Politics Bernie Sanders Accepts An Invitation From The Vatican.
April 8, 201611:20 AM ET
by Asma Khalid
NPR’s Don Gonyea spotted a poster at Bernie Sanders’ Buffalo field office in New York that shows the Pope pointing out “WHAT BERNIE SAID.”
Sanders has often praised Pope Francis for his focus on economic inequality.
Bernie Sanders will be taking a few days off the campaign trail to attend a Vatican conference about social, economic and environmental issues.
The day after a debate in New York next week, Sanders will travel to Rome for the event.
In an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sanders said he was “a big, big fan of the pope.”
“He has played an unbelievable role, unbelievable role in injecting a moral consequence into the economy,” Sanders said. “He’s talking about the idolatry of money, the worship of money, the greed that’s out there.”
In a statement from his campaign, Sanders praised the pope for focusing on income inequality — the defining issue of his own presidential campaign.
“Pope Francis has made clear that we must overcome ‘the globalization of indifference’ in order to reduce economic inequalities, stop financial corruption and protect the natural environment. That is our challenge in the United States and in the world,” Sanders said in a statement.
No meeting between Sanders and Pope Francis has been scheduled.
Sanders, who is Jewish, has often praised the current pope. He previously referred to Francis as a “socialist,” in an interview obtained by The Washington Post. “When (Pope Francis) talks about wealth being used to serve people, not as an end in itself, I agree with that,” Sanders said in the interview.
Sanders and Francis often speak about the economy in nearly identical ways. In 2014, the pope took to Twitter with this message: “Inequality is the root of social evil.”
Pope Francis Verified account
? @Pontifex — 28 April 2014
Francis is sometimes described as a “liberal” pope for his views on immigration, income inequality and the death penalty; but, Catholic teaching straddles political affiliation, particularly because of the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage.
With his public statements, Francis seems to have emboldened the church’s social justice wing, and Democrats are widely embracing him. Last year, a number of big-city Democratic mayors (Boston’s Marty Walsh and New York’s Bill de Blasio) attended a Vatican conference on climate change.
For Sanders, the trip’s timing is also fortuitous, coming just ahead of the New York and Pennsylvania primaries (April 19 and April 26 respectively).
Both states have sizable Catholic populations — a mix of traditionally Democratic white working class voters and a smaller, but growing, Hispanic community.
The Pew Research Center estimates one-third of people in the New York City metro area identify as Catholic, and similarly, about a quarter (26 percent) in Philadelphia.
Many of those Catholics lean left — 46 percent surveyed by Pew in New York and Pennsylvania identify as Democrats.
For a full breakdown of New York Catholic demographics, you can sift through the data on the Pew website.
LindaWagner • 12 hours ago
As an avowed atheist, it warms my heart to see this Pope becoming involved in issues that matter so much to me. Keep up the good work, Pope Francis. It’s not easy to turn around hundreds of years of entrenched doctrine and it will probably take hundreds more but you sure are moving it along at a faster pace than I ever thought imaginable.
Sobin Tulll LindaWagner • 12 hours ago
As a fellow Atheist I couldn’t agree with you more. There are people in this thread that seem to hold Pope Francis responsible for the entire churches history, which in my opinion is unfair. I see a person that is trying move his massive and stubborn organization in a better direction.
Wait_Wait_Ill_Tell_You Sobin Tulll • 12 hours ago
Mark down another atheist in concurrence.
As far as religious leaders go, Francis is a “God-send.”
THIS POPE IS AMAZING INDEED. He enters now the discussion in further issues:
Francis’ Message Calls on Church to Be Inclusive
By JIM YARDLEY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN
The pope asked priests to welcome single parents, unmarried couples and gay people, lamenting the “severe stress” of modern families.
Francis’ Message Calls on Church to Be Inclusive
By JIM YARDLEY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN – APRIL 8, 2016
ROME — In a broad proclamation on family life, Pope Francis on Friday called for the Roman Catholic Church to be more welcoming and less judgmental, and he seemingly signaled a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion.
The 256-page document — known as an apostolic exhortation and titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love” — calls for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.
“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” he wrote.
But Francis once again closed the door on same-sex marriage, saying it cannot be seen as the equivalent of heterosexual unions.
The document offers no new rules or marching orders, and from the outset Francis makes plain that no top-down edicts are coming.
Convening from 19-23 October 2015, the Bonn Climate Change Conference was the last in a series of meetings under the UNFCCC in preparation for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21), scheduled to take place in November-December 2015, in Paris, France.
In their scenario note ADP.2015.7.InformalNote), ADP Co-Chairs Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) and Daniel Reifsnyder (US) identified the objective of the session as intensifying the pace of text-based negotiations among Parties, with a view to preparing the draft Paris climate package for presentation at the opening of COP 21.
At the end of the week-long meeting, Parties issued two non-papers, one containing draft agreement text and draft decision text related to the agreement (workstream 1 of ADP’s mandate) and the other containing draft decision text related to pre-2020 ambition (workstream 2).
The full and best reporting of what went on in Bonn can be found at: mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#search…
Summary of the Bonn Climate Change Conference, 19-23 October 2015, Bonn, Germany.
Going over the Summary it becomes clear – if it was not before – that there will be no UN document ready for the Paris meeting and that UN bickering will continue – be assured that some Arab State will find space to bash Israel. All what the UN can do is to bring the problem to the public’s attention, and it is left to the public to push their governments to make a commitment, that is in those countries where a public opinion counts.
Paris COP 21 of the UNFCCC will not be a wash. This thanks to the fact that over 150 countries have already presented their commitments to act on Climate Change. Take for instance the US where by now commitments from companies that are joining the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, bringing the total number of US companies that have signed onto the pledge to 81. Together, these companies have operations in all 50 US states, employ over nine million people, represent more than US$3 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over US$5 trillion.
And yes, in the EU, Japan, Brazil there are similarly industry commitments – pushed by the public. In China and India as well, the public pushes for government action on pollution of any kind and this includes a better understanding of Climate Change disasters.
In a more general way see the The International Energy Agency’s evaluation of the situation:
The IEA’s “Energy and Climate Change: World Energy Outlook” tells us that full implementation of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by mid-October would decouple power sector emissions from electricity demand but would still lead to an average global temperature increase of around 2.7°C, which falls short of the declared “major course correction necessary” to stay below an average global temperature rise of 2°C.
The Outlook Special Briefing for COP21′ analyzes INDCs submitted by more than 150 countries, accounting for close to 90% of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and assesses in particular their energy sector-related impacts.
According to the briefing, given that energy production and use account for two-thirds of global GHG emissions, “actions in the energy sector can make or break efforts to achieve the world’s agreed climate goal” of staying below a 2°C temperature rise.
The briefing examines what the energy sector will look like globally in 2030 if all INDCs are fully implemented, and whether this will place the energy sector on a path consistent with the 2°C goal.
If implemented, the INDCs will lead to an improvement of global energy intensity at a rate almost three times faster than the rate since 2000. Emissions will either plateau or decline by 2030 in countries accounting for more than half of global economic activity at present. Of new electricity generation through 2030, 70% will be low-carbon.
The IEA estimates that the full implementation of the INDCs will require US$13.5 trillion in investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies through 2030.
And excerpted from a bright blogger for Huffington Post (UK):
Over the past three decades annual climate talks under the United Nations banner have become part of the Zeitgeist of a large movement. They draw government officials, think tanks, civil society, journalists and the occasional hipsters into negotiations over which ride trillions of dollars and our future well-being on Earth.
Expect a lot of drama at the next instalment, taking place in Paris in late November – early December.
Heads of state will make grandiose pronouncements.
Negotiators from 190 countries will huddle, whisper, argue over words for days and bargain in stuffy rooms in a style that would make bazaar traders proud.
Civil society will push for strong outcomes, prod for more climate finance, demonstrate occasionally (a welcome activity in Paris), express anger followed by frustration before going home let down again.
The press and the public will turn an inattentive, occasional eye to the 45,000 people gathered in Paris, then turn their attention away.
The private sector, two-thirds of global GDP and employment, will be largely absent (it is not formally represented in the negotiations) and mostly ignore the whole thing.
At the end, governments will cobble together a weak agreement to set emission reduction targets. Some will declare a major win, others will accurately note that we need to do much, much more. Then everyone will go home in time for the Christmas holidays and most of COP21, as the Paris UN gathering is known, will be forgotten.
Deeply buried in this cacophony are two emerging themes with the potential to significantly impact the private sector.
National Low Carbon Business Plans
A Paris climate agreement, no matter how wobbly, will involve more than 150 countries publishing mini business plans for their economy describing what each will do to help limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2030. In typical UN jargon, these low-carbon business plans are known as INDCs, short for “intended nationally determined contribution.”
The INDCs are the driving force of COP21 and will become the development pathway for all countries. Weak and general at first, they will become stronger and more detailed over time.
Two major consequences will follow.
First, multi-trillion dollar investment opportunities for the private sector will be clearly delineated, while others, far from where the country is heading, should be avoided.
For example, India’s business plan shows it wants to increase its clean energy generation capacity from 36 GW today to a whopping 320 GW by 2030. Similarly, China wants an extra 775 GW of renewables by 2030, on top of its existing 425 GW, the US wants to add an extra 179 GW and the EU another 380 GW.
Taken together, that’s double the world’s current renewable energy installed capacity (excluding hydropower) in investment potential, all of which comes with strong institutional support now that it is anchored in an INDC.
Second, the breadth of these INDCs means that within a few years, all finance will be climate finance; and all bonds will be green bonds.
We already know the commitments in Paris are nowhere near enough: The US, Europe, and China alone use up the world’s entire carbon budget by 2030. Therefore it’s reasonable to expect that they will get tougher, tighter and more precise with time because countries will be under increasing pressure to deliver, as climate change hits all of us harder and harder.
Post-2020 (the INDCs will most probably be reviewed in five year cycles), there is therefore likely to be a “wall of shame” hitting anyone who invests in non-INDC compatible, non-climate friendly technologies. In fact perhaps we will see “black bonds” emerge, highlighting investments that are increasingly unacceptable and at risk of being stranded because of their high emissions.
INDCs will make green investments even more mainstream than they are today and ensure that dirty investments are avoided on a long-term scale.
Loss and Damage
“Loss and damage,” another major theme in Paris, could have enormous financial consequences.
“Loss and damage” refers to the need to account for the impact of climate change, for example on a small island nation losing territory because of sea level rise. An element of climate negotiations for several years, its significance could be enormous for insurance companies, reinsurers, financial analysts and the markets.
Governments will continue to argue whether loss and damage is a euphemism for liability and compensation. Richer nations will end up ensuring that the answer is vague, and that therefore they can’t be held liable and won’t have to pay compensation.
However, the door is likely to be kept open for clever lawyers to use the “loss and damage” aspects of a climate change agreement to launch claims against companies: Victims of climate change will aggressively try to go after corporate polluters for compensation, particularly the likes of Exxon, Shell and BP who have known about climate change for decades but either buried the evidence or ignored it to accumulate profits at the expense of our collective health and well-being.
The results of these claims could be shocking for many. The Dutch proved earlier this year that climate liability lawsuits can stand up in courts.
The business and the financial world will be markedly absent from Paris, but should closely monitor the evolution of INDCs and of “loss and damage” in Paris. These could upend how they currently do business.
From the above, we conclude that COP 21 of the UNFCCC in Paris will have picked up from where COP 15 of Copenhagen left the Climate Change issue. Copenhagen was where the Kyoto stillborn Protocol was buried by Obama bringing for the first time the Chinese on board, now it will be the Obama-Xi alliance that will bring most true Nations on board. And let us not forget Pope Francis and the ethics of “we are the creation’s wardens.” This resonates very well with much of the public and helps the businesses that will move green.
We will not go to the opening of the Paris meeting, but will be there for the end – this so me can evaluate the outcome which promises to have practical value.
This coming week, Pope Francis will visit the United States. During this momentous visit, he will address a joint session of Congress on September 24 at 10am, as well as the United Nations General Assembly on September 25 at 8:30am. In addition to visiting Washington D.C. and New York City, he will also visit Philadelphia.
The Pope’s visit is a very important event in support of the encyclical on the environment, “Praised Be: On the Care of Our Common Home” (Laudato Si’), in which Pope Francis highlights issues of “integral ecology,” namely concerns for people and the planet. There are a number of resources on the Forum site fore.yale.edu) to provide you more information on the encyclical.
Many events are being organized throughout the United States in light of the Pope’s visit. For details, please see below.
We encourage you to download a free Pope Francis’ Encyclical Climate Action Kit that Interfaith Power & Light has put together in conjunction with the Catholic Climate Covenant.
De Blasio, After Diverted Flight, Joins Climate Conference at Vatican
By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM – JULY 21, 2015 for the New York Times
VATICAN CITY — Leaders from around the globe, settled in their seats as a Vatican official approached the lectern.
A rare gathering of mayors, beckoned to this holy city by Pope Francis from as far as away as Johannesburg, was about to begin.
