Category Archives: religion

Psst! Did You Hear the One About the Pope?

i’m guessing that for the part of the country that is outside of the ny, pa, dc area the fact that the pope was in the u.s. was just a headline somewhere. but in the middle of the tri-cities of his visit, there was a popenato of epic proportions.

here in philadelphia there was the typical mixture of excitement and grousing and at times the grousing out-shouted the excitement 4 to 1. now, that may have been a result of the stupid things city officials said in the run up, like “treat this as a severe storm event (which translated means to stay the hell home)” or that the secret service coordinated a lockdown situation that paralyzed a good portion of the city, or that at times there seemed to be no logical coordination between the secret service, public transportation and city officials.

whether the event lived up to expectations or broke records, it seems that the only measure worth talking about is whether pope francis can successful lead his church in a direction that brings people back. it’s no secret that participation in the roman catholic church has been dropping off – due mostly to (finally) the public airing of the horrors perpetrated by the church and their continued failure to not only acknowledge them but right them.

i was raised in the catholic church – 12 years of catholic schooling, followed by 30 years of a tenuous relationship where c and i participated in the church only to raise our children with some kind of tradition. but as the same sunday sermons from decades ago continued on as an opportunity for priests to berate the crowd for disobedience with the edits of the church—oddly enough only centered around issues of sexuality and not morality, most of which have to do with controlling women — i transitioned from not listening to drifted away. then, like most people i know, when the horrors of the sex-abuse scandal and systematic cover up hit the headlines i decided i was completely done with the roman catholic church.

in order to even stay with the church for as many decades as i had, required me to recite the mantra: “render unto ceasar what is ceasar’s and under god what is god’s”. meaning: ignore church bullshit and concentrate only on the lessons of christian tradition that matter: love one another and take care of one another.

then along comes pope francis. there has been much written about his life and how he has lived the teachings of christianity and it seems that he is carrying that into his leadership of the church. and to a large extend that’s true, certainly his words are a much more thoughtful message that has to do with love and forgiveness, mercy and inclusiveness not to mention just taking care of one another.
and then… well, then it’s just more business as usual. his inspiring words were followed by a visual of a cathedral filled with white men and the visual of seminarians and local priests, deacons and bishops – all men. men who ignore or distain women while dressed in dresses and funny hats. it all just looked so irrelevant.

sure, the pope was careful to include women in his words, but i think that’s because without them (the slave class) the church cannot function so it seemed like that was more about protecting an investment than sending a message of inclusion. and here in philadelphia there was the additional message from a hard-liner, perpetually ornery archbishop chaput who chose to use this stage to issue a ridiculous remark about the only real function of sex is to procreate, ignoring all the other more relevant messages that could and should have emanated from his moment in the spotlight.

and for all of its moralistic preaching about sexuality what is the true origin of priestly celibacy? don’t answer jesus ‘cuz that’s not it. property. and money. no married priests then no families to support and no nasty legal battles about rights of inheritance. the true reasoning is not high and mighty.

in his defense, pope francis has accomplished a lot of revolutionary things within the church, not the least of which is cleaning up the vatican bank (you want to know something about real scandal? read god’s bankers by gerald posner).

listen, i’m all for carrying on ancient traditions and rituals, in fact very much so when those traditions involve rituals where a family and a church family are able to share meaningful moments together. but when the trappings of a religion far outweigh its reason for being, i’m out.

francis may be delivering the right message, but he’s stuck delivering it in the wrong container.


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Inspired Independence Day Words

I thought a lot about what to write in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and its proximity to our national Independence Day holiday and then read what Harold Jackson of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. I think he says it all.

Ruling shouldn’t change right to religious freedom
Were he alive today, I believe my younger brother who lived in San Francisco would have married his longtime partner, with whom he had lived for several years, long before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage nationally.
Being a Christian, as was my brother, I would not have recognized that union as a Bible-blessed marriage sanctioned by Scripture. But as an American who believes this nation was founded on the promises of freedom in the Constitution, I would have accepted the right of him and his partner to be a committed couple with all the legal guarantees granted to heterosexual spouses. I would welcome them in my home, invite them to my church, and love them as my kin.
I can’t say that I have always felt that way. My brother and I grew up in a different time, when most homosexuals who wanted to succeed in life kept that part of themselves hidden. I was in college before I found out that one of my favorite Sunday school teachers when I was a child was gay. Apparently, so long as he didn’t do anything that might be construed as attracting undue attention, he was accepted just like any other upstanding member of the congregation. In retrospect now, I think of how tortured his life must have been in trying to always present an image that wasn’t really true.
That was before gay men and women came out of the closet. Today, gay couples hardly get a second glance as they stroll down streets hand in hand, embrace in movie theaters, and, depending on the church, pray together in pews. Many are also getting married in churches that believe biblical references to homosexuality as sin are either misinterpreted or somehow no longer apply. God will make the ultimate ruling on that. In the meantime, churches that do not believe they should be required to marry gays are wondering if the Supreme Court decision will force them to do just that. It shouldn’t.
Religious freedom was one of the most important reasons, if not the most important reason, that so many colonists left Europe to establish a new home in America. It’s why the very First Amendment to the Constitution both forbids the establishment of a state religion and guarantees the free exercise of religious practices. That means the same Constitution that the Supreme Court cited to remove all prohibitions of gay marriage can be cited by churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious institutions that want to continue to place restrictions on whom they will marry.
I don’t know if my brother would have wanted a church wedding. He died in 1996 of AIDS, having kept his illness secret for years. To admit the disease would have required him to admit other secrets that, 20 years ago, he didn’t feel he could. I will always be sorry about that.
I’m glad that gay couples today no longer have to live secret lives. The Supreme Court says they also can marry. But it is important that the court did not invalidate religious objections to gay marriage. That keeps the constitutional separation of church and state intact, which, as I understand it, is also what the Bible prescribes. The Good Book also tells us to love everyone as we love ourselves, and to leave the final judgment of each of us up to God.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer.  

