Religion

Another Perspective

A Telling Moment

By 4.15.14

The last month has been a blur, as I have been touring Jewish communities to sell my new commentary on the Passover recital of the Exodus, known as Haggadah. At the very least, with the Passover Seder gatherings on Monday and Tuesday night of this week, I can weigh in with these words, culled from the preface of my book.

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“So how is the new job working out?”
“Don’t ask!”

“Honey, will you marry me?”
“I thought you would never ask!”

Some questions are welcomed in life; others are dismissed or ignored or belittled or answered half-heartedly.

Or how about these questions? “Daddy, why is the sky blue? Mommy, why is the grass green? Did God paint the grass with a brush? Why don’t the birds come falling out of the sky? How does the car go so fast? How can Grandma talk to me through the telephone if she does not even live in this city?”

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A Further Perspective

The Religion of Liberalism

By 3.27.14

Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor are concerned. They should be. The religion of liberalism is under attack. The Hobby Lobby fight in the high court? The tussle with the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue over gays pushing their agenda in the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade? The latest skirmish over global warming, aka climate change? The controversy about government funding of Planned Parenthood and the group’s abortion stances? Common Core? The business of turning NASA from a space agency to an outreach group to Muslims?

All of these and more are different parts of a wholly formed universe of beliefs that meets the dictionary definition of religion (Webster’s being the one) that reads:

…the service and worship of God or the supernatural…..commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance….a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.

It is the religion of liberalism.

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How “Catholic” Can Still Mean Universal

By on 3.26.14 | 3:57PM

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as he performed mass. His martyrdom broadcast his message of solidarity with the poor around the globe. I recently learned a bit more about this incredible man at a Catholic young adult’s speaker series.

During the talk, as the heating pipes groaned against a polar wind, vicar Rev. Patrick Riffle explained the division of the Church in El Salvador during its civil war. Some priests linked themselves to the ruthless families that ruled El Salvador. Some picked up AK-47s to protect the poor against both the Marxists and the government.

It affected the image of the regional Church for decades. Yet Romero was able to find the truly Catholic message amidst the firearm cacophony: stop the violence and treat your fellow citizens as brothers and sisters. No handgun required.

The global Church finds itself in a similar divisive crisis after Vatican II, especially in America. The “Orthodox” or “conservative” Catholics judge the “Catholic liberals.” Yet “Catholic” is supposed to mean “universal.”  

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The Nation's Pulse

Fred Phelps, Huckster

By 3.21.14

Fred Phelps, the “God Hates Fags” chronic cleric protester from so-called Westboro Church, who died yesterday, proved America’s endless capacity to hype charlatans and kooks. He became a national personality because he persuaded his family cult of several dozen children, grandchildren and in-laws to follow his absurd crusade.

Many of the Phelps progeny are lawyers, so they sustained their sect by litigation, often against their adversaries, while spending reputedly hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to demonstrate around the country. Their signage was printed at their own print shop.

Phelps was himself a disbarred lawyer who in his early years apparently litigated against racial segregation. He presided over his Westboro Church in Topeka for nearly 60 years. Professing to be Baptist but not tied to any denomination, it touts a deviant form of Calvinism that emphasizes divine hatred for the wicked.

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The UN Targets…The Catholic Church

By on 2.5.14 | 3:11PM

Finally, the United Nations is standing up to a monster: the Catholic Church.

Specifically, the Committee for the Rights of the Child released a report demanding the institution independently investigate all cases of priestly abuse. It called for Pope Francis’s abuse commission to

conduct an independent investigation of all cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over time, and urged the Holy See to establish clear rules for the mandatory reporting of abuse to police and to support laws that allow victims to report crimes even after the statute of limitations has expired.

Fair enough; the Church still must purge its ranks of pedophiles, just as public schools and other bodies of trust must. It must also assure justice for all the victims around the world by cooperating with governments.