One participant, however, was missing: the mayor of New York. Scheduled to arrive in Rome on Tuesday morning for a two-day conference on climate change, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York instead found himself in Milan, thanks to fog that forced a brief diversion of his overnight flight from Kennedy Airport.
The mayor arrived at the Vatican about 80 minutes after his scheduled speaking slot. When he finally did speak there, he was unfazed, delivering an impassioned charge to his fellow mayors to resist “powerful corporate interests” and to aggressively battle climate change.
“Is it not the definition of insanity to propagate corporate policies and consumer habits that hasten the destruction of the earth?” Mr. de Blasio said.
He pledged that his administration would work to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
The Vatican event is part of an effort by Francis to focus world leaders on environmental causes, and mayors from across Europe, South America, and the United States were in attendance. The pope had been expected to address the gathering on Tuesday morning, but his appearance was changed to take place in the afternoon — a stroke of good fortune for Mr. de Blasio.
The mayor has taken pains recently to fight his reputation for tardiness, arriving more promptly at events in New York. But the vagaries of international travel can be trickier than a traffic snag on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Mr. de Blasio, who is expected to be in Rome for less than 48 hours, opted for an overnight flight that was scheduled to arrive about two hours before he was due at the Vatican. (Aides to Mr. de Blasio, aware of criticism about his frequent travels, had emphasized last week that his Vatican visit — his fourth European excursion in a year — would be kept short.)
But his plans were foiled by Roman fog, according to an American Airlines spokesman, who said the pilot of the mayor’s flight “elected to divert to Milan as a precaution.” The flight continued on to Rome after about an hour’s delay, once the fog was “burned off by the increasingly warm sun,” the spokesman, Ian Bradley, said.
Mr. de Blasio was not the only person to miss a scheduled slot for speaking. Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston was present but Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro sent an aide in his stead, citing unrest in his home country.
The gathering at the Vatican was prompted in part by a recent papal encyclical warning of the destructive effects of climate change. In his remarks, Mr. de Blasio said the encyclical “burns with urgency,” and he praised the pope, saying he had “awakened people across the globe to the dangers we face as a planet.”
“The encyclical is not a call to arms,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It is a call to sanity.”
Mr. de Blasio is scheduled to attend an official dinner at the Vatican on Tuesday evening and to speak again on Wednesday morning. The mayor is expected to leave for New York on Wednesday afternoon — weather permitting.
Pope Francis’ Message on Climate Change Is Extraordinarily Important
By Robert Reich
Readers Supported News – June 28, 2015
Pope Frances’s message this week on global climate change is extraordinarily important (that it comes out the same week Donald Trump declared his candidacy exposes a human continuum extending from bombast and narcissism to grace and humility). The Pope finds morally deficient an economic system that degrades the environment and worsens inequality; links environmental decline to poverty; attributes it to the growing concentration of greenhouse gases brought on human activity; and rejects the idea that economic growth alone can solve the problem. No Pope in living memory has so poignantly and powerfully cast the problems of inequality and the environment in moral terms that everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic, can understand.
But I wish the Pope hadn’t rejected an important means of reducing carbon in the atmosphere: putting a price on it. By broadly condemning “market forces” the Pope suggests the answer is to give up on the market rather than reorganize it to meet human needs. In this respect he plays into the hands of those who see the fundamental choice as between the “market” and the people, when the real choice is between a market system organized for all people or one organized primarily for the rich.
“Freedom of expression is a right, but there are limits when it comes to insulting faiths,” Pope Francis told reporters today, referring to events surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.
“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” Francis said.
Likewise, he said, people have religious liberty, but “one can’t kill in the name of God.”
He said this after a reporter asked him about religious liberty and freedom of expression.
The pope made the comments on a trip to the Philippines.
Pope Francis’s Edict on Climate Change Will Anger Deniers and US Churches
By John Vidal, Guardian UK, 28 December 14
Pontiff hopes to inspire action at next year’s UN meeting in Paris in December after visits to Philippines and New York
He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.
“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”
Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.
According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.
In Lima last month, bishops from every continent expressed their frustration with the stalled climate talks and, for the first time, urged rich countries to act.
Sorondo, a fellow Argentinian who is known to be close to Pope Francis, said: “Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialisation, today we have changed the natural environment so much. If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”
According to Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, said: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”
However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.
Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it”.
Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.
“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”
Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.
“The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”
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+12 # Dust 2014-12-28 16:47
“has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion” and “misled on the science”.
How is it possible for a group that prides itself on lack of education and a complete dismissal of any science it does not like get to claim with a straight face that it knows anything about science itself?
Calvin Beisner should cite his “science” or shut up and stick to his extremely narrow interpretation of his selected religious texts.
Besides – the US is not a Christian nation, the Pope is not an evangelical, so on what possible authority does Calvin feel justified in telling the Pope to “back off”??
0 # NOMINAE 2014-12-28 23:22
“has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion” and “misled on the science”.
How is it possible for a group that prides itself on lack of education and a complete dismissal of any science it does not like get to claim with a straight face that it knows anything about science itself? …
It is possible (but still hilariously unconvincing) under the aegis of the same arrogance of ignorance that impels and propels all manner of these moronic statements…….
pure, unadulterated, high-octane HUBRIS.
Nothing more is required or demanded in this time of virulent and vapid anti-intellectu alism, and the accompanying anti-science, or faux science that sells this bilge-water propaganda to the masses.
These statements are not designed to convince the leading edge of the intellectual Bell Curve. They are, as ever, aimed at the bulging center of the “average masses”.
…At the “Thugs” who are eventually to be installed and elevated above the intellectual class ala the Third Reich, Suharto, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, ad infinitum – in short, an approach with a solidly proven track record enthusiasticall y and efficiently embraced by any and all Fascistic Systems, or Fascist Wannabes, in the world to date.
+5 # Dust 2014-12-28 20:09
After a wee bit of reading… Calvin Beisner is a freight train of crazy.
+7 # Activista 2014-12-28 21:20
Pope – especially in South America – has huge influence –
he is very influential on social issues – he does not have to have Phd. in climatology to see the effects of global warming –
I am agnostic – thank you Francis –
0 # Thebigkate 2014-12-28 23:50
Are we lucky, or what, to have such an enlightened pope? Now–if he would only get his act together on women in the church and the necessity of legal abortion!
0 # Regina 2014-12-28 23:51
There is reason to believe that Francis would not have sentenced Galileo to house arrest, nor called science apostasy. He uses logic where logic belongs, instead of insisting on dogma where dogma does not belong.
Not-So-Virgin Birth: Why Stories of Jesus Became More Magical Over Time
What you learn when you read the Bible in the order it was actually written.
Sometime toward the end of the first century, the writer of Luketold a story that would become one of the most treasured in all of Western Civilization, the birth of the baby Jesus. It opens with an announcement known as the Annunciation. A messenger angel named Gabriel appears to a young Jewish virgin, Mary, telling her that the spirit of God will enter her and she will give birth to a child who is both human and divine:
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:30-34 NRSV)
Two wonder-filled stories merge.
Our modern Christmas story is a composite drawn from two gospels, meaning devotional accounts of the life of Jesus, known as the books of Matthew and Luke. Both accounts underscore that Mary, a virgin, was impregnated by God alone. The writer of Matthewdoesn’t repeat the Annunciation, but he does say that Mary’s fiancé Joseph wants to end their betrothal when he discovers that Mary is pregnant. An angel tells Joseph in a dream that her pregnancy is “of the Holy Spirit,” and so he keeps her a virgin until she gives birth to Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)
Mary’s virginity is just one of several ways that the (now unknown) authors of the gospels signal to readers that this is no ordinary birth. Each accounts includes several supernatural wonders and pronouncements of God’s favor.
Because the gospels were aimed at different audiences, the auspicious events differ from story to story. Matthew: A rising star is seen by astrologers who bring gifts that foreshadow the baby’s future. Luke: A chorus of angels singing to shepherds on the hills. Matthew: A jealous king murders baby boys to protect his throne but the family of the holy child, having been warned in a dream, escapes. Luke:A prophet and prophetess recognize the infant’s divine spark.
Christmas pageants that merge these elements into a single story have delighted children and adults alike for centuries. The traditional manger scene or crèche merges them into a single panorama.
Grand Beginnings are Soon Forgotten
Many people might find it surprising that these auspicious infancy stories are never referenced elsewhere in the New Testament, for example in the letters of Paul or in the other two gospels that made their way into the Christian Bible. Even in the book of Luke itself, by the time Jesus is a boy, it is almost as if even his parents have forgotten the extraordinary circumstances of his birth. When he turns twelve, his family travels to Jerusalem, where his parents lose him. After three days, they find him in the temple:
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:48-50 NRSV).
Why would two authors describe a virgin birth announced by an angel and accompanied by natural wonders and then, not long after, have their characters behave as if it didn’t happen? That seems like an oddly wasted opportunity for writers who were seeking to establish both their own credibility and the credibility of their fledgling religion. Why don’t the dramatic astrological and biological signs of divinity surrounding the birth of Jesus get more play?
Christianity’s virgin birth narrative, both what it says and why it is poorly integrated into the rest of the Bible, is a fascinating study in cultural evolution. Specifically, it illustrates a process called “syncretism” whereby religions merge over time when cultures come into contact.
The New Testament Is Out of Order
Mainstream Bible scholarship tells us that the marvel-filled stories about the birth of Jesus don’t get referenced later in the New Testament because they were written aftermany of the books that follow them. When the books of the New Testament are arranged chronologically using the best information available, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are numbers 11 and 20 respectively. They come after letters that are believed to be authentic writings of Paul, for example, and after the gospel of Mark, which may have been a source for both authors but fails to mention an auspicious birth.
In addition, the birth narratives may have been late additions to the gospels themselves, which would explain why they seem forgotten later in the story. Evidence for this can be seen in how different versions of the gospels changed over time.
But the Catholic councils that decided which texts would go into the New Testament didn’t know that. They lacked the modern tools of linguistic analysis, archeology and anthropology and the mindset of antiquities scholarship. They believed that the books called Matthewand Luke were written by men named Matthew and Luke, one a disciple of Jesus and the other a companion of Paul, who had gotten some stories second hand and had been eye witnesses to others. The councils put the gospels first (and the book of Revelation last) because they were trying to assemble a coherent narrative.
Christianity Adapted to the Roman World
In 2012, Jesus scholar Marcus Borg published Evolution of the Word: Reading the Bible in the Order It was Written.Borg encourages readers to explore the 27 books of the New Testament in the order they were written to see how Christian thinking unfolded over time. Ordering the texts as they were written also allows scholars to put the evolution of Christianity in a historical context.
Read this way, one trend line is that the stories about Jesus become more magical over time. For example, John, the last gospel written, has Jesus making the boldest claims about his own deity. Another trend line is that over time, Jesus worship picks up bits of other cultures as Christianity spreads among the gentiles of the Roman Empire. Borg describes “an increasing accommodation within the cultural conventions of the time.” Some of those conventions came from Greek mythology and Roman civic religion.
The Earliest References to Jesus’ Birth Are More Mundane than Magical
The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus comes in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, likely written between 49 and 55 C.E, or about half a century before the gospels of Matthewand Luke.Paul’s description makes no mention of a virgin birth. He says simply that, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4).
In another letter, Paul seems to imply that Jesus came into the world in the usual way. In Romans 1:1-3 he refers to . . . the gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The phrase “seed of David” refers specifically to the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
So Why Divine Insemination?
Symbologist and retired religion professor Dr. Tony Nugent, tells us that the miraculous elements of the Christmas story have their roots in ancient mythic traditions that predated and surrounded nascent Christianity. In Greek and Roman mythology, heroes and great men often were born from the union of a god and a human woman. For example, in the story of Hercules, Zeus impregnates his mother by taking the form of her husband. Helen of Troy is conceived when Zeus takes the form of a swan and either seduces or rapes her mother Leda. Danaë, the mother of Perseus, is impregnated by a shower of gold. Mars, the Roman god of war fathers the twins Romulus and Remus through Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Even Augustus, Pythagoras, and Alexander the Great were reputed to have human mothers and divine fathers.
The idea of gods or demi-gods mating with human women was familiar throughout the Ancient Near East. It appears in the book of Genesis:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NRSV)
Early Christians disagreed over when, exactly Jesus became divine. Jewish converts promoted a theory called “adoptionism” in which Jesus is uniquely adopted as God’s son later in life. The Gospel of Mark for example, suggests that this happens at the time of his baptism. Paul suggests that it happens when he is resurrected. The authors of Matthewand Luke,clearly had a view in this debate—they believed that the sonship of Jesus began at birth, and they made their case in terms that would be both familiar and persuasive to people of their time.
An Ambiguous Prophecy Helps the Story Along
One key goal of the gospel writers was to show that the life of Jesus had been predicted by Hebrew prophesies and that the details of his life fulfilled these prophesies. Many Christians to this day take the fulfilled prophecies of the gospel stories as proof positive that stories are true. The naturalistic explanation, of course, is that the gospel writers (or the oral and written traditions they received) may have shaped their stories about Jesus to fit the Hebrew scriptures. And the careful documentation of Mary’s sexual history—or lack thereof—offers one bit of evidence that they did exactly that.
