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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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What Christians Should and Should Not Judge

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Paul Cooper

Judge Not

Christians often live in one extreme or the other on hot-button topics. One example would be judging. Christians have long been known and labeled as “judgmental.” So today, most evangelical Christians are so afraid of that label that they refuse to judge anything. Matthew 7:1, which says to “judge not lest ye be judged,” is the most well-known verse among even the most non-church going person out there.

But our fear of being judgmental has led us to a warped view of judging. There are definitely ways in which we should not judge, but you may be surprised to know there are times where Christians actually should judge. How do we know when to do it and when not? Let’s let the Bible guide us on that. 

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Newsweek Throws the First Stone

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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In the Gospel of John, we read a story where a group of Jewish Torah teachers and Pharisees (members of a legalistic sect of Judaism) bring to Jesus a woman whom they caught in adultery, asking Him what punishment He thinks the woman deserves. Masterfully — as He always did — Jesus answers the scholars with a simple, yet profound statement:  “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV).

Recently, Newsweek featured a cover article on the Bible in which author Kurt Eichenwald — not a Biblical scholar but a business writer with a clear agenda — lets forth on how Christians misinterpret the Bible. In his piece, Eichenwald throws the first stone, not even pretending to mask an agenda against conservative Biblical scholarship:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

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Why All French Jews Should Leave for Israel

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

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In 2014, the year before the murder rampages at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the kosher supermarket in Paris, about seven thousand French Jews (out of a community of about half a million) emigrated to Israel.

With Muslim and other antisemitic harassment and violence constantly intensifying in France, that was twice the number of the previous year, and a record high.

Even before this month’s terror attacks, a higher number of French Jewish immigrants to Israel was expected for 2015. Now, after the attacks, a higher number yet is expected, possibly fifteen thousand. There is even talk of the Jews leaving France—mainly for Israel—altogether.

Meanwhile it’s reported that:

An unprecedented 15,000 soldiers and police officers have been mobilized in France to protect potential sites from terrorist attacks, of whom one third have been stationed at Jewish schools and synagogues for 24-hour-a-day supervision.

Five thousand police officers will guard 717 Jewish institutions, in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks that killed 17 people, including four Jews at a Paris kosher supermarket.

And in a speech after the attacks, French prime minister Manuel Valls said:

How is it possible to accept that France…how can it be accepted that we hear on our streets “Death to the Jews”?… How can one accept that French people be murdered simply because they are Jewish?

…We must say to the world: without the Jews of France, France would no longer be France. And that message is one that we all have to deliver strongly and loudly. We did not say it in the past. We did not show our indignation in the past.

On the one hand, one can ask whether sending one’s children to a school that has to be guarded round-the-clock by seven or eight soldiers and police officers is much of a way to live. On the other hand, one could ask, in light of the protective measures and Valls’s words: should France be given another chance, before Jews give up on it?

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70 Years Later, a New Solution to the Same Old Problems

Monday, January 12th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

#shabbatshalom #Paris #JeSuisJuif

A photo posted by Shosh (@slmgpix) on

I lit Shabbat candles this past Friday night for the first in a very long time. I made the decision somewhere between learning that the Grand Synagogue of Paris had closed its doors on Shabbat for the first time since the end of World War 2 and the starling fact that 15 Jewish patrons of the kosher supermarket in Paris huddled in a storage freezer to avoid being executed by terrorists.

Roger L. Simon wrote a compelling piece in the wake of last week’s barbaric attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists in Paris. Reading his article I observed with irony that he writes about America’s need for a Churchill. Perhaps, pray to God in His mercy we have one, as we are now surely England with a Neville Chamberlain at the helm. Europe, on the other hand, does not have a Churchill in sight. Europe’s Churchills and their children have fled and are fleeing, some at a breakneck pace. The only Churchill I see on the world horizon is Bibi Netanyahu, which is why he will no doubt be elected to another term as prime minister in Israel, regardless of the deals he may or may not cut with the ultra-religious. Internal politics have to be placed on the back burner when international enemies are this bloodthirsty.

