Tuesday, December 12, 2006

No War on Christmas? Think About It

At left, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky/Chai Center of Greater Seattle.

By Lisa Haddock
Faith Forum Editor

Is there a war on Christmas? Some say this issue is a figment of the right-wing imagination. But recent events at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport suggest otherwise.

Responding to a threatened a lawsuit from a Chabad/Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi, Port of Seattle authorities removed Christmas trees.

Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky was pushing to have a Hanukkah menorah erected at the facility. When officials didn’t comply, the rabbi threatened an immediate court fight. Rather than slugging it out, Sea-Tac took down the decorations. After a huge public outcry, Bogomilsky backed down, and Monday the airport decided to put back the trees.

The rabbi’s attorney, Harvey Grad, said Bogomilsky wasn’t asking for the trees to be removed. The lawyer also complained that the rabbi had received odious calls and messages. According to the now-defunct King County Journal, the rabbi is "trying to figure out how this is consistent with the spirit of Christmas."

I would submit that the spirit of Christmas is not the rabbi’s area of expertise. I also submit that anyone who starts a fight shouldn’t be surprised if he takes a punch or two in the face.

Air travel can be unpleasant at any time of the year. And the Christmas season makes for more stress on the traveler. (And notice that I did say “Christmas.”) The sight of Christmas trees reminds travelers of the reason for their journeys.

They are going to see relatives for a celebration of Christianity’s second-most important feast day. Even for the non-religious, Christmas is a cherished season, brimming with gifts, festive meals and family traditions.

For those who bristle at the suggestion that there is a war on Christmas, I suggest: Prove it.

I wish the rabbi the utmost success in placing his menorah in public places. But don’t make it a fight. Don’t force the issue in court, and don’t do it at the expense of Christmas. And don't be surprised if people take this issue personally.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pat Robertson Claims Super Strength

Pat Robertson claims that protein shakes have made him incredibly strong. (Photo from Christian Broadcasting Network.)

By Lisa Haddock
NJ Faith Forum Editor

Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network is claiming he can leg press 2,000 pounds – thanks to an amazing “age-defying protein shake.” Sports experts have called this feat impossible.

His Web site presents a video supposedly showing the seventy-something televangelist hoisting 1,000 pounds – with his legs. “Where does Pat find the time and energy to host a daily, national TV show, head a world-wide ministry, develop visionary scholars [at Regent University], while traveling the globe as a statesman?” the CBN Web site gushes.

Statesman? This year, Robertson made headlines after calling for the death of Hugo Chavez and labeling Ariel Sharon’s stroke divine retribution. What am I missing?

Odd claims are nothing new for the broadcaster, who routinely tells viewers he can see them being healed of their afflictions through a “word of knowledge” from God.

The following are snippets from Robertson's history of oddities.

  • 1981: He forecasts calamities from the Jupiter effect, an alignment of the planets in the solar system. “Some astronomers forecast unusual gravitational pull on our planet when all the planets line up in 1981-the so-called Jupiter effect," Robertson claimed. "This planetary activity could trigger earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and other widespread natural disasters. In short, we will soon be entering turbulent days and what is done in Jesus' name must be done quickly,” Robertson says (see “Sermon From the Satellite”). No disasters occur.
  • 1985: In a TV broadcast, Robertson prayed that Hurricane Gloria be steered away from his headquarters in Virginia Beach, Va. Unfortunately, the storm crashed into Fire Island instead (see “Apocalypse Soon.”)
  • 1986: Robertson reports that God has told him to run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination -- a bid that ultimately fails. Robertson’s Web site quotes this 1986 statement: “The question for me on this or for that matter on any major decision is simple. ‘What is God's will for me in this?’ Let me assure you that deep in my heart I know God's will for me in this crucial decision and I have -- His further assurance that He will care for, continue, and enlarge the ministry of CBN which is so dear to my heart," the televangelist/politician says. "So now to all of you assembled on this 17th of September, I give you my decision. If by September 17, 1987, one year from today, 3 million registered voters have signed petitions telling me that they will pray -- that they will work -- that they will give toward my election, then I will run as a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States of America.”
  • 2001: In a program aired just days after 9/11, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell show extreme pastoral insensitivity when they blame sin in America for the terrorist attacks.
  • 2006: Robertson forecasts major hurricanes for the U.S. this year. Again, his information source is divine. "I go away at the end of each year to pray, and if I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms. ... They're talking about storms up the East Coast, and there is a very real possibility of a tsunami or serious flooding and storming in the West Coast, as well."
Given Robertson’s long history of strange comments, weird prophecies, and purported direct messages from God Almighty, one wonders why he retains any credibility. Furthermore, why are his odd claims newsworthy? He is hardly a bona fide religious leader. His viewership represents a tiny portion of the world's 2.1 billion Christians.

