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How evangelical is West Virginia? Ask Mitt Romney.

Well, Super Tuesday is only a few hours old, but already my favorite sneak attack has happened, courtesy of the McCain campaign. According to Christianity Today.com, McCain asked his West Virginia supporters to switch their vote to Huckabee after the first round of caucusing, selling Mitt Romney out to dry.

Huckabee is almost a natural fit for West Virginia, given that 44 percent of the state supposedly identifies as evangelical.   But Romney made a significant play there in the past few days, hoping to pull together a West Virginia, Georgia, Utah and California win. (I bet that’s the first time those states were lumped together!)

Smart move by McCain. Bad luck for Romney. Huckabee, ever now the token candidate, gets a state.


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Domino’s Pizza endorses Mitt Romney

Get the door. It’s Domino’s. Or, make that Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s, who has just thrown his endorsement to former Massachusett s Gov. Mitt Romney in the race for the 2008 Presidential election. Why Mitt Romney? In the words of Mr. Monaghan:

“As someone who values the importance of faith in one’s life, I recognize in Mitt his deep religious convictions which will serve him well in facing the critical moral issues facing our society,” said Monaghan. “I believe he will stand firm on the pro-life issues and for the traditional family values that our country was founded on and which are so critical to the future of our nation.”

When not endorsing Presidential candidates, Monaghan is busy creating his own conservative Catholic oasis in Southwestern Florida. He’s constructing a town called Ave Maria, near Naples, which has come under fire from rights groups like the ACLU. Among the reasons why it has come under fire? Monaghan has suggested that no contraceptiv es or pornography will be sold in Ave Maria, there will be no access to abortion, and rumors abound that Monaghan wound ban realtors from selling property or condos to gays and lesbians. (Monaghan, as well as a construction company he’s partnered with, have exclusive control over commercial real estate in the town.)

It’s curious that Romney would be so proud of an endorsement from a man, like Monaghan, who wishes to limit free speech and commerce, while threatening to skirt around the Florida State Constitution in order to pursue his religious agenda. It’s also curious that Monaghan would choose a candidate, like Romney, who has a wishy-washy history with most of the social issues that fuel Monaghan’s philanthropy  (and some might say, vision for world domination).  

Perhaps the fact that Monaghan sold his share in Domino’s to Bain Capital in 1998 – the venture capital firm founded by Romney – had something to do with the endorsement.  

Yes, it is nice to see billionaires sticking together.


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The Great Perplexity for Catholic Voters

New Hampshire polls close in just a few hours, but in the build-up to today’s primary, Manchester’s Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack gave an insightful quote that hints at the proverbial wall that many Catholics all over the country will be beating their heads against in the struggle to determine how to cast their vote. “Some candidates advance proposals that fail to mirror the commitment of the church to the protection of all human life. In many cases, these same candidates advance other policies and proposals that can be supported in light of church teaching. This frequent mixture of laudable and unacceptable positions causes great perplexity,” said Bishop McCormack.

What’s a Catholic to do when (1) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote, (2) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote for the candidate who best espouses the Church’s moral teachings, particularly on respecting life, and (3) no candidate on either side of the political aisle fits into the “perfect” mold of the Church’s moral teachings?

Now that’s a dilemma. Thank God I belong to the United Church of Christ now.

The battle for the Catholic vote will likely rev up in the coming weeks and months, as we get out of primary election mode and into general election hysteria. Who knows what lurks in the hearts (or empty vessels they pretend are hearts!) of political operatives and pollsters this year in terms of nabbing the Catholic vote. One thing is almost for certain: the right is going to argue that Democrats are unsuitable because of issues like abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. The left is going to argue that Republicans are unsuitable because of issues like poverty, immigration, health care, education, and most importantly, war. Who’s right?

Well, if you look at what the institutiona l Church (i.e. The Catholic Bishops Conference) has said, here’s their take on the number one issue that should inform a Catholic voter’s conscience in 2008 (quoted directly from Faithful Citizenship, released every Presidential Election season by the Bishops):


The right to life and the dignity of the human person.
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our own society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.

Talk about triangulatio n! Did Mark Penn write this for the bishops?

Whether it’s McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee who ends up the eventual GOP nominee, clearly they don’t fit the bill given their records on issues like war, the death penalty, and torture (particularl y Romney, who wouldn’t rule out using waterboardin g as an interrogatio n technique). And that’s not a liberal Massachusett s blogger saying this…that’s the institutiona l Catholic Church.

