspicion of plotting to blow up Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.” Harming his own case, Henderson adds that

in 2008, Denver’s KUSA-TV (an NBC affiliate) reported that members of the Concerned Citizens had gone into hiding and that Miller [the group’s founder] hadn’t been seen in ten years.

Here again, Christianity doesn’t teach that Christians should blow up the holy places of other religions. It doesn’t teach “slay the non-Christians wherever you find them” (cf. Qur’an 9:5) or fight them “until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” (Qur’an 9:29) It doesn’t teach that non-Christians are “the most vile of created beings” (Qur’an 98:6).

All of the groups Henderson describes are eccentric, marginal sects, with nothing remotely comparable to the following that the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have among Muslims. Accordingly, there is no real equivalence between them and jihad groups. Probably even Salon knows that. But it continues to do all it can to try to ensure that you don’t.

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‘Some Real Bad Bitches,’ or Loyal Citizens of the Islamic State?

Monday, April 6th, 2015 - by Robert Spencer

“Why can’t we be some real bad bitches?” Noelle Velentzas, a 28-year-old convert to Islam, asked her friend, Asia Siddiqui, who is also a Muslim. Velentzas said to Siddiqui that people should think of them both as “citizens of the Islamic State.” And so in due course they set out to prove that they were both – “bad bitches” and good Islamic State citizens – by plotting jihad attacks in the U.S.

Velentzas considered herself a citizen of the Islamic State, but she was impatient. It was expensive, difficult and risky to make one’s way all the way over there, and anyway there was no need: a citizen of the Islamic State could “make history” by “pleasing Allah” right in the United States. And what would please Allah more than the murder of a large number of infidels – which is exactly what she and Siddiqui set out to accomplish?

The good citizens didn’t realize, however, that their fellow jihadi with whom they were discussing the logistics of various bomb plots was actually working for the FBI. Last Thursday, they were arrested – and not long thereafter, it came to light that they were both active and respected members of the Masjid Al-Hamdulillah mosque in Brooklyn.

The mosque’s imam, Charles Aziz Bilal, had nothing but praise for Velentzas and her family: “They have been an upright family,” he said. “Very honest, very sincere, very dedicated family. They’re family-oriented. They have children in the community, born in the mosque. Good religious people.” He confirmed that both Velentzas and Siddiqui were members of the mosque in good standing.

Bilal dismissed, however, the idea that either one could have learned to be “bad bitches” who were “citizens of the Islamic State” at good old Masjid Al-Hamdulillah. “That’s not what we promote here,” he assured Newsday, and that was that. He characterized Velentzas as “a mother who took care of her daughter, normal. Very friendly, nothing political, nothing extremist.” As for jihad terror activity, he said that if Velentzas and Siddiqui had really been involved in it, “they were doing it on the down low.”

What else did you expect him to say? “Oh, yes, we put them up to it, kaffir”? “Yes, we all knew about what they were doing, and we all approved”?

It is no surprise at all that Imam Charles Aziz Bilal of Masjid Al-Hamdulillah would say these things. What is unfortunate is that the mainstream media takes these statements at face value, with no attempt to determine whether or not he is telling the truth.

This is despite the fact that four separate studies conducted since 1998 have all found that 80% of U.S. mosques were teaching jihad, Islamic supremacism, and hatred and contempt for Jews and Christians.

There are no countervailing studies that challenge these results. In 1998, Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, a Sufi leader, visited 114 mosques in the United States. Then he gave testimony before a State Department Open Forum in January 1999, and asserted that 80% of American mosques taught the “extremist ideology.”

Then there was the Center for Religious Freedom’s 2005 study, and the Mapping Sharia Project’s 2008 study. Each independently showed that upwards of 80% of mosques in America were preaching hatred of Jews and Christians and the necessity ultimately to impose Islamic rule.

And in the summer of 2011 came another study showing that only 19% of mosques in the U.S. don’t teach jihad violence and/or Islamic supremacism.

