Friday, October 28, 2011

Ritual Whiplash...and Spiritual Concussion

If you follow advertising at all you know that some campaigns work and some do not. When the Pepsi logo changed to its current version, test groups showed negative reaction. The same with several Tropicana campaigns. And more recently when Netflix announced it was splitting into two services, they lost over 500,000 customers in the weeks following (and their 3Q earnings took a huge hit) before they recanted and apologized for the very thought of the idea. Their mea culpa came too late, though.

The changes to the mass ritual will no doubt result in some interesting reactions. The headline should be changed to: Mindless Repetitious Prayer by Rote Changes...oh, the irony.

Recently, the Pope refused to pray with the heads of other faiths. Nothing says agenda-laden elitism like snubbing your frenemies. Oh, except the following change (particularly this one) to the mass: The line that said Jesus died on the cross “for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven” will change to “for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

So, Jesus did not die for all? Really? Will they also change the part of the mass when the priest regards the Eucharist and says "He who takes away the sins of the world?"....or will it be changed to "He who takes away the sins of many."? This change helps to polarize, divide, and judge. It contradicts the following scriptural citations, which I find to be spiritually comforting. But I guess fear, not comfort, is what the Church is best at.

1 John 4:14 - And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Rom 5:18 - Therefore as by the offense of one judgment (because of Adam) came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one (because of Jesus) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 - I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

1 John 2:1-2 - My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

1Timothy 4:10 - For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe.


1) God sent his Word to be the savior of the whole world.
2) In the same manner that judgment came upon all men due to one man Adam, so also the free gift came upon the same lot, all men.
3) God desires all men to be saved.
4) He sent his word to be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, not just our own sins, and
5) Jesus is the savior of all men, especially (ie not exclusively, but especially) those that believe.
And the last sentence of the article, which tries to calm the fervor over the changes, is a quote by a reverend who tries to redirect what people should be concerned about in a Hey, look what's that over there? method. Smooth.So, while the Vatican Boys' Club decides to change things up, they tilt their hand as white-knuckling harder that elitism which they are desperate to sell to their tithers. The difference is that now it is actually said out loud. During mass.
I have the feeling that this might ALSO be an offensive play toward the growing number of believers like myself - Christian who believe that the all-encompassing, unspoiled-brat-like love of Christ WILL save everyone in the end and that the death of Christ was not to save a mere "many". That would mean the crucifixion was pretty much a failure. And this is the shortfall that the Catholic church will be reminding you of every week.

Catholics’ Mass liturgy changing; ‘ritual whiplash’ ahead?

By Michelle Boorstein, Published: October 27, 2011 - Source Link

English-speaking Catholics are bracing for the biggest changes to their Mass since the 1960s, a shift some leaders warn could cause “ritual whiplash.”

The overhaul, which will become mandatory Nov. 27, is aimed at unifying the more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide with a translation that is as close as possible to the original Latin version. It allows for less independence and diversity of interpretation in a church that in recent decades has tried to retain more control over how Catholicism is defined.

Recent popes have emphasized orthodoxy and hierarchy, particularly in the West, where religious identity is increasingly fluid. Catholic hospitals and schools have been required to more clearly espouse church teachings, and Pope Benedict XVI has stressed the sole truth of Catholicism over other faiths, even declining this month to pray with Hindus, Jews and others at an interreligious event.

The new translation changes the majority of sentences in the Mass. The prayers and call-and-response dialogue between the priest and the congregation are different, transforming the dialogue that Catholics under 40 have used in church their entire lives. Some leaders warn that the shift could cause “ritual whiplash” among those accustomed to a worship script so familiar that most recite it from memory.

Reaction to the changes has been intense, in some ways fueling a Catholic culture war that began when the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s imposed far more sweeping changes designed to open up and modernize the church. Some traditionalists say the new translation of the ritual is richer and — because it’s less conversational — more mysterious and spiritual.

“At first I thought it was an affront, the Vatican coming down on us. But after thinking about it, I see it as something that will bring us all back toward the center,” said Emily Strand, 35, a former campus minister at the University of Dayton who has attended Mass regularly throughout her life. “Vatican II was an excuse for people to do whatever they wanted with the liturgy.”

But more modern Catholics, and some who are already disaffected, say the new language is an awkward imposition that will distance people from the church. The translation “wouldn’t affect me going [to church] or not,’’ said Vilma Linares, who was walking near St. Matthew’s Cathedral earlier this week with a friend at lunchtime. “But the less conversational the Mass, the more they will alienate people.”

Erie, Pa., bishop Donald Trautman says that such words as “consubstantial” and “chalice” and a Jesus “born ineffably of the inviolate Virgin” won’t help Catholics get closer to God.

“We have to keep in mind these are prayer texts being used by priests at a Mass,” he said. “People should be able to understand them when they are heard.”

Others, including clergy, have protested that the new translation replaces ones approved by the U.S. bishops.

Perhaps the most basic change will be when the priest says: “The Lord be with you.” The congregation will no longer say “And also with you.” The new response is “And with your spirit.”

Some changes are more controversial. The line that said Jesus died on the cross “for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven” will change to “for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Other changes emphasize the difference between common English and Latin: “When supper was ended, He took the cup” becomes: “In a similar way, when supper was ended, He took this precious chalice in His holy and venerable hands.”

A poll of Catholics done early this summer by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showed that 77 percent of respondents were unaware of a forthcoming new translation. Catholic dioceses and schools began preparations a few months ago, running workshops and podcasts and updating Web sites to lay out what’s happening and why.

Millions of books are being replaced; each parish must buy its own. (What becomes of the old books? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends burying them on church grounds or in a parish cemetery.) While parishes wait for the new ones, laminated cards will be put in the pews as a guide for worshipers.

Still, church officials say they expect serious confusion when those Catholics who aren’t connected with Catholic institutions and attend church only on big holidays, show up for Christmas. The Rev. Michael Wilson of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Solomons, Md., said he will offer this advice next month to his congregants: “Okay, folks: Everyone take a deep breath.”

The new translation has been in the works since a decade ago, when Pope John Paul II called for a full replacement of the one that came out of the 1960s Second Vatican Council. The thinking that came out of Vatican II was that the Mass script should be contemporary and paraphrased, that people should pray the way they speak in regular life.

As a result, pivotal changes were made. Mass was no longer said in Latin, and priests began facing the congregation (instead of standing with their backs to the crowd) and preaching more about the Bible rather than only on church doctrine.

Traditionalists worried that having different translations around the world opened the door to confusion. The past decade has seen much debate in the church about the new translation, with the Vatican rejecting less-literal translations that some saw as more poetic and contemporary.

When asked this week about the issue, several priests repeated an inside joke: What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Catholics who speak other languages are on a later schedule and won’t see any changes immediately. There is no timeline yet for Spanish-speaking Americans. But the English version is perhaps the most important to the Vatican, because booming areas in Asia, including China, use it, not the Latin one, as the basis of their translations.

Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the commission in charge of English translations of liturgy, said the reforms will promote unity. “The way we worship is what we believe,” he said. “If you want to have unity of belief, texts used in worship need to be the same.”

Several priests in the region said the controversy was being overblown.

“There are other things more important to focus on,” said the Rev. Gerry Creedon of Holy Family in Dale City, “like drone bombings.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Insurrection" by Peter Rollins

Ok, the following description and reviews are taken directly from's listing for this book, but I'm pretty stoked to get my hands on a copy of Peter Rollins' book Insurrection - found here on Amazon.

In this incendiary new work, the controversial author and speaker Peter Rollins proclaims that the Christian faith is not primarily concerned with questions regarding life after death but with the possibility of life before death.

In order to unearth this truth, Rollins prescribes a radical and wholesale critique of contemporary Christianity that he calls pyro-theology. It is only as we submit our spiritual practices, religious rituals, and dogmatic affirmations to the flames of fearless interrogation that we come into contact with the reality that Christianity is in the business of transforming our world rather than offering a way of interpreting or escaping it. Belief in the Resurrection means but one thing: Participation in an Insurrection.


"What does it mean when the Son of God cries out, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' Brilliantly, candidly, and faithfully, Rollins wrestles here with that question. You may not agree with his answers and conclusions, but you owe it to yourself and to the church at large to read what he says.

 —Phyllis Tickle, author, The Great Emergence

"Peter Rollins is the Anti-Christ for all fake Christians."

