Friday, April 30, 2010

You Heard It Here First

I want you to hear this from me before you hear it from anyone else. As soon as we formally grieve the tragic loss of life at the British Petroleum drilling platform—and it is a tragedy, make no mistake—we will learn that the BP oil spill sending 21,000 gallons of crude daily into the Gulp of Mexico and heading for New Orleans is no accident.

To get a jump on the theories I called a few people I know who may or may not know anything about this oil spill. I spoke first with Ol’ Dan Tucker, an aide to someone who lives in Washington D.C. and who agreed to talk with me only on condition of anonymity, whatever that means. Anyway Dan told me that the elderly woman for whom he is an aide told him that she thought the timing of the spill was suspicious:

“You know, Obama decided he’s for off-shore drilling in order to get Republican backing for his energy plan, but he is really against it, and then this spill happens which will set off-shoring drilling so far off into the future that it may never happen, so could it be that Obama didn’t really want to see off-shore drilling happen at all so he got some of his Chicago buddies at the CIA to blow the rig? That way he can be for drilling politically and against drilling practically. Pretty convenient, don’t you think?”

I usually try not to think, so I thanked Dan for speaking with me and made another call. I expected to reach his secretary but Pastor Hal Aluya answered his own phone. “Is your secretary in, Pastor? I wanted to ask her about the BP oil spill.”

“Sorry,” Pastor Hal said. “She’s preparing our Holy Oil Duck Scrubbing Mission. But I’d be happy to answer your question.”

“OK. Any thoughts on why this spill in this place at this time?”

“God’s will, of course. The Lord tried to drown New Orleans and its homosexuals with Hurricane Katrina but failed. So now He's sending oil, and if we set it ablaze, fire. Just like the Good Book says. Its Sodom and Gomorrah, Part Two.”

Not wanting to appear biased, I next called a rabbi friend to get his take. I told him what Rev. Aluya said.

“He’s half right,” Rabbi Dove Bear Schmearsonsonson told me. “It is God’s will, but it has nothing to do with the gays. Sure homosexuals are an abomination, but they’re not the only abomination. This spill is about kosher; it will destroy the shellfish industry, and the livelihoods of those who promote it and eat the abominable bottom feeders. God may hate gay people, but no more than He hates shrimp and crabs.”

Sensing I was on a roll, I called a guy I know who claims to have been an imam in the court of Ethiopian Emperor Highli Unlikli.

“We both know who is behind this,” he said. “The Jews; Mossad. I heard that not a single Jew died in that explosion.”

“Were there any Jews on the rig at all?” I asked.

“No. My point exactly. They were planning this explosion for years and so made sure they had no Jews working on it ever.”

I thanked Imam Unlikli for his insights and made one last call.

“Professor Moriarty, please” I said as the fresh voiced woman receptionist finished saying, “Brown, Driver, Briggs, and Moriarty.”

“Yes?” the Professor said.

“I’m calling to get your reaction to the BP oil spill, Professor. Any thoughts as to who's behind this?”

“The British, of course. The company is called British Petroleum, after all. It's revenge for the Battle of New Orleans.”

“The what?” I said.

“The Battle of New Orleans. In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans, and we fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.”

“Houd that turn out?” I asked.

“We fired our guns and the British kept a comin, there wasn’t ‘bout as many as there was a while ago. We fired once more they began to runnin’ on down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“The War of 1812 was over before the Battle of New Orleans was fought. It was a waste of lives. The British never forgave us, and now they will have their revenge.”

OK, there you have it. What “it” is I’m not sure, but there it is nonetheless. I guarantee you one or more of these ideas or something like them will make it onto Fox & Friends by Monday of next week and onto the other networks a day or two later, and then on the Daily Show by Thursday night. And when they do just remember: you heard it here first.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Q & A at 59

I turned 59 this past Monday. By coincidence (if you believe in coincidence) I received an email from a student who needed to interview a clergy person for a final class paper. He had come across me somewhere and thought I might fit the bill. I thought you might like to read our brief exchange.

