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Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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Dear Ana Marie Cox,

Like countless others, I read your essay “Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian” with mixed emotions. At times you encouraged me, baffled me, and infuriated me, but at the end, I walked away satisfied, knowing that, even though you and I may not agree on everything (or much at all, maybe?), you and I are on the same side of the ultimate decision of all: the decision to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

You impressed me most with some of your elegant descriptions of faith:

In my personal life, my faith is not something I struggle with or something I take particular pride in. It is just part of who I am. [...] I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray. [...] Here is why I believe I am a Christian: I believe I have a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior. I believe in the grace offered by the Resurrection. I believe that whatever spiritual rewards I may reap come directly from trying to live the example set by Christ. Whether or not I succeed in living up to that example is primarily between Him and me. My understanding of Christianity is that it doesn’t require me to prove my faith to anyone on this plane of existence. It is about a direct relationship with the divine and freely offered salvation.

A perfect world would greet your essay with the same fanfare it greets people who make all sorts of declarations about their personal life, but as believers in Jesus you and I both know that the world we live in is far from perfect.

Like my colleague, Jon Bishop, I thought that sharing my experiences might add to the conversation. I grew up in the church — there has never been a time in my life when my family wasn’t actively involved in church. The church we attended from the time I was a child until my 11th grade year was a Christian Church. Though they claim not to be a denomination, and there is no hierarchy like a denomination, there’s a doctrinal hegemony within much of the Christian Church, and the congregations share common educational institutions and mission organizations.

In the church where I grew up, I often heard the saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” Yet this congregation didn’t practice much unity — in fact, every three years or so a big blow-up would take place which would set the church back in many ways.

(It may be worth nothing here that such schisms dot the timeline of the Restoration Movement, which began during the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century and produced the Christian Church, as well as the more liberal Christian Church [Disciples of Christ], the Church of Christ [both the congregations who use musical instruments and those who don't], and the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada. Disputes over organization, worship style, and theological liberalism have led to splits within the movement over many years.)

During one of those blow-ups at my home church when I was 16, my family along with about half a dozen other families set out to start a new congregation, one that was truly independent. We saw a need that was lacking in our community and sought to meet it by providing a casual, contemporary worship experience in a theologically conservative setting.

We maintained the loosest of ties with the Christian Church, largely because our pastors and earliest members came from that tradition, but also for the sake of camps for children and students, as well as missionaries. We’ve also kept a few of the Christian Church’s traditions — taking the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and an emphasis on baptism by immersion (though, while the Christian Church considers baptism essential to salvation, we don’t believe that baptism saves an individual — we do consider it a requirement for church membership and an important sacrament for a new believer to undertake).

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After 25 years, give or take a few months, Eastridge Community Church has refined its mission — the mission God gave us — to make disciples who love God, love people, and reach the world. We have served our community in countless ways and sent members on mission trips to Mexico, China, India, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. We’ve become a multi-site church with a second campus in the southern area of our home county, and we sponsor churches in India.

One of the most remarkable features of our history is that, other than one change in leadership, we’ve remained largely unified with no splits (save an exodus of some members surrounding that leadership change). It’s the kind of unity that can only come from a congregation that is committed to following God above any other agenda.

How has Eastridge shaped me? It’s where I learned how to serve selflessly, where I developed many of my creative talents and leadership skills. The church has taken me to Mexico to build houses — twice. I’ve been discipled and I’ve discipled others. I love Eastridge so much that I spend six years on staff and recently came back on staff!

Without the involvement in and support from an independent, non-denominational church for a little over 25 years, I wouldn’t be the man of God that I am. I truly believe that, and I’m grateful that He’s allowed me and the rest of my family to experience these years at Eastridge.

Sincerely,

Chris Queen

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Please join the discussion with us on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-first in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

The essay is the third in a series of inter-faith dialogues on Sundays, see the first from Jon Bishop on March 8, “Why I Am Catholic,” and the second by Susan L.M. Goldberg published earlier today, “Why I Am Jewish.”

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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Why I Am Jewish

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The essay is the second in a series of inter-faith dialogues, see the first from Jon Bishop on March 8, “Why I Am Catholic.”

Despite the multiple accusations I have received from my own brothers and sisters any time I’ve dared to make a critical observation about our people, I very proudly declare myself to be a Jew. This is not because I feel an obligation to my ancestors, my community, or my tradition although I respect them and their roles in the formation of my identity.

Rather, I choose to be a Jew just as Abraham did, because I choose to be free.

I missed out on the social conformity gene. Never have I managed to fit into any particular social group. At times I was hated for it, but contrary to popular opinion of what being a Jew means, it was thanks to being Jewish that I learned to love being a stand-out in the crowd. At 15 I told my teachers I was legally changing my name to Shoshana, and because of that brash declaration I became one of the coolest kids in school. Why Shoshana? Because that’s what Susans in Israel are called and Israel is the culmination and fulfillment of being a Jew. We don’t just get our own houses of worship, we get an entire nation to call our own. Land is freedom.

And when you are so different and so unique, that spatial freedom is essential to your survival. Whether prophets, cowboys, American patriots, or Zionists, the experiences that speak to me echo the Word of God:

Trust the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will level your path.

It felt good to stand apart from the crowd precisely because human thinking never made very much sense to me. God makes sense. And what I still do not understand remains the most intriguing mystery in all the universe to comprehend. “I want to know God’s thoughts,” Einstein said, “the rest are just details.” Ben Carson told me to “think big.” You can’t get any bigger than God. “I have broken the bars of your yoke so that you can walk upright,” God reveals to the wandering Jews. God is freedom.

God’s freedom is eternal.

Torah is a guidebook, a covenant that when undertaken agrees that we “choose life so that we may live.” Ezekiel’s dry bones rose from their graves and breathed new life in 1948. While the rest of the world amuses itself with the walking dead, we trust in the words of Isaiah:

Your dead will live, my corpses will rise: awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew like the morning dew, and the earth will bring the ghosts to life.

I do not need to wage war or rage in desperation, wear black spikes or combat gear, raise my fist in defiance, align myself with a cause, or fence myself into the opinions of others in order to be free. I simply need to live as God intended in covenant with Him. God spoke creation into being and the word of the Lord breathed life into the dead. Tanakh is freedom.

“How did you find it in you to survive?” I asked my cantor who lived through the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz death march.

He replied, “I saw the skull and crossbones on the Nazi soldier’s belt along with the words ‘soldier of God’. They were lying. ‘This is not God,’ I thought. And that gave me the will to survive.”

I am a Jew, and I choose to be a Jew, because despite what the world may lead you to believe, being a Jew means dwelling in eternal freedom.

