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Blog Archive/October 2007

October 31, 2007

A Christian Response to Muslim Leaders' "Common Word" Letter

Earlier this month, 138 prominent moderate Muslims sent a 29-page open letter to Christian leaders outlining Christianity and Islam's commonalities and calling for more dialogue between leaders of the two faiths. Though the letter has been widely hailed as an unprecedented step towards greater peace and understanding, critics like political analyst Mona Charen have argued that if the Muslim clerics are sincere in calling for more tolerance, they'd issue a statement that "denounces Islamists; that rejects their violent interpretation of jihad; that affirms the human dignity of non-Muslims; and that condemns Osama bin Laden, Aymin al-Zawahiri and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by name."

"That would be historic," she writes, calling the missive a "dodge."

But the letter and its endorsers deserve more credit. The statement is both a significant gesture from the Islamic community at a critical moment in Christian-Muslim relations, and it's a boost for moderate Muslims anywhere who defend their views at great risk. And, as a Houston Chronicle editorial notes, the letter is "an invitation that should have come long ago, and with persistence, from theologians in the West."

John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, puts it this way to the National Catholic Reporter:

"Think about what it would say if you had a group of cardinals, patriarchs, the head of the Methodist church, the evangelicals, coming together and themselves issuing a statement with regard to Islam. Think about the way in which people in the Muslim world would look at that statement, and the impact it would have."

"It's a challenge now to Christians in terms of how they respond," Esposito says.

Among the first Christian theologians to embrace the open letter was Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Volf drafted a reply called "Loving God and Neighbor Together," praising the Muslim leaders' "historic" letter as deeply encouraging to Christians, and vowing that its own signatories are committed "to labor together in heart, soul, mind and strength for the objectives you so appropriately propose."

This "Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You'" has now been signed by prominent Christian intellectuals and leaders of the divinity schools at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard. Read the letter here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 29, 2007

The Christian and the Pharisee

Because evangelicals and Jews share values and a common heritage, they've successfully formed interfaith fellowship groups and coalitions around various social and political concerns. In such polite gatherings that are focused on common goals and interests, the two sides presumably avoid awkward discussions about things like the Messiah and the Trinity, or sin and salvation. I'm sure these get-togethers are cordial. Still, you have to wonder--or at least I wonder--how deep do the good feelings run?

Put it this way. Can, say, an evangelical pastor and a rabbi ever become real friends? I mean, the pastor will eventually either tell the rabbi he thinks his Hebraic brother or sister will burn in hell because he or she doesn't know Jesus, at which suggestion the rabbi might understandably take offense, or the pastor will remain mum about his conviction, turning the whole matter into the elephant in the corner no one is talking about. What kind of friendship is that?

These questions are what make "The Christian and the Pharisee," a new book by minister R.T. Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen, so fascinating...

Continue reading my essay, "Jewish Dialogue, Christian Monologue?" at The Revealer.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 23, 2007

The Tortured Question of Torture

Three weeks ago, The New York Times vented a secret Department of Justice memo approving the use of torture as a means of interrogation. President Bush shrugged the memo off, insisting, "This government does not torture people." Times columnist Frank Rich, who begs to differ with the President, published an opinion piece, "The 'Good Germans' Among Us," on October 14, in which he insisted that, with the latest wink and nod at waterboarding, the U.S. has crossed the Rubicon from an incompetent to an immoral democracy. Rich maintains that at this point, those of us who do not scream out against torture to our congressperson are as complicit in evil as the "Germans who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo."

In his brief against torture, Rich recalls a meeting with Americans who, during World War II, extracted important information from prominent Nazis without lifting a fist. I suspect that Rich has other grounds for insisting that we put the electrodes away, but many of the arguments he and others voice today against the use of torture as truth serum are based on the claim that torture is simply not efficacious.

There is, I believe, a serious flaw with this line of reasoning, for it in effect states that if we could in fact beat the truth out of people on a consistent basis, then we might be justified in doing just that.

The Israelis, from whom we seem to take a lot of cues on these issues, have been practicing so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" for generations. There are members of their intelligence community who believe that there are situations in which pain and threats can be used to elicit life-saving information. Human rights groups have reported that from 1988 to 1994, Israel detained more than 100,000 Palestinians and violently interrogated a third of them. As for those who fret that under severe duress, a person will say anything, just make it plain that should the information be erroneous, the authorities will be making a visit to the detainee's family.