What has been your primary goal since becoming a rabbi?

I entered seminary to find God and change religion. I believed and still believe that God is the source and substance of all reality. God is not a being or supreme being, but be-ing itself. To realize God is to realize our connection with and responsibility toward all life. The more you know God the more you become a vehicle for compassion and justice. I wanted to know this God and to make Judaism a means for knowing this and becoming this vehicle.

Did you do it?

I continue to know God, but to change Judaism—no. At this I have failed, and my rabbinate is a failure.

Does it bother you to have wasted your life in this way?

I said I was a failure not that I have wasted my life. To fail means that I first had to try. To waste a life is never to bother living it in the first place. I lived. I continue to live, and I continue to do the only thing I know how to do: I write, and I talk. I write and talk to change minds and hearts and institutions. Perhaps I have changed some minds and heats, but the institution is the same. Failure, yes. Life waster, no.

If you had succeeded in changing the institution what would it look like?

There is no one way to be Jewish even as I envision Judaism. But I would say we would root Judaism in two principles: teshuvah and tikkun: returning to our true nature as God (teshuvah) and repairing the world with godliness (tikkun). This places compassion and justice at the heart of Judaism. Jews would choose which traditions to follow or amend or invent based on a single question: will this make me more just and compassionate? If the answer is yes, then the tradition demands your loyalty. If the answer is no, then it makes no demands on you at all. Every Jew and every synagogue would be unique, but all would be responding to this question. What would unite us would not be shared answers, but a shared question.

If you have failed, what will you do now?

The only thing I know how to do: write and talk.

And if you continue to fail?

I fully expect to fail. But better to fail than not to act.

Doesn’t it ever occur to you to quit?

Of course. Everyday I sit and read newspapers and websites, and watch the news on television, and I think for a moment about abandoning the madness that is religion. Then my anger and frustration translate into yet another book or talk and I go on. I have no idea why this happens, but I cannot ignore it when it does.

You do a lot with interfaith work. Is this more promising that working within one religion?

No. My work in interfaith is to suggest that religions are like the blind men and the elephant: each has a piece of the puzzle but none knows it as a whole. While I admire those who work toward interreligious understanding and peace, I am not among them. I study and teach religion to reveal the existential heart of religion: the realization that we are mortal. Then I focus on those teachers and teachings that help us live with dying, rather than those who promise us some way to escape from dying: Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, Buddha before he was made into a god, Ramana Maharshi, Hillel, Rumi, Ramakrishna, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, Erich Fromm, Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Toni Packer, to name a few off the top of my head.

Do you write and talk differently now than, say, 25 years ago?

Yes, I write and talk more fiercely. I have less patience for niceties and political correctness. I used to care about what other’s thought of what I wrote and said. And while I still notice this, it no longer shapes my writing or my speaking.

I read once that you say rabbis have a choice between being prophets or clerks, and that most are clerks. Which are you?

I didn’t say that, I was quoting someone else. But I do believe it. Which am I? Only others can say; and only after I’m dead. Hopefully you will be around to ask those who survive me.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

God is not One

Stephen Prothero’s new book, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter, is a refreshing antidote to the too easy notion that all religions say the same thing. They don’t. Indeed, they are often mutually exclusive.

While Dr. Prothero suggests that all religions begin with the notion that “something has gone awry.” After that, however, they differ as to what is wrong and what to do about it. Fair enough. This is what is sometimes called the medical model of comparative religion: each religion has its own diagnosis of the human condition, prognosis of the disease, prescription for its cure, and medicine to cure it. Using this model is both easy and informative, and I employ it each time I teach Comparative Religion.

My own sense is that there is a disease underlying all diseases: the realization that we are going to die. Since mortality offends the ego’s sense of being entitled to immortality we invent a variety of ways to make mortality go away: heavens, hells, rebirth, reincarnation, becoming gods ourselves, and moving from plane to plane in search of more knowledge are all ways of defeating death, if only in our own minds. Perhaps the reason why so many religious people are willing to kill and be killed for their religion is that dying is really what religion is all about.

