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Blog Archive/April 2005

April 29, 2005

Gay Rally at Focus on the Family

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The flier I found online was promoting a gay rally at Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs headquarters of evangelical Christian leader James Dobson, for this coming Sunday and Monday, May 1 and 2. A gay rally sponsored by Dr. James Dobson? Talk about a religious conversion!

But no. James Dobson isn’t involved. The event is the brainchild of Soulforce, an organization devoted to promoting “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance."

On Sunday, more than 1,000 people are expected to gather for a “family picnic and protest” outside Focus on the Family. On Monday, they’ll return to “take the truth about our families directly to Focus on the Family, holding hands as we walk through their building and eating in their lunch room (or possible civil disobedience).”

Now that’s a sight that must be seen to be believed—hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender couples strolling hand-in-hand down the long halls of the massive brick campus in which so much time and energy is spent denouncing them. Since I won’t be there to see this amazing spectacle for myself, I did the next best thing—I called Soulforce to learn more about their rally. I spoke with Laura Montgomery Rutt, Soulforce’s Director of Public Relations and Media. [Read more here.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 28, 2005

Bishop Spong on Ecology

“It will be impossible to save our world from human destruction unless we abandon the traditional understanding of God,” writes John Shelby Spong in his latest book, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.

In this SoMA excerpt, Spong explains how our ideas about God inform how we view and treat the earth. It’s no surprise then that the popular and prevailing view of God—as a supernatural being who lives outside this corrupt world and periodically invades it in a miraculous way—has spelled disaster for the earth.   

Ultimately, Spong offers a vision of hope. “We have looked upward for a God above the sky for centuries,” he writes, “but we now know that this infinite universe is empty of supernatural invasive deities. We need to shift our vision to look within—at life, at love, at being… Good ecology requires good theology, and good theology alone will guarantee our very survival.” [Read more here.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 26, 2005

The Scent of Jesus

Mother’s Day is less than two weeks away, so I surfed the Internet this afternoon trying to find the perfect gift. Something unique, something special. Never mind flowers, dinner, or a spa treatment. I wanted to get my mother something she’d never expect—and never forget. And I finally found it: His Essence—a candle that’s supposed to smell like Jesus.

At first, I thought, what a lousy gift! Imagine, for a moment, what Jesus must have smelled like after a typical day in his life. The guy walked everywhere, never stopped, all over Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and up into Phoenicia and Syria. He probably didn’t shower often, and it’s unlikely that he wore Mennen Speed Stick. And we know that he once washed the feet of his disciples instead of his own. Indeed, it is fair to say Jesus must have smelled pretty ripe most of the time.

I don’t think my mother wants that kind of b.o. wafting through her home, at least she didn't when my father lived with us.

But as I read up on His Essence candles, I learned some good news—Jesus didn’t smell like a homeless preacher! He smelled sweet, like myrrh and aloes and cassia.

The His Essence candle ($18.95) was created by Bob and Karen Tosterud, a devout Midwestern Christian couple. While reading the Bible, they came across Psalm 45, which is, of course, a royal wedding ode. In verse 8, the poet describes the king’s wedding robes as “all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.” The Tosteruds read this as a description of the smell of Jesus’ future robes, and thus a candle was born.

Scriptural quibbling aside, the point is—His Essence doesn’t smell like an ancient Mediterranean locker room. It apparently smells good, even if you’re not a born-again Christian. “If you're not religious at all, it's just a subtle scent,” Karen Tosterud told WCCO News in Minneapolis last December. “I think it can be shared by all.”

I'm sure mom will love it.

Incidentally, the His Essence website warns there are impostor Jesus smells on the market. “Buy the original candle here,” their site says. “Beware of imitations!”

I searched and found another site called (turn up the volume on your computer to hear Enya. Suppose, in return, Enya gets a piece of the Jesus-aroma action?). Scent of Jesus sells the Miracle Candle ($19.95), which consists of the same three ingredients used in His Essence. Their ad copy reads:

Combining these fragrances into a candle has made a remarkable scent: rich and mysterious with the essence of ancient spices, yet calming and peaceful with a scent uncommon to modern times.

This is the Scent of Jesus.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 25, 2005

Yah, Mon!