Specifically:

A random survey of 100 representative mosques in the U.S. was conducted to measure the correlation between Sharia adherence and dogma calling for violence against non-believers. Of the 100 mosques surveyed, 51% had texts on site rated as severely advocating violence; 30% had texts rated as moderately advocating violence; and 19% had no violent texts at all. Mosques that presented as Sharia adherent were more likely to feature violence-positive texts on site than were their non-Sharia-adherent counterparts. In 84.5% of the mosques, the imam recommended studying violence-positive texts. The leadership at Sharia-adherent mosques was more likely to recommend that a worshiper study violence-positive texts than leadership at non-Sharia-adherent mosques. Fifty-eight percent of the mosques invited guest imams known to promote violent jihad. The leadership of mosques that featured violence-positive literature was more likely to invite guest imams who were known to promote violent jihad than was the leadership of mosques that did not feature violence-positive literature on mosque premises.

That means that around 1,700 mosques in the U.S. could be preaching hatred of infidels and justifying violence against them.

Could Charles Aziz Bilal’s Masjid Al-Hamdulillah be one of them? We will never know without a thorough investigation, which is unlikely to be forthcoming. And without it, suspicions will linger that Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui first learned to be “bad bitches” right down at the local mosque, and that Bilal’s surprise at hearing about the charges against them was…not all that it seemed to be.

Most of today’s right-thinking elites would be aghast at the very existence of suspicions, and would immediately insist that they be buried under flower beds of tolerance and multiculturalism. But how long can the United States and the free world really afford to do that?

Image via Youtube.com/Screengrab

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Why Atheists Are a Myth

Sunday, April 5th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

CHIMERA!!!!

People seem to be scared of atheists. When polling companies survey people as to whether they would vote for candidates of certain religions for president, atheists usually come in last — and you’ve seen how the candidates we do vote for are. Many people actually seem frightened of atheists as if they’re amoral monsters, like vampires or werewolves.

But luckily, like vampires and werewolves, atheists don’t exist.

I mean, what is the definition of an atheist? He’s someone who doesn’t believe in God or any other unprovable, supernatural ideas and instead lives his life based on logic and reason. And the reason this sounds scary to many people is that if one is completely logical, one can conclude things like,

“Well, I end in the exact same oblivion whether I spend my life helping people or murdering people, so I guess I can just do whatever I feel like in this completely random, purposeless universe.”

So we fear atheists the way we fear that a robot’s AI might suddenly use its logic to decide to kill all humans. But the reason you pretty much never see atheists decide to kill humans is: Unlike robots but quite like all humans, atheists are not very logical, and any suggestion that they are is mainly just pretense.

Now, I talked a bit about this in my article on the future of religion, but it’s worth pointing out again that human beings are extremely irrational. All of them.This is very obvious and shouldn’t really need to be argued.

And we need to be irrational in order to function. No one gets up each morning and says, “What’s the logical thing to do? Eat some breakfast. But why? Because I’m hungry. But why do I want to stop my hunger? Because I need to survive. But why do I want to survive? Because I want to live long enough to watch the new Star Wars movie. But why…”

You can reason out everything you do all day, but you couldn’t actually function that way. And certainly no one has logically come up with a set of moral values. If you ask an atheist whether people should be kind to each other, most (except the most nihilistic — for instance, Rico in my novel Superego) will give you some hand-wavy nonsense about why people should be kind. But this isn’t math. There are no axioms you can follow that lead to logical proof that there’s an advantage to being a good person. So if atheists don’t get their beliefs from logic, where do they get them?

Quite obviously, they get them from the culture around them. If you know any atheists, they don’t tend to have a radically different set of values about stealing, murder, or auto-play videos than the other people they interact with. In fact, the profession of disbelief in God is often the biggest distinction itself. Despite what they may claim, they don’t build a new morality out of whole cloth, but instead just adopt most of their morality from whatever the dominant religion is around them. And again, it has nothing to do with logic.

Look at one of the most popular “secular” values right now: equality. It makes no logical sense whatsoever. Evolution cares absolutely nothing about equality; its engine favors some as superior over others. And there is certainly no evolutionary evidence for equality between man and woman; in fact, evolution is very happy for men and women to be unequal, with each serving distinct purposes, and if one has to oppress the other to do that, that’s fine.