--Creston Davis, Professor, Rollins College, Department of Philosophy and Religion
"What Pete does in this book is take you to the edge of a cliff where you can see how high you are and how far you would fall if you lost your footing. And just when most writers would kindly pull you back from edge, he pushes you off, and you find yourself without any solid footing, disoriented, and in a bit of a panic…until you realize that your fall is in fact, a form of flying. And it's thrilling."
--Rob Bell, author of Love Wins and Velvet Elvis

"While others labor to save the Church as they know it, Peter Rollins takes an ax to the roots of the tree. Those who have enjoyed its shade will want to stop him, but his strokes are so clean and true that his motive soon becomes clear: this man trusts the way of death and resurrection so much that he has become fearless of religion."

  --Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Leaving Church and An Altar in the World

“Rollins writes and thinks like a new Bonhoeffer, crucifying the trappings of religion in order to lay bare a radical, religionless and insurrectional Christianity. A brilliant new voice—an activist, a storyteller and a theologian all in one—and not a moment too soon.”

--John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus, Syracuse University

“What does it mean when the Son of God cries out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’? Brilliantly, candidly, and faithfully, Rollins wrestles here with that question. You may not agree with his answers and conclusions, but you owe it to yourself and to the Church at large to read what he says.”

--Phyllis Tickle, author, The Great Emergence

"Excellent thinking and excellent writing! I hope this fine book receives the broad reading it deserves. It will change lives, and our understanding of what religion is all about!"

-- Rohr,O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation; Albuquerque, New Mexico

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Checking In & A Friendly Reminder

Life has gotten busy and I'm hoping for a renewal of time to be able to read and write on spirituality soon. I just wanted to check in and remind readers of this truth:

Unconditional love means you do not need to do anything to earn it. Not even believe in it.

I believe God is unconditional love. So that whole thing about believing in God in order to be 'saved'...yeah, I don't buy it.

I think as far as The Good Book goes, thinking believers should to take a closer look at its interpretations and the origins of those interpretations with reference to the suspiciously unChrist-like texts citing the heavenly privilege of elitist believers. That passage needs to be reviewed within the context of the political, and social upheaval of the time in which it was written. That is something few pastors or priests will expound upon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shame of the Emerald Isle

One word: Unacceptable.


Irish Catholic Church concealed child abuse in 1990s

DUBLIN (Reuters) - A government-sponsored report said on Wednesday the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland continued to conceal the sexual abuse of children by priests even after it introduced rules in the mid-1990s to protect minors.

Revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

But the latest report into the handling of sex abuse claims in the diocese of Cloyne, in County Cork, shows that senior-ranking clergy were still trying to cover up abuse allegations almost until the present day.

"This is not a catalog of failure from a different era. This is not about an Ireland of 50 years ago. This is about Ireland now," Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald told a news conference.

The report, which focuses on 19 priests who allegedly abused children during a period from January 1996 to February 2009, lists how the diocese failed to report all sexual abuse complaints to the police and did not report any complaints to the health authorities between 1996 and 2008.

The bishop formerly responsible for the diocese, John Magee, falsely told the authorities that he was reporting all abuse allegations to the police, the report said.

He resigned in March last year after a Church investigation said his handling of abuse allegations had exposed children to risk.

Magee issued an apology to victims on Wednesday for his failure to report abuse and said he hoped the report would "provide the new beginning that we all had hoped for in 1996."

The government is to submit legislation to parliament that could jail clerics for up to five years if they fail to report to the authorities information about abuse of children, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said.


The report also criticized the Vatican as "entirely unhelpful" by describing Irish church guidelines on how to deal with abuse accusations as "merely a study document."

"The church guidelines weren't applied and it is quite clear also that the Vatican were complicit in that," Shatter said. The government will decide soon whether to summon the papal nuncio, the pope's representative in Ireland, over the matter, he said.

"It just goes to show we cannot trust the words of the Church and that is a very sad thing to say," said Maeve Lewis, head of abuse survivor group One in Four.

"I don't believe for one minute that Cloyne is a rogue diocese, different from the others."
The report said that the Church's own guidelines would have protected children had they been implemented. Complainants' pain was compounded by the fact that their abusers appeared to have suffered no sanctions after the abuse had been revealed.

One accusation of abuse against a girl aged nine was dismissed by investigators as mere "over familiarity" despite the fact that the priest in question had admitted fondling girls in the past.

Another priest was ordained against the advice of a psychologist who found evidence of "deep sexual repression" and evidence of psychosis. No reports were made to the police despite complaints by three young men who said the priest got them drunk and abused them.

"Without exception, (victims) felt that they had been let down by the institutional Church," the report said.

"They were all of the opinion that in their meetings with higher Church officials, the sole concern was the protection of the institution rather than the wellbeing of children."

One priest even officiated at the wedding of one of his victims, the report said.

The report is the fourth by a government commission in Ireland. A 2009 report on widespread child abuse by priests in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004 said the Church in Ireland had "obsessively" concealed the abuse.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady issued an apology to express his "shame and sorrow" at what happened.

The release of the report marked "another dark day" for the Catholic church in Ireland, he said.

(Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Jon Boyle)
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Get a Load of This

Here's an old school Sunday School book. All I can say is WOW.

Photo from this source:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ex-Priest Crusades for Abuse Victims

A telling experience from another former Catholic.

One time priest crusades for abuse victims suing Catholic Church
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
June 20, 2011

(CNN) - As a young man studying for the priesthood, Patrick Wall imagined life as a professor and football coach at a Catholic university. It didn't work out that way. Two decades later, Wall has not only left the Catholic Church, he has become one of its most tireless opponents. He's an ex-priest, driven from ministry by the feeling that his superiors used him to help cover up sex abuse by other clergymen. And he's using the training he gained as a priest to work with victims of abuse who want to take the church to court.

Since 1991, Wall says he has consulted on more than 1,000 abuse cases, helping lawyers pick apart defenses mounted by dioceses from Alaska to Australia. Now a senior consultant at the law firm of Manly and Stewart in Southern California, Wall spoke to CNN on the sidelines of a recent conference for legal and religion scholars at Cardiff Law School in Wales.

In Philadelphia, where four priests and a Catholic school teacher were indicted on sex abuse charges earlier this year, Wall says he is helping the district attorney build an unprecedented criminal case not only against the clergy, but against an archdiocesan official who supervised them. The priests – one of whom is the church official – and the teacher have denied the allegations.

The case is potentially historic. Wall doesn't know of another case where a U.S. prosecutor has gone after an official at the top of the church hierarchy as well as the suspected abusers themselves.

Prosecutors are trying to convict a vicar – the man who supervised the priests in the archdiocese – with child endangerment because they say he allowed suspected abusers to have contact with young people. The case raises the possibility that a high-ranking church official will end up behind bars. Wall hopes the threat of prison time will change the way American bishops respond to abuse allegations in a way that civil lawsuits have not.

"In the civil cases, we have taken over $3 billion, but you're not getting a lot of change in the system," he says. Patrick Wall outside a recent conference in Wales.

There has been more than a decade of intense focus on abuse by priests across the United States and Western Europe, plus lawsuits, investigations, and Vatican statements, including instructions to bishops around the world just last month to come up with an abuse policy. And even so, Wall says, priests are still abusing children.

"I'm working on stuff that happened in the summer of 2010," he says. "It's the same old sodomy."

A life-changing assignment

Wall was studying to be a priest at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, when there was a life-changing knock on his door one morning after breakfast.

At his door that day in 1990 was the head of the abbey, Abbot Jerome Theisen, with an assignment, Wall says.

Wall, then 25, was to move into one of the freshman dormitories at the university associated with the abbey. The abbot wanted him to become a faculty resident, a staff position that involved keeping an eye on first-year university students in college housing. He was to make the move immediately, that very morning.

Wall knew why.

"Starting in 1989, we started getting hit with lawsuit after lawsuit" from people alleging that priests had abused them, Wall says. He says the abbot told him that credible abuse accusations had been made against the man Wall was to replace.

Brother Paul Richards, a spokesman for Saint John's Abbey, said that the monastery and university had no record of why Wall was asked to work in the dorm. Abbot Theisen has died, Richards added.

Saint John's Abbey adopted a policy on sexual abuse and exploitation in 1989, it says on its website, saying that made it “among the first institutions to adopt” such a policy.

