Tuesday, July 31, 2007
It's difficult to believe this billboard is real, not a doctored photo for The Onion. Sad really. But it is, and it can be found in LA at the intersection of Wilshire and San Vicente, near the Jewish Federation building (not that there is any connection). LAObserved points out the ad for the website "for women seeking romantic affairs — and the men who want to fulfill them."
Trademarked tagline: "When monogamy becomes monotony."
And I thought I had elementary school bad.
The boy suffered "severe personal injuries - humiliation, ridicule and gross embarrassment" from the incident in his fourth-grade classroom at Public School 114 in Canarsie on Oct. 26, said his lawyer, Michael Lazarowitz. The suit blames the city and Education Department for failing to supervise the school. Education officials declined to comment.
Lazarowitz said the girls attacked Abdulla from behind, taped his arms behind his back, put tape on his nose and mouth, then locked him in the closet.
As Abdulla, who was born in Yemen, struggled, Lazarowitz said the girls hurled "racial and ethnic slurs to the effect - 'go back to your country, we don't want you here.'"
Earlier this year, two men standing on a public sidewalk were arrested for passing out Bible within 500 feet of a school. The nation has laws guaranteeing freedom of religion for its citizens, human rights observers say, although critics say these rights are sometimes ignored. The arrests took place in A.) Iran, B.) The People's Republic of China, C.) Saudi Arabia, D.) Russia, E.) The Vatican, F.) The United States.Well, Turkey's not on the list, so it must be ... the United States. So obvious you never would have guessed it, right? Here's the scoop from the Alliance Defense Fund:
PLANTATION KEY, Fla. — A judge dismissed all charges Friday against two members of The Gideons International who were arrested while attempting to distribute Bibles on a public sidewalk outside Key Largo School. Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman represented the two men.
"Christians cannot be treated as second-class citizens," said Cortman. "These two men have the same constitutional rights as everyone else to pass out literature on a public sidewalk. We are pleased that the court agrees that these men should not have been arrested and dismissed the charges against them."
OK, this certainly was a ridiculous case the government tried to level, but give me a break. When was the last time Christians were treated as "second-class citizens" in the western world. Such rhetorical dishonesty only discredits complaints about real discrimination when it does occur.
In this week's New Yorker, Remnick, the New Jersey son of secular Jews, visits Zion and reports on the repercussions of the loss of faith by a fervent believer in the dream of a Jewish state. (That was Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of Knesset, last month saying that Israel is "dead. We haven't received the news yet, but we are dead.")
“For the so-called head of the Zionist movement to say all this—to say, ‘Get another passport for your kids,’ ” Avishai Margalit said to me. “It’s like the Pope giving sex tips.”Remnick visits Burg at his home in the village of Nataf, and gets an earful about how Israeli politicians talk too much about the Holocaust (a sentiment he shares with Europeans).
“The most optimistic years in the state of Israel were 1945 to 1948,” he said to me. “The farther we got from the camps and the gas chambers, the more pessimistic we became and the more untrusting we became toward the world. It was a shock to me. Didn’t we, the politicians, feed the public? Didn’t we cheapen the sanctity of the Holocaust by using it about everything? Some people say, ‘Occupation? You call this occupation? This is nothing compared to the absolute evil of the Holocaust!’ And if it is nothing compared to the Holocaust then you can continue. And since nothing, thank God, is comparable to the ultimate trauma it legitimatizes many things.” Burg said that contemporary Israelis “are not at the stage to be sensitive enough to what happens to others and in many ways are too indifferent to the suffering of others. We confiscated, we monopolized, world suffering. We did not allow anybody else to call whatever suffering they have ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide,’ be it Armenians, be it Kosovo, be it Darfur."
Remnick concludes the story by making this case: The future of Israel depends not on the dream of Zionism but on the sanctity of the Israeli economy.
“Will the young people take the job offer in London from Goldman Sachs or will they stay here and wait for the missiles to fall?” (Harvard Business Review contributing editor Bernard) Avishai said. “The question is, is this a good enough place to come back to when they are married and have children? Finally, the Israeli government has to confront its own crazies and create a national consensus on democratic ideals, enact a secular constitution, and really confront the settlers. So far, the government is only willing to say that it is making ‘painful’ moves. We are told that we have to grieve with the settlers, think about making deals, but quietly let on that we actually think these are the real Israeli pioneers. Bulls---. Avrum Burg might not express the need to change in the most effective way, but at least he has the courage to insist on it.”Overall, the piece -- not just Burg's comments -- offer little hope for Israel's future. But do you think such fatalism is correct?
(Photo: Telegraph and New Yorker)
Monday, July 30, 2007
Jeffrey Fleishman is one of my favorite reporters at the LA Times. For years his was delivering unusual dispatches from Germany and Eastern Europe as the Berlin bureau chief. Now he's relocated to Cairo, and immediately he found a story about a Muslim sex therapist. Here goes:
CAIRO — In the delicate realm where the Koran meets human desire, Heba Kotb, a Muslim sex therapist in a ruffled gold head scarf, has strong opinions on vibrators, foreplay, premature you-know-what and why more men can't seem to locate the G-spot.(Photo: LA Times)
An hour in her clinic, where some women wear black abayas that reveal only their eyes, is a liberating venture into a culture that has traditionally relegated talk of sex to a family whisper. Demure she may appear, but Kotb's voice is strong and unapologetically public. The Koran, she said, forbids sex outside marriage, but within that union carnal satisfaction is a requisite for happiness.
"I deal with pleasure, desire, orgasms, masturbation, sexual frequency and erection problems," said Kotb, whose TV show, "Big Talk," is popular across the Arab world. "Neither the Koran nor the Sunna, however, address masturbation. My advice is that it's OK to masturbate, but only if you need it badly. Masturbation has become more prevalent here because sex is forbidden outside marriage."
