So that I could write about it with some authority, I looked up the thirteen minute 'trailer' for "The Innocence of Muslims" that is the alleged reason for rioting and mayhem in the Mideast. I don't recommend it. It's not just bad, it's painfully bad. The actors (who assert that they were hired to shoot a different piece, and the anti-Islamic dialog was dubbed in afterward) should be ashamed. Even accepting that those aren't their voices (the badness of the dubbing is pretty obvious), what can be seen of the acting is either wooden or amatureishly histrionic. The camera work is clumsy, and the dialog we hear incredibly bad. You could hardly make up worse even intending to.

Unfortunately, all the slurs against the Prophet and Islam are intentionally in there. The trailer portrays Mohammad as a misbegotten, perverse, and degenerate criminal, and the Koran as a fraud. People of the Islamic faith would be correct to be upset with this scurrilous piece of crap--.

--Except that if some shit-stirrer hadn't helpfully re-dubbed the trailer into Arabic and circulated it around the Mideast, the thing would have quietly died the obscure and unlamented death it deserved.

And the response to this has been a grotesque over-reaction by the "Arab Street," as we saw previously in response to rumors of mistreatment of the Koran by American soldiers, or the threats to burn the Koran by jerk Pastor Terry Jones. Now, I'm sure that these provocations are being exploited by terrorists and anti-American agitators. The attack on the Embassy in Libya which killed a popular Ambassador with a history of supporting the Libyan revolution was almost certainly a planned attack using demonstrators as cover. I understand that people who have never, ever, lived in a country with a tradition of free expression might not understand what that means in the United States, and that the government does not actually, even tacitly, approve these idiocies.

However, I can't fathom what kind of sense of "justice" thinks that it's right to attack and punish any American, any Westerner, or any Christian they can catch because the culpable parties are out of reach. In these cases, I'm sure that what's really at work are thugs acting out their ignorant despite of everything Western, if not actually politically motivated.

I am a strong supporter of First Amendment rights. I accept that there are times when giving offense may be appropriate. However, I also believe that, when exercising your rights, you must do so responsibly, and with an eye toward the consequences of your actions. Therefore, I also say that pinheads such as the perpetrators of "The Innocence of Muslims" should STFU, and not heedlessly bring about the deaths of the truly innocent. Whining that embassy security measures are inadequate, as one of the filmmakers has done, does not excuse them of their complicity in this bloodshed.
There were very good reasons why the Bill of Rights of our constitution provides for separation of church and state, which many have now forgotten. In the 1700’s, the wars of religion that had devastated Europe for a century were still fresh memory. Indeed, many Americans had come to this country in flight from the oppressions, displacements, and upheavals of those wars.

When the framers said: “Congress shall make no law regarding any establishment of religion,” they were not referring to “an establishment” in the sense most people use that word. It does not refer to a particular church, either building or body, but to the doctrine of establishment, which basically means that, whatever religion the monarch espouses becomes the official religion of the country and the people are required to observe it under threat of penalty. This resulted in back-and-forth situations such as England becoming a Protestant country when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, going back to being Catholic under Queen Mary (whose sobriquet “Bloody Mary” was earned through her persecution of Protestant holdouts), and back to being a Protestant nation under Queen Elizabeth. Had Mary, Queen of Scots succeeded Elizabeth, it would have been back to Catholicism and another inquisition. Catholic/Protestant tensions resulted in James II being overthrown and replaced with William and Mary in 1688, after which Parliament passed a law declaring that no Roman Catholic was permitted to ascend to the English throne, nor could any English monarch marry a Roman Catholic, which remains the law to this day.

The thing is, when church and state comingle, it’s bad for both. Religion becomes a test for eligibility to govern. James II replaced government officers throughout England with Catholics, despite the fact that England was only 2% Catholic at the time. Religion, on the other hand, becomes a handy stick for the government to beat its critics with. How much easier it is to charge someone with heresy or apostasy, which are merely sins of word or thought, than it is treason, which requires proof of action. When the government is sanctioned by the church, then criticism of the government becomes criticism of the church, and any critics are thereby guilty of “insulting religion” or “insulting God,” which is a crime in many Muslim nations. (“Insulting the government” is also an offense in some places, mainly dictatorships, which is not a good model to follow.)