After telling readers that Jesus was fathered by God himself in spirit form, the writer of Matthew adds the following words:
“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1: 22-23).
The quotation is taken from the book of Isaiah (7:14), and in the context of the time it is understood as predicting a hopeful future for the Kingdom of Hezekiah. But the Christian who first linked this passage to the person of Jesus must have been delighted.
Early Judaism was very focused on purity—pure foods, unblemished bodies, and female sexual abstinence that ensured pure bloodlines for God’s chosen people. The Apostle Paul made sexual purity central to mainstream Roman Christianity. To a believer steeped in Rome’s tradition of divine insemination and Judaism’s tradition of virtuous virginity, a divine virgin birth might seem like exactly how Jesus should be born.
The twist is this: The Hebrew word used by the writer of Isaiah is almah, which can mean either a young woman who hasn’t had sex or simply a young women who hasn’t yet born a child. Anglican theologian John Shelby Spong tells us that a different word Hebrew word betulah, is used 50 times in the Hebrew Bible when the writer wants to refer specifically and clearly to a woman who hasn’t had sex.(Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male Dominated Church.) But the gospel writers relied on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, the word almah is translated as parthenos, which also can mean either young girl or virgin, but which is strongly associated with the virgin goddess Athena.
Would the writers of Matthew and Luke have emphasized Mary’s virginity if they had been privy to the original Hebrew? We will never know. What we do know is this. The story of a virginal young woman who is impregnated by a god and gives birth to a man who changes history appeals to the human imagination. It is a trope that has emerged in many mythic traditions and endured across centuries, cultures and continents. After it took root in Christianity, alternatives fell by the wayside, and the story of the baby Jesus, born to a virgin amidst signs and wonders, became the most celebrated and cherished story in the Bible.
Thank you to Dr. Tony Nugent, Presbyterian ordained symbologist and retired religion professor, for consultation on this article.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.
Pope Francis is a “Marxist” He is is a Marxist in the eyes of Right Wingers in the US because he speaks about “the structural causes of poverty” – the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics – that’s commie talk.
The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!
Merry Christmas, Right-Wingers, the Red Pope, and Jesus.
By Jim Hightower, Jim Hightower’s Blog
25 December 14
Tere’s a twist on Christmas that would make Jesus weep.
First, a right-wing faction in the US has been wringing its hands over a hokey cultural “crisis” cooked up by the faction itself, namely that liberals, atheists, humanists, and – God Forbid – Marxists are waging a “War on Christmas.” The infidels are not accused of lobbing bombs in this war, but Words of Mass Destruction. Specifically, the right-wing purists wail that unholy lefties are perverting the season by saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Second, some ultra conservative members of this same faction have launched their own war – against Jesus! How twisted is this? They say no one should mess with the word “Christmas,” yet they’re messing with the guy Christmas is supposed to be about.
Okay, technically they’re not going directly at Jesus, but at a key part of his message – and, and in particular, at a key messenger of Christianity: Pope Francis!
They’ve decided that the Pope is a “Marxist,” pointing out that Francis speaks often about “the structural causes of poverty,” the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics, that’s commie talk.
The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!
But wait – that was a very good question he asked, one ripe with the moral wrath that Jesus himself frequently showed toward the callous rich and their “love of money.” Indeed, the Pope’s words ring with the deep ethics you find in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. Was he a commie, too?
Could it be that the carpers are the ones lacking in real Christmas spirit?
A FEW OF THE COMMENTS:
+52 # RCW 2014-12-25 14:07
Thanks, Jim, and from the Jewish side, the Pope’s sentiments on behalf of the poor and oppressed by the indolent wealthy are those of the great Old Testament prophets as well.
+10 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:33
Now, if he’d only lighten up on gay guys and lesbian girls and, in fact, on women of all sorts, we might begin a useful dialogue. After all, not all Christians are fools and bigots …
+36 # Pickwicky 2014-12-25 14:14 But the most spectacular statement by Francis is, “All God’s creatures go to Paradise.” Now, come on, you goofy Right Wingers–what Marxist ever said that!
Merry Christmas, everyone.
+2 # LGNTexas 2014-12-25 17:25
There is hardly a word about a Jesus recorded by the Roman historian, Josephus…no nativity story or crucifixion story. For sure there is little known about the Persian God, Mithra, that preceded Christ in the Western world. I never knew of Mithra until told his legends by an Israeli soldier I befriend while working in Israel. He was giving me reasons he didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Much of what we know in the New Testament is from the teachings of St. Paul or Saul of Tarsus. That city in Asia-Minor was a hotbed of Mithraism, which became the most popular god of the Roman legions. So Saul (Paul) probably knew all about Mithra who was born of a virgin mother on December 25, centuries before Jesus. Mithra was called the light of the world, even visited by shepherds, etc. IF there was a visit by 3 “Wise men” they were probably Persians of the Zoroastrian faith and worshiped Mithra. The Mithra cult may have survived if not for the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. To read about Mithra one also can feel they are reading the New Testament. Did St. Paul plagiarize Mithraism in order to convert those already familiar with the cult? www.truthbeknown.com/mithra.htm
+1 # Charles3000 2014-12-25 19:07
Of course Paul/Saul knew about Mithras and Mithraism almost beat out Paul’s brand of Christianity. Some scholars due refer to Christianity as the last and greatest of the Greek mystery religions…and that is probably a very good outsider take on the nature of the religion. And all of us, whatever our faith or choice of religious doctrines, should never, ever forget. All religions are made by man; none were made by God.
+4 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 14:45
In keeping with the Spirit of the Season, I understand that the “true” Christians are making plans to come out with a blockbuster film for Christmas, 2015. . .”The Nativity and Aftermath” with the ORIGINAL cast. . .
It’s gonna be ready for theaters and purchase online once they’ve trained Jesus in the Real Principles of Christianity!
It seems that He has dropped the ball somewhere over the past 2000 years and it’s gonna take awhile to get him back on track if he wants to play the lead in the Passion Play! If he won’t “play ball” they’ll just hafta replace him with a “body double” who’s willing to do the Cruci-FICTION and wear the thorny Crown while saying all the “RIGHT” Things!
+9 # DaveM 2014-12-25 15:03
Is Mel Gibson directing?
+6 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 15:16
Who else could handle it?? I understand he’s also willing to bankroll it. . .Unless they can get a grant from the David Koch Fund for Science!
+14 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:52
Also, it was not a Druid festival, but the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrating the Winter Solstice, with which the early Christians decided to coincide Christmas. Before Constantine adopted Christianity for the Roman Empire, the Romans persecuted Christians.
+11 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:43
Yes, there is a definite connection with the Saturnalia, but it was probably a Druid festival as well. I know for sure that the Vikings were enthusiastic about it – and I think that the Swedes still celebrate their festival of lights wherein young girls parade around with lighted candles on their heads!
The point is that there are lots of cultures (especially where snow falls regularly) that get cheerful when the days begin to get longer.
+15 # margpark 2014-12-25 15:01
Lots of people all over the world celebrated the Solstice with gaiety and joy because everyone was glad the sun was coming back rather than to continue the decline which would have meant the end of the world.
0 # Regina 2014-12-25 18:59
Only in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, etc.) the sun is at its maximum latitude on December 21, which is their summer solstice. Although the northern hemisphere has most of the planet’s people, we should be more inclusive in the conclusions we jump to.
+6 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 15:18
I read an interesting book on Christianity it is called “How Jesus became God” It is true that Constantine was how Christianity became the big religion since the emperor wanted to unite his empire with one religion. It really was a political decision. There were many people running around the time of Christ who were allegedly performing miracles and who were born from a virgin mother, and were later killed and went to heaven and were god. But Constantine had to pick one religion and he chose Christianity.
+12 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:28
I know Jesus can be faulted for that line about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … but that was just hyperbole intended to encourage a few more alms for the poor.
And, as for the unpleasantness in the temple, it certainly wasn’t a sign that we should be mad at Wall Street (after all, Jesus only went after the “Jewish” moneylenders!).
The real problem comes in Acts 4(32), where it is written that none of the apostles ever said “nought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.”
Or worse, Acts 4(34-35) in which we learn that “neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man as he had need.”
Now, fast forward 1800 years to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), where he says “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”
So, either the disciples were communists or Marx was a Christian (absent the “God” part).
In any case, Marx can be accused of many things but only one charge firmly sticks: Plagiarism!
+2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:39
My favorite Sunday School teacher told us, many long years ago, that the openings in the city walls, where those folks who needed to get in after the main gates were closed, were called “needles”. They were small and low to the ground, so that a camel would have great difficulty going thru them.
+1 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:55
Your favorite Sunday School teacher may well have been right. Or, maybe that was just a desperate attempt to suppress the filthy, godless, communistic implications of the words attributed to the fellow (Jesus, that is).
I don’t know the truth of it or if Jesus even existed or if he said anything remotely similar to the words reported in Matthew 19(24); but, I do know that those words, taken literally, would knock Michele Bachmann and the rest of them for a loop. So, absent overwhelming evidence, I’ll stick with the way King James’ translation committee expressed it.
+7 # kalpal 2014-12-25 15:30
So why is the fact that Jesus was a Jew and never anything other than a Jew, along with all of his disciples, not a topic open to discussion within the halls of those purporting to adore Jesus? Was his Jewishness embarrassing to those who claim to be his followers? If you follow Jesus, then be a Jew. Stop being a pagan who calls himself a Xtian.
-2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:45
0 # Regina 2014-12-25 19:02
-2 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:54
One cannot begin to understand the secular political history of the world over the past two thousand years (and the impact of the Incarnation upon humanity) without seeing it through the interpretative lens of Political Religions.
The outstanding chronicler of Political Religions writing today is Michael Burleigh, who is following in the bold path blazed by scholars such as Eric Voegelin, Murray Rothbard, Norman Cohn, Gerhart Niemeyer, James Billington, and Henri de Lubac.
Utopian Nightmares and Gnostic Political Religions – an Amazon book list
I have long believed that at the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.
For two millennia, Western civilization has been rent and torn asunder by this struggle.
The unity of Christendom was shattered by the Reformation. After Martin Luther came the seeds for the rise of the leviathan state. The fertile soil of Europe had been sown but the time was not yet ready. The gestation would take centuries to come to full fruition.
-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:59
The tsunamic wave unleashed by the French Revolution swept the planet, bringing in its wake the forces of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” — or as seen through the prism of ideology — Liberalism, Collectivism, and Nationalism. The nourishing watering of the European soil had begun, and soon spread to all continents.
The Enlightenment, Freemasonry, Illuminism & the Religion of Humanity – an Amazon book list
It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so influenced the French Revolution, who first announced that human beings could be transformed for the better by the political process, by social engineering. This idea would have fatal consequences for millions in the 20th century.
0 # ericlipps 2014-12-25 17:22
Whereas as we all know, the idea that humans can be transformed for the better by belief in an all-powerful King who can and will condemn them to torture for eternity if they do not recognize His authority and obey His edicts has had only positive effects.
-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 16:02
Both the Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union and the National Socialists in Nazi Germany had at the center of their ideological agendas the creation of a “new man.”
Secularism and the crisis of faith, born of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, would provide the vital fertilizing nutrients for totalitarianism to finally bloom in the 20th century.
For it was in the 20th century where the West faced its greatest challenges via two satanic-inspired regimes, that of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. These two antipodal gnostic political religions were bent on using terror and mayhem to subjugate and remold humanity.
They wanted to coercively refashion a New Aryan Man or a New Soviet Man from our spiritual and material essence created by the hand of God.
Millions died in this cataclysmic process of “social engineering.”
In the 21st century our increasingly post-Christian West faces many new challenges but two in particular stand out: a return to its spiritual roots and a renascence of growth, promise, and renewal; and the renunciation of the deceitful illusions and lies upon which the corporatist welfare-warfare state was built and imposed on our civilization, this secular monstrosity which has led to so much misery, false hope, and insecurity.
+2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 16:54
I must say at the outset that I reject your basic premise which is, as you say, that “the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.”
If that means what I think it means; namely, that people squabble about their competing versions of “spirituality” and that inequalities of wealth and power arise from the results of those contests, then I respectfully submit that the relationship is exactly the reverse and that explicitly religious or ideologically political world-views are mainly propagandistic cover for local and geopolitical struggles that are more about material than spiritual matters.
That said, while I agree with your condemnation of 20th century “political religions” and your rejection of “social engineering,” I do not think that rejecting the “corporatist welfare-warfare state” is a sound alternative. In fact (unless you’re saying that it’s the corporations that get the welfare), public policies dedicated to social equity are the basis upon which the quest for social justice must be built – either that or we can all gather in self-sustaining anarcho-syndicalist communes (which is charming but unlikely, except perhaps in the wake of a global ecological collapse and/or military conflagration – not impossible, I admit).
