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How the Catholic Core Defends the Church’s Positions on the Family

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Following troubling signals from the Vatican as well as remarks from Pope Francis himself over the months since his accession to office, a growing chorus of voices has risen registering concern regarding the Catholic Church’s position on social issues including the structure of the family, divorce, and sexuality.

Bringing things to a head was a midterm report released from last year’s Synod on the family in which more conciliatory language was used in relation to homosexuality, cohabiting couples, and allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive communion.

Language in the report was received in different ways according to the values of those doing the listening. In liberal circles, it was hailed as a sign that the Catholic Church was finally breaking down and accepting the new normal of the sexual revolution, while among the Catholic base, it was received with considerable dismay.

In fact, many received the language in the report as a potentially suicidal surrender to the forces of political correctness that have swept the world, infiltrating every institution, and thus beginning to wear away at the foundations of Western Civilization itself. It was read with considerable alarm by many who had comforted themselves with the idea that the Church, with its settled dogma and teachings of Jesus, would be immune to the movement’s secularist ideology. The wording of the report, however, seemed to indicate otherwise.

“The very disturbing midterm relatio, which I have openly said was not a relatio or report but a manifesto, served to wake up the Synod Fathers to an agenda that was at work which touches upon the truth about marriage,” warned Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, in an interview for the Wanderer.

Wasting little time following the release of the midterm report, Burke talked of pushback from more traditional elements in the Synod.

“In the period between the midterm report and the final relatio, (sub-committees) worked very diligently to try to repair the serious damage done by the midterm relatio,” said Burke, “and much progress was made.”

“We’re not giving in to the secular agenda,” Cardinal George Pell  said in an interview for the Catholic News Service. “We’re not collapsing in a heap. We’ve got no intention of following those radical elements in all the Christian churches, according to the Catholic churches in one or two countries, and going out of business.”

Even with such assurances, the concerns of the faithful were hardly mollified with the news from Synod organizer Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri that Pope Francis had indeed read the midterm report before it was released to the public. That Pope Francis had read it indicated, at least, the pope’s agreement with its conciliatory message.

As a result, a resistance movement of sorts has arisen with individual groups and organizations mobilizing over the months since last October’s Synod to present a united front against the foot in the door — or the camel’s nose in the tent (pick your cliché) — that could end up some day resulting in wholesale acceptance of the new status quo.

Among such outfits is the Italian based organization Filiale Supplica, an umbrella group composed of pro-family groups and lay Catholic leaders that has gathered tens of thousands of signatures (including that of former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum) for a petition addressed to the pope urging him to reaffirm “categorically the Catholic teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics cannot receive holy Communion and that homosexual unions are contrary to divine and natural laws.”

Other groups that have voiced similar concerns include the Voice of the Family and the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.

In addition to such grassroots efforts to influence the direction of the conversation, there have also been a number of insiders including Burke, such as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller; prefect for Divine Worship, Cardinal Robert Sarah; and Cardinal George Pell, who have openly criticized any watering down of the Church’s teachings fearing a “domino effect” that would eventually lead to the often unrecognizably Christian doctrines of many mainline Protestant churches.

“The secret for all Catholic vitality is fidelity to the teachings of Christ and to the tradition of the church,” said Pell, a member of the Council of Cardinals that advises Pope Francis on church governance.

“The Church cannot change her teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the grave sinfulness of sexual relations outside the matrimonial union and the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts,” said Burke. “The laity needs to nourish themselves with the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium on marriage, with the teaching that is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They must also give witness to it in their everyday dealings, not only with other Catholics but with people who are not of the Catholic Faith, to make it clear that the Church is not changing her teaching; indeed, that she cannot.”

On the other hand, Cardinal Walter Kasper, emeritus president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, dismissed the concerns of conservatives as tantamount to believing that the foundation of the Church was built on sand and could collapse like a house of cards if any of its tenets were challenged.

“I think they fear a domino effect, if you change one point all would collapse,” surmised Kasper in an interview for America magazine. “That’s their fear. This is all linked to ideology, an ideological understanding of the Gospel that the Gospel is like a penal code.”

Fueling the fears of many, Kasper himself had been asked by the pope to speak before the College of Cardinals early in 2014 and to raise these very topics.

That speech exposed a clear divide among Church leaders on hot-button social issues: those who sought to make peace with the new moral relativism and those who believed any deviation from the teachings of Christ would inevitably lead down the road to error and irrelevance.

One doesn’t have to look far for examples of such a fate. Just look to the many Protestant churches, even those of fundamentalist or evangelical persuasions. Denial of the Eucharist, female ordination, same-sex marriages, divorce and remarriage — to name a few of the deviations from the original Catholic brand of Christianity — have forced many conscientious Christians to spend less and less time as members with any single congregation and instead to “church hop,” hoping to find that church that still adheres uncategorically to Jesus’ teachings.

Such churches are getting harder and harder to find. And as some believe, impossible to find, especially should the Catholic Church loosen its faithfulness to the depository of tradition and the teachings of Christ. If that happens, human beings would be cast upon a sea of uncertainty without assurance that what they believe is not only in fact true, but the manner in which God wants them to live their lives — lives that should be lived in preparation for spending eternity with Him.

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Why I Am Catholic

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Jon Bishop

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Dear Ana Marie Cox:

Your recent essay in which you announced your Christianity quite literally blew up. Many people talked about it and were moved by it, and it didn’t matter which side of the aisle they fell on: liberals, conservatives, centrists, and political agnostics all took something away from it. I think it’s because your piece reminded us that we shouldn’t be co-opting our faith for politics — which, sadly, happens far too often.

I’d like to continue the trend you started. I’m certainly not well-known like you, but nevertheless, I’m hoping that I can at least make a small impact with this piece. Unlike you, though, I’m not “coming out.” I’m very open about my Catholic faith.

But many people might not know “why” I’m Catholic. So here it goes: I am a Catholic because it saved my life.

Dramatic? Sure. True? Absolutely.