In a society in which male clerics issue fatwas, or religious edicts or opinions, addressing all layers of family life, a feminine voice on something as intimate as sex has made Kotb a celebrity and a cultural revolutionary.
Some conservative clerics accuse Kotb of catering to sinners and Western-influenced permissiveness, but, overall, there has been little outcry about her frankness. Kotb's advice on sex is meticulously framed within the context of matrimony, which she says is a gift from God.
"Everyone is searching for better sex, but people aren't having the best sex," she said. "Sex within Islam is the best. It covers the man's rights and the woman's rights. Islam is the ultimate sexuality. It's beyond the stereotypes of Islamic oppression. I'm replacing that template. I'm replacing the stereotypes."
I don't think it would make Rudy Giuliani any more popular with social conservatives if he dropped his support for abortion -- he's still pro-gun control and, man, talk about a lack of family values.
But Mark Kleiman, a professor at UCLA who writes at the insightful, and way left, blog The Reality-Based Community, argues that the former New York mayor really couldn't be considered pro-choice because he wants to re-arrange the Supreme Court in a way that would spell the end of Roe v. Wade.
So when Rudy Giuliani says he would appoint "strict constructionist" judges, he's pledging to appoint more justices willing to overturn Roe v. Wade; the fact that he sortakinda takes it back by saying there would be no litmus test doesn't really matter. Nor does the fact that, as a private citizen and a local politician he supports abortion rights; on the one issue where a President has to act on abortion he's fully committed to the RTL position. And Justice Stevens isn't getting any younger.
Thus it's not really right to describe Giuliani, the Presidential candidate, as someone who "supports abortion rights."
It's not clear how much this will help or hurt Giuliani in the primaries. But it could make all the difference in the general should Rudy be the nominee. To get the swing votes he would need, Giuliani would want to run as a "moderate" on abortion, which is about as close to the truth as his claim to be an "expert" on terrorism.I'd like to hope that the press wouldn't let him get away with it. But perhaps I'd be wiser to hope for a pony.
GetReligion has a good post up today that gripes, yet again, about how poorly people understand what it means to be an evangelical.
(W)hat caught my eye this time was a recent New York Times story by veteran religion writer Laurie Goodstein, which makes a solid attempt to add some clarity on the diversity of “evangelical” views on at least one issue that is hard to label as “liberal” or “conservative.”
Thus, the headline: “Coalition of Evangelicals Voices Support for Palestinian State.” This coalition is stressing that both Jews and Palestinians have rights “stretching back for millennia” to territory in the Holy Lands. These leaders have issued a letter calling for the creation of a Palestinian state that includes the “vast majority of the West Bank.”
Now, who are these people?
The letter is signed by 34 evangelical leaders, many of whom lead denominations, Christian charities, ministry organizations, seminaries and universities. They include Gary M. Benedict, president of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination of 2,000 churches; Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Gordon MacDonald, chairman of World Relief; Richard E. Stearns, president of World Vision; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; and Berten A. Waggoner, national director and president of The Vineyard USA, an association of 630 churches in the United States.
“This group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear we’re committed to the security of Israel,” said Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, which often takes liberal positions on issues. “But we want a solution that is viable. Obviously there would have to be compromises.”
Once again, you can see how hard it is to use political labels in this context — especially in a short news report.
What in the world does it mean that Sider and company often take “liberal positions on issues”? That is simply far too vague. What issues? Is it “liberal” to favor economic justice? Is that politically “liberal” or theologically “liberal”? Sider, by the way, is consistently pro-life and a doctrinal conservative on sexuality issues.
That's me on the right, inspired by the "Simpsons" movie. I saw it Friday night, and found it funnier than any combination of episodes I can remember.
As usual, religion and morality are strong undercurrents in the latest Simpsons snafu. Marge has a minor crisis of faith, Homer goes on another hallucinogenic spiritual journey and Grandpa ends up rolling around the church floor screaming "Twisted tail, a thousand eyes, trapped forever! EPA! EPA!"
Saturday, July 28, 2007
This week I finished Jeffrey Goldberg's wonderful book "Prisoners: A Muslim and Jew Across the Middle East Divide." In it, Goldberg, who recently left the New Yorker for the Atlantic Monthly, details his Zionist evolution for socialist camper to Israeli prison guard during the First Intifada to Middle East correspondent for The New York Times Magazine.
After serving at the Ketziot prison, Goldberg returned to Israel and the Palestinian territories to start talking with some of his former prisoners. One in particular, Rafiq Hijazi, now a professor in UAE, has captured Goldberg's imagination: He is convinced the two can become friends, an act with symbolic meaning for the solution to that seemingly eternal crisis in Israel.
The back of the book comes with praise from far greater journalists than me, so I'll just say it's worth your while to pick up a copy. For an Israel ignoramus like myself, the book really helps you understand the landscape and the latent ideologies manifesting themselves in suicide bombings and the difficulty of discussing peace when two people want such divergent things.
The book is, in parts, disturbing, such as when Goldberg interviews Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a founder of Hamas:
Hamas, more than any other force, transformed the dispute between Arabs and Israelis into one between Muslims and Jews. There was no category called "Israeli" in Rantisi's bifurcated understanding of the world. There is umma, which represents light, and then there are the Jews, who are darkness. "The Quran says that they will be behind violence and wars everywhere," he said. "This is true throughout history. They stole money from everyone. People always talk about what the Germans did to the Jews, but the true question is, What did the Jews do to the Germans?"A resounding theme is the difficulty of working toward compromise when fundamentalism is at work. History is rarely right; the Quran always is, Goldberg learns.