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How to Understand the Anti-Semitism Embedded in Wagner’s Music

Monday, January 12th, 2015 - by David P. Goldman
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Mosaic Magazine opened an important dimension in the old debate about Wagner’s anti-Semitism with Nathan Shields’ January essay, “Wagner and the Jews.” Shields argues that Wagner’s music itself has anti-Jewish implications, an important riposte to the usual excuse that Wagner harbored Jew-hatred despite his great artistry. Shields argues rather that Wagner’s anti-Semitism and his music are of the same ilk. That is a breakthrough, but only that: Shields, whose own music offers the sort of atonality that most modern listeners abhor, knows that something is amiss in Wagner’s music but does not know what it is.

Now Edward Rothstein, a New York Times critic, has responded to Shields’ essay with a claim that Wagner’s anti-Semitism is “metaphysical.” That gets rather far afield. Wagner’s anti-Semitism is not “metaphysical” at all. It is musical, and must be understood in musical terms.

It can be put quite simply: Wagner is a neo-pagan, and paganism is self-worship. Neo-paganism is narcissism, the glorification of the impulse in place of obligation. In place of Beethoven’s celebrated epigraph to the Quartet Op. 135, “Es Muss Sein!” (It must be), Wagner insists that it can be whatever he wants. Music proceeds in time, and classical composition preceding Wagner uniquely achieved an ordering of time that bespeaks necessity: goal-oriented motion towards a desired conclusion. The journey to the goal may take detours, encounter surprises, and evoke suspense as well as humor, but it must reach its conclusion. Classical music was conceived to portray in sensuous terms the Christian journey to salvation. The great Ashkenazic Jewish cantors used the mechanism of Western music to evoke the reversal of time’s arrow, for redemption in Judaism looks backward as well as forward.

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Indiana Jones in Reverse

Monday, January 12th, 2015 - by Kathy Shaidle

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Remember after 9/11, when all kinds of bloggers posted that clip from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

You know: The one in which, bored with an Arab swordsman’s show-offy moves, Jones pulls out his pistol and shoots him dead?

Seeing all those posts really cheered me up back then.

“Wow,” I thought. “America is gonna go kick some ass!”

And then those same bloggers and pundits — many of whom I respect mightily — kept repeating the words of some Iraqi guy during the invasion, who was gleefully shouting, “Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!”

Those bloggers and pundits were certain that this meant millions of Muslims had been dying (literally) for the good guys to rescue them.

They wanted the same things we wanted. George Bush said so in his Second Inaugural.

I wanted to believe. But I wasn’t so sure.

Any more than I was as certain as these bloggers that the future lay in the latest cool gadgets, and how cameras and computers were getting cheaper all the time, and Bush just got reelected and hey, Who’s going to the Rose Bowl this year?

Maybe because I’m Canadian.

Maybe because I’m a girl.

Maybe because I was raised Catholic.

Maybe because I’m naturally contrarian.

For whatever reason, all this boyish bluster, I thought, didn’t bode well.

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What Do You Believe About Angels?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by Dave Swindle

Last week in this ongoing series of weekly discussions about Bible mysteries I asked, “Who — Or What — Were the Nephilim?” and considered the potential identities of the “giants” and their parents, the “sons of God” from Genesis chapter 6. The question considered: is this actually saying that there were some kind of supernatural, angelic beings who “fell” to earth in ancient times, or are we to regard these as references to normal human men who just became deified as false pagan gods later?

Perhaps we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Before we ask if there could be humans who interbred with angels, perhaps first we have to make sense of just what an “angel” should be interpreted to mean.