When I was in high school, I was not religious in the slightest. I believed in a god, but he was an abstract and distant god — something like the demiurge or the great mystical watchmaker, not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I was more deist than Catholic, even though the latter is the faith in which I was raised.

I was also miserable. I was picked on and I was moody. I’d come home depressed, and I’d wonder why people were so nasty, even though I was nice to everyone. Because of this, I fought with my parents and sister constantly.

One time, I invited people over to my house, and I set up snacks and drinks in my basement, and I waited, but the drinks grew warm and the snacks slowly started to get stale, and then when I realized no one was coming, I went back upstairs, dejected.

At a particularly dark moment, when I figured I’d damaged my relationship with my family beyond repair and assumed I would never have meaningful friendships again, I shut my eyes and went to bed, hoping that I’d wake up dead.

But then I went to college — a Catholic one. And I joined chapel choir, even though I couldn’t sing. Why? Well, I knew it would get me to Mass. I didn’t see it at the time, but I know that it was Providence starting to pull me in. So I would go to church and I’d sort of observe things on the periphery, but I didn’t fully commit. It was as if I were a child afraid to go swimming.

In the meantime, though, I began to take classes, which introduced me to the intellectual depth and richness of the faith. Before that, in CCD, I learned that Jesus loved me and that He died for my sins. Okay, cool, I always said. But what else is there? Oh, and whenever I’d hear of the saints, I always figured they were like comic book heroes.

In class, I met St. Augustine, who partied hard in his youth and became infatuated with some really stupid ideas. If you take away the partying — I didn’t do that much in high school — you had me. I really connected with the guy, and he showed me that the saints really are just normal, broken people. He later became one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes.

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Does Being Jewish Mean Going to Temple, or Going to Israel?

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Last week I expounded upon why my husband and I have chosen not to join a synagogue. The backlash I received, oddly enough primarily from Christian readers, essentially boiled down to accusations of selfishness on my part and an unwillingness to contribute to a community. My question in response is simple: What exactly defines “community” in terms of being Jewish? A reader by the name of Larry in Tel Aviv wrote:

I agree wholeheartedly with every one of your points and you could add a few more! Such as one wouldn’t know the first thing about anti-Semitism in the world today, the nature of the threats Israel faces and related, from the rabbis and synagogue politicos. In fact you wouldn’t know anything important about anything that matters, not from synagogue, not much from Hebrew School neither (even Hebrew is largely poorly taught, with exceptions).

Which prompted me to ask myself: Do Jews in America know how to be Jewish without institutional backing?

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Based on some of the comments I received from Christian readers, it would seem that religion in America requires some kind of institutional affiliation in order to be legitimized. Whether it’s a church, temple, or yoga studio religious folks of all stripes need a facility through which to connect to one another in order to establish and reinforce their religious identity. Historically speaking, Mordecai Kaplan emulated this concept when he reconstructed the idea of synagogue as community, the physical center of Jewish life in Diaspora America. Why don’t Jews necessarily need this institutional bond today? The answer is simple: We have Israel.

As I mentioned in my last article, one of the reasons why my husband and I have elected not to join a synagogue is that we’d rather spend the money going to Israel. Some of those reasons include the reality expounded on by Larry in Tel Aviv. If you want a solid geographical, cultural, historical connection to being Jewish, you find it in Israel. If you want to understand that being Jewish is both secular and religious at the same time, you learn that in Israel. If you want to know how to establish a lasting Jewish identity, you figure it out in Israel. We were not a group of popes and monks called upon to cordon ourselves off behind incensed walls in medieval monasteries. We were and are a nation and a national identity requires more than just a religious makeup in order to thrive.

Everything is more honest in Israel. The rabbinate openly functions as a political entity and the population treats it as such. As many Jewish Israelis that don’t attend synagogue do profess faith in God. When they talk about religious freedom it has nothing to do with the Almighty and everything to do with the almighty rabbinical overlords who abusively claim heavenly authority to determine who is and isn’t Jewish, who can and can’t marry and divorce, and who should and shouldn’t serve in the military.

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Nixon Went to China, Will Pope Francis Follow?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

The question of whether Pope Francis will finally achieve the dream of many of his predecessors to visit China moved to the forefront of international chatter recently when he declined to meet with the Dalai Lama on the occasion of that worthy’s visit to Rome last year.

Many in the media immediately assumed at the time that the Pope’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama was political, that he was fearful of upsetting China’s rulers who might then take it out on negotiations between Beijing and the Vatican on normalizing relations between the two bodies.

That notion has since been laid to rest by Francis himself during an in-flight press conference held aboard his plane as it left the Philippines on Jan. 19. There, Francis explained that the reason the meeting didn’t happen was due to protocol that prevented a get-together while the Dalai Lama was in town to attend another gathering.

The Pope then assured reporters that a future meeting date had been set but did not say when.

But the kerfuffle raised by the media over the apparent “snub,” has served to remind everyone about the delicate politics involved with the Church’s negotiations with the Chinese that is likely based on a fear by the country’s Communist rulers of a loosening grip on power more than a Marxist rejection of religion as an “opiate of the masses.”

A way needs to be found that would allow the Chinese rulers to back away from their decades-long stand against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular.

But politics and negotiations have never been strangers to the Catholic Church in China whose historical association with the country began with Franciscan priest John Montecorvino who arrived in 1294 during the Yuan dynasty. Five years later, he built the first church and some years after that, Catholicism became a thriving concern. In the 1600s, Jesuit missionaries arrived and, impressed with their technical and accounting expertise, emperors of the Qing dynasty named many of them to important civic positions.

In later years however, arriving Dominicans criticized the Jesuits’ approach to proselytization and complained that the Order had gone native. That internal strife tried the patience of Chinese rulers who eventually outlawed Catholicism and tried to stamp it out. A low point was reached during the Boxer Rebellion, a nativist reaction to foreign imperialism, in which Catholics were targeted for murder.

The 1900s saw a return to normalcy with the number of Catholics in China growing into the millions before the communist movement triumphed in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

All religions were then considered threats to the new order and placed under control of the State Administration for Religious Affairs which moved quickly to bring the Catholic Church to heel with the creation in 1957 of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association with its state-approved bishops.