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Christians: ‘Sacrifice’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Sacrifice

Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: “Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?,” Part V: “Atheists Can Be Moral, Too” Part VI: “Morality Is Objective, and We Can Prove It

Given the term’s religious origins, it should be no wonder why “sacrifice” holds sacred status in our culture. Parents are lauded for the sacrifices they make on behalf of their children. Those who serve in the military, or in law enforcement, or those who risk their lives to put out fires — all are praised for the sacrifices they make for their community. We are persistently called to sacrifice in both public and private life. Policies have been sold by appealing to “what you can do for your country.”

This broad use of the term “sacrifice” fails to distinguish between two concepts which should not be confused with each other. Most of the above examples of “sacrifice” are actually profitable transactions where something of lesser value is given up in exchange for something of greater value. Contrasted to that, appeals to sacrifice in our political discourse frequently call for transactions where something of greater value is given up in exchange for something of lesser or no value.

To highlight this distinction, let’s work through a few examples.

A parent who gives up a trip to Paris or an expensive hobby so they can afford to send their children to private school is not giving up something of greater value for something of lesser value. They have determined in their judgment that the education of their children is a higher value than the vacation or hobby. Most parents do not resent their children as unjust drains upon their happiness.

A college student who gives up a night on the town with friends so they may study for a big test has not sacrificed something of greater value. They have determined in their judgment that their academic success is a higher value than the short-term pleasure of a night out. Most graduates clutching their diploma do not wish they had spent less time studying and more time drinking.

When we consider the role of a firefighter or a soldier, the calculus gets a little more complicated. But the principle remains the same. A firefighter who runs into a burning building does not do so with the intent to die, but with the intent to save. He assumes a risk, not because he deems his life of lesser value than the lives of others, but because he values life as such and seeks a world where those in danger are rescued.

Similarly, even in a scenario where soldiers are ordered to their deaths, they follow not because they want to die, but – with apologies to Mel Gibson – because they want to live. A world where evil is fought, where rights are preserved and liberty protected, offers a higher value than a life lived in slavery to tyrants. If one dies in pursuit of a life lived on their terms, it cannot be said that they sacrificed anything. The sacrifice would be to live in chains.

Indeed, what we really mean when we say that a solider or his family “sacrificed” for our freedom is that they exhibited virtue in pursuit of liberty. It seems unlikely that any particular soldier who has been killed in action had a total stranger in mind at the time and thought, “This is for you.” Rather, we at home stand as peripheral beneficiaries of the soldier’s pursuit of self-interest. He wants to live life on his terms, not on the terms of a tyrant. He wants his family and friends back home to be safe and to live free, and is willing to act accordingly. He’s willing to die if necessary, but death is not what he’s seeking.

The distinction here is between the pursuit of self-interest and the sacrifice of it. Many of the things we term “sacrifice” are actually rational pursuits of self-interest. Even when the pursuit risks or assures death, it’s still motivated by chosen life-affirming values. By contrast, real sacrifice is selfless in the sense that it betrays one’s values for the sake of something which isn’t a value. By conflating the two, we muddy the rhetorical waters, particularly in the political discourse.

When a politician comes to you pitching a new tax or restriction and sells it as a “sacrifice” for the sake of fill-in-the-blank, they are appealing to the sense of responsibility which compels you to prioritize your interests. They say such-and-such policy is “for the children.” You think about your children and what you’d be willing to do for them. The problem is, the policy isn’t limited to what you do with your resources for your children. Nor is it an appeal to charity wherein you choose to use your resources in support of a cause you favor. It is a call to sacrifice your values for those determined by others.

Indeed, to be truly altruistic, one cannot value the cause which they support. If you value the cause, then you’re just pursuing your own interest, and the altruists won’t give you any credit. This is, in part, why private charity is derided by leftists as an inadequate response the plight of the poor. If you only give to those you deem worthy, you’re discriminating against and neglecting those who need your help the most — those whom you do not deem worthy. It’s to these that you must sacrifice.

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The Meaning of 31 of the Most Popular Biblical Names in America

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Arlene Becker Zarmi

Biblical Hebrew names have been used since before this country was founded. Captain John Smith had a biblical name. The name John comes from the Hebrew name Yohanan, which means “G-­d has been gracious.”

Many Historical U.S. Figures Have Had Biblical Names

Most of our presidents, with the notable exception of George Washington, had some form of biblical name.  In addition to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, there was James Madison. James comes from the Hebrew name Ya’akov by way of the English translation of the New Testament. Ya’akov is otherwise known as Jacob, which means “he will impede or hold up.” Abraham Lincoln’s name was a direct biblical name: “father of a multitude.” John Kennedy was another Yohanan; James Buchanan and James Carter both had names that came from the Old Testament. How well known is the fact that President Warren G. Harding was really Warren Gamaliel, which in Hebrew is Gamliel or “G-­d Has granted to me”? Of course the well-liked Dwight Eisenhower was Dwight David. David in Hebrew means “beloved.”

Two presidents of Yale, Ezra Styles and Noah Porter, had recognizable biblical names. Ezra means “help” and Noah “comfort.”

Those are just a few of the notables of our country who were given Hebrew names from the Bible. Many of us in everyday life have Hebrew names as well and don’t even realize it.

In the U.S., almost fifty percent of the most popular girls’ Hebrew names are either directly from Hebrew or derived from the Bible. Among boys, some of the most popular names in America are biblical names.

Here are some of the most popular girls’ names:

1. Mary from the Hebrew name Miriam or “bitter, bitterness.”

2. Elizabeth from the Hebrew Elisheva, “an oath to G­-d.”

3. Maria, also derived from Miriam.

4. Susan from Shoshanah, which means “lily or rose.”

5. Margaret from Margalit, which is a pearl.

6. Ruth connotes “appearance”; she was the famous convert to Judaism and ancestor of King David.

7. Sharon, the name of a fertile plain in Israel.

8. Sarah means “princess”; she was the wife of Abraham.

9. Deborah is a honeybee (Hebrew Devorah), a judge in ancient Israel.

Then there are the boys’ names:

10 James, still as popular as two hundred years ago, heads the list (it was defined above).

11. John, also defined above, is next.

12 Michael, “who is like G-­d?”

13. David, “beloved,” and the second king of Israel.

14. Joseph, “he will increase” (Yosef, in Hebrew).

15. Daniel, “G-­d is my judge.”

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Anatomy of a Murder: How Feminism Defends Sex-Selective Abortion

Monday, March 9th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Last year the UK police refused to respond to video footage of doctors agreeing to perform sex-selective abortions that target female babies, claiming that prosecution would “not be in the public interest.” In response to law enforcement’s blind eye, MK Fiona Bruce presented an amendment before Parliament that would ban gendercide in the UK. Originally received with an overwhelmingly positive response, the amendment failed to become law this past week ironically thanks to the seemingly pro-feminist protests of the Labour Party and Trade Union Congress. The language and nature of their protests against this amendment act as yet another illustration of how contemporary feminist ethos, in this case motivated by demented multiculturalism, is actively working against the cause of women’s equality across the globe.

