Archive for the ‘new york times’ tag
In what were Pope Francis’ first comments on the sexual abuse scandal since taking office, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has called for “decisive action“ to be taken in delivering justice to any offending priests who might have engaged in sexual abuse with children.
Of course, to the victims this must surely reek of failed past promises, since Joseph Ratzinger more or less said he would do the same thing upon becoming the Holy See, declaring that he would expunge “filth” from the church. He did no such thing, of course, and rather than lavishing praise on Ratzinger for whatever legacy he might have left after all the tarnish is brushed away in 100 years, Benedict’s resignation to me felt more like a man slinking off into the night to escape his own trial, which has been called for by both Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
Recall that in 2010, The New York Times reported that before taking office as the pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger was part of a cabal of top church officials who were complicit in failing to defrock a priest who molested 200 deaf boys. Deaf boys!
According to The Times article:
The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.
The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.
While I suppose it’s a positive that Bergoglio is at least acknowledging a problem within the church, I’m afraid this is probably too little and coming way too late, especially for the victims. And in any case, until charges are filed and trials begin, any statements coming out of the Vatican on the scandal will be nothing short of shallow and insulting.
Representatives with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — yes, there are so many victims that they have formed a coalition — were not impressed with Bergoglio’s rather weak-kneed nod to justice. Here is SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris as quoted in a report from BBC:
We can’t confuse words with actions. When we do, we hurt kids. We must insist on new tangible action that helps vulnerable children protect their bodies, not old vague pledges that help a widely-discredited institution protect its reputation.
I’m not confident that this “tangible action” will come to pass and will be much surprised if it does. Meanwhile, where are the calls to root out Ratzinger and his co-conspirators? How disgraceful, indeed, for priests who may have covered up some of the most egregious and “filthy” sins man is capable of committing to be walking around in civil society and enjoying the fruits of liberty without facing up to a shred of accountability. Quite a legacy.
For people who talk so much about morality, the divine and transcendence, believers sure do find a way to make the church and religion look more and more like the man-made, carnal institutions that they are.
Although New York Times op-ed contributor Alan Cowell doesn’t break any new ground with his headline, “A Church Diverted by Issues of Sexuality and Gender,” his article does, once again, highlight just a few of the ways the church as an institution is positively obsessed with sex, sexuality and what happens in bedrooms once the doors are closed. He notes that last month,
the Church of England voted — narrowly and against the judgment of its priests and bishops — to reject the notion of women’s joining the episcopate, even though the titular supreme governor of the church is a woman: Queen Elizabeth II.
In January, the bishops themselves followed up with a potentially epochal ruling admitting openly gay priests in civil partnerships to their ranks, provided that, unlike heterosexual bishops, they remain celibate.
So, in the latter case, in other words, it is perfectly OK to be a gay bishop; you just have to give up sex as a consequence. Of course one has to wonder, as a person in the article pointed out, how does the church intend to police this stipulation? Video cameras in every bishop bedroom? Every bathroom stall? Every confessional?
Cowell also noted that he recently visited a small church in the northern part of London, and sex was not mentioned at all, leading to this conclusion:
That contrast between the congregants’ modesty and the issues of gender and sexuality absorbing church leaders seems to underline a sense that the Anglican elite and the rank-and-file churchgoers have, like the scriptural Magi after visiting with the infant Jesus, left by different routes.
It could be argued that the congregants themselves are in a kind of denial, reciting their prayers by rote in search of redemption and turning away from themes inspired by Britain’s changing society.
He ends by highlighting some stats that he deemed “ominous” about the state of religion in Wales and England from 2011.
While Christianity remained the dominant faith, the percentage of the 56 million population calling itself Christian fell to 59.3 percent from 71.7 percent over a decade, while other religions, particularly Islam, burgeoned. And the proportion of people professing no religious faith at all increased to 25.1 percent from 14.8 percent.
