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It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, Kenya, LGBT, Nigeria, Religion, Right Wing, Zimbabwe.
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For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation all over Africa.

As their influence has waned at home, antigay evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa. (Photo: Travis Lupick / Flickr)

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians.

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community.

The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights, but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the anti-gay law, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”

MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Anti-gay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread anti-gay sentiment.

One such group is Family Watch International (FWI), another U.S.-based “pro-family” advocacy group. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ persons are imaginary.

FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the two-day event, FWI coached 26 UN staffers from 23 different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.

To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.

A Secular Humanist Jew’s Thoughts on Yom Kippur: On Atheism and Theism, and on Religion and Organized Religion October 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: Here is a thoughtful article on Judaism and organized religion in general.  We live in an age of superstition and no-nothingism, and this is most frightening.  Fanatic  fundamentalist anti-intellectual and arrogant theism has reached to the highest levels of power and authority in the U.S. Republican Party, and in India and much of the Islamic world Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism also has become ubiquitous in places of great political, social, cultural and economic power.  Overcoming this institutionalized irrationality with Fascistic overtones is one of the great challenges of our time.

 

By (about the author)

OpEdNews Op Eds 10/14/2013 at 16:13:26

Being some reflections on the Jewish High Holy Day and its meaning that I wrote down after attending the Kol Nidre service at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London this past month.  The lead sermon was given by the congregation’s retired Chief Rabbi, David Goldberg.  Two years ago I heard him give a sermon at Kol Nidre service which he began with his modification of a famous quote taken from the English historian A.J. Toynbee: “I don’t believe in God; but I miss him.”

For Secular Humanist Jews like myself Yom Kippur is not a day of atonement, as it is for theist Jews.  We may well have done wrong things in the past year, but we do not regard them as “sins.” “Sin” is a religious concept requiring the existence of an unknown, unknowable, and unprovable, yet somehow all-powerful super-natural being which at some level has control over our lives or parts of them.   For us, Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar, is a day of renewal and rededication. We reflect, we restore, we renew — we look ahead, not behind.

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/11278061@N05/7925325910/: Humanists Celebrate Reality, without prejudice (except when told what religious views to hold, by law)
Humanists Celebrate Reality, without prejudice (except when told what religious views to hold, by law) by Napolean_70

Before getting on to what I resolved to renew my efforts in dealing with, let me say that as a humanist, an atheist, for my whole life, I am used to be looked down upon (or worse) by theists.   Imagine my surprise, then, when I read of what the new Pope, Francis, had to say about atheists, of which I am surely one, in a lengthy response to a journalist’s questions (click here): ” “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying — and this is the fundamental thing — that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.   Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience [emphasis added].”

Even in a column like this one, I have to say “Wow, that is quite a statement,” especially coming from the Pope.   (One can hardly imagine it coming from any of the lay or clerical leaders of the Republican Religious Right in the United States.)   It did make me return to consider a line of reasoning about religious persons, as contrasted with organized religion, that I have held for quite some time.   The Pope made it clear that he does not have a problem with atheists, per se.    And so, I would like to make it clear that I do not have a problem with theists, per se.   Yes, I do understand and agree with all of the arguments against the existence of an unknown, unknowable and unprovable “God” or “Gods” (think Hinduism, of which there are about 1 billion adherents).   But I do think that it is a waste of time to argue against the concept, and worse to make fun of it, that majority of the world’s population who are theists of one sort or another hold to.

The problem, for atheists/humanists and, at many times in history theists of one sort confronting theists of another sort as well, is Organized Religion, like the Catholic Church, like the Republican Religious Right (political by definition), like political Islam, like indeed political Orthodox Judaism in modern Israel.   Our argument is not, or should not be, with belief and the believers.  The struggle of humanists and believers alike who are devoted to the fundamental interests of humanity must be focused not on each other but on our common enemy: those who use religion to advance their own political and economic interests to arrogate to themselves and their patrons resources and the product of economic activity that neither benefit humanity as a whole nor have anything to do with religion, those otherwise known variously as “corporatism,” the “global economy [privately held],” and capitalism.

Further, it must be understood by all that over the centuries of human civilization, more of our brethren have been killed in religious wars, or wars waged for “religious” reasons, or in wars in which organized religions have been an ally of one or more of the warring states, than for all of the other causes put together.   In the Second World War, hardly a religious war in the sense that the crusades or Catholic/Protestant wars of 16th and 17th century Europe were, nevertheless, on the belt buckle of every German Wehrmacht soldier was the slogan (originated by the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s) “Gott mit Uns.” The traditional Japanese religion of ancestor worship, Shinto, was mobilized by the fascist leadership to help them mobilize the whole population behind the war effort.   The Catholic Church was closely allied with both Benito Mussolini’s (Italian) and Francisco Franco’s (Spanish) fascist states.   In the United States, it was not like that, but there were the frequent imprecations to God for support in battle and even a popular song that I remember well from my youth during that conflict: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”