Breitbart London reports that the protest against the amendment was spearheaded by Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, who referenced the language of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in a letter to Labour party representatives. In the letter she claims that banning sex-selective abortions would lead to “troubling consequences” such as a limitation on abortions for “gender specific abnormalities.” She also opposed the amendment’s use of the term “unborn child” as “children” are granted more legal protection in the UK than “foetuses.”

Her pro-choice defense was so stereotypical it garnered criticisms dubbing it “at best ludicrous misinformation, and at worse pernicious scare mongering.” As to the “gender specific abnormalities” claim, the law contained a caveat permitting abortions for medical reasons, regardless of gender. For advocates of the amendment, Cooper’s preferential treatment of the word “foetus” over “unborn child” turned her argument into a pro-choice one, plain and simple. If only it were that easy.

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The real perniciousness came in documents circulated by the TUC regarding the gendercide amendment that stated:

“The amendment does not attempt to address the root causes of deeply entrenched gender discrimination but rather has divided communities.” It also said that banning sex selective abortions might leave women vulnerable to domestic abuse.

Sex-selective abortion is rooted in specific cultural beliefs. That’s right: Stop everything and sound the multiculturalist alarm bells, lest we step on anyone’s toes, child, foetus or otherwise. In a 2012 report titled “Why do feminists ignore gendercide,” the Heritage Foundation details:

“Son preference is a symptom of deeply rooted social biases and stereotypes about gender,” a representative of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum said in congressional testimony. “Gender inequity cannot be solved by banning abortion.”

Jonathan V. Last, who writes about cultural and political issues, begs to differ. The choice is clear, he argued last summer in the Wall Street Journal. “Restrict abortion,” Last wrote, “or accept the slaughter of millions of baby girls and the calamities that are likely to come with it.”

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Muslim Holidays in New York Public Schools: Why Not?

Monday, March 9th, 2015 - by Robert Spencer

New York City officials announced last Wednesday that public schools in the city – the nation’s largest school district – will now be closed for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Multiculturalist leftists, of course, are thrilled, and tarring anyone who isn’t as a racist, bigoted Islamophobe – but the decision may not have been as wise and commonsensical as its supporters are claiming.

Far-Left New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was, predictably, among those waving pompoms and lighting sparklers to celebrate (champagne, of course, was out of the question). “This is a common-sense change,” he declared, “and one that recognizes our growing Muslim community and honors its contributions to our city.”

What contributions to New York City have Muslims made? De Blasio, alas, didn’t say. He might have noted the sharp new security procedures that have made the simple act of walking into a building a much more complicated procedure than it was before September 11, 2001. He could have mentioned the inspiring new 9/11 Memorial and Museum. He could have pointed to architectural improvements: the new high-rise building that is marginally less ugly than the Twin Towers that it replaced. But on this key question, he was mum.

Others, meanwhile, had their mind on more practical matters. New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said: “Muslim students and their families who observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha shouldn’t have to choose between an instructional day and their religious obligations. This new addition will also enable a teachable moment in the classroom for our students to learn about religious tolerance and the societal contributions of various cultures.”

This is absurd, of course. Missing a couple of days of public school is hardly a major catastrophe for any child, and people of all beliefs and perspectives and religions have to keep their children out of school now and again for various reasons, with no harm done. If these children wanted to observe these holidays by staying out of school, they could have done so, without imposing the holiday on the non-Muslim students.

The Muslim population of New York, while it is growing, is hardly large enough to justify this. If it’s discrimination against Muslims to have school on Muslim holidays, why isn’t it discrimination against Hindus to have school on Hindu holidays? Because Hindus don’t have loud, aggressive advocacy groups claiming victimhood status and trying to deflect attention away from numerous mass murder attacks and plots in New York City that were inspired and incited by their religious texts.

Instrumental in bringing this about was Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. She called the decision “a win for our children and for future generations in this country. Muslims are a part of the fabric of this country. We make our country proud, and today, New York City made us proud.”

The centrality of the Islamic supremacist Sarsour, a close associate of de Blasio, to the effort demonstrates what it is really about: an attempt to reinforce the idea that Islam is in all respects the same kind of thing as Judaism and Christianity, completely benign and wholly and in all ways to be welcomed. (It also is an effort to obscure the Judeo-Christian foundations of this nation.) The implication is that there is just a tiny minority of extremists who are twisting and hijacking the real thing, but only “Islamophobes” care about them. This will have the effect of further discouraging any honest analysis of how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and supremacism, and of stigmatizing those who perform such analysis. And that’s the idea.

Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, etc. should consider flying planes into a couple of New York skyscrapers; then they’ll get their holidays off, too. Because one thing is certain: if Islamic jihadists hadn’t perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, Muslims wouldn’t be getting their holidays onto the school calendar now. Ever since 9/11, Islamic supremacist advocacy groups have labored to deflect attention away from the fact that 3,000 were murdered by people acting in accord with Islamic texts and teachings, and to prevent scrutiny of those teachings and of their communities, by claiming victimhood, claiming that they have been unfairly targeted by law enforcement, claiming that they’re victims of racism and bigotry. Leftist politicians have rushed to accommodate their demands and redress their claimed grievances. This is just another example of that.

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Why I Am Catholic

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Jon Bishop

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Dear Ana Marie Cox:

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

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

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

Dramatic? Sure. True? Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morality Is Objective, and We Can Prove It

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: “Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?,” Part V: “Atheists Can Be Moral, Too

What is morality anyway? You might think it goes without saying. But different people don’t always mean the same thing when they claim an act is moral or immoral.

For believers, morality tends to boil down to obeying God’s commandments. When we say this is moral and that is not, we mean it conforms with or diverges from biblical prescriptions.

With that as our view of morality, it becomes easy to see why we might claim that there can be no morality without God. We’ve set God’s commandments as our standard of value. But what if, by doing so, we’ve placed the proverbial cart before the horse? Are God’s commandants good because he said so? Or does God issue commandments because they are good?