On the Dem side, it gets trickier. Sure, you can argue (like the right will) that Obama and Clinton support abortion rights and support stem cell research, thus Catholics in good conscience shouldn’t vote for them. But when you peel back the layers of these complex issues, particularly abortion, and start to look at which party’s platform might actually lead to a reduction in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates because of how it handles issues like economic justice, poverty, health care, and education, the waters get much muddier. That’s because Obama’s and Clinton’s principles seem to line up more with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than, say, a war hawk, someone who wants to jail clergy for feeding illegal immigrants, those who would execute entire populations of prisoners, and those who would condone torture.

So the great perplexity for Catholic Voters, and Bishop McCormack put it, might just be turning away from the rants and raves of Bill Donohue, Phyllis Schlafly, Deal Hudson and others who would sabotage Catholic Social Teaching to fit their own political sympathies, and looking more deeply at the moral teachings of the Church.


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Removing The Thin Veil Of Evangelical Eisegesis

Before I begin, let me be clear…I have great sympathy for the immense pain and loss the family of Matthew Murray must be enduring. I don’t for a moment question their sincerity and I’m certain they love Matthew, and I wish them well. We will likely never fully understand the dynamics that led to this tragic ordeal. However, it is important to explore all of the mechanisms which may have contributed to this terrible tragedy so that others might be spared the life-shatter ing agony. Additionally  , with measured and objective reflection, perhaps we can uncover the means to save the lives of people like Matthew and his innocent victims. I offer the following with this in mind.

As I read an account of the funeral of Matthew Murray, it crystallized the certainty of my long held concern. There’s no better way to state it…Christi anity has been hijacked by those who will spare no effort in their goal of coalescing each and every individual within the confines of their beguiling brand of fundamental and fraudulent evangelicali sm.

This broad movement, populated by dangerous demagogues, is tireless in its efforts to define God’s intentions via literal, though laconic, interpretati ons of Biblical passages. They set out to instill this canard via a cunning sleight of hand…one that endeavors to package biblical eisegesis as biblical exegesis in an effort to engender irrefutable status and unyielding support.

The end game seeks to insure that every human act can be filtered through this masterfully manipulated prism…rega rdless of reasonabilit y. Sadly, the efforts to view Matthew’s life and death through this narrow purview have already commenced.

Since the tragic events unfolded in Colorado, I’ve watched as a number of conscripts have sought to sell the theory that the “normality ” of Matthew’s younger brother precluded the casting of doubt or the shining of a suspicious light upon the environment in which Matthew was raised. This crock block has been expressed as follows:

He (Matthew), in my opinion had the best, most supporting family. The whole family is so nice and giving. 
IF his condition was caused by an event in his life, it would have to be something outside the family because his brother is a happy, friendly and a talented piano player. If it were his mum or dad wouldn’t his brother also be at least somewhat affected???

On the surface, one might be inclined to accept this argument…o r at least consider its plausibility . Needless to say, even the underlying premise of this statement misses the mark. Clearly the relevant problem exceeds his “mum and dad” and the fact that his brother may have embraced the religious teachings of the higher authority brought into the home via his parents doesn’t mean the environment was healthy or connected to rationality.

A siblings acceptance of the prescribed ideology doesn’t affirm its validity nor does it necessarily absolve the parents of any potential responsibili ty. One can just as easily argue that the brother has, in fact, been affected…n ot only as a result of parental oversight; but also as a product of intense ideological indoctrinati on. Should there be any doubt as to this likelihood, let the words of Christopher Murray persuade you otherwise:

Even though Satan attacked my brother, I truly feel God is going to save a whole generation of people through this.”

I suspect Matthew felt attacked by something other than Satan. I also suspect he would have been overjoyed to simply find the means to save himself…but even Matthew realized that wasn’t in keeping with the “master plan” of his “handlers”.

Anyone who has read Matthews voluminous writings will immediately know how to draw the necessary connections to, and conclusions from, this telling statement of Matthew’s brother.

While one might expect Matthew’s tragic death to lead his family to question their fundamental beliefs…as well as the rigid script they pushed upon Matthew suggesting his eventual role as a prophet (even to the extent that it foretold he would first turn away from his faith), it appears that his death has simply been incorporated into an ongoing story line.

