Archive for the 'Church and State' Category

I’m Charlie…are you?

At first I couldn’t figure out what to say or do in the immediate aftermath of the mass killing of the French staff members who were guilty of publishing satirical Charlie Hebdo cartoons that took aim at the prophet Muhammad.

My initial reaction to the CNN morning news was something like “catch and kill the bastards who did this.  Slowly.”  Then I became more sophisticated and said “the world’s peace-loving Muslims have got to do something about their radical brethren.  Maybe like catching and killing them.”  Beyond that I was at a loss for words or clever thoughts.

And then the French police took  my best two ideas and surrounded and killed the bastards.  I thought “good, that’s done.”  But after a moment’s reflection I felt sort of empty with no place to go.  Later, thinking a bit more clearly, I realized that these unforgivable crimes could and probably would happen again.  It’s far too difficult to prevent the random actions of driven lunatics who obviously were ignored during their childhood, abused by their elders and successful at nothing as adults.

Even two-year olds can get the drop on us.  Witness the infant in Hayden, Idaho’s Wal-Mart who playfully snatched a pistol from his gun-savvy mother’s purse and promptly shot her to death.  Probably because she wouldn’t give him another Tootsie pop.  So who are we to think we can stop some nutcase, believing in life hereafter, complete with virgins, from hurling himself and his dynamite overcoat into a Jewish preschool.

Since the Charlie Hebdo holocaust I’ve read articles and watched talking head interviews that have wrestled with whether we’ve crossed over some line in publishing satirical or offensive stuff about religion and its proponents.  Certainly it’s pretty clear to most sane people that some stuff is beyond just being “offensive” and probably should never see the light of day.  I’m reminded of the Jewish comedian who some years ago regaled us with Jesus jokes in a social hall rented from the Catholic church for a community fund-raiser.  Jesus stared down accusingly from one of the social hall walls at what could only be called a major act of gross stupidity.  But, did the offending moron delivering the painful lines deserve to die?

Short of cartoons and articles that call for the destruction of innocents, I’m not sure where the line is to be drawn.  Personally, I take a major exception to stereotypical anti-Semitic depictions of Jews as Shylocks, political manipulators, and killers of small Christian children on Passover.  While I’d like to see bad things happen to such portrayers (like Mel Gibson, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh) I probably would restrain myself from seeing their movies, buying their cars and asking for their autograph.  Maybe I’d even write a blog about it.

So here’s what I think about the Charlie Hebdo assassins.  They are not heroes.  Heroes don’t wear masks, carry automatic rifles and without warning gun down innocent people who cannot defend themselves.  And they are without a doubt not representative of the overwhelming majority of Muslims.  But the larger Muslim community needs to do more.  It’s not good enough to say “they are not us.”  Separation, denigration and condemnation of murderous Islamists must become the everyday watchword of their faith.  Taught relentlessly to their children in their schools, their faithful in their mosques and, most importantly, in their conversations at home.

Like other faiths over the millennia, Islam is at a crossroad, fought for by competing factions.  Murderous factions.  Factions that are only interested in naked power, subjugation of women and death for those innocents who oppose their will.  It’s not so much a war between East and West.  It’s a battle for the heart of Islam.  One that none of us can afford to lose.

We undermine the support we should provide to moderate Muslims who are waging this battle when we broadly condemn their religion.  Right wing factions in France and elsewhere in Europe see a golden opportunity in this battle.  As the New York Times put it…The French are frightened — or more precisely, they are being frightened. The National Front has made fear its credo. It demonizes millions of immigrants as invaders who feast on welfare benefits while putting others out of work.  Capitalizing on fear and promoting  xenophobia are tools that could catapult them to power, along with their own extremist and exclusionary vision of the world.  A vision that may rival that of Isis, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Finally, what’s to be done about Charlie Hebdo and other cartoons that poke their fingers into Islam’s nose?  There’s little doubt that the continued publication of Muhammad cartoons that negatively portray Islam will exacerbate the already fragile tensions with the Muslim world.  But offensive though it may be to those offended, putting a lid on free speech is a slippery slope fraught with unwelcome consequences.  And, most importantly, It is quite simply unacceptable to condone mass murder in retribution for offensive language, cartoons or speech.  The civilized world has developed a variety of highly successful non-violent methods of dealing with such matters.  The murderers’  failure to use these tools highlights their Neanderthal immorality and inexcusable barbarity.

Freedom of expression trumps the sensitivities of organized religion.  To think otherwise is to invite less debate and more murders in the name of God.