Presently, The US Republican Party runs in major part on the issues that are central to the Fundamentalist Christians and Jews who are central to the Republican base: homophobia, religious determinism in policy governing the outcome of pregnancy, the introduction of organized religious activity into the public schools, and in general the steady erosion of the Constitutional boundaries separating church and state.   In political Islam, “Islamism” is very clear that its goal is to take full political power so that it may rule under the provisions of “Sharia Law.”   (Funnily enough, many of the provisions of Sharia Law, against which the Islamophobes of the Republican Religious Right just love to rail, are strikingly similar to the law that the latter would like to impose across the United States.   The central feature of both is that “religious law” [as they interpret it of course] should stand above any civil constitution.   Don’t believe me?   Just ask Rick Santorum, the Dominionist Mike Huckabee, Antonin Scalia, and etc.)   For many Israelis on the Right, the whole policy that has been followed by their Right-wing governments over the years, the gradual erosion and (the hoped for) eventual expulsion (voluntary or involuntary) of the Arab population in the Occupied Territories is based on the Biblical concept of the “Land of Israel.”

Through my writing I have been fighting the forces of the Republican Religious Right for some years.   The original of my current book The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel ( http://www.puntopress.com/jonas-the-15-solution-hits-main-distribution/ ) was published in 1996.   And so, what is my renewal for this, the Jewish New Year?   To rededicate myself to that struggle, but to feature the line of reasoning that I have outlined above.   Our struggle is not with religion, per se, nor with its adherents, as individuals.   Our struggle is most correctly with Organized Religion and how it is used to further the interests of Reaction by every government around the world that does use it in one way or another, which in modern times means capitalism and all of its present and future negative outcomes for all of mankind, whether theist or humanist.   That is our challenge, and for the preservation of our species and indeed many others, that is the challenge we have to meet.

 

 

http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/

 

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS, is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books on health policy, health and wellness, and sports and regular exercise. In (more…)

Christian Zionism: The Heresy that Undermines Middle East Peace August 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Right Wing.
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Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

By Rev Dr Stephen Sizer

At least one in four American Christians surveyed recently by Christianity Today magazine said that they believe it is their biblical responsibility to support the nation of Israel. This view is known as Christian Zionism. The Pew Research Center put the figure at 63 per cent among white evangelicals. Christian Zionism is pervasive within mainline American evangelical, charismatic and independent denominations including the Assemblies of God, Pentecostals and Southern Baptists, as well as many of the independent mega-churches. It is less prevalent within the historic denominations, which show a greater respect for the work of the United Nations, support for human rights, the rule of international law and empathy with the Palestinians.The origins of the movement can be traced to the early 19th century when a group of eccentric British Christian leaders began to lobby for Jewish restoration to Palestine as a necessary precondition for the return of Christ. The movement gained traction from the middle of the 19th century when Palestine became strategic to British, French and German colonial interests in the Middle East. Proto-Christian Zionism therefore preceded Jewish Zionism by more than 50 years. Some of Theodore Herzl’s strongest advocates were Christian clergy.

Christian Zionism as a modern theological and political movement embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism. It has become deeply detrimental to a just peace between Palestine and Israel. It propagates a worldview in which the Christian message is reduced to an ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

Followers of Christian Zionism are convinced that the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the capture of Jerusalem in 1967 were the miraculous fulfillment of God’s promises made to Abraham that he would establish Israel as a Jewish nation forever in Palestine.

Tim LaHaye’s infamous Left Behind novels, together with other End Times speculations written by authors such as Hal Lindsey, John Hagee and Pat Robertson, have sold well over 100 million copies. These are supplemented by children’s books, videos and event violent computer games.

Burgeoning Christian Zionist organizations such as the International Christian Embassy (ICEJ), Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI) wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill, claiming a support base in excess of 50 million true believers. This means there are now at least ten times as many Christian Zionists as Jewish Zionists. And their European cousins are no less active in the Zionist Hasbarafia, lobbying for Israel, attacking its critics and thwarting the peace process. The United States and Israel are often portrayed as Siamese twins, joined at the heart, sharing common historic, religious and political values.

Pastor John Hagee is one of the leaders of the Christian Zionist movement. He is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, a 19,000-member evangelical church in San Antonio, Texas. His weekly programmes are broadcast on 160 TV stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks into an estimated 99 million homes in 200 countries. In 2006 he founded Christians United for Israel admitting,

“For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits ‘I believe the Bible,’ I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.”

In March 2007, Hagee spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began by saying:

“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…”

As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, his speech did not lack clarity. He went on to warn:

“It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.”

Christian Zionists have shown varying degrees of enthusiasm for implementing six basic political convictions that arise from their ultra-literal and fundamentalist theology:

  1. The belief that the Jews remain God’s chosen people leads Christian Zionists to seek to bless Israel in material ways. However, this also invariably results in the uncritical endorsement of and justification for Israel’s racist and apartheid policies, in the media, among politicians and through solidarity tours to Israel.

  2. As God’s chosen people, the final restoration of the Jews to Israel is therefore actively encouraged, funded and facilitated through partnerships with the Jewish Agency.

  3. Eretz Israel, as delineated in scripture, from the Nile to the Euphrates, belongs exclusively to the Jewish people, therefore the land must be annexed, Palestinians driven from their homes and the illegal Jewish settlements expanded and consolidated.

