Forgive Me Father, For I Have Emitted

The latest in global-warming silliness comes from Great Britain, where Lent lends an opportunity for bishops to sound hip and relevant. Tomorrow being Ash Wednesday, the bishops of London and Yorkshire have a suggestion for Lenten sacrifice. Instead of alcohol or chocolate, give up carbon:

Two senior bishops led calls on Tuesday for people to cut back on carbon, rather than the more traditional chocolate and alcohol, for Lent this year.
Bishop of London Richard Chartres and Bishop of Liverpool James Jones have teamed up with aid agency Tearfund to invite the public to take part in a carbon fast for the next forty days.
Those taking part in the drive to reduce their carbon footprint will be able to choose daily energy saving actions from a booklet.
“For example, on the first day, people can take out one of their light bulbs and whenever they go to turn that light on, and it doesn’t work, they can remember why they are fasting from carbon — to help the poor of the world. At the end of the fast they can replace it with an energy-saving light bulb,” Jones — who is vice-president of Tearfund — explained.

Lord, forgive them for they know not what folly they indulge.
I have no issue with church leaders who become social activists. Jesus himself set that example, and everyone who follows Him tries to find their own way to actively make this world better for others in preparation for the life to follow this one. Certainly, environmental causes can be part of that, although for my taste, some environmentalists tend towards a kind of nature worship that I find incompatible with Christianity.
This, however, is just silly. Lent should be about personal sacrifice in order to focus on spirituality, not on the latest fad in science. It is supposed to be a meditation on the sacrifice of Jesus that culminates on Good Friday, and the sacrifice in our own lives is supposed to be significant enough for a reminder. It’s not about buying a low-power light bulb, or even remaining in darkness.
The purpose is spiritual, not worldly. This sounds a little exploitive, a way for the bishops to push their pet Tearfund project by using Lent to gain attention. The purpose behind this call doesn’t sound spiritually motivated at all, but political correctness running somewhat amuck. I don’t believe the bishops have bad motives, but they sound a little … misguided.

In Which I Defend Jimmy Carter

I generally consider Jimmy Carter the worst president and the worst ex-president of the 20th century, and for a number of good reasons. I’ve written about them often enough not to repeat myself in this post; consider it stipulated. His track record is bad enough to allow conservatives merely to cite it without much argument, let alone distort it.
That’s what the normally reliable American Spectator does today, though, in a passage about Carter and his understanding of faith. In taking it out of the context in which Carter wrote about Satan’s offer to Jesus before the crucifixion, Shawn Macomber makes it sound as though Carter wished Jesus had taken the offer:

APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, to Carter’s mind, the biggest trade-off of the Crucifixion may have been gaining eternal salvation while losing a potentially great bureaucratic overlord. During a meditation on the temptation of Christ, Carter muses over the attractiveness of Satan’s offer to allow Christ to rule the world if he rejected God:

What a wonderful and benevolent government Jesus could have set up. How exemplary justice would have been. Maybe there would have been Habitat projects all over Israel for anyone who needed a home. And the proud, the rich, and the powerful could not have dominated their fellow citizens[.] As a twentieth-century governor and president I would have had a perfect pattern to follow. I could have pointed to the Bible and told other government leaders, “This is what Jesus did 2000 years ago in government. Why don’t we do the same?”

That Carter assumes, first, he would be a worthy successor to Christ in political office — what, Jesus returns to implement…term limits? — and, second, that the Messiah would spend his post-presidency years doing precisely as Carter did — building Habitat for Humanity homes, apparently — tells you everything you need to know about the Man from Plains’ outlook on this world and the next.

What a revealing moment! Carter wishes that Jesus and the Devil had reached across the aisle, found room for compromise, and created a bridge between Heaven and Hell! Well, except that wasn’t what Carter meant — and the next paragraph in Living Faith made the point rather plain:

But the devil stipulated fatal provisos: an abandonment of God, and an acknowledgment of earthly things as dominant. … Anyone who accepts kingship based on serving the devil rather than God will end up a tyrant, not a benevolent leader.