The fact that the family would continue to brandish this biblically based biography (adaptations included as needed) with unflinching adherence may surprise or shock the objective observer…b ut it shouldn’t…es pecially if one remembers the constructs upon which this movement is premised. Nothing, not event the death of a loved one, can force them to deviate from their doctrinal diatribe. If the outside observer can discern that rigidity, is it any wonder Matthew would be tormented by it?

I contend such an environment essentially relegates a child like Matthew to irrelevance… a virtual character in a play whereby the doubts and discomforts of the real person (Matthew) are inconsequent ial. The ideology, the church, and mom and dad have but one objective… to direct the production of the preordained outcome. As such, understandin g Matthew was unnecessary. Instead, they set out to make him understand his role regardless of his protestation s. When he failed to comply, they simply wrote his behavior into their script…all the while preserving the integrity of the ending.

I would compare the situation to a father who dabbled in golf as a child, but for whatever reason never succeeded in the sport, who then becomes determined to turn his child into the next Tiger Woods regardless of the child’s total lack of athletic ability and an unbridled interest in classical piano.

As this process unfolds, the child will undoubtedly feel inadequate. If the pressure persists or advances, the child’s identity will suffer untold damage. In extreme situations, some children will strike out in an effort to be seen as more than an object being utilized to augment the insecurities of the parent(s).

Returning to Matthew’s writings, in one of his many entries he states:

As far as dealing with parents….I don’t think the woman known as my mother really is my mother. She doesn’t act like it. My “mother” is just a brainswashed  (sp) church agent cun,t. The only reason she had me was because she wanted a body/soul she could train into being the next Billy Graham, Bill Gothard, or Peter Wagner. […] She had a “special plan from the Lord” for me. No easy way out for me. Almost every f***ing day and at every church service the pastors and our parents would tell me and the other youth that “God has a very special plan for this generation…. .don’t break any rules or you’ll miss out!!! Honor and OBEY your parents and the pastors (”god’s anointed”) or your life will be cursed and you’ll open a doorway for demons!”

Clearly little interpretati onal analysis is needed…Mat thew, in his own words, vividly supports the argument I’ve made. One needn’t take license to realize that Matthew felt invisible.

We may never know what Matthew sought to impart in his final actions…bu t I’m willing to surmise that the words his brother spoke at his funeral would serve as one further reminder to Matthew of his inability to be seen outside the constructs of the dogmatic design of those he knew.

Nonetheless, those who contend that looking at Matthew’s brother should absolve the family or his faith from any accountabili ty is akin to suggesting that Nazi war criminals were not influenced by the rampant rhetoric and reprehensibl e rationale of Adolf Hitler’s “final solution”. Let me be clear, the acts of those who carried out the Holocaust can never be justified and neither can Matthew’s. While this is an extreme comparison, even in the resolution of far more innocuous liability cases, the attribution of responsibili ty is rarely applied solely to one party.

Those who manipulate others in order to execute misguided agendas are sullied by the acts of their minions…ev en if those injustices are perpetrated by the willful behavior of adults…and those in positions of authority mustn’t be allowed to reconstruct reality in order to absolve accountabili ty.

Matthew, unlike these Nazi criminals, was systematical ly submitted to indoctrinati on his entire life. If grown men in Germany were susceptible to the suspension of reasonable and long-establi shed mores, what chance did a vulnerable child have to avoid the madness that ensued from his efforts to reject hypocrisy and see life outside of the prison he was forced to endure? If our condemnation of Hitler and his ideology is justified, so too is our questioning of parental propriety.

It should come as no surprise that the world Matthew chose when rejecting his faith was filled with the constructs of his overlords… a world immersed in images of evil and inhumane idols…a world cast by the iron fisted adults in his life as the only alternative available to those who would fall from grace. In limiting Matthew’s contact with the outside world…as well as vilifying it…they precluded him from witnessing moderation and escaping the confines of the black and white extremities they promoted.

Now, more than ever, it is time to break the back of religious extremism lest we regress into the throes of a dark ages mentality… a time where the pursuit of objective knowledge is subjugated to the asserted infallibilit y of religious ideology.