Last week was a good week for Rastafarianism, as a new study revealed that checking email hurts a person’s IQ more than smoking pot does. According to a survey commissioned by Hewlett Packard, the IQ of workers who routinely checked email messages while trying to do their jobs fell by 10 points. That’s the equivalent of skipping a night’s sleep, CNN reported, and it’s more than twice the 4-point drop found after smoking what Rastas call the “wisdom weed.

“This is a very real and widespread phenomenon,” said Dr. Glenn Wilson, a British psychiatrist who monitored the IQ of workers in 80 clinical trials. “We have found that this obsession with looking at messages, if unchecked, will damage a worker’s performance by reducing their mental sharpness.”     

Number of times I checked my email while writing this blog entry: Twice, dude. But no munchies.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 22, 2005

Liberty U. Not to Get Jesus as Graduation Speaker

Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University has announced that Sean Hannity of Fox News will deliver the keynote address at the Christian college’s commencement on May 14.

“Sean Hannity is America’s rising young voice for social conservatism and religious liberty,” Falwell said in the release. “There is no more articulate voice for Christian conservatives in America.”

“Sean Hannity speaks with a clear and consistent voice on the issues of concern to our culture in the 21st century,” added Dr. Boyd Rist, Liberty’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “I am confident that he will bring a message to the class of 2005 that is both relevant to their lives and rooted in the core values we share as Christians.”

Meanwhile, Jesus Christ is scheduled to speak at U.C. Berkeley’s graduation on May 11, three days earlier. Liberty’s press release did not indicate whether Falwell and his colleagues felt betrayed by the Lord’s decision to go to Berkeley, not Lynchburg.

It is safe to assume, however, that Sean Hannity believes Liberty is getting the more important speaker.

Pope in Africa

Bad enough that the Catholic Church prides itself on being the world’s oldest top-down institution. The new pope’s reputation for being the Nurse Ratchet of doctrine and dogma could give him added trouble in Africa, where Catholicism is a relatively new, grassroots phenomenon.  “Cardinal Ratzinger is known as the enforcer,” said Yale prof (and my former Harvard Div prof), Lamin Sanneh on News Hour with Jim Lehrer last night. “[That] image of the church doesn't work very well in Africa because of the spontaneous eruption of Catholicism from the ground up in areas of primary evangelism...”

“The problem with Catholicism in Africa is almost the opposite of the problem maybe in Latin America and in Europe,” Sanneh said. “Catholicism in Africa is very recent. Most of it is since Vatican II. And so these new Catholic communities are really having to be involved, not only in designs of faith communities and creating their own structures and being in communion with other parts of the Catholic world, but they're also involved necessarily in the reinvention of their own societies that have gone through political upheavals, poverty, the AIDS epidemic, problems with women, for example, education…”

Trouble at home, too? A UPI story reports today that the European church is undergoing a “profound metamorphosis” orchestrated by local priests—not the Vatican.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 20, 2005

Uta Ranke-Heinemann on Benedict XVI

Like many, I was stunned to learn yesterday that Cardinal Ratzinger, the great Enforcer of church doctrine, had been elected pope. Once the shock wore off, one of my first thoughts was, “What does Uta make of all this?”

By Uta, I’m referring to German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann—one of Pope John Paul II’s most outspoken critics. She had also been a classmate of Joseph Ratzinger’s, when they were doctoral students together at the University of Munich in the early 1950s.  

The daughter of the late Gustav Heinemann, president of West Germany from 1969 to 1974, Uta went on to become the world’s first woman professor of Catholic theology when she was given a church-appointed chair at the University of Essen. She also became the bestselling author of several controversial books, including "Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven" and "Putting Away Childish Things," both of which sold millions of copies around the world. In 1987, the church declared Uta ineligible to teach, after she declared the virgin birth to be a theological belief and not a biological fact. She still holds a chair in religious studies at Essen—a state chair.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, of course, did not run afoul of the church, which is one reason why he is now the pope and Uta Ranke-Heinemann is not.

I thought of Uta yesterday because—to make a long story short—I met her in April 1994 when I was working for Harper San Francisco, which had just published "Putting Away Childish Things." Harper had organized a U.S. book tour for Uta, two days into which she claimed to have suffered a "nervous breakdown" and threatened to cancel the tour unless someone was sent to escort her from city to city. I was put on a plane the following day. Over the next two weeks, I heard a great deal about Pope John Paul II (little of it good)—and about Cardinal Ratzinger, of whom she spoke highly.