Even less likely, however, is some sort of spontaneous spiritual process of “renunciation” and “renewal.” How, precisely, would that work?
-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.
As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal.” At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).
-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.
As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal”? At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).
+5 # JetpackAngel 2014-12-25 16:05
I say “Happy Holidays” because it’s faster than saying “Happy Goru / Dzon’ku Nu / Inti Raymi / Jonkonnu / Soyal / We Tripantu / Amaterasu / Choimus / Deyg?n / Maidyarem / D?ngzhì / T?ji / Lohri / Pongal / Makar Sankranti / Sanghamitta Day / ?eva Zistanê / Yalda / Beiwe / Brumalia / Christmas / Dies Natalis Solis Invicti / Deuorius Riuri / Hogmanay / Korochun / Malkh-Festival / M?draniht / Midvinterblót / Montol Festival / Mummer’s Day / Saturnalia / Wren’s Day / Yule / Ziemassv?tki / Hannukah / Krampasfest / Festivus / Kwanzaa / [others that I’ve surely forgotten].
0 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-12-25 17:17
If the Pope is “red.” does that mean those Republicans in the “red” states are commies?
-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:51
Where I live RED is the color of the “liberals,” BLUE is the color of the”conservatives” and ORANGE is the color of the “socialists.”
Of course, what Americans mean by Conservatives (i.e., neoliberals), Liberals (i.e., center-right liberals) and Socialists (i.e., the hordes of Hell … or people with library cards who use public transit) is a matter of eternal mirth to those outside the fabulous fifty states.
Perhaps a global conference should be called to officially designate which color applies to which ideology (I suspect the biggest fight would be between ISIL and the Anarchists over the color BLACK.
Me? I would support anyone who claimed to wave a WHITE flag (and I’m not – believe me – being “racist” here).
+42 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 14:20
Does anyone know why we celebrate Christmas on December 25? Clue it has nothing to do with the birth of anyone. The answer is because the “pagans” were celebrating the winter solstice on December 21 with “wild parties” and all sorts of going ons. So, the Christians decided that they would trump the festivities of the winter solstice with a celebration on December 25 with their own party. And since all of the pagans were gathered together they would just keep the party going. Just for good measure the Christians would incorporate the symbol of the cross with a circle of the symbol of the sun which the pagans worshiped as their god. So that originally the whole celebration was a celebration of the winter solstice. So actually Christmas was started as a war on the Druid’s festivities. So, now is their turn to conduct their war on Christmas. So for everyone out their happy winter solstice and a happy new year.
+13 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:48
Also, the Jewish festival of Chanukah, which celebrated the miracle that occurred in 163BCE, was on the 25th of Kislev, a Jewish month that often corresponded fairly closely with December.
President Barack Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease economic restrictions, a shift he called the end of an “outdated approach” that “for decades has failed to advance our interests.”
Speaking from his own country, Cuban President Raul Castro lauded the move: “This expression by President Barack Obama deserves the respect and recognition by all the people, and I want to thank and recognize support from the Vatican.”
and then: President Barack Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease economic restrictions, a shift he called the end of an “outdated approach” that “for decades has failed to advance our interests.”
Speaking from his own country, Cuban President Raul Castro lauded the move: “This expression by President Barack Obama deserves the respect and recognition by all the people, and I want to thank and recognize support from the Vatican.”
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was harshly critical of the move: “By conceding to the oppressors, this President and this administration have let the people of Cuba down.”
KUDOS FROM ALL OVER LATIN AMERICA THAT LONG AGO HAS ESTABLISHED RELATIONS WITH CUBA.
FROM OUR ANGLE – BACK TO THE 1970s WE ARGUED THE US CAN LEARN FROM CUBA ABOUT HOW TO DECREASE DEPENDENCE ON OIL IMPORTS.
THIS AFTER LEARNING IN !978 ABOUT THEIR USE OF BIOMASS AT A UNIDO MEETING IN VIENNA, AND THEN OUR ATTEMPT TO INVITE THEM TO MAKE A PRESENTATION AT The first InterAmerican Conference on Renewable Sources of Energy, New Orleans, Louisiana, November 25-29, 1979 that I had the honor to organize for the Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education BUT WAS TURNED DOWN BY THE US DEPARTMENT OF STATE THAT WAS NOT READY TO ALLOW VISAS FOR THE CUBAN SCIENTISTS. I made sure nevertheless that the conference knows that when you have no trees to cut down you can make paper from sugarcane bagasse.
Louisiana, Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education
The Conference, 1980 – Science – 302 pages
For many, this has raised the question of whether they will watch the game together. But the more basic question is whether Francis, 77, of Argentina, and Benedict, 87, of Germany, will be watching at all, given that the match begins at 9 p.m. in Italy and may not end until nearly midnight.
Francis and Benedict have both lived on the grounds of the Vatican since Francis was elected to the papacy in March 2013, after Benedict’s historic resignation. Initially, some analysts speculated that the arrangement might breed intrigue: Would the Vatican be divided between two popes? Instead, the two men have apparently forged a warm friendship, as Benedict has quietly receded from public life while Francis has emerged as a major global figure.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, who has fielded soccer questions this week with a chuckling amusement, doubted the two men would watch the game together, or at all. He noted that Benedict, a scholarly theologian and author of a multipart meditation on the life of Jesus, has never been much of a soccer fan, “though he clearly understands that it’s important to many people.” (In March 2012, Benedict did greet the German star Miroslav Klose at the Vatican.)
The first Latin American pope, Francis is unquestionably a fan, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires cheered for San Lorenzo, a local soccer club. After San Lorenzo won the Argentine championship last year, a small delegation of managers and players came to the Vatican in December to present Francis with a trophy and an inscribed team jersey that read, “Francisco Campeon,” or “Francis Champion.”
Last August at the Apostolic Palace, Francis welcomed the national teams of Italy and Argentina, including the star Argentine striker Lionel Messi, before the two sides played a friendly match in Rome. Francis managed to duck a question about which country he would be rooting for (Argentina won, 2-1), even as he called on the athletes to be role models for young people.
Francis also asked players on both teams to pray for him, according to The Associated Press, “so that I, on the ‘field’ upon which God placed me, can play an honest and courageous game for the good of us all.”
In that spirit, the Vatican Pontifical Council for Culture has launched a “Pause for Peace” campaign and is asking for a global moment of silence before Sunday’s match to remember people enduring war and conflict.
And will the pope be watching on Sunday night?
Father Lombardi said the pope “sent the Argentine team his best wishes before the tournament,” but added that Francis watches very little television, “and especially at that hour.”
“Above all,” he added, “I think they both want the best team to win. They’re above partisan passion. In this, they are united.”
A version of this article appears in print on July 12, 2014, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: An Argentine and a German, but No Sign at the Vatican of a World Cup Rivalry.
VATICAN CITY — In a richly symbolic ceremony, Pope Francis oversaw a carefully orchestrated “prayer summit” with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents on Sunday as Jews, Christians and Muslims offered invocations for peace in the Vatican gardens.
“It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide,” Francis said at the ceremony.
During his trip last month to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, Francis unexpectedly extended invitations for a summit at the Vatican to President Shimon Peres of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
He said the meeting would be about prayer, not politics, and Vatican officials sought to dispel any expectation that a breakthrough would emerge.
Many Mideast analysts, while applauding the gesture, have been skeptical that the meeting would help revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but it did, at least, bring together the two presidents, who held a private meeting after the ceremony with Francis.
During the ceremony, Mr. Peres and Mr. Abbas avoided the familiar political tropes. There was no mention of 1967 borders or security arrangements. Mr. Abbas did not use the word “occupation,” according to an English translation of his prepared text distributed by the Vatican. (Nor did he say the word “Israel,” though he did refer once to Israelis.)
Yet there were some subtle provocations. Mr. Abbas called Jerusalem, considered by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital, “our Holy City” and referred to “the Holy Land Palestine.” (Mr. Peres described Jerusalem both as “the vibrant heart of the Jewish people” and as “the cradle of the three monotheistic religions.”)
Mr. Abbas also prayed for a “sovereign and independent state” and said Palestinians were “craving for a just peace, dignified living and liberty,” implying that they were denied these things under Israel’s occupation.
Mr. Peres did not mention rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, but he evoked the attacks with the biblical quotation, “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
The ceremony was held in a garden behind St. Peter’s Basilica that is enclosed by a high hedge to provide a sense of intimacy, and that offers a spectacular view of the cupola of the basilica. It also was chosen as a place that seemed somewhat neutral in terms of religious iconography. The service was carefully organized into three successive “moments,” in which prayers and readings were offered by Jews, then Christians and then Muslims. Then the three leaders spoke.
In the moments before the ceremony, the three men rode together in a small bus to the garden, along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Orthodox Christian leader. At times, they appeared to share a laugh.
The prayer summit came at a fraught political moment. Less than a week ago, a new Palestinian government was sworn in that is based on a pact with Hamas, the militant Islamic movement branded as terrorist by most of the West. Israel has officially shunned the new cabinet and has sought unsuccessfully to galvanize the world against it. Israel’s cabinet did give Mr. Peres the pro forma approval to travel to the Vatican, but some in Israel worried about the timing of this new embrace of Mr. Abbas.
In contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Peres has long maintained that Mr. Abbas is a suitable partner for peacemaking. In a recent television interview, Mr. Peres said that in 2011, Mr. Netanyahu cut off back-channel talks between the two presidents that had come close to a deal, something the prime minister’s office has denied. But even as Mr. Peres was arriving for the Vatican event, Mr. Netanyahu continued his criticism of the new Palestinian government during a cabinet meeting on Sunday in Jerusalem.
“Whoever hoped that the Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas would moderate Hamas is mistaken,” he said, calling for international pressure on Mr. Abbas to dissolve the new partnership.
In the hours before the prayer summit, the usual crowd of tourists milled about St. Peter’s Square, including some people who hoped the meeting could make a difference.
“His gesture can help solve the situation,” said Esteban Troncosa, 16, of Santa Fe, Argentina, who was in Rome for a one-month language study trip with his class. “His message has always been to stop wars, and avoid any form of violence. I am sure this can make a difference. The pope can’t sign political agreements, but he is a symbol and can make people and politicians think.”
Questions for the European Left by Pilar Rahola in The Guardian.
brought to our attention by a Canadian cousin who is very proud of Canada’s position on the Middle East – as expressed by its Prime Minister Harper’s recent visit to Jerusalem.
Dr. Pilar Rahola i Martínez is a Spanish journalist, writer (writes also for the Guardian – the paper we honor most) a former politician and Member of Parliament.
Rahola studied Spanish and Catalan Philology at the Universitad de Barcelona. A Spanish Catholic leftist that denounces the anti Israel wave for its antisemitism – which is not socially acceptable correct diplomacy anymore, but says anti Israel is the same – but seemingly the more accepted course to go.
Quite a lady. What she writes is more impressive because she is NOT Jewish. Her articles are published in Spain and in some of the most important newspapers in Latin America. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilar_Rahola
Questions for the European Left by Pilar Rahola
Why don’t we see demonstrations against Islamic dictatorships in London, Paris , Barcelona ?
Or demonstrations against the Burmese dictatorship?
Why aren’t there demonstrations against the enslavement of millions of women who live without any legal protection?
Why aren’t there demonstrations against the use of children as human bombs where there is conflict with Islam?
Why has there been no leadership in support of the victims of Islamic dictatorship in Sudan ?
Why is there never any outrage against the acts of terrorism committed against Israel ?
Why is there no outcry by the European left against Islamic fanaticism?
Why don’t they defend Israel’s right to exist?
Why confuse support of the Palestinian cause with the defense of Palestinian terrorism?
And finally, the million dollar question: Why is the left in Europe and around the world obsessed with the two most solid democracies, the United States and Israel, and not with the worst dictatorships on the planet? The two most solid democracies, who have suffered the bloodiest attacks of terrorism, and the left doesn’t care.
And then, to the concept of freedom. In every pro-Palestinian European forum I hear the left yelling with fervor: “We want freedom for the people!”
Not true. They are never concerned with freedom for the people of Syria or Yemen or Iran or Sudan, or other such nations. And they are never preoccupied when Hamas destroys freedom for the Palestinians. They are only concerned with using the concept of Palestinian freedom as a weapon against Israeli freedom. The resulting consequence of these ideological pathologies is the manipulation of the press.
The international press does major damage when reporting on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On this topic they don’t inform, they propagandize.
When reporting about Israel, the majority of journalists forget the reporter code of ethics. And so, any Israeli act of self-defense becomes a massacre, and any confrontation, genocide. So many stupid things have been written about Israel that there aren’t any accusations left to level against her.
At the same time, this press never discusses Syrian and Iranian interference in propagating violence against Israel, the indoctrination of children, and the corruption of the Palestinians. And when reporting about victims, every Palestinian casualty is reported as tragedy and every Israeli victim is camouflaged, hidden or reported about with disdain.