Religion doesn’t concern itself with civil rights or due process, and punishing the body to save the soul was an unfortunately prevalent doctrine, with the Spanish Inquisition being only one of the worst examples. The Inquisition was also a disgraceful demonstration of not only using a supposedly religious purpose to destroy political targets, but also an example of gross corruption as the Inquisitors and their myrmidons lined their pockets with the fortunes of their victims. This was a common feature of witch-hunting the world over, including Salem, Massachusetts, where accusers profited by buying the lands of their convicted neighbors at rock-bottom prices.

The Christian world actually benefited from having the Catholic Church be the sole source of religious dogma for a thousand years or so. By the time of the Reformation, what was sinful was pretty well set, and most Protestant churches if anything, loosened up on the more arbitrary rules. (Even though some current Protestants seem intent on going more “Old Testament” than most Jews--.) Sharia law has no such central authority. Any “religious judge” can issue a fatwa, or ruling, that can be binding. This results in ludicrous situations such as the judge who ruled that a woman could not live in the same house as her five-year old adopted son, since to share a home with any male not either her husband or related by blood constituted adultery. (Islam evidently does not recognize adoptions.) That this occurred in Egypt, where sharia is not the government law, is still troubling, since such a ruling would encourage the “faithful” to kill the woman as an adulteress. Imagine the state of our laws if non-elected small claims court or municipal judges could issue binding interpretations of law.

Combining church and state degrades both. Adding government into the church exposes the church to the seductions of worldly power and wealth. It would reintroduce to the church the sins of simony (selling offices) and selling indulgences, which are now rife in government due to “Citizens United” and other corrupt lobbying practices. It would give back to the church the ability to punish “sin” with imprisonment and execution that it hasn’t had for hundreds of years.

Combining the church with government puts the state above its own laws. Cloaked in the armor of “divine right” and “God’s will,” it becomes immune to criticism or question. A religious government is axiomatically an autocracy, since God is not a democrat, nor can his kingdom also be a republic.

Even if in the highly unlikely event that you were able to get a general agreement that there ought to be a larger spiritual component in public life in America, it would be impossible to get a majority concurrence on whose principles to go by, given that religious thought in this country ranges from doctrinaire atheism to Amish to Satanist, plus representation of virtually every non-Abrahamic religion on Earth. Yet, Rick Santorum sees fit to introduce his regressive religious views into the Presidential race, ignoring the fact that this is a minority viewpoint even among Catholics. What this means is that either Santorum really doesn’t understand what religious freedom really means, or does know and doesn’t care because (in his opinion) God has told him what to do and that trumps what anyone else (or even everyone else, see “autocracy,” above) wants or believes.

While it is appropriate to expect public officials to follow the dictates of individual conscience in those areas where such discretion is allowed, this is why we have to work to keep religious conservatives from trying to impose their beliefs on everyone, and failing or refusing to perform required duties under the law on religious grounds. As rackety and corrupt as it is, our present system of laws provides us the most individual freedoms of any system on Earth today, and that is worth keeping.

And—speaking of timely coincidence, this just showed up in my “Daily Share” e-mail feed:


I was asked to send along some thoughts on one of the panels I was scheduled to be on but can't make. I thought some of my thoughts on the nature of what God might be like were enough fun to share.

The first question posed was: "How have fundamentalist religions had to adapt since it was grudgingly accepted that Earth is not the center of the universe, and may be older than 3000 years?"

My answer is, I don't see that they have accepted anything. There may be adaptation, but it has been in trying to co-opt and confuse scientific ideas to try to continue to fight the battle. Conservative religious forces have expended great amounts of energy in redressing what used to be called "creation science" as "intelligent design theory," and trying to influence textbook and teacher tactics by the false flag "teach the controversy" argument. They continue to pressure textbook publishers, state and local school boards, and state legislatures to adopt requirements that creation theory be taught and evolution theory minimized. Critics of evolution have adopted modern methods to get their message across: Besides Wikipedia, the top result on a Google search for "intelligent design" is a pro-ID website that purports to promote "objectivity" in teaching "origins science." That the forces of religious reaction are intent on continuing the fight is nowhere more apparent than at the $27 million "Creation Museum", http://www.creationmuseum.org/ which purports to explain how the fossil and geological records are not inconsistent with the Bible being literally true. If you are not familiar with it, I strongly recommend SF writer John Scalzi's wonderfully snarky photo tour found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scalzi/sets/72157603091357751


As for Earth's place in the "center of the universe" as a side note, I think that is less of an issue. For one thing, I don't believe that's in the Bible anywhere, so the Biblical inerrancy proponents don't have a line in the sand to defend like they do on origin of species.