Maybe a good place to start is with what could be interpreted as one early reference to angels. In Genesis 1:26 who is the “us” in “let us make mankind in our image”?:

Who is the "us" in Genesis 1:26 who helped God make man? #religion #Bible #spirituality #angels

A photo posted by Thoth, Ma'at & Husky Familiar (@thothandmaatmarried) on

Is it useful to perhaps understand angels as the natural forces and energies God set into motion to help Him create the universe?

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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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4 Biblical Sayings That Spice Up Today’s Hebrew

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

As I noted in the first article in this series, “In the Diaspora, Hebrew was retained primarily as a holy tongue, a language of prayer and sacred study.” But with the onset of Zionist settlement of the Land of Israel in the late 19th century, Hebrew gradually became the official language of the Yishuv, the prestate Jewish community, and then of the state of Israel itself.

That, however, required a good deal of modernization and adaptation of classical Hebrew. The driving force behind that project was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1921), a Lithuanian-born Jew who moved to Palestine in 1881 and—among much other activity on Hebrew’s behalf—produced a 17-volume lexicon of ancient and modern Hebrew, sometimes working on it 18 hours a day.

If Eliezer Ben-Yehuda could see today’s Israel, he would know that his labors were crowned with great success. Hebrew now permeates all dimensions of Israeli life, from scientific studies to street slang.

And yet, with all the modern coinages—many of which originated with Ben-Yehuda himself—Hebrew’s biblical core remains vibrant. It pops up, for instance, in colorful phrases and sayings that are part of today’s Israeli Hebrew.

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The West’s Multiculturalist Elite Proves the Greatest Threat to Islamic Reform

Friday, January 9th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who first responded to the terror attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices only to get shot to death at point-blank range by the attackers, will inevitably become the poster boy for both sides of the Muslim debate. His truth was that of a Muslim who integrated into French society and professionally defended Western values resulting in his untimely murder at the hands of Islamic radicals. That truth is already being manipulated by multiculturalist news outlets bent on defending universalism despite its deathly consequences.

The Atlantic is using Merabet’s story to drum up what they believe to be obvious anti-Muslim sentiment in France, obvious only because news agencies scrambling to cover the Charlie Hebdo story didn’t jump on Merabet’s paragraph to defend Islam against radical Islamic terrorists. (Priorities, people.) Joining with The Atlantic crowd, Max Fisher opines at Vox:

Here is what Muslims and Muslim organizations are expected to say: “As a Muslim, I condemn this attack and terrorism in any form.”

This expectation we place on Muslims, to be absolutely clear, is Islamophobic and bigoted. The denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam and for Muslims. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion.

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‘We Must Reform Our Religion.’

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 - by Aaron C. Smith

Our hearts mourn for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and much as on September 11, 2001, the whole of the civilized world were Americans, today we are all Parisians.

No one watching the news felt shocked at the Islamic identity of the killers, given Charlie Hebdo’s past experience with terror and the murder of Theo Van Gogh. The only question facing the world lies in whether the attackers are lone wolves – though don’t three make a pack? – or an assault coordinated with an organized group.

So in the aftermath of Islamic terror attacks, many ask a reasonable question: Why does the greater Muslim community not speak out against the barbarity?

I’d ask that question today in light of the Paris terror attack. However, it would not be quite accurate. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had already given a full-throated call for reform in the Islamic world.

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Bible Mysteries: Who — Or What — Were the Nephilim?

Sunday, January 4th, 2015 - by Dave Swindle

Last week, I asked for suggestions on where to begin in exploring the strange parts of Genesis: “What Are the Most Perplexing Mysteries at the Bible’s Beginning?” One of PJ Lifestyle’s most thoughtful commenters offered a suggestion that was on my list too:

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Here’s more context for the verse in question, photographed from the New Revised Standard Bible I’ve had since third grade:

Genesis 5:22-6:3:

Genesis 6:4-8:

Who were the Nephilim? #Bible #mystery from Genesis 6:4, the prelude to Noah and the flood

A photo posted by Thoth, Ma'at & Husky Familiar (@thothandmaatmarried) on

Some interpret these as references to human beings, others to supernatural creatures, angels, or “ancient aliens.” I like the way Darren Aronofsky portrayed them in Noah as rock creatures in the video above — angels of light that fell to earth and taught humans how to create things on their own, only to see people create war, decadence, and oppression.