Before we can rationally tackle such questions, we need to define our terms. In his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, author Craig Biddle leads us on a path toward discovering a morality induced from the facts we perceive in creation:

To begin, note that the basic fact that makes morality such a difficult subject is the very fact that makes it a subject in the first place: free will. As human beings we have the faculty of volition, the power of choice; we choose our actions. This fact gives rise to our need of morality. Indeed, the realm of morality is the realm of choice. What makes the issue complicated is the fact that our choices are guided by our values – which are also chosen. This is why it is so difficult to get to the bottom of morality. Human values are chosen – every last one of them. Consequently, peoples’ values seem to differ in every imaginable way.

Nearly all of our chosen values are subjective. I like basketball. You like football. Which of us is right?

We tend to recognize that there is no “right” choice between such values. We may be tempted to extrapolate that there are no “right” choices at all, that all values are subjective. That’s the argument of moral relativism.

One such relativist was the philosopher David Hume, who presented an alleged unbridgeable gap between that which is and how we ought to act. This “is-ought gap” suggests that there is no way to leap from the facts of reality to a code of conduct, that there is no objective standard of value.

It turns out that Hume was wrong. There is an objective standard of value. Proving it requires no reference to God or religion. The is-ought gap was bridged in the last century by the discoveries of philosopher Ayn Rand. She wrote in her essay “The Objectivist Ethics”:

There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence – and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible. it changes form, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible.

Biddle adds in his commentary:

The reason why living things need values is: in order to live. The answer to the question “for what?”is: for life.

Life is the ultimate end served by our pursuit of values, and thus reigns as our objective standard of value. Something has value to us only to the extent that it furthers or enhances our life.

But what do we mean by “objective”? Isn’t the idea that life is the standard of value just Rand’s opinion?  Can’t you choose another standard based on your subjective tastes? Biddle answers:

No, free will do not make the issue subjective. It does mean that a person can choose not to live; but it does not mean that he can choose a standard of value other than life.

… Without life there would be no one to whom anything could be beneficial or harmful. And why do such alternatives matter one way or the other? Because of the requirements of life. They are values or non-values only in relation to the alternative of life or death – and only for the purpose of promoting one’s life. The fact that we have free will does not change any of this; it simply grants us a choice in the matter: to live or not to live – to be or not to be.

Having discovered this objective standard of value, we have our reference point for further unveiling an objective morality. From the fact of our own existence as living beings with a particular nature, we can rationally ascertain what we ought to do.

Generally speaking, we ought to work to provide for our needs. We ought to act to obtain or keep that which furthers our survival and makes us happy.

This happiness, the sort referenced by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, is not a hedonistic whim. It’s not chocolate for a diabetic. It’s not an affair for a married man. Rather, true happiness is gauged in the context of how life works and what we can reasonably expect to follow from our actions. The diabetic who eats lots of chocolate may gain short-term pleasure, but at the expense of his long-term well-being. The same can be said of the adulterer.

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Odd how this objective morality, discovered by an unrepentant atheist, starts to dimly echo the Ten Commandments. Indeed, if God exists, and if He created the universe, it follows that his moral commandments would jive with the facts of his crafted reality – that He would prescribe action in our best interest.

While Biddle, Rand, and other Objectivist thinkers reject religion on principle, believers need not reject the morality they present. On the contrary, recognizing objective morality glorifies God. Romans 1:19-20 reads:

… that which is known about God is evident within [man]; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Paul here says, in essence, that we can induce from the world – from what is – what we ought to do.

If we entertain objective morality as believers, we are presented with a challenge to some of our doctrine. In particular, we must figure out what to do with our human sacrifice problem. If life is the standard of value, which it’s fair to say we have firmly established, then how can sacrificing life ever be moral?

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Biddle sets the context for deliberation:

Since each person is objectively a separate being with his own body, his own mind, his own life – since life is an attribute of the individual – each person’s own life is his own ultimate value. Each individual is morally an end in himself – not a means to the ends of others. Accordingly, a person has neither a moral duty to sacrifice himself for the sake of others (as religion and social subjectivism claim) nor a moral right to sacrifice others for his own sake (as personal subjectivism [or hedonism] claims). On principle, neither self-sacrifice nor sacrifice of others is moral, because, on principle, human sacrifice as such is immoral.

What then must we do with the Christian reverence for sacrifice? What do we do with Abraham’s offering of Issac? With Christ’s work on the cross? How do we categorize things like military service or working as a firefighter? How do we regard charity, parenthood, marriage, and a hundred other human interactions which are typically associated with sacrifice in a positive connotation?

That’s our subject for next week.

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Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Spencer Klavan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWXWvBCkaG0

See the opening of today’s series here: ”What Is the Future of Religion?” by Frank J. Fleming. Also check out Aaron C. Smith’s installment here: “The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science

Recently, ISIS ransacked a museum full of ancient Assyrian and Akkadian artifacts in Mosul. They upended works of art from the 7th century before Christ and whacked enormous chunks off of them with sledgehammers. There’s a video.

If you think this is the least of our ISIS problems, you’re not wrong. You can tell me a single human life is worth more than everything Raphael ever painted, and I won’t argue with you for a second. When they behead Christians and hurl gay men to their deaths, those are inestimable losses. A museum raid pales in comparison.

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But I still felt sick watching them do this, and I think there’s a reason. I think there’s something in this video that drives home what we’re dealing with here. It’s like pulling the face off the Terminator to reveal the hideous grinning gears and diodes underneath. Watching ISIS destroy art shows me exactly who they really are.

It comes down to why we make art. To my mind, it’s because there’s something about being human that’s more than just facts. I can tell you perfectly well in prose what kind of sandwich I had for lunch, or how old I am. But to tell you what it’s like when I look at the night sky or fall in love, I need poetry. Or a painting. Or something — anything — that conveys the indescribable catch in my chest. “Where words fail, music speaks”: there’s something bigger than language in the human heart.

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Now, all those big bull-lion-eagle-dude sculptures in Mosul don’t do a lot for me personally. But I recognize that irreducible worth in them: I see that someone felt something he couldn’t say in words. Something about the nobility of the human form, the humanity and inhumanity of the divine. So he got a big rock and he started chipping away at it until it spoke for him. He gave the thing in his heart a shape in the stone. That’s what Shelley meant in his poem about emotions “which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things”: that statue records a moment inside the soul of a human being. And that record is worth preserving.

But of course, to believe all this, you have to believe there’s something there to record. You have to believe a man is more than physical stuff — more than muscle, blood, and bones. What ISIS demonstrated in their video is that they don’t believe that. And their god doesn’t believe either. The video begins with a verse from the Qur’an about idolatry. Then someone declares that “god has ordered” that the statues be destroyed, and so “they became worthless to us.” Exactly: the god of ISIS is a god to whom humanity means nothing. He demands that people be treated like meat, gruesomely sacrificed to his power-hungry nihilism. Of course that god wants the evidence of human transcendence to be pounded into rubble. To the god of ISIS art is, as the man in the video says, just “some stones.”