Second, I think that most of the evolution deniers don't have a sufficient grasp of cosmology to attempt to refute findings such as "There is no centre of the universe! According to the standard theories of cosmology, the universe started with a "Big Bang" about 14 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. Yet there is no centre to the expansion. It is the same everywhere. The Big Bang should not be visualized as an ordinary explosion. The universe is not expanding out from a centre into space. The whole universe itself is expanding and it is doing so equally at all places, as far as we can tell."
http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/GR/centre.html
which is a pretty mind-boggling concept even for science geeks.
However, I think those same people correctly assume that most of the people they are preaching to don't understand it either, so the subject can safely be ignored.

That doesn't mean some people won't try to mischaracterize the evidence: the site at
http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/0807tj.asp
attempts to argue that precisely because everything we can see is moving away from us, we must be at the center. ("The odds for the Earth having such a unique position in the cosmos by accident are less than one in a trillion. The problem for big bang theorists is that they suppose the cosmos was not created but happened by accident—by chance, natural processes. Such naturalistic processes could not have put us at a unique center, so atheistic cosmologists have sought other explanations, without notable success so far.")

So, the battle is still on and being fought, as most long wars are, with new weapons developed in the course of the conflict.

BTW: I intentionally use the construction "evolution deniers," as in "Holocaust deniers," since I consider both movements to be on an intellectual and ethical par and with a common goal of obscuring the truth.

The rather more fun question is: "What are the qualifications for being God?"

The classical attributes of God are
• omniscience,
• omnipotence, and
• omnipresence.
That is, the true God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-pervasive (i.e., everywhere at once).

I can break this down further, in that being all-knowing is sufficient and in fact includes the other two. After all, if you are all-knowing, then you know how to accomplish anything you desire and how to gain access to the means to do it, so, if you are all-knowing, you are effectively all-powerful. (I admit this is subject to debate and hope the panelists will have some fun kicking this around.)

If you are all-knowing, then you know everything that happens everywhere, all the time ("not a sparrow falls," etc.) then you are effectively everywhere at one by means of "virtual presence." However, the most interesting corollary of omniscience is that it also supports another classical attribute of God: uniqueness. That is, there can be one and only one True God. If you are truly omniscient, you know everything that can be known, including the entire contents of every other mind in the Universe. If there were more than one omniscient being in the Universe, each one would completely and totally comprehend and contain the other's mind, meaning that both minds would have to contain an absolutely congruent set of data. Since we understand personality to be an artifact of the mind's contents, the two beings would effectively be one being, sharing one mind. With perfect knowledge, all action would be guided by the same data and parameters, resulting in the same action. So any incidence of more than one omniscient mind effectively still means only one omniscient mind.

This does result in some interesting speculations, including an argument for the Trinity, in that it could explain how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit could all simultaneously be God, but in separate manifestations.

Alternatively, the concept holds out hope for those spiritual paths who hold that the eventual goal of the soul is to reunite with God, since an eventual sufficient degree of enlightenment will bring about that result inevitably.
Since our home is mostly mercifully free of TV (except for Masterpiece Theater) I manage to avoid the flood of Christmas ktich that fills the airwaves at this time of year, and don't miss it a bit. OK, I always enjoy the orginal Boris Karloff narrated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," with its wonderful score. I can stand "A Charlie Brown Christmas" about once every five years, if I happen to be where it's on. And I liked the orginal "Miracle on 34th St.", with Edmund Gwenn as "Kris Kringle," but I've seen it a couple times and don't need it again. All the rest range from shruggable sacharrine to utter dreck, but the one I really, really loathe is Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life."

I'm sure every human being in America knows the plot: George Bailey, after a life of virtuous self-denial, suffers one last setback, and stands on a bridge contemplating suicide and wishing he'd never been born. Clarence, the trainee angel, appears to him to dissuade him by showing all the sorrow that would have occured if he hadn't been there.

It's not just that the happy ending is a cheat: even if George is able to replace the missing money from the donations of his grateful community, he's still due for a raking over the coals from whatever auditors or regulators existed at the time, at a minimum. And the fact that you put the money back is not a defense to a charge of embezzlement, although it may be a mitigation.

