Friday, March 30, 2007

Sweet Jesus

A New York artist has sculpted a life-size Jesus with his arms spread wide and his feet together, in the position of one being crucified. It's made of chocolate and Christ is NAKED -- endowment and all. (Click here to see.)

The artist's creation, which will be on display in New York for the week beginning Palm Sunday, is the latest culture-war issue to draw the ire of Catholic firebrand Bill Donohue. The website for his Catholic League has two rants against the artist's intentions. Here's part of the first:

As I’ve said many times before, Lent is the season for non-believers to sow seeds of doubt about Jesus. What’s scheduled to go on at the Roger Smith Hotel, however, is of a different genre: this is hate speech. And choosing Holy Week—the display opens on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday—makes it a direct in-your-face assault on Christians.

All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended—otherwise they may have more than their heads cut off. James Knowles, President and CEO of the Roger Smith Hotel (interestingly, he also calls himself Artist-in-Residence), should be especially grateful. And if he tries to spin this as reverential, then he should substitute Muhammad for Jesus and display him during Ramadan.

Thanks to the Dallas Morning News religion blog for pointing this out.

* Updated: The nude chocolate Jesus exhibition has been cancelled. Here was David Kuo's take on the art show planned for Holy Week.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

America's next top rabbi

Hier.jpgTwo years ago, Time magazine published this list of America's top evangelicals. Newsweek, in its April 2 issue, online now, has decided to rank the nation's top 50 rabbis.

Not surprisingly, Angelenos and New Yorkers dominate the list. Top honors go to Marvin Hier (pictured), dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Museum of Tolerance and Moriah Films. Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino comes in at 13, described as "the leading Conservative rabbi of his generation."

What's the chance that U.S. News & World Report, a staple in the rankings community and third-fiddle among newsweeklies, publishes a list next year of top American imams?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Detroit pastor goes Gatsby

Mansion.jpgOur sister paper in Detroit has a mind-blowing story about a Christian minister whose church bought him this $3.65 million mansion. The 11,000 sq-foot mini-palace also qualifies as a tax deduction, at the cost of $40,000 a year to Redford Township.

"God's empowerment is to make you have an abundant life," Elder Marvin Wilder, a lawyer and general counsel for the church, told the Detroit News. "In this country we value rock stars, movie stars and athletes. They can have a lavish lifestyle, and a pastor who restores lives that were broken shouldn't? When our value system elevates a man who can put a ball in a hole and not a man who does God's work, something is wrong."

Detroit World Outreach Pastor Ben Gilbert is a purveyor of the Prosperity Gospel, a belief that God wants his people to be rich. It reminded me of this story, written two years ago by a fellow religion reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Detroit story led Nancy McLaughlin, religion reporter for the News-Record in North Carolina, to ask her readers a reasonable question, "Should the tax law be amended?"

The lost Jewish athletes

Last summer, when the former Dodger Shawn Green took the field of Shea Stadium as a Met for the first time, a Jewish fan held up a poster with Green’s photo and the words, “The messiah has arrived."

Whether Shawn Green wanted to be, NY fans saw him as the second coming of Sandy Koufax. In an article today posted at The Forward about the limited history of anti-Semitism in American sports, the author suggested that was due, in part, to the lack of Jews in professional sports. Jews are sports writers and team owners, league commissioners and coaches. But they're not often all-star athletes.

The author of the article, Gerald Eskanazi, is himself a member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Inductees include baseball greats Koufax and Hank Greenberg but also Sid Tanenbaum, who only played two years in the ABA.

It's difficult to pinpoint the reason Jews have not been more successful at professional sports. A colleague of mine, a native New Yorker with a collection of Jewish baseball cards, once told me he suspected our mothers have something to do with it. "They place such an emphasis on education and being successful," he said. I blame genetics. At 5'10", slower than fast and unable to muscle up past 170, I can't imagine competing at anything more than desk jockeying.

* My good friend David McGrath Schwartz noted basketball was at a time considered a Jewish sport, likely because of its urban connection. Red Auerbach, the greatest coach in professional basketball history, was Jewish. Moses Malone was not.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Rev. Al's big gay comments


Is homosexuality hereditary?

Since the early '90s, some medical research has answered “Yes." Conversely, conservative members of the Abrahamic religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity – have argued against a biological basis for sexuality: If man is created in God's image, why would God design him to like other men?