  4. Jerusalem is regarded as the eternal and exclusive capital of the Jews, and cannot be shared with the Palestinians. Therefore, strategically, Christian Zionists have lobbied the US Administration to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem and thereby ensure that Jerusalem is recognised as the capital of Israel.

  5. Christian Zionists offer varying degrees of support for organisations such as the Jewish Temple Mount Faithful who are committed to destroying the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Jewish Temple on the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble sanctuary of Al-Aqsa).

  6. Christian Zionists invariably have a pessimistic view of the future, convinced that there will be an apocalyptic war of Armageddon in the imminent future. They are deeply sceptical of the possibility of a lasting peace between Jews and Arabs and therefore oppose the peace process. Indeed, to advocate an Israeli compromise of “land for peace” with the Palestinians is seen as a rejection of God’s promises to Israel and therefore to support her enemies.

Within the Christian Zionist worldview, Palestinians are regarded as alien residents in Israel. Many Christian Zionists are reluctant even to acknowledge Palestinians exist as a distinct people, claiming that they emigrated to Israel from surrounding Arab nations for economic reasons after Israel had become prosperous. A fear and deep-seated hatred of Islam also pervades their dualistic Manichean theology. Christian Zionists have little or no interest in the existence of indigenous Arab Christians despite their continuity with the early church.

In 2006, I drafted what became known as the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism signed by four of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem: His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch, Jerusalem; Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem; Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East; and Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. In it they insisted:

“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of world.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state and peace and security in the entire region.”

The patriarchs concluded:

“God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.” The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

It is my contention after more than 10 years of postgraduate research that Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

The closing chapter of the New Testament takes us back to the imagery of the Garden of Eden and the removal of the curse arising from the Fall: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb… On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) Surely this is what Jesus had in mind when he instructed his followers to act as Ambassadors of peace and reconciliation, to work and pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.

The Revd Dr Stephen Sizer is the Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water and the author of Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (InterVarsity Press, 2004); Zion’s Christian Soldiers? (2007) and In the Footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles (Eagle, 2004). For more information see www.stephensizer.com

Source: Middle East Monitor

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Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches April 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Housing/Homelessness, Religion, Toronto.
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Ontario sculptor struggled to find a home for his haunting sculpture of Jesus sleeping on a bench.

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench.

It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.

Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

“Homeless Jesus had no home,” says the artist, Timothy Schmalz, who specializes in religious sculpture. “How ironic.”

Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece and showed Schmalz possible locations, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, he says.

“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”

The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”

Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.

Bill Steinburg, communications manager for the Toronto archdiocese, says the decision not to accept the sculpture at St. Michael’s may have had to do with renovations at the cathedral and “partly to do with someone’s view of the art.”

To some who have seen it, it speaks the message of the Gospels. When theologian Thomas Reynolds came upon it he felt “the shock of recognition.” He quoted the biblical passage: “ … the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“I’m so used to seeing images of Jesus that are palatable,” says Reynolds.

But recent depictions of Jesus in political and social contexts have spurred controversy.

At Emmanuel College, the educational arm of the United Church where Reynolds teaches, there is a graceful sculpture showing Jesus’ suffering in a crucified woman. Schmaltz says he intended that his Jesus the Homeless can be interpreted as either male or female.

At Regis College, there is a small crucifix of Jesus as a landmine victim, missing a leg; another at the college shows Jesus as an Aztec.

A sculpture in a church in Uckfield, England, shows a euphoric Jesus wearing jeans and a collared shirt.

In 2011, British sculptor David Mach, created an agonized, shouting Jesus out of 3,000 straightened coat hangers that emerge like barbs from the body.

Jesus the Homeless is provocative, says Reynolds, because it ‘punctures the illusion of normalcy.

“In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.”

Schmalz, 43, roots the sculpture in his experiences in Toronto, where he trained at the former Ontario College of Art. “I was totally used to stepping over people. You’re not aware they are human beings. They become obstacles in the urban environment and you lose a spiritual connection to them. They become inert, an inconvenience.”

He now lives with his wife and family in St. Jacobs, Ont. When he returns to Toronto, he sees the city differently.

“A lot of people who don’t live in Toronto or a big urban place are shocked to see human forms under blanket on too many street corners.”

The Regis sculpture shows Jesus as a wanderer who depended on the hospitality of others, says Reynolds. “The counternarrative in Christianity is Jesus the outsider.”

Not all embrace this interpretation, as Bryan Stallings and his wife Amy discovered. They run a mission in Branson, Mo., called Jesus Was Homeless, where they serve about 1,000 people a week, many of whom live in the woods and extended-stay motels. They’ve been criticized for the mission’s name.

“People who have issue with it are usually the staunch religious people,” says Stallings, “especially those who follow prosperity teaching and doctrine that says if you are homeless or poor you don’t have enough faith.”

Critics tell him that Jesus wasn’t homeless. “Then we reference Scripture and it sparks tons of conversation.”