That action marked the official split between the government of China and the Vatican which continued to support an underground Catholic Church that refused to acknowledge control by the state. While not moving to overtly stamp out the underground Church, the government has done its best since diplomatic relations were severed in 1958 to make life for its faithful as difficult as possible by closing churches, not allowing new churches to be built, discriminating against believers, and jailing for long periods priests and bishops who continued to be loyal to the Pope.

Even today, Catholics continue to be imprisoned for refusing to submit with Roman Catholic bishop Cosma Shi Enxiang only the latest reminder. The 94-year-old cleric had spent the greater part of 60 years imprisoned and the last 14 in house arrest, all because of his loyalty to the underground Catholic Church. Reports have surfaced of his death recently but there has been no official word from the Chinese government.

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Ma Daqin has been in detention since his ordination in 2012 when he resigned the Patriotic Association to join the underground Church.

Eager to relieve its followers from such oppression, the Church has been involved in diplomatic efforts to end the impasse between itself and the PRC for decades but a difference of opinion in how even to approach the table has prevented real progress.

Those sticking points have been described as the “two China” problem and the question of independence: China demands that the Church end its diplomatic relations with Taiwan before anything else can be discussed while the Church wants China to first agree to the primacy of the Pope as leader of the universal Church including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Such is where matters have rested for decades until there was a recent indication by the Church that it would be willing to move its embassy from Taiwan to the mainland. But even with that concession, the PRC has balked, refusing to recognize the Pope’s sole authority in the consecration of bishops.

Benedict XVI tried to walk a line between church and state when he reasserted the Church’s claims to primacy while also acknowledging the right to govern by the PRC.

But there may also be another problem: freedom of religion in particular and human rights in general which some believe must be guaranteed if any settlement with the PRC is to work. Without freedom of the press for instance, how can the Church publish its various newsletters and public communications? Without the sanctity of private property, how can it be certain its buildings are safe from seizure?

Which brings things to the present except to say that in the last ten years or so, China’s climb to a world economic power has added complications to the mix that could bode good or ill in its relations with the Catholic Church.

On one hand, the country’s newfound power has made its leaders more arrogant as their navy expands the government’s claims in the South and East China Seas even as it grows closer to the enemies of the West. Meanwhile, China has moved aggressively in Africa and Central America in its efforts to secure natural resources as well as investing heavily in enterprises around the world.

However, on the home front, prosperity has raised the expectations of an increasingly restive population tired of the state’s one child rule, unresponsive government administrators, official corruption, and lack of freedom. As a result, the government finds itself putting out brush fires of angry citizens from towns remote from the country’s prosperity to villages in the way of development to disenfranchised voters in Hong Kong.

At the same time, some reports indicate that the Communist Party itself is currently in turmoil with some kind of internal power struggle going on. And so long as that struggle continues, Vatican diplomats can’t be sure which side might be friendly to their interests putting negotiations on hold.

Events, it seems, are pulling China in different directions and the question is which will win out. Will it be more freedom or more control? Will the Party choose to put a lid on demands for more openness in order to maintain its overseas military aspirations or ease off on domestic issues where pressure is building due to rising expectations?

Amid all this, Christianity is growing quickly in China with some estimates claiming over 100 million with about 10 million of those members belonging both to the underground and Patriotic Catholic Churches.

For that reason alone, China cannot be ignored by the Vatican and in a recent interview Pope Francis insisted that his door is always open to envoys of the PRC.

The Pope’s implicit optimism may have been spurred by a January statement from Hua Chunying, a mouthpiece for the Chinese foreign ministry who said that his government was “willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican based on relevant principles” adding that “China is always sincere in improving ties with the Vatican, and has been making efforts to this end.”

So it might be in the interests of China, if it wants to appease a significant portion of its dissatisfied population, to walk through that door and come to a modus vivendi with the Vatican. If that happened, then Francis might indeed get his wish to be the first Pope to visit China.

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The Roman Catholic Church: History’s First Global Organization

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Pierre’s ongoing series exploring the big ideas in Catholic life: 

The idea of all the countries on Earth gathering under a single roof to address issues of international concern had been a dream of mankind for who knows how long before Woodrow Wilson was finally able to convince the nations of Europe to finally do it as a League of Nations.

And though nations managed to come together in the past, it was usually borne of necessity to form military alliances or negotiate treaties for peace or trade among two or more of them and rarely for any other reason than that.

But well ahead of all such limited agreements, was the Roman Catholic Church which brought together representatives from at first, every corner of Europe, and then the world. Bound together by faith, tradition, and Canon Law, members of the Church also found unity in a common language. With Latin, Church members in Italy could communicate with those in China and Uganda and Paraguay.

And as communications, and travel, between nations improved, so were senior members of the Church, its bishops and Cardinals, able to convene on a regular basis, further tightening the collegial connections and fraternal relationships among its leaders.

The Church’s worldwide reach and global character was present from the very start when Jesus Himself instructed his apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Through His actions while in the world, Jesus set the example, dealing with those outside the Jewish tradition such as the Samaritan woman at the well.

Upon his conversion, St. Paul got the message and took the Gospel outside of Israel to the eastern Roman world. Following the Council of Jerusalem where Peter agreed that Gentiles did not have to strictly adhere to Mosaic law in order to be followers of Jesus, he and other apostles left for other lands, scattering over the entire Roman Empire and beyond. By 313, after a long struggle for acceptance by Rome, Christians were freed from the fear of persecution and began to send out missionaries beyond the fringes of the Empire taking the first steps in becoming a truly international organization.

Today, the Church is represented in virtually every nation on Earth, each with its own hierarchy which in turn, connects directly to the Vatican in Rome. That connection among Catholics all over the world, is further tightened by use of the internet, websites, and email.

By the 6th century, as the Church grew and was forced to organize, the College of Cardinals was created and by 1059, its role as selector of Popes firmly established. Over the centuries, the College has been occupied primarily by Western Europeans with a scattering of eastern and North African members; but as the Church’s presence in the Middle East diminished with the rise of Islam, the College assumed a definite European character.