May we all celebrate Independence Day together!

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In the Land of Plenty, Sacrifice is Good for the Soul

this year’s lenten season began on march 5th with ash wednesday.
for those of you who are not christian, lent is 40 days of fasting and reflection in preparation for the resurrection of jesus Christ.

“the term is derived from an old english word which meant the lengthening of days. we move out of the cold barrenness of winter and, as the days grow longer, long for the promise of new life which comes with spring.” words by deacon keith fournier

my childhood was immersed in all things catholic – i went to catholic schools from grades 1 through 12, almost all of our friends were catholic and i volunteered at the catholic hospital next door to where we lived. my year was driven less by secular calendar or even seasons, but by the catholic calendar. but for personal reasons and for all the negative reasons that the catholic church has been in the news lately, i walked away from it. i don’t want to be associated with an institution that has been far, far away from any kind of moral compass. in other words: i am a recovering catholic.

still, there are lessons in the writings of the church and the rituals it established. there’s a comfortable rhythm to those childhood days of preparation for easter sunday. lent is a reminder of mortality and while that may not be a thought we wish to have, the fact is that we’re all going to die.

“in an age drunk on self-worship, a reminder of the brevity of our days should draw us to our knees” source:

i like that quote. i especially like the phrase “drunk of self-worship” as i think it sums up the age we’re living in. so, a little self-sacrifice in these days before easter can go a long way to replenishing the soul.

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The Democratization of Fact

now that this newfangled internet thing has been around awhile, we’ve all gotten pretty used to reading our journals and magazines on-line. you might even read the comments at the end of the article. and that’s when you’ll find the same old diatribes, same old screeds, same old trolls commenting with the same old stuff. Now, we’re all free to avoid the comment section, but the question is: does it change your perception of the information in the article?

if it’s an opinion piece, comments are probably part of a lively debate, but when the article is publishing results of a scientifically conducted study, do comments matter?

that’s what university of wisconsin – madison science communication researcher dominique brossard decided to study.

according to the report of the study published in university of wisconsin-madison news, “the study, now in press at the journal of computer mediated communication, was supported by the national science foundation. it sampled a representative cross section of 2,338 americans in an online experiment, where the civility of blog comments was manipulated. for example, introducing name calling into commentary tacked onto an otherwise balanced newspaper blog post, the study showed, could elicit either lower or higher perceptions of risk, depending on one’s predisposition to the science of nanotechnology.”

brossard reported that “the results of a study showing the tone of blog comments alone can influence the perception of risk posed by nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at the smallest scales.”

so, what does it matter?

according to brossard, an estimated 60 percent of the americans seeking information about specific scientific matters say the internet is their primary source of information — ranking it higher than any other news source. for on-line news outlets or journals, comments have been an issue for quite some time, mainly because of trolls.

some sites, wishing to extricate from the intensive process of policing comments, have employed various strategies, most popularly, forcing the commenter to connect through their facebook or twitter account. the thinking is that lack of anonymity will encourage more civil behavior. well, maybe. Others have tried to solve the problem in another way by moving comments to a completely separate section of the site in addition to requiring a login. this blogger has some interesting thoughts on the topic, not the least of which is the misperception that people go to news sites to feel like a part of a community. it would be safe to assume that people visit news sites to read the news. Shocking, I know. We may be able to extrapolate the same of people who visit an on-line science site.

but the bigger question is whether comments are necessary at all in the context of a science journal.

for this, and many other reasons to be sure, popular science is ending comments in its on-line format. jacob ward, editor and chief of “popular science” magazine says “we had three deciding factors that it came down to. one is the rise of trolls, which is a pretty well-understood term these days – basically, people who come into a comment section of a website to be abusive or unpleasant. second, we had bumped into on our own site, and then had seen it sort of confirmed in other places – and seen, also, studies about this – we discovered that troll behavior – that being unpleasant, being uncivil, sort being really fractious in a debate – can cause readers to actually misunderstand things that are scientifically validated.”

There is, and has long been a long-standing war on actual science in lieu of ideological belief or agenda and this, even in the context of free speech, is not servicing anyone.