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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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How Can It Be That I Wept for Pharaoh at the End of Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 - by Scott Ott

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When you watch the great Exodus story, the hero is usually the guy who leads his people out of slavery in Egypt by the mighty hand of God. Pharaoh is the antagonistic oppressor who refuses to grant liberty to the slaves.

So, how can it be that at the end of the new movie Exodus: Gods and Kings I wept for Pharaoh, and felt virtually nothing for Moses or “his people”?

Perhaps I should start by saying that it’s actually an entertaining movie with epic battle and chase scenes, convincing special effects and fine acting.

That said, my lovely bride reviewed it (perhaps damned it) in three words: “Better than Noah.”

Christian Bale does deliver a more nuanced and dynamic Moses than Russell Crowe’s ark-maker. It would be difficult to do otherwise.

I’m glad I saw the film, though, as usual, I’m hampered by my knowledge of the underlying historical account. I’ll confess, with pleasure, that Exodus takes fewer liberties with the Biblical text than Noah did. My faint praise will not show up in ads for the movie.

Cleaving closer to the Biblical text is not just better for Bible-believers like me, but for all audience members. The actual Biblical account is more compelling and believable than what most screenwriters can imagine. The Bible itself simply makes for a better movie, because it’s honest about both God and man, enhancing empathy and heightening dramatic tension. The mystery to me is why an adaptive screenwriter or director would squander such excellent source material and supplant it with inferior variations.

Exodus director Ridley Scott seems committed to letting the audience wonder who the villain is — often suggesting, through the mouth of Moses, that it may be God himself. It certainly isn’t Pharaoh Ramses — the loving father, gentle husband, and protective brother to Moses.

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The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015

Thursday, January 1st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Take one look at Mic’s list of feminist triumphs for 2014 and you’ll get the feeling that most of us have over the course of this rather petty year: American feminism doesn’t know what to do with itself. Sure, it pays lip service to international women with its only PC figurehead, Malala Yousafzai, taking the list’s lead. And yes, the editors made sure to include a proportional number of women of color on the list, even if they included Ferguson protestors, leading one to ask why the feminist movement would want to associate itself with the kind of race riots we haven’t seen in this nation in nearly 50 years. But when your greatest triumphs include hashtag activism, conquering “manspreading,” and harassing Bill Cosby over decades-old alleged rape accusations, you illustrate how pathetic you’ve become.

A few of these so-called feminist triumphs were listed among the top feminist fiascos of 2014 in the L.A. Times, along with some real head-hanging, shame-filled moments stretching from #ShirtStorm to #BanBossy. One item on the list, however, strikes a sobering note: Rotherham. The complete lack of American feminist response to the sex trafficking of women in this British town for over two decades should be enough to shame feminists into pursuing a new direction in 2015. Feminism as a biblically grounded, non-sectarian movement for women’s independence can once again play a vital role in American and global culture, as long as its gaze is redirected from the navel to the critical issues facing women today.

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4 Fallacies Killing Feminism

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson, two wannabe-famous New York twenty somethings, teamed up to talk sex via their “running soap opera,” “almost reality TV show” podcast Guys We F*cked. Broadcasting under the “anti-slut shaming” banner makes Guys We F*cked appealing to the contemporary feminists at Salon who never turn down the chance to normalize twisted sexuality. Salon assistant editor Jenny Kutner sat down with the comedy duo more commonly known as “Sorry About Last Night” who, as they enter season 2 of their famed podcast, are looking to crowdsource funds from fans while noting that their careers are “…getting better because of the podcast, which is really exciting.”

