Sunday, July 19, 2009

Scriptures Do Not Justify Mistreatment of Women

The Words of God Do Not Justify Cruelty to Women
By Jimmy Carter

Published on Sunday, July 12, 2009 by The Sunday Observer/UK

Discrimination and abuse wrongly backed by doctrine are damaging society, argues the former US president

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status ..." (Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths.

Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.

At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in Britain and the United States. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for everyone in society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and out-dated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive area to challenge.

But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

Although not having training in religion or theology, I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar Biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

At the same time, I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

I know, too, that Billy Graham, one of the most widely respected and revered Christians during my lifetime, did not understand why women were prevented from being priests and preachers. He said: "Women preach all over the world. It doesn't bother me from my study of the scriptures."

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.

Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Jimmy Carter was US president from 1977-81. The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Archbishop Marx answers Karl Marx

God must have a sense of humor. Who would believe a German Catholic Bishop named Marx would be answering Karl in 2009?? But so it goes. More cogent commentary on the Pope's new encyclical today in the New York Times. Read Ross Douthat's "The Audacity of the Pope" (NY Times, op-ed. July 12, 2009). Peace, Rick


Catholicism as Antidote to Turbo-Capitalism

Pool photo by L’Osservatore Romano-Vatican, via Getty Images

Published: July 11, 2009

MUNICH — The collapse of Communism in the East two decades ago did not provide much of an opening for the Catholic Church to influence economic policy, but perhaps the near-collapse of Western capitalism will. Two German authors — one named Marx, the other his patron in Rome — are certainly hoping so.

The first is Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, who has written a best seller in Germany that he cheekily titled “Das Kapital” (and in which he addresses that other Marx — Karl — as “dear namesake”). The second is Pope Benedict XVI, who last week published his first papal encyclical on economic and social matters. It has a more gentle title, “Charity in Truth,” but is based on the same essential line of thinking. Indeed, Archbishop Marx had a hand in advising the pope on it, and a reading of the archbishop’s book helps explain the intellectual context in which the encyclical was composed.

The message in both is that global capitalism has raced off the moral rails and that Roman Catholic teachings can help set Western economics right by encouraging them to focus more on justice for the weak and closely regulating the market.

Unlike the 19th-century Marx, who thought organized religion was a trick played on the impoverished in order to control them, Archbishop Marx and other Catholics yearn for reform, not class warfare. In that, they are following a long and fundamental line of church teaching. What is different now is that some of them see this economic crisis as a moment when the church’s economic thinking just may attract serious attention.

Archbishop Marx has already drawn a following in Germany by arguing that capitalism needs, in a grave way, the ethical underpinnings of Catholicism. The alternative, he argues, is that the post-crisis world will fall back into furious turbo-capitalism, or, alternatively, experience a renaissance of Marxist ideology based on atheism and class divisions.

“There is no way back into an old world,” Archbishop Marx said in a recent interview, before the encyclical was issued. “We have to affirm this world, but critically.”

Catholic voices have long had influence on the debate in the West about social justice, but never as much as the church would have wished. That reflected the enduring challenge of devising alternative policies, rather than simply criticizing secular authorities.

Pope John Paul II, a Pole with an intuitive feel for Communism’s injustices, was an important voice in bringing that system down. But he had to watch in the 1990s as Eastern Europe embraced Communism’s polar opposite — a rather pure form of secular capitalism, instead of any Catholic-influenced middle way.

“John Paul II was often very clear what he was against: He was against unbridled capitalism and the kind of socialism of the Soviet sphere,” said John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter Vatican watcher. “What he was for was less clear.”

Now Archbishop Marx, who at 55 occupies an ecclesiastical perch once held by Benedict, is trying to wriggle out of that intellectual straitjacket.

With his talent for turning a provocative phrase, he has more in common stylistically with the evangelist St. Paul or the philosophes, who popularized Enlightenment thought, than with Karl, who ground out his dense texts from exile in London. After beginning his book puckishly by addressing Karl Marx personally, the archbishop races through 200 years of Western economic history in a way that pays tribute to Karl’s core analytical conclusion — that capitalism embodies contradictions that threaten the system itself.

But he also makes it clear he is no Communist. He admires Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, a 19th-century writer who put Catholic theory into practice as a member of Germany’s first national Parliament in 1848, and later became a bishop and a fervent critic of Karl Marx.

The gregarious Archbishop Marx has cut a profile in the German business community for his willingness to walk into a roomful of executives and raise the roof. (“Are you marionettes?” he once asked a manager who protested that markets sometimes dictate unethical actions.)

In his book, which was published last fall, he offers a vision of a world governed by cooperation among nations, with a vibrant welfare state as the core of a market economy that reflects the love-thy-neighbor imperatives of Catholic social thought.