Now tell me this isn’t a religious fight.

This is what the president, and The New Yorker, and all our well-meaning multiculturalist friends refuse to acknowledge. There is a question in front of us. Do we believe god lusts after power at the expense of human dignity and life? Or do we believe God humbled himself to the point of death for the sake of that dignity and life? I am not a scholar of Islam. I do not know anything about what most Muslims believe. But I know which god ISIS believes in. They showed me again in Mosul.

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What ISIS did in that museum is a kind of art in itself. Their video is a performance, an enactment of their core creed. They’re symbolically expressing their belief that the human soul has no worth. It’s not just the destruction of art: it’s the art of destruction.

In Luke’s gospel, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem for the last time, his disciples hail him aloud as the King. The Pharisees want to shut them up, but Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” When the truth is silenced, the whole world screams it in our ears. And the West is falling silent: we’re refusing to put an honest name to the kind of god ISIS fights for. So the message is getting louder and louder — in Mosul, the very stones are crying out.

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The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Aaron C. Smith

See the opening of today’s series here: ”What Is the Future of Religion?” by Frank J. Fleming

Science is a good thing. It’s given us things like vaccines, cars and incubators.

I live in Southern California and was born a premie, with Apgar tests so low that the doctors advised my parents to institutionalize me. That means all of these innovations are near and dear to my heart. I have a more than healthy respect for science.

The thing is, though, science isn’t enough to keep a society going, at least not one we’d want to live in. What’s gotten humanity to this point is religion, specifically, the Judeo-Christian religion and its moral precepts that allow the freedom of Western civilization.

Three aspects of Judeo-Christian philosophy have helped define the free world: equality under the law, a firm grasp that we cannot build heaven on earth, and an objective for morality.

The dual, complementing nature of Judaism and Christianity, cannot be understated, especially as the Bible discusses equality. Many might think that the followers of Christ departed from their Jewish brethren but Christ himself reminds us in Matthew 5:17 that he “ha[d] not come to abolish [the Torah laws] but to fulfill them.” Thus he carried forward the truths given to Moses.

The first of these truths was the Jewish revelation of a single deity who created all of mankind and laid down laws establishing our fundamental equality.

When Gandhi engaged in some pseudo-deep drivel about an eye for an eye leaving everyone blind, he ignored the fact that this law was actually a command that punishment be proportional to the crime. Gandhi also suggested that Jews accept Nazi abuse, so it’s little wonder that he got other things wrong too.

Indeed, for all of the secularist focus on the wrath of the Old Testament God, the Torah serves more as a reminder to His children of their fundamental equality. After all, Leviticus 19:15 warns that “[y]e shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.”

So the rich don’t get any special favors and, in a blow to the Occupy folks, neither do the poor.

Holy crap, that’s equality. And God laid it down.

Christ walked the earth and fulfilled that law of equality. That law led William Wilberforce to inspire the greatest power of his age – Imperial Britain – to war against slavery. That same law led the descendants of slaves, with the Rev. Martin Luther King, to claim their seat at the table.

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The Judeo-Christian ethic teaches us the importance of respecting the individual and his liberties.

Judeo Christianity also teaches us to accept the world we live in.

Stalin’s Soviet Union. Mao’s China. Pol Pot’s killing fields.

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These were all the secular attempts at utopia. Again, the blood of millions soaked the earth in these failed experiments.

Along with equality, the Judeo-Christian philosophy teaches us a simple truth: As fallen humans, we cannot build a utopia in this world. Perfection is beyond us and attempting to rush it along is a fatal conceit.

This holds true even in the personal life.

There is nothing more human than wanting to create the perfect life for you and your family. Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife is a perfect example of this. She strives to be the perfect mother, wife and lawyer. And on the surface, she looks successful, rich. She is the captain of her own ship.

Alicia is also an avowed atheist who finds her success to be of little comfort when her one-time lover, Will, is killed in a courtroom shooting. Thus mother must turn to daughter, whom the show portrays fairly respectfully as coming to faith, in order to try to find comfort.

Alicia was smart but she was not wise and hers was a utopia of tears.

One thing that assists in avoiding the siren song of utopianism is maintaining a constant moral lodestone, as laid out in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

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PJ Lifestyle contributor Walter Hudson wrote how “Atheists Can Be Moral Too.” However, in arguing that the natural world provides guideposts for human behavior, he disproves his own argument. After all, the natural world is the strong preying upon the weak. This is the morality of the dictatorship.

Indeed, Nazism and Communism saw themselves as the pinnacle of social evolution. Their inferiors, whether Jews or kulaks, were subhuman and thus fair game.

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This is the morality of a world without a true north. The compass spins out of control and we follow a path to chaos. The great irony is that by no matter what glorious end those without transcendent morality attempt to serve, they can never find it.

Who was to tell these technologically advanced barbarians they were wrong, if there was no definition of wrong that transcended society? After all, Hitler won an election. The Communists inspired fellow travelers throughout the world.

It is telling that the troika of Ronald Regan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II who defeated Communism in the 1980s came from strong traditions of faith.

Indeed, they showed that the three gifts of Judeo-Christian philosophy served as legs for a stool we call wisdom.

That wisdom is the reason religion serves a more fundamental role for society than science.

The Nazis and Soviets were capable of immense scientific accomplishments. They then put those accomplishments towards slaughter of unspeakable scale.

The Tuskegee experiments surely developed scientific data, but only through a monstrous experimentation on unknowing innocents.

Even now, we play with artificial intelligence which luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warn could destroy humanity. Fertility experts toy with the creation of children with the genetic material of three people, a technology that could redefine families in a way that not even advocates of same sex marriage could dream.

Science, without the moral foundations of religion to constrain it, could mean the end of society as we know it or even the extinction of our specials

It was science that told my parents I should be put in an institution.

It was wisdom that kept me from such a fate. Although since I turned out to be a divorce lawyer, some people might think the doctor was right.

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Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the tenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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image illustraions via herehere, here, here and here

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What Is the Future of Religion?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

Science! It’s given us lasers and spaceships and explained the many great mysteries of life, like what is the sun, where does lightning come from, and what’s the deal with platypuses? Every day, the men in the lab coats tease out more secrets from this universe, and technology solves more of our problems (remember back in the day, when if you were lost in the woods, you couldn’t pull out your phone and quickly look up the filmography of the guy who played Balki in Perfect Strangers?).

So as we go into a future with robots and a greater knowledge of quantum physics, what exactly do we need thousands-of-years-old texts on morality for?