But from a Christian viewpoint, equality is very obvious. We all have eternal souls, and thus our differences in this world are rather insignificant when the everlasting part of us is the same. Now people who don’t profess to believe in God or souls still find this concept of equality to be a Truth. And that’s how we get all our morality — not through logic, but because the idea feels right deep inside us. And you might consider that silly nonsense, but it’s silly nonsense you participate in all the same.

I think where a lot of the confusion lies, and where we get the idea that people can be non-religious, is the idea that there is some sort of useful distinction between religious beliefs and just plain beliefs. Religious beliefs are unprovable ideas from silly old texts, while regular beliefs are unprovable ideas that came from… out of the ether, I guess.

Still, the religious ones seem scary to many, because people seem unstoppable and can commit any atrocity if they believe God is behind them. But the fact is that every single person has deeply held beliefs, often ones they will kill for (or, more nobly, die for). Look at which belief system killed millions of people over the last century: Communism. Most would call that a bad belief in economics rather than a bad religious belief, but it is a belief held strongly enough to kill over, and people will always come up with more of those, whether you label them religion or not.

Because whatever our strongly held beliefs are, that is our religion.

There’s no such thing as religious versus non-religious; there’s just organized religion versus disorganized religion. Probably a big difference between me and an atheist is that I can easily write out a list of unprovable things I believe in while an atheist would have more trouble listing them while still having just as many beliefs.

And because we all have these unprovable beliefs that guide our actions, that’s why it’s nonsense to try to keep religion out of politics, as everything we do is religion.

Like my belief in liberty — people would call that a secular value, but if you trace the origin of it, you find a Christian belief in the importance of free will and people making choices for themselves. Atheists, of course, believe in liberty too, but they might have more trouble finding the origin of those beliefs. But this is part of why I say there aren’t really atheists, because if you take all the values you hold most dear and put them together, you’ll find the god you worship — whether you call him God or not. And despite the arguing between Christians and atheists, I doubt our conception of God is really that much different.

Related at PJ this morning from Andrew Klavan: 

Knowing God by His Enemies (Starring S. Crowder)

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Persecution Is Coming to the American Church

Sunday, April 5th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

We’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in the culture in just the last 10 years in the United States. There’s hardly a moral tenet of Western civilization that has been left unscathed by the Progressive warriors who seek to blur the lines between Right and Wrong. Someone can now stand in the town square and proclaim that 2+2 = 5  and no one will look askance at him because truth is said to be fluid and evolving. Who is to say his equation is wrong?

We’ve seen an emerging — and virulent —  strain of intolerance and bigotry in recent years directed at Christians who hold to the traditional, orthodox teachings of the faith, and there’s more bubbling up from beneath the surface of our once predominantly Christian nation. The mayhem we witnessed in Indiana this past week is just the tip of the iceberg

Unless God intervenes, persecution is coming to those who refuse to bow the knee to the new religions of tolerance and erotic liberty. By persecution I don’t mean that we’ll see Christians beheaded or ISIS-style crucifixions of Christians in the United States. But I do believe that Christians will be marginalized in society — they’ll be fired from their jobs, lose their businesses, and they’ll be increasingly silenced in the public square. We may see the government seeking to muzzle (or even shutter) Christian schools and even churches as the message of the gospel becomes anathema to the prevailing culture.

How will the Christian church — with its moral absolutes and 2000-year old traditions —  fit into this new moral paradigm and how should it respond?

As we celebrate Easter Sunday and contemplate the crucifixion of Christ and His victory over death and sin, let us also consider how the American church will respond to the new — and very foreign — cultural norms that have been thrust upon us.

The Apostle Peter, writing to the exiled church in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), has some prescient advice for the modern church and he gives us a template for how Christians are to live in the midst of a pagan culture that is diametrically opposed to their faith: be sober-minded, be holy, and be watchful.

In his first letter to the church (read the whole thing here) Peter encourages Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor (which was then firmly under Roman control) to endure suffering and persecution by devoting themselves to God and following the example of Christ.

Peter warns them to prepare their minds for action and to be sober-minded. The King James Version translates that passage, “gird up the loins of your mind,” which connotes a war of ideas for which the believer must be mentally prepared. This is more than a feel-good religion or a gospel of prosperity. Peter makes it clear that clear-headedness and right thinking — based on biblical truth —  are essential during an age when evil prevails. Like the Christians living in Asia-Minor in the first century, American Christians in the 21st century will need to be serious and intellectually equipped for the present battles.