Performing an editorial feat, Kutner defines the duo’s narcissism as “comedy with a purpose” in her attempt to define the two as feminists. In doing so, the assistant editor at Salon exposes exactly why contemporary feminism is failing 21st century women: Today’s feminists have worked to sever feminism from its historical roots as a biblically-grounded movement for women’s independence. What they’re replacing it with, a “social media feminism” as artist and feminist April Bey has dubbed it, is a mere mask for narcissistic, death-obsessed, goddess worship.

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The 8 Most Ridiculous Yelp Reviews of Kosher Restaurants

Monday, December 29th, 2014 - by Bethany Mandel

Being somewhat of a foodie of the kosher variety, I find the online review service Yelp indispensable when choosing where to eat. To be fair to restaurants, Jews can be somewhat discerning (read: picky and somewhat cranky); thus no restaurant I’ve ever read the reviews of totally came off smelling like roses. The best reviews on these kosher restaurants, though, are not from Jews, but from non-Jews who accidentally stumble upon kosher restaurants and all of their quirks. To keep kosher means to abide by certain rules of the Jewish faith. For the purpose of this post, it’s only necessary to lay out those which apply in restaurants:

Milk and meat are separate: In reality, this means in a kosher restaurant they only serve meat or dairy, never both. If you order a cheeseburger in a kosher restaurant, one of the items is a “fake” — either the burger is  made of vegetables or the cheese is made of soy.

No pork or shellfish: If you’re looking for a shrimp scampi or bacon, you’ve come to the wrong place if you’ve chosen to eat in a kosher restaurant.

There are a lot of Jews: You would think this goes without saying, but in a kosher restaurant, you will find yourself among a lot of religious Jews. Observant Jews are only able to eat in kosher restaurants, which are not nearly as numerous as non-kosher; thus, when choosing a place to eat, Orthodox Jews tend to come in groups as there are few options to choose from.

1. House of Dog in Boca Raton, Florida

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It’s somewhat incredible that someone can live among so many Orthodox Jews in Boca Raton and be completely ignorant of what Orthodox Judaism is, and what it entails, but this woman has managed the impossible. I recently visited House of Dog and the menu now has small notes on it to indicate that the bacon isn’t really bacon and that the cheese isn’t really cheese. I shared this review with my husband and we laughed, wondering if the menu was altered because of people like this woman. Outside of what appears to be some latent anti-Semitism on her part, I was also confused when I first saw the House of Dog menu, wondering if it was actually kosher because cheese and bacon were listed without any clarification.

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What Are the Most Perplexing Mysteries at the Bible’s Beginning?

Sunday, December 28th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Here's a secret to help you believe in #God again. Why I try and see the #sunrise every day. #siberianhusky #Maura

A video posted by David Swindle (@daveswindlepjm) on

We’ve done a number of these “Bible mystery” posts on Sundays the past few weeks where I pose a question and open it up for debate across religious and theological readers.

Here’s what we have so far:

* What Terrible Thing Did Ham Do to Drunken, Naked Noah?

I think I’m going to try and make a regular series of it for the new year, as part of my New Year’s Resolutions. I think it best to start at the beginning, with untangling some of the challenging questions about the book of Genesis. Some of the authors I’ve studied the past few years — Maimonides, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Douglas Rushkoff, and Gerald Schroeder — have offered a variety of concepts helpful for grasping ideas about how to make sense of the often challenging metaphoric and poetic language. Here, from page 220 of Heschel’s The Prophets, is a revealing footnote about the significance of two different names for God appearing in Genesis and why we should seek to grasp them in the Hebrew:

“Maimonides saw the theological literal-mindedness of his peers as a form of idolatry, too.” – Douglas Rushkoff, page 142 of Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism:

From The Lonely Man of Faith by Soloveitchik, page 83, the idea that the conflicting names and aspects of God have the intentional effect of forcing man to perpetually oscillate between different natures and tendencies, continually growing:

From page 195 of God According to God by Gerald Schroeder, on how the two natures and the two first names of God mirror matter and energy in nature:

"The characteristics that we attribute to th

A photo posted by Thoth, Ma'at & Husky Familiar (@thothandmaatmarried) on

What debates would you like to have about Genesis first? Which passages confuse you the most? I don’t have the answers, but I’d like to explore to try and find them with you. Send me your ideas on Twitter @DaveSwindle or via email: DaveSwindlePJM@Gmail.com and I’ll try and plan out a schedule of topics for Sundays in January.

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How Military Leaders Have Found Strength and Courage Throughout History

Sunday, December 28th, 2014 - by Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Rick Lynch

God Military Leadership

We all need help. We need strength, courage to do the things that need to be done on a daily basis. There are many sources for that strength and courage. I get mine from my relationship with God. In Joshua 1:9 it is written,

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Knowing that God is with us wherever we go is an amazing source of strength.  Many times throughout my military career I was tasked to perform something that was very dangerous, but I could do it without fear knowing that God would be with me.

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I was the executive officer of a cavalry regiment. We were stationed in Doha, Kuwait, and were the last American presence in Kuwait. Everyone else had returned home, and we were still there.  Concerned that Saddam might come back into Kuwait, we kept our ammo close by. One day I received a call that the motor pool was on fire, and hopped in my HMMWV with my driver to investigate. Soon I realized that a vehicle had caught fire, and was about to explode.  I ordered the evacuation of the motor pool, which was completed about the time the vehicle exploded, and detonated thousands of pounds of ammunition along with it. For six hours I remained in that motor pool with my driver, helping people who had remained in there. Unexploded ordinance was all around.  I was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for my actions that day, the nation’s highest award for heroism outside of combat. People ask me how was I able to perform that task.  It was easy: I knew God was with me.

In Iraq on one of my tours, I was tasked to negotiate with the insurgency. It was important that we talked with them to understand their issues. Routinely I would meet in a room with numerous armed insurgents. They hated all Americans, and they viewed us as occupiers of their country. The tension in the room was high. At any moment one of the insurgents could have easily taken out an American general. Again, folks asked whether or not I was afraid. The answer is no. God was with me.

I am not the only military leader who turned to our God for strength and courage. During the Civil War, the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson said,

My religious beliefs teach me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself with that, but to always be ready whenever it may overtake me.  That is the way all men should live, and all men would be equally brave.

So, when times look bleak, and you find yourself afraid, go to God for strength and courage. God will be with you. Seek out those difficult tasks that everyone else seems afraid of performing. As it is said in Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said Here am I.  Send me!”

And remember, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

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image illustrations via shutterstock /

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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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Judeo-Christian Angels And the Power of Pagan Art

Friday, December 26th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

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Joseph Bottum is my favorite among Christian writers; I read him religiously, as it were, for a decade before we met, and before he asked me to join the masthead of the monthly magazine First Things in 2009. The fact that he is a close friend, therefore, has nothing to do with my admiration for his work; I have several close friends who write badly, and admire any number of writers whom I abhor as human beings. His Christmas meditation “Angels I Have Heard on High” was a holiday delicacy to be savored. Jody has heard angel voices singing, “high in the wind, across a western meadow frozen stiff and covered with the fallen snow.” I  wish him many more such blessed encounters.

Jody is now writing Christmas carols, and we’ve been corresponding about the form, from an aesthetic vantage point, to be sure. The great poet of Spain’s Golden Age, Lope de Vega, wrote a marvelous song in which the Virgin Mary responds to the glory of angels ruffling the palm trees by asking them to hold onto the branches and quiet down; her child, she explains, is already exhausted by the world’s suffering and needs to rest. The juxtaposition of maternal ordinariness and supernatural splendor is a successful poetic conceit. Christian poets work wonders with angelic encounters, and Lope’s famous Christmas meditation is sublime. One really must read it in the original: with its Romance meter (comparable to our ballad meter) and unrhymed alliteration, the poem bestrides the divide between sublime and secular in technique as well as content.