Wall, for his part, says the abbot's request put him on the road to becoming what the church unofficially calls a "fixer," a person who parachutes in to replace clergy who have to disappear quickly and quietly.

Wall as the temporary administrator at a Maplewood, Minnesota church in 1995.

One of Theisen's successors, Abbot John Klassen, issued an open letter of apology in 2002, saying that "some members" of the monastic community had engaged in "abusive sexual behavior with people in our schools and parishes."

A lawsuit was filed earlier this month against Saint John's by a man who says he was abused in the 1960s by a priest who later served as abbot between Theisen and Klassen. The abbey says it was “shocked” by the charges against the late Abbot Timothy Kelly, who died of cancer last year.

It says it is investigating the claims against Kelly, calling them “the first allegations that Abbot Kelly violated his vows or was an abuser.”

Wall plans to testify in that case, he told CNN.

"In the fall of '92 we had another 13 [abuse] cases come through," Wall says. "They pushed up my ordination" by a few months, Wall says, so he could step into the shoes of another priest who had to vanish.

Understanding the damage

It was after his ordination, Wall says, that he began to understand the trauma that abusive priests were inflicting, not only on their victims but on victims' families and communities.

As a new priest, Wall started hearing confessions of victims' relatives who blamed themselves for the abuse, telling Wall "I should have known, I should have seen the signs."

A heavy-set man who laughs easily, Wall still looks like the linebacker he was in high school and college. He peppers his speech with words like "dude" and casually refers to people who he thinks have done something stupid as "morons."

But relating the confessions of victims' relatives, Wall's cheerful demeanor hardens.

"I'm telling them, 'You haven't committed a sin,'" he says.

Wall, right, with his mom, dad and a diocesan priest in 1989.

Wall says that child abuse isn't like other injury cases, such as car crashes, in which a victim might be 10% at fault. Instead, he says, "100% of the blame is on the perpetrator."

Over the next four years, Wall says that the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis sent him to four more places in Minnesota where priests needed to move out fast.

He learned a lot. Wall says he saw that there was a budget for handling cases of priestly sexual abuse as far back as 1994, eight years before the scandal blew up nationally with revelations about abuse in Boston, Massachusetts. The archdiocese could not immediately confirm that, but spokesman Dennis McGrath said he would not be surprised if it was true, saying the archdiocese had been a leader in helping victims of abuse.

Wall did what the church told him to do for as long as he could, he says, but his doubts continued to grow.

"I followed the party line," he says. "But it's pretty hard to follow the party line when you don't think the party line is moral any more."

The breaking point came in 1997. Wall was in Rome, studying for a master's of divinity degree. His abbot called from Minnesota to tell him he was being posted to the Bahamas.

It was not the dream job it might sound like.

Wall says that the Bahamas was where Saint John's was sending priests it had to keep away from people because of abuse allegations. Richards, the abbey's spokesman, flatly denies the charge.

"I basically was going to be a prison warden," Wall says.

"Without much planning, I said, 'Basta cosi,'" he says, lapsing into Minnesota-accented Italian meaning, "Enough of this." Wall had decided to leave the priesthood.

Patrick Wall at his first mass as a priest in December 1992.

The abbot did not take that well, Wall says, warning that he would never make it in "the real world," that he would not be released from his priestly vows and that the order would bill him for the master's degree it had sponsored for him. The tab for the degree was about $48,000, he says.

Richards denies those allegations. "It has never been the abbey's practice to require payback for education from members of our community who have left," he says, "and it was not the case with Pat Wall."

Wall says the abbot's threats did not change his mind.

"All it did is piss me off even more," he says. "I left without a plan in December 1997."

Insider knowledge

Wall says he went home to Lake City, Minnesota to live with his parents, then bounced from job to job for nearly five years. He got married and had a daughter. He made good money as a salesman in Southern California but says he found the work as intellectually stimulating as "shovelling dirt."

And then, in 2002, the California state legislature did something that would change Wall's life. The state opened a one-year window to allow victims of clergy abuse to sue the church, even if the if the statute of limitations on the case had already expired.

Wall's eyes light up as he discusses the moment.

The law did not specifically target the Catholic Church, Wall says, noting that some rabbis were sued as well. But Catholic organizations were by far the largest group of defendants.

Still, suing a Catholic diocese was no easy task. "The litigation demanded a level of expertise that had never been needed before," Wall says.

Because of his religious training in canon law, as the Catholic Church's rules are known, Wall had that expertise. He knew how and where the church kept records. He knew where money came from and where it went. He spoke Italian and Latin.

In his first case, he testified against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, California, challenging its claim that it did not know the Franciscan friar at the center of abuse allegations.

Wall insisted that the archdiocese and any priest in it would have easy access to church records saying who the Franciscan was and who had jurisdiction over him.

The case settled out of court, Wall says.

The Diocese of Orange declined to comment for this article, as did the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which is the defendant in several cases currently involving Wall’s firm, Manly and Stewart.

Jeffrey Lena, a lawyer who represents the Vatican in the United States, also declined to comment.

But Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota-based lawyer who specializes in suing the Catholic Church on behalf of abuse victims and filed the suit against Saint John's Abbey, is full of praise for Wall.

Anderson calls Wall “an extraordinary researcher, academic and hands-on voice of experience from the inside.”

He praises the former priest's “courage,” and says he is a “powerful, insightful source of information based on his own personal experience and his study of the phenomenon” of abuse.

An old problem

Wall argues that the problem of abuse by priests is far older than anyone in the church admits publicly.

The earliest church records concerning sexual misconduct by priests come from the Council of Elvira, he says. That synod took place in what is now Spain in the year 309.

There was a treatment center for abusive priests in Hartford, Connecticut, as far back as 1822, Wall says, and the Vatican issued instructions to American bishops on how to judge and punish accusations of criminal acts by priests as far back as 1883.

Wall provided his translation of the 1883 instructions to CNN. They do not refer to any specific crimes, but refer to “abuses” and “evils.” They set out how to investigate, judge and punish crimes by priests, laying out rules such as the examination of witnesses in private, and the opportunity for the accused to know the charges and to respond and appeal.

The Philadelphia district attorney's office declined to comment on assistance it is receiving from Wall, saying it was prevented by court order from discussing the case with the media.

But Wall says that years of seeing how the Catholic Church handles abuse cases have convinced him that the church will not solve the problem itself.

He says he's not impressed by new instructions from Rome last month giving bishops around the world a year to come up with procedures for handling allegations of abuse.

"It's a Circular Letter," he says, using the official church term for the document. "That means it's for the circular file. Bishops are going to throw it away."

Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops revised its 2002 charter around dealing with sex abuse allegations to reflect the Vatican's new standards.

Wall believes the Catholic Church will survive this scandal.

"It's going to fix itself," he says.

"The institution is going to become radically smaller" as people abandon the church, he predicts. "The loss of membership, the problems in the criminal courts, the statements from the pope - these are all good."

Perpetrators need "access, power and money" in order to commit crimes and get away with them, Wall argues. A smaller, weaker Catholic Church won't be able to provide those things, making it less of a haven for abusers, he says, which will lead to a cleansed institution.

In the meantime, Wall says, the church should give up trying to handle abusers internally and let the law step in.

He recommends that the church "completely get out" of child protection, hand over all its files to civil law enforcement, and make bishops sign a legal oath every year that there are no perpetrators in the ministry - which would open them to criminal prosecution if they are found to have lied.

"Otherwise," he says, "I'll be prosecuting priest sex abuse cases for the rest of my life."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Priest Sex-Abuse Case Hits Church of Pope's Adviser

Notice that in the course of this article, the victims are not even addressed by the Church. It is the "great pain in seeing a priest who is not faithful to his vocation."
All things done in secret will come to light. This reads like a movie script in the sense that I cannot fathom the predatory evil. These are the most dispicable acts that could be perpetrated by such a person in power and trust upon innocents...and in the alleged service of God. Hypocrisy of this scale has never been so outrageous and cummulatively damaging. Faith and God has nothing to do with the Church anymore, it seems.
I was speaking with a friend about this article and he pointed out that one of these days a dad will take vengeance on his child's predator, and that predator will be a priest. I'm actually surprised this has not happened more often.
The AntiChrist works from within the flock, that's for damn sure. And there are so many of them in all tiers of the Catholic Church. Too bad morality in the "church government" cannot be federally regulated, eh? Lots of Madoffs would surface there, too.
Priest Sex-Abuse Case Hits Church of Pope's Adviser

Thursday, May. 19, 2011 - Original Source
By Alessandra Pieracci and Giacomo Galeazzi / La Stampa / Worldcrunch
This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in the leading Italian daily La Stampa.