Clearly, this fundamentalism, which UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl told me comes not from true Islamic scholars but politically motivated clerics, is becoming more prevalent in Muslim countries and Europe. It's the reason Bernard Lewis has said, "Bring them freedom or they destroy us."
But can Western ideals and Islamic fundamentalism live side-by-side? Or are American Muslims pushed to act in a way that is haram by living in a free society?
Friday, July 27, 2007
Self-hate, in the Jewish context, is assailed by traditionalists, quantified by sociologists, catalogued by hobbyists, ribbed by comedians, feared by parents.That is the thesis of Bradley Burston's piece earlier this week in Ha'aretz. It's worth a read, as are some of the blog posts responding to it. He argues that Muslims learning a little about self-hate would do more stability in Israel than peace talks.
It is also underrated.
Simply put, we have much to learn from the self-hating Jew. Like the paranoid who is under actual surveillance, the Jew who is viciously critical of matters Jewish - or for whom Jewishness and Israel are sources of shame - may shed light on issues we may wrongly choose to ignore or accept.
May we, Muslim and Jew, have the wisdom to address our own failings with the vigor with which we attack each others'.(Photo: Ha'aretz)
Let's hear it for healthy self-hate. It may just be what the world needs now.
CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. - must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation.
Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. None of this seemed to matter to Lieberman, who delivered a long sermon hailing Hagee as nothing less than a modern-day Moses. Lieberman went on to describe Hagee's flock as "even greater than the multitude Moses commanded."
Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour from huffpost and Vimeo.
The answer: Yes. But man would it take some imagination. (Click here for an audio version on NPR's Day to Day.) My favorite two:
The FBI is investigating claims that the New York Giants' Jeremy Shockey deliberately dropped passes last season in an effort to win his fantasy football league. A person with knowledge of the league's activities says that Shockey's squad, "The Cleveland Steamers," was stuck in second place behind "Jimmy Spencer Blues Explosion," a team with Shockey in its starting lineup. The tight end's suspiciously poor performances in the season's final three weeks—coupled with a surprising three touchdowns from the Shockey-owned Marion Barber III—propelled the Steamers to the league title and grand prize, a $200 Dave & Buster's gift card.
—New York Post, Aug. 4, 2007
Jason McElwain, the autistic teenager who won the nation's heart by making six three-pointers in his first and only high school basketball game, was not really a teenager and was feigning his autism, White House spokesman Tony announced today. "The president was deeply saddened to hear that the young Snowman we knew and loved as 'J-Mac' is actually former NBA sharpshooter Tim Legler," Snow said in his afternoon press briefing.
—AP, Aug. 5, 2007
That was the subject of an e-mail I received this morning that informed me -- thanks, Bostick Communications! -- "Christian prison minister Marty Angelo approache(d) actress Lindsay Lohan with offer of faith-based treatment program plan."
In attempt to help another troubled celebrity, prison minister Marty Angelo has reached out to actress Lindsay Lohan.
Angelo recently tried unsuccessfully to convince socialite Paris Hilton's sentencing judge, Michael Sauer to let him serve Hilton's jail time if the judge would send her to a residential treatment program. Read Paris Hilton Documentation
This time Angelo has written to actress Lindsay Lohan, who has been plagued with various drug and alcohol related problems. "There is no doubt in my mind you would benefit tremendously from a faith-based treatment program," Angelo remarked in his letter dated July 18, 2007 to Lohan six days 'before' her latest arrest for DUI and cocaine possession. He offered to assist Lohan to find Christian alternatives. Read Lohan Lettera) I did not realize that sending a letter qualified as "approaching;" b) I do not understand what they mean by putting "before" in quotes; c) why do they waste their time sending out e-mails like this on a semi-daily basis?
"The secular treatment programs Miss Lohan recently participated in obviously did not work." Angelo stated, "Nothing has changed her addictive behavior."
"Lindsay Lohan's out of control lifestyle is only the tip of the iceberg," Angelo continues, "I feel Miss Lohan would benefit by enrolling into a yearlong faith-based program that allows God to get to the root of her real issues."
But as for the offer, maybe Lohan should take him up on it. Finding God is this summer's hottest thing. Just ask Paris and Britney.
Today -- 10 weeks into the job -- I officially arrived at The Jewish Journal with my first cover story. It's about the role of Hollywood in the Jewish community, and it was a bear to report.
The entertainment business was created by Jews, but the industry also helped build the LA Jewish community. Still, the widely held opinion -- "as much a part of Jewish belief as monotheism" -- is that Hollywood does very little for the Jews. But despite what you may have heard, the movie business is not run by a bunch of cheap Jews.
My article discusses the history of Hollywood philanthropy and the coming generational shift in Hollywood leaders -- from the Spielbergs and Katzenbergs to people in their late 20s and 30s.
These are better days for Hollywood Jews. They no longer need to change their names -- sometimes not even their noses. Orthodox screenwriters like David Sacks of "The Simpsons" and "Malcolm in the Middle" find producers more understanding of Shabbat. Young stars like Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen and Seth Rogen make it cool to be Jewish.
But a chasm remains between Jewish identity and Jewish institutions. One reason has as much to do with geography and economy as it does with generational shift. The problem in Los Angeles is not simply that young Jews aren't interested in Jewish organizations. The problem, in part, is Los Angeles.
"There is plenty of blame to go around. Some of it is Los Angeles, some of it is the Jewish community, some of it is the lack of appeal to younger people," said Donna Bojarsky, an adviser to Hollywood figures. "In the Los Angeles Jewish community, most people didn't grow up here. You don't have those communal ties that sometimes facilitate engagement. The Jewish community itself, therefore, is perceived as your mother's or grandmother's Jewish community, so it doesn't seem as interesting to younger Jews."
