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Symbols of Christianity

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Via CNN:

Baptist TV preacher, Eddie Long, finally addressed the sexual allegations by four young men today on his TV show. I have followed this through CNN by default since CNN is my default homepage. I’ve also followed it because I do stop by TBN and watch snippets of many of these shows and it just so happened that I caught Bishop Long a few weeks ago. I have watched his work for a while and was impressed with the social aspect of his ministry, but the flashiness always bothered me–tight shirts, the buffiness, ultra cool wardrobe and I’ve even seen him in a matrix-like trench coat. So I was very, very curious to hear his response.

Somehow I forgot to turn to his show at 8:30 but I caught an excerpt on CNN.

Lithonia, Georgia (CNN) — Baptist televangelist Eddie Long said Sunday he will fight allegations that he coerced young male church members into having sex with him.

“I am not the man that has been portrayed on television,” he told his congregation.

Speaking publicly about the accusations for the first time, Long did not address the specific allegations contained in four lawsuits filed against him earlier this week.

“I’ve been accused, I’m under attack,” he said, lowering his head and softening his voice behind the pulpit at the New Birth Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta.

“I want you to know, as I said earlier, that I am not a perfect man. But this thing, I’m going to fight,” he said. “I feel like David against Goliath, but I’ve got five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet.”

With that, the 57-year-old pastor put down his microphone and walked off stage, receiving deafening applause from the thousands who had come to hear him.

To be honest, I did not hear what I needed to hear. I needed to hear a clear-cut denial. Something to the effect of “I categorically deny . . ..” or “I never engaged in any of the alleged acts . . .” or “I have been faithful to my wife and never  . . .” something along that line. In effect, what we got was that he is not the man portrayed in the media. That could be and in fact probably is very true, but not to the point at all. The media does paint televangelists in a certain light and he is saying he is not what he has been made out to be. But, he still has not addressed the specific allegations.

While Eddie Long is not T. D. Jakes, if this thing drags out and it does turn out that there is merit to the allegations, it could do some damage in the community.

John Henry Newman, when he preached his first ...

Image via Wikipedia

John Henry Newman has now been declared Blessed, a step up from Venerable. I imagine the next move is towards canonization or sainthood and then after that, there’ll probably be a push to name him Doctor of the Church. John Allen at National Catholic Reporter has a bunch of interesting links.

So Wapo has an article on Opus Dei, the type of soft, fluff piece meant to humanize Opus Dei. I think it was largely successful with the exception of this very strange bit:

There is corporal mortification, though not as portrayed in “The Da Vinci Code,” they say. “It’s not a bloody whipping of oneself,” Coverdale said. “It’s more an annoyance.” He wears a leg chain with dull spikes — called a cilice — around his upper thigh for a couple of hours a day while praying. It’s designed to be uncomfortable but not to draw blood. And once or twice a week, during a prayer, he whips himself on his buttocks with a type of rope referred to as “the disciplines.”

“It doesn’t particularly hurt; maybe it stings a bit,” Coverdale said.

Yikes! There is no way to make this come across as normal and everyday-Joe like.

Via ABC, the Vatican Exorcist speaks about his experiences. I have blogged briefly in the past on exorcisms.

So, Chief Exorcist had this to say:

There are differences of opinion about exorcism inside the church, La Repubblica adds. Some are skeptical, some suspicious, other resistant.

“I believe bishops who don’t appoint exorcists are committing a mortal sin,” Amorth says.

by Michael Satlow of Brown University. This is a series of podcasts on the history of the Israelites to the end of the first century C.E. It is very, very, very, well done. One example is the handling of the Ezra-Nehemiah story. It is a complicated story and I have listed to another Ph.D. butcher it. Satlow does his home work and his explanations are very clear.

Via Huffington Post, the British Ministry of Defense is shutting down its UFO hotline.

LONDON — The truth – and the UFOs – may be out there, but nobody in the British military is listening anymore.

The Defense Ministry has quietly shut down its UFO hot line as a cost-cutting measure and will no longer investigate any sightings. Veterans of such investigations more worthy of “The X-Files” say it will end work on one of the biggest mysteries of all time.