I think the point of Dr. Prothero’s book is to challenge the cheap unity that passes for serious discussion of religion in the popular media. Anyone who thinks Buddhism and Catholicism are the same thing, for example, has never compared an image of the meditating Buddha with the Crucified Christ. This isn’t a matter of apples and oranges, but of apples and road kill.

Does honoring differences preclude real dialogue and interspirituality? Not at all. If religious differences are simply a matter of tomato/tomahto then dialogue is unnecessary, and if religions are each unique and complete unto themselves then dialogue is impossible.

Dialogue is the willingness to step out of what we know to meet one another in the space between, the space of not-knowing. This happens only when you are willing to be addressed by another, to be transformed by the other. If I leave a dialogue unchanged I never really entered into dialogue in the first place. If my encounter with other religions leaves my Judaism untouched, I never really encountered them.

Dialogue rarely happens. Most people are too afraid of meet an other. Most of us are too busy running from mortality to stand still and “die before you die.”

In my own experiences with the faculty of the Spiritual Paths Institute true dialogue is known to happen. But only when we push one another. When my love for my friend leads to a love for what my friend loves then dialogue can happen, and then we can move beyond what we love to love itself.

Dr. Prothero doesn’t preclude this kind of transformative dialogue, he just insists that we don’t cheapen it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are Religions Violent?

Phillip Jenkins in Monday’s USA TODAY argues that “any faith can become violent.” True enough. But why?

Religions, professor Jenkins suggests, aren’t intrinsically violent, but “can be used to justify savagery and extremism.” No doubt, but I suggest that the reason religions can be used to justify savagery and extremism is because there is something intrinsically savage and extreme about them.

If I want to convince people to murder other people I will have more success if I focus on religious distinctions than soft drink preferences. There is nothing intrinsic to Coke and Pepsi that leads me, a Coke drinker, to seek to exterminate the Pepsi drinkers of the world. Indeed, when Coke isn’t available, I have been known to sip a Pepsi now and again.

Religion is used to justify violence because religion is inherently violent. Religion by and large is a zero-sum game: for some to win, others must lose. Zero-sum gaming is behind all notions of saved and damned, true believer and infidel, chosen and not chosen. As a zero-sum game religion pits one group against another, which I admit Coke and Pepsi do as well, and then raises that distinction to cosmic proportions, something no other zero-sum game can do.

You may believe Democrats are evil, and do your utmost to see that only Republicans are elected to office, but you can’t claim they are in league with the Devil unless you are willing to leave the confines of politics and take refuge in the cosmic drama of religion. Religion is the ultimate zero-sum game because it is the only cosmic version of the game, and because it is the cosmic version religion foments, not only justifies, savagery and extremism not only in this life but in the next life as well. Even Tea-party loyalists don’t imagine their liberal opponents burning in Hell for all eternity, but many religionists do.

What can we do about this? Not much. Religions are human inventions, so the problem isn’t with this or that religion but with us. All of us. We all fall prey to zero-sum thinking. Religion is the way we elevate our insanity to cosmic proportions. So there is no point in reforming religions until we have reformed ourselves. And since it is we who have to do the reforming, expecting any real reform is wishful thinking.

The solution isn’t more religion or less religion, but a radical investigation into the madness of the human being. Each of us must look at, take responsibility for, and seek to limit the amount of violence we do. Each of us must look at, take responsibility for, and seek to minimize the frequency of our zero-sum gaming— political, economic, religious, etc. If we refuse to participate in zero-sum games, the games will fade away. Religion won’t stop being violent until we do.

Good luck with that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Iranian Women Rock the Planet

Weather is fascinating, isn’t it? Don’t you ever wonder why tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes happen? I mean really know, not the groundless speculation that comes from meteorologists and other pseudo-scientific types. When I want to know the truth about the weather I go to the source—God. And if I want to know what God has to say about the weather I go to God’s spokesmen—the clergy.