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
William Lobdell's story about losing his faith while covering the Catholic sex scandal for the Los Angeles Times has gotten a lot of play.
The 3,272-word piece, which ran Saturday in the Times' coveted Column One slot, recounted Lobdell's born-again moment, his praying and pleading to cover religion (for the same reason I got on the beat: because of a frustration with general news coverage of religion as a circus show) and finally his disenchantment with God's representatives here on earth.
First as a columnist and then as a reporter, I never had a shortage of topics. I wrote about an elderly church organist who became a spiritual mentor to the man who tried to rape, rob and kill her. About the Orthodox Jewish mother who developed a line of modest clothing for Barbie dolls. About the hardy group of Mormons who rode covered wagons 800 miles from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino, replicating their ancestors' journey to Southern California.He was going through conversion classes when the clergy sex scandal broke.
Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism, with its low-key evangelism and deep ritual, increasingly appealed to me. I loved its long history and loving embrace of liberals and conservatives, immigrants and the established, the rich and poor.
My wife was raised in the Catholic Church and had wanted me to join for years. I signed up for yearlong conversion classes at a Newport Beach parish that would end with an Easter eve ceremony ushering newcomers into the church.
IN 2001, about six months before the Catholic clergy sex scandal broke nationwide, the dioceses of Orange and Los Angeles paid a record $5.2 million to a law student who said he had been molested, as a student at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, by his principal, Msgr. Michael Harris.It was downhill from there for Lobdell's faith. His subsequent stories about televangelist Paul Crouch, head of the Trinity Broadcasting Network empire (you know, that gaudy all-white building in Costa Mesa that looks like an oil refinery during Christmas time) didn't help.
Without admitting guilt, Harris agreed to leave the priesthood. As part of the settlement, the dioceses also were forced to radically change how they handled sexual abuse allegations, including a promise to kick out any priest with a credible molestation allegation in his past. It emerged that both dioceses had many known molesters on duty. Los Angeles had two convicted pedophiles still working as priests.
While reporting the Harris story, I learned — from court records and interviews — the lengths to which the church went to protect the priest. When Harris took an abrupt leave of absence as principal at Santa Margarita in January 1994, he issued a statement saying it was because of "stress." He resigned a month later.
His superiors didn't tell parents or students the real reason for his absence: Harris had been accused of molesting a student while he was principal at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana from 1977 to 1979; church officials possessed a note from Harris that appeared to be a confession; and they were sending him to a treatment center.
In September 1994, a second former student stepped forward, this time publicly, and filed a lawsuit. In response, parents and students held a rally for Harris at the school, singing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." An airplane towed a banner overhead that read "We Love Father Harris."
This morning, Lobdell was on NPR's Day to Day. (Listen to the interview here.) I found this interview much more interesting than the Column One piece. His answers were concise and his reasoning seemed more thoughtful. In the end, it seems Lobdell went from Christian convert to Catholic-in-the-making to agnostic-approaching-atheism because of that age-old problem, theodicy -- understanding why a good God would create such an awful world.
(Photo: LA Times)
So I was hip to the Harry Potter Shabbat crisis (actually my GeekHeeb colleague was and I poached). Gawker's super-hipness regarding Harry manifested itself last week in the from of age-old anti-Semitism.
The post -- dealing with the same story that though Israeli bookstores were legally barred from selling "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" when it came out Saturday, some would anyway -- said "Head Heebs in the Holy Land are trying to keep bookstores closed." That's harmless enough, but then it went on. colleague was and I poached). But I wasn't aware that
Some stores are planning to open anyway—these are Jews, let's remember, and a buck's a buck—which has resulted in predictable outrage from the more Adonai-adoring elements of Israeli society.
"They didn’t just go there, did they?" Mark Caro asked on his Pop Machine blog for the Chicago Tribune. "What, is it Fun with Ages-Old Slanderous Stereotypes Week?"
This reminds me a bit of Tommy Thompson's gaffe about Jews and their love of money while trying to court the Jewish vote. Sheesh.
The piece then quotes someone from the United Torah Judaism Party (by way of an Associated Press story) slamming the Potter books’ “defective messages” and their subculture before the Gawker writer fires back: “[I]sn't this exactly how some of us feel about, you know, the Bible and its subculture of weird, tallis-wearing followers?”
Hee hee -- Orthodox Jews and other Bible readers sure are a bunch of weirdos!
Ward Churchill met his maker -- I'm sorry, salary payer -- yesterday, and he was told to take a hike.
Churchill, if you don't remember, was the University of Colorado professor who put some of the blame for 9/11 on ... the victims. Selfish capitalists he referred to in an essay as "Little Eichmanns."
His case, which later included allegations of plagiarism and falsification of facts, became a cause celebre for the freedom of speech and the lunacy of faculty tenure. Churchill now plans to sue to university for breach of contract.
"We're out of kangaroo court and going into real court," his attorney told the Associated Press.
Heeb magazine's blog was additionally cheery because Tuesday was the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B'Av, the day when the First and Second Temples were destroyed.
First of all, the Wards Churchill of the world think that anything which is offensive is automatically valuable, original and thought provoking. If Churchill's idea was to convey the message that US policy engenders anger, there were innumerable innumerably more effective ways to do it. His way wasn't clever, or thought provoking, or interesting. It was simply mean-spirited, thoughtless, hyperbolic and ultimately hypocritical.