(GENOA) — The latest sex-abuse case to rock the Catholic Church is unfolding in the archdiocese of an influential Italian Cardinal who has been working with Pope Benedict XVI on reforms to respond to prior scandals of pedophile priests.

Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, was arrested last Friday, May 13, on pedophilia and drug charges. Investigators say that in tapped mobile-phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. "I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues," he allegedly said. Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who is the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, had been working with Benedict to establish a tough new worldwide policy, released this week, on how bishops should handle accusations of priestly sex abuse. (Read "Vatican Gets Tough on Child Abuse but Not Tough Enough.)

Bagnasco said that when he met the Pope this weekend, he "asked for a particular blessing for my archdiocese" in light of the alleged crimes, adding that "like every father toward a son [feels] great pain in seeing a priest who is not faithful to his vocation."

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi praised Bagnasco's handling of the Sastri Ponente case, lauding its "timeliness and competence." On Saturday, May 14, the Cardinal visited the Santo Spirito church, where Seppia was the parish priest.

According to investigators, Seppia told a friend — a former seminarian and barman who is currently under investigation — that the town's malls were the best places to entice minors. In tapped phone conversations the two cursed and swore against God. The priest is charged with having attempted to kiss and touch an underage altar boy and of having exchanged cocaine for sexual intercourse with boys over 18. (See inside Benedict XVI's daily life.)

Seppia's defense lawyers are expected to argue that those conversations — monitored since Oct. 20, 2010 — were just words, sex games that were played by adults. It was just a game even when he claimed to have "kissed on the mouth" a 15-year-old altar boy, according to the defense.

On Monday, May 16, during formal questioning by Genoa's investigating magistrate Annalisa Giacalone, Seppia chose not to respond. The magistrate decided to keep him in custody to avoid a risk of relapse or tampering with evidence. Defense attorney Paolo Bonanni said the defense wants to evaluate all the charges, reserving the right to respond to public prosecutor Stefano Puppo in the coming days.

Questioned by the investigators, the altar boy reportedly confirmed the attempted kiss. Another male minor who, according to the investigators, was stalked with messages and pressing invitations, will be questioned soon. Psychologists are helping Carabinieri police officers obtain testimony from the alleged victims. "The boys are ashamed to talk and to admit what happened," says one of the investigators. The evidence amounts to at least 50 messages and phone calls. In the tapped phone conversations, the drug dealer contacted the boys and gave their phone numbers to the priest, who paid them with cocaine or 50 euros each time for sexual intercourse. (Read "Controversial Study Links Catholic Abuse to '60s Culture and Church Hierarchy but Offers Few Solutions.")

"[The investigators] made us listen to that man saying terrifying things about our children. Things so terrible that I cannot repeat them," a father of one of the boys said.

Investigators are also examining three confiscated computers: the priest allegedly looked for partners via chat as well.

Seppia is currently being kept in a confinement cell in a Genoa prison. He met the jail's priest and psychologist. "He has read the newspapers, and he is pained by his parishioners' comments," says his lawyer. The investigation is ongoing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Post Rapture Levity

So, here we are and the "Rapture" has come and gone. How am I ever to survive in this post-apocalyptic world?
= )

Here is a little levity from Martin Zender, whom I am connected with on Facebook. He is very funny in his portrayal of God.

Here, he talks about Rob Bell's book, Love Wins.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's The End of the World As We Know It?

Rapturists absolutely salivate at the thought of others not being chosen, of others not being flown up to heaven with them to be with God. They love the idea of looking down on others in peril because they alone did what was right and just. It's what makes them feel special. It is utterly childish and unloving to smile upon your brethren who are allegedly going to be left on earth. That is not Christ's love. That is not what Christ taught. And most importantly it scratches out the idea that God's love is unconditional. It makes God look like a selective bastard who conducted this whole world experiment knowing that a fraction of a fraction would make the cut, willing to scrap a berjillion people because they exercised the free will He gave them in a way unpleasing to him. Numerous biblical parables (not to mention common sense) contradict this. Oh, and the bible specifically states that "no one knows the day or the hour". Not even these people. I think they do a disservice to Christianity and believers in general. Their credulous declarations cast a pall over all believers as being "nutters".

End of the world? I call bullshit.

I'm halfway through Barbara Rossing's book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. It is a worthy read and one that knocks any rapturistic attempt at logic in the dirt.

About the Book:

The idea of "The Rapture" --- the return of Christ to rescue and deliver Christians off the earth --- is an extremely popular interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation and a jumping-off point for the best-selling "Left Behind" series of books. This interpretation, based on a psychology of fear and destruction, guides the daily acts of thousands if not millions of people worldwide. In The Rapture Exposed, Barbara Rossing argues that this script for the world's future is nothing more than a disingenuous distortion of the Bible. The truth, Rossing argues, is that Revelation offers a vision of God's healing love for the world. The Rapture Exposed reclaims Christianity from fundamentalists' destructive reading of the biblical story and back into God's beloved community.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blame Woodstock: Church Report Cites Social Tumult in Priest Scandals

I may be off my rocker here, but when an organization wants to REGAIN credibility through statistical studies wouldn't they be better off hiring an impartial, unbiased outside source to conduct a study? Yeah, thought so. Goal not achieved.

Blaming the sexual revolution in America for the sexual crimes of priests is as good as saying everyone should go back to the Victorian sensibilities of being ashamed of sex, their bodies, and homosexuality. Women should stay home and endure sex and no one should ever be nude or talk about sex, eroticism or any of those naughty sinful things. Placing blame is what I expect the Catholic Church to do. It becomes comical when they do it this overtly, though.

I'd like to point out a laughable moment in this report:

In one of the most counterintuitive findings, the report says that fewer than 5 percent of the abusive priests exhibited behavior consistent with pedophilia, which it defines as a “psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent fantasies, urges and behaviors about prepubescent children. “Thus, it is inaccurate to refer to abusers as ‘pedophile priests,’ ” the report says.

And all this time I thought pedophilia behavior was exhibited by adults having sex with children.

Actions speak louder than any psych eval, folks. This report is a crock of shit, if I may be so bold. Since the beginning of priesthood in general there have been abuses. I personally feel as if celibacy is and always has been the problem here. By the very nature of our biological design, we're programmed to want sex...hetero, homo, or otherwise. God designed us to copulate. It ranks right up there as one of the most powerful forces in the universe. So remind me again why this ridiculous deprivation continues? To ensure that church property doesn't fall into the hands of offspring? Yeah, maybe it is time to rethink that business model.

The raping of innocent children by a priest - someone who the whole family is taught to trust with their darkest sins in the confessional - is the ultimate violation of human decency.

Hormones often take precedence over the mind's will, and in these tragically numerous cases will continue as long as one "vice" is stifled - it will cause another to be indulged. This goes for anything. Why do you think so many priests can drink you under the table?

Church Report Cites Social Tumult in Priest Scandals
New York Times - May 17, 2011 - Original Source

A five-year study commissioned by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to provide a definitive answer to what caused the church’s sexual abuse crisis has concluded that neither the all-male celibate priesthood nor homosexuality were to blame.

Instead, the report says, the abuse occurred because priests who were poorly prepared and monitored, and were under stress, landed amid the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and ’70s.

Known occurrences of sexual abuse of minors by priests rose sharply during those decades, the report found, and the problem grew worse when the church’s hierarchy responded by showing more care for the perpetrators than the victims.

The “blame Woodstock” explanation has been floated by bishops since the church was engulfed by scandal in the United States in 2002 and by Pope Benedict XVI after it erupted in Europe in 2010.

But this study is likely to be regarded as the most authoritative analysis of the scandal in the Catholic Church in America. The study, initiated in 2006, was conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City at a cost of $1.8 million. About half was provided by the bishops, with additional money contributed by Catholic organizations and foundations. The National Institute of Justice, the research agency of the United States Department of Justice, supplied about $280,000.

The report was to be released Wednesday by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, but the Religion News Service published an account of the report on its Web site on Tuesday. A copy of the report was also obtained by The New York Times. The bishops have said they hope the report will advance the understanding and prevention of child sexual abuse in society at large.