I reached Uta, now 77, by phone last night at her home in Essen, Germany. We spoke for more than an hour. Here’s some of what she had to say about the new pope.

What was your reaction when you learned that Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected?

I never in my life would have imagined that I would be happy over the election of a new pope. But I am happy for Cardinal Ratzinger—or, I should say Pope Benedict XVI—because we have had a long-standing mutual respect for one another.

You’re not the only person who might be surprised by your response. After all, you were one of the sharpest critics of John Paul II, whom Ratzinger served as chief theological adviser…

Well, yes, there is obviously a discrepancy between my respect for Ratzinger and my total disagreement with John Paul II. I asked myself this question earlier—why on earth have I always liked Ratzinger, for more than 51 years, while over the past 26 years John Paul II constantly got on my nerves? I confess I’m not sure I know the answer.

Let’s back up. When did you first meet Ratzinger?
We were doctoral students together at the University of Munich in 1953 and 1954, which was the first time a woman was allowed to get a doctorate in Catholic theology. And our respect for each other deepened when we had to defend our theses in Latin. In preparation, we translated our theses together from German into Latin.

What was the new pope like as a theology student?

He was very intelligent. He was the star student—the star-male student; there were very few female students—and we all admired his intelligence. But there was something more about him I admired. He was a rather shy student, not obsessed with his ego. I liked his humble intelligence. I still do like many passages in his books, and I’ve quoted them in my books. And all my life, many people have been astonished that I’ve always sort of defended Ratzinger, even though I’ve said that many of his opinions are totally wrong.  [Read more here.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 18, 2005

Holy War

If you were being scrutinized for alleged ethics violations, wouldn’t you like to know your supporters are packin' heat? On Saturday night, Tom DeLay gave a keynote address at the NRA’s annual convention, thanking those gathered for their support, noting: "When a man is in trouble or in a good fight, you want to have your friends around, preferably armed. So I feel really good."

Really good, indeed. The weekend event drew some 60,000 attendees, many wearing stickers that read: “I’m for the NRA and Tom DeLay.” …Earlier in the evening, rocker and NRA board member Ted Nugent, who’s also the author of the bestseller, “Guns, God and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” urged the crowd to be "’hardcore, radical extremists demanding the right to self defense’ and to work daily to recruit new members,” the AP reported.

Supporters of Tom DeLay, and even conservative critics of DeLay, point out that what he’s accused of may not be virtuous, but it’s not unusual. Suspicious overseas trips, a political fund raising committee under investigation by a Texas D.A., an association with a lobbyist under federal examination—so what? Frank Rich says there’s at least one big difference that sets the DeLay scandal apart from others, religion--and “a supreme righteousness that often spirals into anger and fire-and-brimstone zealotry that can do far more damage to America than ill-begotten golf junkets.”

“In the DeLay story,” Rich wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, “almost every player has ostentatious religious trappings, starting with the House majority leader himself. His efforts to play God with Terri Schiavo were preceded by crusades like blaming the teaching of evolution for school shootings and raising money for the Traditional Values Coalition's campaign to save America from the ‘war on Christianity.’ Mr. DeLay's chief of staff was his pastor, and, according to Time magazine, organized daily prayer sessions in their office. Today this holy man, Ed Buckham, is a lobbyist implicated in another DeLay junket to South Korea…”

Read Rich’s op-ed here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 15, 2005

Bill Frist: Against People of Faith

There’s a group of people who consistently attack my deeply held Christian beliefs and values, and I think we all know who they are—anti-Christian conservative Christians. When Bill Clinton was president, faith-hating Republican senators denied, like thieves in the night, a vote to 65 judicial nominees, and now they’re trying to fill every court with activist judges whose stances on important issues oppose the religious values of Jesus, the Founding Fathers, and millions of Bible-believing Americans whose faith is similar to mine.

When will this persecution end? When will conservatives stop attacking religious freedom—my God-given right to see the world shaped according to my personal religious beliefs?...

Like the shrill tone? I borrowed it from Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and organizer of a conservative Christian telecast that will portray Democrats as “against people of faith” for opposing President Bush’s judicial nominees. The New York Times reports that Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join the April 24 telecast, which will include Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and Chuck Colson, who kept Nixon’s enemies list and went on to found Prison Fellowship Ministries.

A flier for the telecast shows a young man holding a Bible and a gavel, above which reads: “He should not have to choose.”