The Toronto sculpture, funded by Kitchener real estate developer Peter Benninger, is situated near the front entrance to Regis College. “It’s one of the most inviting and authentic representations of Jesus,” says Rev. Gordon Rixon, dean of the college. “There’s the suggestion there is the king and he is answering our culture with his poverty, vulnerability and weakness.”

Though the slender figure occupies most of the two-metre bench, Schmalz purposely left space at the end for someone to sit close to the slumbering figure, “as uncomfortably as possible.”

Regis College is holding a panel discussion on homelessness in Toronto on Wednesday. For more information email: inquiries@RegisCollege.ca

Creation Science vs. Evolution February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Science and Technology.
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image001

Should Taxpayers Be Funding Private Schools That Teach Creationism? February 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
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Roger’s note: What is at issue here is not only the question of publicly funding the idiotic notion of creationism, but the very substance of public education.  Public education (advocated by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto) is a sine qua non of democracy.  The massive effort by the extreme right to privatize public education, aided and abetted by Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is aimed at replacing what is left of democracy in the United States with theocratic tinged militarized corporatism.

John Scalzi (CC BY 2.0)
Part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

By Zack Kopplin

According to so-called education reform advocates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, school vouchers, which allow parents to direct state money to private schools of their choice, are essential because “families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.” From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to Newark, N.J.’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, these programs are backed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they enjoy the support of powerful interest groups such as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children.

Voucher programs have been established in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and they are spreading as Texas and Tennessee attempt to create ones of their own. As the use of vouchers has expanded across the country in recent years, new questions have arisen that extend beyond concerns about their appropriateness and legality. We’ve pushed standards, testing and accountability for public schools, so why shouldn’t private institutions receiving vouchers have to meet those same requirements? Should private institutions be allowed to ignore state science standards and teach their students creationism while receiving taxpayer money? Does learning about biblical creation, rather than evolution, really help to meet students’ needs?

I first investigated the relationship between creationism and voucher programs after reading an AlterNet article in June about Eternity Christian Academy in Louisiana. Now removed from the state’s voucher program, the school was using the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum to teach students that the mythical Loch Ness Monster existed and somehow disproved evolution. As I looked further into Louisiana’s program, I found that there wasn’t just one school but at least 20 private ones getting vouchers and thus receiving millions of taxpayer dollars. After reviewing my research, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill wrote that “vouchers have turned out to be the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”

This isn’t just a Louisiana problem. It seems clear that the U.S. is facing a national creationism epidemic. In an exposé I wrote posted by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, I identified hundreds of additional voucher schools in nine states and the District of Columbia using dozens of different creationist curriculums. These schools are receiving tens of millions of dollars, and maybe even hundreds of millions, to teach religious beliefs in violation of state science standards. With 164 such campuses, Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program contained the highest concentration of creationist voucher schools I was able to uncover. Indiana, which has been marketed as the “gold standard” for voucher accountability, has at least 37 such schools teaching creationism. A couple of its campuses proudly advertise that their students are taken to the Creation Museum on field trips. So far, I’ve discovered 311 creationist voucher schools across the country.

Those 311 schools are not the only taxpayer funded institutions teaching creationism. There are likely hundreds more. Although many are difficult to find, either because they don’t have websites or don’t advertise their creationist curriculum, lots of voucher schools fit the profile of creationist campuses that are already known. On top of this, two states, Arizona and Mississippi, have voucher programs but don’t release the names of participating schools. Officials with the Arizona Department of Education confirmed to me that every private school in the state is eligible to participate in the program, and since I’ve identified private creationist schools there that could be involved, there is little doubt that Arizona is funding some of them. I believe it’s a safe bet that every school voucher program in the country is financing creationism.

These campuses would be shut if they were subject to the same standards as public institutions. The courts have shot down the teaching of creationism and intelligent design with public money over and over again, so why are we letting taxpayer funded private voucher schools teach them? The scientists and educators who devised both state science standards and the national common core standards knew creationism was pseudo-science that would not help American students get the education they need to succeed in a global, 21st century economy. That’s why we don’t teach creationism in public schools. Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard-earned dollars are enabling the mis-education of private school students.

Aside from not meeting these basic academic standards, many voucher schools suffer from other significant problems. Louisiana bloggers have exposed profiteering prophets who sought to capitalize on taxpayer funding for private schools. The Miami New Times reports that voucher schools in Florida are being run by administrators who “include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.” A school in Louisiana’s program was slated to receive millions of dollars from vouchers but lacked the facilities needed to house new students.

Proponents of vouchers argue that diverting money from public to private schools will help students learn by increasing inter-campus competition. But when voucher programs contain institutions that teach creationism instead of science, it’s easy to see that damage is being done to students whose futures are jeopardized by poor education.

Although a judge recently ruled that the way Louisiana funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional, it continues to operate as the state appeals the decision. Similarly, the voucher program in Colorado has been halted by a court injunction. But given the aggressive activity of taxpayer funded voucher programs across the country, we need to fight to make sure that no additional ones are created. And we need to stop politicians in states such as Indiana and Wisconsin from following through on plans to expand already existing programs. Today’s students and our nation’s future demand it.

Zack Kopplin is a science education advocate and winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Education and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin Award.