That’s my question: What is the future of religion?

As part of my novel, Superego, I take a look at religion hundreds of years in the future, when mankind has spread throughout the universe and interacted with numerous other sentient lifeforms. And this is all viewed through the lens of the protagonist, Rico, who is a coldly rational, conscienceless psychopath (though probably still not as irritating an atheist as Richard Dawkins). From his perspective, Rico finds faith to be a rather odd thing, as people can — and often do — just decide to believe in any nonsense they, for some reason, find appealing.

But as society advances in technology and knowledge, will we still hold on at all to what many consider superstitions of old? Frankly, I can’t remember ever seeing the Jetsons attend church. Plus, to many people science is increasingly replacing the need for religion. We can now understand the world through rational thought… and even people not that good at rational thought love science — there are things like the “I f-ing love science!” Facebook group basically turning science into a fetish of dumb people.

Science certainly seems more exciting than some ancient texts that don’t even mention T. rexes or black holes.

So maybe our future will be one where we only look to science for answers (“Oh, Men of the White Coat, tell us what to believe, and it shall be believed!”). We will be beings of pure logical thought with no need for the vagaries of religion.

The only problem is that people don’t work that way. Even as a child, I saw how the idea of a purely logical being like Spock (R.I.P.) was in fact illogical, because while logic is a great tool for solving problems, it never tells you what problems to solve.

From a purely detached standpoint, neither working hard at a career to be successful nor curling up in a hole to die is a more logical thing to do than the other until you add some values to the equation (for instance, how much you treasure money versus good old hole-sleeping). And values do not come from logic but from the irrational parts of our minds. And it’s that irrational drive that causes people to create and build things, and something purely logical like a computer is rather useless until one of us irrational idiots starts mashing its keyboard to either write some code or comment on a YouTube video.

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Is This the Most Bizarre Bar Mitzvah Video of the Year?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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There’s a subset of Jewish culture that has so much money to blow on their kids that celebrations like Bar Mitzvahs turn into outrageous, television-worthy affairs. If you want the full story in the form of a cute, thoughtful comedy, check out Keeping Up with the Steins. If you want to skip straight to the awkward horror of the real-life version, watch the video above, posted by the UK Jewish News with the one line comment:

Usually, we’d write something here, but we are a little speechless.

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Nixon Went to China, Will Pope Francis Follow?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Don’t let the appearance of Rainn Wilson fool you. Everett Backstrom is no Dwight Schrute, nor is Backstrom yet another take on the Sherlock trend. This smart, funny detective series walks into dark territory to examine the human desire to look toward the light. It goes against formula and against the grain manipulating authority and questioning politically correct cultural norms in pursuit of truth, justice and, even more intriguingly, redemption from evil. Here are 7 reasons why Backstrom is trendsetting, essential counter-culture conservative television that demands a place on the air.

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The Case Against Synagogue: 4 Reasons My Jewish Family Doesn’t Go

Sunday, March 1st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

A few years ago my husband learned that the cantor who had supervised his Bar Mitzvah was forced into retirement. More than one member was floored that the now elderly man who survived the comings and goings of countless rabbis would be sent out to pasture because he didn’t fit the board’s “youthful” marketing strategy. Over five years later that same “out with the old” synagogue is struggling for membership. Every once in a while we’ll see signs in yards throughout our area offering an inclusive experience for Jews (“especially intermarrieds!”, often code for desperation) who want to find a “synagogue home.”

For us, the irony of the cantor’s story is one of the many elements that arise during the yearly “should we join a synagogue” discussion. Inevitably, we reach a series of conclusions common among Gen-X/millennial crossovers like ourselves. However, contrary to the popular opinion that money is the bottom line, our reality is that we don’t need to affiliate with a synagogue in order to live Jewish lives. And apparently we aren’t alone.

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4 Astounding Archaeological Discoveries in the Holy Land

Sunday, March 1st, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

Editor’s Note: See the previous installments in P. David Hornik’s fascinating series on the Hebrew language: “4 Ways That the Hebrew Language Redeemed the Jewish People in Our Time,” “4 Ways the World Changed for Me When I Learned Hebrew,” “4 Biblical Sayings That Spice Up Today’s Hebrew,” “5 Ways Hebrew Is (Very) Different from English,” and “10 English Words That Are—at Heart—Hebrew Words.

Hebrew goes back very far in the Holy Land. The earliest inscription believed to be in Hebrew, discovered in 2008 at the Khirbet Qeiyafa archeological site, dates from the 10th century BCE.

Professor Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa is convinced that it’s a Hebrew inscription and says it

indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.

Other scholars, though, believe the inscription is written, at least partly, in other ancient languages like Phoenician, Moabite, or Canaanite.

Other finds, however—including, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves—are indisputably in Hebrew. What follows are some of the more notable examples out of many.

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Atheists Can Be Moral, Too

Sunday, March 1st, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?

Can There Be Objective Morality without God?

Believers commonly assert that, without God, there can be no “objective right and wrong.” Yet, such an assertion ignores what it means to be objective. When we identify something as objective rather than subjective, we’re saying it can be observed in the real world. We’re saying it can be perceived, or conceived through reason applied to our perception. Even the most fervent believer must confess that God transcends our human perception, and therefore cannot be cited as a source of objective morality.

The appeal to God as a source of morality proceeds from our recognition that some standard must be applied to our decision-making process. Otherwise, anything goes. In his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, author Craig Biddle addresses this problem:

The problem is not: “If there is no God, anything goes.” The problem is: If there is no objective standard of value, anything goes. If there is no rationally provable standard of value, there is no way to defend with moral certainty what is right or to condemn with moral certainty what is wrong. The alternative is not religion versus subjectivism, but reason versus subjectivism – and the secular subjectivists know it.

The secular subjectivists Biddle references are those within the culture who reject religion as a source of morality, but make no effort to replace it with anything concrete. They suffice to say that morality emerges from social convention or rests in the eye of the beholder. What is right, they claim, is what makes you feel good, or what results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, or what serves the “common good.”

How Do We Respond to Secular Subjectivism and Moral Relativism?

Believers offer our appeal to God as the source of “objective morality” in answer to such blatant subjectivism or moral relativism. Right and wrong can’t be left to whim, we argue. But our appeal to God doesn’t solve the problem.

Subjectivism – whether personal, social, or “supernatural” – wreaks havoc on human life and happiness. Until we can answer it with (genuine) moral certainty – that is, until we can show that morality is based on facts – it will continue to do so. From muggings and rapes, to school shootings and truck bombings, to concentration camps and gulags, to religious “inquisitions” and divinely inspired acts of terrorism – all such mayhem is caused by subjectivism. And the is-ought dichotomy is what makes subjectivism seem plausible.