“As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion for liberalism,” Perkins writes in a message on the FRC’s website. “For years activist courts, aided by the A.C.L.U., have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and religious freedoms.”

Perkins writes that Democrats oppose Bush’s nominees “not because they haven't paid their taxes or because they have used drugs,” but “because they are people of faith and moral conviction. These are people whose only offense is to say that abortion is wrong or that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

If these nominees can take stands based on their religious beliefs, then why can’t others oppose them on the basis of theirs? Both sides can play the religion card. Frankly, I'd rather neither did.

The Times notes that in the past Bill Frist has “distanced himself from the statements of others like the House majority leader, Tom Delay, who have attacked the courts, saying they are too liberal, ‘run amok,’ or are hostile to Christianity.”

On April 24, Frist joins the spiritual battle.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 14, 2005

"Revelations": God-Awful TV

Before I watched “Revelations” last night, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to clear my mind of all preconceptions. I said a prayer. “Lord,” I said, “maybe this six-part television ‘event’ won’t be so bad. Maybe the NBC network executives behind it aren’t just trying to capitalize on the conservative Christian conquest of America. Maybe they set out to make a really good mini-series, and succeeded. And maybe it will open my eyes to the signs that we’re living in the Final Days and that Jesus and the Antichrist are now walking the earth somewhere, gearing up to unleash colossal destruction. That would be nice. Amen.”

Despite this mental and spiritual preparation, I was guffawing mere seconds into the show. A teenage girl is about to go to school when her father stops her in the kitchen to ask about the tattoo on her bare midriff. She explains that it’s fake and he orders her to wash it off or cover it up. “Jesus,” she mutters under her breath. “Just for that, you’re going to church Sunday!” yells the father in a mild southern accent. These are his last words to her, as stiffer punishment awaits the girl. Running off to school, she gets struck by lightning, twice, and winds up brain-dead in a Florida hospital, kept alive by machines.     

Oh, but before all that happens, a huge shadow of the cross appears on a mountain in Mexico. As the masses gather below, the outline of Jesus’ head turns and looks down on them. There to catch it on film is Sister Josepha, a nun who is “bankrolled by a fundamentalist” to travel the world documenting signs of the End Times.

As I noted yesterday, evangelical leader Richard Land, who praised the series at length, criticized it for taking the “typical little Hollywood cheap shots at conservative Christians.” The man is imagining things. All the people of faith come off as completely sane, earnest, salt-of-the-earth folks, while the show portrays professors, scientists, doctors, and skeptics as thickheaded nincompoops. It was as offensive as it was unintentionally hilarious.

Take the comatose girl who, as a priest explains, is “technically dead, that’s how [the doctors] are justifying unplugging her to harvest her organs.” Although the girl has no brain activity, she starts quoting the Book of Revelation—in Latin. Her mouth and head move, her body twitches, her hands flail, and she starts drawing pictures. And not just any pictures, but archaic symbols from Galileo’s time! And how does the medical staff at the hospital react? Do they conduct extensive medical exams? Do they postpone ending her life? Do they, for that matter, show even the slightest curiosity about this medical freak of nature? Nah. As soon as the brain-dead girl stops spouting Latin they step up their efforts to snatch her kidneys. (No wonder Sister Josepha calls scientists “devil’s advocates” and claims to sense an “adversarial atmosphere at the hospital.”)

But the doctors don’t try to kill the girl without offering some explanation for why she flops like a salmon and draws 16th-century doodles. They claim her spasms are seizures related to her injuries and they insist that Sister Josepha must have drawn the pictures. And the Latin scripture quoting? Get this: The doctors say lightning shot the girl’s fillings into her brain, where they pick up electrical signals and radio frequencies—transmitted from Vatican City, I presume. I’m not sure how these radio signals turned into speech uttered by the girl, but the doctors didn’t dwell on the point, so it’s probably not that important anyway.

Back to Richard Land. In one scene at the hospital, a doctor remarks that the handling of patients in a persistent vegetative state is an “unfortunate area of debate,” adding that “right-to-lifers would claim consciousness and brain waves on a night crawler.” Land characterized the comment as “conservative Christian-bashing at its Hollywood best.” Given the overall bleak portrayal of the medical establishment, however, I thought the remark was more likely meant to demonize doctors. If, that is, it was intended to bash anyone.