No longer will Britons who think they’ve seen flying saucers be able to enlist the services of Her Majesty’s armed forces.

This week’s closing of the ministry’s hot line and its e-mail account, as well as its statement that it “will no longer respond to reported UFO sightings or investigate them,” has angered many Britons who believe such research is vital.

“I think it’s a stupid thing to do because this could create a threat to national security,” said Roy Lake, founder of the London UFO Studies group. “We take this quite seriously. We know that sometimes things can be explained as natural phenomena, but there could be that one thing that’s not. I think the government knows damn well what’s going on up there, and they’re covering it up.”

The hot line has been operating, on and off, since 1959. That’s longer than “Doctor Who” – British TV’s time-traveling, monster-fighting alien – has been on the airwaves.

The military is taking no position on the existence or nonexistence of UFOs but has concluded that in 50 years none of the more than 12,000 reported UFO sightings turned out to be a national security threat.

“None of the thousands of UFO sightings reported over the years have ever provided substantiated proof of the existence of extraterrestrials,” a Ministry of Defense spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. “There is no defense value in investigating UFO reports.”

It could mean that the British government has found no credible evidence of extra terrestials or (cue sinister music) the Aliens have finally infiltrated the British government at very high levels. Especially since the Vatican recently held its first astrobiology conference.

Dan Gilgoff at US News and World Report blogged about the growing dissonance of scientists and religion. The percentage of scientists who believe in God is drastically less that the God-believing part of the population.

An eye-opening new Pew survey on science and religion reveals a huge God gap between scientists and other Americans. Eighty-three percent of Americans say that they believe in God, while just 33 percent of scientists do. Just 17 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, while nearly three times as many scientists are.

This is not surprising at all being that religion is fast losing credibility. The fact that an ungodly number of Americans, about 40%, do not accept evolution is astounding and is directly attributable to religion. For scientists, the question of evolution is a non-starter. Evolution occured. Period. So when they have to debate the fact of evolution, it is like debating that the earth is indeed round or that the earth revolves around the sun.

Also, the issue of the nature of the human being, i.e., the soul. That’s another that science and traditional Christianity have no middle ground in understanding the nature of the human person.

Until Christianity, especially Catholicism, take a step in honestly dealing with science, scientists will dismiss religion as credible. I suspect that most of these people consider themselves spiritual, which seems to be the cool alternative to traditional religion.

I just watched Traitor with Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce. I hadn’t heard anything about the movie much less good or bad things so I expected the worst. It was about an American muslim with African roots, ex US special forces, who is wrestling with his obligation to his faith and country.  I’ll leave it at that. It is free on netflix if you are so inclined to watch it.

I have a fascination with the possibility of infiltrating terrorism networks. I have read quite a few fiction books on this topic such as Faithful Spy and Forsyth’s The Afghan. I also read John Updike’s The Terrorist. In the first two, the hazards of deep infiltration are covered and done quite well. The fact is that they show that it is not possible for an inflitration situation to go well. The infiltrator either develops sympathies with the group, or is unable to avoid terrorism as the price of gain the trust of the terrorists. Updike’s The Terrorist, was a little different. This was more a psychological profile of a young man who volunteered to execute a terrorist mission. Anyway, the movie is very much in the vein of all aforementioned books: extremely intense and well done.

Well, I really liked the movie. I am curious, a significant portion of the movie is in Arabic and I wonder what Arabic speakers think of Cheadle’s and Pearce’s performance. The certainly sounded smooth to me.  I can see why the movie was not popular. It has a very cerebral and dramatic aspect to it, somewhat similar to Syriana and The Good Shepherd. There are no sexy car chases, there is blowing things up, but it does hit incredibly close to home with the terror aspect. Also, I think we all are skiddish about movies that reflect the current wars and terrorism . . . and Islamic stereotyping.