And let me add on the topic of the Spanish left. Many are the examples that illustrate the anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli sentiments that define the Spanish left. For example, one of the leftist parties in Spain has just expelled one of its members for creating a pro-Israel website. I quote from the expulsion document: “Our friends are the people of Iran, Libya and Venezuela, oppressed by imperialism, and not a Nazi state like Israel .”
In another example, the socialist mayor of Campozuelos changed Shoah Day, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, with Palestinian Nabka Day, which mourns the establishment of the State of Israel, thus showing contempt for the six million European Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
Or in my native city of Barcelona, the city council decided to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, by having a Week of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Thus, they invited Leila Khaled, a noted terrorist from the 70’s and current leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist organization so described by the European Union, which promotes the use of bombs against Israel .
This politically correct way of thinking has even polluted the speeches of President Zapatero. His foreign policy falls within the lunatic left, and onissues of the Middle East, he is unequivocally pro-Arab. I can assure you that in private, Zapatero places on Israel the blame for the conflict in the Middle East , and the policies of Foreign Minister Moratinos reflect this. The fact that Zapatero chose to wear a kafiah in the midst of the Lebanon conflict is no coincidence; it’s a symbol.
Spain has suffered the worst terrorist attack in Europe and it is in the crosshairs of every Islamic terrorist organization. As I wrote before, they
Kill us with cell phones hooked to satellites connected to the Middle Ages. And yet the Spanish left is the most anti-Israeli in the world.
And then it says it is anti-Israeli because of solidarity. This is the madness I want to denounce in this conference.
I am not Jewish. Ideologically I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not anti-Israeli like my colleagues? Because as a non-Jew I have the Historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historic homeland, Israel .
To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews.
As a journalist it is my duty to search for the truth beyond prejudice, lies and manipulations. The truth about Israel is not told. As a person from the left who loves progress, I am obligated to defend liberty, culture, civic education for children, coexistence and the laws that the Tablets of the Covenant made into universal principles. Principles that Islamic fundamentalism systematically destroys. That is to say, that as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too. The struggle of Israel, even if the world doesn’t want to accept it, is the struggle of the world.
If anyone wonders whether Pope Francis has irritated wealthy conservatives with his courage and idealism, the latest outburst from Kenneth Langone left little doubt. Sounding both aggressive and whiny, the billionaire investor warned that he and his overprivileged friends might withhold their millions from church and charity unless the pontiff stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unleashed capitalism.
According to Langone, such criticism from the Holy See could ultimately hurt the sensitive feelings of the rich so badly that they become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.” He also said rich donors are already losing their enthusiasm for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan — a very specific threat that he mentioned directly to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Langone is not only a leading fundraiser for church projects but a generous donor to hospitals, universities and cancer charities (often for programs and buildings named after him, in the style of today’s self-promoting philanthropists). Among the super-rich, he has many friends and associates who may share his excitable temperament.
While his ultimatum seems senseless — would a person of true faith stiff the church and the poor? — it may well be sincere. And Langone spends freely to promote his political and economic views, in the company of the Koch brothers and other Republican plutocrats.
Still, a pope brave enough to face down the mafia over his financial reform of the murky Vatican Bank shouldn’t be much fazed by the likes of Langone. Yet Langone has reason to worry that the Holy Father is in fact asking hard questions about people like him. Indeed, he could serve as a living symbol of the gross and growing economic inequality that disfigures the American system and threatens democracy. As a leader of the New York Stock Exchange, he was largely responsible for the scandalous overpayment of his friend Richard Grasso, the exchange president who received nearly $190 million in deferred compensation when he stepped down. Although New York’s highest court eventually upheld Grasso’s pay package, it was a perfect example of the unaccountable, self-serving greed of Wall Street’s elite.
Anything but repentant following the revelation and repudiation of the Grasso deal by NYSE executives, Langone told Forbes magazine in 2004: “They got the wrong f—ing guy. I’m nuts, I’m rich, and, boy, do I love a fight. I’m going to make them s— in their pants. When I get through with these f—ing captains of industry, they’re going to wish they were in a Cuisinart — at high speed.”
He embarked on a furious vendetta against Eliot Spitzer, who had fought to recapture Grasso’s millions as New York attorney general. And when Spitzer was forced to resign as governor in the wake of a prostitution scandal, Langone’s public gloating seemed to indicate that he had played a personal role in exposing his enemy’s indiscretions. He particularly hated Spitzer for attempting to punish and curtail the worst misconduct in the financial industry. While Langone passionately defended the outlandish grasping of the super-rich like his friend Grasso, however, he has displayed far less indulgence toward workers, especially those struggling to support their families on poverty wages. Until just last year, he was a director of Yum! Brands, the global fast food conglomerate that includes Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken among its holdings — and that spends millions annually to hold down the minimum wage and prevent unionization of its ill-paid employees and farmworkers.
What all this adds up to is hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable compensation for financial cronies, but not a dime more for low-income workers. It is exactly the kind of skewed outcome Francis means when he speaks about today’s capitalists, “the powerful feeding upon the powerless,” and the need for renewed state regulation to bring their burgeoning tyranny under control. He is talking about Langone, the Kochs and an entire gang of right-wing financiers. “How I would love a church that is poor and for the poor,” Francis said not long after his election to the papacy. This could be what he gets — and that might not be so bad, for the poor and for all of us, Catholic or not, who love justice.
Killing Them Softly: Pope Francis Condemns Income Inequality, Sanctions Gender Inequality
Exclusion of the poor from full participation in society is rightly portrayed as an evil, while exclusion of women from full participation in the church is defended as necessary.
December 6, 2013 | The following story first appeared on RH Reality Check.
Not long after the white puffs of smoke blew through St. Peter’s Square in March to announce his election as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis set many a progressive heart aflutter, especially with regard to his oft-stated concern for the poor of the world.
The release on Tuesday of Evangelii Gaudium, the pope’s manifesto for the renewal of the church, has set off a pandemic of swooning among liberals, particularly because of the pope’s welcome critique of so-called “free market” ideology and the gaping income inequality it creates. Overlooked is the internal inconsistency of the document, in which exclusion of the poor from full participation in society is rightly portrayed as an evil, while exclusion of women from full participation in the church is defended as necessary.
When it comes to inequality of the sexes, Pope Francis enthusiastically embraces Rome’s status quo, using his great treatise on his dream of a kinder, gentler church to sanction the exclusion of women not just from leadership, but from performing the most holy of its rites: celebration of the Mass.
“The reservation of the priesthood to males … is not a question open to discussion,” Francis writes.
While, in the same document, the pope also reiterates the church’s rejection of abortion as a moral choice and implicitly condones the marginalization of LGBTQ people, it is his blessing of a male-only priesthood that is arguably the most damaging, for it renders the church as a model justification for the view of women as subhuman—a view that lends cover to the rapist, the pimp, the bigot, and the chauvinist whose works the pope decries, even as he advances stereotypes about the “feminine genius” that women have to offer in acts of compassion and intuition.
As Sister Maureen Fiedler observes, Pope Francis “seems to think of women as a different species of human.” And it is from this “othering” of women from rest of humanity, I believe, that the church’s cruel and sometimes murderous denial of women’s reproductive prerogatives stems.
For Catholics, the Mass is a mystical, not just a representational, rite. The priest is believed to be the conduit, a channel of God’s grace, for the transformation of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. That’s an awesome power to have—rather god-like, in fact.
The church’s denial of priestly ordination to women is based on a trumped-up piece of theology known as the “natural resemblance” rationale. Simply put, since Jesus was a man, then only men can be priests. Fiedler, explaining and rejecting this theory, suggests that “to say that only males may image Jesus sacralizes masculinity.”
Despite its tortured logic with regard to the rights and role of women, both as human beings and as members of the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel”) is a papal tour de force, both as a piece of literature, and for the institution Pope Francis puts forth as the church of his dreams.
The most radical changes called for by the pope in his exhortation have little to do with the critique of capitalism that has grabbed the headlines, but rather a proposed shift in the power dynamic of the existing hierarchy—he envisions a less centralized power structure—and a purge of corruption (described as “spiritual worldliness”) in the Vatican bureaucracy. But it is the change he seeks in the church’s image, which he has already set about by famously refusing to live in the sumptuous setting occupied by his predecessors, that has dazzled journalists and commentators.
In Evangelii Gaudium, the pope’s language is vernacular and, in its English translation, at least, pleasing in cadence. It is quite a departure from the prose that ordinarily fills official Vatican documents. In it, Francis speaks of himself in the first person, and admits certain faults of the church. In confirming the church’s opposition to abortion, for instance, Francis states:
Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?
Such an admission of the church’s shortcomings in tending to the needs of the desperate pregnant woman would have been unthinkable by this pope’s recent predecessors; in doing so, Francis casts himself in a more favorable light while doing nothing to change the doctrine that robs women of their full agency, and hence, their full humanity. It is also a doctrine that can rob a woman of her life.
The entire document, in fact, advances little change in the substance of church teaching, and more a change in style and tone. It is, at its essence, a blueprint for winning converts to the faith, and reeling in disaffected Catholics back to the church. It is a survival playbook for a church abandoned by its European flock, and losing substantial numbers among its North American constituency. In Latin America, the church faces steep competition with evangelical Protestant sects, and in Africa, it’s competing with those sects and with Islam. The stern and condescending Father-knows-best condemnations of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI—who launched a holy war against Latin America’s native liberation theology movement—proved to be deeply alienating.
A nice pope who seems to be of the people, who writes in an accessible style, who appears to understand the difficulties faced by those wriggling under the boot of global capitalism can only help the church’s predicament. And so Francis recasts the church’s social teaching on ministering to the poor in the language of progressive economists and the Occupy movement, and challenges unnamed Catholic politicians and business leaders (Rep. Paul Ryan [R-WI], House Budget Committee chairman and former vice presidential candidate, comes to mind) to abandon “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.”
Such theories, Francis writes, pointedly, have “never been confirmed by the facts.”
Yet, in his defense of the faceless poor, Francis seems to miss the fact that women are more likely than men to be in poverty, and that is because of the very kind of structural inequality that his church models for the world as an image of holiness.
Doing Well by Doing (Some) Good?
I do not mean to suggest that the pope is insincere in his call to defend the poor. I believe that he is. And his pronouncement certainly does put those Catholics who advance the cause of Ayn Rand and the fortunes of the Koch brothers in an uncomfortable position. If that helps to save the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, from the chopping block, that’s all to the good. If the bishops put more of their diocesan budgets into bringing real services and comfort to the poor, that would be outstanding. But it would be naive not to note that Francis’ call to serve the poor also serves the pope’s obvious effort to re-brand the church, still suffering the moral bankruptcy of its child-abuse scandal, as a force for good.
So, too, does the pope’s admonishment, apparently aimed at members of the Curia (the Vatican bureaucracy), to avoid going on “witch hunts” of those deemed doctrinally impure. Although again, the pope declines to provide examples, it’s hard not to think of the Vatican’s 2012 attack on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for facilitating the spread of “radical feminist ideas,” when reading those lines. The bishops and the Vatican lost big in the court of public opinion on that one, when it was revealed that American Catholics like their nuns much better than they do their prelates.
Francis cites the withholding of the sacrament of Communion from the impure—as has been done to punish pro-choice Catholic politicians—as not particularly helpful. He urges priests to stress the joy of the Gospel in their homilies, and advises them not to deliver sermons that comprise lists of obligations.
In an interview given earlier this year to the Jesuit journalist, Rev. Antonio Spadaro, Francis suggested that church officials stop harping on church teaching that opposes abortion and condemns homosexuality. He didn’t suggest that any change was warranted to those doctrines; just that it was not really helping the church to keep emphasizing them. (Interestingly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker [R], who is Roman Catholic, recently told a press gathering organized by the Christian Science Monitor that while he is anti-choice and personally opposed to marriage equality, he preferred to talk about fiscal issues.)
“Exclusion, Mistreatment and Violence”
In the section of Evangelii Gaudium titled “The Inclusion of the Poor in Society,” Pope Francis throws this bone, without irony, to women in poverty:
Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights.
All women, of course, “endure situations of exclusion” from the leadership of the church, and that very exclusion sows the seeds of their mistreatment both within the church and in the greater society. A powerful message, marginalizing women as creatures unworthy of respect and incapable of authority, is inherent in the very image of the church’s leadership.
Women are to content themselves with whatever grace trickles down to them via the transformative powers invoked by the male priest.
The Roman Catholic Church, with its own nation-state, temporal power around the world, and command of media attention, is arguably the most visible religious institution in the world. Any entity that treated any other class of people as the church treats women would rightly, in the 21st century, be a pariah institution. But since it’s women we’re talking about, it’s all right. And the sad thing is, I don’t think the pope even sees the internal contradiction in his words.
Surely you can give the pope some props for his comments on the evils of free-market economics, one liberal male friend said to me, when I expressed my disgust at the kudos raining upon the pope with the publication of his magnum opus. Wow, said another, you’re really going to lay into him for not making changes yet on the position of women in the church?