Virtually every scene and character in this show is laugh-out-loud absurd. The Antichrist is a cult leader who killed the daughter of Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman), so he could use her heart in a satanic ritual (which Sister Josepha likens to the doctors pulling the plug on the brain-dead girl). The Antichrist can control airplane turbulence, and he can adjust his heart rate up and down quickly to fool polygraph machines. And though his heart beats, he doesn’t have any blood, or at least he never bleeds, and in one scene he cuts off a finger to prove it. The Antichrist is in jail for the murder of Massey’s daughter, but he’s as pleased as a pig in poop to be there. “These are my people,” he says, in an evil, two-pack-a-day voice, “and this is my parish, where I will preach the word of my Lord.”  

Dr. Massey is a dope, we are to realize, and his daughter’s nickname for him, “Donkey,” suits him well. He is a Harvard astrophysicist who believes in the existence of ozone holes but not the existence of God. He’s an astrophysicist, yes, but he’s also written a book on the Bible that gives naturalistic explanations for supernatural accounts. At a book signing, he tells the audience:

“Like all biblical tales, the 10 plagues of Moses’ time easily yield to scientific explanation. In the Book of Exodus, the river was turned into blood. Plagues of frogs, bugs, boils, and death of the first-born—what we have here is a volcanic eruption, putting mud into the river, which drove the frogs to the land where they rotted in the sun, which drew the bugs by the billions, and they carried the typhus and boils. And that swept death to the first-born, the eldest children, whose exposure was the greatest because they were the ones who labored in the fields.” Pausing, he adds with a smile, “That’s science.”

In other words, Dr. Massey shares the fundamentalists’ belief that the Bible was meant to be read as factual history, and he uses science to dismiss the supernatural stuff. Bill Pullman should receive an Emmy just for delivering that speech with a straight face.

By the end of the first installment of “Revelations,” Dr. Massey seems to be on the verge of faith. He goes to the Florida hospital because Sister Josepha insists that the brain-dead girl is channeling his deceased daughter. He confronts Sister Josepha, telling her she’s deluded. Then the girl’s heart stops. Doctors and nurses fly into the room like vultures, preparing to take her organs. Dr. Massey stands next to the girl, whose hand suddenly grabs his. Her heart starts again, and Dr. Massey’s face turns into a mask of awe and belief.

Two words: holy shit.    

PS: If you missed it, recent SoMA contributor Teresa Blythe wrote a wonderful essay on “Revelations” for Beliefnet. She explores how producers use creepy religion to intensify television dramas, and she makes the point, no doubt lost on many viewers of Revelations, that frightful images were placed in Scripture passages “by writers who were familiar with the rhetorical use of poetic, metaphorical language in sacred texts, never dreaming that anyone in the future would ever take these images literally.”

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 13, 2005

NBC's "Revelations": As Bad as It Sounds?

In the six-episode series that premiers on NBC tonight at 9, Bill Pullman finds himself at the start of Armageddon, as a spaceship a quarter the size of the moon hovers over the earth, blowing up the Empire State building and the White House with a corny sci-fi laser. Will Pullman be able to stop this evil force before it takes over the planet?

Oh, wait. That was Bill Pullman in “Independence Day.” In “Revelations,” he finds himself again at the onset of Armageddon, only this time as a brain-dead girl begins channeling his deceased daughter (killed by a Satanist) who wants her father to join a fervent nun on a search for clues that the world is coming to an end. “Revelations” poses several intriguing questions, the first of which is: Could this series really be as horrible as it sounds?

The clues, I’m afraid, portend that it will it be even worse than that. Based on a literal reading of the Book of Revelation, this series was created to appeal to the conservative Christians who read the Left Behind series, went with their churches to see “The Passion of the Christ,” and helped re-elect George Bush. “We felt what needed to be done is a television show that expressed itself as Christian,” Gavin Polone, an executive producer of the show, told the New York Times last month. “We’re very clear about that here. The words ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ’ are used three times a minute.”

 When an executive producer offers freely that he enforced a “Jesus Christ” quota, you hardly need more evidence that this series will be lousy, though there’s a mountain of it. [Read more.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 12, 2005

It Only Takes a Spark

I did my undergraduate degree at an evangelical Christian liberal arts college in New England. (Let’s call the school Mount Calvary College, to protect the innocent.) As an alum, I receive the school’s quarterly—the MCC Scholar, if you will. The MCC Scholar is like most college alumni papers, except that, for example, its obituaries describe dearly departed members of the MCC family as having gone “to be with our Lord.” And whereas other schools’ news may be about former students launching cutting-edge businesses or making partner at the firm, our news tends to be about graduates making babies and homeschooling them.    