On the first point, Archbishop Marx is in good, cosmopolitan company; many officials, from New York to London to Beijing, are calling these days for a world in greater regulatory harmony, though the specifics may be hard to agree upon. He sounds considerably more German when exhorting the world to create, or recast, the welfare state. People need the welfare state before they “can give themselves over to the very strenuous and sometimes very risky games of the market economy,” Archbishop Marx said. The burdens of aging, illness or unemployment “need to be borne collectively,” he added.

In support of his argument, the archbishop calls for a “global social market economy,” based on a concept familiar to Germans as the model for their own postwar system.

Of course, the archbishop says he realizes that a European’s ideal of welfare states and border-straddling institutions might not have universal appeal. At the end of his book, he quotes Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, who has said, “I approve of the notion that Europe sees itself, unpretentiously, as a model for the world, but the consequence of that is that we would have to constantly change that model because we are not the world.”

Neither, he might have added, is the Roman Catholic church.


Pope Urges Forming New World Economic Order to Work for the ‘Common Good’ (July 8, 2009)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Pres. Obama's Friend in the Vatican

E.J. Dionne is a Washington Post columnist and well informed commentator on matters Catholic in the USA. Dionne's column is well worth pondering as is the Pope's new encyclical Charity in Truth. It is about time for some Catholics to realize we must work with President Obama. The Limbaugh option of calling for President Obama to fail means we all (except the filthy rich like Limbaugh) lose. We can disagree with President Obama on some issues (e.g., abortion) and still work with him to make a more just, sane and loving social order, which includes the efforts to save the environment. To oppose such work puts one at odds with Pope Benedict. Read the new encyclical!!! - Rick

Click here to read the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)

Does Obama Have a Friend in the Vatican?

Posted on Jul 9, 2009

AP photo / Philippe Wojazer, pool

By E.J. Dionne

When President Obama meets with Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, there will be no right-wing Catholic demonstrators upbraiding the pontiff, as they did Notre Dame earlier this year, for conferring the church’s legitimacy upon this liberal politician.

In fact, whether he is the beneficiary of providence or merely of good luck, Obama will have his audience with Benedict just three days after the release of a papal encyclical on social justice that places the pope well to Obama’s left on economics. What a delightful surprise it would be for a pope to tell our president that on some matters, he’s just too conservative.

The disjunction between Vatican attitudes toward Obama and those of the most conservative forces inside the American Catholic Church has been obvious from the moment Obama won election.

The conservative minority among the bishops as well as political activists on the Catholic right have insisted on judging the president only on the basis of his support for legal abortion and stem cell research.

But the Vatican clearly views Obama through a broader prism. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in Washington, has privately warned American bishops that harsh attacks on Obama threaten to make the church look partisan.

The Vatican press has been largely sympathetic to Obama, and in a recent article, Cardinal Georges Cottier, who was the theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II, praised Obama’s “humble realism” on abortion and went so far as to compare the president’s approach to that of St. Thomas Aquinas. (Pray this won’t go to Obama’s head.)

No one pretends that the Vatican is at peace with Obama’s views on the life issues, and Benedict mentioned the church’s resistance to abortion at three different points in this week’s economic encyclical, “Charity in Truth.”

But the pope and many of his advisers also see Obama as a potential ally on such questions as development in the Third World, a shared approach to a quest for peace in the Middle East, and the opening of a dialogue with Islam.

The Vatican’s stance and the broadly positive response to Obama’s Notre Dame speech have at least temporarily quelled the vocal opposition to the president among more conservative American bishops. Now, parts of the hierarchy are working closely with the administration on health care reform, immigration and climate change legislation.

Benedict’s encyclical may provide the best perspective for understanding why a pope seen as a conservative views Obama more favorably than do most Catholic conservatives in the United States.

While American conservatives, including most Catholics in their ranks, see capitalism in an almost entirely positive light, Benedict—following a long tradition of church teaching—is more skeptical of a system rooted in materialist values. In that sense, he is to the left of his American flock.

Benedict’s letter had some good things to say about the market system, but only if it is tempered by both “distributive justice and social justice.” He thus spoke approvingly of “the redistribution of wealth”—not a phrase currently on many American lips—and caused free-market conservatives to blanch with his call for a “world political authority” to oversee the global economy in the name of “the common good.”

He condemned “corruption and illegality” in “the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries.” And opposing an idea popular among some conservative development economists, he warned that countries should not seek to become more competitive internationally by “lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers” or “abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution.”

Yet Benedict is more a left-of-center Christian Democrat than a socialist. His radical critique of capitalism is also a conservative critique of permissive societies, and he emphasized that “rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere license.” He made the case for a specifically “Christian humanism,” arguing that only “a humanism open to the Absolute” could avoid “exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment.”

No one will accuse Benedict of being fashionable, which is why his views run crosswise to important currents in both American conservatism and American liberalism.

This gives the pope a perspective on Obama that conventional American conservatives lack, and it’s why he is far more inclined to work with the man in the White House than they are. But Benedict is also more disposed than American liberals to disagree with the president—and, yes, on some issues, he may prod Obama from the left.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Freedom and Fireworks in Skagway Alaska

Left: Fireworks over Skagway, AK.