So here are my props on the economics section of the pope’s treatise. This from Evangelii Gaudium is just terrific:
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
But by that same logic, an honest person must then say “thou shalt not” to a theology of gender exclusion and inequality.
In 1992, the Catholic Church officially apologized for persecuting 17th-century astronomer Galileo, who dared to assert that the Earth revolved around the sun. In 2008, the Vatican even considered putting up a statue of him.
Could a certain 19th-century atheist philosopher be next?
It is true that in 2009, a Vatican newspaper article put a positive spin on one Karl Marx. The author, German historian Georg Sans, praised Marx for his criticism of the alienation and injustice faced by working people in a world where the privileged few own the capital. Sans suggested that Marx’s view was relevant today: “We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system….” Indeed.
Pope Benedict XVI certainly sang a different tune, denouncing Marxism as one of the great scourges of the modern age (of course we must always distinguish the “ism” from the man). But Francis is a pope of a different feather. His recent comments on capitalism suggest that he is a man who understands something about economics — specifically the link between unbridled capitalism and inequality.
In an 84-page document released Tuesday, Pope Francis launched a tirade against a brutally unjust economic system that Marx himself would have cheered:
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills….As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
Whoa! Where did that come from? To understand the answer, you need to know something about liberation theology, a movement that originated in Pope Francis’s home region of Latin America. Liberation theology, a Catholic phenomenon centered on actively fighting economic and social oppression, is the fascinating place where Karl Marx and the Catholic Church meet.
Though Marx was certainly an atheist, Catholics who support liberation theology understand that his attitude toward religion was nuanced. He saw it as a coin with two sides: a conservative force that could block positive changes as well as a reservoir of energy that could resist and challenge injustice. In the United States, religious movements such as the Social Gospel movement, seen today in the Reverend William Barber’s Moral Monday crusade against right-wing oppression of the poor in North Carolina, express the protest potential of Christianity.
Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian Catholic priest who grew up in abject poverty, used Marx’s ideas about ideology, class and capitalism to develop a perspective on how Christianity could be used to help the poor while they were on here on Earth rather than simply offer them solace in heaven. As Latin America saw the rise of military dictatorships in the 1960s and ‘70s, Gutiérrez called on Catholics to love their neighbor and to transform society for the better. Followers of the new liberation theology insisted on active engagement in social and economic change. They talked about alternative structures and creative, usually non-violent ways to free the poor from all forms of abuse.
The official Church hierarchy has had a tense relationship with liberation theology, but some Francis watchers detect that a new chapter in that history is opening. In early September, the new Pope had a private meeting with Gutiérrez. Reacting to the event, the Vatican newspaper published an essay arguing that with a Latin American pope guiding the Church, liberation theology could no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years, at least in Europe.”
The Catholic world has now snapped to attention as the faithful pore over the Pope Francis’s recent communication, which calls upon politicians to guarantee “dignified work, education and healthcare” and blasts the “idolatry of money.” The flock is on notice: Francis will be talking a great deal about economic inequality and defending the poor. Unfortunately, his opposition to women as priests indicates that he is not yet ready to embrace equal treatment for women, something that would greatly enhance progress on both of those issues, but Francis did take a step forward in saying that women should have more influence in the Church.
While the Vatican has become a cesspool for some of the most shady financiers and corrupt bankers on the planet (see: “ God’s Racket”), Pope Francis has made clear his abhorrence of greed, eschewing the Apostolic Palace for a modest guest house and recently suspending a bishop who blew $41 million on renovations and improvements to his residence, including a $20,000 bathtub.
Catholics, particularly in the United States and Europe, are not sure what to make of all this solidarity with the poor and anti-capitalist rhetoric. For a long time now, many have considered Marx and his critique of capitalism over and done with. But others have watched deregulation, globalization and redistribution toward the rich unleash a particularly nasty and aggressive form of capitalism that seems increasingly at odds with Christian values. Instead of becoming more fair and moderate, capitalism has become more brutal and extreme. Marx, who predicted that capitalism would engender massive inequalities, is looking rather prescient just about now.
Pope Francis may prove himself open to considering Marx’s ideas in order to think about a more human-centered economic system. The American press is already buzzing nervously with the idea: “It would make for some pretty amazing headlines if Pope Francis turned out to be a Marxist,” wrote Helen Horn of the Atlantic, before quickly concluding that, no, “happily for church leaders,” such a thing couldn’t be true.
Maybe not. What is true is that, like his fascinating predecessor, Pope Leo XIII (who presided from 1848-1903), Francis has specifically denounced the complete rule of the market over human beings — the cornerstone of the kind of neoclassical economic theory embraced by Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan and much of the American political establishment. He wrote:
“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.”
That’s a pretty good start. We’ll take it.
Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of ‘Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.’ She received her Ph.d in English and Cultural Theory from NYU, where she has taught essay writing and semiotics. She is the Director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project.
The friend was a political liberal and lifelong Democrat, accustomed to being on the wrong side of his church’s teaching on issues like abortion, bioethics and same-sex marriage.
Now, he cheerfully suggested, right-leaning Catholics like me would get a taste of the same experience, from a pope who seemed intent on skirting the culture war and stressing the church’s mission to the poor instead.
After Francis’s latest headline-making exhortation, which roves across the entire life of the church but includes a sharp critique of consumer capitalism and financial laissez-faire, politically conservative Catholics have reached for several explanations for why my friend is wrong, and why they aren’t the new “cafeteria Catholics.”
First, they have pointed out that there’s nothing truly novel here, apart from a lazy media narrative that pits Good Pope Francis against his bad reactionary predecessors. (Many of the new pope’s comments track with what Benedict XVI said in his own economic encyclical, and with past papal criticisms of commercial capitalism’s discontents.)
Second, they have sought to depoliticize the pope’s comments, recasting them as a general brief against avarice and consumerism rather than a call for specific government interventions.
And finally, they have insisted on the difference between church teaching on faith and morals, and papal pronouncements on economic issues, noting that there’s nothing that obliges Catholics to believe the pontiff is infallible on questions of public policy.
All three responses have their merits, but they still seem insufficient to the Francis era’s challenge to Catholics on the limited-government, free-market right.
It’s true that there is far more continuity between Francis and Benedict than media accounts suggest. But the new pope clearly intends to foreground the church’s social teaching in new ways, and probably seeks roughly the press coverage he’s getting.
It’s also true that Francis’s framework is pastoral rather than political. But his plain language tilts leftward in ways that no serious reader can deny.
Finally, it’s true that there is no Catholic position on, say, the correct marginal tax rate, and that Catholics are not obliged to heed the pope when he suggests that global inequality is increasing when the statistical evidence suggests otherwise.
But the church’s social teaching is no less an official teaching for allowing room for disagreement on its policy implications. And for Catholics who pride themselves on fidelity to Rome, the burden is on them — on us — to explain why a worldview that inspires left-leaning papal rhetoric also allows for right-of-center conclusions.
That explanation rests, I think, on three ideas. First, that when it comes to lifting the poor out of poverty, global capitalism, faults and all, has a better track record by far than any other system or approach.
Second, that Catholic social teaching, properly understood, emphasizes both solidarity and subsidiarity — that is, a small-c conservative preference for local efforts over national ones, voluntarism over bureaucracy.
This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral.
And this is where Francis’s vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians. The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope. But they should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since “compassionate conservatism” collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more — often much more — of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues.
Here my journalist friend’s “loyal opposition” line oversimplified the options for Catholic political engagement. His Catholic liberalism didn’t go into eclipse because it failed to let the Vatican dictate every jot and tittle of its social agenda. Rather, it lost influence because it failed to articulate any kind of clear Catholic difference, within the bigger liberal tent, on issues like abortion, sex and marriage.
Now the challenge for conservative Catholics is to do somewhat better in our turn, and to spend the Francis era not in opposition but seeking integration — meaning an economic vision that remains conservative, but in the details reminds the world that our Catholic faith comes first.
The following was sitting as a draft since January 13, 2013 and somehow it came to my attention today – coincidentally as the October 22nd elections for Mayor of Jerusalem are now news. Jerusalem is indeed a city central to global well-being. Here the impressions it left on a secular Jewish-American tourist.
As a traveler, I am not a particularly choosy person. I will go pretty much anywhere, anytime. Wander on horseback into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan? Why not? Spend the night in a sketchy Burmese border town? Sure! Eat my way through Bridgeport, Conn.? Loved it. Once, I even spent four consecutive Sunday nights in Geneva — in midwinter — an ordeal to which no rational adventurer would willingly submit.
In fact, of all the world’s roughly 200 nations, there was only one — besidesAfghanistan and Iraq (which my wife has deemed too dangerous) — that I had absolutely zero interest in ever visiting: Israel.
This surprised friends and mildly annoyed my parents, who had visited quite happily. As a Jew, especially one who travels constantly, I was expected at least to have the Jewish state on my radar, if not to be planning a pilgrimage in the very near future. Tel Aviv, they’d say, has wonderful food!
But to me, a deeply secular Jew, Israel has always felt less like a country than a politically iffy burden. For decades I’d tried to put as much distance between myself and Judaism as possible, and the idea that I was supposed to feel some connection to my ostensible homeland seemed ridiculous. Give me Montenegro, Chiapas, Iran even. But Israel was like Christmas: something I’d never do.
Then, last fall, my friend Theodore Ross — author of the forthcoming book “Am I a Jew?” — suggested I see Jerusalem. And suddenly feeling life calling my bluff, I booked a flight. I’d spend six December days in the holiest place on the planet and, surrounded by the Old City’s 500-year-old stone walls and legions of Christians, Jews and Muslims, I would be the lone unbeliever, walking a tightrope between belonging and individualism, observing not necessarily my faith but the faithful.
The Old City itself, however, turned out to be, at least in terms of geography and architecture, exactly the kind of place where I feel comfortable. Within those 40-foot-high walls was the dense warren I’d expected, laid out with seemingly no sense of order — or perhaps an order I couldn’t yet perceive. Either way, it was a visceral pleasure to master its paths, to dart down the covered, crowded market streets, past the char-grilled lamb-kebab shop (name? “Kebab Shop,” said its chef) and then up the easily missed stairs off Habad Street to the empty roofs above the market itself, where the noise of commerce barely filtered through. I loved the feeling of worn stones slipping under my sneakers, and the astringent smell of herbs as I passed Palestinian women selling bundles of sage near Damascus Gate.
The boundary between the modern and the medieval was shaky here. Cybercafes were ensconced in cavelike nooks; market stalls sold plush rams, lions and donkeys (actually Donkey, from “Shrek”); Israeli soldiers lurked with their machine guns inside ancient fortified gates. And just as fluid — to me, if not to residents — were the lines between neighborhoods. I’d turn a corner and suddenly find myself in the new construction of the Jewish Quarter, where informational plaques spelled out the history of rebuilt synagogues. Another corner, and I’d wind up in the too-quiet Armenian Quarter, whose closed-off courtyards allegedly held networks of secret streets I’d never penetrate.
My own secret hideout became the Austrian Hospice, a huge, mid-19th-century guesthouse visited by everyone from Franz Joseph I to the musician Nick Cave and whose unassuming ground-floor walls you’d pass right by unless you knew it was there. My room, up on the second floor, was a comfortably large space with black-and-white checkerboard floors, simple wood furniture and highly functional Wi-Fi. From its windows I’d gaze out at church towers to the west and — almost close enough to touch — the golden Dome of the Rock, reflecting the raw sun at midday and the moon at midnight. Every time I turned my key in the hospice door and ascended from the street, I marveled at my luck: The place had been recommended by a German doctor, Christoph Geissler, whom I’d met in the shared taxi from Tel Aviv airport. (When I asked his specialty, he’d told me, grinning, “I am anesthetized!”)
The Old City did present one problem: I couldn’t get out of it. Not that I couldn’t find the way, but I kept getting distracted, and happily so. I’d come to this place to wander its winding streets without benefit of map or guidebook to let me know what was where, and every discovery of a world-famous landmark stopped me in my tracks. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Holy cow, it was right here, mere steps from the Kebab Shop, a vast, stern emblem of Christianity, with none of that Renaissance sentimentality that turns me off churches in Western Europe. A tumult of visitors swarmed through — Poles and Spaniards and Greeks and Ukrainians. They rubbed their scarves on the Stone of Unction where Jesus’ body was said to have been prepared for burial, and they lighted candles next to the sepulcher itself before immediately snuffing them out. Why? Tradition, they explained without elaborating.
Nearby lay the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, now my favorite church in the world. Built at the very end of the 19th century, it is impossibly elegant and spare, all pale gray stone arches, with almost no ornamentation aside from small, jagged, brightly colored stained-glass windows. Several times I returned to the church just to ogle its curves, and once to attend Sunday-morning services — in unfamiliar Arabic.
“All the languages are in God’s light,” said Rafiq, the old man who greeted me. Translation: Even if I didn’t understand the words, the meaning would filter through.