I enjoy receiving the MCC Scholar, and I read it with the same relish with which I read church newsletters and watch televangelists. Jeff, my good friend from college who went on to become an attorney, does not share my enthusiasm for the school paper. He says he refuses to read it because it upsets his stomach. When I send him an email mentioning an MCC Scholar tidbit I find amusing, he’ll reply that he doesn’t know what college I’m talking about, insisting that he went to an Ivy League school. He once said he’d gone to Yale. Another time it was Brown.

Recently I sent Jeff an excerpt from the paper that pushed him over the edge. He replied testily, “Don’t you know I graduated from Arizona State University?!” Desperate bastard. The piece was called “Got a Match?”—that’s the actual title—and it was a financial appeal on behalf of Mount Calvary’s development office. It begins:

“It could have been anywhere—on a beach, at a camp, in a clearing. The logs were perfectly arranged so that, at the strike of a match, the flames would, in minutes, begin dancing skyward, providing light and heat for the crowd gathered around the log pile. The evening was chilly and dark and the crowd was waiting expectantly. ‘Who’s got the match?’ someone finally whispered but no one stepped forward. ‘What good is this pile of logs if no one can start the fire?’ grumbled a few. ‘It’s dark and cold and we could sure use a little heat.’

“Finally, from the dark fringes of the crowd, a single person moved to the center of the circle, knelt down and carefully removed a single match from a small box, struck it crisply on the side of the box, and held the tiny flame under the small dry twigs at the edge of the woodpile. Slowly at first and then gathering strength, the fire caught hold and began to spread through the timbers.”

OK, the punch line:

“The image of that campfire brings to mind another kind of match. Pretend for a moment that a bonfire has been prepared in the middle of the development office at [Mount Calvary]…”  

The piece says that each log in the bonfire bears the name of a Fortune 500 company, and it urges alumni/ae to “strike the match” and get the fire roaring with a corporate matching gift.

What an image—a bonfire in the middle of the development office.

Alas, I haven’t got a match. But I do know a guy who’s got a lighter. He went to Arizona State.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 4, 2005

SoMA: A Pope-Free Zone, All Week!

First, I should say that I appreciated Pope John Paul II about as much as any mainline Protestant could—perhaps more, and not because, in addition to being Protestant, I was also baptized Roman Catholic. When the pope visited New York City in October 1995, I was living in San Francisco and I used vacation days at work and cashed in frequent-flyer miles so I could stand in the drizzle in Central Park with more than 100,000 other people to hear the Holy Father deliver a homily on purity. From where I stood, I could clearly see the lines on the pontiff’s face—as long as my binoculars didn’t fog and I had a clear line of sight to the huge screen several hundred yards away.  

True, I went to New York fishing for a story. But still, I got caught up in all the hoopla like everybody else, and I soon found myself touched and moved, literally, as spectators jostled for positions behind police barricades from which to view the pope’s exit from Central Park. I wound up buying several JP II American tour T-shirts and a pile of tacky souvenirs, and I even snapped pictures—close-ups—of the pontiff as he zipped across Fifth Avenue in the Popemobile en route to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Despite all that, I hereby officially declare SoMA to be a 100% pope-free religion website for the rest of the week. John Paul II is getting so much 24/7 coverage it’s dizzying. Personally, I hit papal overload Sunday afternoon, and no wonder—the Associated Press reported that within 24 hours of the pope’s death, more than 35,000 new stories about him appeared around the world. That’s 10 times more stories than were devoted to the re-election of George Bush. If, indeed, the passing of the pope is the biggest religion news story of the century thus far, then really, what could SoMA or any other site possibly add to the zillions of existing John Paul II remembrances, as well as the debates about his legacy, details concerning his funeral, and speculation about his successor? And how much more does anyone really need?