That’s how I learned, for example, that Hurricane Karina was caused by homosexuals planning to hold a Gay Pride Parade in New Orleans. And that’s how I discovered that the hurricane that devastated Haiti was caused by an 1804 pact with the Devil made by the enslaved Haitians in exchange for the power to throw off their French slave masters. And that how I found out that the tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Indonesia was caused by the laxity of the victims’ adherence to Islam.

OK. But what about all the earthquakes shaking up the planet lately? What causes them—and don’t tell me anything about plate tectonics, Genesis says nothing about them so I don’t want to know about them.

Thank God I don’t have to rely on scientists for the truth. When it comes to earthquakes I can turn to my favorite meteorocleric the Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi. Mr. Sedighi has revealed the fact that earthquakes are caused by women wearing immodest clothing and behaving promiscuously: “Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes.”

Iranian Muslim woman are required by law to cover themselves from head to foot, but some manage to show off their curves anyway, and in doing so endanger us all. Listen to this meteorological prediction by earthquake expert Carole King, “I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down.” If burkas can’t save us, we are doomed.

So homosexuals and rebellious slaves cause hurricanes, woman cause earthquakes, and lax believers cause tsunamis, but what causes volcanoes? I’m sure some scientist somewhere has a theory about this, but I’m not going to fall for that. My guess? Lesbians, especially lesbians from Iceland. If every you want to have a tube of hot lava to explode just show pictures of even hotter lesbians. Works every time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beware the "O"

I attended the Murfreesboro Tea Party this past Friday. The banner spanning the speakers’ stage said this was a festival of FREEDOM, with the O replaced by a red five-pointed star. When I asked about the star I was told it was to remove the letter “O” which many attendees consider the new sign of the Beast. I get this. I felt the same way about the letter “W” during the Bush years.

What heartened me most about the event was the small turn out. A few hundred white people, most of whom were clearly socialists sucking at the teat of Social Security and Medicare. These people weren’t angry; they were tired, exhausted, beat, humorless, and mostly overweight. I thought I saw a placard that read, "Give me Liberty or Give me Breadth," but I think I may have misread it. “Sad” not “mad” best describes them.

The main speaker, a man we were told who speaks at Tea Parties across this great and God blessed nation of ours, filled our ears with so many platitudes I worried there wouldn’t be any left over for the other speakers. Who’s against freedom, individual responsibility, excessive taxation, and uncritical thought? OK, I admit to having some problem with the latter, but I clapped anyway. Clapping, like yawning, is contagious.

The most interesting speaker was a fellow from Act! for America, an anti-Muslim group, who warned us that America was being taken over by Islamofascists, and the only people who were aware of this were the disempowered ignorant masses. Did he mean us? The more education you had, the more political power you had, the more in the pocket of Islamofascists you were. Thank God the Tennessee educational system is so poor! We will save America yet.

I spoke with the people at the Act! booth, and learned that all Muslims are Islamofascists because Islam promotes Sharia law, and Sharia law is incompatible with American democratic values.

They have a point. If American democratic values are all about the freedom of the individual to be and do whatever s/he wants within the limits set by Ayn Rand, then Sharia law is a problem. But then so is Jewish law (Halacha), Catholic law, and the rules that Southern Baptists, Church of Christ and other Protestant denominations place on people. Freedom is freedom, and most religions are agin’ it. So, I suggested the problem wasn’t just Islam, but all religion. We ought to act to end religion now. No one agreed with me so I moved on to the next table.

This one promoted the John Birch Society. Until I moved to Murfreesboro and saw the John Birch Society’s float in the town’s Christmas parade I had thought the Birchers were out of business. Turns out I was wrong.

According to their brochure, the Birchers are against democracy because it inevitably leads to “overbearing government, crushing debt, and erosion of individual and minority rights.” Why minorities have rights different from those of individuals, I don’t know, and didn’t think to ask. The goal of the Birchers is to return to America to it was in its infancy where citizens enjoyed “limited government, kept the fruits of their labor and were responsible, moral people” who, I mentioned to the person at the JBS table, owned other human beings, committed genocide against native populations, and discriminated against women and people of different religious persuasions. They took back the copy of their magazine I was holding and suggested I move on.