The researchers concluded that it was not possible for the church, or for anyone, to identify abusive priests in advance. Priests who abused minors have no particular “psychological characteristics,” “developmental histories” or mood disorders that distinguished them from priests who had not abused, the researchers found.

Since the scandal broke, conservatives in the church have blamed gay priests for perpetrating the abuse, while liberals have argued that the all-male, celibate culture of the priesthood was the cause. This report will satisfy neither flank.

The report notes that homosexual men began entering the seminaries “in noticeable numbers” from the late 1970s through the 1980s. By the time this cohort entered the priesthood, in the mid-1980s, the reports of sexual abuse of minors by priests began to drop and then to level off. If anything, the report says, the abuse decreased as more gay priests began serving the church.

Many more boys than girls were victimized, the report says, not because the perpetrators were gay, but simply because the priests had more access to boys than to girls, in parishes, schools and extracurricular activities.

In one of the most counterintuitive findings, the report says that fewer than 5 percent of the abusive priests exhibited behavior consistent with pedophilia, which it defines as a “psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent fantasies, urges and behaviors about prepubescent children.

“Thus, it is inaccurate to refer to abusers as ‘pedophile priests,’ ” the report says.

That finding is likely to prove controversial, in part because the report employs a definition of “prepubescent” children as those age 10 and under. Using this cutoff, the report found that only 22 percent of the priests’ victims were prepubescent.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies a prepubescent child as generally age 13 or younger. If the John Jay researchers had used that cutoff, a vast majority of the abusers’ victims would have been considered prepubescent.

The report, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2002,” is the second produced by researchers at John Jay College. The first, on the “nature and scope” of the problem, was released in 2004.

Even before seeing it, victims advocates attacked the report as suspect because it relies on data provided by the church’s dioceses and religious orders.

Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of, a Web site that compiles reports on abuse cases, said, “There aren’t many dioceses where prosecutors have gotten involved, but in every single instance there’s a vast gap — a multiplier of two, three or four times — between the numbers of perpetrators that the prosecutors find and what the bishops released.”

David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that while the report contained no surprises, it had nonetheless been a disappointment because it did not include recommendations for far-reaching reforms, including limiting the power of bishops. Mr. Clohessy said this was critical because bishops had covered up many instances of sexual abuse by priests in the past.
“Predictably and conveniently, the bishops have funded a report that says what they’ve said all along, and what they wanted to hear back,” he said. “Fundamentally, they’ve found that they needn’t even consider any substantive changes.”

Robert M. Hoatson, a priest and a founder of Road to Recovery, which offers counseling and referrals to victims, said the idea that the sexual and social upheavals of past decades were to blame for the abuse of children was an attempt to shift responsibility from church leaders. Mr. Hoatson said he had been among those who had been abused.“It deflects responsibility from the bishops and puts it on to a sociological problem,” he said. “This is a people problem. It wasn’t because of the ’70s, and it wasn’t the ’60s, and it wasn’t because of the 1450s. This was something individuals did.”

Kristine Ward, the chairwoman of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, said the cultural explanation did not appear to explain why abuse cases within the Catholic church have shaken places from Australia and Ireland to South America. “Does the culture of the U.S. in the 1960s explain that? It’s hard to believe,” she said.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a conservative Catholic group, however said he believes permissiveness in the church in the 1960s and 1970s - particularly at seminaries - had been a significant reason for the rise in sexual abuse. Mr. Donohue said that while he generally supported the report’s findings, he believed that the study seemed to have purposefully avoided linking abuse cases with the increase in the number of gay men who became priests during the 1960s and 1970s. “The authors go through all sorts of contortions to deny the obvious - that obviously, homosexuality was at work,” Mr. Donohue said.

In Philadelphia, where a grand jury in February found that as many as 37 priests suspected of behavior ranging from sexual abuse to inappropriate actions were still serving in ministry. The archdiocese initially rejected the grand jury’s findings, but soon suspended 26 priests from ministry.

An essay in the Catholic magazine Commonweal last week by Ana Maria Catanzaro, who heads the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s sexual-abuse review board, which is supposed to advise the archdiocese on how to handle abuse cases, said that the board was shocked to learn about the dozens of cases uncovered by the grand jury. Her essay raised questions about whether bishops provide accurate data even to their own, in-house review boards.

Still, the John Jay report says that when it comes to analyzing the incidence and causes of sexual abuse, “No organization has undertaken a study of itself in the manner of the Catholic Church.”

Because there are no comparable studies conducted by other institutions, religious or secular, the report says, “It is impossible to accurately compare the rate of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church to rates of abuse in other organizations.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Googling God & eSpirituality

I think the blog post below is long overdue. I've been consuming spiritual e-content for years and it has really helped me flesh out what it is I actually believe outside of the dogma I had been programmed to believe by the Catholic Church. It all started with Martin Zender's whole catalog of podcasts and progressed through NPR podcasts about spirituality (all the time burning through stacks of traditional books - many listed under my "Recommended Resources" on the side, there).

My search was not only internal but external, not only analog but digital.

I think many people are disenfranchized with religious institutions feeling that they have the monopoly on God and are seeking answers online. Because it is such a personal issue, it can be risky to conduct open dialogue about one's beliefs on forums like Facebook or Twitter. God knows I have been in the midst of word wars on Facebook before. However, I am connected with other like-minded Christian Universalists on Facebook and enjoy reading posts and notes covering the obviously touchy topic that binds us. I'm also suspicious that I was recently unfriended by a close high school friend because I had this site linked to my Facebook profile and she found my beliefs to conflict with hers to such a degree that she couldn't even open up a discussion with me. She just...unfriended me. I accept that. I just find it a shame that fundamentalist Christians who are so engrossed in their own answers refuse to ask any questions in order to grow spiritually. They are stunted.

Technology as a means of information and spiritual support reveals in spades the unnecessary function that church buildings will play going forward. Yes, I think real personal interaction is necessary. I think shaking hands and hugging and speaking to one another in fellowship is needed. However, the structure of the physical church has morphed into 1s and 0s and new online communities are developing to hold online masses and services. People from all over the world are being connected through mouse clicks soaked in the teachings of Christ. Through YouTube and Skype, podcasts and blogs, God has infiltrated social networks and online forums offering us seekers the "Gutenberg Moment" in curating spiritual information for ourselves.

And today I just feel like ending my two cents worth with this statement that is in my mind today:

Unconditional love means you don't have to do anything to earn it. Not even believe.


My Take: How technology could bring down the church

By Lisa Miller, Special to CNN
May 15th, 2011 - Original Source Link

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and Bible publishers are ostentatiously commemorating the landmark by producing an abundance of gorgeous doorstops. Leather bound Bibles. Two-volume sets. Replicas of the 1611 version complete with “original” illustrations.

The hoopla is entirely justified, since the King James Bible revolutionized Bible reading, bringing Scripture into a common vernacular for the first time for the English-speaking world.

It is not too much to say that the King James Bible - mass produced as it was, thanks to a new technology called the printing press - democratized religion by taking it out of the hands of the clerical few and giving it to the many.

Today, another revolution in Bible reading is underway – one that has nothing to do with gilt-edged paper. If the King James Bible brought the Bible to the English-speaking masses, today’s technology goes a giant step further, making Scripture - in any language and any translation - accessible to anyone on earth with a smartphone.

Just like the 500-year-old Protestant Reformation, which was aided by the advent of the printing press and which helped give birth to the King James Bible, changes wrought by new technology have the potential to bring down the church as we know it.

In the face of church leaders who claimed that only they could interpret the Bible for the common people, Reformation leaders like Martin Luther taught that nothing supersedes the authority of the Word itself.

"A simple layman armed with Scripture,” Luther wrote, “is greater than the mightiest pope without it."

In that vein, digital technology gives users the text, plain and simple, without the interpretive lens of established authorities. And it lets users share interpretations with other non-authorities, like family members, friends and coworkers.

With Scripture on iPhones and iPads, believers can bypass constraining religious structures - otherwise known as “church” - in favor of a more individual connection with God.

This helps solve a problem that Christian leaders are increasingly articulating: that even among people who say that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and savior, folks don’t read the Bible.
According to a 2010 survey, more than a third of born-again Christians “rarely or never” read the Bible. Among “unaffiliated” people - that is, Americans who don’t belong to a religious congregation - more than two thirds say they don’t read the Bible.

Especially among 18-to-29 year olds, Bible reading has come to feel like homework, associated with “right” interpretations and “wrong ones,” and accompanied by stern lectures from the pulpit.