Perhaps part of my fatigue stems from the whiplash we all got when the media shifted suddenly from Terri Schiavo to John Paul II. For weeks the press milked the Schiavo tragedy, whipping us into a frenzy that only intensified after her death last Thursday. Friday’s coverage was full of raw emotion—bitterness, anger, confusion, grief. Then the very next day, the pope died, and the media was like, Terri who? All over the world, the flowers and candles, the tears and prayers, were now for “Il Papa.” While other sites continue to scramble for every pope-related tidbit, SoMA refuses to play that game.

So, if you’re burned out on all things papal—or even if you just need a place to rest, to catch your breath and take your mind off the pontiff for a moment—then SoMA is for you. It’s the only religion site on the Internet that you can trust, after this blog entry, not to offer a single new item about Pope John Paul II—all week long.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

April 1, 2005

One Man's Living Will

Robert Friedman is the Perspective Editor of the St. Petersburg Times. In a column earlier this week, he wrote that recent events have pushed him to prepare a living will, which includes the following directives should he fall into a persistent vegetative state:

* “I want my wife to ruin the rest of her life by maintaining an interminable vigil at my bedside. I'd be really jealous if she waited less than a decade to start dating again or otherwise rebuilding a semblance of a normal life.”

* “I want the people who attach themselves to my case because of their deep devotion to the sanctity of life to make death threats against any judges, elected officials or health care professionals who disagree with them.”

* “In particular, I want House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to use my case as an opportunity to divert the country's attention from the mounting political and legal troubles stemming from his slimy misbehavior.”

* “And I want Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to make a mockery of his Harvard medical degree by misrepresenting the details of my case in ways that might give a boost to his 2008 presidential campaign.”

* “Because I think I would retain my sense of humor even in a persistent vegetative state, I'd want President Bush—the same guy who publicly mocked Karla Faye Tucker when signing off on her death warrant as governor of Texas—to claim he was intervening in my case because it is always best ‘to err on the side of life.’” [Read more.]

Thanks to Lara Starr for sending Friedman's column.

Terri Schiavo: Observations & Lessons

“Nearly 80 percent of Americans have said of Schiavo, ‘I don't want to live like that.’ Yet less than 30 percent have signed living wills to tell their doctors and families what they have told pollsters.

“It took Michael Schiavo, the demonized husband, four years to give up hope. In far less certain cases, the initial desire to ‘do everything’ to save someone we love often evolves into uncertainty about what we should do for how much hope of what kind of recovery.

“It's why we need a healthcare proxy as well as a living will. We need someone we can trust and burden with the authority to make decisions for us when we are unable.

“But this too will require some deeper, bolder, tough talk: If we don't want to live 'like that,’ how do we want to live? Like what?”—Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe

“The case attracted outsiders in search of little more than another opportunity to further their own self-aggrandizement. But worst of all were the powerful people who looked at the world we live in today, in which politics is about maximizing hysteria at the margins, and concluded that the Schiavo fight was a win-win—for everyone but the people who actually cared about the dying woman.”—New York Times editorial

“Terri Schiavo's parents turned her death into a three-ring circus. We don't question their love for their daughter and their grief at her passing, but one has to wonder why they allowed everyone from Randall Terry to Tom DeLay to Jesse Jackson to intrude into their family's tragedy. Robert and Mary Schindler did not protest as fringe right-to-life groups exploited their daughter's image. They generated a sad, made-for-cable-TV spectacle and fed it with edited video footage from their daughter's hospice bed and sinister accusations about Michael Schiavo.”

“Terri Schiavo could not have been aware of the uses made of her image while she was alive. But with her death, those video snippets of a lipsticked mouth and eyes seeming to gaze upward will still be raising money for someone.”
Los Angeles Times editorial

“Those of us who have long worried that unleashing religious fundamentalism into the bloodstream of American politics would lead to disaster can feel only that our fears have now come true.”

“…For some, the Schiavo case is a first battle to win over the religious right primary voters who will determine the next Republican nominee. The Republican leadership is gambling that the intensity of their religious base will outweigh the more general public’s disdain for this exercise in government over-reach. The broader public, they calculate, will forget. The zealots will always remember.”—Andrew Sullivan, Sunday Times of London

“Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that ‘one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America.’ Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.”—Paul Krugman, New York Times

“In her last days, Terri Schiavo moved Americans to do what is difficult for them to do-- talk about death. And for that, we thank her. It may be her lasting contribution.”—San Francisco Chronicle editorial

“Today, finally, there is a moment of consensus. Rest in peace, Theresa Marie.”—New York Times editorial

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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