In the mid 1990s, legislation was proposed in Israel to make torture legal and thus, more humane, as it would then be open to government scrutiny. During the debate, Andre Rosenthal, the lawyer who pressed for the suspension of the injunction against the rack, said: "No enlightened nation would agree that hundreds of people should lose their lives because of a rule saying torture is forbidden." Upon learning that one of the High Court judges was playing Pilate and would not offer a ruling either for or against the use of physical force, Rosenthal fumed, "That's the most immoral and extreme position I have heard in my life... [A] thousand people are about to be killed and you propose that we don't do anything." According to Rosenthal and others, when you have someone in custody who may be able to tell you the whereabouts of a bomb, it is the moral obligation of the state to do anything necessary to make him or her sing.

For all of the intelligence officers who have come forward to talk about the unreliability of torture techniques, there are others who swear that it sometimes works, and sometimes is more than enough. As the supporters of the harrowing machine would have it, if a few innocents are banged around, that's unfortunate--as unfortunate as other forms of collateral damage.

It is not enough to raise doubts about torture as a method. When the critics of Gestapo techniques base their condemnation on statistics and the testimony of selected experts, they are in effect conceding that under certain circumstances it might be appropriate, or even obligatory, for the defenders of freedom to take out their tongs. Those of us who would swear off the kinds of practices that we have been sub-contracting to other nations have to separate the moral from the practical arguments. We have to maintain that there are some practices, like slavery, that are unconditionally wrong and never under any circumstances permissible. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the premise for this position and clearly instructs us that there are limits to what one human being can do to another without losing his or her humanity.

Guest blog by Gordon Marino. Reprinted by permission of the author from The Huffington Post. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 22, 2007

DIY Church Signs

Wacky church signs are so much fun that it was only a matter of time before someone came up with a DIY church sign website. SoMA's Billy Frolick discovered churchsigngenerator.com, submitting two of his own inspired creations:



And:



And we created our own:


Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 15, 2007

Priest "Only Pretending to be Gay" in a "Mysterious and Faraway World"

A Catholic priest caught on camera making a pass at a young man said in an interview yesterday that he was not gay and that he was simply pretending to be gay as part of his job.

Tommaso Stenico is a monsignor at the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, an office which aims to ensure proper conduct by priests. Stenico told the Italian paper La Repubblica that he visited online gay chat rooms and met with gay men in order to gather information about "those who damage the image of the Church with homosexual activity." On hidden camera, Stenico made advances to the young man, asserting, contrary to Church teaching, that gay sex is not sinful.

Stenico insists he is heterosexual and celibate. Nevertheless, the Vatican has suspended him.

But here the Church is establishing a bad precedent. If the Vatican suspends every non-gay priest who pretends to be gay, then who would be left to go undercover to catch the bona fide gay priests father Stenico says are "doing so much harm to the Church"? No gay priest in his right mind would voluntarily help rid the Church of other gay priests. That's why the Vatican needs an army of straight, gay-acting celibate priests like father Stenico out there penetrating what he calls the "mysterious and faraway world" of gay sex.

In related news, Larry Craig, the adamantly non-gay, wide-stanced Idaho senator, announced he will appeal a judge's refusal to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea following his arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting. Hey, maybe the family values senator was pretending to be gay as part of his work.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 14, 2007

Not Your Father's Eastern Nazarene College

Humping a poster of George Clooney on the ceiling--at ENC? I thought they only did this sort of thing at Olivet and Trevecca Nazarene. Wheaton College, maybe. (For the record, I did not go to ENC. I did my undergrad at, uhm, the Instituto Minero Metalurgico, in the Chilean Andes. Yeah, that was it.)


Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 13, 2007

Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Lecture

Two years before his death, my father gave me a small suitcase filled with his writings, manuscripts and notebooks. Assuming his usual joking, mocking air, he told me he wanted me to read them after he was gone, by which he meant after he died.

"Just take a look," he said, looking slightly embarrassed. "See if there's anything inside that you can use. Maybe after I'm gone you can make a selection and publish it."

Continue reading Orhan Pamuk's My Father's Suitcase.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 13, 2007

A Believer and a Skeptic, Nobel Winners

Al Gore--Nobel laureate. Good for him. He deserves the peace prize. A true believer, he's been championing the environment and warning about climate change since long before global warming became cool, so to speak. Remember the 1992 presidential election campaign? George H. Bush mocked Gore as the crazy "ozone man." Now, even idiot man-child Bush fils has had to admit that, though he's still not sure about evolution, it appears the Earth is heating up and that we humans are to blame for it.

If nothing else, Gore's latest award--accolades earlier this year included an Oscar, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, and an Emmy--focuses more attention on a planetary emergency that's becoming increasingly difficult for even the most stubborn of skeptics to deny.

Speaking of skeptics and Nobel Prizes, when reporters outside Doris Lessing's London home Thursday told her she won the $1.5 million prize for literature, the author best-known for her 1962 "The Golden Notebook" replied: "I couldn't care less."

"I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise," she added. "I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."