But intellect and a sound mind are not sufficient. Peter goes on to say:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

He’s speaking to a church here that is likely made up mostly of former pagans, so their “former ignorance” refers to the prevailing practices of the Greco-Roman culture, which embraced dehumanizing injustices against women, children, the sick and frail as well as tolerating a wide variety of sexual perversions including pederasty, open prostitution, and erotic art and literature.

Peter tells the church to be holy, setting themselves apart from the culture in which they live by imitating their heavenly Father and reflecting the character of God in their lives. How to do that? Peter ticks off a list of some of the hallmarks of holy living in the next several verses:

  1. Obedience to the truth
  2. A sincere brotherly love from a pure heart
  3. Putting away malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander
  4. Longing for pure spiritual milk (God’s word)
  5. Abstaining from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul
  6. Keeping your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so they may see your good deeds and glorify God
  7. Honoring everyone
  8. Loving the brotherhood
  9. Fearing God
  10. Honoring the emperor

The church will only withstand the coming persecution if it is holy and obedient to the word of God and if God’s people set themselves apart from the world by their behavior and their love for one another and for their neighbors.

Peter tells the Christians to be “zealous for what is good” even if it means they must suffer for righteousness’ sake:

Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

He contrasts the standards for Christian living with the way the Gentiles (unbelievers) live, “in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” Peter says unbelievers are surprised,

when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

Nevertheless, he warns the church to be watchful because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Christians are to be firm in their faith and resist evil, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Indeed, our resolve is fortified as we see almost daily reports of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering physical persecution and death because they refuse to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.

Surely the American church can endure unkind words and bullying — even a job loss or jail time — as we see Christians on the other side of the world enduring so much more.

Peter ends the book by encouraging the believers. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Our time on earth is a blink of an eye compared to eternity. We can endure trials and persecution if we set our eyes above and stay watchful, keeping our minds clear and striving to imitate Christ in our lives.

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7 Big Bible Movies for Your Holiday Weekend

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

In 2013, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced The Bible, a television miniseries that drew a cable audience of over 13 million. They then recut the miniseries into a successful theatrical release: 2014’s Son of God.

Late this March, the National Geographic Channel attracted a record-breaking audience with its adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book, Killing Jesus.

The Christian ratings rampage seems a bit of a head scratcher. The statistics say our nation is rapidly becoming less religious. The Pew Forum finds, for instance, that “[w]hile nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic.” And, for the first time, Protestants are on the verge of becoming an American minority.

Yet, the Almighty’s resurgence on screen is not restricted to niche cable channels. A.D. The Bible Continues, a sequel to Burnett’s original mini-series, has a primetime broadcast premiere on Easter Sunday.  The suits at NBC wouldn’t green-light a project like this unless they thought it would pull a broad audience.

Maybe the Bible is back because it never left. While Americans may be less likely to self-identify with a particular formal religion, they are part of a nation whose roots are grounded in a strong religious heritage. “We ignore at our peril,” writes scholar Mark David Hall,

“the Founders’ insight that democracy requires a moral people and that faith is an important, if not indispensable, support for morality.”

The Judeo-Christian faith has always been entwined with American culture, even in hedonistic Hollywood.  Here are seven of the most significant Bible-based movies from Tinseltown.

7. The Ten Commandments (1923)

Cecil B. DeMille was, as one paper wrote, “the Golden Age of Hollywood in a single man.” He knew the kinds of films the American public would hand over their hard-earned cash to see. DeMille delivered a string of films based on the Bible, beginning with this silent screen epic depicting the exodus from Egypt (as well as a modern-day morality tale showing the wisdom of following the 10 Commandments). At the time, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made—and a huge box-office hit.

6. The King of Kings (1927)

DeMille followed-up with a film based on the life of Jesus. He enlisted a cadre of religious advisors to help steer clear of charges of antisemitism. However, not everyone was satisfied on that score. The resulting controversy, in part, led Hollywood to adopt the 1930 Production Code provision that barred “[w]illful offense to any nation, race or creed” from the silver screen. Still, it was a good film on the final days of Jesus’ ministry, better than many of the “talkies”—such as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)—that followed.