I don’t know what kind of exotic experience I expected, but when the prayers began, I was indeed transported — to the last place I’d attended Lutheran services: Decorah, Iowa. Apart from the linguistic differences, these two churches a world apart were strikingly similar: down-to-earth, ambling, devoid of theatrics. In Jerusalem the occasional flubs of the organ player, the reedy voice of the hymn-singing woman behind me and the squabbles of children in the pews were oddly comforting.
As often as I got sidetracked by things to see, I was also waylaid by human beings. Sometimes I’d just watch them, fascinated. The woman crying as she sang and prayed in Mandarin along the Via Dolorosa. The somber men carrying polished wooden crosses. The Orthodox Jews swaying at the Western Wall. The blond woman, a white scarf wrapped around her neck, who simply stopped on the street and turned her face to the sun, her eyes closed, her expression enraptured.
Some believers tried to explain themselves to me. Near the Austrian Hospice, two Muslims in long robes instructed me to ask God, not Jesus, for forgiveness.
“Beware of intermediaries!” they said.
Over in the Jewish Quarter, in the square surrounding the gorgeous domed Hurva Synagogue, I encountered Rabbi David Stern, a Californian transplant who wanted me to put on tefillin, the leather straps that some observant Jews wind around their arms during prayers. I’d done it once before, in Lithuania, and while it wasn’t for me, I told the rabbi I could be persuaded to try again.
“Do you believe in God?” he asked. “O.K., do you believe in a higher power? Because most people do.” Sorry, I said. Anyway, he explained, the tefillin creates a spiritual connection between mind and heart when you pray, and to do so in the land of my ancestors would be especially sacred. Still unpersuaded, I declined. We shook hands and I walked away, a little disappointed.
I could navigate the Old City half-drunk (more on this later), but it was becoming clear that I couldn’t find my way into the believers’ world.
Sometimes, I felt condemned to interact only with the lowest rungs of the tourism industry, the salesmen, touts, hucksters and guides — people like Joseph, a round man with bad teeth who approached me one day in the Jewish Quarter and offered, in the needling way of unlicensed tour guides everywhere, to show me the Ramban Synagogue, which I had, I said truthfully, just come from. Thinking me rude, he stormed off. I chased after him and explained, as politely as possible, that I hadn’t meant to blow him off. Joseph grumbled forgiveness, and we parted.
But a day or two later, I bumped into him again. We greeted each other with a great show of friendliness, chatted about nothing for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. When it happened the next day, too, he told me that in Jerusalem, when you encounter each other three times you buy the other person an ice cream, or he buys one for you. I was up for it — was I starting to like the guy? — but then he abruptly wandered off to look for clients.
Nebbishy, noodgy Joseph functioned as a human alarm clock, a reminder that I really needed to get out of the Old City and meet people who were neither tour guides nor fervent believers.
The transition from Old City to new was striking. Exiting through one of the 16th-century gates that still control access — touristy Jaffa Gate, busy Damascus Gate, historic Zion Gate, where Israeli soldiers entered in 1967 — I leapt forward into a distinctly modern world of crosswalks and traffic lights, 19th-century buildings and chunky apartment towers, green parks and municipal offices, falafel joints, cellphone stores and a brand-new light-rail system. Here secular society predominated, although many college types wore yarmulkes and otherwise fashion-forward girls were dressed in long skirts. Amid the frozen-yogurt parlors and focaccerias, under the bright sun, with Hebrew signage everywhere, Jerusalem could feel like a forgotten city in California populated entirely by Jews.
But as I wandered around I could sense that this image was, in many ways, a facade. I was not in California. The low beige buildings of Arab East Jerusalem covered the hills in the near distance, and on clear days I could see the sinuous, ominous wall separating Israel from the West Bank. Closer up, other differences became apparent. Sometimes only a block from Jaffa Street — one of the first neighborhoods built just outside the Old City in the 19th century, now a center of dining and night life — the streets suddenly turned Orthodox, with hardly an uncovered head in sight. One area, Mea Shearim, was festooned with signs warning visitors, in English and Hebrew, “Please do not pass through our neighborhood in immodest clothes.” My dark sweater, I was sure, was modest, but without a yarmulke, I felt like an interloper. What was I doing there anyway?
Nor were secular neighborhoods entirely angst-free. One Friday, I rode the light rail 20 minutes to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, in the western hills of Jerusalem. I’d been to other Holocaust-related sites before — the Berlin memorial, the killing pits outside Vilnius — and had not been much affected. In the dark, twisty confines of this hellaciously detailed museum, however, I was utterly unnerved, terrified that I’d come across the identity card of a long-lost relative or the photo of someone I somehow recognized. When I finally emerged from the primary hall, it was a relief. There before me was a picture-perfect valley, a white-washed village clinging to the far slope. I stared at it a long time before I could move on. Mostly, though, my time in the new city, and especially around Jaffa Street, was devoted to one thing: eating well. (Partly because the Old City, always touristy, shut down after dark.) Some meals were simple, like falafel from Moshiko, bundled into a pita with approximately 20 or 30 other ingredients — cucumbers fresh and pickled, cabbage in its many guises, the whole cleaned and chopped contents of a backyard vegetable garden. Quite often, however, I was tempted toward more ambitious offerings. My very first night, following a tip from the manager of the boutique Harmony Hotel (just off Jaffa Street), I popped into Adom, a lively restaurant in the stone-arched basement of an 1895 building, and over a couple of glasses of Israeli cabernet, I had my mind blown by a platter of seared veal sweetbreads with artichokes, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower cream. It hit every mark: lush and crusty, vegetal and tart, smooth and filling
On the Sabbath, when most restaurants close, I found Adom’s cozy neighbor, Barood, still open — and packed except for a single seat remaining at the bar. I bellied up, ordered the excellent Palestinian “upside-down” chicken-and-rice dish, and quizzed the bartender — Shelly, who was playing great American-songbook jazz on the stereo — about local bars. I’d been to a couple already, Shoshana and the Lion’s Den, but felt out of place among their crowds of Israeli college students and skullcapped kids from Los Angeles and Baltimore. Does Jerusalem, I asked, have an underground?
“The underground is mainstream,” Shelly said, meaning that Jerusalem was so small that the funkier alternatives were instantly visible. Then she drew me a map to all the worthy bars, including Uganda, where the D.J.’s were spinning old Iggy Pop and ’80s New Wave, and Sira, whose dark, rough-stone interior and soundtrack of Radiohead and Devendra Banhart evoked memories of similar spots in Berlin, Budapest and my home, Brooklyn.
Sira instantly became my favorite nighttime destination. I could (and did) sit there for hours talking to the bartender, Yonaton, fresh from five years in the military and ready for university, and to Michael, a photographer, tech expert and alleged cousin to Abe Vigoda, and to Hannah, a Canadian immigrant with whom I discussed our complex feelings about Judaism over enough Goldstar lagers that I don’t recall precisely what those feelings were.
In the city I never thought I’d visit, I had found a place I didn’t want to leave.
But leave I did, often well after 1 a.m., late enough that the Israeli guards in the Old City would interrogate and search me on my way back to the guesthouse. As an occasional experience, the security measures were fascinating, much more thorough and intelligent than the cursory T.S.A. sweeps I’m used to. I could also sense the tension they created, and again found myself amazed at what true believers will do, and submit to, in the name of their faith. All of this, alien to me, was their normal. But my life here — the daytime angst, the nighttime revelry — was normal, too. I hadn’t been alone in those bars.
My final morning in Jerusalem I woke uneasily, struggling to recover from another night of seared goose breast and good wine. I checked Facebook and noticed my friend Pauline had swung into Jerusalem from New York; we arranged to meet for lunch at Abu Taher, a market nook home to sublime, sweet hummus. Afterward, we wandered through the Old City, looking at this and that, before deciding to leave for the new city. And on our way out of the Jewish Quarter, who should we run into but — inevitably — Joseph.
He was ebullient. We greeted each other like old friends, then I introduced him to Pauline. As he shook her hand, he leaned in and said to her, “You’re a lucky woman!”
“Oh, I’m marri — ” she started to say.
“You’re a lucky woman!” he said again, then his voice dropped to a near-whisper. “This guy” — pointing at me — “is a mensch.”
For nearly a week I’d been struggling to feel what visitors to Jerusalem — Jews, Christians and Muslims — have felt for millennia, and I’d just about given up. It was an experience for other people, not for me. But, corny as it is, at Joseph’s words my heart melted. Here I was, being seen not as a Jew or as a non-Jew, an American or a tourist, but as a mensch: a good and honorable man.
And so we went our separate ways, Pauline to the new city’s market, me to the airport, Joseph to hunt for tourists — one of whom, I hoped, would be good enough to buy him an ice cream cone.
IF YOU GO
THE OLD CITY
It feels ridiculous to point out the sights in Jerusalem’s Old City: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount; heard of them? Still, certain bits of advice pertain. Security checkpoints are common, and also efficient. Lines for the Temple Mount are long, and opening hours limited for non-Muslims, so come early. Churches tend to be welcoming, though the priests and monks — Armenian, Greek, Russian, Catholic and so on — may be standoffish. Many sites are sex-segregated, or require modest dress. Tours of the Hurva Synagogue are well worth the 25-shekel (about $6.50 at 3.75 shekels to the dollar) fee. The Old City’s winding streets and mysterious stairways invite exploration and discovery. As a tourist, you should feel free to wander. This is not a dangerous place.
For atmosphere, spend nights here. I loved the Austrian Hospice (37 Via Dolorosa; 972-2-626-5800; austrianhospice.com; doubles from 57 euros, or $73 at $1.27 to the euro, per person); friends loved the Lutheran Guest House (St. Mark’s Road; 972-2-626-6888, luth-guesthouse-jerusalem.com; doubles from 39 euros). Lunches can be great, particularly at Abu Taher (16 Al-Lahamin Market; 972-2-627-7893). The Austrian Hospice also has a “kaffeehaus” that serves Viennese-style coffees and pastries. At night, all but the most touristy Old City restaurants shut; flee for the new city.
THE NEW CITY
The rest of Jerusalem is almost like any other metropolis. The light rail (6.40 shekels for a 90-minute ticket) goes from the northeast to Mount Herzl, a five-minute walk to Yad Vashem (HaZikaron, 972-2-644-3400; yadvashem.org; free entry). Taxis ply the streets and buses depart from the Central Bus Terminal and the Arab bus station, outside Damascus Gate.
The bustling Jaffa Street neighborhood, however, can easily be reached on foot from the Old City. My favorite restaurants, Adom (972-2-624-6242) and Barood (972-2-625-9081), are both located in Feingold House
(31 Jaffa Street). A minute or two away is Moshiko Falafel (5 Ben Yehuda Street; 972-50-535-6861), as are the bars Sira (4 Ben Sira Street; 972-2-623-4366) and Uganda (4 Aristobolus Street; 972-2-623-6087, uganda.co.il). The Harmony Hotel (6 Yoel Moshe Salomon Street; 972-2-621-9999; atlas.co.il; doubles from $183) is a tidy, beautiful, well-run boutique hotel with a big breakfast buffet and daily happy hours for guests.
Farther up Jaffa Street is the sprawling Jerusalem market, a place to buy endless varieties of feta, olives and dry spices. There are plenty of shawarma and falafel stalls, but for home-style Mediterranean-Jewish cuisine centered on kubeh (dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables) take a stool at the market lunch counter Ima (972-2-538-5668;imarestaurant.com).
MATT GROSS, the former Frugal Traveler, is writing a book about independent travel, to be published by Da Capo Press.
With pope in Rio, sin-city revelry yields to piety.
By Juan Forero, Published: July 27, 2013 for The Americas in The Washington Post
IN RIO DE JANEIRO — Temptation is obvious everywhere — there are the beaches and the bikinis, the sultry samba beat and, as even the visiting Pope Francis cautioned in a memorable quip, the local sugar-cane-based liquor, cachaca, which packs a wallop.
Rio’s enthralling attributes weren’t lost on Carlos Carrillo, a 37-year-old American pilgrim who said he was well aware of the place’s ribald reputation before he arrived here for the pope’s first overseas journey. “This is sin city,” said Carrillo, a cargo screener who traveled with seven other Catholics from his California parish.
But during the pontiff’s visit, which ends Sunday with a final Mass on the usually hedonistic Copacabana beach, the bawdy Rio of samba nightclubs and Carnival gave way to a different kind of festival. That would be the week-long annual World Youth Day, a gathering of young Catholics from around the globe who this year came to Brazil to renew their faith with Francis at the dawn of his papacy.
Think of it as Woodstock for Catholics, minus Jimi Hendrix, the free love and the marijuana.
“Show your love for Christ,” Francis exhorted, and they have, coming from nearly 180 countries to atone for sins and strengthen their bond with the Church. That they are doing it in Rio — a city world-famous for its wild and often drunken revelry, which has earned it the church’s censure over the years — at first might seem to be a contradiction.
But while Rio may be known for luring partygoers, it also has long attracted missionaries, preachers and all manner of Christian soldiers who know they’ll find folks in need of spiritual cleansing here — sinners of every stripe. The proof is in the elaborate evangelical churches in the city, among the world’s biggest, the myriad soapbox preachers and the strong presence of the Catholic Church.