So matters stood into the 20th century when things began to change.

Following World War II, the role of Europe in the rest of the world shrank and in its stead, new nations arose. After the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962-1965, it was decided that governance of the Church needed a more international cast to better reflect its worldwide presence. Since then, many new Cardinals have been created with members coming from every corner of the globe.

The international scope of the Church has again been confirmed with the recent announcement by Pope Francis that he would appoint 17 new Cardinals this year with most coming from South America, Asia, and Oceania.

Among those to join the College of Cardinals on Feb. 14 will be Archbishops Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Ethiopia; John Atcherley Dew of New Zealand; Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Vietnam; Charles Maung Bo of Burma; and Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitchavanij of Thailand.

Also on the lists are Bishops Arlindo Gomes Furtado of Cape Verde and Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga.

“The most evident criteria is that of universality,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, confirming that the object of Francis’ choices is that of collegiality and global representation in a Church that’s expanding most quickly in the developing parts of the world.

The duties of the College of Cardinals include advising the Pope in the governance of the Church, electing his successor, and often acting as papal envoys. Some may be officers of the Roman Curia while others serve as bishops of major diocese around the world. Eligible to vote for a new Pope until age 80, the number of cardinals has traditionally been held at 120.

Anyone looking at the red garbed Cardinals on television when they gather for a papal election or conference is instantly struck by the variety in its sea of faces. Sure, most are still of European descent, but many more obviously hail from Africa, South America, and the Far East. And unlike secular global institutions, they may disagree on some policy issues but they remain united in a single overriding belief in Christ and His Church which informs all of their actions.

And so, even as other international institutions are sundered by disagreements and threaten to break down over security, social policy, economics, even climate change, the Catholic Church, after twenty centuries, continues to remain viable as the only global entity still capable of speaking with a single voice.

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image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Here’s Your Map of the Catholic Church

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

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The Roman Catholic Church is almost 2,000 years old and has grown over the centuries to include people of every nationality, every culture, and every kind of social system. With such a long history and diverse membership, it can’t be any wonder that the Church has evolved into the complex structure it is today.

As such, the Church can sometimes appear to be an intimidating institution to some who are quick to throw up their hands in frustration and give up on trying to figure it all out. Impatient to learn the whys and wherefores, or to take into account common sense and human nature, the very size and scope of the Church has often given rise to discomfort regarding organized religion.

But the reality is that no group of more than a handful of people has ever come together without becoming organized. How else could its members accomplish anything? Or once accomplished, preserve its gains? The truth is that without organization, any group, be it a nation or a religion, will remain weak, in-cohesive, and eventually lose track of its founding principals.

For the Catholic Church however, a schematic of its structure can be easier to understand than outsiders might believe and having one, could make it easier to navigate the internal currents of ongoing trends and debates.

On paper, such a schematic can best be considered in two dimensions: vertical and horizontal.

Vertically, the Church presents a simple structure with the Pope at the top, the cardinals next, bishops afterward, the priesthood, and finally the laity at the bottom. But just because the Pope is at the top of the structure, it doesn’t mean he’s any more important than the laity at the bottom. One of the Pope’s descriptives after all is “the servant of the servants of God” as demonstrated each year when he washes the feet of selected faithful in imitation of Christ.

From different sections of the vertical dimension, the Church extends horizontally with various religious and intellectual pursuits; philosophical and theological thought; establishment of religious orders and institutions such as schools, hospitals, and charitable endeavors; and day-to-day religious practices and popular movements emanating from every level of a vibrant, dynamic community.

But as with any other group comprised of human beings, Catholics will have their disagreements and heated controversies. Whatever intellectual ferment there might be however, is always conducted within the clear boundaries defined by the Church’s Magisterium, or the unchanging deposit of faith made up of sacred scripture and Tradition.

With that in mind, what are some of the deep currents forming the undertow of Catholic life today? What issues are being discussed, what groups are being formed, that stand the best chance of influencing the culture of the Church in years to come?

Focolarini

Much of the vigor in the modern Catholic Church is emerging from the laity with new groups and movements cropping up everywhere and quickly gathering thousands of members scattered around the world. Take the Focolarini movement for example: made up of single men and women living in separate communities who pool their belongings in order live Jesus’ request “That all be one.” Over the years since the movement began, it has grown beyond its Catholic roots to include members of many other faiths.

Emmanuel Community

Like Focolarini, the Emmanuel Community sprang from the laity with thousands of members across the globe. Served by clergy but primarily made up of ordinary people, they answer God’s call to holiness while living in the world and holding evangelizing events around the globe.

Hermeneutics of Continuity

Far from the ground-level activities of such groups as Focolarini and the Emmanuel Community, scholars continue to wrestle with the effects of Vatican II by way of the Hermeneutics of Continuity which maintains that there was no disruption in basic Church teachings as a result of the council. The Hermeneutics of Rupture, championed by liberal reformers, claims the opposite but a recent letter written by Pope Francis clearly supports Continuity.

Theology of the Body

A major topic that will continue to resonate within the Church and beyond is the Theology of the Body, developed by John Paul II over 129 lectures. These teachings seek to counter the objectification of the human body by modern society and restore its place as a God-centered creation.

Preferential Option of the Poor

A key teaching of the Church that has resulted in its being drawn into the realm of secular politics is the preferential option for the poor, the basis for its stance on social justice issues. With its basis in the teachings by Jesus that emphasize the need to care for the poor, the Church is likely to continue its involvement with such non-spiritual issues as immigration, welfare, and income inequality.

The Seamless Garment

With the sanctity of life still threatened by modern society, the idea of a Seamless Garment that opposes any kind of killing of human beings be it by capital punishment, euthanasia, assisted suicide, or abortion is likely to remain as a major theme in Catholic circles.

Communion and Liberation

A free association movement, the Communion and Liberation has no official enrollment for members. Those interested simply read and follow the weekly catechesis as spelled out in its School of Community for their formation. The group simply proclaims the idea that the Christian event is the foundation of authentic personal liberation with members urged to become active partners in the Church’s mission in every area of society.