The “Is-Ought” Dichotomy

This “is-ought dichotomy” is the philosophical dead end in which believers spar with secular subjectivists. Our culture has given up on the task of discovering a truly objective morality, because we have largely bought into the notion that values cannot be derived from facts, that we cannot discern an “ought” from an “is.”

The Moral Abyss of David Hume’s Philosophy

Biddle points to the eighteenth century philosopher David Hume as the originator of the is-ought dichotomy. Hume taught that it is logically impossible to transition from observable facts about the natural world to a code of conduct or set of values. The problem with Hume’s conclusion is that it leaves us with nowhere to go, with no moral anchor nor any means to discover one.

The is-ought gap represents a moral abyss. If we care about human life and happiness, we need to bridge it. We need to ground morality in reality; we need to discover a rationally provable ultimate end – a standard of value derived from observation and logic.

Christian believers should not feel discouraged or threatened by this. Indeed, scripture exhorts us to look to creation for general revelation regarding the character and nature of God. Paul says in Romans 1:20:

For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

The Natural World Provides Guideposts for Appropriate Human Action

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The primary such guidepost is a standard of value from which to judge the appropriateness of all other conceived values, an end unto itself which all other ends support.

An end is a goal toward which one acts; a means is the action one takes toward a goal. For instance, if a student studies in order to get an education, the education is an end toward which his studying is the means. Likewise, if a person works in order to earn a paycheck, the paycheck is an end toward which his work is the means. But notice that such goals are not ends in themselves. A student gets an education so that he can pursue a career – which he pursues in order to support himself and earn a paycheck – which he earns in order to buy things – which he buys in order to use for various other purposes – which he pursues in order to accomplish still other goals – and so on. Each end presupposes another. So where does it all end?

If we are to establish an objective, fact-based morality, we need to discover a final end – one toward which all of our other goals and values are properly aimed. Such an end is by that fact our standard of moral value – the standard against which we can objectively assess the value of all our choices and actions. So the question becomes: What is our ultimate goal?

When we identify this ultimate goal, the question of what we ought to do becomes objectively answerable. That, and only that, is how we discern an objective morality.

As this series continues, we will present and evaluate this objective standard of value. Biddle offers it as an alternative to religion. But one need not be an atheist to accept it. Indeed, the discovery of an objective standard for moral action should embolden the believer and deepen our appreciation of God.

As a father, I may answer any challenge from my son with the proverbial “because I told you so.” In doing so, I don’t offer an actual reason. I merely assert my authority. While that authority proves legitimate, my ultimate desire for my son is that he one day understand why my instruction and rules serve his interest.

Similarly, the appeal to God as a moral authority may prove correct, but says nothing of why his prescriptions are good for us. A consideration of objective morality works to bridge that gap.

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Contemporary Feminism’s War Against Women in the Name of Radical Islam

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Owen Jones opines in the UK Guardian that women are “taken less seriously than men” and, as a result, the “pandemic of violence against women will continue.” Coming on the heels of the famed Arquette faux pas at the Oscars, his essay easily reads as more of the same old “War on Women” schtick, and to a great extent it is. However, his opening argument is worth noting for what it does say and for what Jones does not. Somehow, like most contemporary feminists with a platform, he manages to acknowledge the grotesque abuses of women living in Islamic cultures while completely refusing to point out that radicalized Islam is the number one serious threat to women across the globe.

Jones begins by recounting the story of Özgecan Aslan a 20-year-old Turkish college student who was tortured, raped and murdered, her body then burned as evidence, by a bus driver.

Across Twitter, Turkish women have responded by sharing their experiences of harassment, objectification and abuse. But something else happened: men took to the streets wearing miniskirts, protesting at male violence against women and at those who excuse it or play it down. Before assessing how men can best speak out in support of women, it’s worth looking at the scale of gender oppression. The statistics reveal what looks like a campaign of terror. According to the World Health Organisation, over a third of women globally have suffered violence from a partner or sexual violence from another man. The UN estimates that about 133 million girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation, and believes that nearly all of the 4.5 million people “forced into sexual exploitation” are girls and women.

He stops there, short of pointing out that the WHO statistics cited clearly show that the greatest threat of violence against women exists in primarily Islamic countries. While he mentions female genital mutilation, he again neglects to tie in the fact that FGM is most commonly practiced in Muslim countries and among extremist Islamic cultures.

Jones bases his argument in a story of a Muslim girl tortured and murdered by a man in a Muslim country that is growing more religious by the day, only to devolve into the same demeaning politically correct tropes of contemporary gender feminism. He finds it ironic that men dare to call themselves feminists and decides “…men will only stop killing, raping, injuring and oppressing women if they change.” Change what? Their gender? For Jones, as it is for so many other feminist activists, it is easier to just throw a blanket of blame onto men than to confront the source of evil that exacts a real “campaign of terror” against women: radical Islam.

What’s worse, Jones doesn’t hesitate to make his case for women all about gay men. In yet another ironic twist, after accusing men of co-opting the feminist movement for their own egotistical needs, he uses gender feminist theory to defend a tangent on gay rights:

And while men are not oppressed by men’s oppression of women, some are certainly damaged by it. Gay men are a striking example: we are deemed to be too much like women. But some straight men suffer because of an aggressive form of masculinity too. The boundaries of how a man is supposed to behave are aggressively policed by both sexism and its cousin, homophobia. Men who do not conform to this stereotype – by talking about their feelings, failing to objectify women, not punching other men enough – risk being abused as unmanly. “Stop being such a woman,” or “Stop being such a poof.” Not only does that leave many men struggling with mental distress, unable to talk about their feelings; it also is one major reason that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.

If gender stereotypes are a cause of male suicide, they only have gender feminists to blame. Wait – wasn’t this supposed to be an argument in favor of feminism and the female voice?

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Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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Even if we conclude that God exists, that does not mean He is worthy of worship. Different presentations of God offer conflicting moral prescriptions, many of which defy our objective sense of right and wrong. It’s easy to understand why critics of religion, like author Craig Biddle, deem faith illogical and even evil. Examples like Islam’s Sharia law speak for themselves.

But Biddle argues that any religious prescription ultimately proves counter-productive to human happiness. From his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It:

To the extent a person is religious, he believes that he has a duty to self-sacrificially serve God. This duty requires him to abandon his own selfish dreams. If he sticks to his faithful convictions and abandons his dreams, he cannot be happy, because his dreams go forever unrealized. Conversely, if he hypocritically abandons his convictions and pursues his dreams, he still cannot be happy, for he is filled with moral guilt and dread of divine retribution.