When the following statement can be accepted as a reasonable reaction to Matthew’s horrendous final actions, have we not commenced the suspension of our humanity in favor of a contrived denial construct?

just thought I’d let u guys know…i go to new life…and i love it there..God forgives and so do i…i forgave matthew the minute it happened…w e are all sinners and capable of making huge mistakes. God loves everyone…i pray for his family…and that somehow through this tradegdy (sp) that God WILL be exhaulted (sp)  […]

The nature of man tells us death is first met by grief and anger and sometime in the future forgiveness will hopefully emerge. When those of faith leap to make statements that deny as much, have we not injected the very ideations that led Matthew to reject the sincerity of religion? Any faith that believes we can or should abandon our basic human traits is suspect.

If I can read the English language…a nd I believe I can…then aren’t those who are leaping to accept and embrace Matthew in death, the same who ignored and rejected him in life? If that is a demonstratio n of Christianity  , then Jesus Christ was a fraud.

On the contrary, I contend those who portray their Christianity through trite statements and symbols, as if it were the equivalent of a badge that can be slapped upon one’s lapel, are simply engaged in a never-ending spiral of hypocrisy and self-decepti on.

While I applaud the sincerity and compassion being exhibited by many people of faith, those easily identified interlopers who wear their faith like a badge, and who seek to usurp Christianity  , must be exposed and forced to travel far deeper than the pretty proclamation s they’ve begun to toss upon this terrible tragedy.

Unless and until this happens, we’re never going to save the Matthew’s of the world…or prevent the needless carnage they inflict.

behindtheveil.jpg

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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Matthew Murray, nghtmrchld26: The Confrontation At New Life Church In 2004

There appears to have been a connection between Matthew Murray and New Life Church in 2004…one that resulted in a confrontatio n. Perhaps this explains why Matthew chose New Life as a target. Even more significant, the staff at New Life allegedly warned Murray’s mother that Matthew might be “planning violence”.

The gist of the situation seems to suggest that two staff members told Matthew’s mother that he “wasn’t walking with the lord and could be planning violence”. From that situation, Matthew’s mother found his stash of “evil” items (music, books, video games) and confiscated them. It appears he may have blamed this on the folks at New Life.

Forum Thread Number One:

First Entry:

On 09/04/06 - Chrstnghtmr wrote:

Thread: Growing up in the nightmare of Bill Gothard and Charismatic Christianity  (short version) (Healing)  (Posted on: 04 Sep : 13:04)

I am 22 years old and I was raised in Bill Gothard’s homeschool program all the way through high school. I went to both the Basic and Advanced Seminars. My Mother was fully into both Bill Gothard’s programs AND the Charismatic movement. She followed Peter Wagner, Mike Bickle, Joyce Meyer, Ted Haggard of New Life Church, Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets and any other person who was popular in the Charismatic movement at the time.

In addition to all of Bill Gothard’s insanity my mother was into all the charismatic/ ”fanatical evangelical” insanity. Her and her church believed that Satan and demons were everywhere in everything. The rules were VERY strict all the time. We couldn’t have ANY christian or non-christia n music at all except for a few charismatic worship CDs. There was physical abuse in my home. My mother although used psychotropic drugs because she somehow thought it would make it easier to control me(I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental illness either). Pastors would always come and interrogate me over video games or TV watching or other things. There were NO FRIENDS outside the church and family and even then only family members who were in the church. You could not trust anyone at all because anyone might be a spy.

At age 17, I decided to “go all out for Jesus” and do my best to practice christianity and live it out. I went to the bible to read for myself how one gets “saved.” I found several different versions of getting saved from the gospels. In John it was mainly “have faith” but in Mt, Mk, and Lk, it was as found in Mt 25, that you would have eternal life by doing good works(which of course is considered heresy). So I went to the books from the man that “had all the answers,” Bill gothard’s Basic and Advanced seminar textbooks.

What I found were all these other rules Irealized I could never live up to, yet, the man seemed to have a biblical basis for everything. In Februrary 2001 at age 17 I plunged into a dark suicidal depression all because I thought I had lost my “salvation” and somehow couldn’t live up to the rules. Every single hour of every single day, up until October 2001 I thought about ways of suicide and hating myself for not being worthy enough and failing God. I felt like there was no reason to live because I had lost my salvation and could never live up to the rules. In May of 2001, I told my parents I was depressed and they put me on 2 anti-depress ants(in addition to the other crap pills they had me on to try to brainwash me).

None of that touched this depression at all. Everyone prayed, they laid hands on me, spoke in tongues over me, I sought out every kind of christian spiritual help I knew of in charismatic christianity . I through away video games, a few movies, anything that could possibly be “bringing demons” that would cause me to lose God’s favour and make me depressed. I never told my parents I was suicidal however, that would have gotten me in big trouble, I just told them I was depressed.