Which brings me to the the second of all. If working for a financial firm in the WTC makes you a "little Eichmann," what about working for the University of Colorada? Not only does the university host ROTC, but it is run by the state, which also runs the National Guard. It seems to me that, according to Churchill's logic, he is, if anything , just as much as much a cog in the wheels of American imperialism as anyone who died on 9/11.
Churchill is a fraud who rather pathetically (and falsely) claims to be an Indian and to have served as a combat veteran in an elite unit in Vietnam. There's no question that Churchill is a mean-spirited schmuck, hypocrite, and liar; but given our own propensity for self-righteous egomania (albeit with a much sweeter disposition), we at Jewdar will be the last to say that that alone is grounds for dismissal.
But Churchill is also an academic fraud who made false claims, lied about the evidence to support those claims and, in general, behaved in a manner unbecoming of a tenured professor. What makes his dismissal so sweet is that, while he wasn't fired for being a schmuck, had he not been one, nobody would have noticed the academic misconduct.
Sometimes, even on Tisha b'Av, justice triumphs.
But Jeff Sharlet, the magazine religion writer and editor of The Revealer, says in book review for the New Statesman that "we" refers not to the small portion of humans (in fact, a small portion of Christians) who have a literal reading of the last book of the Bible and the Armageddon it reveals, "but those of us who find apocalyptic believers - especially American apocalyptic believers - to be a source of sufficient anxiety that publishers churn out explanatory volumes such as Nicholas Guyatt's Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans are Looking Forward to the End of the World."
Guyatt's breezy investigation is only the latest response to the success of books that skip the "why" and go directly to The End, most famously the fundamentalist Left Behind novels that have sold more than 60 million copies around the world. The secular apocalypse business isn't as lucrative, but bestsellers such as Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy and Chris Hedges's American Fascists, and a spate of lesser accounts of apocalypse-minded Christians, have found a sizeable niche for themselves as well. These range from the deliberately comical - Alex Heard's Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels in End-Time America - to the densely theoretical - Catherine Keller's Apocalypse Now and Then: a Feminist Guide to the End of the World, a genuine tussle with the questions concerning apocalypse believers that rivals the original Revelation in its feverish imagination.Such books are designed to frighten or to reassure ...Christians have been trying for centuries to pinpoint when the end will come. But, as I noted last month, even the great Sir Isaac Newton couldn't calculate such a date. Fortunately, Sharlet says, most people who read apocalyptic literature don't agree with apocalyptic theology. But that is only most people.
In five years of travels in fundamentalist America, I've met hundreds of Christian conservative Left Behind fans. Almost all drew careful distinctions between the mysteries of scripture and the black and whites of LaHaye's imagination. No more than a handful took his books literally and even fewer took any steps to adjust for the coming rapture.Fundamentalists who have a literal understanding of the book Jonathan Kirsch says "has significantly altered the course of history" certainly can speed up the process of Armageddon. Some would say a preemptive nuclear attack would be a good start, others that letting Iran get too far with its nuclear program would begin the end.
Unfortunately, that handful includes some of the most powerful fundamentalists in the US. Guyatt's strongest chapters deal with Hagee, who "looks like a tubby Donald Rumsfeld" and "sounds a lot like a macaw". That's funny, but Hagee isn't: US politicians court his approval and the huge amounts of money that his Christians United for Israel can channel their way. In return, they parrot his prophecies, cleansed of the references that would reveal them as such - Hagee's conviction that the US may have to attack Iran as part of a scheme foretold in the Book of Ezekiel is sanitised as ostensibly sober-minded policy advice based on the needs of the nation rather than the scripture.
But if man brings about the end of the world, will he like the result?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I met Andrea Useem two years ago at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Miami. (Disclosure: She is an official God Blog groupie). A Muslim living outside Washington, Useem has a Master's in theology from Harvard Divinity and is an insightful freelance religion writer.
She has a good piece today on Slate.com about why American Muslims aren't pushing to legalize polygamy -- a practice that even in the States is more common than I would have expected.
So, you're happily married to the Muslim man of your dreams when, suddenly, he drops the p-bomb: polygamy. For Aneesa Azeez, a 23-year-old Muslim convert and college graduate, her husband's announcement of his intention to marry a second wife devastated her. "I am shocked, hurt, angry and confused, all in one," she wrote in a letter to him.
Seems like a recipe for divorce, right? Polygamy is illegal, after all. But Azeez didn't play that card with her husband, 15 years her senior. Under the law that mattered to her—classical Islamic law—she accepted her husband's right to take up to four wives, as allowed by the Quran, as long as he could treat them equally. ...
Azeez, who works from her home in upstate New York as a newspaper copy editor, could be a poster child in the movement to legalize polygamy—the Muslim equivalent of the poignantly normal gay and lesbian couples lining up outside San Francisco's City Hall in 2004. But she won't be marching in the streets, calling for the legalization of polygamy, as some Protestant and ex-Mormon polygamists have been doing. For the tiny minority of American Muslims who engage in polygamy, its illegality is close to irrelevant. And for mainstream American Muslims, who are dealing with enough negative publicity as it is, let alone the fact that polygamy gives many of them the heebie-jeebies, the legal status quo suits them just fine.
He focuses on the recent botched bomb-plot in London and Glasgow, which was allegedly planned by a bunch of doctors and medical professionals. This shouldn't be a surprise, he says, because Osama bin Laden is an engineer from a wealthy family and his lieutenant is a physician; scholars have found terrorists tend to be well educated (this too is not explained).
If there is a link between poverty, education, and terrorism, it is the opposite of the one popularly assumed. We should not be surprised to find that terrorists can add up, read, and even write prescriptions.
What is more surprising is that the attackers in London and Glasgow were so incompetent. Claude Berrebi and Harvard economist Efraim Benmelech studied—there's no nice way to put this—the human-resources policy of Palestinian terrorist groups. They found that older, better-educated terrorists secured more important suicide missions and killed more people. Having more than a high-school education doubles the chance of escaping capture, for example.