Catholic Charismatic Movement

Around since the late 1960s following Vatican II’s call for a new Pentecost, the Catholic charismatic renewal is attractive to some believers who crave more avenues for expression of their faith outside of weekly Mass attendance.

Opus Dei

Perhaps the most well known (and successful) of the new movements arising from the laity, Opus Dei emerged from the Spanish Civil War and is comprised mostly of everyday Catholics who continue to live at home or with their families. Having since spread around the world, members believe that everyone is called to holiness and that simply living an ordinary life can be a path to sanctity.

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What Are the Biggest Controversies In Catholicism Today?

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Controversy hasn’t been unknown to the Catholic Church.

Almost from the very beginning tensions and rifts divided factions at the Council of Jerusalem as described in Acts of the Apostles where Paul met with Peter and others to make the case for allowing gentiles to join the newly forming Christian movement without the need for conforming to purely Jewish religious practices such as circumcision.

Over the centuries other fault lines appeared including theological battles with Donatists and Gnostics, the formation of the Bible, and the great schism between East and West.

Corrupted during the era of the Borgia Popes, the Church was roiled in dissatisfaction on the part of many of its members, eventually leading to the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

All that is to be understood. After all, the Church itself may be the mystical Body of Christ, but its individual parts, represented in its members, are human and thus open to disagreement, vulnerable not only to sin but all the ego-based weaknesses of mankind making for power struggles, be they earthly or spiritual.

But since the years of missionary expansion when Europe was colonizing the world, controversies and jealousies arose between various religious orders, few issues before the modern era have risen to the level of true controversy and a period of intellectual calm settled over the Church.

Thus, a remarkable collegiality pervaded from the defeat of Napoleonism through most of the twentieth century. In later decades, some controversy about letting priests marry and allowing women into the priesthood attracted media attention but never amounted to much among the faithful themselves. Instead, the greatest potential for destabilization in the later years of the twentieth century was the spread of liberation theology in Latin America. But when the movement was suppressed the Church under John Paul II once again entered a period of tranquility.

Since the ascension of Pope Francis, however, new controversies have bubbled to the surface. More “insider baseball” than anything that would concern those outside the faith, they include a recent decision by Francis not to meet with the Dalai Lama upon that worthy’s visit to Rome. Some have guessed the snub was due to ongoing negotiations with China aimed at normalizing relations between that country and the Church.

Another possible fissure is talk of a division between European bishops and those of Africa over the Church’s position on a range of social issues including those of divorce and remarriage. The more easygoing bishops from a post-Christian Europe could be headed for a clash with the more traditional-minded African bishops who have fewer empty pews. Here, Francis seems to be siding with the outsiders having just named a passel of new cardinals, most of whom come from the same backgrounds as their African brethren.

Efforts by past Popes such as Benedict XVI to reunite with schismatic wings of the Church who went their own way following the changes wrought by Vatican II have appeared to falter under Francis, who has seemed indifferent to matters of concern to them including allowance of the old form Latin Mass dear to traditionalists’ hearts.

That said, the Church has not been without challenges on the macro level as well.

Late in the nineteenth century, a new secularism borne of science and expanding human knowledge gained strength at the expense of traditional Christian teachings. At first, challenges of fact such as evolution and the origin of the universe seemed threatening but soon proved compatible with the Church’s teachings. Far more formidable would be new philosophical and social movements such as Communism and then fascism which proved attractive to Europe’s desperate underclasses. They were eventually defeated but from their ashes arose an even more sinister force: that of political correctness, a conglomeration of radical positions covering everything from feminism to conservationism all made to appear benign under a cloak of humanitarianism stripped of religious context.

This sugar coating of seeming humanitarianism has fooled many about the altruistic nature of the movement, much of which comes under the umbrella of “social justice.” In a remarkably short time, once infected with the PC germ, even the most venerable of institutions with hundreds of years of historical experience will jettison it all in favor of the new radicalism. As of this writing, only the Catholic Church has held out against the PC movement, positioning itself to repeat its service of preserving Western civilization through a new dark age. But now, with Pope Francis, the comforting knowledge that sanity might prevail in some part of the world has been, for some, cast in doubt.

Displaying evidence that he has at least been partially captured by the PC movement, Francis is invoking controversy either where none existed before or that had been thought settled. His comment early in his pontificate about “who am I to judge” when asked about homosexuality alarmed many as well as given hope to a “homophile” movement that promotes chastity and opposes same-sex marriage but embraces homosexuality as a gift from God — a position that was hinted at when notes from a recent synod were released prematurely.

Francis has also shown solidarity with political correctness by showing an intemperate willingness to cross the line from spiritual affairs to those of politics by supporting the Church’s stand on illegal immigration, global warming, and income inequality– all aspects of the Church’s social teaching to be sure but also of the social justice movement that invokes the ghost of the old liberation theology of the 1970s.

Whether any of these internal controversies manage to break out into discussion in the wider world depends on Pope Francis. But aided and abetted by a press corps eager to nudge the Church (as the last institution holding out against the PC steamroller) in the right direction, the pontiff could very well succumb to the promise of praise and adulation from that quarter. Human nature being what it is, the Church could very well be entering a new era of internal tumult and debate.

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New Institutions Rise as Older Catholic Colleges Shed Their Roots

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Is there a difference between Catholic colleges and any state university?

For many, there is, with the image of a Catholic college being smaller maybe, with cassocked priests criss-crossing the greens, quiet halls and ordered dorm rooms where crucifixes on the walls remind students of their faith, church bells ringing out morning and evening prayers, and the voices of religious brothers echoing in the approaching twilight.

With well over 250 institutions of higher learning in the United States, Catholic colleges like Georgetown University (founded in 1789), have been in business since the nation’s founding. Over most of that time, all managed to maintain their identity as primarily religious institutions with the occasional Hollywood film reinforcing their image during the 1940s and ’50s.

The reality however, is that most Catholic colleges, having been a part of the American scene for over 100 years, have evolved over time, accommodating themselves to scholastic standards valued by their secular counterparts.