Freedom and Prophecy

Rick Malloy, S.J.
Notes from Homily for 14th Sunday, Year B, 2009, Skagway Alaska

A guy forgets his wife’s birthday. A few weeks later he forgets their anniversary. She is mad. He repeatedly apologizes, but no go. He’s still getting the cold shoulder, and every time he asks her how things are going she says, “Fine.” All guys know when a women says things are “Fine”… he’s in trouble. Finally he says, “Look. I’m sorry. What can I do to make it up to you? What do I have to do so we can get back on track?” She’s been wanting a car so she says, "Well, you could put something in the driveway that goes from 0 to 200 in six seconds.” So the next day she sees an envelop in the driveway. She runs out, rips it open, and reads, "Your gift is in the garage." She opens the garage door looking for a new car. Instead she finds a bathroom scale. … We’re told he’ll get out of the hospital in another week or two… Let me play the prophet and tell you: Don’t give your wife a bathroom scale…

Today we’re called to reflect on the relationship between Freedom and Prophecy. Happy July 4th. This weekend our county celebrates our freedoms (FDR’s four freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from want and Freedom from fear).

Cardinal Rigali was approached by a worried college student who awkwardly asked, “Should I, like, kiss your ring?" The Cardinal, putting the student at ease replied, “The essence of our faith is the freedom of the children of God.” Christ calls us to freedom (“For Freedom Christ has set us free,” Gal 5:1)

You can do anything you want. But that’s not FREEDOM; that’s LICENSE. You are not free to do things that are dumb, dangerous, and deadly. DON’T GET YOUR WIFE A BATHROOM SCALE AS A JOKE! Don’t think, “I’m a free person, so I can drink a half gallon of vodka a day.” You are not free to drive on the left side of the road. Freedom for the follower of Christ is all about choosing what is loving and lasting. Freedom is all about choosing all that is sane and smart.

Freedom is not doing whatever you want. True Freedom is wanting to do what you ought to do. Freedom open to the influence of grace means that we find in ourselves the power to want to do what we ought to do. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that Grace is the ability to do what you could not do before. If little boys don’t develop the freedom to take a shower every day, by the time they are 13 no one wants to sit next to them (If you didn’t know the smelly kid in school… maybe you were the smelly kid!). If you don’t develop the freedom to study and learn, you’ll never graduate from school. If we don’t learn the freedom of discipline, our lives become chaotic and out of control. Addictions reign in our lives and soul. If our political and social and economic orders don’t learn discipline and true freedom, our society runs off the rails.

We are called to freedom for love and the common good and to open our hearts to all that creates the good and builds up the community. We are called to discipline ourselves for freedom from all that destroys and diminishes us. We are called to open our hearts to the freedom that makes for a world of peace and prosperity, justice and joy, faith and freedom, hope and healing, love and life and life eternal.

There is a connection between prophecy and freedom

Prophecy and Jesus as Prophet:

Biblical prophets were not those who foretold the future (no one can foretell the future. If someone claims they can, ask them for next week's lottery numbers). Biblical prophets were those who announced in the present what has to be freely chosen and done in light of the truth of the future. Prophets articulated programs and actions on the personal and social levels that would get us to the desired future.

Jesus was a prophet. In the light of the coming Kingdom of God, he told us, and tells us, what we need to do and where we need to go in order to get to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of “truth and life; holiness and grace; justice, love and peace” (Preface of Christ the King).

We need to discern between true and false prophets. There are too many screaming and yelling and pretending they know what the future holds. Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann… are those two on the same planet? Do we follow those who, like Rush Limbaugh, starkly state they want our leaders to fail? Do we listen only to those who say what is wrong? Or are we free to carefully evaluate the plans and ideas offered and ready to join together to work to solve the problems we face?

The Church does not tell people for whom to vote, nor on whose side they ought to be in political debates (see the U.S. Catholic Bishops' website Faithful Citizenship). But Americans of all political persuasions should agree with what President Obama said on the 4th of July: “We Americans don’t fear the future; we make the future.”

Vatican II and Freedom

FROM THE DECLARATION ON HUMAN FREEDOM (DIGNITATIS HUMANAE PERSONAE). “8. Many pressures are brought to bear upon the men of our day, to the point where the danger arises lest they lose the possibility of acting on their own judgment. On the other hand, not a few can be found who seem inclined to use the name of freedom as the pretext for refusing to submit to authority and for making light of the duty of obedience. Wherefore this Vatican Council urges everyone, especially those who are charged with the task of educating others, to do their utmost to form men who, on the one hand, will respect the moral order and be obedient to lawful authority, and on the other hand, will be lovers of true freedom-men, in other words, who will come to decisions on their own judgment and in the light of truth, govern their activities with a sense of responsibility, and strive after what is true and right, willing always to join with others in cooperative effort. Religious freedom therefore ought to have this further purpose and aim, namely, that men may come to act with greater responsibility in fulfilling their duties in community life.”

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