Millions of people, in other words, dropped out of Christianity and embraced atheism or agnosticism — surely a more ominous trend than the gender or sexuality of any of them.
Actually what appears “ominous” to me is the church’s approach to sex in the first place. The reason, I would wager, that more and more people are leaving faith is that, for one reason, Christianity’s leaders, especially at the Vatican, appear as if they are just making up religious doctrine and law as they go along, the new and ridiculous rules I just mentioned not the least among them. I mean, seriously, the church just can’t make up its mind whether God really loves everyone — like you know, literally, and not in some kind of weird symbolic way — and hence the church should except gay people for who they are, or whether we should “hate the sin but not the sinner” or whether God really does want all gays stoned to death as per the Bible.
Take the case of the Pope‘s esteemed decision to change policy on unbaptized children. For hundreds of years, these unfortunate little ones were exiled to purgatory or limbo or … whatever. Well — hey presto! — forward to the year 2007, and Joseph Ratzinger decides out of the blue that these infants may actually be able to go to heaven after all. I say “out of the blue” because Vatican officials backed this decision based on “extensive theological research” apparently unavailable to every other God-inspired Pope through the Vatican’s long history. This is the kind of gobbledygook that begins to weigh on people after awhile. I mean, people can be compelled to believe all kinds of fairy tales if their eternal soul is on the line, but the constant bickering and infighting among folks of the same religion and endless rerouting of policies and agendas does not bode well for a religion that takes its answers from an all-knowing, awe-inspiring god. If only God would give the faithful a new revelation to clear up some of these policy matters and make it abundantly clear where the almighty stands on gay marriage, purgatory, abortion, stem cell research, condoms in Africa, burning witches, enslaving humans and religious crusading.
Only if …
Also see my previous post.
Continuing on, I concur with Myers on at least one point: his admiration for the writings of Susan Jacoby. Her book, “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism,” is a brilliant contribution to skeptic thought in this nation. In his post, he quotes the following two passages from a New York Times piece from Jacoby titled, “The Blessings of Atheism:
The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next. Atheists do not want to deny religious believers the comfort of their faith. We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.
Today’s atheists would do well to emulate some of the great 19th-century American freethinkers, who insisted that reason and emotion were not opposed but complementary.
to which Myers responded:
There’s the step the Dictionary Atheists don’t want to take — that once you’ve thrown off your shackles you’re now obligated to do something worthwhile with your life, because now all of our lives shine as something greater and more valuable and more important. That with freedom comes responsibility.
And other passage from Jacoby:
We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for — including violence in our streets and schools. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. And although atheism is not a religion, we need community-based outreach programs so that our activists will be as recognizable to their neighbors as the clergy.
To which Myers concluded:
But not as clergy, as privileged people set apart from others by a special paternalistic relationship. How about as a community of equals? What if every atheist, rather than some particular special subset of atheists, were to acknowledge their part in building a better society?
Maybe then this movement could change the world.
OK, that’s a lot to dig through, but first, I fully realize and acknowledge the deep history of freethought, not just in America, but in Europe and even the Middle East, and I recognize that many freethinkers, like Robert Ingersoll, have found it worthwhile to devote their lives to important social causes. But that is the key. They found it worthwhile on an individual basis. There is no corporate mandate to do anything, and this seems to be what Myers is supporting: A mandate or a strong exhortation to turn atheism into a social justice movement would could equal a slavish loss of freedom for some people. People have the freedom to be self-absorbed assholes just as much as they have the freedom to move to Africa and do the hard work of feeding children and giving shelter to the homeless. In every case, I prefer the latter and sincerely hope that more people would work toward equality and making the world a better place, but that’s not my choice to make for other people. The best we can do is discuss our thoughts on creating a better society and how we get there and hope the enthusiasm spreads.