There were lots of other tables to visit, and what they all had in common was a fear of all things left, liberal, nonwhite, and “O”.

All in all the Boro Tea Party was pretty dull. We applauded mom and apple pie, booed Pelosi and Obama, and swatted the pollen swirling around our heads. Should we worry about these people? Sure, if we are even more listless than they are, they will rule the nation within an election or two, but does it matter?

I doubt it. You can change the faces in Washington all you want, the real power lays elsewhere. Whoever is in office, the corporate powers that be continue to exploit the people, melt the planet, and send us off to fight the never-ending war designed to keep us afraid and keep themselves in power. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Prayers Have Been Answered!

For years I have doubted the efficacy of prayer. I have read the studies and despite misinterpretations to the contrary there is no evidence that prayer works. Until now, that is. Because today my prayer has been answered.

Yes, I see the inconsistency here. I don’t believe in prayer and yet I pray. So sue me. And what do I pray for? The end of National Prayer Day. And that day has come. Well, almost, sort of.

United States District Court Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin has ruled National Prayer Day to be in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America. Halleluiah! This doesn’t mean we can’t have a National Prayer Day only that the national government can’t endorse it. It is the same thing with National Car Rental. You can have it but the government can’t endorse it over Hertz or Avis or some other company.

Anyway, here’s a bit of insider information on Judge Crabb on why she may hate God if she does. I have no idea if this is true, but if Crabb is her maiden name and if she went through grade school with the name Crabb she must have had a miserable time: “Hey, Babs, why so crabb-y?” “Watch out guys, you don’t want to date Barbara. You’ll get crabs for sure, heh, heh, heh.” No wonder she hates God, look at the name he stuck her with. She probably prayed and prayed for a different name and nothing happened, so she went to college and law school and got appointed a judge so she could at long last have her revenge. If you think that is far fetched, remember that B.H. Obama spent decades pretending to be American born so he could become president and destroy this country.

Anyway Justice Crabb-y ruled that a national day of prayer is unconstitutional because the government can’t endorse prayer. Man, what is this country coming to? You can force a person to buy health insurance but you can’t urge them to pray? Does that make sense?

Yes it does. Why? Because it is part of Obama’s plan to insure we all get insurance. Everyone but scientists (except Christian Scientists) knows that prayer is the best insurance. If God wants you to be sick and broke that is God’s business, and insuring yourself against this is the devil’s work. But praying for God not to do this to you is good work and a hell of a lot cheaper than buying health insurance from some corporation. But Obama wants you to buy that insurance because he needs big corporations to fund his other efforts to socialize America so he is working to outlaw prayer, which is the better insurance. If you can’t pray, then you had better buy insurance. So you can see how this works.

I know that Her Honor Babs the Crabby Crabb God-hater didn’t outlaw prayer, but that is where things are going. Soon even impromptu prayers like “God Damn It!” will be against the law.

Why does this upset me? I am, after all, skeptical about prayer. True, but I was looking forward to the food at our local National Prayer Day breakfast. Now I heard that instead of eggs they are serving Crabb cakes. Not kosher. Nothing for me to eat. God damn it!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dr. Ellis Rivkin, z"l

While I believe that the guru system is largely broken, and the clergy often ineffective and sometimes evil, I do believe travelers on the spiritual path need companions and teachers. Dr. Ellis Rivkin was one of mine. He died a few days ago.

I met Dr. Rivkin in Jerusalem. My wife and I were living in the city fantasizing about starting an English language magazine. I attended a series of lectures on Judaism given by Dr. Rivkin, and by the conclusion of the series I was set on following him to Cincinnati and pursuing rabbinic ordination at Hebrew Union College. Shortly after I arrived Dr. Rivkin hired me (and my friend Robert Barr) as his research assistant, a position I held for four years.