Hobby Lobby and the Supremes

It was Tuesday, about a week before the Supremes were scheduled to release their much-anticipated opinion about Hobby Lobby’s refusal to pay for contraceptives.

Justice Roberts had just strolled into the exclusive coffee nook provided to the Supremes and was feeling pretty good about the decision to rule in Hobby Lobby’s favor.  Hoping for a quiet cup of double latte, the Justice sat alone at the table and waited for the delivery of the welcome beverage and a few moments of silence.

The nook door opened and there was Justice Scalia.  He lifted his skirts and sidled over to occupy the seat across from Roberts.  A look of “do I really need this” flashed across Robert’s face only to be replaced by a sense of resignation.

“We showed those three broads who’s boss, didn’t we Johnny?” Scalia said with bravado.  “You’d think that sissy-pants Breyer would wise up and switch to our team before he ends up on the losing side of any case that even remotely smacks of religious rights.  It’s a man’s world and that’s the way it’s gonna stay.  As long as I can keep twanging Thomas’s strings and Alito keeps fingering his crucifix during oral arguments, our side is going to last a thousand years.  You should excuse the obvious comparison.”

Deprived of tasting his latte by being drawn into this conversation, Roberts cautioned “Look Tony, I had all I could handle convincing that switch-hitter Kennedy to see it our way.  He kept ranting about what might happen when other fanatics brought their own religious rights to court.  Like refusing to pay for blood transfusions, vaccinations, and sex change operations.”

“And, that cockamamie add-on language he forced on me that makes the ruling only apply to closely held corporations.  Only a moron would buy that one.  How am I going to tell DuPont or the Koch Brothers that they don’t have a right to bring their religious beliefs to court when I already told them they are a “person” and can spend as much goddamn money on elections as they like?”

Scalia intoned “You worry too much Johnny.  None of our 5-4 decisions make much sense anyway.  And we’ve got a job for life.  So who gives a shit if most of the country either can’t figure out what we did or what it really means.  I’ve been pissing off people since 1986 when that bozo Reagan put me on the bench.  I’ve been here longer than any of you and I’m still having a ball.”

“So what if the only parties I get invited to are hosted by the Heritage Foundation, the American Family Association, and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.  Their money is good, the booze top-notch and the broads…oh the broads.  Crap, I could do this forever and, given that my healthcare is paid for 100% by the government, I probably will.”

“And so what if Hobby Lobby sponsored my last trip to the Bahamas?  I gave a rousing speech about religious freedom and how it trumps everything but gun rights.  They loved me.  Even invited me back this fall to talk about anything I wanted.  Maybe about why I think slavery was the best thing that happened to this country.”

“Ya know, Tony, someday we’re not gonna be in the majority.  The black guy or Hillary is likely to appoint someone who doesn’t see it our way.  I sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t be a little more cooperative and not so cocksure.  I don’t want to spend my later years writing dissenting opinions about women’s reproductive rights or new gun laws. And, since we’ve shown that we don’t give two shits about the court’s historical precedents,  I’d hate to see most of our opinions dumped on the slag heap of history by a bunch of left-wingers.”

Just then the door opened and Justice Thomas appeared.  “See that guy?” Scalia whispered.  “Nothing bothers him.  Last February it was eight years since Clarence asked a question from the bench during an oral argument.  He sits in his chair, leans back and stares at the ceiling like the answers are pasted up there.  His eyelids are heavy and he strokes his chin hoping to look more intelligent.”

“Johnny, you really need to be more like him. Don’t worry so much. I’ll handle the tough stuff, just like I’ve been doing for the last twenty-eight years.”

They should see how it feels

They need to know how it feels.

The Supremes, in a 5 to 4 decision, today opened the door to the unbridled conduct of religious prayer at government sponsored gatherings.

Five black-robed Christians, voicing their opinion through Justice Kennedy, said that the prayers offered at a Greece, New York town meeting were “merely ceremonial.”  Without any real meaning or importance, I suppose.  Sort of like the Pledge of Allegiance.  Or maybe the credits at the beginning of a movie. No big deal.

“Ceremonial prayer,” Kennedy wrote, “is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”  So it seems, according to the Justice, that people should be free to ignore the rule of law, and piss on their neighbors, if it offends their religious beliefs.  The Ayatollah is surely smiling.

The Greece, NY town officials took pains to note that they had tried, with little success, to find non-Christians, including atheists, to do the opening prayers. Obviously those officials haven’t a clue as to what an atheist is.  So rather than mothballing the religious invocations due to a paucity of Muslim, Hindu or Jewish religious leaders, they continued their usual practice unabated and with a distinctly Christian aura.