Far from lamenting the weird Millenium of a Jesus-led kingdom of atheists, Carter makes the rather obvious point that what gave Jesus his singularity was the devotion to the divine. Carter offers the rather satirical notion of a deal with the Devil to reject it, not to embrace it. It’s a point that practically anyone who reads the Bible can understand, as long as it’s taken in context with Carter’s final paragraph of the article.
Macomber owes his readers a correction and Carter an apology. If we want to debate Carter, let’s stick to the already extensive record without reducing our credibility by distorting his words.
UPDATE: Macomber responds here. He’s still wrong; Carter never thought the deal would provide “a potentially great bureaucratic overlord,” nor does he state that one would be a good idea. In fact, the paragraph Macomber left out made it clear it would have provided a tyrant, not a benevolent despot.

A Heartwarming Display Of Christianity At Its Birthplace

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, tradition has it, is located on the spot where Jesus was born. The church itself honors the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, who called all humanity to love one another as they do themselves. What better place to have a recurring brawl between His followers?

On Thursday, dozens of priests and cleaners were scrubbing the church ahead of the Armenian and Orthodox Christmas, celebrated in early January. Thousands of tourists visited the church this week for Christmas celebrations.
But the clean-up turned ugly after some of the Orthodox faithful stepped inside the Armenian church’s section, touching off a scuffle between about 50 Greek Orthodox and 30 Armenians.
Palestinian police, armed with batons and shields, quickly formed a human cordon to separate the two sides so the cleaning could continue, then ordered an Associated Press photographer out of the church.

It’s not the first time the keepers of a holy site in the Holy Land have come to blows. Unfortunately, the close quarters of these sites creates turf wars that are the antithesis of the sites themselves and everything they represent. It’s a kind of sacrilege, committed by those who should most know better. It demeans their message, and it embarrasses every Christian around the world.
The governing bodies of these sects should replace every last priest involved in this scuffle, and should apologize to each other for fistfighting in the birthplace of our Lord. Shame on all of them.

NCA To Veterans: Drop Dead (Again)

The National Cemetery Administration has barred volunteers at veteran funerals from performing a popular ritual at the graveside when folding the American flag. Honor Detail members can no longer recite the significance of the folds during funerals, a time-honored tradition, because of a single complaint to the NCA (via Michelle Malkin):

Flag-folding recitations by Memorial Honor Detail volunteers are now banned at the nation’s 125 veterans graveyards because of a complaint about the ceremony at Riverside National Cemetery.
During thousands of military burials, the volunteers have folded the American flag 13 times and recited the significance of every fold to survivors.
The first fold represents life, the second a belief in eternal life, and so on.
The complaint revolved around the narration in the 11th fold, which celebrates Jewish war veterans and “glorifies the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
The National Cemetery Administration then decided to ban the entire recital at all national cemeteries. Details of the complaint weren’t disclosed.

So let’s get this straight. Because of one complaint out of thousands of ceremonies, the NCA banned all use of the folding ceremony. Why not just ask the Honor Detail volunteers to clear it with the families first? Wouldn’t that make a little more sense — to have a written version of it approved for use at their loved one’s final acknowledgement of their service to the nation?
The men whose votes matter most have not taken this news quietly. The parliamentarian for the American Legion has instructed his detail volunteers to ignore the NCA. Two others quoted in the article wonder why one complainant has more weight than the millions of veterans who expect and deserve the ceremony at their funerals. No one has ever heard the complaint despite their many recitals of the ceremony.
The NCA has taken the cowardly route of banning the ceremony. Instead of telling the one complaining individual to get over himself, or of taking a common-sense approach of simply clearing the ceremony with the family before its recital, the NCA just washed its hands and walked away. Our veterans deserve better than that. They didn’t just wash their hands and walk away, and they didn’t stop serving when they had a hell of a lot more reason to complain than the one weepy individual who can’t bear the mention of God at a funeral.

Render Unto Caesar Was Social Justice?

Pope Benedict will produce on a new doctrinal announcement that will declare tax evasion a social injustice. The focus, says the Times of London, comes from a budget crisis in Italy, where avoiding taxes has become as much of the culture as good food and flirting. Outside of Italy, Catholics might wonder when rendering unto Caesar went from unpleasant necessity to honored status:

Pope Benedict XVI is working on a doctrinal pronouncement that will condemn tax evasion as “socially unjust”, according to Vatican sources.
In his second encyclical – the most authoritative statement a pope can issue – the pontiff will denounce the use of “tax havens” and offshore bank accounts by wealthy individuals, since this reduces tax revenues for the benefit of society as a whole.
It will focus on humanity’s social and economic problems in an era of globalisation. Pope Benedict intends to argue for a world trade and economic system “regulated in such a way as to avoid further injustice and discrimination”, Ignazio Ingrao, a Vatican watcher, said yesterday.
The encyclical, drafted during his recent holiday in the mountains of northern Italy, takes its cue from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), issued 40 years ago. In it the pontiff focused on “those peoples who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance and are looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilisation”. He called on the West to promote an equitable world economic system based on social justice rather than profit.