5. The Ten Commandments (1956)

DeMille returned with a remake of the story Moses, this time on an even grander scale (and in Technicolor!). It was the height of the Cold War and Americans craved a shot of moral courage. With Charlton Heston in the lead, the film was a phenomenal success at the box office and nominated for seven Academy Awards. One wonders how Ridley Scott thought he could top that. His 2014 remake was a disaster for the Egyptians and moviegoers. Many consider it the worst movie Scott ever made. Stick with Heston and DeMille.

4. Barabbas (1961)

Not every Bible-themed movie was made by DeMille. Indeed, some of them—like Barabbas—have precious little to do with the Bible. In this gritty, action-packed movie, Anthony Quinn plays the thief Pontius Pilate freed instead of Jesus. The movie imagines the rest of Barabbas’ life, including his own confession and redemption.

Similar films like The Robe (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959) also played on themes related to the life of Jesus Christ, part of Hollywood’s effort to cash in and be bigger than the Bible. Barabbas also marked the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s Bible craze. After the upheavals of 1960s, the only way God could get on the silver screen was in rock-n-roll musicals like Godspell (1973) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) or an irreverent comedy like Life of Bryan (1979).

3. King David (1985)

Trust me, this movie is not on the list because it’s particularly good. Making heartthrob Richard Gere the king of the Israelites must have seemed like a good idea at the time but the movie bombed. Gere was nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor (though he lost to Sylvester Stallone). What was significant about the film was that the Bible was back after a long hiatus in Hollywood. Hollywood’s anger and post-Vietnam War, anti-establishment angst mellowed in the Reagan era.

The Bible was once again okay—although King David’s dismal box office dampened the suits’ enthusiasm for Bible epics for a good while.

2. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Another not very good film that needs to be on the list. “Artsy” types liked the Martin Scorsese movie, but the box office was just so-so. For years, this and other films that played with the Christian story were disconnected from Americans. As a result,they received little attention.

1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

It’s hard not to respect this controversial and disturbing film by Mel Gibson. “The violence aside,” wrote the film critic for Christianity Today, the movie conveys “the divinity and humanity of Christ, respectively; and, more than any recent director, Gibson captures the grand supernatural conflict which gives the death of Christ its meaning.”

Compare this movie to recent “big” Hollywood productions like Scott’s Exodus or the unwatchable Noah (2014) and you’ll see why films that try to tell the Christian story touch something in Americans, while those that try to cash in by turning the Bible into another Fast and Furious sequel flop with most movie-goers.

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What Did Jesus’ Wine Taste Like?

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by Robert Wargas

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I do remember, during religious instruction as a child, hearing the constant references to wine in the Bible and wondering what it tasted like. Being quite young then, I imagined it was like my delicious grape juice. As I grew older and began to love dry red wine, I still wondered whether ancient wines tasted anything remotely like my Pinot Noir.

From the Orange County Register:

Grapes were the first cultivated plants mentioned in the Bible, she said. In her book, [author Kitty] Morse writes: “Grapes grew in even more abundance than olives… Wines from the Holy Land provided a significant source of income, especially during Roman rule. The wine from Bethlehem was of particularly high quality and considered a gift worthy of royalty.”

Still, she thinks it couldn’t have been delicious.

“It wasn’t intended for the Roman emperors,” Morse said, explaining that the peasants in the Middle East weren’t as sophisticated about wine as the ruling class. “They were happy if it fermented and if it cured some ailments.”

If that’s the case, then the wine served at the Last Supper would have been peasant table wine. Much more rustic than the wine enjoyed at the wedding at Cana, a special drink reserved for a stately occasion. The difference between the two would come down to farming and styling.

That peasant table wine can’t have been any worse than some of those horrendous pseudo-wines they sell in the supermarket. There are some great wines that are very cheap—one of my favorite Chiantis is about eight bucks—but most cheap things are cheap for a reason.

The article also mentions that Romans liked to spice their wine with cinnamon. Who else wants to try this immediately?