Rivkin was a brilliant and iconoclastic scholar. Raised as an Orthodox Jew he carved his own way in Judaism, promoting his theory of the Unity Principle. In a nutshell, he taught that the Jewish people is shaped by an insight into the radical unity of all things. It was this that lead them to the idea of monotheism and shaped the insights of Marx, Freud, and Einstein. Religion was secondary to the Principle itself. Everything the Jewish mind did it did in service to this archetype, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Dr. Rivkin was more than a scholar. He experienced this Unity all the time, and spoke and demonstrated its practical and mystical implications to me during the many private walks he would invite to take with him. If there is a single professor at HUC to whom I owe my understanding of Judaism it is Dr. Rivkin.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

States' Rights and Wrongs

I got an email regarding my last post. Rather than add his comments to the blog, this fellow chose to write me directly. I don't mind, but it more interesting for all of us if people post their opinions for everyone to read. So, in the interest of doing just that, let me post what was sent to me:

Dear Rabbi,

As a Jew I don't expect you to understand what happened during the War of Northern Aggression. [I think his grammar is off; he means that since I am a Jew I don't understand, not that he is a Jew]. I am not an antisemite (sic) and know that the Confederacy was bankrolled by Jews, but you probably came over much later. Anyway, the war was not fought over slavery, but over states' rights. It was a defense of the Southern way of life against Northern imperialism. We are still fighting that war today, though now states northern and southern are battling the encroachment of the Federal Government. Please get your facts straight. Sincerely...

I sent the following email back and have heard nothing in reply:

Dear XXX,

Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts. I urge you to do so in the comments section so others can benefit from them, but I will respond briefly to you in any case.

While I agree with you that the South was defending states' rights, but the only right they were defending was the right to own slaves. The North wasn't going to war over cotton prices, musical styles, fashion, religion, food, or land. If the Southern States hadn't endorsed slavery there would have been no war. I don't think any state has a right to buy and sell human beings.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't Mean Diddly

I would like to commend Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for having the guts to say that the complaints against Virginia’s Confederate History Month being insensitive to African Americans because it fails to mention slavery “doesn’t amount to diddly.” He’s right! Slavery was a minor part of the southern life, and most slaves were happy to get free passage to America, and free room and board when they got here. Nobody in their right mind thinks that the American Civil War was fought over slavery. The real issue was economic: the South built its economy on the enslavement of black human beings, and the North opposed that. See, isn't that simple?

I hope Virginia’s Confederate History Month celebrates life in the Confederacy in all its glory, and I hope they create reenactments of Southern life in cities across the state. I myself have never seen a slave auction, and might benefit from watching a reenactment.

While we're at it, I suggest we have a Catholic History Month and ignore the Inquisition, Crusades, witch trials, anti-Semitism, and Priestly Pedophilia; and a US History Month that ignores treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, etc; and a Nazi History Month that celebrates the creation of the Volkswagen rather than getting bogged down in the murder of six million Jews; and a Jewish History month that ignores the genocide of the Hittites, Jebusites, and all other biblical ites, as well as the plight of the Palestinian people.

Why blemish our histories with piddling things such as slavery, racism, xenophobia, genocide, anti-Semitism, and the like? Why not paint everything nice and rosy? Maybe if we didn't remind ourselves what a f#cked up species we are, we wouldn't be so f#cked up. You think?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Backpedaling on Pedophilia

This from the Associated Press: "Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher is likening accusations against the pope and the church in the sex abuse scandal to 'collective violence' suffered by the Jews. The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa said in a Good Friday sermon, with the pope listening to him in St. Peter's Basilica, that a Jewish friend has said the accusations remind him of the 'more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.'"

I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry, though the fact that Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa has a Jewish friend is nice. For the Vatican See that preferred to see little and say nothing while millions of Jews were being slaughtered by good Christians and Catholics throughout Europe, to now hide behind anti-Semitism to avoid having to face the fact of church cover-ups of pedophilia among priests is outrageous.