Biddle offers the hypothetical example of a young girl who desires to be an accomplished ballerina, but feels compelled to serve God by becoming a nun or missionary. We might likewise consider the tithe. What could you do with the money contributed to your church? Aren’t you sacrificing whatever you could do – whatever debt you could pay, whatever provision you could acquire, whatever dream you could chase – by giving up a portion of your income to religion?

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3.5 Million People Seek Kosher Foods in the U.S. and Not All of Them Are Jewish

Saturday, February 21st, 2015 - by Arlene Becker Zarmi

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Being kosher is an important part of the Jewish religion.

The rules of kashrut (pertaining to kosher, being fit or proper) appear in the Old Testament in both Leviticus and Numbers. Jewish people were told they should eat only animals that chew their cud and have hooves — like cows — and fish with scales and fins. Thus pigs and crustaceans, among other creatures which don’t fit into these categories, were forbidden to the Jewish people as food. Bugs were also forbidden (with the exception of two species of kosher locusts, designated by name).

There are many ramifications aside from these basic prohibitions, including the method of slaughter of any of the above-listed animals, and there are a number of organizations with individuals who go into food-processing plants, slaughterhouses, and meat-packing plants to ensure that all kosher tenets are met.

The largest of these kosher-certifying organizations in the world is the Orthodox Union.

Many products carry the OU symbol, thus certifying the products as being kosher.

According to Rabbi Dovid Jenkins, the rabbinical coordinator of the Orthodox Union, there are 3.5 million residents of this country who choose to purchase kosher products and many, he said, aren’t Jewish. The OU kosher supervisors travel all over the world to certify products that will be imported and sold in the U.S. Jenkins said that the OU has even gotten a request from Pakistan to certify their products. However, it was deemed too dangerous to send a kosher supervisor to that country.

Next: 12 Fascinating facts about a kosher diet

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Pastor to Oprah: Christianity ‘Moments Away’ from Embracing Gay Marriage

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Immutability stands as a defining characteristic of divine nature. A god who changes cannot be God. At least that’s been a long-standing Christian doctrine.

But at least one best-selling author and pastor believes that Christianity itself must change. The Blaze reports:

Former megachurch pastor Rob Bell told TV host Oprah Winfrey that he believes Christian churches will become even more irrelevant if they fail to embrace gay relationships and that he sees the Christian umbrella becoming more favorable of homosexuality in the very near future.

When Winfrey asked when the church will come on board with same-sex relationships, Bell, the former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, said that he believes that the time is “close” and that “we’re just moments away from the church accepting it,” according to the Christian Post.

“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone,” Bell said on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday.”

Two things stand out from these comments. First, Bell proceeds on the unspoken premise that cultural relevance ought to be a Christian value. Of course, if Christians want to be relevant to the culture, they should just renounce Christianity. Scripture is replete with exhortations for the believer to stand apart from the culture, to be distinct in both attitude and conduct. You’d be hard pressed to find a passage in the Bible urging Christians to be “relevant” to the world around them.

Which leads to the second standout from Bell’s comments: his cavalier dismissal of scripture. Who needs 2,000 year old letters to guide their theology? That’s so yesterday. One wonders why anyone would bother to consider themselves Christian at all if they hold so little regard for biblical authority.

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Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

We want to live forever. We seek immortality through a variety of means, living vicariously through our children, leaving a legacy in our community, and embracing the claims of religion.

But what if we could actually live indefinitely here on Earth? What if we could elect to live for centuries or even millennia? Would we want to?

Zoltan Istvan thinks so. Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviews the author of The Transhumanist Wager in the video above. They come to an interesting aside when Weissmueller inquires about cultural resistance to the idea of technological immortality. Aren’t some people actually revolted by the idea? Istvan answers:

America and many places around the world are quite religious, especially America…a poll said 83% are still declaring themselves Christian. That makes it hard to want to take death out of the equation, because a natural part of the Christian ideology is to die and to eventually reach an afterlife with God…

While Istvan may anticipate the reaction of some, the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily preclude an embrace of transhumanist technology. It depends on the particular nature of the tech. There’s nothing in mainstream Christian doctrine which would forbid something like artificial organs, for instance. And if replacing organs could extend life by decades or more, why not?

… it’s not as though wanting to live indefinitely is something that’s going to intrude and conflict with one’s religion. It’s just something that’s kind of the evolving nature of the species. And if you can get people to think like that, and not see it in conflict with their own ideologies, then I think they’re going to be more on board with saying, “Yeah, it’s good to live 150, 200 years.” And again, I’m not saying let’s live forever. I don’t think any transhumanists are saying that. I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years. That might only be 170 years.

The line might be drawn at technology which changes one’s nature to something non-human. When we look at something like uploading one’s consciousness to a computer, the question must be asked: would you still be “you?” Or would you be essentially committing suicide?

The notion of living indefinitely, unto itself, should actually appeal to the Christian. After all, everlasting life is the promise of Christian salvation, and lifespans greatly surpassing those common today are recorded throughout scripture. Adam lived to 930. Noah made it to 950. Enoch was “taken” before his time at the tender young age of 365. For the believer who takes scripture literally, the notion of living for centuries has precedence.

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Jews, Whiteness & the Idiocy of Racial Identity

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Finally, they’re Jew-ing up Downton Abbey. Rose, the troublesome teen who nearly ran away with a black American jazz singer last season, is now falling for Ephraim Atticus Aldridge whose family escaped Russian pogroms. What makes this love affair more acceptable to the Granthams, whose own matriarch comes from Jewish blood? Well, the money and the title help, but the reality is that Atticus is white. Tom the socialist chauffeur worked his way into the heart of the family sans money and title, but could a darker-skinned outcast have done the same? Not in an England where appearances were everything and eugenic theory was at an all-time high. Russian royalty ex-pats won’t accept Atticus as anything but a “Jew” and the jury is still out when it comes to the Crawley clan. Perhaps because, even in today’s England, just because Ashkenazim (European Jews) know how to play the game doesn’t mean they always win.

When I joined the Hillel as a grad student in Texas I was excited to finally not hear the one comment that had plagued me throughout many of my Jewish encounters growing up: “You don’t look Jewish.” Each time I heard the seemingly benign statement from some gorgeous, dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned individual with obvious Ashkenazi roots and a tinge of a New York accent I thought, “Weren’t you in history class when we talked about the Holocaust and the dangers of so-called racial identity?” Our problem with race extends beyond America’s borders. While Israel is the proof that being Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with how you look, Israelis still struggle with “whiteness” and race. The idol of race is a dangerous fence that has to be hacked down if we’re ever to survive as a people.

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