The two citizens who brought the suit against the town said, according to the Justice, that they felt excluded and offended.  Rising to his full height, Kennedy told them to suck it up and added “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable.”  Not in his court, I bet.

The Justice is also much too busy to spend any significant time deliberating over what is religiously offensive or what is merely ceremonial.  He whined “To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech…”  So let’s just pretend that the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t apply when government bodies pray.  There. Done. Next case.

I was reminded of the time that I took a business trip to Chicago where a next day meeting was scheduled at 9am on the Southside’s 71st and State streets.  Seriously misjudging my travel time from Chicago’s North Side (mostly white) to the South Side (nearly all black), I arrived at my destination an hour early.  Seeking a calming cup of coffee, I stumbled into the only restaurant open at that hour, a McDonald’s, and was greeted by a sea of black faces, all staring at me like I had just dropped into their midst from an alien ship.  I felt a heightened sense of exclusion but I also got some idea of what those people probably felt when the roles were reversed.

I’m certain that a number of the Justices must have thought “Well, if you don’t want to take part in the religious invocation, just leave the room and rejoin the party when we finish.  No harm, no foul.”  Sure.  I can just visualize the poor sap returning from the hallway and displaying himself as a blatant non-believer to those by whom he must be judged or with whom he must transact business.

As a Jew I feel highly offended by today’s decision.  But our long history of offenses is much too involved to cover in this miserable blog.  Nor can I begin to delve into the long list of offenses perpetrated by the religious majorities in other lands on religious minorities that did not share their point of view.

Today’s ruling diminishes, rather than enlarges, the concept of religious freedom because it restricts the right of the minority to be free of discrimination in a public setting.  Which is probably why the founding fathers decided to feature freedom of and freedom from religion in the First Amendment.  So my advice to the five black-robed Justices is to spend more time in the company of those who are different from themselves.  And see how it feels.

Kansas picks on Jews

Frustrated by failing to enact recent legislation that would have allowed the wholesale refusal to provide services to gays and lesbians, the Kansas state legislature today passed and sent to Governor Sam Brownbeck a law protecting individuals, businesses and government employees who refuse to provide any benefits or services to Jews if the provision of those services would violate their religious principles.

As stated in the preamble to the legislation, its legal basis is grounded on the requirement for the separation of church and state as stipulated in the United States Constitution.  Citing the Constitution’s first amendment’s language “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” the Kansas bill goes on to say that “free exercise” includes the god-given constitutional right to impose restrictions on other religions which conflict with one’s own.

The Kansas Senate, which is controlled by Republicans 32-8, spent a total of seventeen minutes debating the legislation which had previously been passed by the Republican controlled House by a vote of 72-49.  Governor Brownbeck promised to sign the legislation immediately upon his return from the annual National Skinhead gathering in Topeka where he was the keynote speaker.

When asked why  the legislation was deemed essential, Senate President Susan Wagle pointed to the growing spate of Christian bashing that was running rampant through her state and the rest of the country.  “We’ve got to do something, even if it’s only one small step in taking back control of this rapidly deteriorating godless country.  Enough is enough.”

President Wagle acknowledged that Jews represent less than one percent of the Kansas population but were nevertheless outspoken, irritating and different from everyone else.  Firmly gripping the podium, she responded to a Kansas Star reporter “We recognize that Jews are few and far between, but they are usually at the forefront of Christian bashing.  Just look at who makes those anti-Christian Hollywood movies.  And don’t get me started on the ACLU.”

She added “Their refusal to give up the Old Testament and embrace the New Testament puts the rest of our community in peril.  It confuses our children and makes their parents fearful of losing the true faith.  We run the risk of uncontrolled intermarriage, racial impurity and the not insignificant loss of income to pig farmers due to Kosher dietary laws.”

Reporters continued to pepper Wagle with questions.  “How will shopkeepers, the police and medical providers identify who’s a Jew” one of them asked.  She responded “The usual way.  By the size of their noses, their surnames that all end in berg or stein, and the cleverly hidden but discernible horns protruding from their heads.  And if that doesn’t work, I’m sure we can come up with something else.”

Asked if there were going to be any other groups targeted for similar treatment, President Wagle responded “No, I think this will probably be the final solution.”

welcome to kansas

Not in my backyard…

I’m ashamed.

What started out as a nice day quickly changed into one I could have done without.  And it’s the fault of the NY Times.  Well, not directly.  It was merely the messenger.

Jewish Group Opposes Muslim Center Near Ground Zero the headline exclaimed.  Another one of those wacko ultra-orthodox Jewish organizations, I figured.  Led by the same people who want to purify Israel and push some folks into the sea or worse.  I read on.