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New Catholic Religious Orders Rising

Sunday, January 4th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

For the last few decades there has been plenty of chatter about declining vocations among Roman Catholic clergy. That there are not enough priests to man every parish. Not enough nuns to staff parochial schools. But appearances can be deceptive. Although it has been true that diocesan vocations have come down, sometimes dramatically, the opposite can be said of independent orders not associated with any diocese. For those religious orders, the level of membership have not only continued to hold, but have increased in numbers.

The lack of reporting on the healthy numbers associated with the non-diocesan orders and repeated ballyhoo on the declining number of diocesan priests, suggests the hope by some that the Church will finally be forced to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Unfortunately for those who support such a radical move, the trending just isn’t there.

In closing down inner city churches and consolidating parishes, the Catholic Church is retrenching, concentrating its resources where the communicants are while at a more grassroots level the faithful are finding different ways to express their continued enthusiasm for God and His Church on Earth. Ways that are destined to become seedbeds for future growth and that usually take the form of collective effort rather than individual expression.

And for the Catholic Church, that usually means the creation of religious orders spearheaded by a visionary founder or foundress. And for anyone who thinks the days of Sts. Benedict or Francis are past, think again!

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The 10 Biggest Catholic News Stories of 2014

Friday, December 26th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

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Anno Domini 2014 was a year filled with big stories for the Catholic Church, but for the rank and file it was a year of uncertainty, too, as they wondered what was going on with their new pope, elected only the year before after Benedict XVI decided to retire.

A member of the order of the Society of Jesus, better known as Jesuits, before being elected pope on March 13, 2013, Francis had likely imbibed that order’s more liberal brand of Catholicism before rising to become the archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. As archbishop and later as a cardinal, Benedict practiced a simple, unostentatious lifestyle with particular attention to the poor. All well and good, but after his elevation to the papacy a disturbing trend became apparent beneath other more commonsense actions he has taken over his first full year as head of the Church. This pattern has revealed a streak of political correctness beneath the concerns that are proper for a pontiff.

Political correctness is one of the most sinister threats ever to challenge Western civilization, worming its way into the vitals of every major institution and rotting them from the inside out. Until recently, the Catholic Church had managed to fend off its influence under Popes John Paul II and Benedict, but a well-meaning Francis could end up undoing some of that work. Comments on social justice, illegal immigration, and income inequality, for instance, threaten to cross over from religious concerns to the political.

On more hot button topics, Francis signaled a possible thaw on cultural issues early in his papacy when he called for a de-emphasis on such issues as homosexuality and abortion. Later, he sparked a love affair with the media when, registering an ambivalent attitude toward homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge?”

Such comments sent handlers into high gear, trying to do damage control by putting the pope’s words in context, explaining how they weren’t in contradiction to traditional Church teaching. The same thing happened when Francis said complimentary things about the theory of evolution. The media acted as if it was a seismic departure from Church teaching when actually it wasn’t.

The combination of comments by Francis and misleading reportage in the media has led to some confusion among the faithful on exactly where the Church stands on issues long since thought settled. More seriously, the pope’s comments may also have given sinners a rationalization not to repent in the belief that they may not be sinning after all.

In addition to those issues troubling loyal Catholics on a socio-cultural level, the worldwide Church as an institution has not lacked for other important events in 2014 that will continue to shape it into the future, from the aftermath of sexual scandals to softening relations with China to reforms at the Vatican.

10) In a constitutional victory for religious-based colleges, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently abandoned its practice of measuring how religious a college appears to be before exempting it from federal oversight.

The belated move finally brings the board within virtual compliance with a 1979 Supreme Court decision that found the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) did not give the board authority to regulate employee behavior in Catholic education. Although the board’s new position limiting its involvement to considering whether individual employees perform religious functions still remained, it comes well within the purview of some future federal court ruling forbidding even that. Supporters believe that the board’s retreat will encourage Catholic colleges to include a Catholic perspective in every classroom so as to exempt the institution from government scrutiny.

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12 Steps for a Perfect Pop Culture Christmas

Friday, November 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.

12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.

Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?

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The Lesson of All Saints’ Day

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Leslie Loftis
Stripped, sent to a brothel, and then burned

Stripped, sent to a brothel, and then burned

A Catholic friend attended her church’s All Saints’ service on Saturday. She came over afterward to visit and help me with some stuff and told me about the lovely service. She mentioned something she still finds odd. The saints are often depicted with the instruments of their torture. St. Lawrence of “Turn me over, I’m done on this side” fame carries a grill, St. Catherine carries a wheel. Here are 10 of the more brutal martyrdoms.

We found this disconcerting for two reasons: one, the memory of what happened to those people. These were not quick deaths. Two, such tortures are still happening to Christians today. (Warning for graphic links, although the Daily Mail has pixelated them.) Beheadings and crucifixions still plague us. As does sexual slavery. According to the videos there, the blue and green eyed girls fetch a higher price.

When I went to church the next day (I’m Anglican and we do All Saints on the Sunday closest to November 1st) this is exactly what one of our reverends gave his sermon on. Our tormenters don’t let up. That’s what we are supposed to remember on All Saints’ Day, perseverance in the face of anything.

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8 Reasons Why Jews & Christians Should Re-Think Celebrating Halloween

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.

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11 Lessons About Religion I’ve Learned from Pop Culture Polytheism

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.

Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.

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Why Was Jesus Born Jewish?

Sunday, June 1st, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Jesus was Jewish and that is a fact – NOT my opinion.

About a decade ago at a friend’s party I began chatting with another guest who, in the course of our conversation, informed me that he was an Orthodox Jew.

This information gave me an opening to ask my favorite question, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”

His answer was memorable, “Jesus wasn’t Jewish,” he replied.

My jaw dropped and I was almost speechless. Initially I thought he was kidding until realizing he was not.

Then, after a short conversation volley he said, “Well, that’s your opinion.”

Years later I have never forgotten that incident because the fact (not opinion) that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew is one of the few universally accepted Biblical “facts.”