Obviously the Church can’t tell the difference between sticks and stones (not to mention guns and Zyklon B gas) and words. When priests are being indiscriminately rounded up and murdered because they are Catholics, then maybe we can talk. But when pedophile priests are not even rounded up, but in fact recycled into new parishes where they can troll for fresh victims, I think the analogy falls a bit flat.

But wait! Perhaps I am being too partisan. Maybe what Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa is saying is this: Just as newspaper accounts revealing the evil of pedophilia corrupting the Catholic Church are true, so Nazi revelations of Jewish evil corrupting Europe were true. Now it makes sense. He isn’t saying the charges against the Church are false, only that the charges against the Jews were true. Bravissimo!

Here is the problem with the Church and the Pope: they care more about the church and the pope than the people the church and the pope are supposed to serve. The Pope is protecting the brand at the expense of those it has harmed. Not surprising, of course. This is how most corporations react when faced with the evil they do.

Compare the Vatican’s statement that it doesn’t directly hire bishops and priests and is therefore not responsible for anything they may do with Union Carbide Corporation’s response to the disaster in Bhopal, India where 35 tons of toxic gas was leaked from a pesticide plant killing more than 7000 people:

Bhopal was a terrible tragedy that none of us will ever forget. However, it is important to note that Dow never owned or operated the plant, which today is under the control of the Madhya Pradesh state government. Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation more than 16 years after the tragedy, and 10 years after the $470 million settlement agreement – paid by Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India, Limited – was approved by the Indian Supreme Court. [For Union Carbide Corporation's perspective on the gas tragedy, visit its web site at]

Isn’t this the same argument?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter

I am preaching this morning, my second Easter sermon in so many years. I don't understand why a rabbi would be asked to address a church community on Easter, unless the hope is that s/he would at long last realize that the empty tomb means Jesus is Lord.

A couple of days ago during one of my university classes a guest speaker suggested that the simplest explanation as to why the tomb in which Jesus was buried on Good Friday was empty on Easter Sunday is that God had raised him from the dead. This struck me as odd. Wouldn't a simpler answer be that Jesus' body was removed by his friends, or by his enemies, or that he had faked his death on the cross and, once alone in the tomb raced out, married Mary Magdalene, moved to France, and started a family line that culminates in Dan Brown? Why make supernatural intervention your default position? And what is it like to live in a world where supernatural intervention is considered the simplest explanation of life’s mysteries?

To find out I decided to spend the next day with this hypothesis in mind.

As usual I could not find my car keys that morning, and, rather than blame my wife, my dog, or myself I assumed demons snatched them. When I did find the keys hidden beneath a magazine, I assumed that demons put the magazine on the keys and that God directed me to the move the magazine and discover the keys. I also assumed that demons made me subscribe to the magazine so they could use it to torture me at some future date. God, I assumed, preferred that I save trees and subscribe to the e-version of the magazine which is why He inspired Steve Jobs to invent the iPad, which the Lord wants me to buy despite the demons conspiring to keep me from affording one.

By the end of the day I was totally paranoid. Everything that happened to me was a conspiracy of God and demons. Chance and coincidence were banished, and everything was the result of a cosmic battle. This was not comforting, but I did get a sense that such thinking was a lot simpler than having to deal with the possibility of serendipity and randomness.

Will I share this insight with my listeners this morning as we proclaim the miracle of the empty tomb? It wouldn’t be polite or politic to do so, so perhaps I won’t. But who am I kidding? Of course I’m going to share it! That’s what they get inviting a rabbi to speak on Easter Sunday.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

New Direction?

I am tiring of commenting on religion. It is getting too depressing. Just thinking about the new round of abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, the failure of a dad to sue the wicked Phelps "church," the rise of Christian militias, the madness of Israel politics and the Jewish taliban, etc. is just wrecking my spirit.

So I am thinking about dropping the essay format on this blog, and switching to Q & A. These would be shorter posts generated by you. Your questions and versions of my answers might then end up in print as part of my column for Spirituality & Health magazine.At last this way I would offer some positive help to people who might benefit from it.

Please let me know what you think about this idea.