“Biblically speaking, Christ always goes to the darkest places,” Carrillo said. “The way I see it, he’s reeling in people, in that sense.”
Many young Catholics said they came to focus on their faith, not Rio’s enticements. Camila Lara, 18, from Parana state in Brazil’s south, said she was especially drawn by the chance to show contrition, made easy here by the Catholic Church’s “we’ll come to you” strategy.
She asked for forgiveness, like many others, at Rio’s Quinta da Boa Vista Park, where priests and the pope listened to penitents in makeshift confessionals (Francis heard from three Brazilians, a Venezuelan and an Italian).
“Sincerely, for me, it was the best confession I ever had,” Lara said.
For the Rev. Antoine d’Eudeville, a priest from Paris who heard confessions in the park, it was an unusually gratifying experience. He had just heard the pope speak Friday night from an elaborate stage on the beach at Copacabana and was reflecting on a spirited week packed with religious events.
“For us priests, it’s a special time, because it’s not usual to have young people come to us asking for forgiveness,” d’Eudeville said. “Some people don’t go for years.”
Indeed, a recent poll on religious trends in Brazil showed that, among Catholics, 48 percent had not been to church even once in the last month, another blow for a church that once had a virtual lock on the Brazilian soul. Also sobering was the revelation that fewer than 45 percent of Brazilians between the ages of 16 and 24 identify themselves as Catholics.
But with Francis here, the Catholic Church reigns supreme — at least for now — with organizers estimating that 2 million people flooded the beach at Copacabana on Saturday night to see the pope, the Associated Press reported. That is twice as many as were on hand during the last world youth day, in Madrid two years ago.
D’Eudeville, in fact, commented on how Catholicism in Brazil seems to be so much “more a part of people’s lives, more so than in France.”
He was especially moved, he said, by the young Catholics seeking absolution. “Young people here are strengthened in their faith, in their trust in God,” he said. “They dare go to confession and go to a priest and say heavy things, unload heavy burdens.”
Young Catholics interviewed in the streets of Copacabana, their countries’ flags draped across their shoulders, said they were heeding the pontiff’s message. And Francis, who has been lauded for his plain-spoken ways, told his followers: “Jesus never tires of forgiving us.”
“Everyone’s a sinner,” said Denise Ramos, 22, a university student from Brasilia, the capital. “It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. You can always confess. You can always come closer to God.”
Ramos did, and she said it made her feel “relief.”
“I feel very pure,” she said, standing on a street corner, surrounded by friends nodding in agreement. “I feel almost lighter.”
Ramos, like other college-age visitors to one of the world’s great cities, said she’s well aware of Rio’s secular offerings.
“I’ve been already to Lapa and bars there,” she said, referring to the famous downtown district and its samba clubs. “But going to samba concerts doesn’t mean that I’m a sinner.”
Young Catholics, she said, need to find an equilibrium between religion and the pleasures of youth. “We need to know how to do this, know how to live in the world of today without abandoning being Catholics,” she said.
The organizers seem to have recognized that. So people who went to Copacabana to see an elaborate reenactment of Jesus’s crucifixion presided over by Francis could also hear Catholic rock bands jam on the sand.
The faithful also took in the sights. Carrillo, the cargo screener from California, recounted a tour to the Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio’s white-sand beaches and its eclectic neighborhoods.
A friend of his from California, Miguel Galindo, 19, nodded in agreement.
“The way I see it,” he said, “Rio has the right balance. You have your fun, and you have your spirituality.”
By Alon Ben-Meir, Professor at New York University.
Notwithstanding the cultural and interpretive differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the God worshiped by Muhammad is the same God that communicated with Abraham and to which Jesus prayed.
This one God, it is believed, revealed sublime values which were then disseminated by the three largest monotheistic religions. It is therefore easy to wholeheartedly support these religions for giving voice to ethical injunctions for centuries.
Despite a myriad of conflicts, religion at its core was created to foster peace, compassion, and brotherhood while providing ethical guidance and nurturing the inherent good in humanity, reflecting a generous and loving Supreme Being.
Giving voice to this truth, Einstein said that without religion, science was lame. Science, he argued, can measure and predict events but cannot directly provide advice concerning what is right or wrong, whereas religion can offer guidance in ethical conduct.
Considering the ever-present challenge for human survival in a hostile world, it is understandable that religions would occasionally remain silent on the verdict of war or fail in their missions to promote peace and amity.
The World Wars of the twentieth century are historically considered secular wars fought over political, geographic, and economic interests. Yet in Europe, six million Jews were exterminated as a result of centuries of anti-Semitic teachings brewing in the heart of medieval Christendom.
From the time of Muhammad and for nearly thirteen hundred years after, Islam waged religious wars against whole populations, forcing conversion to Islam (excluding Jews and Christians, known as “the people of the book”) as a means by which to spread its faith.
The major Christian response to the spread of Islam manifested itself as the Crusades, which spanned the 11th to 13th centuries.
The European wars of religion between rivaling Christian sects encompassed roughly 125 years of conflict in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, though ostensibly fought over territory, contains a powerful religious component, especially in connection with Jerusalem, for which thousands have been killed and many more might die if it is not resolved peacefully.
In all cases, religious conviction, which was repeatedly invoked, amplified a sense of entitlement to the lands and wealth of others.
This begs the question: of what stuff is religion truly made? For in all the conflicts in the history of the world, the violence and atrocities incited by religious fervor comprise some of the worst violations of human dignity.
Historically speaking, a religious war is a conflict exclusively incited and fueled by diversity in religious identity. While technically less than 10% of all the wars ever fought were wars of religion, only a few did not encompass or embody some religious component or sentiment.
By the same token that we support the ethical teachings of religions, we must all the more condemn self-appointed messengers and spokespersons of the divine that foment mass murder in the name of God.
For unless we believe that this all-merciful, fatherly, peace-loving, and ever-beneficent God wills for his believers to kill each other in His name, we must conclude that religions are repeatedly corrupted to pit the children of God against each other.
Ironically, conflict more often occurs within religions than between them. Today we witness the eruption of centuries of enmity between Sunni and Shiites Muslims that has been nurtured by prolonged persecution.
The Sunni–Shiite schism occurred when Muhammad died in 632, causing disagreement over the succession to Muhammad’s religious authority. Following the murder of Hussein (Ali’s son and Muhammad’s grandson), the Muslim community became squarely and eternally divided.
Nevertheless, tensions between Sunnis and Shiites are more often about political persecution than strictly theology, though religious convictions are frequently invoked, fomenting anger and resentment.
During the Safavid era in Persia between the years 1501-1736, forced conversion of Sunnis to Shiites was systematically done to change the demographic balance between the two; those who refused were killed.
The 1979 revolution in Iran that brought the Shiites to power (with regional hegemonic ambitions) further heightened the tension between the two sects.
Further radicalization of Shiites came with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the establishment of the Shiite Hezbollah.
While the average Sunni and Shiite have been relatively able to live in peace, the theological division has allowed despots, like Saddam Hussein, to disempower and dehumanize Shiites.
The 2003 Iraq war, though subsequently bringing the Shiite majority to power, ignited a bloody conflict between Shiites and Sunnis that continues to this day.
Conflicting interests between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Turkey have made Syria the battleground between the two sects, deepening the fissure more than at any other time in living memory.
Though Sunni and Shiites agree on the unquestioned authority of the Qur’an, sectarian factionalism has persisted and remains a destabilizing force in the Middle East, leaving a terrible inheritance passed down from generation to generation.
Children, especially of the disenfranchised and poorly educated, have effectively become not the recipients of the necessary ethical teachings of Islam, but the targets of religious extremism, promoting endless sectarian strife.
Part of the problem is that the codification of religious precepts opens it up to all manner of interpretation; indigent and marginalized peoples are particularly vulnerable to the most radical and violence-producing interpretations of Islam.
It is in this way that a precept, for example, to not murder, is literally turned on its head and becomes the precise opposite; where once religion decried violence, now violence and death are associated with martyrdom. Yet the situation in the Middle East is far graver than this.
When true believers habitually use religious language to explain and frame the events of their lives, the heart and emotions, more often than reason and science, are employed as a means of defining one’s place in the world.
Moreover, if the avenue to self-determination is exclusively faith-based, radical responses to extreme situations of disempowerment, as in Iraq post-Saddam Hussein and poverty-stricken Yemen, will be more passionate than tempered.
Herein lies the danger, for this is no longer a world where we can afford to view whole peoples as populations to be conquered and converted, whether to a religious, economic, or political paradigm.
The monotheistic faiths must at once embrace their ethical heritage and disavow their antiquated views of God, acknowledging that humanity has invented thousands of gods. All these gods, without exception, reflect the people who invented them and the conditions under which they lived.
In other words, religions spiritually succeed when they embrace the spirit of God embodied in their very ethical teachings but utterly fail when they become little more than a ruse designed to supplant God with tribal, ethnic, and sectarian divisiveness.
The work of Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) may be of help here. Einstein once said that his God was the God of Spinoza. Pantheism, or understanding God as the cosmos, was already ancient in the East when Spinoza was born.
Yet the idea that God might be conceived by the mind – as in his famous interpretation of natura naturans (“nature nurturing”) – was relatively new in the West.
While denying a personal God “up there,” Spinoza reminds us that we can embrace the idea of an Infinite Being that has passively produced, as part of its very nature, the cosmos.
Although the rabbinic tradition considered this heresy and excommunicated Spinoza, I would argue that, far from lowering God’s status as the clergy believed, it elevated it.
Such an elevated God inspires a more personal religion wherein virtue is internalized, selfishness is nullified, and a sincere jihad against the biological responses to fear, fight or flight, and insecurity is waged within.
Humanity has suffered for too long due to a lowered conception of the infinite that was easily exploited to pit man against man. Increased used of the scientific method and reason, especially among those afforded a high degree of education, may tone down emotional and passionate responses to challenging circumstances.
This is not to say that the intellectual approach has all of the answers, lest we forget Einstein’s reminder regarding science’s ethical limits.
For while the West understandably pays a great deal of attention to the current killing in the name of God in some of the Arab states, the numbers involved do not compare to the fifty million or more slaughtered in World War II alone – mostly Christians against Christians.
Intellectually-bent Western societies may introduce the “civility” of war, complete with Geneva Conventions and other rules by which blood can be spilt. But their wars, to date, encompass a far greater destructive power than do the conflicts of any other peoples, especially in the current conflict of Muslims against Muslims in the Middle East.
So the question remains: how can we cease the religious (in the name of God) and corporate (in the name of Mammon) justification of violence?
Understanding violence in the broadest context, the West may in some respects be actually farther away from realizing this goal. While the death tolls of soldiers are easy to disseminate, the daily suffering of millions of dislocated, dishonored, and stateless lives does not as easily fit into our news diet.
The West also does not live within the scope of history. While for us yesterday is already history, the Arab world lives day in and day out conscious of its histories of divisiveness, colonialism, dictatorships, and arbitrary borders imposed by Western powers that fostered sectarian conflicts and territorial claims and counterclaims.
Nevertheless, the Arab world is left with the challenge to compartmentalize religion and God, just as the West has done; albeit far from perfect, religion in the West remains functional, consistent, and in the spirit of one’s personal choice.
For the Muslim world, Islam is more than a mere belief to embrace, but a way of life and part and parcel of a cultural heritage; as such, it remains a part of the heart and self-identity.
That said, nearly 60 percent of the Arab population (250 million out of 422 million in total) is under the age of 25. They yearn for freedom, education, health care, and the opportunity for a better future.
They are Muslims at heart and mind but they do not wish to be ruled by either secular or religious dictators (albeit ostensibly freely-elected) as demonstrated by Egypt’s second revolution.
They want to be free while adhering to Islamic tradition and culture and draw a balance between secularism and orthodoxy.
Religion, like it is today in Israel and to a great extent in Muslim Malaysia and Bangladesh, may be used to reconcile family issues, including marriage, divorce, children and custody issues, death, and coming-of-age rituals.
Beyond this, religion must go no farther. It must have no bearing on medical science, international relations, or national defense, and a host of other international and domestic issues. Other than that religion must foster unconditional peace, amity, love, and compassion in humankind.
Thus in writing new constitutions in the emerging transitional authorities, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and other Arab states must recognize that whereas collaboration between the religious and the secular is necessary, legislatively codifying Sharia law as a source for legislation is a step backward.
For the world today, Arab states that have overwhelming majorities of youth are not so intellectually poor as to require religion for its only source of ethics. Codes of behavior flow from secular humanism, law, and philosophical debate.
Those who look to religion for personal guidance are free to do so and their right must be protected, but they must also abide by the laws that separate church and state. No longer should any religious edict be forced on anyone.
Under these conditions, religious freedom goes hand in hand with personal freedom, which is central in promoting all religions’ fundamental tenets of brotherhood, compassion, amity and peace.
And perhaps this may bring an end to the killing in the name of God that betrays the essence of why and to what end religion was created in the first place.