Benedict should take a lesson from his predecessor, who came from an economic system that theoretically based itself of “social justice”. John Paul II understood what happens in systems where the state manages of economic systems for their idea of social justice — and no other management can be possible without the profit motive. Once profit gets removed from economic systems as a regulator for investment and control — i.e., the one who invests and profits makes the decisions controlling the investment and use of the profit — it takes an autocracy to decide the goals of investment for the purposes of social justice.
It didn’t work out well in Poland for John Paul, nor in Soviet Russia and China, where millions died in famines thanks to ridiculous central agricultural planning. State-run economies always claim to champion social justice and equitable distribution. Even Robert Mugabe used those goals to seize productive farms from their owners and turn them into wastelands for “the people”. Only free and mildly-regulated capitalist systems produce for the entire spectrum of people and raise standards of living.
And the tax evasion argument is simply absurd, especially in America, where the Catholic Church pays no taxes at all. Giving money to the state does not guarantee social justice, and in many cases funds efforts that the Church considers very unjust. In California, for example, taxes pay for embryonic stem-cell research. Is it social justice to pay more taxes than the law requires into that system?
Note that Benedict is not just talking about illegal tax evasion, either. He’s also reportedly working on a scolding for businessmen who legally incorporate offshore to reduce their tax exposure. While that may deny their native country some measure of taxes, it also promotes business in these other countries that helps with their economies and likely their tax base as well, at least from employment.
Mostly, though, the equation of taxes with social justice offends at a more basic level. Christ understood that the temporal governments of his time did not offer social justice but ruled through force and threat of force to impose civil peace and offer basic services. We should not break laws to evade taxes, which is what Christ said. Turning governments into churches to which we must tithe for social justice seems more than a little off message.

He Is Risen!

The First Mate and I wish all CQ readers a blessed and happy Easter. We hope that you all have the opportunity to spend it with friends and/or family, and that the blessings of our Lord, Jesus Christ, shower down upon you all. For those CQ readers who do not belong to the Christian faith, we hope that this day brings fellowship and rest.
Today, we are blessed to have the Admiral Emeritus and his wife with us, who are helping the FM to recover this week as I finish my last week at the present day job. All of us will spend time with my son’s in-laws, a wonderful family that has opened their arms to us every day we have known them, but especially on holidays, as our families are in California. We’re going to take it easy and make sure that the FM doesn’t overdo it, but we want to take advantage of the almost-miraculous recovery she has had since the kidney transplant nine days ago.
If you think about during your prayers today, offer some for the donor and his generous family. They are my greatest blessing this Easter.

Keeping My Religion

Today is Good Friday, the remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth which Christians believe redeemed all of us from sin. On Sunday, we will celebrate His resurrection, which promises new life and victory over death for those who believe. Two billion people will join in this millenia-old celebration of faith — but some will see this as a continuing decline towards an abyss of intolerance and genocide.
One of my favorite center-left columnists, E.J. Dionne, tackles the neo-atheists in an excellent Washington Post piece by pointing out that these aggressive anti-religionists seem as attached to dogma as those they criticize:

The new atheists — the best known are writers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins — insist, as Harris puts it, that “certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one.” That’s why they think a belief in salvation through faith in God, no matter the religious tradition, is dangerous to an open society.
The neo-atheists, like their predecessors from a century ago, are given to a sometimes-charming ferociousness in their polemics against those they see as too weak-minded to give up faith in God. …
Argument about faith should not hang on whether religion is socially “useful” or instead promotes “inhumanity.” But since the idea that religion is primarily destructive lies at the heart of the neo-atheist argument, its critics have rightly insisted on detailing the sublime acts of humanity and generosity that religion has promoted through the centuries.
It’s true that religious Christians were among those who persecuted Jews. It is also true that religious Christians were among those who rescued Jews from these most un-Christian acts. And it is a sad fact that secular forms of dogmatism have been at least as murderous as the religious kind.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. The 20th Century demonstrated that atheistic systems could be every bit as deadly as theocratic systems, and far more efficient at it. Communism resulted in tens of millions of deaths in its decades of bloody reign across Asia. Stalin himself has the responsibility of massive deaths through deliberate and neglectful starvation, and thousands more murders from his whims. Mao and the Chinese governments that followed from him force women to abort babies and have also starved millions through mismanagement and malice. On smaller scales, the Communist governments in Cambodia and Vietnam conducted massive genocides on their own people.
In the short period of time of human history when atheistic systems that force an end to religious activity have been allowed to rule, the results have been horrific and immensely bloody. And yet the neo-atheists insist that religion is the primary cause of human suffering. Hmmm.
This doesn’t mean that atheists are genocidists, any more than ugly examples like the Spanish Inquisition mean that Catholics are torturers. The fundamental flaw of the neo-atheist argument is that faith inherently creates Inquisitions, which is ridiculous. It is the accumulation of unrestrained power — and the fear of its loss — that creates both the Inquisition and the Cambodian killing fields. Power corrupts, and it corrupts the secular and the religious alike.
That is why the best forms of government keep power in the hands of the governed and set checks and balances against the abuse of power. They also allow for the free expression of religion for two reasons. First, faith is a personal choice, and any government that forbids or significantly restricts that choice will not stop its thought police at just religious choices for long. Second, societies with free access to religious faith do not create the impulse for religious totalitarianism.
The plan that neo-atheists want would impose a new belief system on people in an oppressive way that rivals any that they claim religions cause. Dionne chooses in his column to struggle through his own questions and doubts to continue to believe in God and retain his faith. As I would keep my freedom, so do I.

How Discovery Channel Lost Its Groove

The news that the Discovery Channel, a leading organization in the attempt to make science and education more attractive and entertaining, would broadcast a documentary by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici claiming to have found the bones of Jesus and evidence of his marriage has begun to backfire. Archeologists have condemned the conclusions drawn from the evidence by Cameron and Jacobovici, including one who ran the site from which the ossuaries come:

Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.
Scorn for the Discovery Channel’s claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and — most explosively — their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy.
“I’m not a Christian. I’m not a believer. I don’t have a dog in this fight,” said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. “I just think it’s a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated.” …
Similar assessments came yesterday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is “nonsense.” Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a “hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.”
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers “have set it up as if it’s a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,” she said.

The Cameron/Jacobovici hypothesis fails on a number of points. First, Jacobovici claims that having the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Judah (noted as Jesus’ son) defies odds in a range between 600:1 and 2 million:1. That’s a very wide range, and completely inaccurate. Other archeologists note that the names listed by the documentarians were the most common names in use at the time for Jerusalem. They also dispute that the name ‘Jesus’ on the ossuary is confirmed; some believe it is an early version of the name Hanoun.
Magness has more objections about this than the media hype. She also finds the names interesting, but for a different reason. Recall that the Bible refers to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus ben-Joseph. The patronymics on the ossuary would have been appropriate for Judeans, not Nazareans, which indicates that the family uncovered in the Talpiot tomb were native to Jerusalem or its environs. The use of stone ossuaries rather than graves also indicates a middle-class status or above for the family, rather than the poor and/or ascetic life of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.
All of these are facts that archeologists like to take into consideration before leaping to conclusions. They especially tread with caution when trying to determine whether the evidence they have contradicts written history from the period in question. Archeology involves a level of speculation, but the true scientists make sure to minimize it as much as possible — and this documentary amounts to nothing but speculation.
Who will bear the brunt of this fiasco? James Cameron will go on to make more big-budget Hollywood movies, unless he’s dumb enough to make another Terminator sequel. Simcha Jacobovici will continue with his “Naked Archeology” series on History International, an entertaining but usually unconvincing half-hour of pop archeology that presaged this disaster. Discovery Channel, however, will take a hit to its reputation for serious science.

Jesus Buried In Plain Sight?

Many people have discussed the supposed discovery of the family tomb of Jesus in a section of Jerusalem. The finding, which forms the basis of a Discovery Channel special next Sunday, purports to show that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a son named Judah, also buried at the tomb with his own ossuary:

New scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world’s foremost molecular genetics laboratories, as well as studies by leading scholars, suggests a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.
The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah.
The DNA findings, alongside statistical conclusions made about the artifacts — originally excavated in 1980 — open a potentially significant chapter in Biblical archaeological history.