A Fetus Is Not a Person if it Costs us Money, Says Catholic Church January 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Religion, Women.
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Daily Kos / By Kaili Joy Gray

Forced to put its money where its mouth is, the Catholic Church backs off on the idea that the fetus is a person.
January 24, 2013  |

You know how the Catholic Church is always going on and on … and  on and freakin’  on … about the sanctity of life and also a bunch of vague concepts about liberty ‘n stuff? We can’t have abortion because every sperm is sacred. We can’t have insurance coverage for women’s health care because  something about Taco Bell and freedom. We can’t even  fund cancer screening because apparently Jesus was cool with women dying of undetected breast cancer.

And all of this—all of it—goes back to the Church’s insistence that life begins with your very first hell-worthy dirty thought and must be protected at all costs, despite all consequences, including, of course, the consequence of dead women, whose lives are not nearly as valuable as the “life” of an unborn fetus. In just the past year, the Church has called upon its faithful followers to march, to starve themselves, to go to jail, to even take up arms—all to protect those fetuses. No exceptions. None. Not if the fetus is already dead inside the womb. Not if the fetus is going to kill the actual living woman carrying it. No goddamned exceptions EVER.

Well, except for one: when it’s going to cost the Church money.

Turns out, when a man sues a Catholic hospital for malpractice because his wife and the twins she was carrying inside her died when she turned up in the emergency room and her doctor never bothered to answer a page—well, things get a little tricky. Yes, the Catholic hospital adheres to the strict Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church, as set forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And yes, those directives include the claim that “[t]he Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn” and a mandate to uphold “the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death.’” But come  on. That obviously does not apply when Catholic Health Initiatives, the Church-affiliated organization that runs the Church-affiliated St. Thomas More Hospital where a young woman and her two unborn fetuses died, is the lead defendant in a lawsuit:

Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that  those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

Thank you, counselor, for totally undermining everything the Catholic Church has ever said about women and health care and fetuses and the “sanctity of life,” just to save a buck, thereby confirming how very empty and meaningless all that rhetoric really is. Praise the Lord.

We Stand with Father Roy! November 22, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Religion.
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Roger’s note: Father Roy Bourgeois is the founder of SOA Watch, an organization that shines the light on US government support of brutal military repression in most Latin American countries.  It is no surprise that a man who has spent his life dedicated to the struggle for social, political and economic justice in Latin America is also a champion for the rights of women.  Although I have absolutely no respect for the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, I have nothing but praise for the likes of Father Roy and his Maryknoll brothers and sisters who have literally put their lives on the line in Central America.  Unfortunately, it is not surprise either that the RC Church, especially under the previous and current Pope,  is unable to tolerate voices for freedom and equality within its fold.

 

 
With great sadness we letting you know that the Vatican has dismissed Father Roy Bourgeois from the priesthood and from his religious order, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, because of his stands for gender equality in the Catholic Church. Father Roy has served with great courage and commitment for 45 years. He has dedicated his life to serving the poor and oppressed, those whose human rights have been violated by dictators, assassins, torturers, bullies, and racists.

 
Father Roy has lived this mission throughout his life by engaging a deep commitment to solidarity in the pursuit of justice. He has explored the boundaries of solidarity with Latin America, pushing himself and the movement into deeper relationships with those most impacted by U.S. foreign policy. He has spent four years in prison for nonviolent protests against the SOA. While defending human rights in Bolivia he was beaten, and in El Salvador he was detained, barely escaping with his life. But he continued.

 
Later his conscience called him to defend the right of women to participate fully in the Catholic Church, to follow their call to become priests. The Vatican demanded that he recant, but as he said, how can I deny what I believe to be true? I must follow my conscience. And he continued.
Over the decades Father Roy has been consistent in following one single path— that of defending the rights of others, even when this placed his own life and well-being in jeopardy. He has never strayed from this path.

 
Father Roy sees solidarity as a foundation to creating change but also fundamental to being human. The ability to empathize and take seriously the struggles of others is not just an organizing tactic. It is what allows us to be a presence of radical love, struggling to transform a world fraught with injustice. It is no surprise to the SOA Watch community that his commitment to solidarity would also extend to include the concerns of his Church and that Father Roy would feel compelled to act.

 
We support and honor Roy’s decision to follow his conscience. As a movement based in civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance for over 20 years we understand the role of discernment and conscience as sacred. We support the right of individuals to choose to speak truth to power and we stand by them when power chooses to punish rather than listen. As a community committed to justice we support the struggles of people everywhere to change oppressive systems and challenge inequities.

 
To learn more about his journey, please read his statement below and click on the link to his bookletFrom Silence to Solidarity
Please stand with Father Roy at this moment just as he has bravely stood with us and people throughout the Americas and the Caribbean for four decades.

 

To show your support for Father Roy click here to say I stand with Father Roy.

 


November 20, 2012
STATEMENT BY FATHER ROY BOURGEOIS ABOUT HIS DISMISSAL FROM MARYKNOLL

 
I have been a Catholic priest in the Maryknoll community for 40 years. As a young man I joined Maryknoll because of its work for justice and equality in the world. To be expelled from Maryknoll and the priesthood for believing that women are also called to be priests is very difficult and painful.