By pure coincidence, the conversation around the Shabbat table last week at Hong Kong’s modest Israeli synagogue, Shuva Israel, centered on angels as well. Jews sing “Peace onto you, ministering angels” before Friday night dinner, on the basis of an ancient homilectic that two angels accompany a Jew home from synagogue on the eve of Shabbat:

Peace upon you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High,

of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,

of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

May your departure be in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Note that the appearance of the angels is a scheduled weekly occurrence, to be welcomed, but nothing to get excited about. The odd thing, though, is that the angels are asked to leave. One hears many explanations for this, but I like best the one proposed by the Chafetz Chaim, the leader of observant Jewry in Eastern Europe during the interwar years, and recounted last Friday by a young Israeli rabbi. When the high priest entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he went in alone–not even an angel dared accompany him into this most holy place. The recreation of the Temple in the Shabbat table of a Jewish home is so holy that even the holy angels cannot abide there; after they have done their job of accompanying us home from synagogue they are politely asked to go away.

The Holy of Holies in Judaism is found in the most ordinary things of life once they have been dedicated to the Holy One, blessed be he. The Shekhinah (the Indwelling of God) resides on the Shabbat table, and in marital relations between husband and wife. Such things surpass the holiness even of angels.

The holiness of the sanctified ordinary, to be sure, doesn’t always make for compelling poetry; as a latecomer to Jewish observance I tend to sniff at the poetic merits of the classic songs sung around the Shabbat table, although some of them, drawn from the Psalms, are hauntingly beautiful.

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Christmas: He Laid Down His Right

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Christianity is an absurd death cult. That was the expressed belief of the late Christopher Hitchens, one among the so-called “new atheists” who engaged in an aggressive sort of anti-evangelism. Hitchens once sketched his view of the incarnation thus:

In order to be Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years our species suffered and died… [enduring] famine, struggle, viciousness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years – heaven watches it with complete indifference – and then 2,000 years ago [God] thinks that’s enough of that, it’s time to intervene. The best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate part of the Middle East…

Hitchens’ presentation of Christianity highlights one of the greatest challenges to Christian apologetics. Increasingly, a dichotomy has been offered between reason and faith. Ayn Rand defined the two concepts as opposites, and the co-relation of religion and atrocity has been increasingly cited as evidence that faith literally kills.

This Christmas Day, I offer a preview of an ongoing project to begin here at PJ Lifestyle in the new year. Working through books on the topics of reason, individual rights, and the Christian worldview, we will explore how we might reconcile our human perception with divine revelation.

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The Vital Lesson American Protestants Should Learn From the German Evangelical Church

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 - by David P. Goldman
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Baden-Baden has been a spa town since Roman times, drawing tourists for its therapeutic waters, and more recently for a festival hall that features prominent classical artists. It also has a Faberge museum, which seems appropriate at this time of year: Christmas in Germany is like a brightly decorated eggshell with no egg inside. The forms of the holiday are merrily observed, but not the faith. To declare one’s belief in a personal God counts for proof of mental defect here as well as in most parts of Europe, especially among educated people. Nonetheless there is more faith left in Germany’s Protestant establishment than among America’s mainline Protestant churches, and it’s something for a visiting Jew to rejoice about here at Christmas time.

The Presbyterian Church USA, the flagship church of America’s fading Protestant mainline, voted to boycott the State of Israel earlier this year, and nearly voted to prohibit the use of the word “Israel” in its prayers. The new Marcionism of the mainline churches justifies its aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies by rejecting a link between the living Jewish people and the God of Abraham. By contrast, Pope John Paul II of blessed memory and Benedict XVI both emphasized that God’s covenant with the Jewish people never was revoked.

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