In Oct 2001 I decided it had to end somehow, so I decided to simply reject the idea that Bill Gothard was infallible. The depression mostly cleared right up. I was still a little depressed because I saw other youth in another group doing so well and happy with life. That group was called King’s Kids.
King’s Kids is a youth ministry of YWAM.
I got involved with King’s Kids and went on missions trips with them.

At age 18, in 2002, I went to Youth With A Mission to do their “DTS” program which lasts a total of 5 months, the last two months you go on outreach. On the YWAM base several of the other young men smoked pot, looked at porn, listened to heavy metal, AND were involved in homosexual activities. 6 of the guys made a homosexual porn videotape together on the YWAM Denver campus but only one got kicked out because his face was on the video. 1 week before I was to head out on outreach, I was told by the YWAM Denver staff that I couldn’t go because I “wasn’t popular and talkative enough for missions work.” They admitted that I hadn’t done anything wrong, just that they had prayed and felt I wasn’t popular/”con nected” and talkative enough. I had already raised the $2600 for the 3 month course AND payed the $2200 for the missions trip(I did get a refund).

When I got back home it was back to the good old restriction and that is when I started having serious doubts about christianity . I got on staff with another group that is a program of YWAM called King’s Kids. I was on staff with them until mid 2005.

In early 2004, I was still living at home at age 20. I went to a charismatic conference at New Life church with my mother and her church. At the conference I got into a debate with two prayer team staff members. These two staff members watched me throughout the conference to find out who I was with. They found my mother and told her this story that went something along the lines of I “wasn’t walking with the lord and could be planning violence.” Two weeks later my mother brought over one of the pastors to search my room for “anything evil”(which included my Xbox video game and DVD collection). I tried moving all the video games, DVDs, and a few non-christia n books over to a friends house, but that woman was a church member. My mother and the church leadership called that woman, got into her house and basically destroyed at *least* $900 worth of property. I wasn’t involved in anything like drugs or anything like that. I just had video games, some books about other religions, DVDs and such.

After that incident my mother searched my room for the next 3 months EVERY SINGLE DAY. After that I decided it was over, that I had had it with christianity . Seeing how there are all these different churches and interpretati ons of the bible and what Jesus said, many different views on what a sin actually is and isn’t, different views on what God approves of, and all kinds of different views on:On how to get “saved” and how to stay “saved,” I realized that Christianity was mostly a big lie. Everyone has different ways of getting and staying saved and staying in God’s favor yet somehow there’s “only one God, one way to God and only one Word of God.”

I had already told my mother to lay off or she’d regret it. After that incident in 2004 I immediately went into all of Marilyn Manson’s thinking, ideas and music, believe it or not.

I found a LOT in common with Marilyn Manson and what he had to say, especially on his “Antichrist Superstar” album. I got involved in several other things too.

I never bothered to tell my King’s Kids leaders and friends that I had changed beliefs. I just stayed on KK Staff because I enjoyed going on outreaches and helping people. In 2005, I had written some poems about my experiences and sent them to some of my friends, 2 of which were on King’s Kids staff. One them got upset about it and forwarded it to the local King’s Kids director. He called me up and said he needed to have a meeting right away about “these e-mails you sent.” At the meeting I told him that they weren’t meant for him or anyone not on the list and that I didn’t see how any sin had been done. He admitted that I hadn’t done anything wrong by writing poetry, but he was still upset about it because it was talking bad about christians. He told me not to go to anymore meetings and that he would call me every other week to talk. He only called me the next week and has never called again. I had faithfully served them for a totall of 4 years, 3 of them on King’s Kids staff. I found out with them just who my friends really are.

After the 2005 King’s Kids I have not had any other affiliation with christian groups. however I’d say I left christianity in 2004.

Since leaving christianity I have gone on to the following:
Freemasonry- Scottish Rite, York Rite, Shriners
Everything Alesiter Crowley and Thelemic Magick, Marilyn Manson, Ceremonial Magick, Hermeticism, the Golden Dawn, Kabbalistic magick and studies.
Alice A. Bailey and her books, Lucis Trust, H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophy.

This story is kind of a shortened form. A LOT went on up until age 18, and then a lot happened at age 19(2003) to now.