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Why ‘Jewish Unity’ — Even at Passover — Is Unachievable

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

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“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”

So wrote Benjamin Netanyahu in a Facebook post on March 17, the day of Israel’s elections. Since then the words have been a cause célèbre among critics of Israel—and not least, American Jewish liberals.

The Jerusalem Post reports that a “yawning divide has opened between liberal US Jews and the right-wing Jewish Israeli majority that reelected…Netanyahu,” and that:

More than any of the prime minister’s other statements—which included skepticism about the feasibility of the two-state solution and complaints about foreign influence on Israeli politics—Netanyahu’s fear-mongering against Arabs touched a deep nerve among US liberals who voted for Obama.

Among many other responses, Netanyahu’s words have sparked calls by American Jewish liberals Peter Beinart and Jeremy Ben-Ami (president of J Street) for the Obama administration to “punish” Israel and boycott its presence in lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

Now that Passover is here, we hear the usual calls for Jewish unity: we’ve all been in it together a long time, and continue to face challenges. But is unity really a possibility? Is there a way to bridge the “yawning divide” between Israel and liberal American Jews who are convinced that the Jewish state has lost its way?

To begin with, Netanyahu’s words weren’t lovely. He could have softened them by substituting, perhaps, “Arab citizens who oppose me” for “Arab voters.” He was indeed playing on fears; he wanted to make sure complacent people went out and voted for his Likud Party.

It’s been pointed out, though, that such things have been known to happen in bitterly contested campaigns. In the 2012 U.S. campaign, Joe Biden’s statement to a largely African-American audience that the Republicans would “put you all back in chains” was a clear case of racial fear-mongering.

It didn’t, however, evoke horror among American Jewish liberals—let alone calls to punish America, or declarations that they were disengaging from it as a country.

It can also be pointed out that Netanyahu’s remark was atypical of him, and that a few days later he apologized to Israeli Arabs. And it may also be worth pointing out that Israel’s Arab minority indeed “votes in droves,” has full rights, and sees Israel as a “good place to live.”

But it’s not enough to impress Jewish liberals of the Beinart and Ben-Ami stripe. They say they can no longer “identify” with an Israel that—in their view—no longer makes the grade morally.

Apart from Netanyahu’s Facebook post, their bitterest complaint is that Israel’s 2015 elections have returned two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties to the governing coalition—parties that take a dim view of the Conservative, and particularly Reform, Judaism that many American Jewish liberals practice.

Here, though, it seems that Israel can’t win. Ultra-Orthodox Jews form about 10 percent of the Israeli Jewish population and are entitled to political representation. It’s known as democracy. Real friends of Israel admire its democracy and are prepared to respect the results of its elections. But for American Jewish liberals, Israel only gets credit if the election results are to their liking.

Confession: I normally don’t pay too much attention to American Jewish liberals or read much of what they write. My own impression, though, from some Facebook disputes with some of them is that Netanyahu’s “Arab voters” indiscretion didn’t so much cause them dismay, but  something more like schadenfreude—or even, deep down, celebration.

In other words, they’ve been looking for an excuse to disengage from Israel, and Netanyahu’s words gave them one. Their real problem with Israel is that, when they look at it, they don’t get the sensation of looking into a mirror; they don’t see themselves.

In the closed cultural, moral, and political world of what is now called “liberalism” — of which American Jewish liberals are very much a part — a hawkish Israeli electorate that views its environment as threatening is not acceptable. Environments are not threatening by nature; one makes them threatening by creating grievances among people — in Israel’s case, by “denying the Palestinians a state.”

Here, objections about Hamas, or the violent outcomes of previous Israeli concessions, will get you nowhere. In the comfortable world of Israel’s “liberal” overseas brethren, one resolves threats by making deals and goes on with one’s comfortable life.

The antagonism to religion’s role in Israel similarly disregards the fact that Israel is a Middle Eastern country where religion is not just a marginal phenomenon but a key source of identity and values, and yes, a significant political player. For most American Jewish liberals, religion has to be quarantined from public life. Israel follows a different historical trajectory; its sense of self, symbols, commemorations, and even language have grown from a substrate of Judaism. Again, it doesn’t fit the “liberal” box.