 
The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church. The demand for gender equality is rooted in justice and dignity and will not go away.

 
As Catholics, we profess that God created men and women of equal worth and dignity. As priests, we profess that the call to the priesthood comes from God, only God. Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not? The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, our Church and our loving God who calls both men and women to be priests.

 
When there is an injustice, silence is the voice of complicity. My conscience compelled me to break my silence and address the sin of sexism in my Church. My only regret is that it took me so long to confront the issue of male power and domination in the Catholic Church.

 
I have explained my position on the ordination of women, and how I came to it, in my booklet, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity. Please go to: www.roybourgeoisjourney.org.

 
In Solidarity,

U.S. election: Charles Darwin gets 4,000 write-in votes in Georgia November 9, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Science and Technology.
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David Beasley
Reuters

ATLANTA- A Georgia congressman who attacked the theory of evolution found himself with an unlikely opponent in Tuesday’s U.S. election, when 4,000 voters in one county cast write-in ballots for the 19th century father of evolution, British naturalist Charles Darwin.

In a Sept. 27 speech, Paul Broun, a physician and member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee, called evolution and the Big Bang Theory, “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

Since Broun, a Republican, had no opposition in the general election, a University of Georgia plant biology professor, Jim Leebens-Mack, and others started a write-in campaign for Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution.

“We don’t feel our interests are being best served by an anti-science fundamentalist representing us on the Science, Space and Technology Committee,” Leebens-Mack told Reuters on Friday.

The write-in votes in Athens-Clarke County will not count officially since Darwin was never certified as a write-in candidate, but Leebens-Mack hopes the campaign will encourage a strong candidate, Democrat or Republican, to challenge Broun in 2014.

“I think there could be Democratic opposition, but even more likely is having a rational Republican who understands issues like global warming, scientific reasoning more generally,” said Leebens-Mack.

Broun received 16,980 votes in Athens-Clarke County, home of the University of Georgia, Broun’s undergraduate alma mater.

Broun’s office issued a statement on Friday that did not directly address Darwin, saying that the congressman “looks forward to representing the … constitutional conservative principles” of his constituents.

The statement also noted that Broun “received a higher level of support from his constituents in Athens-Clarke County this election cycle than in any of his previous campaigns.”

How Mormon Doctrine Shapes Romney’s World View November 4, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Mitt Romney, Racism, Religion, Women.
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Roger’s note: I have studiously avoided posting articles about the current presidential election becuase both candidates leave much to be desired, and one gets tired of advocating for the lesser of evils.  I will make this once exception at the last minute.

By Kirk Robinson

November 03, 2012 “Information Clearing House” – As Mormon missionaries in the 1960s, Mitt Romney and I were required to present six “discussions” to “investigators” before baptizing them – he in France and I in northern California. Central to those discussions was the “Plan of Salvation” (POS); and central to it, the “Doctrine of Eternal Progression.” These doctrines are also the essence of the Mormon temple “endowment ceremony” in which covenants of allegiance to God and the Church are made, accompanied by oaths of secrecy.

The doctrines are unique to Mormonism and absolutely central to it. There is no way that Mitt Romney’s view of the world cannot have been shaped by them, especially given the rather cloistered life he has lived. Together with passages of Mormon scripture, they imply several disturbingly retrograde political views that define the Republican-Tea Party:

* Women are subordinate to men.

* People of color are, or were, morally underdeveloped compared to white people.

* Gays cannot become gods, i.e., will be damned.

* The correct political philosophy is libertarianism.

* The best form of government fosters free-market capitalism with minimal regulatory oversight of business and industry.

* Earth is only a temporary home to be used as a stepping stone, not necessarily to be preserved or conserved.

* War in the Middle East is inevitable as part of God’s plan for “the last days.”

* Lying for the cause of righteousness, such as winning the election, is morally acceptable.

The Plan of Salvation

This takes us back to before the creation of Earth, when we were spirit beings living in a “spirit world.” We were created out of “spirit matter” through a process of conception, gestation and birth involving a heavenly father (God) and mother. The firstborn spirit of our heavenly parents was Jesus, the second was Satan, and other notables included early Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. They were especially “righteous” beings who were “fore-ordained” to play important roles in the historical unfolding of Mormon eschatology.

God eventually decided there were enough spirit children and it was time to start sending them away to college (my metaphor). So He created Earth and its myriad creatures for the college campus and solicited plans for a curriculum, graduation requirements, and future career tracks. Jesus and Satan each submitted a plan.

Jesus’s Plan

According to Jesus’s plan, the spirits who would decide to go to Earth would receive a mortal body, suffer and die, then be resurrected in a perfect union of spirit and body that would never suffer or die. A “veil of ignorance” would be placed across their minds so that they would not remember their pre-existence, and God’s commandments would be revealed to them through prophets. Importantly, they would have “free agency” to choose to obey them or not and would be responsible for their choices and actions.