____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____
Every man and every woman is a star

Editor’s Notes:

The following postings provide some poignant and troubling insights into Matthew and his thoughts. If one believes what Matthew has written, he asserts that he is bisexual…and has participated in “every sort of sexual perversion”… a statement which likely reflects some of the very religious judgments he sought to escape.

The last entry in this posting is perhaps the most significant… and perhaps one of the most troubling. I’ll offer a note of caution, in that Matthew uses some harsh and crass language in recounting an alleged conversation he had with his mother.

What is clear is his growing resentments and his determinatio n to effect a change. I contend his rejection of his religious ideology unfortunatel y didn’t include the ability to separate his newly chosen activities (drinking, sex, etc) from the construct of sin which had been ingrained in his psyche. While choosing to rebel, it is obvious he still loathes his actions though sees them as equal or superior to the hypocrisy and abuse he believes he experienced while attempting to live his faith.

Sadly, in the end, I suspect he couldn’t find a comfortable and comforting choice…hence his decision to end his life. It’s unfortunate that he apparently concluded he had no reasonable alternatives to the path he ultimately chose. I find it difficult to fathom being in that state of mind…but then that’s the primary reason for this exercise.

Let’s hope that our society will decide to be more proactive in the future.

Read more…


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Mike Huckabee’s cat and mouse game

As the cult of Mike Huckabee continues to grow, both nationally and across the state of Iowa, his cat and mouse game on religion is stepping up. Case in point, this AP article, “Huckabee Bristles at Creationism Query.”

Huckabee has sought time and again to portray himself as a Christian candidate. His advertisemen t in Iowa features big, blocky letters that pan “Christian Candidate” across the screen. He’s received the endorsement from Tim LaHaye, one of the co-authors of the “Left Behind” series (compulsory evangelical lit). His campaign Web site uses the alliterate trifecta of “Faith. Family. Freedom.” And he just recently received the endorsement of Chuck Hurley, an influential conservative activist in Iowa who was backing former Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, before Brownback dropped out of the race.

Yet as The Incredible Huck is continually asked about his faith, he’s playfully getting irritated. Case in point in the news article above; Huckabee is asked whether he thinks creationism should be taught in public schools, and he responds “Why the fascination with my beliefs?”

At the risk of stating the obvious, Mr. Huckabee, the fascination with your beliefs is not only your own doing, but it’s the reason you’re up in Iowa. The more you’re identified as a Christian candidate, the more Mitt Romney looks like he believes that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri. (Oh wait. He does.)

This is why Huckabee can play the cat and mouse game. He can say, “Look, stop focusing on my beliefs,” while still getting the message out there that what he believes is on target with the vast majority of GOP caucus-goers in Iowa. It’s like the reverse of a Catch-22. Whether he makes religion his focal point, or whether he chafes at religion being the focal point, Huckabee benefits.

Which begs the question: If Mitt Romney has millions and millions of dollars to pay political consultants, why the hell did none of them see this coming?

This caucus is Mike Huckabee’s to lose. And as Jet Netwal pointed out earlier on this site, that means we’re all in trouble.


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Romney gives the faith speech

Many of Mitt Romney’s advisers have been on him for months now to address his religion, but it likely took a new poll out by the Des Moines Register showing him five points behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, that has Romney ready to give his John F. Kennedy speech on religion. Ala Kennedy and his Catholicism in 1960, Romney is preparing to talk about his faith - Mormonism - for the first time this Election season.

Despite the endorsements of many prominent Christian conservative s, including Bob Jones, Paul Weyrich, and David Keene, Romney is still perceived as having problems resonating in socially conservative circles, especially among evangelicals . This could be one of the reasons, if not the reason, his support is slipping in places like Iowa, where the Republican caucus is dominated by social conservative s. Seems like most of these folks are jumping ship to Mike Huckabee, 30 days before the caucus. Being the nerd that I am, I watched a town hall on C-SPAN tonight with Romney, and sure enough, three of the questions from caucus-goers referenced Mike Huckabee.

And that’s the story line here. While there’s some historical relevance to Romney, one of the first Mormons to be competitive in a Presidential race, giving a speech about his faith, the talk smacks of inauthentici ty. Romney has been running for President for more than a year now, and he’s resisted talking about his faith at all costs. All of a sudden he finds himself slipping in the polls to Huckabee, and he decides to give a national talk on “Faith in America.”