If Israel and part of Diaspora Jewry are in different orbits of values and ideology, how much should it concern us here in Israel? That some Diaspora Jews adopt a general mindset that weakens their bond to specific Jewish nationality or religion is actually, from a Zionist standpoint, inevitable. One could wish it otherwise, but it’s in the cards that some Disapora Jews drift away from us.

The main downside is that some of these “liberal” brethren, endorsing an anti-Israeli government of their own, are going to be hitting us hard in public. It doesn’t make for much “unity.” But Passover tells us that, since the days of the Book of Exodus, we’ve survived worse things.

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image illustration via shutterstock / 

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WATCH: Passover, Rube Goldberg Style

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Need a way to explain Passover to a kinesthetic learner or future engineer? Check out this video from Israel and you’ll be saying, “L’shana haba b’Technion!”

Chag Peseach Sameach!

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Fooled Again: Why Do So Many American Converts to Islam Learn to Hate Their Home?

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - by Robert Spencer

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Spc. Hasan Edmonds, a Muslim member of the U.S. Army National Guard, was arrested last Wednesday at Chicago’s Midway Airport. He had been planning to join the Islamic State. His cousin, Jonas “Yunus” Edmonds, was arrested as well. They had allegedly been plotting a jihad attack against a U.S. military facility – making Hasan Edmonds the latest in a long line of people who convert to Islam and then turn traitor.

Is it just a coincidence that so many converts to Islam come to regard the country in which they were born and raised, the land of the families and forefathers, as an enemy? Or is there some connection?

Hasan Edmonds clearly believed that his new religion required a shift of his allegiance. “I am already in the American kafir [infidel] army,” he told an informant in January, “and now I wish only to serve in the army of Allah alongside my true brothers.”

He also expressed the desire to carry out a jihad attack in the U.S. – something on the scale of January’s jihad murders in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket: “Honestly,” said Edmonds, “we would love to do something like the brother in Paris did” – that is, commit mass murder among people he had once considered his countrymen, and whom he had, as a National Guard member, sworn to protect

Edmonds thus joins other American converts to Islam who have turned traitor, including Sgt. Hasan Akbar, an American engineer from the 101st Airborne Division, who murdered Captain Christopher Scott Seifert, Major Gregory Stone, and wounded fifteen others in a grenade and small-arms attack in northern Kuwait on March 22, 2003. As he committed his murders, he yelled:

You guys are coming into our countries, and you’re going to rape our women and kill our children.

Yet Akbar was not Iraqi or Kuwaiti. He was an American from Los Angeles. But when he became a Muslim, any allegiance he may have had to America was gone. Likewise al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn and the Marin County Mujahid, John Walker Lindh, both of whom converted to Islam and ended up waging war against the country of their birth, on behalf of its enemies.

It isn’t just converts, either. A Muslim woman named Aqsa Mahmood is suspected of recruiting young women to join her in the Islamic State as “jihadi brides.” The BBC identified her in a February report as a “Scottish woman,” which means that she made her way from the land of her birth to join up with a group that has declared war upon Great Britain and the rest of the non-Muslim world.

Despite the BBC’s ready identifier of her nationality, however, it is extremely unlikely that Aqsa Mahmood considers herself a Scot in any way other than geographically. She almost certainly grew up in a Muslim area and was taught Islamic values, including the idea that one’s allegiance to Islam transcends all other allegiances, and that one is a member of the international Muslim community, the umma, before being anything else. Those ideas go along with distaste that the “best of people” (Qur’an 3:110) should have for the jahiliyya, the society of the “most vile of created beings” (Qur’an 98:6) — unbelievers.

Simply by going to the Islamic State, Aqsa Mahmood showed that she clearly rejects a great deal of what most Scots would consider essential to what it means to be a Scot.

Yet for the BBC, she is as Scottish as William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots — reflecting a key dogma of the Left: that sociocultural values are the same everywhere, and thus it is only geography that makes for nationality. Move a Russian to Poland, and presto, his children will be Polish.