As one who was born and raised a Jew — but since 1975 has believed that Jesus was and is the Messiah — I have made a hobby out of asking traditional Jews, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” The reason I continue asking this question is because the answers or I should say non-answers are always so intriguing.

Here are three examples (but you will have to read to the end for the most recent and intriguing example of all.)

A fews months ago, I posed “the question” to an old friend who is a secular Jew, not religious, but very proud of his heritage. His replied, “I don’t know. I guess Jesus had to be born of some religion so it just happened to be Judaism.”

My husband loves to tell this true story he calls, “How Myra Accosted a Rabbi at a Bar Mitzvah.”  A few years back we attended a Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. Afterwards at the reception, using my sweet, inquisitive voice I asked the Rabbi, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”  My husband describes the Rabbi’s face as looking like he had just encountered Satan. After gaining his composure the Rabbi answered, “No one has ever asked me that question,” as he quickly excused himself and dashed to the opposite side of the room.

Then there was the time I was having a heated argument with my non-religious Jewish father (now deceased) about Jesus and my conversion to Christianity. My father had great disdain for ALL religion because he strongly believed that religion was the root cause of every war in human history. During the course of our discussion I asked him, “What was the religion of Jesus?” He replied confidently,  “Jesus was Catholic.”

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Jane the Virgin: The CW’s Take on ‘Immaculate’ Conception

Sunday, June 1st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The CW is planning to add Jane the Virgin to its fall lineup. Based on a Venezuelan telenovela of the same name, Jane the Virgin is about an intentionally virginal girl who is “accidentally artificially inseminated” by her OB-GYN:

Jane stars Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown) as a hard-working, devout Latina who is kind of hoping her boyfriend proposes — though she’s a little worried he’ll get down on one knee so she’ll finally agree to do the deed. When a mix-up at the OB-GYN leads to that artificial insemination plot line, Jane must choose whether to keep the baby — and whether to let the handsome father into her life.

Aside from containing a number of Spanish stereotypes, including the paranoid grandmother putting the fear of God into her pre-teen daughter (“Once you lose your virginity, you can never go back!“) to a cast of overtly sexualized Latinas, the show appears to be a platform for some long overdue, serious conversation regarding abortion. However, the show sounds eerily like one of the most famously influential and revered plot lines in the West’s repertoire, leaving one to wonder how a primarily Protestant audience might handle a story that’s been a hit in a Catholic country.

When it comes to the primarily pathetic representation of Latinas on television (does Sofia Vergara have to do it all?) at least Jane the Virgin appears to lack the typical trashiness of Devious Maids.

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Matt Walsh Demonstrates Why Christians Need Biblical Feminism

Sunday, May 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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In an entry titled, “Christian women: feminism is not your friend” published on his popular Matt Walsh Blog in April, the conservative Christian commentator concluded that Christian “women (and men)” needed to stop identifying with feminism because the movement is essentially all about abortion.

Embracing the stereotypical liberal definition of feminism as a movement dedicated to starting and waging the War on Women, Walsh discussed the feminist fight for equality:

This is a pretty convincing indication that feminism has, at the very least, outlived its good. There is nothing surprising about that, because feminism, unlike Christianity, is a human construct. It’s an ideology. It’s a political theory. It’s a label. It is not eternal, it is not perfect (there’s the understatement of the decade), and it is not indispensable.

Feminism, like ‘liberalism,’ like ‘conservativism,’ like the Republican Party, like the Democrat Party, is a finite thing that exists and serves a certain purpose in a certain set of circumstances. When the times change, and the circumstances change, it will either die or its purpose will change.

Walsh then dug into medieval history, noting that women were given “equal standing” in certain English trade guilds in the Middle Ages, contrary to the following:

“The fact that guilds seldom permitted women to become masters did in the end relegate them to the least-skilled and certainly least-remunerative aspects of the trade”. This statement shows that the fact that women were not openly admitted to the professional guilds led to the downfall of the woman’s status as a worker during this time period. Since “[m]ale masters displayed no eagerness to train young women, and with few or no women recognized as masters, the guilds did contribute to the narrowing opportunity for women”.

Along with neglecting these facts, Walsh also did not note that neither the Christian Church, nor political leaders who identified with Christianity, demanded that equal professional or political rights be given to women (let alone non-Christians) on either side of the Atlantic.

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Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge, Part 2: Getting to the Heart of Social Justice

Friday, April 25th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Editor’s Note: See the introduction here and Part I here to this ongoing series explaining the insights of Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet bloc

Most East European governments concealed their road to Communism by posting innocuous nameplates at the door, such as People’s Republic or Popular Republic.

Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa

“People’s Republic” is such a chummy term. In fact, Marxism in general, with all it’s “redistribution of wealth” sounds so compassionate, at least to a Western, Judeo-Christianized mind. A Chinese mind familiar with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, for instance, may have a different take on the benevolent-sounding idea of a “People’s Republic” given the facts:

“State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.”

Mao couldn’t lie his way past a free press in the West. Nor could Khruschev, as Pacepa explains,

The 1963 missile crisis generated by socialist Cuba gave the socialist mask of Marxism a dirty name in the West, and few Marxists wanted to be openly associated with socialism anymore.

But, socialism is still hot. China is still The People’s Republic and “we’re all socialists now,” right? The last installment ended with the question: How have intellectual Wizards manipulated Marxism to acculturate the American mind leftward? Pacepa answers:

[Marxists] therefore began hiding their Marxism under a new cover called “economic determinism,” …a theory of survival rooted in Marx’s Manifesto (another theory of survival), but it pretends that the economic organization of a society, not the socialist class war and the socialist redistribution of wealth, determines the nature of all other aspects of its life.

The goal remained the same; the players simply put on a new mask. China has managed to be a People’s Republic that justifies murdering millions of its own people. Likewise, Marxist movements in the West masquerade under the guise of political generosity, often changing their names to suit the cultural climate:

When economic determinism lost credibility because of the devastating economic crisis in Greece, our Democratic Party began replacing it with “progressivism,” which has become the latest cover name for Marxism. …Today’s Progressive Movement was born in New York’s Zuccotti Park. It was first known as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which advocated the abolition of “capitalist America.”

