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“A Wall That Protects Us All”: Sarah Palin Can’t Tear Down The Wall Between Church And State

“We have just enough religion to make us hate,” wrote Jonathan Swift, “but not enough to make us love one another.” A lifelong religious controversialist, the 18th-century Irish satirist definitely knew whereof he wrote. After all, it’s fewer than 20 years since Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland quit dynamiting each other’s gathering places.

Even here in the United States, it often seems that picking fights over religion increases during the Christmas season. If anything, claiming to be persecuted while expressing contempt for others’ belief appears on the rise.

And, no, I’m not talking only about the annual invocation of paranoid triumphalism Fox News calls the “War on Christmas.” Nor even about noted theologian Rush Limbaugh assailing Pope Francis as a “Marxist” for criticizing the tyranny of markets and the worship of money. Because Jesus was all about capital formation and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Everywhere you look, somebody’s insulting somebody else’s religion.

To me, the cultural left’s only marginally better than the right. I recently witnessed a remarkable online colloquy concerning a Catholic organization’s shipping 3,000 rosaries to the Philippines to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, “so that they can thank God” as one cynic wrote.

“Do these people ever use their minds for one second?” one person asked. “Hearing this is thoroughly depressing. It shows how ignorant and warped so many people are and how daunting is the amount of education there needs to be to cure the world.”

Cure it of what, I wondered. Of typhoons? Of charity? Or merely of belief? Almost needless to say, Roman Catholic churches worldwide were taking up special collections for storm victims in that largely Catholic nation—along with religious and humanitarian organizations worldwide.

“They are vultures sweeping down on those in need to shove more control down their throats,” wrote another. “I have nothing but contempt for the Catholic church and religion as a whole.”

News flash: The world will never be cured.

Meanwhile, how this kind of free-floating rage differs from Bible-beating preachers who blame earthquakes and tornadoes on other people’s sexual sins escapes me. The main characteristic of the fundamentalist mind is an inability to refrain from expressing contempt for beliefs different from one’s own—whether one’s spiritual leader is Pat Robertson or Christopher Hitchens.

Which brings us back to Sarah Palin’s remarkable appearance at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University last week—the last stop on a tour publicizing her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.

“I say in a very jolly Christmasy way,” the Alaskan babbler claims, “that, ‘Enough is enough.’ Say enough is enough with this politically correct police out there that is acting to erode our freedom to celebrate and exercise our faith. Some Scrooge wants to force Christ out of Christmas and wants to ban Jesus out of the reason for the season?”

To hear Palin tell it, there’s a veritable army of “angry atheists armed with an attorney” who “want to try to abort Christ from Christmas” by filing lawsuits “when they see a plastic Jewish family on somebody’s lawn—a nativity scene, that’s basically what it is, right?”

Actually, no.

But never mind theology, here’s the deal: If Palin or anybody else can provide a single, verifiable instance of somebody being successfully sued for exhibiting a crèche, a cross or any religious symbol on private property anywhere in the U.S., they’d have something to complain about.

They’d also have the certain support of the American Civil Liberties Union in defense of their First Amendment rights.

But of course that’s not what these (to my mind overblown) fights over nativity scenes at courthouses, city halls and state capitols around the country are about. Instead, they’re about an “establishment of religion” which the same First Amendment categorically forbids.

In typical scattershot fashion, Palin even invoked Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson, a conventionally pious Founding Father in her mind, who would, like, totally object to the persecution of people like her who can’t make everybody admit that their God is America’s God:   

“I think Thomas Jefferson would certainly recognize it and stand up and he wouldn’t let anybody tell him to sit down and shut up.”

Now it’s definitely true that Jefferson was rarely shy about his religious views. Courtesy of Martin Longman in Washington Monthly, here’s his opinion about what Palin calls “the reason for the season” from an 1823 letter to John Adams: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter.”

Like Swift, Jefferson recognized the dangers of religious strife. That’s precisely why, he assured Connecticut Baptists in 1802, the First Amendment decreed “a wall of separation between church and State.”

A wall that protects us still.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 11, 2013

December 12, 2013 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pope’s Pointed Message”: Our Sacred Responsibility Is To One Another

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

That passage is not from some Occupy Wall Street manifesto. It was written by Pope Francis in a stunning new treatise on the Catholic Church’s role in society — and it is a powerful reminder that, however tiresome the political trench warfare in Washington may be, we have a duty to fight on.

The full implementation of Obamacare matters. Raising the minimum wage matters. Reforming a financial system that, as Francis noted, “rules rather than serves” matters. Hearing the anguished voices of those left hopeless by poverty matters; answering their pleas with education, health care and employment matters even more.

Francis, the first Jesuit and first non-European in the modern era to be named pope, clearly intends to make a real difference in the world — too much of a difference, it appears, for some conservatives: Sarah Palin, a born-again Christian who attends a nondenominational church, said recently that Francis’s open-arms attitude on social issues “has taken me aback.” Would that a few more words might take her all the way aback to the obscurity from which she came.

Francis’s remarks on economics and poverty came in a 50,000-word Apostolic Exhortation, released Tuesday, that gives the clearest vision to date of how he sees the church and how he intends to reshape it. In its boldness, the statement suggests that, just as Pope John Paul II played a political role in the fall of communism, so might Francis try to help shape events by obliging the faithful to recognize, and resist, a growing pattern of inequality throughout the world.

“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed,” Francis wrote. “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

Francis explicitly calls for “financial reform,” though he wisely does not lay out a policy agenda. But in a passage likely to make libertarians want to hide amid the dense thickets of Ayn Rand’s prose, where no light can penetrate, Francis wrote that “the private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them.”