The Western intelligentsia believes that if Aqsa Mahmood’s parents move to Scotland, and Aqsa is born there, Aqsa will grow up Scottish, with Scottish values — and that if she doesn’t, it is the fault of Scottish authorities, who declined to allow him to assimilate because of their racism. The idea that Aqsa’s parents (despite their protestations in reports about her activity) and other Muslims in Scotland might have had no interest in assimilating is not allowed to be discussed.

Meanwhile, if a group of Scots moved to Syria and established a small enclave, a Little Scotland within Syria, and had children born in Syria, would their children be considered Syrians, open and shut, without question? Would the BBC refer to them as Syrians, as in “a Syrian man, Alexander Burns”?

And will there be an honest discussion in the mainstream media about the relationship between Muslims’ allegiance to Islam and loyalty to the non-Muslim states in which they reside? Inconceivable – and that means that Aqsa Mahmood and Hasan Edmonds will not be the last Muslims to turn against their country, any more than they were the first.

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image illustrations via shutterstock / 

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Why Jewish Women Scare Lena Dunham (and the Rest of Hollywood)

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Jewish women are fierce. We carry many arrows in our quiver including love for life, command of the situation, determined opinions, and freedom of expression. We are not lithe and unfettered. We do not “go with the flow.” We don’t wait until we are on our deathbeds to express our emotions, resolve hurt feelings, or pursue our passions.

Ultra-Orthodox men pray thanks to God that they were not created a woman. This is only because they don’t have ovaries enough to take on our mantle.We are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, prophetesses, administrators, investors, and the greatest security blanket men will ever know. But perhaps what shocks these religious men the most is that we regret none of it. This is why they need to hide behind sheets to protect themselves from their own animal lust for us, that is precisely how powerful we are. 

Thank God we are women; someone has to be in charge of this mess. And that is precisely why we are the objects of fear and scorn. Because what you cannot control, you try to contain and what you cannot contain you either love or hate with reckless abandon.

Hence, Jewish women are constantly the brunt of jokes in the entertainment world. Whether it’s yet another good Jewish boy succumbing to shiksappeal or Lena Dunham berating her Jewish boyfriend’s mother, Hebrew women just can’t win.  Our intellect becomes neurosis, our love becomes smothering, our agility becomes goofiness, our sexiness our comedy. In Freudian terms we are the mother from which no man can escape. In pop culture terms we’re the JAP, Jewish American Princess, to whom guilty Jewish men are obligated to commit in misery forever. When God commanded circumcision we’re the ones who didn’t stand in the way and now we’re doomed to forever pay the price for our holy allegiance.

But, don’t be fooled for one second into thinking we’re slaves. Dunham blames her boyfriend’s failings on his mother’s supposed cultural weaknesses:

…he comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring and don’t acknowledge their own need for independence as women. They are sucked dry by their children, who ultimately leave them as soon as they find suitable mates. …As a result of this dynamic, he expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life, and anything less than that makes him whiny and distant.

She offers the asinine complaint of feminism, the pagan belief that a woman cannot ever be truly independent because she is umbilically tethered to fostering life. It is a bizarre notion, one that makes no sense if we’re talking power and authority. A child cannot survive without its mother. Said mother not only nurtures and carries life within her body, she is the primary influence on that child from the moment they are born until the day they die. For better or worse, a mother’s relationship with her child has the greatest impact on their social, emotional and character development. Dunham acknowledges this concept in the negative only because she rejects her own womb as a burden instead of the greatest source of a woman’s power on earth.

Statistically Jewish women enjoy having children. Stereotypically, we have lovingly been dubbed “smothers.” Weaklings like Dunham who reject their womb power find humor in these stereotypes because their own egos are a poor substitute for the authority intrinsic to motherhood. They must constantly jab under the guise of humor in order to recharge their power source. Real women thrive on building up the ones they love. Lost women who have surrendered their biological power to political leadership are left seeking to offend. In the end, it is their only reward.

So if you ever wonder why feminists are stereotyped as bitter hags, look no further than the angst-ridden humor of Lena Dunham, feminism’s pop goddess who has sacrificed her wedding on the altar of gay marriage, her womb on the altar of Planned Parenthood. She has not chosen life, therefore death becomes her.

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