Romney’s campaign is saying that the address will be a chance for Mitt to “share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.” But the underlying reason is that Romney’s being schooled by Huckabee in Iowa, and needs to respond.


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Don’t Be A Dick…Call Me Muhammadonna

The case of British educator, Gillian Gibbons…the teddy bear teacher…has drawn attention to the extremity of Sharia Law…and well it should. While I lack first hand knowledge of the issues surrounding the case, it appears that Gibbons is guilty of little more than being committed to teaching her students.

Apparently, her students were asked to name a teddy bear as part of an assignment…a nd they chose the name “Muhammad”. Attaching this name to an object is forbidden under Sharia Law as a form of idolatry…and an insult to the prophet Muhammad and the Islamic faith.

Gibbons actions subjected her to the possibility of forty lashes and six months in jail. In what some are calling an attempt at compromise, she was convicted of the offense and sentenced to fifteen days in prison and deportation. Since her conviction, a vocal segment of the Sudanese population has taken to the streets calling for Gibbons to be executed.

Hundreds of demonstrator s in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, poured into the streets on Friday demanding the execution of a British teacher who was convicted of insulting Islam because her class of 7-year-olds named a teddy bear Muhammad.

Despite the display of outrage, witnesses said that many of the protesters were government employees ordered to demonstrate, and that aside from a large gathering outside the presidential palace, most of Khartoum was quiet. Imams across the city brought up the case in sermons after Friday Prayer, but few of them urged violence.

It seems that Ms. Gibbons and the teddy bear became enmeshed in the larger struggle between the Sudanese government, which routinely accuses its Western critics of being anti-Islamic  , and European and American officials pressing for an end to the crisis in Darfur.

In early November, Sudanese officials said that peacekeepers from Scandinavia could not serve in Darfur, the troubled region of western Sudan, because of a dispute two years ago, when several Scandinavian newspapers published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

United Nations officials have said that the Sudanese government was simply looking for ways to block or delay the deployment of an expanded peacekeeping force. This week, United Nations officials said that unless the Sudanese government started cooperating, the expanded mission might not be possible.

Now I have no objection to people practicing the faith of their choice…and while I’m troubled by the fact that many people of faith do not practice reciprocity in that regard, this event points to the extreme methods by which some faiths seek to indoctrinate and control the lives of their followers. By erecting strict prohibitions  , they establish what I would view to be a modern day, self-enforce d, thought police…one which requires full conformity and exacts severe punishment upon those who deviate from the doctrine in the slightest.

Further, given the virtual genocide taking place in Darfur, one must wonder if religion is once again being utilized to further the prejudices of those who cloak themselves in their faith in order to obtain power and wealth. Sadly, history seems to reinforce the conclusion that nothing serves such purposes better than the instillation of an extreme belief system which can be manipulated to pit one set of values against all others in what is effectively characterize d as a battle of good versus evil. This fomentation of conflict isn’t limited to religious beliefs, though it could be argued that the practice is predicated upon a predictable formula that emulates religious fervor.

In the end, whatever the reasons, those who invoke this type of behavior, are all guilty of manipulation . Knowing as much, it is essential for others to speak out and defy that which is portrayed as convention. Doing so can be dangerous…bu t it is also necessary if one seeks to break the often deadly cycle and shed some much needed light upon the calculations and motivations of the perpetrators in order to unseat them from their hold on power.

Despite the furor created by the Muhammad cartoons, I’m of the belief that humor is an effective place to begin combating the extreme mind sets which so often accompany these fanatical faith based fabrications . Deification is a slippery slope…and one which ought to be challenged in the same manner one might confront a scientific hypothesis. Most importantly, those on opposite sides of the argument must be willing to accept and allow the other to reasonably and thoughtfully explore the subject at hand. Nothing less than freedom is at stake.

As I thought about this recent event in Sudan, I couldn’t help but think of Madonna and the controversy surrounding so many of her songs, her music videos, and her concerts. The following graphic, provocative though it may be, is offered with that in mind.

madonnacross.jpg

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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Devil’s In The Details? Not If You Ask Most Americans

Welcome to the latest American renaissance… a loathsome return to the “dark ages”. A new poll tells us that more Americans believe in hell and the devil…litera lly…than believe in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The only good news…and I say as much with all available facetiousnes s…is that nearly two thirds of all Americans believe in miracles. Why is that good news? Because it now appears it’s going to take a miracle to get this country tracking on a set of rational rails and not hitching it’s wacky wagon to a messianic magic carpet.