Turns out that the Anti-Defamation League is the wacko group objecting to the location.  Now I know that both the ADL and its national director, Abraham Foxman, couldn’t be further from wacko than you are.  Nor could they, before today, be called bigots.  Yet here was Mr. Foxman saying that the location of the center was offensive to families of 9/11 victims and that supporters should look for another site “a mile away.”

When asked why the opposition of September 11 families was so pivotal, Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, offered…”Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational. Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”  He might have added…and therefore, religious discrimination is justified.  But he didn’t.

Other pundits have weighed in.  Tablet’s Mark Tracy  said…”Founded in 1913, the ADL, in its words,  fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.  Except when it does the precise opposite.”

Like the much heralded feel-good Arizona immigration law, most people haven’t a clue as to what the Muslim Center is all about.  Nor do they know that its board will include Christians and Jews.  Yet they oppose it.  Many, perhaps a majority, think it is to be located right in the middle of 9/11 ground zero.

Others, who should know better, have joined the battle as another means of furthering their political objectives.  Sarah Palin has urged “peace-seeking Muslims” to reject the center, branding it an “unnecessary provocation.”  That paragon of virtue, Newt Gingrich decried the center  and said “The average American just thinks this is a political statement. It’s not about religion, and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive.”  The two Republican candidates for NY Governor have added the issue to their campaigns and have accused their Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, now the state’s attorney general, of not aggressively investigating the center’s finances.

The Huffington Post’s  James Lamond had this observation about Mr. Gingrich.  “Gingrich has latched onto this “Islamophobic” rhetoric in the past couple weeks. First, his speech on the building of a Muslim Community Center at Ground Zero, where he warned that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” In the same speech he argued that we should look to Saudi Arabia as a standard bearer on religious freedoms saying, “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”

Now I understand fully why some politicians are jumping on the bandwagon.  If there are any uncommitted souls out there, it’s just possible that rattling their cages with forecasts of doom and destruction will swing their votes to a champion dedicated to saving their bacon.

What I don’t understand is how we Jews can buy into this.  But maybe we’re just like everyone else.  Until reminded otherwise.

A Difference of Opinion

Since we last talked about signs I’ve been doing a comprehensive study of them.  I get a lot of time to do that while shlepping the old folks around on the bus.

For example, I’ve noticed that colors seem to denote a difference in character.  Brighter colors are associated with brighter candidates…like the Muslim Guy.  Duller colors seem to be associated with…well, duller candidates like the Snow Queen and the Old Guy.  Size seems to be a factor too.  Smaller signs seem to go hand in hand with simple requests…like vote for me because I’m best suited for the job.  Larger signs are a bit intimidating…like vote for me or you’ll go to hell.

I’ve also determined that certain signs seem to go together.  Obama/Biden signs and No on Prop 8 signs, the gay marriage travesty, share space on the lawn.  Yes on Prop 8  signs always go hand in hand with McCain/Palin placards…a sure sign that the Old Guy and the Snow Queen are far from being uniters.

Opposing signs seem to be dueling with each other as I drive the bus down the street.  Yes on the left, No on the right…hmmm.

Another duel of sorts took place in the Ventura County Star yesterday.  Prominently displayed in the opinion pages were two opposing pieces about Prop 8.  Rabbi John Sherwood , Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Emet, Woodland Hills, California took the No on 8 position.  Gerald Christian Nordskog, chairman of the Ventura County Christian Leadership Council, tried to convince me to vote Yes and keep those homosexuals in the second class citizen status they deserve.

Rabbi Sherwood, wearing the bright colors, simply asked for someone to explain why granting the right of marriage to gays threatens his own marriage.  He strongly supports the opinions of colleagues who disagree with him on moral issues, but…when arguments for this attempt to take away the civil rights of literally hundreds of thousands of our citizens…I am obligated to call attention to the truth.

The Rabbi deftly takes on the Yes on 8 arguments about how whips will be used on teachers who refuse to teach gay marriage to Johnny, and how bamboo will be inserted under the fingernails of clergy who refuse to unite Joan and June.  He finishes his indictment of Prop 8 by reminding us that we are all created equal.  Simple ideas to go with bright colors.

But none of this antiquated “do unto others” stuff is nearly as effective as Chairman Nordskog’s arguments in support of the proposition that gays are unworthy of marriage.   After providing us with a stern warning from that great Jewish humanitarian Dennis Prager, and a reminder about those activist Supreme Court justices who had the unmitigated gall to protect the rights of all Californians, he proceeds with a lesson in anthropology…

Not a single religion or moral philosophical system — East or West — since antiquity ever defined marriage as between members of the same sex.” The audacity of those today, 6,000-plus years after the creation, to think they are suddenly smarter than any prior civilization, and wiser than almighty God.