No, it's that if you have known someone who committed suicide, have attempted suicide, or have contemplated suicide, you know that angels don't appear to ordinary schmoes to lead them back from the brink. I'm sure that many people may have prayed, or sought religious guidance, or just been dissuaded by "feeling the love of Jesus" or some such, but that's not the same. Perhaps it's just that George Bailey is so damned saintly that he's worth a miraculous intercession, but that raises the same problem as happens with other "miraculous" rescues. Someone is saved from some disaster, and gives thanks that God saved them, totally ignoring that dozens equally innocent were not spared.

So George Bailey's a saint and was saved by a miracle, and the rest of you--aren't and won't be. Swell.

Oh, I get it that the message is supposed to be that we should look back on our own lives and take comfort in the good we've done. Well, what if you haven't got much? What I really, really want is for someone to do a no-holds-barred claws-out satire on this theme. The angel does a review for the "George" figure and finds that if his wife, who's loyally stuck with him through his rocky life, hadn't agreed to go out with him, she'd have had a really spectacular life with the guy she would have met five minutes later; his kids have all inherited genes for an incurable disease; people who relied on his bad advice had their lives really screwed up while he went obliviously on his way. (As a former lawyer, I understand the potential of this--.) And the angel ends up saying, "Oh, well, might as well jump, then."

Maybe in these days of "YouTube," someone will do it. Until then, I think I'll go home and rerun "Nightmare Before Christmas"--.
The Wisconsin State Legislature is one of the highest political levels that tolerate substantial eccentricity, particular from our northern districts. For many years in my lifetime one of the Senators from the Appleton area (since deceased) was an avowed fan of Joseph McCarthy and tended to follow his principles in governance and tolerance. One of our current crop is locally famous for the underground shooting range and bunker complex he has built on his rural land. Now, Representative. Marlin Schneider from Wisconsin Rapids has decided to perpetrate an egregious waste of the taxpayer's money by introducing a bill to officially rename the State Capitol's "holiday tree" the Wisconsin State Christmas Tree.

A bit of history: For many, many years, at Christmans time the State Capitol Rotonda has been decorated with an enormous Christmas tree culled form the state's north woods, and used to host a fairly spectacular Christmas pageant/concert. (My father did lighting for the show when he was an electirician at the Capitol.)

In 1985, the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an objection with the state on the basis that the Christmas tree, etc., violated the establishment clause. The case never went to court since the State Department of Administration, which is responsible for buildings and grounds, brokered an agreement wherein the tree was referred to as a "Holiday Tree" and the Foundation was allowed to add a countering small display with phrases such as "Superstition Enslaves Minds." Over the years another group provided a menorah, and I believe that some other religious groups provided seasonally themed displays as well.

OK, I'm not wild about "Holiday Tree"--in fact, in my Scroogish way, I tend to think the whole thing is a waste of taxpayers money and could be scrapped--but it was a reasonable compromise and people rubbed along with it.

Until now. Why this bee has to be in Schneider's bonnet now I can't say, since he's been in the Legislature since 1970 and the issue hasn't come up before. His argument is a "common sense" one: he says, it is a Christmas tree, so it should be called a Christmas tree. I suppose he has a point, but why waste the taxpayer's time and money making use of the term official/mandatory? Besides the expense associated with passing a bill (if it does pass) the FFRF is going to HAVE to respond with a lawsuit, which, win or lose, will be a costly undertaking to very little point, and the case law at present is largely on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's side.

I should add that Schneider is a Democrat, although he comes from a very conservative district, and shouldn't be introducing this just as wedge issue, which makes me beleive this is his own personal crochet. The Assembly held a hearing on this bill in the last couple days and I dearly hope it won't go any further.
1. We heard on the radio that there is a new spoken word recording version of The Bible coming out. Apparently the producers thought that the extant ones were dull and poorly read, so decided to create one with real actors reading the parts. Samuel L. Jackson ("Star Wars", "Snakes on a Plane") will be the voice of God.

So I immediately channeled Exodus, with the Voice of God declaring: "Enough is enough! I have had it with these m*th*rf*cking snakes in this m*th*rf*cking garden!"

You just KNOW it's got to be in the out-takes somewhere--.

2. We regularly pass a very conservative Lutheran Church. Their sign out front currently reads:

"Christmas Worship
Dec. 24 7:30PM
Dec. 25 9:00AM."