More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America’s deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have “Intelligent Design” theory — which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance — taught in schools alongside evolution.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin’s theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin’s theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual ’s theory of “natural selection.”

What I find so baffling is that in real life you can’t get most of these people to accept hard and fast facts…but when it comes to faith, they’re willing to believe in the cookie monster. Global warming…not a chance. No connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11…not on your life.

If the above data isn’t enough to convince you we’re on the fast train to rampant regression, not to worry…there’ s more data to report.

More born-again Christians — a term which usually refers to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience — believed in witches at 37 percent than mainline Protestants or Catholics, both at 32 percent.

OK, it was just a few months back when James Dobson and Focus on the Family released the following statement with regards to Harry Potter.

“We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.” His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it’s difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionab le minds.

At the time, I assumed Dobson was opposed to Harry Potter because it glamorized “witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins […]” to children…lea ding young people to embrace irrational notions and engage in irrational fantasies while distracting them from their religious studies. Little did I know that nearly a third of all Americans actually believe that witches exist and probably think the Harry Potter books were written to recruit more witches.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Many of these same people believe that Tinky Winky and Sponge Bob Square Pants are characters created by militant homosexual sympathizers that are intended to indoctrinate children into the gay lifestyle. When did a duck stop being a duck?

I must admit I’m totally flummoxed at the number of foolish and fallacious fixations. Have they become the means by which people disconnect from the harsh realities that permeate their increasingly complex lives? Are average Americans so disconnected from the practice of reason and an understandin g of the technology that surrounds them that they seek comfort in the simplicity of these virtual fabrications  ?

I don’t know the answers to my questions…bu t I do know it’s increasingly important for us to find them before we return to the logic that believed witches would float if tossed into a body of water…fully ignoring the fact that the accused was condemned to death either way. If they did float, they would be put to death for being a witch; if they sank and drowned, they weren’t a witch…but nonetheless dead? Frankly, we’re not that far from the wholesale suspension of cognition.

Makes a person want to dig out the Ouija Board and look into the future…but I’m going to stick with my Tarot Cards…I’ve found the results are much more to my liking.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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Vote in the common good

One of my favorite political buzzwords from the past few years has become “the common good,” a phrase I’ve seen most used as an umbrella term for the breadth of issues that should inform a person’s conscience when they vote. It’s a great retort to the groups, religions and individuals out there who suggest that only single issues should matter when it comes to casting a socially just vote.

As in 2004, we’ll likely see a push by very misguided Catholic groups to whittle the Catholic vote down to four issues: abortion, gay marriage and gay adoption, stem cell research, and euthanasia. These Catholic groups take these four issues and distort them for the sheer purpose of electing Republicans, while completely ignoring the breadth and depth of Catholic Social Teaching – the social principles that form the foundation of the Catholic faith.

Forty days out of the Iowa caucuses, a group of Catholic organization s have released a “Common Good Voting Pledge,” to draw attention to the wide range of social issues that should inform a Catholic’s conscience as they prepare to vote. The groups – including Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Pax Christi USA, NETWORK, Catholics United, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – have one basic, but profound, message: Building a culture of the common good requires us to balance our own self-interes t with a commitment to greater common interest as well.

Two specific issues are highlighted: a commitment to fight poverty, and a commitment to end the war. On fighting poverty, the groups say: 37 million Americans live below the poverty line in the world’s richest country. Half the world nearly three billion people live on less than two dollars a day. These are moral scandals that violate human life and dignity. Poverty is linked to many affronts to human life, including abortion and war. We are called to put our faith into action and care for the poor and most vulnerable.

On ending the war: The Iraq war has lasted more than four years and the number of casualties now exceeds 3800 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. War disproportio nately affects the poor in society and drains needed resources from vital social programs. Pope John Paul II insisted that “war is always a defeat for humanity.” Pope Benedict XVI believes that it is “right to resist war and its threats of destruction. ” The U.S. bishops have called for a “responsible withdrawal” of troops.

You can sign the pledge by clicking here, or download copies of the pledge for distribution by clicking here.

The more “the common good” frames the discussion of religious voters in the 2008 election, hopefully the less polarized we’ll be as a nation. As Jane Addams once said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

Now if only that statement were on the daily talking points given each morning to candidates running for President.


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