If the terrorists in this case do turn out to be the doctors and other professionals who are, as I write, suspected of the crime, it would demonstrate that even years of education and experience do not guarantee a successful attack. Blowing up innocent people is obviously harder than it looks, and for that we can all be grateful.
''Some of them took the [prayer] mat from me; they started shouting, they started telling me to stop it, and one of them grabbed me by the collar of my shirt,'' Mohamed said.A lawsuit has not been filed. Civil-rights laws protect the religious observance of employees, so long as it is not burdensome to the company. The meatpacking company says the employees stopped working without permission.
Monday, July 23, 2007
The story in today's LA Times about the movement of people forgoing church buildings and meeting in homes inspired me to pull from the archive an article I wrote last January about the house-church phenomenon. Here's the link and a sampling:
"You walk into church and people are like, `Hey, how are you? God bless, man.' Really, inside, you could be completely dead, dying, rotting inside. But you are never going to share that because there is no authenticity about doing life with people in mainstream church," said Mike Dickran, 25, of Camarillo.There are -- as there always are -- people who think this is a dangerous way to encourage spiritual commitment. I can't say I agree. What do you think?
"What is so exciting about doing small-group house church is just the chance to be real."
At a time when megachurches are blooming, when the yardstick for success seems to be the fullness of pews and the weight of offering plates, a growing number of Christians are casting aside institution for intimacy and gathering weekly in homes, apartments, parks or wherever the Spirit moves them.
"It's not about where we meet or how big the sound system is or even how many seats we fill," said Chris Burton, a former college pastor at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village who left seven years ago to begin a Simi Valley house church that has grown into five separate gatherings, including the one Dickran attends.
"Those things are not indications of success for us - rather, personal commitment to the Lord and life transformation."
House churchers view themselves as throwback Christians. They express a nostalgia for pre-Nicean Christianity, before the canons and creeds and clergy.
You probably thought Yom Kippur was the saddest day on the Jewish calendar -- the atoning for sins, the fasting. But, in fact, that date is Tisha B'Av, which begins at sundown tonight. It commemorates the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, particularly the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.
With this backdrop, a group of Jewish priests and Levites gathered at the Western Wall last week, bringing together the sons of Aaron for the first time in 2,000 years, and discussed what their duties would be upon the construction of the Third Temple.
"With the help of God, we are hoping that the Beit HaMikdash" -- the Holy Temple -- "will be rebuilt, and I would like my sons to know what that's all about, what their role as Levi'im will be in the time of the Beit HaMikdash when things are really relevant," Levi, a mother of five and an immigrant from South Africa, said between conference sessions Monday.Considering the Holy Mount is currently the home of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, these priests likely will need to live longer than Methuselah if they are going to enter the Third Temple.
"We believe, and every day we have to believe, that it is imminent -- that it can happen today. Until then there should be an awareness of their heritage and responsibility for the future."
I'm been writing of late about Cardinal Roger Mahony and the LA Archdiocese's massive settlement with 508 alleged victims of clergy sex abuse and about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's philandering ways.
Well, the LA Daily News put the two together in this cover for the Sunday Viewpoint section. That's Mahony as the serpent and the mayor chasing his adulterous lover Mirthala Salinas through the "Garden of Telemundo." You obviously get the reference.
It looks like Foreign Policy was inspired -- not by me, but the lunacy of the breast-feeding fatwa -- and they published a short list of 'The World's Stupidest Fatwas.' The breast-feeder made it on the list of five dumb fatwas. Also making an appearance were:
• The order on Salman Rushdie's life
• The ruling by the former dean of Islamic law at al-Azhar University in Cairo that “being completely naked during the act of coitus annuls the marriage"
• The Pokemon fatwa, because, obviously, Pokemon is stupid, evil and promotes "international Zionism"
• The polio fatwa that forbade Pakistani children this year from receiving the vaccine because the anti-Western clerics said it was a conspiracy to make Muslims sterile
These are the same great jurists who have given us such fatwas as "kill the Jews and the Crusaders." Here's my question, it's one I've asked before to Islamic reformer Khaled Abou El Fadl at UCLA Law School: Why does anybody listen to these guys?
(Hat-tip: Bible Belt Blog)
An Amazon.com search for "gospel according to" nets over 11,000 hits. You can read "The Gospel According to Superman," "The Gospel According to the Simpsons" or, shockingly, "The Gospel According to Jesus." Personally, I prefer the Gospel of Mark; it's a quick read.
And today, Christianity Today posted a story titled "The Gospel According to Harry Potter," not to be confused with a book by the same name. (WARNING: This link is filled with spoilers.) Here's the opening:
I first met Harry Potter when my grandmother was dying.We discussed here last week whether Harry Potter was a Christian. Bob Smietana writes that after 3,365 soul-less pages, "Christ begins to whisper in The Deathly Hallows."
On New Years Day 1999, she had a massive stroke from which she would never recover. Not wanting her to die alone, we took turns sitting by her bedside, round the clock. The night I spent with her, I brought along my Bible, the biggest cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee I could find, and a new novel, picked up from the bookstore on the way to the hospital: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Both the Bible and the "Boy Who Lived" proved good company during the watches of the night. Both pointed the way to hope in the face of death.
And there was at least one echo from the Scriptures in the Sorcerer's Stone: Lord Voldemort, the Hitleresque dark wizard in J.K. Rowling's fictional works, was defeated not by power but by love—by a young mother who sacrificed her life to save her young son. In Rowling's world, that kind of love is stronger than any magic. It can even conquer death.By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens, however, it seems that death finally has the upper hand.