“when people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment,” explains ashley anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the center for climate change communication at george mason university and the lead author of the upcoming study in the journal of computer mediated communication.

again, why does it matter? it matters because in our ability to access vast amounts of unfiltered information, we are losing the ability to access the validity of the information and in so doing, we fall back on our lizard brains.

You might be able to think of some current day examples of this. Fact is, when lizard brains are allowed to rule, we all lose.

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when all else fails, scream slut!

the american public saw an important example of the rules of public discourse recently, namely that there are ways to get your point across:

1.     make a measured and intelligent argument

2.     reframe the argument

3.     scream slut 

nothing is more effective than name calling.  and if you’re a man up against a topic that involves women where women are speaking out for their own best interests, revert to the most base kind of name calling.  

i felt like i was back in high school last week.  not just because of the immature and prurient attitudes surrounding the topic of women’s healthcare (yes, healthcare.  yep, discussing control of our ‘lady parts’ with our doctor is something we need), but because the kind of talk i was hearing harkened back to the early 1970s when i was in high school.  (of course even the 1970s were nothing compared to earlier eras)  few people thought anything of the kind of attitudes and insults that were a part of everyday life for women not that long ago.   

every woman i know remembers facing this kind of gutter talk, often in retaliation for being smarter, more reasonable or more accomplished than a fellow student or co-worker. to watch it play out on a national stage over forty years later is shocking, unbelievable, frustrating and sad.  the fact that those in political prominence, who court the good graces of a drug addled radio bully, don’t speak out against the base insults he screams, speaks volumes.    

i’m speechless to witness how some here would invite the kind of religious fervor at the same time that our soldiers are dying in nations where the freedoms of citizens (especially women) are severely limited by religious fervor.   

i have mentioned to C many times over the past decade how it seemed that younger women don’t quite understand how playing into certain kinds of chauvinistic attitudes harms themselves.  it’s also been clear that many young women are too far distanced from the days when their futures were severely limited by the fact of their gender to understand that kind of prejudice continues (albeit to a lesser degree thanks to the power of law) today.  

there’s a successful radio show on during morning drive in the philadelphia market whose focus is essentially ‘let the frat party live on’.  (full disclosure: i listen to the show sometimes because the stuff on there that’s hilarious is when they make themselves the butt of the joke)  it’s bothersome enough to listen to them celebrate so called gentleman clubs, strippers, porn and the like, (this from fathers of little daughters) even more disturbing to hear women clamor to join in on trips to these same clubs for  lap dances from the women who work there.  i guess being one of the guys is always cool (even if you’re not a guy).   

C is fond of telling a story about our trip to universal studios.  they were requesting volunteers from the audience to get strapped into a harness and ‘fly’ in front of a blue screen.  the caveat to being a volunteer was that english had to be your native language.  the reason?  when people are in a panic situation they revert back to their native self.   

the language of the drug addled radio host (not name calling, just using descriptive language) showed his true self.   

but then, you knew that already.  

my hope is that younger women (and men) with take note of this moment and refuse to continue the wholesale dismissal of others by the swipe of vile name calling.   

oh, and that they put enough pressure on sponsors so that there is no funding for loudmouth drug addled radio hosts.  (not likely, but a girl can dream)


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thanks, but no thanks

so, last week thousands of kids who attend catholic high schools and grade schools in the philadelphia area were told by the archdiocese of philadelphia that they were out of luck.  a blue ribbon panel recommended that 48 grade schools and 4 high schools in the archdiocese should close.  soon to follow, 50 parishes worth of catholics will be told that their parish is no more.  (but by the way, DON’T FORGET TO GO TO CHURCH AND PUT YOUR CHECK IN THE COLLECTION… AND GO TO CONFESSION, SINNER!) 

people were (and still are) devastated. 

i didn’t go to school around here, but i did go to catholic schools (my high school is now still there in name, but long gone as the school that i went to).  the philadelphia area catholics are a different breed of catholic from california catholics (you can imagine).  when i first moved here, people would routinely ask what parish you were from or live in as opposed to the township or municipality.  (there are many who still do)  loyalty reigns.  rivalries abound. there are schools that were closed decades ago who still have loyal alumni who meet regularly and raise money for scholarships so other kids can go to other catholic schools in the name of their now closed school.  (they deliberately do not give money to the archdiocese) 

we live a very good school district so we sent our kids to public school and sent our kids to catechism training at the local parish.  we (and our kids) were (are) considered second class catholics (even though the large majority of catholic kids in our parish did not attend the parish school but did attend ccd)  it was made clear that we were not terribly welcome.  we stuck it out until our kids made all the sacraments necessary to continue the faith if they so chose.  

then came the sex abuse (abuse of power) revelations.  done and done.  i could not stomach being associated with such utter corruption and filth.  we knew plenty of people who stuck it out, believed what the church said about fixing itself.   

and now this.  and no one believes that all of this would be necessary if not for the huge settlements in the sex abuse cases.  

lies and deceit charge very high prices.  what is being lost right now is incalculable. 

C quotes St. Peter as looking down and saying, “I built a church and this is what you guys do with it?”

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