Eternal Progression

All spirits who agreed to go along with Jesus’s plan will eventually receive resurrection as a graduation diploma and will be exalted to a level of glory commensurate with their earthly grades. The most righteous ones will receive the highest degree of eternal glory: the Celestial Kingdom. Others will go to the Terrestrial (middle) Kingdom or to the Telestial (lower) Kingdom. Each of these kingdoms is better than mortal existence, which is better than the spirit pre-existence. The three estates and the three kingdoms of glory represent a continuum of moral and material progress: an increase in righteousness leads to an increase in mastery and dominion over creation.

Satan’s Plan

Satan had a different plan. He knew that many spirits would be unable to resist temptations. He empathized with them and thought a much more compassionate plan would be to “force” them to live God’s commandments, so they could go to the Celestial Kingdom. The catch here is that they would have to be deprived of their free agency through dictatorial force. And this would be very bad because then they would not earn, and would therefore not merit, their eternal rewards.

There was another important difference between the two plans. Jesus told God that even though he would suffer for the sins of the world, he would give all glory for the salvation of mankind to God; while Satan said that since he devised the plan and would be doing all the work to ensure salvation for mankind, he would accept the glory for himself – and he wouldn’t have to suffer for people’s sins either, because they wouldn’t be allowed to sin.

War in Heaven

A “Council in Heaven” was held in which Jesus and Satan each pitched his plan. God liked Jesus’s plan best and gave the spirits an ultimatum, which was essentially this: “Follow Jesus or follow Satan of your own free agency. But if you follow Satan, you will be barred from eternal progression.” This fomented a “War in Heaven” in which one third of the spirits took sides with Satan and rejected Jesus’s plan, apparently out of sheer orneriness for they had nothing to gain thereby; and so they, along with Satan, were banished from the divine presence for all eternity. The rest of us were eventually born into mortal bodies on Earth (with an untold number still waiting to be born), while Satan and his minions now occupy a kind of shadow Earth where they are constantly scheming and working to thwart Jesus’s plan.

The Status of Women

There was a rank order among all the spirits with respect to their degrees of righteousness. Jesus was the highest ranking spirit. Satan was second until his “fall.” The Biblical patriarchs and prophets were high achievers too, and so were “fore-ordained” to play a big role in the unfolding of the divine plan here on Earth. The rest of us were less stellar.

Because of the natural ranking of the spirits, there will be a roughly corresponding ranking among them as mortal beings too. Eternal progression can be compared to a foot race in which the starting points in the pre-existence were staggered according to the degrees of righteousness of the spirits, with the most righteous ones having a head start. Because of their superiority, they will tend to pull further ahead on Earth. The most righteous of all will naturally be great leaders and empire builders and the like. But for some inexplicable reason, the spiritual leaders will all be males. Women cannot hold the priesthood or become prophets in the Mormon Church, and they enjoy no ultimate decision-making authority. Their primary job is to serve men, which above all means homemaking, child bearing, and child rearing.

The Status of Blacks and American Indians

The more inferior spirits on Earth start at the back of the pack and tend to fall behind even while progressing. They are the descendants of Cain (Negroes) (here the race analogy tends to break down – pun intended) and the descendants of rebellious Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon (Native Americans). God “marked” or “cursed” them with a dark skin to distinguish them. But because they have their free agency, through extra diligence they might eventually overcome their poor starts to join God’s elite. A 1978 “revelation” to then-Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball allowed blacks to hold the Mormon priesthood for the first time, presumably because they had then progressed sufficiently. There was once a passage in the Book of Mormon (it has been excised) that said the descendants of Laman and Lemuel would one day become “white and delightsome.”

Polygamy and the Status of Gays

The people who earn the best grades on Earth will get the best jobs upon graduation from Earth. They will be the most god-like beings and accordingly will receive Celestial glory. They will become gods, endlessly creating and ruling over their own cosmic empires. Also, despite the Mormon Church’s official repudiation of polygamy, which was a precondition for Utah statehood, it is still generally accepted that achieving godhood will require the institution of polygamy in the Hereafter, with husbands being “sealed” to multiple wives. Needless to say, gay people won’t participate in this, so they can’t become gods; which is to say that they will be damned in the sense of not continuing to progress for eternity.

Cosmic Pyramid Schemes

It is a kind of axiom of Mormon doctrine that to be righteous is to follow “correct principles” that tend to produce successful and happy lives, conceived in both spiritual and material terms. Achieving godhood status is believed to be the highest possible source of happiness and joy. And presumably this grand POS will be repeated over and over for eternity, with new gods creating new worlds ad infinitum in a cosmic pyramid scheme. (This may go some distance in explaining why Utah is plagued to an unusual degree with earthly pyramid schemes in which trusting Mormons are bilked out of their life savings by trusted Mormons.)

The Status of Earth

From the point of view of the POS, Earth and its myriad creatures exist primarily for the benefit of mankind, and thereby to glorify God. They are like a pair of shoes: It is prudent to take good care of your shoes, but their primary purpose is to help you get where you want to go, in the course of which wear and tear will be unavoidable. So don’t worry too much about global climate change or species extinctions. Yikes!