I'll stop there so I don't spoil any plot twists. If you've already finished the book -- I have not yet begun, but my wife is almost there -- let me know if you agree.
Well, kids can dream, can't they? I'd say global tensions rose ever so slightly yesterday when Turkey's Islamic party easily took national elections. Turkey's geopolitical importance is the reason the U.S. refuses to call the slaughtering of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks a genocide. But will it remain a friend?
The vote could have far-reaching consequences for Turkey's engagement with the West, including its drive to become the first Muslim-dominated country to join the European Union. Though secularist parties have been cool to that idea, the AKP has vowed to press ahead with the bid despite early rebuffs.That was some of the concern this past spring, and a reason the election was called early Sunday. This, of course, could be a beautiful moment when a country ruled by Muslim leaders and possibly laws shows that Islam and democracy can coexist. Or ...
"With this vote, Turkey said no to insularity, no to closing in on itself," said Cengiz Candar, a prominent political columnist.
The moderate and officially secular country, which is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is viewed as a strategic bridge to a Muslim world increasingly mistrustful of the West, particularly the United States. Successive Turkish governments have maintained close ties with Muslim neighbors even while pursuing divergent policies, such as a cordial relationship with Israel.
The election results were a crushing defeat for Turkey's secular-minded main opposition party, which got about 20% of the vote. Still, because of rules governing the allocation of parliamentary seats, the opposition will have some ability to stymie AKP initiatives, including the party's drive to have one of its own elected president — the same battle that triggered these early elections.
The AKP's resounding victory could fuel tensions with Turkey's powerful military, which considers itself the guardian of the secular system put in place 84 years ago by the country's founder, Kemal Ataturk.
That's definitely the feeling out here.
I wrote two weeks ago about how I found it surprising that the LA Times had given a platform to a Hamas leader on its op-ed page. Then in Friday's Jewish Journal, Tamar Sternthal complained about the same op-ed, asking why the Times neglected to mention that Mousa Abu Marzook had been indicted in 2004 in the U.S. on racketeering and money-laundering charges.
And in yesterday's Opinion section of the Times, rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was "unconscionable" that the Times had given a soapbox to Hamas.
Memo to Al Qaeda's Ayman Zawahiri: Forget the mule pack; give your video cam a rest. Our nation's leading media outlets are making an offer you can't refuse: If you can keep it to 1,250 words, the next time you want to communicate directly to the American people, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times want your byline.(Cartoon: CoxandForkum)
Inconceivable? Consider Hamas' summer hot streak. Not only has it driven Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas out of Gaza, threatened Israeli civilians and bombarded fellow Palestinians, but it has scored the ultimate media trifecta. First, the New York Times and the Washington Post simultaneously ran Op-Ed articles by Ahmed Yousef, a senior leader of Hamas who defended his group's bloody putsch in Gaza. Now, the Los Angeles Times has opened its Op-Ed page to Hamas political bureau deputy Mousa Abu Marzook for his insidious take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Did you hear Jesus Christ on the radio this morning. I swear, on 640 KFI, "morrrrrrrre stimulating talk radio," as they say.
Now, of course, this voice wasn't that Jesus. It was KFI Jesus -- also known as Neil Saavedra, who is not the redeemer of man but pretends to speak as him every Sunday from 6 a.m to 9. Here's part of the profile I wrote about Saavedra last December.
Listeners heed his wisdom; some consider it divinely inspired.I was curious then about what people thought of Saavedra's shtick. But I didn't have a blog, so I've resurrected this story to ask you the question: Is this blasphemous?
"Oh, Jesus?" Pete Moyes, 54, of Murrieta said after waiting on hold for about an hour. "Question - I really appreciate you taking my call - how can I be assured of my salvation?"
"OK, what's your concern?" KFI Jesus asked.
"Well, people that know me, and I've known you for 30 some-odd years and I know that you are going to perfect whatever work I start, but I would think that after 30 years, I would get rid of some of these character defects, things that I do that I know I have to apologize for," Moyes said. "Why is my brain still thinking that way?"
"Well," KFI Jesus responded, "Scripture says it via (the Apostle) Paul very well: `The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.' ... The benefit is that it's paid for: It's taken care of by the blood of the cross. ... You hit it on the head when you called, and that is that I will finish the work and the perfection I started in you. That comes from me and not you."
"The State of Israel must safeguard its Jewish existence which means preventing any non-Jewish authority that plans to wipe out the Jewish Nation spiritually from operating in the Jewish State."This is similar logic to why Jewish newspapers don't run ads from Jews for Jesus or, I can only imagine, why Christianity Today wouldn't publish a Muslim missionary's call to Islam. What's wrong with it?
Friday, July 20, 2007
This ... is what I heard on NPR while driving home: David Greene asking an average Republican in Council Bluffs, Iowa about the war in Iraq:
"I am so proud of the men and women who fight for us. I am so proud of the ones who have died for us because they are the ones keeping us free and the ones keeping those Muslims out of our country."
You may have noticed: I'm not a George Bush fan. I may be a Republican, but I don't agree with 68 percent of the Party that think he's doing swell or with Republican Jews who think his foreign policy is good for Israel.
But there is one thing I know that would be much worse than President Bush. And that is President Cheney.
Tomorrow, when Bush undergoes a colonoscopy, Cheney will assume the role of chief executive and commander in chief. Considering his assertions of executive power and his position on torture, I ask that we offer this prayer: "Our Father who art in heaven ... deliver us from evil."
* Updated: Recommendations on National Review Online for what Cheney should spend his presidency doing. No. 1 the list: Bomb Iran.