The basic positions Francis takes on economic and social justice are not new; all recent popes have expressed a similar critique of modern capitalist society, including John Paul II, whose views on poverty and the need for community are often conveniently overlooked by those who would paint him as Ronald Reagan in robes.

But no recent pope has been so forceful in denouncing the “idolatry of money” and making the inexorable rise of inequality one of the church’s central concerns. Francis intends his message to be heard. I hope leaders everywhere, and especially in Washington, are listening.

Jesus commanded his apostles to give to the poor. Yet many elected officials who claim to follow Jesus’s teachings are determined to keep the poor from receiving health care, food assistance, housing subsidies and a host of other benefits. Inequality is celebrated as a virtue. Life, we are told with a shrug, is sometimes unfair.

But for Christians, Francis reminds us, life is supposed to be as fair and compassionate as we can make it. Money is a false idol, a golden calf. Our sacred responsibility is to one another.

Amen, Your Holiness. Amen.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 28, 2013

December 1, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“More Than A Value For Birth”: A Right-Wing Agenda Can Be Defeated

Pope Francis is stirring up all Catholics and the ways that we are involved in the world — including in politics. For too long the leaders of our church were either firmly committed to a narrow view of the Gospel or were timid about speaking of the full message of Jesus. Politicians have been for not toeing the line on the narrow message.

Now we have a breath of fresh air. This fresh air is disturbing to those who have engineered the narrow message. I can only imagine that those who have been focused on abortion and same sex marriage are angry at the sea change. Their crafty plans of using faith for a right-wing political agenda are crashing down around their ears. Pope Francis is saying that the Gospel cannot be used to benefit one political party.

In 2012 U.S. Catholic sisters and my organization, Network, were criticized by the Vatican for not holding their narrow focus. Now we see that our pope knows that no one political party has control of the Gospel message.

The faith value of life is more than a value for birth. Gospel values that mandate a care for the poor are at the heart of our faith and Pope Francis is speaking of that message. I don’t believe that our pope (or God) would be pleased with the Republican effort to eliminate food stamps for hungry people, end housing benefits for struggling workers, deny healthcare for those with no access and to refuse to consider comprehensive immigration reform.

Pope Francis spoke of his own change and conversion to a more compassionate leadership. He is speaking to the heart of those who have been in control with fear and judgment. The test is to see if they can embrace the more challenging role of struggling together to create the common good.

Catholic Democrats also have a test in front of them. They have struggled for years to be faithful in the face of a narrow right-wing agenda. Now the challenge will be for them not to retaliate. The conversion for the Democrats will be to continue to work for the full message of the Gospel and not be arrogant or judgmental themselves.

On the bus we learned that we need the 100 percent to embody our faith. We need the 100 percent to make the Gospel live. And in our pluralistic country I pray that this renewed message will help the 100 percent live our communal and Constitutional mandate to “form a more perfect union.”

 

By: Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of Network, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, September 22, 2013

September 23, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, Politics, Poverty | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Footnote”: Sorry, Atheists Can’t Go To Heaven After All

A Vatican spokesperson is walking back remarks Pope Francis made last week suggesting that atheists and people of other faiths who do good deeds are also redeemed “with the blood of Christ,” a statement that seemed to contradict Catholic teaching that “outside the church there is no salvation.”

After lauding Francis’ ability to speak in a “language that everyone can understand,” the Rev. Thomas Rosica issued a corrective to the pope’s homily and suggested that, basically, people misunderstood the pope.

In a message delivered on Vatican Radio last week, the pope said: “The Lord has redeemed all of us… not just Catholics. Everyone!” Adding, in case there was any confusion: “Even the atheists. Everyone!” In response to the homily, Rosica wrote that, while the pope is a gifted speaker, Francis was not rewriting theological doctrine when he made his inclusive remarks:

Pope Francis has no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation through his homily or scriptural reflection when he stated that “God has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” […]

This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.

By: Katie McDonough, Assistant Editor, Salon, May 28, 2013

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Joining The 21st Century”: The GOP Can Learn A Thing Or Two From The Catholic Church

The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are hardly a liberal lot. They’ve doubled down against abortion and gay marriage (or even acceptance of gays). Church hierarchy has verbally slapped down nuns who have gently challenged the priorities of the church. So it really says something when the GOP last year nominated a white guy named Mitt to run for president, while the cardinals—who could be described as the tea party caucus of the Catholic faith—picked a South American guy named Jorge.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is from Argentina and speaks Spanish. That alone makes him a more 21st century choice for leadership (although he is a staunch social conservative, being vocal in his opposition to gay marriage). And it may well be as much about demographic strategy as it is about merit; the Roman Catholic Church, after all, does a better recruitment job in Latin America than in, say, the U.S. But the very fact that such a conservative group would pick a Latin American to be the public face (not to mention the spiritual leader) of the worldwide faith shows that they are way ahead of the U.S. Republican party.

Bergoglio, notably a Jesuit, took the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his vow of poverty. House Republicans, on the same day Francis became Pope, pushed through a bill to ban the granting of waivers on the work requirement for welfare—in other words, toughening up rules on the poor whom St. Francis wanted to help.

Many Republicans realize they need to do a better job with outreach. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of the young stars of the party, noted humorously in a dinner speech last Saturday night that he was hamstrung by his image. How could a skinny guy with dark skin and a funny name ever dream of becoming president?, Jindal quipped, as President Obama sat nearby. It was meant to be a joke, but the Republican candidate slate last year was, mainly, a slew of white men. The voter outreach and get-out-the-vote strategy was similarly ill-focused. The heavily traditional and old-fashioned church has made a move to join the 21st century. The GOP ought to consider following suit.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, March 14, 2013

March 15, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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