I should think they would consider "Christmas Worship" (as opposed to worship of Christ) more of a problem than a practice--.
Probably not going to bother, except maybe when it gets to the budget cinemas. I was initially interested by the cast: I like Ian McKellen, Audrey Tatou, and what I saw of Paul Bettany in "Master and Commander," don't care about Tom Hanks. However, initial reviews are pretty disappointing.

I read the book, and franky wasn't that wild about it. Frankly, there was nothing new in it, even for fiction. I often wonder if Katherine Kurtz, who dealt with similar material in one of her "Adept" books back in the '90s gnashes her teeth that her book was exiled to the genre shelves--.

Also, Brown isn't that good a writer in my opinion. In particular, there is a major "cheat" in "DaVinci Code" in which he does not play fairly with the reader in order to maintain the mystery. In general, "DaVinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" share a problem in common with John Grisham's "The Firm," to-wit, a character with supposedly no background in law enforcement, espionage, or special operations suddenly becomes James Bond.

As for the Biblical controversies--come on, people, it's a novel. The Catholic Church may not be used to being the bad guys, but what's allegged that they did is surely no worse than the manifold evil conspiracies attributed to governments in thrillers in the last decades.

Do I think the Church hasn't come clean with us about Jesus' real life? No exactly. I think they've magnified "absence of evidence" about a lot of things into "evidence of absence." There were good dynastic and political reasons for the early Church to insist on celibacy for clergy, but they have used the fact that Jesus' wife is never mentioned as such in Scripture to mean that he never had one, which seems rather unlikely. An unmarried 33 year old man of a good family with a good trade would have been really unusual for that place and time. Some of my Jewish acquintances agree that Jesus could have had very little credibility as a rabbi and teacher if her were not married. I don't necessarily think that the Gospel writers maliciously wrote her out. Think about some of the revolutionary movements we've seen in modern times. I can easily picture Jesus' disciples--younger, unattached men caught up in the unutterable coolness of their leader's charasimatic presence--to whom Jesus' wife was just irrelevant, if not an actual drag on the fun.

Do I think Jesus survived the Crucifixion and ran away to France? Not at all. I think that adding Jesus into the lineage of the Kings of France in order to butress divine right to rule was one of the greatest acts of public relations (not to mention chutzpah) in history. On the other hand, we do seem to have references to James, the putative brother of Jesus, who might well have decided the Holy Land was a bit too hot--. (And then there's the question of where'd HE come from, if, as the Catholic Church in particular maintians, Mary remained virginal all her life?) The fact is, a lot of it is mystery and always will be, and thus fair game for the author.
Have you heard about the antics of these creatures belonging to the so-called Westboro Baptist Church, out of Kansas? These individuals are a part of some kind of cult-like group (most of them are part of their leader's "extended family")and they are about the most sick and twisted excuse for Christians I have ever heard tell of. Their gig is to show up at funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and stage a demonstration essentially alleging that soldiers are dying overseas as God's punishment on America for harboring homosexuals, and that the soldiers were justly killed by God for obeying the government.

Of course they have a website--www.godhatesamerica.com. I am tired of the phrase "wrong in so many ways," but this defines it. Even if they truly believe this abominable doctrine, how dare they defile others' grieving in this manner? Is this what Jesus would do? I think not.

They staged one of their grotesque spectacles in Ripon, Wisconsin, last Friday,and have the gall to speak of suing the County Sheriff becasue he kept them away from the burial site, citing (correctly, I think)concern for their own safety. Today, in Evansville, Indiana, hundreds of veterans and members of local congregations showed up to hold a counter-demonstration. I think it says much that local authorites are dealing with this group's appearances in the same way--and much the same terms--that they would a Ku Klux Klan march.

Viscerally, I would like to take a baseball bat to these people. Spiritually, I pray that the Almighty might enlighten them, and open their minds and hearts so that they can see what kind of people they have been. This might be the worst thing that could be done to them.
And now for something completely different:

Our friend, Orange Mike, after taking a course on Classical Mythology, was heard to opine: “The Gods must be tooney.” When asked to expound, he said that the exploits of the gods of old reminded him of modern cartoon characters, but that he lacked the subject knowledge to draw concordances. Never being one to waste an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a Liberal Arts education, I herewith give you my analysis of the Gods of Ancient Greece and how they manifest themselves in the classic Warner Brothers cartoon canon:

“The Gods Must Be Looney”

Of course Marvin the Martian is Ares (Mars), god of war, easily shown by his costume, bellicose habits, and typical lack of success in battle. But what others are there?

