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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the world mourned the loss of Soviet evangelist Pete Seeger last week, I encountered stories of real Soviets who found God, not in the hammer and sickle of the USSR, but in the smuggled bootleg lyrics of the Beatles.
How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is a fascinating narrative detailing Soviet Baby Boomers’ covert love affair with the Fab Four. Interviewing a variety of Russian Beatlemaniacs, including many post-Communist music scene movers and shakers, over the course of nearly two decades, British filmmaker Leslie Woodhead discovered that The Beatles were much more than a band in the U.S.S.R. For many Soviet teens, The Beatles were a glimpse at independence, freedom, and even God.
The idea that a rock and roll band could provoke the understanding of the intertwining of God and freedom, let alone inspire a search for the divine, is one that is largely lost on an American audience. After all, as Soviet teens risked Kremlin hellfire to listen to Beatles tracks, their American counterparts in the Bible Belt were throwing their records on bonfires, forced by a religious hierarchy that saw John Lennon and his band as a threat to Christ. Rock music then became the stuff of hippies, the class that scoffed at religious institutions and, like The Beatles, sought divine encounters and self-empowerment through eastern religions.
Arguably, the advocates of Beatles burnings did more to harm Christ’s reputation and following than John Lennon ever could. After all, as he explained, his ironic quip about Jesus was more of a warning than a declaration:
“I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I’m sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. From what I’ve read, or observed, Christianity just seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”
Ironically, it’s a warning that post-Soviet leaders like Vladimir Putin have heeded with their own political purposes in mind.
Anytime you want to start a lively discussion among Christians just ask the question, “Will Jesus return in your lifetime?”
Then of course, some Bible thumper will immediately quote the famous scripture verse from Matthew 24:36:
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (New Living Translation)
Mindful that believers can never know, but only speculate about the exact date of the “Second Coming” – here are some interesting facts enfolding in 2014 relating to events on earth and in the sky.
First, let’s begin with the earthly facts concerning an Orthodox Israeli Rabbi named Yitzhak Kaduri who died on January 28, 2006 at over 100 years of age. (There is debate over Kaduri’s exact age at his death ranging from 108 to 104.)
From this short video you will learn about Rabbi Kaduri and the mysteries that are still swirling around him eight years after his death.
As mentioned in the video, Rabbi Kaduri publicly stated in a sermon that the Messiah, who Kaduri said had revealed himself to him, was going to appear to Israel “soon” after the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Not mentioned was Kaduri gave the sermon in 2005 on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays when Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel.
At the time this video was produced Sharon was still “alive” but in a coma, after suffering a massive stroke on January 4, 2006.
Then on January 11, 2014 Sharon finally died after eight years in a coma and his obituary from the Washington Post stated the following:
The man who chose the title “Warrior” for his autobiography was for much of his career the darling of the Israeli right, which chanted “Arik, King of Israel!” invoking his nickname and comparing him to the legendary biblical King David.
Is it coincidental that Jesus is also often referred to as “The King of Israel?”
Editor’s Note: This is Part IV of an ongoing series by Robert Spencer highlighting human rights hypocrisy and fraudulent peace activists. For Part I, see “The Hypocrisy of the ‘Islamophobia’ Scam,” for Part II, see “The Hypocrisy of the Fatwa Against Terrorism,” and for Part III see last week’s “The Hypocrisy of the Feminist Response to Islam’s Oppression of Women.”
Pope Francis may get letters this year from kings and presidents and grand muftis, but it is highly unlikely that he will receive a letter nearly as important as the one he got in December from an impoverished and imprisoned woman in Pakistan.
This pontiff has famously made it a hallmark of his pontificate to show especial care for the downtrodden and outcast, and so he may yet answer Asia Bibi and speak out on her behalf, but there are good reasons to bet against that happening.
It all started for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic wife and mother, on June 14, 2009 – or more precisely, it all ended for her on that day. She recounted in August 2013:
I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I’m a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women, because water served by a Christian woman was regarded as unclean by my stupid fellow fruit-pickers.
Picking fruit with a group of Muslim women, Bibi was ordered to fetch water for them – and drank a bit of it herself in the stifling heat. A Muslim woman rebuked her for doing so, saying to the other women: “Listen, all of you, this Christian has dirtied the water in the well by drinking from our cup and dipping it back several times. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!”
Bibi stood up to her, responding: “I think Jesus would see it differently from Mohammed.” That drove the Muslim women into a fury, and they started yelling at Bibi: “How dare you think for the Prophet, you filthy animal!” That’s right, you’re just a filthy Christian! You’ve contaminated our water and now you dare speak for the Prophet! Stupid bitch, your Jesus didn’t even have a proper father, he was a bastard, don’t you know that. You should convert to Islam to redeem yourself for your filthy religion.”