Lessing is the oldest writer to win the Nobel, while last year's winner, Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, was one of the youngest, at age 54.

Incidentally, if you missed Pamuk's deeply moving 2006 Nobel lecture, then put it at the top of your reading list. Trust me; you'll be glad you did. You can read it at SoMA here (courtesy of the Nobel Foundation), or via the blog entry below.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 12, 2007

Religion Song of the Week

Australian "comedy guerrillas" The Fake McCoys' rousing version of "(Smile) Don't You Know God Loves You."

Got a favorite irreverent religion song? Submit an audio link to: editor[at]somareview.com.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 11, 2007

Derrida Lives

Jacques Derrida, founder of the diabolically difficult school of philosophy known as deconstructionism, may have died this week three years ago, but he's still alive and qualifying away at Youtube. Here are some faith-related clips:

* On atheism, belief, and authenticity.

* On deconstruction and Christianity, part 1 and part 2.

* On prayer, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

* On revelation and revealability.

* On Kierkegaardian secrecy, from "The Gift of Death."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 10, 2007

Dressing Down "The Naked Archeologist"

We are living in a time of exciting discoveries in biblical archeology. We are also living in a time of widespread biblical fraud, dubious science, and crackpot theorizing. Some of the highest-profile discoveries of the past several years are shadowed by accusations of forgery, such as the James Ossuary, which may or may not be the burial box of Jesus' brother, as well as other supposed Bible-era findings such as the Jehoash Tablet and a small ivory pomegranate said to be from the time of Solomon. Every year 'scientific' expeditions embark to look for Noah's Ark, raising untold amounts of money from gullible believers who eagerly listen to tales spun by sincere amateurs or rapacious con men; it is not always easy to tell the two apart.

Read Eric H. Cline's recent Boston Globe op-ed, Raiders of the Faux Ark.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 8, 2007

Confessions of a Non-Coffee-Drinking Christian

...My surreptitious life "in the closet" as a non-coffee drinker became more difficult to maintain in adulthood, however, when I discovered that my aversion to the holy bean was putting my spiritual life in jeopardy. The big question was not so much how can one live the Christian life as how can one live the Christian life without a cup of Joe each morning during devotions?

Continue reading John Fea's Praise the Lord and Pass the Caffeine.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 8, 2007

Idaho Hall of Fame Inductees Deserve More Privacy

Senator Larry Craig will be inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame at a ceremony later this week, despite his June arrest and guilty plea in an airport bathroom sex sting.

Now, it would be understandable if Craig's fellow inductees--who include Gov. Butch Otter, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, and Boise State University football coach Chris Petersen--felt uncomfortable being honored alongside the senator with the notoriously "wide stance."

So here's SoMA's suggestion how officials can put everyone at ease: separate honorees at the event with steel dividers that go all the way to the floor.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 5, 2007

Owe Big for Pedophile Priests? Boot Some Nuns

Ever since the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay sex abuse victims $660 million in July, I've been waiting with bated breath to learn what the Church would liquidate first. Mind you, the L.A. archdiocese is one of the wealthiest in the country, and one of the largest landowners in Southern California. So what would it be? Wheelchairs used by homeless people? Headgear worn by mentally handicapped children?

Turns out, I wasn't far off. Yesterday's Washington Post reported the Church is evicting three elderly nuns living in a small building in a largely Hispanic, relatively poor section of Santa Barbara. One of the nuns, 69-year-old Sister Angela Escalera, has diabetes and can't get around without a walker, which the Church, hopefully, is not making her leave behind when she has to hit the streets by Dec. 31. That's the date specified on the eviction notice signed by the archdiocese's Monsignor Royale Vadakin. An earlier departure, the letter added, "would be acceptable as well."

"We're just so hurt by this," Sister Angela told the Los Angeles Times previously. "We're not even worth a phone call." But in yesterday's Post piece, Sister Angela's younger sister, Rosemary Gutierrez, had to do all the talking for her because church officials have now banned the nuns from speaking to the press.

Sister Angela, who works with poor immigrants, has lived in the two-bedroom Sisters of Bethany home for 43 years. The nuns maintain the place owned by the archdiocese mostly on Escalera's disability checks.

"These nuns are precious to us, but there are priests living in fabulous-looking little houses, by themselves," Evangelina Diaz, a former Bethany sister, told the Post. "You don't see them getting kicked out."

Notes the Post: "In fact the handsome residence of the Santa Barbara bishop--once a convent--remains safe behind seven palms on a corner lot. The building is the largest in a neighborhood where homes have been fetching $2 million."

The value of the sisters' house? According to the LA Times, the Santa Barbara County assessor's office lists it "at about $98,000."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

 
 
             
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