Well, maybe. The DNA analysis, which has been trumpeted without much explanation, does not identify the Jesus of the ossuary as the same Jesus in the Bible. All it does is show that the bones in a tomb that the researchers speculate belonged to Mary Magdelene have no familial relation to the bones in the Jesus ossuary. That is how the archeologists assumed that the two in this crypt were married, and that the Judah ben-Jesus of the ossuary had to be their offspring.
This shows why pop science rarely delivers anything but entertainment. I enjoy Simcha Jacobovici in his incarnation as “The Naked Archeologist”, but I don’t pretend that the show is anything more than a superficial and oversimplified trek through history. The speculations made by the team working on the Talpiot tomb show how a series of assumptions can lead to a wild and likely incorrect conclusion.
Let’s take a few things in the context of the times. Jesus was a well-known agitator whose crucifixion creates a cult following, in the eyes of the Romans and the leading Jews of the time. The basis of that cult formed around the notion that Jesus rose from the dead. If the Romans knew where his body was buried, why then did they not produce it as proof of his immutable death? In order to be placed in an ossuary, he would have to lie in the tomb for a year, decomposing to skeletal remains. During that time, the Romans could easily have produced the body — or the cult followers could have stolen it and buried it elsewhere to prevent it.
The familial ties also seem rather odd. In the first generation of Jesus, no one mentions his marriage or family. Yet his familiy and followers — ossuaries of Matthew and James are supposedly among the discoveries — supposedly felt it of no moment to bury him with his wife and son, despite their refusal to acknowledge a marriage. By the time his son would have died, the Gospels would already have been written and prophesied in the region and further to Greece and Rome.
And all of this evidence would have been left in the open, in a tomb in the middle of the largest city in the region, where anyone could have discovered it.
I’m sorry, but this relies on faith at least as much as the Christian religion does, and contradicts common sense. It’s nonsense. None of this makes any sense at all, but I’ll bet it sells lots of advertising. (h/t: CQ reader Peyton R)
UPDATE: The Anchoress, my favorite Catholic blogger, has more.

Catholic Collaborator Resigns As Archbishop At Installation Mass

Stanislaw Wielgus had planned to take office today as the new Archbishop of Warsaw, replacing the legendary Jozef Glemp. Instead, he transformed his installation Mass into a resignation ceremony after evidence arose that he collaborated with the Communist secret police, informing on priests within the church in the years before Poland’s Solidarity movement liberated the nation:

The newly-appointed archbishop of Warsaw resigned on Sunday after admitting he spied for Poland’s former communist regime, in a major embarrassment for the Vatican and the powerful Polish Catholic Church.
Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus read out his resignation, which came at the request of
Pope Benedict who appointed him just a month ago, at a special mass in Warsaw Cathedral replacing a formal ceremony that was to have sworn him in.
“In accordance with (Canon law) I submit to your Holiness my resignation as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw,” said Wielgus, who on Friday backed down from repeated denials that he collaborated with the secret services during the communist era.

The Vatican later released a statement that they had requested Wielgus’ resignation. Glemp will temporarily replace Wielgus until a more suitable candidate can be found. That may prove a divisive effort, as Polish Catholics have been stunned by this turn of events. Some of them still support Wielgus, including a few hundred outside of the cathedral this morning that protested his resignation.
National reconciliation after the end of a tyranny takes a long time. The impulse exists to sweep everything under the rug in an orgy of celebration when the tyrants have fled or died. South Africa mostly avoided that in an orderly transfer to majority rule that allowed for the creation of a truth commission to both expose the abuses of the previous regime and to publicly pardon them so the nation could move forward. The Poles have not yet come to grips with its Communist era in a similar fashion, even almost twenty years after their liberation.
However, even if all sides had forgiven themselves for their transgressions, it would still be difficult to see how a collaborator that acted as a spy within the Church could ever hope to lead it, even twenty years later. Those who openly served the Communist regime could eventually be forgiven their misguided judgment, but those who informed in secret against their friends and colleagues in a church that actively pursued the nation’s liberation could hardly find trust among its members and leaders afterward.
The Vatican appears to have trusted Wielgus a little too much in his initial denials. They made the right decision when further evidence arose that, as during his period as a collaborator, Wielgus proved unworthy of the church’s trust. It may cause them some discomfort now, but better a little embarrassment over a forced resignation than an exposure of a cover-up to avoid it. (h/t: Carol Herman)