The embattled woman stood her ground, responding: “I’m not going to convert. I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”
Several days later, she was arrested for blasphemy as an enraged mob beat her and screamed, “Death! Death to the Christian!” She has been in prison ever since, awaiting execution for her “crime.”
In her letter to Pope Francis, Bibi wrote: “I do not know how long I can go on and on. If I am still alive, it is thanks to the strength that your prayers give me. I have met many people who speak and fight for me. Unfortunately still to no avail. At this time I just want to trust the mercy of God, who can do everything, that all is possible. Only He can liberate me.”
Haven’t yet caught an episode of the BBC/PBS smash hit series Call the Midwife? Here are three reasons from writer/producer Heidi Thomas why you need to watch this groundbreaking feminist masterpiece:
3. Call the Midwife provides female role models who embrace professionalism, not porn.
“I remember an RAF Careers Officer coming to my school and telling us about the wonderful work we could do in the RAF… as catering assistants! We were furious to hear we would never be allowed to be pilots. Now every profession a girl would wish to consider is open to her.
But I think the Spice Girl, Girl Power thing veered a lot of young women off course, because it was about investing your self-worth in your physical persona, sexuality and “attitude”. I love the idea that we have put the notion of professional women right up there in front of a new generation of TV watchers.”
2. Call the Midwife is the antidote to bad girl TV.
“One of the things they enjoy the most is playing women who are actually nice to each other. Because as young attractive actresses, they are often only offered parts where women are in opposition to one another, where they are catty, or bitchy or quarrelling over the same man.
“They love the idea of women living together in a supportive community dedicated to their professions and to the service of other women, which brings us back round to your thesis about Call The Midwife as a feminist piece.”
1. Even the boys in your house will become addicted to this show about midwives, nuns and babies.
“One interesting thing we learnt, from a breakdown of our audience figures, is that numerically, more men were watching Call The Midwife than Top Gear…”.
“In 1968, the KGB was able to manueuver a group of leftist South American bishops into holding a conference in Medellin, Colombia. …The official task of the conference was to help eliminate poverty in Latin America. Its undeclared goal was to legitimize a KGB-created religious movement dubbed ‘liberation theology,’ the secret task of which was to incite Latin America’s poor to rebel against the ‘institutionalized violence of poverty’ generated by the United States. …The Medellin Conference did indeed endorse liberation theology, and the delegates recommended it to the World Council of Churches for official approval.” Having already “come under the control of Soviet foreign intelligence,” the WCC ”endorsed liberation theology and made it part of the WCC agenda.”
Liberation Theology, it would seem, was to be the perfect marriage of the intellectual and the religious classes. According to Reverend Robert A. Sirico, “The intellectual power of the liberation theology movement derived from its attempt to justify a traditionally atheistic Marxist movement within a framework that would appeal to religiously minded Latin Americans.” The Acton Institute founder details,
“The theology was not complicated. It combined Marxian economic doctrine with a misrendering and politicization of Christ’s moral injunctions to help the poor. In this respect, it was easily refuted through simple economic logic. The ‘structures of oppression’ that so outraged the liberation theologians were not capitalism but traditional mercantilist policies in which a government-connected elite used the state to inhibit free competition for land and capital and sought trade policies that would benefit large landholders at the expense of craftsmen and small farmers. The ‘liberation’ that these faith-based Marxist ideologues sought could only be found in the overthrow of mercantilist economics and the invigoration of a business economy that would spread economic opportunity and prosperity.
Uprooting the theological error was more complicated. Formal political and theological criticism came from the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II. Having lived under the totalitarian socialism of both Nazism and communism, he saw the grave dangers that seemingly naïve misunderstandings of economics, combined with religious zeal, could pose for societies. He used his personal influence among Latin American bishops to weigh against the teaching of the liberation theologians, and he directly confronted leaders of Marxist political and ecclesiastical movements for their distortions of traditional Christian teaching. At issue, he said, was not only the danger that liberation theology would lend moral support to would-be totalitarians; he also rejected the attempt to thoroughly politicize Christ’s message on behalf of the poor.”
When Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, worked as the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981-2005, he enforced Pope John Paul II’s anti-Liberation Theology policy by speaking out against the ideology and sanctioning priests who supported the Marxist ideal. However, Pope Francis’s affirmed (ironically first appointed by Pope Benedict) prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Muller, is not as wary of Liberation Theology as his predecessor. Then again, perhaps the new Pope isn’t, either.