Young Christians “have come to expect experiences that appear unscripted and interactive,” the Christian demographer Dave Kinnaman told the Christian magazine Charisma in 2009, “that allow them to be open and honest with their questions, that are technologically stimulating, that are done alongside peers and within trusted relationships.”

This yearning for a more unmediated faith - including Bible verses live in your pocket or purse 24/7, available to inspire or console wherever and whenever they’re needed - has met an enthusiastic embrace.

For growing numbers of young people, a leather-bound Bible sitting like an artifact on a stand in the family living room has no allure. It’s not an invitation to exploration or questioning.

Young people want to “consume” their spirituality the way they do their news or their music. They want to dip and dabble, the way they browse Facebook.

Thus the almost-insane popularity of Youversion, a digital Bible available for free on iTunes and developed by a 34-year-old technology buff and Christian pastor from Oklahoma named Bobby Gruenewald. He conceived of it, he told me, while on a layover at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, wishing he had a Bible to read.

“What we’re really trying to address is, how do we increase engagement in the Bible?” he said.

Now available in 113 versions and 41 languages, including Arabic, Youversion has a community component that allows users to share thoughts and insights on Bible verses with friends. It has been installed on more than 20 million smartphones since 2008.

On May 2, Youversion staged its own King James commemorative event: for 400 seconds, starting at noon, more than 10,0000 users logged on and read a portion of the Bible – King James translation, of course - a kind of 21st century Bible-reading flash mob.

Traditionalists worry that technology allows young believers to practice religion without committing to what in the south is called “a church home” - and they’re right.

I did a public Q&A with Michigan pastor Rob Bell on the eve of the publication of his new bestseller "Love Wins" and was astonished, during the book-signing that followed, at how many acolytes felt they knew Rob through his sermons, which they regularly downloaded off the internet, even though they had never met him. They hailed from places like Australia, South Africa and New Jersey.

They listen to Bell while they’re working out, or commuting to work. They get their religion - like their meals – on the run.
It is now possible to imagine the extinction of the family Bible, long given as a gift on graduation day or other big occasions and inscribed with special dates: births, marriages, deaths.

Instead, the Bible may someday exist exclusively online, with features that allow for personalization: Link to photos of weddings and baptisms! “Share” favorite verses!

When Bible study can be done on Facebook as easily as in the church basement, and a favorite preacher can teach lessons via podcast, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people turns remote.

Without a doubt, this represents a new crisis for organized religion, a challenge to think again about what it means to be a “body” of believers.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lisa Miller.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wife Beating According to the Quran

Just as I frown upon misogyny in literalist Christianity, I ABHOR the violence towards women in literalist Islam. This makes me sick to my stomach. I just want to wrap all of these abused women in my arms to comfort them. Isn’t that what a loving God would do?

This is the glaring work of the proverbial antichrist.

“Do unto others…”

Monday, April 18, 2011

The God Women Need

This is a terrific article. I love the questions raised. It reminds me of my days teaching Catechism when the kids would ask me why we "worshipped" Mary. And I had to explain that you don't worship her, per se, but simply ask for intercession and help - because that is what the Catholic Doctrine teaches. And it always felt weird to me. In the parables it seems as if the church found a figure (Mary) that appealed to women ("Come See the Softer Side of Christ?") - but keeping the power of "her" at arm's length - and using Mary as a role model of the meek mother birthing market the role of the ideal Catholic breeder.

Putting the penis on a theological pedestal, it is an age old construction of God's manhood. And it has been a work-in-progress ever since, attempting to reinforce the phallus while denigrating the woman. Take for example the old Hebrew myth of Lilith - the alleged first wife of Adam. Her mythical demonization occurred because she wanted equality and ended up speaking the name of God. The story essentially demotes her to the status of a succubi because she exercised (gasp) independence. And let's not forget The Gospel of Mary which was promptly chucked out by the men deciding what gospels made "the cut". And Thecla, who traveled with Paul, who lived a celibate life and baptized herself and for whom you hear almost nothing about in mainstream gospels. Women are ghosts of scripture, floating in the background. Their power was whispered, while men's was shouted. 

People have difficulty recognizing that the Christ was likely sent in a man's body because at that time in history women were not heard. However, times have changed. It needs to be made clear that Christ shines through women, too. And the demise of the Catholic Church is visible in the reluctance to allow women to become priests / serve mass. The extinction of that religion will be the pinnacle lesson on the dangers of archaic misogyny.

Here's how I feel about it using some Photoshopped images. The bottom line is that women are equal to men in the eyes of God. Period. They can be empowered "relayers of the Word" and the Catholic Church will suffer great loss unless they ungag the women. The Protestants get it. Look how well their churches are doing...

The God Women Need
The Washington Post National - April 18, 2011
By Jason Pitzl-Waters
“We will not listen to the things you’ve said to us in the name of YHWH. On the contrary, we will certainly do all that we’ve vowed. We will make offerings to the Queen of Heaven, and pour libations to her as we used to do - we and our ancestors, our kings and princes in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem - because then we had plenty of bread and we were satisfied, and suffered no misfortune. But since we ceased making offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pouring libations to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by sword and famine. And when we make offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pour libations to her, is it without our husbands’ approval that we make cakes in her likeness and pour libations to her?” – Jeremiah 44:15-19, translation by Graham Harvey, from the Hebrew text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, excerpted from “The Paganism Reader.”

Leaving aside the “separate but equal” theory of religious gender roles for a moment, one has only to look towards the headlines to see how dangerous the idea of female empowerment still is within the world of faith and belief. The New York Times reports that a committee of American bishops have accused Catholic theologian and nun Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson of violating church doctrine, issuing a lengthy critique of her book “Quest For the Living God” due in part to her suggestion of using female imagery for God, an idea (among others) the Committee on Doctrine says “contaminates” traditional Catholic understandings of God. “Contaminates,” what an interesting and unintentionally apt choice of words! Because reading that critique you can see the fear of contamination dripping from its sentences, hoping against hope of placing (in the words of the NYT) “the study of the male and female aspects of God [...] substantially off-limits,” lest women once more start making offerings to the Queen of Heaven.

Look at any religion’s myths, stories, or scriptures, is there room there for a female god? Does she exist? Art historian Merlin Stone, who passed away earlier this year, stated that “at the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?” Millions, perhaps billions, still do, and more awaken every day. They cast off the constricting “equality” of the dominant monotheisms while men from religious committees promote this spiritual amnesia as fast as they can. The conception of goddess, of a female divinity, undermines a religious and cultural power structure built on men. It asks too many questions, it makes too many demands, it voices the secret fear emblazoned on so many bumper stickers: “My Goddess gave birth to your God.”

If the goddesses are suppressed, if they are erased from history, reduced to lesser roles, or turned into demons, then there is no divinity that reflects the female experience. Instead of being the originators of life, subduers of injustice, and the source of all sovereignty, women are instead bearers of the “original sin.” No sane philosopher or theologian can claim this doesn’t change the very nature of a culture, or the way we perceive gender. Imagine for a moment how different the ever-raging debate over legal access to abortion, or even contraception, whether for or against, would be if women were seen as the final holy arbiters in the matter of creating life. I can only guess we’d see something very different from the parade of old white male politicians exclaiming about “moral” issues and threatening basic health care for women in the process. Once you open your mind to that first exercise in a world with goddesses it’s hard not to think of dozens, hundreds, more. Female priests and feminine divine pronouns would hardly skim the surface.

Finally, I want to ask people to think about equality. The great defense of the religions without goddesses is that women hold honored roles that are separate from men, yet equal in standing. But who, or what, is the arbiter of equality in this discussion? Who decided what was equal? God the Father? God the Son? The prophets? The holy books written by the hands of men? The all-male priesthoods? It quickly becomes clear that “equal” is what men within these patriarchal institutions say is equal, and women who stray outside the boundaries of this carefully designed equality are usually punished, ostracized, or worse. If there were a Goddess to balance God, what would be different? What if there were many goddesses and many gods, many ideas and conceptions of equality to choose from? Would Jimmy Carter have then uttered those words?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is Hell Dead?

"The unanswered questions aren't nearly as dangerous as the unquestioned answers." Damn right.