Myers, of course, attempts to adopt Jacoby to his cause, but in doing so conveniently leaves out a key distinction that she makes and understands:
Today’s secularists must do more than mount defensive campaigns proclaiming that we can be “good without God.” Atheists must stand up instead of calling themselves freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists or “spiritual, but not religious.” The last phrase, translated from the psychobabble, can mean just about anything — that the speaker is an atheist who fears social disapproval or a fence-sitter who wants the theoretical benefits of faith, including hope of eternal life, without the obligations of actually practicing a religion. Atheists may also be secular humanists and freethinkers — I answer to all three — but avoidance of identification with atheism confines us to a closet that encourages us to fade or be pushed into the background when tragedy strikes.
Did you catch it? She said atheists “may also be” secular humanists and freethinkers. There is a good reason why Myers, in his endless nods to Atheism Plus, didn’t mention this paragraph. Because it clearly shows that Jacoby realizes that atheism alone does not come freshly and neatly packaged with social justice and by itself it is not a movement at all. However much Myers might want to cater to to his Atheism Plus friends, he is simply wrong on this one, good intentions aside.
I also want to add a few more thoughts to another of Myers’ passages about newly minted atheists that I touched on briefly yesterday:
You lack belief in the existence of gods? That’s nice, you’ve taken your first tiny baby step. Now what does that mean for human affairs? What will you do next? When will you stride forward and do something that matters with your new freedom?
This was stunning to me because it sounds exactly — I mean exactly like — things I was told as a believer. I remember hearing sermons about how people who were infants in their faith needed time to progress to maturity in Christ (a la 1 Corinthians 3:2) and that when someone came to believe in Christ, they gained “true” freedom. Of course, once someone becomes firm in their faith, they can then go out into the world, “stride forward” and perform the Great Commission, which in the analogy I’m making would be akin to Myer’s final sentence in the above paragraph. The point I’m making is that both propositions — what I heard in church and what Myers is saying here — are both doctrinal in nature, one just happens to be about the belief in Christ, while the other is, although built on a core nonbelief in God, is still purporting as a matter of policy that atheists “do something that matters.” I see little difference in these two: the content may be different but the preachy exhortations remain. Dogma is dogma whether it comes from the pulpit, a dusty old book or an overlord of the blogosphere.
How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?
The capitalization on the personal pronoun “he” is telling enough, but these questions must have sprung into the minds of Christians across the nation after the shooting in Connecticut. At least, I hope they did.
Here is O’Neil:
One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.
So, let me get this straight. God is experienced in family and community. Yet God isn’t actually experienced as God himself in reality? God is somehow made real through family and friends? I don’t get that. Family and friends, according to Christian dogma, are subject to original sin, and even Christians can sin — a well-documented point — so I doubt that, theologically, family and friends can take the place of Yahweh himself. But O’Neil admits it. He admits that family and friends were the “presence of God” to him and believers, so my question is: Is he also admitting, implicitly, that God isn’t actually real and that he’s really only a type of positive energy associated with fellowship?
O’Neil then concedes this point:
We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.
So, people’s relations with one another determines whether God actually bestows his “comfort” on people who are dying? What strange theology is this?
The ending is the best part:
I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.
So this “presence” performs all these indispensable tasks, yet when the water hits the wheel, we still need family and friend to carry us through the hard times. Funny how that works.
Mitt Romney seems to be resolute in his delusion about the election and why he really lost.
This week during a conference call with some big-money supporters, he threw plenty of blame around, most of it involving charges that Barack Obama offered various “gifts” for certain segments of voters, like women, blacks and Hispanics.
According to this New York Times article:
“In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said, contrasting Mr. Obama’s strategy to his own of “talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.”
This statement is contemptible for numerous reasons.
First, rather than Obama’s policies being viewed through a lens of necessity and obligation to move civil rights ever forward in order to actually help people — rather than, you know, merely giving lip service to the idea that you care about average Americans — Romney casts Obama as some kind of political profiteer, and indeed the whole election as just one big sales pitch. This approach not only dehumanizes politics; it dehumanizes and trivializes the candidates as well as the voters.