He then invokes the Ten Commandments which he would undoubtedly etch on the foreheads of those activist judges but for the Constitution of the United States…

The Ten Commandments, handed down by God on Mt. Sinai to Moses for all the people for all time and eternity, clearly spells out…“Honor your father and mother.” (man and woman) — the Fifth Commandment. God indeed created Adam and Eve, and guess what?  Surprise, surprise!  They match and fit together perfectly. They are, in all ways, an ideal complement to each other.

After a lesson in physiology reminding me that it takes a man and woman to create a child, he gets to the heart of the matter…

Homosexual conduct is sinful and unhealthy, according to the Bible. There has never been any proof that a same-sex or bisexual person has an extra gene or is born different in his physical and emotional makeup.  In truth, it is not genetic, but a learned-behavior which is abnormal, irresponsible and most unhealthy.

Remember my earlier blog?  You know, the one about that huge “Yes on 8” sign in front of the Baptist Church that made me nearly drive off the road.  See, it all supports my signage hypothesis.  Small signs say “Vote for Me, I’m Best Suited For The Job.”  Big signs say “Vote for Me…Or You’ll Go to Hell.”

 

God help us

Sweetie and I drove back from Lake Casitas this morning after taking photos of docks, herons and reflections in the water.  I love going to the lake.  When  I told Yoram that I had chosen Casitas as my next subject for a photo project he said “Why?”  Good question.  We’ve been there a bunch of times and each time, if we wait long enough, an interesting subject generally appears.  Not always but, like one good golf shot in an otherwise unmemorable eighteen holes, it brings you back again and again.  The trip focuses your senses on the task at hand and that in itself is calming.

We finished taking photos of docks and, as has become our custom, got back in the car determined to drive around the lake in the hope of that once in a lifetime photo-op.  We didn’t get very far when I spotted some rowboats stacked up in drydock looking very forlorn.  We parked the car, got out, and looked for something that said “shoot me.”

A paunchy guy about my age joined us and stood by a heavy, black metal box that looked like an old boiler.  “What’s that” I said.  “A barbecue” he said.  “Built it myself.  Fact is, it’s one of four I put together awhile ago.”  He stared at the tow bar extending from the end of the barbecue.  It was lying flat on the ground in a position that didn’t look quite right.  “Loaned this thing to a guy who works in the coffee shop.  Broke the tow bar.”  I thought “What a nice thing to do for that guy and it’s a shame that he broke the bar.”  Before I could verbalize my thoughts, he said “What do you expect from a Mexican.”

Ila and I stared at each other with the kind of look that says “What a jerk.”  In a nanosecond I weighed the consequences and benefits of confronting the bigot with “What’s being a Mexican got to do with anything?”  Or…  But we just walked to our car and drove off.  Cowards.

That was our tasteless encounter for the day, I thought.  Driving down Highway 150 we looked at the mountains, yellow grass, blue sky and absolutely no other cars.  Beautiful.  We turned left at the 150/33 junction and came up on the Baptist church.  Nice looking property.  Rolling slopes, trees…and a very large painted sign stuck in the ground that said “Vote Yes on Prop. 8…Save Marriage.”

I forgot about the old bigot at the lake and focused on the new bigot stuck in the church lawn.  You’ve read all kinds of stuff about Prop 8, the California ballot proposition that amends the state constitution to proclaim that the word “marriage” only applies to the union of a man and a woman.

All sorts of arguments have been advanced that support the proposition.  All of them are a facade.  There is only one honest reason why proponents want to change the constitution…they dislike gays and lesbians and many are using the bible to justify their feelings.  No right thinking Prop 8 proponent believes that the institution of marriage will end, or that Junior will bring home pictures from his first grade class that show the seventeen sexual positions preferred by homosexuals, or that their very own pastor will be forced at gunpoint to conduct a wedding ceremony for Jack and Jim.  No, they just don’t like them.

But this was the first time I had actually seen a big sign, undoubtedly approved by the minister and his lay leadership, planted in the front of a church that said “Gays and Lesbians Not Welcome Here.”  I wondered if there were other signs, used long ago and gathering dust in the shed behind the church that said “Negroes Go Home” or “Jews Stay Out” or “Mexicans Leave Us Alone.”  I wondered if Barbecue Bob was a member of the church.  I wondered whether there was a sign, in temporary storage til after the election, that said “Do Unto Others.”  Probably not.

 


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