In the United States, the loudest voice opposing a homosexual predisposition has been that of conservative Christians. (Think Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson.) And that's why the recent comments of the Rev. Albert Mohler have been so earth-shaking.

Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, asked on his blog the question: “Is your baby gay? What if you could know?” The evangelical world buzzed about whether Mohler had fallen prey to the pull of the dark side of the Force (liberalism).

His intitial post, which was followed by this one, concluded with this:

Christians who are committed to think in genuinely Christian terms should think carefully about these points:

1. There is, as of now, no incontrovertible or widely accepted proof that any biological basis for sexual orientation exists.

2. Nevertheless, the direction of the research points in this direction. Research into the sexual orientation of sheep and other animals, as well as human studies, points to some level of biological causation for sexual orientation in at least some individuals.

3. Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found. After all, the human genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God's judgment.

4. The biblical condemnation of all homosexual behaviors would not be compromised or mitigated in the least by such a discovery. The discovery of a biological factor would not change the Bible's moral verdict on homosexual behavior.

5. The discovery of a biological basis for homosexuality would be of great pastoral significance, allowing for a greater understanding of why certain persons struggle with these particular sexual temptations.

6. The biblical basis for establishing the dignity of all persons -- the fact that all humans are made in God's image -- reminds us that this means all persons, including those who may be marked by a predisposition toward homosexuality. For the sake of clarity, we must insist at all times that all persons -- whether identified as heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, transgendered, bisexual, or whatever -- are equally made in the image of God.

7. Thus, we will gladly contend for the right to life of all persons, born and unborn, whatever their sexual orientation. We must fight against the idea of aborting fetuses or human embryos identified as homosexual in orientation.

8. If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.

9. We must stop confusing the issues of moral responsibility and moral choice. We are all responsible for our sexual orientation, but that does not mean that we freely and consciously choose that orientation. We sin against homosexuals by insisting that sexual temptation and attraction are predominately chosen. We do not always (or even generally) choose our temptations. Nevertheless, we are absolutely responsible for what we do with sinful temptations, whatever our so-called sexual orientation.

10. Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior. The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not alter God's moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle with this particular pattern of temptation. If such knowledge should ever be discovered, we should embrace it and use it for the greater good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.

What's in a faith?

BudBurn.jpgIt's really a philosophical query, one reporters aren't well-suited or aptly trained to answer. But the current case of Temple 420, a Hollywood congregation that reads the Bible and smokes marijuana to communicate with God, is begging the question.

The Rev. Craig X Rubin, a minister ordained by the interfaith Universal Life Church and founder of the temple, sued the LAPD for $30 million Wednesday, claiming his religious and civil rights were violated when narc officers raided his sanctuary/head shop in November and purportedly told him it was not a "real religion."

But what is a real religion?

"There is no standard in nature to which one can go to decide if a group is a 'real' religion," says Dan Olson, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Indiana University South Bend. "It all depends on whether people in the society that they are part of are convinced they are a religion. When different parts of society don't agree, like so many other things in life it often comes down to the group that has the most influence and power to determine whether the group will be persecuted and harassed or given respect and resources by others in society.

"Almost every accepted religion today has historical roots in some group that either broke away from a major religion (and was thus considered a heretical sect -- Christianity started as a sect of Judaism) or started from scratch with the vision or innovation of a prophet/visionary/founder who was probably seen as a kook or a dangerous heretic by most people in his/her day."

The role religions serve in society also complicate our understanding of what is sincere or genuine and what is "fake."

"You have to give people a feeling or a sense of the sacred and then you have to bond them in community," Robert C. Fuller, a religion professor at Bradley University in Illinois and author of Stairways to Heaven: Drugs in American Religious History, told me. "The fact of the matter is anything that helps with those two function has religious values."

Last summer, a month before Rubin opened Temple 420, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine reported that Timothy Leary was correct: Hallucinogens do enhance spiritual experiences. One third of the 60 percent of study participants who reported a "full mystical experience" described it as the most significant spiritual event of their lives.

Does that mean smoking pot -- whether it comes from what Rubin believes is the tree of life written of in Genesis or just a weed -- has religious value? Rastafarians use it, and the courts have ruled in their favor for consumption, though not transportation and distribution.

For Rubin, who is charged with two felony drug counts, and his followers, an LA Superior Court Judge will have to decide.