They certainly make their point in showing the “polished” side of the terrorism network: the well-heeled, educated financiers who move the chess pieces. I suppose the idea is to disabuse people of the notion that terrorism is carried out by uneducated, impoverished, fanatics. The flip side of this presentation, and it is no fault of the movie, being a complex issue, is that it buttresses xenophobes and those with religious prejudices who would argue that terrorism is a tactic endemic to Islam or people from the Middle East.

This movie got me thinking about the show 24, which I regret I have wasted time in the past watching. And in the last season they tried to present an Imam(?) as a spiritual advisor who helps Jack Bauer confront his demons. It did not work for me and I realized why. Non-muslims like me never get to see popularized examples of Islamic holy people and preachers, so it is a bizzare image seeing an Islamic preacher offering spiritual advice. The media is full of Christian preachers, Catholics hold up examples of holy people we call saints, there is His Holiness the Dali Lama, we see Buddhist monks in our daily lives, Taoism is popular, Eastern religions have certainly gained traction, etc. Howver, we simply don’t run into Islamic ministry in general and we have not yet as a culture created a common image of an Islamic spiritual advisor. Anyway, that’s that. It was a very good movie.

Caritas in veritate 4:

4. Because it is filled with truth, charity can be understood in the abundance of its values, it can be shared and communicated. Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion.

So the emphasis is that contemporary society does not understand love and truth. Authentic love is defined by truth and truth is identified specifically, not as correctness or verification of fact, but as Christ/God. So here the pope calls Truth, logos.

Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things.

Here’s an interesting point made by the pope, truth is not found in “subjective opinions and impressions,” and also that “culture and history” are limiting factors in the achievement of truth. So to get to the essence, “value and substance” of things one must go beyond subjective opinions and impressions, culture and history. The questions is what truth is there outside of subjectiveness, perception, culture and history? As a phenomenologist, I tend to cringe at the thought of this idea–that there is an objective truth independent of subjective perceptions and culture.

One thing that strikes me is that for Benedict, who was quite the Augustinian scholar, he seems to sound more like a Thomas Aquinas type. There’s a very sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and essence and accidents. The essence of a thing is its true nature and the accidents are properties that cannot exist in themselve independent of the essence. Essences can exist and retain their integrity without accidents. So with a blue table, the “blue-ness” is the accident because the table can exist without being blue and the blueness does not substantially add anything.

So the pope is establishing the idea that the accidents of truth are subjective opinions, impressions, history and culture, and that there is an essence of truth, logos. To get then to the essence of truth we have to wade through the accidents of subjective impressions, culture, etc, to get at it.

In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.

There’s the word “essential” which is a loaded term in Catholic thought. So, Christianity is not simply a good idea for society but is “essential” for a good society and true human development. So . . . what happens to a non-Christian society? Is such a society capable of authentic human development? This is very much in line with Ratzinger’s/Benedict’s focus. The name Benedict was selected because Benedict the father of monasticism, and Benedictines, were critical in restoring and promoting Christianity in Europe and the current pope has that very much as his focus, i.e., returning Europe back to its “Christian roots.” My point here is that Benedict is very much a Christiainity focused person and has no problem whatsoever proclaiming the superiority of the merits of Christianity.

A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world. Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis.

So the absence of authentic Christianity means that there is no “real place for God in the world.” Again the issue of non-Christian societies arises. The key thing here is that the pope is presenting as the foundation of social justice, Christianity. There is usually another approach to social justice issues which focuses on a philosophy/reason base without a necessary reference to Christianity. So the argument is usually that there are social justice issues that we can all agree on as long as we are people of good will, regardless of religion or religious disposition.

According to CNN, Pope Benedict confirms the presence of St Paul’s bones:

ROME, Italy (CNN) — Scientific tests prove bones housed in the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome are those of the apostle St. Paul himself, according to Pope Benedict XVI.

Tiny fragments of bone” in the sarcophagus were subjected to carbon dating, showing they “belong to someone who lived in the first or second century,” the pope said in a homily carried on Italian television.

“This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle St. Paul,” Benedict said in Sunday’s announcement.

At first I had doubts, but this has sealed the deal for me, especially the part that the bones belonged to someone from the first or second century. What are the chances they could belong to anyone else but St. Paul?