I approve of rocking the boat. Jesus did it. Martin Luther shook things up. Others have done it. Now its Rob Bell's turn. Kudos to him for it, too. To the open-minded, the ideas he suggests have merit with regard to how logic plays in God's love. To the staunchly fundamentalist, it is heresy to even SUGGEST that hell is not eternal. Logic trumps mistranslated bible verses every time. At least, for me it does. I finished his book and it was wonderful. I plan on doing a full review of it. I'm also passing it onto my quietly Universalist mother who still attends Catholic church weekly.

Today had an article about the critical Christian thought crusade that Bell is leading. Again. Damn right.

Is Hell Dead?
Time - 4/14/11 - by Jon Meacham

As part of a series on peacemaking, in late 2007, Pastor Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church put on an art exhibit about the search for peace in a broken world. It was just the kind of avant-garde project that had helped power Mars Hill's growth (the Michigan church attracts 7,000 people each Sunday) as a nontraditional congregation that emphasizes discussion rather than dogmatic teaching. An artist in the show had included a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi. Hardly a controversial touch, one would have thought. But one would have been wrong.

A visitor to the exhibit had stuck a note next to the Gandhi quotation: "Reality check: He's in hell." Bell was struck.

Really? he recalls thinking.

Gandhi's in hell?

He is?

We have confirmation of this?

Somebody knows this?

Without a doubt?

And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?

So begins Bell's controversial new best seller, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Works by Evangelical Christian pastors tend to be pious or at least on theological message. The standard Christian view of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is summed up in the Gospel of John, which promises "eternal life" to "whosoever believeth in Him." Traditionally, the key is the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God, who, in the words of the ancient creed, "for us and for our salvation came down from heaven ... and was made man." In the Evangelical ethos, one either accepts this and goes to heaven or refuses and goes to hell.

Bell, a tall, 40-year-old son of a Michigan federal judge, begs to differ. He suggests that the redemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that, as his book's subtitle puts it, "every person who ever lived" could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be. Such a simple premise, but with Easter at hand, this slim, lively book has ignited a new holy war in Christian circles and beyond. When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell," unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the Evangelical community. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell's book is "theologically disastrous. Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way." In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book. (From TIME's archives; "Does Heaven Exist.")

The traditionalist reaction is understandable, for Bell's arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation. "When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world," says Mohler, "then you don't need the church, and you don't need Christ, and you don't need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism, and it's Rob Bell's tragedy in this book too."

Particularly galling to conservative Christian critics is that Love Wins is not an attack from outside the walls of the Evangelical city but a mutiny from within — a rebellion led by a charismatic, popular and savvy pastor with a following. Is Bell's Christianity — less judgmental, more fluid, open to questioning the most ancient of assumptions — on an inexorable rise? "I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian," Bell says. "Something new is in the air."

Which is what has many traditional Evangelicals worried. Bell's book sheds light not only on enduring questions of theology and fate but also on a shift within American Christianity. More indie rock than "Rock of Ages," with its videos and comfort with irony (Bell sometimes seems an odd combination of Billy Graham and Conan O'Brien), his style of doctrine and worship is clearly playing a larger role in religious life, and the ferocity of the reaction suggests that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Otherwise, why reckon with him at all? A similar work by a pastor from one of the declining mainline Protestant denominations might have merited a hostile blog post or two — bloggers, like preachers, always need material — but it is difficult to imagine that an Episcopal priest's eschatological musings would have provoked the volume of criticism directed at Bell, whose reach threatens prevailing Evangelical theology.

Bell insists he is only raising the possibility that theological rigidity — and thus a faith of exclusion — is a dangerous thing. He believes in Jesus' atonement; he says he is just unclear on whether the redemption promised in Christian tradition is limited to those who meet the tests of the church. It is a case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude.

From a traditionalist perspective, though, to take away hell is to leave the church without its most powerful sanction. If heaven, however defined, is everyone's ultimate destination in any event, then what's the incentive to confess Jesus as Lord in this life? If, in other words, Gandhi is in heaven, then why bother with accepting Christ? If you say the Bible doesn't really say what a lot of people have said it says, then where does that stop? If the verses about hell and judgment aren't literal, what about the ones on adultery, say, or homosexuality? Taken to their logical conclusions, such questions could undermine much of conservative Christianity. (See the Top 10 Religion Stories of 2010.)

What the Hell?

From the Apostle Paul to John Paul II, from Augustine to Calvin, Christians have debated atonement and judgment for nearly 2,000 years. Early in the 20th century, Harry Emerson Fosdick came to represent theological liberalism, arguing against the literal truth of the Bible and the existence of hell. It was time, progressives argued, for the faith to surrender its supernatural claims.

Bell is more at home with this expansive liberal tradition than he is with the old-time believers of Inherit the Wind. He believes that Jesus, the Son of God, was sacrificed for the sins of humanity and that the prospect of a place of eternal torment seems irreconcilable with the God of love. Belief in Jesus, he says, should lead human beings to work for the good of this world. What comes next has to wait. "When we get to what happens when we die, we don't have any video footage," says Bell. "So let's at least be honest that we are speculating, because we are." He is quick to note, though, that his own speculation, while unconventional, is not unprecedented. "At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church," Bell writes, "have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God."

It is also true that the Christian tradition since the first church has insisted that history is tragic for those who do not believe in Jesus; that hell is, for them, forever; and that love, in the end, will envelop those who profess Jesus as Lord, and they — and they alone — will be reconciled to God. Such views cannot be dismissed because they are inconvenient or uncomfortable: they are based on the same Bible that liberals use to make the opposite case. This is one reason religious debate can seem a wilderness of mirrors, an old CIA phrase describing the bewildering world of counterintelligence.

Still, the dominant view of the righteous in heaven and the damned in hell owes more to the artistic legacy of the West, from Michelangelo to Dante to Blake, than it does to history or to unambiguous biblical teaching. Neither pagan nor Jewish tradition offered a truly equivalent vision of a place of eternal torment; the Greek and Roman underworlds tended to be morally neutral, as did much of the Hebraic tradition concerning Sheol, the realm of the dead.

Things many Christian believers take for granted are more complicated than they seem. It was only when Jesus failed to return soon after the Passion and Resurrection appearances that the early church was compelled to make sense of its recollections of his teachings. Like the Bible — a document that often contradicts itself and from which one can construct sharply different arguments — theology is the product of human hands and hearts. What many believers in the 21st century accept as immutable doctrine was first formulated in the fog and confusion of the 1st century, a time when the followers of Jesus were baffled and overwhelmed by their experience of losing their Lord; many had expected their Messiah to be a Davidic military leader, not an atoning human sacrifice.

When Jesus spoke of the "kingdom of heaven," he was most likely referring not to a place apart from earth, one of clouds and harps and an eternity with your grandmother, but to what he elsewhere called the "kingdom of God," a world redeemed and renewed in ways beyond human imagination. To 1st century ears in ancient Judea, Jesus' talk of the kingdom was centered on the imminent arrival of a new order marked by the defeat of evil, the restoration of Israel and a general resurrection of the dead — all, in the words of the prayer he taught his disciples, "on earth."

There is, however, no escaping the fact that Jesus speaks in the Bible of a hell for the "condemned." He sometimes uses the word Gehenna, which was a valley near Jerusalem associated with the sacrifice of children by fire to the Phoenician god Moloch; elsewhere in the New Testament, writers (especially Paul and John the Divine) tell of a fiery pit (Tartarus or Hades) in which the damned will spend eternity. "Depart from me, you cursed [ones], into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels," Jesus says in Matthew. In Mark he speaks of "the unquenchable fire." The Book of Revelation paints a vivid picture — in a fantastical, problematic work that John the Divine says he composed when he was "in the spirit on the Lord's day," a signal that this is not an Associated Press report — of the lake of fire and the dismissal of the damned from the presence of God to a place where "they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever."

And yet there is a contrary scriptural trend that suggests, as Jesus puts it, that the gates of hell shall not finally prevail, that God will wipe away every tear — not just the tears of Evangelical Christians but the tears of all. Bell puts much stock in references to the universal redemption of creation: in Matthew, Jesus speaks of the "renewal of all things"; in Acts, Peter says Jesus will "restore everything"; in Colossians, Paul writes that "God was pleased to ... reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven."

So is it heaven for Christians who say they are Christians and hell for everybody else? What about babies, or people who die without ever hearing the Gospel through no fault of their own? (As Bell puts it, "What if the missionary got a flat tire?") Who knows? Such tangles have consumed Christianity for millennia and likely will for millennia to come.