Bugs Bunny is Hermes: messenger of the gods, trickster, shape shifter, thief. Swift of foot, Bugs is always there to deliver a message, even if it is only “What’s up Doc?” Bugs is a classical trickster character, as is his Hermes. He uses manifold powers of confusion and obfuscation to baffle his foes. (The Egyptian Hermes was patron of magicians as well.) Hermes frequently went about in disguise on his godly missions or in company with Zeus, and Bugs is a master of disguise as well. Hermes was patron god of thieves as well, since his first recorded exploit was the theft of Apollo’s cattle, although in this case it would more likely be Apollo’s carrots.

Because, Elmer Fudd is none other than Apollo. His shining round visage is a solar symbol. His head glows when he is embarrassed or gives off heat when he is enraged. Apollo’s great bow is replaced with Elmer’s shotgun. Like Apollo, Elmer is an incessant pursuer, yet often thwarted in his pursuit, especially when the object of his pursuit is a lovely maiden (and especially when the maiden is Bugs in disguise). Elmer also has elements of Actaeon, the huntsman changed to a stag and killed by his own hounds after being caught spying on Diana bathing. In Elmer’s case it is frequently his own shotgun that turns on him--.

Zeus is represented by Yosemite Sam: Thunder and lightning leap from his blazing six-guns. He is named for an Olympian mountain. Like Zeus, he is susceptible to wine, women, and song, and bears long grudges.

His brother, Pirate Sam, represents Zeus’ brother Poseidon, earth shaker (with his cannon), ruler of the seas, and also famously bad tempered.

Daffy Duck is Hades, dark lord of the underworld. This has been demonstrated by the number of times Daffy has been portrayed as going to Hell or doing the “Dare Devil” vaudeville act, in which, costumed as the devil, he ingests explosives and detonates himself. Hades is the ruler of the treasures of the earth (hence “plutocrat” from his Roman name, Pluto) and Daffy is the Warner Universe’s chief exponent of greed and lust for treasure (c.f.: the “treasure of Ali Baba” episode and others).

Wile E. Coyote combines aspect of both Hephaestus and Tantalus. Like Hephaestus, he is the maker and inventor. Like Tantalus, he is constantly tortured by hunger, the satisfaction of which remains always just out of his reach.

There are others, although the connections are more tenuous. Modest and unassuming, Porky Pig could be cast as Epimetheus (“Afterthought”), Prometheus’ brother, to whom Pandora was given as a bride. Perhaps Tweety Pie is Nike, a.k.a. Winged Victory, since she always wins out even against larger and more powerful foes.

The goddesses are comparatively underrepresented, although we do have Granny (Tweety’s keeper) as a mother goddess and keeper of the hearth (Hera or Vesta), Babs Bunny as the closest pulchritudinous analog to Aphrodite, and Witch Hazel, a true follower of Hecate, if not actually the dark goddess incarnate.

But what of others? Is the Road Runner with his continual scorching headlong career Phoebus? The spiteful and envious green eyed Sylvester actually the catty goddess Eris in male drag? And what of Foghorn Leghorn, who is chiefly Miles Gloriosus, a commedia del arte archetype of a more modern era? Does he fit in at all?

If there is a lesson to be learned from this light-hearted excursion, it is that some things indeed are verities. There is much modern in that which is ancient, and much ancient in that which is modern. The Gods of old could be foolish, and in today’s foolishness there is much that is godly.
We have just heard of the passing of Pope John Paul II on the radio. I remember when he ascended to the Papacy after the very short reign of John Paul I. i had been very underwhelmed by JPI, and didn't think his sucessor traking the same name was a very good sign. I thought it smacked of a lack of orginality and a tendency to look backward. I was wrong in this. over the years, I have come to respect John Paul II greatly, for activism against totalitarianism, his unstained reputation, his powerful intellect, and his fierce devotion to principles. I have also been severely disappointed that many of his principles were regressive, notably on birth control, female clergy, and celibacy, but I understand that these things were important to his view of the church. Like Churchill, he did not become the leader of a great institution in order to preside over the dissolution of it, and he has had more success holding the Church together and keeping it a vital power than Churchill did with the British Empire. Of course, only time will tell what his legacy will be, witht he Church still beset by many problems and many more changes in the offing, but I do consider John Paul II to have been one of the great men of the last half of the 20th Century.
The topic for the May Ashram was on religious education for young people: when should what ideas be taught, if at all.