Romney’s statement above also happens to be a wild misrepresentation of what really happened. Obama didn’t just focus on civil rights and immigration during the debates and speeches leading up to the election, and Romney didn’t have anything new to offer on jobs, foreign policy or military strategy. Regarding employment, he said that he would create 12 million jobs in four years, true. But Moody’s Analytics has estimated that 12 million jobs will be created through 2016 regardless of who is president. Job creation estimates are based on policies that have already been implemented. This was Romney’s only substantive claim about job growth.
Further, during the final debate, other than the obligatory Republican call to expand the military, we couldn’t really tell how Romney was any different than Obama on foreign policy and the military. According to this Reuters article:
Monday night’s foreign policy debate between the Republican presidential nominee and the Democratic president was striking for the frequency with which Romney aligned himself with Obama’s strategies rather than distancing himself from them.
So, what was this “strategy” Romney was talking about that was focused on the big issues? On most of the big issues other than health care, he more closely aligned or even agreed with Obama’s policies.
I don’t make a practice of watching a lot of MSNBC because I think that would make me no better than FOX News viewers who tune in every day to have their own views confirmed, but Al Sharpton (He should not be a TV host for many reasons) did have an interesting segment tonight in which he featured a previously unreleased audio recording of Lee Atwater outlining what he thought should be the more modern GOP strategy for taking advantage of white bigotry in the early 1980s. Here is one of the more offensive parts:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Romney, Bill O’Reilly, Paul Ryan and others within the GOP have essentially used this strategy to cater to the uneducated, white vote in the South and other rural parts of the nation. While they can’t say anything approaching the offensiveness of “nigger” anymore, they can play on the same white fears that they have for the better part of a century. It’s a hideous but effective strategy.
For one of the more acerbic looks vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan, look no further than Maureen Dowd:
Here’s a snippet:
… The Young Gun and former prom king is a fan of deer hunting, catfish noodling, heavy metal and Beethoven. He’s a great dad who says the cheese, bratwurst and beer of Wisconsin flow in his veins. He’s so easy to like — except that his politics are just a teensy bit heartless.
Rush Limbaugh hails Ryan as “the last Boy Scout,” noting that the tall, slender 42-year-old is a true believer: “We now have somebody on the ticket who’s us.”
For the rest of us, at least, Ryan is not going to raise our hopes only to dash them. Unlike W., he’s not even going to make a feint at “compassionate conservatism.” Why bother with some silly scruple or toehold of conscience?
Unlike some of the right-wing ayatollahs, Ryan doesn’t threaten with moral and cultural gusts of sulfur. He seems more like a friendly guidance counselor who wants to teach us how to live, get us in shape, PowerPoint away the social safety net to make the less advantaged more self-reliant, as he makes the rich richer. Burning the village it takes to save it, so we can avoid the fiscal cliff, or as he and his fellow conservative Cassandras ominously call it, “the debt bomb.”
Like Mitt Romney, Ryan truly believes he made it on his own, so everyone else can, too. He shrugs off the advantage of starting as the white guy from an affluent family, able to breeze into a summer internship for a Wisconsin Republican senator as a college student.
Read more: When Cruelty Is Cute.
It is also brings to light, yet again, the inconsistent Republican stance on the use of federal funds, that is, it’s almost always OK to pony up money and increase the deficit for military reasons or to go to war, but when it comes to services at home, like public transportation, no dice.
Kruman’s concluding paragraph hits the mark:
America used to be a country that thought big about the future. Major public projects, from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system, used to be a well-understood component of our national greatness. Nowadays, however, the only big projects politicians are willing to undertake — with expense no object — seem to be wars. Funny how that works.
I know this surprises no one, but as it turns out, the “Romniverse” is more like a multiverse, featuring different dimensions and political ideologies, depending on the day. Here is an interesting column along those lines:
The imagery may have been unfortunate, but Mr. Fehrnstrom’s impulse to analogize is understandable. Metaphors like these, inexact as they are, are the only way the layman can begin to grasp the strange phantom world that underpins the very fabric of not only the Romney campaign but also of Mitt Romney in general. For we have entered the age of quantum politics; and Mitt Romney is the first quantum politician.