What gives the debate over Bell new significance is that his message is part of an intriguing scholarly trend unfolding simultaneously with the cultural, generational and demographic shifts made manifest at Mars Hill. Best expressed, perhaps, in the work of N.T. Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, England (Bell is a Wright devotee), this school focuses on the meaning of the texts themselves, reading them anew and seeking, where appropriate, to ask whether an idea is truly rooted in the New Testament or is attributable to subsequent church tradition and theological dogma.

For these new thinkers, heaven can mean different things. In some biblical contexts it is a synonym for God. In others it signifies life in the New Jerusalem, which, properly understood, is the reality that will result when God brings together the heavens and the earth. In yet others it seems to suggest moments of intense human communion and compassion that are, in theological terms, glimpses of the divine love that one might expect in the world to come. One thing heaven is not is an exclusive place removed from earth. This line of thinking has implications for the life of religious communities in our own time. If the earth is, in a way, to be our eternal home, then its care, and the care of all its creatures, takes on fresh urgency.
Bell's Journey

The easy narrative about Bell would be one of rebellion — that he is reacting to the strictures of a suffocating childhood by questioning long-standing dogma. The opposite is true. Bell's creed of conviction and doubt — and his comfort with ambiguity and paradox — comes from an upbringing in which he was immersed in faith but encouraged to ask questions. His father, a central figure in his life, is a federal judge appointed by President Reagan in 1987. (Rob still remembers the drive to Washington in the family Oldsmobile for the confirmation hearings.) "I remember him giving me C.S. Lewis in high school," Bell says. "My parents were both very intellectually honest, straightforward, and for them, faith meant that you were fully engaged." As they were raising their family, the Bells, in addition to regular churchgoing, created a rigorous ethos of devotion and debate at home. Dinner-table conversations were pointed; Lewis' novels and nonfiction were required reading.

The roots of Love Wins can be partly traced to the deathbed of a man Rob Bell never met: his grandfather, a civil engineer in Michigan who died when Rob's father was 8. The Bells' was a very conservative Evangelical household. When the senior Bell died, there was to be no grief. "We weren't allowed to mourn, because the funeral of a Christian is supposed to be a celebration of the believer in heaven with Jesus right now," says Robert Bell Sr. "But if you're 8 years old and your dad — the breadwinner — just died, it feels different. Sad."

The story of how his dad, still a child, was to deal with death has stayed with Rob. "To weep, to shed any tears — that would be doubting the sovereignty of God," Rob says now, looking back. "That was the thing — 'They're all in heaven, so we're happy about that.' It doesn't matter how you are actually humanly responding to this moment ..." Bell pauses and chuckles ironically, a bit incredulous. "We're all just supposed to be thrilled."

Robby — his mother still calls him that — was emotionally precocious. "When he was around 10 years old, I detected that he had a great interest and concern for people," his father says. "There he'd be, riding along with me, with his little blond hair, going to see sick folks or friends who were having problems, and he would get back in the truck after a visit and begin to analyze them and their situations very acutely. He had a feel for people and how they felt from very early on."

Rob was a twice-a-week churchgoer at the Baptist and nondenominational churches the family attended at different times — services on Sunday, youth group on Wednesday. He recalls a kind of quiet frustration even then. "I remember thinking, 'You know, if Jesus is who this guy standing up there says he is, this should be way more compelling.' This should have a bit more electricity. The knob should be way more to the right, you know?"

Music, not the church, was his first consuming passion. (His wife Kristen claims he said he wanted to be a pastor when they first met early on at Wheaton College in Illinois. Bell is skeptical: "I swear to this day that that was a line.") He and some friends started a band when he was a sophomore. "I had always had creative energy but no outlet," he says. "I really discovered music, writing and playing, working with words and images and metaphors. You might say the music unleashed a monster." (See pictures of spiritual healing around the world.)

The band became central to him. Then two things happened: the guitar player decided to go to seminary, and Bell came down with viral meningitis. "It took the wind out of our sails," he says. "I had no Plan B. I was a wreck. I was devastated, because our band was going to make it. We were going to live in a terrible little house and do terrible jobs at first, because that's what great bands do — they start out living in terrible little houses and doing terrible little jobs." His illness — "a freak brain infection" — changed his life, Bell says.

At 21, Rob was teaching barefoot waterskiing at HoneyRock Camp, near Three Lakes, Wis., when he preached his first sermon. "I didn't know anything," he says. "I took off my Birkenstocks beforehand. I had this awareness that my life would never be the same again." The removal of the shoes is an interesting detail for Bell to remember. ("Do not come any closer," God says to Moses in the Book of Exodus. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.") Bell says it was just intuitive, but the intuition suggests he had a sense of himself as a player in the unfolding drama of God in history. "Create things and share them," Bell says. "It all made sense. That moment is etched. I remember thinking distinctly, 'I could be terrible at this.' But I knew this would get me up in the morning. I went to Fuller that fall."

Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, Calif., is an eclectic place, attracting 4,000 students from 70 countries and more than 100 denominations. "It's pretty hard to sit with Pentecostals and Holiness people and mainline Presbyterians and Anglicans and come away with a closed mind-set that draws firm boundaries about theology," says Fuller president Richard Mouw.

After seminary, Bell's work moved in two directions. He was recovering the context of the New Testament while creating a series of popular videos on Christianity called Nooma, Greek for wind or spirit. He began to attract a following, and Mars Hill — named for the site in Athens where Paul preached the Christian gospel of resurrection to the pagan world — was founded in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1999. "Whenever people wonder why a church is growing, they say, 'He's preaching the Bible.' Well, lots of people are preaching the Bible, and they don't have parking problems," says Bell.

Mars Hill did have parking problems, and Bell's sudden popularity posed some risks for the young pastor. Pride and self-involvement are perennial issues for ministers, who, like politicians, grow accustomed to the sound of their own voices saying Important Things and to the deference of the flock. By the time Bell was 30, he was an Evangelical celebrity. (He had founded Mars Hill when he was 28.) He was referred to as a "rock star" in this magazine. "There was this giant spotlight on me," he says. "All of a sudden your words are parsed. I found myself — and I think this happens to a lot of people — wanting to shrink away from it. But I decided, Just own it. I'm very comfortable in a room with thousands of people. I do have this voice. What will I say?"

And how will he say it? The history of Evangelism is in part the history of media and methods: Billy Sunday mastered the radio, Billy Graham television; now churches like Bell's are at work in the digital vineyards of downloads and social media. Demography is also working in Bell's favor. "He's trying to reach a generation that's more comfortable with mystery, with unsolved questions," says Mouw, noting that his own young grandchildren are growing up with Hindu and Muslim friends and classmates. "For me, Hindus and Muslims were the people we sent missionaries off to in places we called 'Arabia,'" Mouw says. "Now that diversity is part of the fabric of daily life. It makes a difference. My generation wanted truth — these are folks who want authenticity. The whole judgmentalism and harshness is something they want to avoid."

If Bell is right about hell, then why do people need ecclesiastical traditions at all? Why aren't the Salvation Army and the United Way sufficient institutions to enact a gospel of love, sparing us the talk of heaven and hellfire and damnation and all the rest of it? Why not close up the churches?

Bell knows the arguments and appreciates the frustrations. "I don't know anyone who hasn't said, 'Let's turn out the lights and say we gave it a shot,'" he says. "But you can't — I can't — get away from what this Jesus was, and is, saying to us. What the book tries to do is park itself right in the midst of the tension with a Jesus who offers an urgent and immediate call — 'Repent! Be transformed! Turn!' At the same time, I've got other sheep. There's a renewal of all things. There's water from the rock. People will come from the East and from the West. The scandal of the gospel is Jesus' radical, healing love for a world that's broken."

Fair enough, but let's be honest: religion heals, but it also kills. Why support a supernatural belief system that, for instance, contributed to that minister in Florida's burning of a Koran, which led to the deaths of innocent U.N. workers in Afghanistan?

"I think Jesus shares your critique," Bell replies. "We don't burn other people's books. I think Jesus is fairly pissed off about it as well."

On Sunday, April 17, at Mars Hill, Bell will be joined by singer-songwriter Brie Stoner (who provided some of the music for his Nooma series) and will teach the first 13 verses of the third chapter of Revelation, which speaks of "the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God ... Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." The precise meaning of the words is open to different interpretations. But this much is clear: Rob Bell has much to say, and many are listening.