Marxists in the West successfully propagate progressivism under the guise of “social justice“ that demands the redistribution of wealth to the less fortunate. Ironically, most people of the Judeo-Christian West accept this Marxist notion out of the goodness of their hearts. However, putting faith in the Marxist lie that human beings don’t have a heart (and therefore are incapable of compassionate decision making) requires handing over all financial power to the Marxist Wizards who proceed to dole out your funds as they see fit.

This speaks to the heart of the question, but how have the Marxist Wizards rendered us so seemingly brainless? 

scarecrowbrain

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Religion, Politics & Screaming at the Internet

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

screamingatcomputer

David Swindle has entered the ongoing  discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:

Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?

No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a number of articles in the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.

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Altruism in Religion’s Free Market

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

tithe

My colleague Walter Hudson recently concluded that altruism has no place in Christian life:

Christian giving promotes life and health. Altruism promotes starvation and death. Altruism redistributes. Christian giving transacts. Christ’s own words assure us of greater blessing in giving than receiving. Christian giving leaves us better off, not worse. Altruism therefore proves atheistic, as Piper declares. We will never give more to others than God will give to us.

Walter’s basic conclusion is capitalist in nature: A Christian should be rewarded in kind (or over and above) for giving of their money, their time, or their talent. On the face of it, his argument makes sense, especially in light of congregational membership. My Christian friends often complain about the concept of “tithing,” a Torah teaching that is grossly abused by the religious establishment. Far too often, “tithing” translates into religious leadership putting pressure on church members to “donate” up to 10% of their annual income to their church. Synagogue membership, on the other hand, is rather simple: The same flat fee is charged to everyone on a yearly basis. No weekly passing of plates, no feeling ashamed; most synagogues have provision to assist members who may not be able to meet the annual sum. Programming fees are charged for additional events, like holiday services and Hebrew school. This model best fits Walter’s description of being rewarded in kind for monies given.

In the era where religious establishments have become places to fulfill business networking and social needs, it makes sense that you’d pay a fee for the religious service as you would any other mode through which these things would be accomplished. You pay for drinks at bars, JDate and Christian Mingle memberships, and head hunters; someone’s got to pay the electric bill so the lights are on when you’re shaking hands. The only question is, where is God in all of this? If the Bible is right, and we were put on earth to walk with Him in a personal relationship, what is He getting for His services rendered? That is, besides a corrupt priesthood on both sides of the aisle, pressuring congregants for cash and willing to let God take the back seat to a business deal?

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A Jew’s Take on Jesus Movies

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

BiblememeAcculturated‘s R.J. Moeller has penned an excellent commentary on faith-based films in light of the Christian controversy surrounding Noah:

…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.

And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.

…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.

Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.

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The Latest Outbreak of Golden Calf Syndrome

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

goldencalf

There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.

Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.

Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”

One comment, however, caught my eye.

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Latest Shroud of Turin News with an Exclusive Message from A Renowned Scientist

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Professor Giulio Fanti, famous Shroud of Turin scientist and research author

In the next few weeks leading up to Easter Sunday you can expect to hear more news about the Shroud of Turin — a mysterious piece of linen that millions of Catholics and other Christians believe is the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

It was during Holy Week last year when the Shroud of Turin generated headlines around the globe. That was a result of Italian scientist and renowned Shroud researcher Giulio Fanti releasing his book, The Mystery of the Shroud.

Fanti is an Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Padua in Italy. His 2013 research book scientifically debunked the infamous and controversial 1988 carbon-14 dating that supposedly “proved” the cloth only dated back to the Middle Ages — more specifically between the years 1260 and 1390.

Headlines such as: “Shroud of Turin is not a medieval forgery” were typical of what appeared across all media platforms especially on Good Friday, 2013.

Now in 2014, Professor Fanti has a new book (only in Italian at this moment) and the title translates into English as, Turin Shroud: First Century A.D.

According to the book’s press release, “The new dating methods are published in prestigious international journals and no one has yet pointed out methodological errors.”

This Shroud dating research project costing $75,000 (54,000 Euro) was funded by Padua University. The funding made it possible to “develop alternative methods of dating the Shroud based on mechanical and opto-chemical analyses after obvious calibration.”

Here is a more simple explanation of the dating methods if you are not a scientist.

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5 Mysterious Bible Passages Worth Pondering For Lent or Anytime You Need Stimulation

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Now that the Lenten Season is upon us and the 40 day countdown to Easter has begun, this is good time to review some fascinating Bible stories that are worth knowing and pondering for their deeper meaning.

The three stories selected are personal favorites because they are filled with supernatural mystery and many unanswered questions that baffle Bible scholars to this day.

In all cases Bible quotes are italicized and taken from the widely used New International Version. (NIV)

1. Job 1: 6-12  

This is what happened when God and Satan had a little chat.

Job, the main character in the Old Testament Book of Job, was wealthy and richly blessed. He had a wife, ten children, many servants and numerous flocks. The second sentence in verse 1:1 described him as: “The man was blameless and upright he feared God and shunned evil.”

Job’s celebrity status was further described in verse 1:3,

“He was the greatest man of all the people in the East.” 

Unfortunately, being THAT awesome landed Job in the middle of a famous (and ultimately very painful) smack-down between God and Satan.

Artist: William Blake

Artist: William Blake of Satan tormenting Job

 

In verses 1: 7-8, Satan, along with other angels presented himself to God. When God asked Satan where he has came from, Satan replied, “roaming through the earth and going back and forth from it.”

Then, because Job was the equivalent of God’s “teacher’s pet,” God bragged about Job to Satan saying,

“Have you considered my servant Job?”

(God is then quoted as saying what was previously stated in verse 1:1)  “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

However, Satan was not impressed because Satan thought Job’s faithfulness to God was a result of Job living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Thus, Satan asked God in verse 1:9, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”

Satan explained to God his theory that if Job’s good fortunes were to suddenly disappear then Job would turn away from God.

“But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:11)

Satan’s words set in motion a classic conflict between good and evil, faith and non-faith. Poor Job was about to get zapped with God’s permission.

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