Mohamed El-Hawwari, head of the university's Centre for the Study of Contemporary Civilisations, stood up for his 'round-the-world colleague.
Interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly, El-Hawwari stressed that Firestone, while entitled to call himself a "rabbi", does not work in the religious field. "He is an American academic professor and it was in this capacity that he was invited to deliver his lecture."
In a statement issued once the row had become public, El-Hawwari described Firestone as a professor of Jewish history at Hebro Union College, California, and the author of many books on both Jewish and Islamic history.
"I have known the guy for more than 20 years. He has never attacked Islam, which he respects and appreciates," said El-Hawwari. "His lecture was based on texts derived from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Talmud.
"When I invited Firestone to offer his lecture I did not expect him to utter the two testimonies of Islam and announce that he had become a Muslim. It's natural for him to adopt religious concepts different from our own," said El-Hawwari, commenting on Firestone's reference to Isaac."Our main problem is that we still cannot accept the other. Whoever differs with us becomes our enemy," El-Hawwari continued.
I bet there was a time when people would say, "You couldn't pay me enough to move to California." Actually, New Yorkers still say it. But now the Jewish community of New Orleans, down about 30 percent, to 7,000, since Hurricane Katrina, has cribbed one from Israel's playbook and is offering money to members of the Tribe who want to make aliyah to the Crescent City.
"DO you have a pioneering spirit?" read the recent ad in the Jewish Week newspaper of New York. "Are you searching for a meaningful community where YOU can make a difference?"Ynetnews reported that money for the program included a $100,000 grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, but the Fed's spokeswoman said that wasn't true.
To generations of American Jews, the pitch had a familiar ring. But this was not an invitation to settle the Promised Land. It was a call to repopulate New Orleans, a city known less for its Jewish culture than for its shellfish, sin and pre-Lenten carnival. ...
So far, Jewish leaders acknowledge that they have attracted only a few newcomers, such as Hal Karp, a former magazine writer from Dallas who is moving here to teach in the public schools.
Karp, 43, said he was "ready to fix the … world down there." After some financial problems, however, he almost bailed out on his move — until he received an e-mail from the Jewish Federation. In addition to the money, they offered to pair him with a Jewish "host family" who would help him get to know the city.
"It was really like someone sending you a life raft," he said. "It was like they were saying, 'We need Jews, and if you will come, we'll welcome you.' "
Stop. That's what I did at this point in the Wall Street Journal book review. I stopped and thought, Haven't I heard this before?
One would imagine that two millennia would provide ample occasion for exhaustive study of Jesus of Nazareth, and yet somehow every generation seems to find some new way to think about him. Our own age is no exception. For more than a century now, believers and skeptics alike have tried to strip theology from biography, to rediscover the man, Jesus, who lived before the faith, Christianity.
At its best, this modern approach to Jesus combines nuanced interpretation with thought-provoking argument. At its worst, it pretends to discern, say, what Jesus might consider the optimal rate of taxation or how he might direct American policy in the Middle East. Happily, Tod Lindberg's "The Political Teachings of Jesus" belongs among the smart, sophisticated writings on the topic. Mr. Lindberg does not study Jesus' political teachings with an eye toward public policy or partisan advantage. His interest, in fact, inclines to social philosophy. He treats Jesus as a profound thinker, a man with great insight into the enduring question of how we may best live together.
Actually, I hear this all the time. "Jesus was a great teacher;" "he was a charismatic rabbi;" "he was a rebel." There is some truth to these descriptors, but they are ridiculous to use unless -- and this is a big unless, because most often I hear these statements from non-Christians -- you believe Jesus was who he said he was. Because, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, Jesus was either "lord, lunatic or liar."
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Loyal readers know that I wasn't raised Jewish and that my strongest association with Jewishness is with experiencing anti-Semitism. The potent embodiment of that is the Holocaust. My belief -- based on 4,000 years of history -- is that the world does not care if you practice Judaism if your last name is Greenberg. To anti-Semites, you're a "Jew."
I say this as a preface to what will follow, because I have no interest in spurring Alan Dershowitz to start a campaign to deny me tenure at The Journal. I am not a revisionist. I know the Holocaust happened, and I lament the fact so many Jews my generation want to separate themselves from the guilt of that memory -- lest we forget.
And I understood the concern of eastern Ventura County Jews this week as they dealt with what they believed was a Holocaust denier who had used a public facility to spread his hate. From today's Jewish Journal:
The way Jews in the Conejo Valley describe it, Joseph Goebbels would be proud of the propaganda proffered as academic discourse at the Goebel Senior Adult Center last month. That's when John Bravos, a commissioner of the publicly funded facility, focused a lecture in his comparative religion series on the Holocaust. The first question asked by a flier for the event was: "Did it happen?"But when I talked to Bravos, I wasn't sure he had been understood correctly. What I heard were the words not of a Holocaust denier, or "revisionist," but of a confused octogenarian.
When about a dozen seniors showed up, Bravos began by talking about deniers who use the phrase "so-called Holocaust," comparing the atrocities of World War II to other genocides and saying that far fewer Jews were murdered by the Nazis than historians have long believed.
"I was devastated and irate and just very insulted and offended," said Honey Bencomo, a 67-year-old Jewish woman from Agoura Hills who attended the lecture with her husband, who is Catholic. "He was talking about something that is a very significant part of Jewish history and was saying it didn't happen."
And from the rancor exhibited at Tuesday's meeting -- a meeting of more than 200, where Jews attacked the motives of other Jews who defended the accused -- it seems that no matter what his intent was, the damage to the Conejo's Jewish community has been far more substantial than the pain of hearing a "nutcase" (Bravos' word) like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad call the Holocaust a myth.