A bit of context. Before Mitt Romney, those seeking the presidency operated under the laws of so-called classical politics, laws still followed by traditional campaigners like Newt Gingrich. Under these Newtonian principles, a candidate’s position on an issue tends to stay at rest until an outside force — the Tea Party, say, or a six-figure credit line at Tiffany — compels him to alter his stance, at a speed commensurate with the size of the force (usually large) and in inverse proportion to the depth of his beliefs (invariably negligible). This alteration, framed as a positive by the candidate, then provokes an equal but opposite reaction among his rivals. …
What does all this bode for the general election? By this point it won’t surprise you to learn the answer is, “We don’t know.” Because according to the latest theories, the “Mitt Romney” who seems poised to be the Republican nominee is but one of countless Mitt Romneys, each occupying his own cosmos, each supporting a different platform, each being compared to a different beloved children’s toy but all of them equally real, all of them equally valid and all of them running for president at the same time, in their own alternative Romnealities, somewhere in the vast Romniverse.
And all of them losing to Barack Obama.
I hinted at this in my last post, and The New York Times’ Paul Krugman made note of it in his recent column, that the Occupy Wall Street crowd and the 99 percenters are actually shooting too low in their criticisms of the rich. The income of the top 0.1 percent of the working population rose 400 percent between 1979-2005, according to an earlier report from the Congressional Budget Office (adjusted for inflation), while the same statistic increased only 21 percent for those in the middle income bracket, and I suggested in the previous post that the top 0.01 percentage also make up a significant percentage of the income share. The recent report from the CBO didn’t look at income brackets higher than the top 1 percent.
Krugman elucidates the basic gravamen of the disgruntled poor and middle class against the super rich and why the latter contribute little, other than capital gains taxes, to the public coffers or to the economic well-being of the nation:
Given this history, why do Republicans advocate further tax cuts for the very rich even as they warn about deficits and demand drastic cuts in social insurance programs?
Well, aside from shouts of “class warfare!” whenever such questions are raised, the usual answer is that the super-elite are “job creators” — that is, that they make a special contribution to the economy. So what you need to know is that this is bad economics. In fact, it would be bad economics even if America had the idealized, perfect market economy of conservative fantasies.
After all, in an idealized market economy each worker would be paid exactly what he or she contributes to the economy by choosing to work, no more and no less. And this would be equally true for workers making $30,000 a year and executives making $30 million a year. There would be no reason to consider the contributions of the $30 million folks as deserving of special treatment.
But, you say, the rich pay taxes! Indeed, they do. And they could — and should, from the point of view of the 99.9 percent — be paying substantially more in taxes, not offered even more tax breaks, despite the alleged budget crisis, because of the wonderful things they supposedly do.
Still, don’t some of the very rich get that way by producing innovations that are worth far more to the world than the income they receive? Sure, but if you look at who really makes up the 0.1 percent, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, by and large, the members of the super-elite are overpaid, not underpaid, for what they do.
For who are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.
The failure of the deficit reduction panel this week proves that we have few, if any, true leaders in Washington. The obvious bulging expenditure in the national budget is the military, but apparently that is the sacred cow, so no matter how far the national debt sinks, and the economy, that is untouchable.
Rosanne Altshuler an economist with Rutgers University and a former member of George W. Bush’s tax reform panel, seems to have said it best:
There could be a bit of a silver lining. It forces us to come to terms with cuts in areas that have been difficult to touch — the military and Medicare. We may not like how the cuts are going to be done, but we better start dealing with the fact that cuts are going to have to be made.
That’s the kind of honest assessments that we need if the nation is going to balance the budget any time soon. Some departments that do not contribute to human well-being (Not education or health care, for example) should be cut.