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A Further Perspective

Confusedly Pro-Life

By 1.26.14

This last week’s March for Life recalling 41years of judicially imposed abortion on demand aroused some confused religious commentary about the meaning of pro-life. Most of Christianity has traditionally opposed abortion as uniquely pernicious because it destroys a completely innocent and vulnerable life, in most cases only for convenience. Yet some try to stretch “pro-life” to include their own political preferences in ways that dilute focused opposition to abortion.

One example is Evangelical Left activist Shane Claiborne, a well-intentioned neo-Anabaptist enthusiast popular in some church circles. He recently and admirably urged being “Pro-life from the womb to the tomb.” And he asserted: “The early Christians consistently lament the culture of death and speak out — against abortion, capital punishment, killing in the military… and gladiatorial games,” which, excepting gladiators, he thought “profoundly relevant to the world we live in where death is so prevalent.”

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Like Most Americans, Obama is Not Very Observant

By on 1.7.14 | 1:41PM

Unlike Paul Kengor, I somehow can't get myself worked up about the president's religion—or lack thereof:

Balmer and the Times also addressed the remarkable fact that Barack Obama not only lacked a Christmas service this year but lacks a church at all and even a denomination. Yes, that’s correct, the current president of the United States not only has no church but not even a denomination. He no longer has a formal religious affiliation of any sort.

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Ben Stein's Diary

My Jewish Questions

By From the December 2013 issue

SaturdayWell, here I am in Beverly Hills on a spectacularly beautiful day. Temp in the 70s. Light breeze. No humidity. Cloudless skies. I pulled a bit of the pleura on my right side, so I cannot swim for a few days. The pain of that was astounding, by the way. What must it be like to be shot? What must it be like to be stabbed?Plus, a few days before that, I burned my middle right finger removing some film from a microwaveable dish of pulled barbecued chicken. The steam burned right down to the bone and the pain has been punishing. My great doctor gave me a modern “creme” which is helping the wound heal but as it knits itself together, the flesh burns in discomfort. What must it be like to be burned at the stake? What must it be like to get burned in a house fire? Or by a phosphorous grenade? Burns are awesomely awful and mine is a trivial matter.Anyway, my wife and I went out to lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We sat outside and the air was perfect. Just bracing and awesome. Then a few errands, and then a nap.
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The Current Crisis

Taking Tolerance Too Far

By 12.26.13

WASHINGTON — In a recent and very good book, John L. Allen comes to the judgment that “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet,” and he concludes that “the transcendent human rights concern of our time is this rarely noted persecution.” In the affluent and comfortable West we take for granted a tolerance that is not shown Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, or Eritrea, much less North Korea.

Yet the war against Christians exists here at home too. It is not as ugly, but it exists and with it Americans have witnessed an amazing reversal in our history. After all, this country was originally a Christian country. It was a refuge for all Christians, and, as the years passed, all Western faiths—eventually all humane faiths. America became a land of religious tolerance. Given the intolerance toward Christianity that we see in America today, possibly it is time for Christians to rethink this tolerance. Possibly, tolerance can go too far.  

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'Tis the Season

The Pope, Politics, and Christmas

By From the December 2000 / January 2001 issue

From our December 2000 issue.

Propsects for a Merry Christmas in St. Peter's Square dimmed a bit at news that Jörg Haider would be bringing the tree. A visit by the Austrian politician infamous for his praise of the Third Reich is bound to recall the Pope's meetings in the late 80s with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim (veteran of a German army unit that committed atrocities in World War II). This year's encounter may be even more embarrassing to the Holy See; Haider is not a head of state, nor is he known to be especially religious. Yet there was no diplomatic way for the Vatican to hack out. It accepted the pledge of a tree from the province of Carinthia, which Haider governs, back in 1997--long before his party joined the Austrian government, bringing on sanctions from the rest of the European Union. For the governor, of course, the trip to Rome is a magnificent chance to claim international respectability.

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