Free Agency vs. Compassion, Brotherly Love, and Cooperation

The POS illustrates the relative importance of two Mormon moral ideals: free agency, which entails taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions; and compassion, brotherly love, and cooperation, which require helping those in need. Each is in its own way commendable, but combining them in a way that is responsive to real circumstances can be challenging: Concerning people ostensibly in need, when is compassion the right response and when is demanding that they take responsibility for themselves the right response?

Of the two, free agency is in an important way more fundamental than compassion, as shown by the fact that God preferred a plan that emphasized the one over the other. It is more important than doing good deeds because only good that is done freely merits moral approbation and reward. Free agency is therefore a necessary condition for individual moral progress – and ultimately also for material progress as represented by gods creating worlds and exercising dominion over them. So far, so good, but . . .

The Right Form of Government and Economic System

The POS pretty clearly supports a libertarian political philosophy, including free market capitalism with minimal regulatory oversight of business and industry. Anything less would necessitate a sacrifice of free agency.

In this connection, it is interesting that in the early days of Mormons in Utah, Brigham Young attempted to establish a very pure socialistic system, the “United Order,” that would have made Karl Marx envious. In doing so, he was clearly giving precedence to compassion, brotherly love, and cooperation over competition. Why? One can presumably imagine a morally perfect being, such as Jesus, who always chooses and does what is right without being forced to; and Brigham Young thought the Saints ought to give it a try. Unfortunately, the experiment failed. Too many of the Saints gave in to avarice when they saw a chance to make money selling stuff to overland travelers. And they weren’t anxious to share their lucre either.

The Best of  All Possible Worlds?

In Mormon terms, the best of all possible worlds will be one in which all people freely live God’s commandments. If compassion is called for, like the “good Samaritan” they will show compassion even at the expense of personal inconvenience. And they will share their talents and possessions freely to advance the greater good – as was supposed to happen with the United Order experiment. However, real people and the real world being what they are, an astonishing amount of human suffering goes unalleviated – suffering that might be prevented or relieved to a considerable extent through the institution of government programs designed to promote the general welfare, e.g., Social Security and universal health care. Yet paradoxically, given the ethical primacy of respect for free agency over the duty of compassion, from the point of view of the POS such a world must be reckoned morally inferior to one in which there is more human suffering, perhaps much more, but less state coercion. This fact doesn’t fit comfortably with Jesus’s message of love and compassion in the New Testament. Ouch!

Mormon Exceptionalism

A person who has been indoctrinated with Mormon dogma, especially if he is also a male born into a privileged social and economic position, is physically attractive, intelligent, and charismatic, might easily come to believe that he is one of the fore-ordained or “chosen ones” of God who will play a critical role in the events of the last days, including perhaps saving the United States Constitution when it is “hanging by a thread,” as predicted in the uncanonized “White Horse Prophecy” that was reputedly delivered by the Mormon Church’s founder Joseph Smith in 1843. It is known that Mitt Romney had such delusions of grandeur when he was younger. Does he still?

Sinning for the Lord

Because Mormon eschatology views human history, from the War in Heaven through Armageddon, as a continuing war between the two great forces of good and evil , sinning for the Lord” might at times be a moral necessity. Indeed, in the opening pages of the Book of Mormon, the most prominent hero of the book, a revered Mormon prophet named Nephi, murdered a man named Laban in order to steal a genealogical record of his people to take with his family to the Americas. This act was ethically justified as follows: “And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” (1 Nephi 4:12-13) (One can’t help but think of Romney’s shameless shape-shifting and etch-a-sketching.)

Armageddon

According to Mormon eschatology, we are now in the “last days” of our earthly estate, which explains the official name of the Mormon Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Surely Armageddon is not far off, when the forces of righteousness will permanently conquer and subdue the forces of evil. This will usher in a millennium of peace in which Jesus will return to Earth to rule, assisted by the most worthy of God’s children, a good many of whom will of course be Mormons. These elite will include men who are leaders of men and empire builders the likes of Mitt Romney. They will also be members of the “House of Israel,” which consists both of the descendants of the Biblical patriarch Jacob and people who are “adopted” into the House of Israel by being baptized Mormons. From the Mormon perspective, this implies a special affinity between Mormons and Jews that is reinforced by a common history of persecution. It’s an obvious step from this to the conclusion that ineluctable Armageddon will involve a war between the righteous nation of Israel and its supporters on the one side, and its enemies on the other. As things presently stand, we are talking here about a war to end all wars between Israel and Iran and their respective allies. Just what we don’t need!

Tipping point

Our nation has reached a point of extreme political and moral polarization, with the Republican-Tea Party on one side and the Democrat Party on the other, each vying for command of our future. One can say, accurately enough, that the one side fervently embraces the propositions listed at the beginning of this essay, while the other side vehemently rejects them. It is to be expected, therefore, that the views of the respective presidential nominees reflect this same stark opposition. While it is hardly likely that the upcoming election will resolve this clash of values for once and for all, all the indications are that it will mark a singular, momentous, and irreversible turning point in our nation’s history.

Kirk Robinson, Ph.D., is an attorney (and former Mormon, having left decisively over 40 years ago) living in Salt Lake City.

This article was originally posted at Counterpunch

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