Those attending the Ashram on the third thought that this outline was good enough that they wanted a copy and urged me to share it with those who did not make it as well, so here it is:

Ignatius Loyola said: “Give me a child until he is five
years old. Afterwards, you may do with him as you will, he will not turn from my teaching.”

I don't agree with Loyola that you can make a child that young flawless on docrine, but I do belive that habits of thought can be inculcated early. I also belive that certain subjects, such as damnation, if that is part of the religion's doctrine, are inappropriate for children.

Program for teaching Greg’s theoretical religion:

Appropriate topics for children from ages up to 6:
Values and attitudes, social responsibility. Examples:
“Our faith teaches us that—
Good people tell the truth and do not lie.
Good people work for what they want, and do not steal.
Good people work out their differences with others,
and do not fight them.
Good people are kind to others.

These ideas are shared by people not of our faith.

Bad things happen because they are caused
intentionally by people who want to do harm, by good
people who may be mistaken or careless, and by forces
outside human control, such as the weather.

All children are born with the equal gift of God’s
love, regardless of their race, wealth, ethnicity, or
the religion of their parents. What they do with this
gift is between them and God.”

Ages 7-13, topics include history of the faith and
articles of faith such as creation of the world, and
our sources of inspiration.

Thirteen and up may be permitted to discuss concepts
of sin, the question of evil, and damnation or
salvation. It must be impressed that, if damnation is
a tenet of the religion that only God may make this
judgment, and it is not for mortals to anticipate or
act upon any presumption of judgment. All people are
God’s creatures and His plan for those not of our
faith is not for us to know.

Confirmation in the faith comes only when the young
person is able to pass an oral exam similar to, but
perhaps not as rigid as, defending a thesis. The
person should know not only WHAT they believe, but be
able to explain WHY. (I admit I see problems here—not
passing your catcheism could be a major stigma--.)

I would welcome any other comments.

I've since had some from other friends: Judy Kader wrote that to the teachings for young children she would add:
*Everyone has good in them.
Respect the good in everyone.

*Also: stories from the faith. I think the stories about how the holidays came to be are great for kids, because they become hands on with the celebrations. For example: we (Jews) celebrate Sukkot because of how Jacob lived in the desert. We can look up from our sukkah and see the same stars that he saw. I belive this grounds a child in the continuation of the faith and the feeling that she/he is part of something bigger than him/herself.


"These ideas are shared by people not of our faith."

*Not only is this very important, but it is part of the Jewish faith to aknowledge that everyone is part of G-D, not just Jews, and everyone has a place in heaven. Every living person has the responsibility to keep the "seven Noahide laws" as they are called. (honor your mother and father, don't steal, don't envy, don't kill, ect.) One of the reasons that I can aknowledge the failings and hipocrysies of my faith is that occasionally it seems to get things right like this.

"Bad things happen because they are caused
intentionally by people who want to do harm, by good
people who may be mistaken or careless, and by forces
outside human control, such as the weather."

*I disagree with you on this one. At a very young age I don't belive that teaching about intentionally bad people is important. As they grow up they will realize this one on thier own. As they watch and read the news they will question other people's actions. But until they get old enough to question it on thier own, I would not go out of my way to teach them about bad people. This may be a knee jerk reaction to getting so much footage about Hitler and the death camps at a VERY young age. When children are under 5 I belive it is the duty of the adults around them to keep them away from hurtful people/situations/and knowledge. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't teach them to get out of situations they don't feel comfortable in, or to tell and adult about them. But all they have to know is thier own feelings about it. They were uncomfortable with that person or that situation, not about how "bad" that person is.

"All children are born with the equal gift of God’s
love, regardless of their race, wealth, ethnicity, or
the religion of their parents. What they do with this
gift is between them and God.”

*This one is a no brainer to me. I can't even imagine any other way. How could G-D be G-D if she didn't love everyone?

"Ages 7-13, topics include history of the faith and
articles of faith such as creation of the world, and
our sources of inspiration."

* Yeah. I agree, but I guess I am selective about this one, too. So many of our "sources for inspiration" in the Jewish faith tend to be martyrs. The story of Hannah and her seven sons is NOT something I think should be handed to a kid too young. Again, knee jerk. I got that one at around 7-8 and had nightmares about my mother having all her skin scraped off with a giant metal comb until she died. However, sources inspriation being the natural world that G-D gave us responsibility for I belive can start at an even earlier age, with simple walks in nature and observational questions that come up. The amazing inspiration of diversity on the planet.

"Thirteen and up may be permitted to discuss concepts
of sin, the question of evil, and damnation or
salvation. It must be impressed that, if damnation is
a tenet of the religion that only God may make this
judgment, and it is not for mortals to anticipate or
act upon any presumption of judgment. All people are
God’s creatures and His plan for those not of our
faith is not for us to know."

*Very much so. Also, for me, this is a good age to start impressing that Jews don't belive in confession of sin and absolution. You are forever guilty of every sin you have committed and the only way to rectify it is to do more mitzvot than sins. If you feel that you have done something very bad, you have to make amends for it and then, on top of that, do something good, to bring the scales back to the good end.

"Confirmation in the faith comes only when the young
person is able to pass an oral exam similar to, but
perhaps not as rigid as, defending a thesis. The
person should know not only WHAT they believe, but be
able to explain WHY. (I admit I see problems here—not
passing your catcheism could be a major stigma--.)"

* We talked about this one there. The more I think about it, the more I think its an ongoing thing. That at each age they could make a commitment to whatever they felt they wanted to. At 5 a child can make a commitment to being a sharing person. She/he could commit to helping people more, to loving G-D more, to trying harder to learn, ect. At 10 they can make different commitments. Maybe I see this one as not about a one time confirmation, but an ongoing commitment to what they belive in. Felixiblity and the ability to grow in our understanding and faith seem to be left out of the one time confirmation thing.
There've been two things in the news lately that really upset me--one nationally, and one locally.

Nationally, it's the revelation that, under pressure from the Administration, the EPA changed air-quality warnings about the ground Zero site to make them reassurances that there was nothing to worry about--which was a flat lie! Even if there are no overtly toxic substances in concrete dust, you don't want to breathe it! Microscopically, a particle of shattered concrete is a little bundle of sharp edges. Many of the rescue and repair workers that helped clear the site now are suffering the permanent debilitating effects of lung damage, and all because their country lied to them! For no discernible reason! For the life of me, I can't think why the government shold have done this terrible thing. There is some misguided idea here about calming fears and putting a good faith on things, but in the end it boils down to a despicable betrayal of people who worked their hearts out, often as volunteers, to clear the attack site. This stinks! If the government would lie to us about this, it would lie about anything. There is no doubt in my mind that we were lied to about the presence of 'weapons of mass destruction' as a pretext for the war on Iraq, too, and I shudder to think what OTHER falsehoods we have been given that we haven't yet discovered.

It seems about once a year we see news of some child dying as a result of religious abuse. Either the child is denied simple medical care due to religious beliefs, or, as just happened locally, dies as a result of being "exorcised." Terrance Cottrell, Jr., age 8, was an autistic child. He died this weekend as a result of being held down for two hours, while members of the "Church of the Apostolic Faith" tried to pray "evil spirits" out of him. These evil spirits were blamed for the boy's autism and frequent violent behavior. According to the coroner's report in the paper today, one of the Church "Elders" sat on the boy's chest to restrain him, resulting in suffocation. The death has been ruled a homicide, although charges have not yet been issued. Of course, the leader of Church claims that nothing wrong was done and that the child's death was an act of God.

One expects outrages like this to occur in third-world countries, not Milwaukee. Where were these people's common sense? No matter what your faith in God, wouldn't any idiot realize you're hurting the kid? Yet this entire congregation tolerated this behavior, apparently not just once, but through nightly prayer services for almost three weeks!

This is a difficult area of law. Wisconsin statutes protect religious freedom, and specifically provide that choosing "treatment through prayer" (as in Christian Science) is not child abuse, although in this case the physical abuse may be a crime. Frankly, I disagree with even the statute--I don't believe children should be endangered by their guardians' religious excesses, no matter how doctrinally grounded. The mental state that brought about this poor child's needless death just baffles me. If God's going to grant you a miracle cure, God can grant it with one prayer,and whereever the child is. Trying to coerce God by marathon prayer sessions is blasphemous according to most sects, and certainly the physical constraint of the prayer subject pretty much went out with the Inquisition. How does this mumbo-jumbo keep coming back?

The district attorney's office indicates that only Ray Hemphill, the 'elder' who sat on the boy and was in charge of the prayer process, might be charged. If it were up to me, I'd have the whole lot of them in jail as parties to the crime.

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