These claims coming from Pope Benedict -- now that would be news.

Story sources:

Media Matters, storm comments
CNN, 9/11 comments
CBN, age-defying shake, weighlifting photos
Robertson statement, 1988 presidential bid
"Sermon from the Satellite,” Prime Time Preachers by Jeffrey K. Hadden and Charles E. Swann
"Apocalypse Soon," The New York Times
Associated Press photos of Robertson pumping iron, published by the Washington Post

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

McKellen Lambastes Vatican; Critics Pan 'Code'

Leonardo in self portrait. Whose code is it anyway?

By Lisa Haddock
NJ Faith Forum Editor

Ian McKellen has a distinguished acting career, two Oscar nominations and the title Knight Commander of the British Empire. And the openly gay British actor also had some withering comments for the Vatican.

The DaVinci Code star said he was "happy to believe that Jesus was married," the Ottawa Citizen and other news outlets reported. McKellen describes himself as a religious skeptic.

"The Catholic Church has problems with gay people, and I thought this would be absolute proof that Jesus was not gay," McKellen said Thursday (May 18) at a news conference in Cannes, France.

Da Vinci Code star Tom Hanks, who identifies as a Greek Orthodox Christian, added: "Write that down."

Meanwhile, critics are writing down nothing but negative reviews about The Code. The movie has been called grim, bloated and oppressive -- among other things. Hanks has been dubbed dull and wooden. Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday described the two-time Academy Award winner as "startlingly pasty." Worse still, he sleepwalks through the film, Hornaday says.
Director Ron Howard -- another Oscar winner -- had an A list cast, a blockbuster book and plenty of publicity to work with. How do you make a clunker out of that? Some entertainment gurus are predicting the film will be a hit. Moviegoers will determine the verdict at the box office.

Write that down.

Read more about The DaVinci Code on the blog:
Putting 'DaVinci Code' Outrage in Context
'DaVinci Code' Looms on Film Horizon

Check out the press coverage:
Ottawa Citizen
Washington Post, Ann Hornaday review

McKellen's official Web site

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Putting ‘DaVinci’ Outrage in Context

Martin Scorsese, director of The Last Temptation of Christ

By Lisa Haddock
NJ Faith Forum Editor

The DaVinci Code is not the first movie to offend Christians.

Whenever a religious group is depicted in the arts, there’s a controversy. Ron Howard’s The DaVinci Code is only the latest contender.

Remember The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988? Director Martin Scorsese took a beating for his controversial film, based on a 1951 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.

Last Temptation is a literary work, heavy on the philosophy and artistry. Only eggheads would see it as a page-turner. The novel explores big issues: What if Jesus didn’t start out as the Messiah? What if he overcame an intense internal struggle to become the Messiah?

The novel was considered blasphemous. The Orthodox Church excommunicated Kazantzakis; back in the Fifties, Temptation wound up on the Vatican’s list of banned books. And controversy (which is usually good for business) didn’t help Scorsese. His film grossed a puny $8.37 million in the U.S.

On the other hand, Dan Brown’s book is a mega-hit thriller -- big on the plot twists, word puzzles, and suspense. It’s also a manifesto intent on debunking Christianity. And the movie seems to have that same goal.

The alleged coverup outlined by Brown goes like this: Jesus was just a rabbi; he was married to Mary Magdalene; together, they had a child. To advance his own political ends, the Emperor Constantine made Jesus divine at the Council of Nicea. The Vatican has spent 2,000 years trying to hide these lies.

Just think of the trailers. Highly talented actor Ian McKellen (as gasbag Leigh Teabing) thunders: Witness the biggest coverup in human history.

Many experts in theology, art history, and the Gnostic Gospels say Brown’s conclusions are dead wrong. But little matter. Unless it is a cinematic trainwreck, Howard’s film version will be a smash.

In the meantime, Christian leaders are avoiding the pattern of the post-Muhammad cartoon riots. So far, they are fighting the The DaVinci Code's claims with words.

We'll have to wait to see what happens next.

Official DaVinci Code film site
Author Dan Brown's Web site
Wikipedia article on Nikos Kazantzakis

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Monday, May 15, 2006

'The Da Vinci Code' Looms on Film Horizon

By Lisa Haddock
NJ Faith Forum Editor

The film version of The DaVinci Code will hit theater screens in the U.S. on May 19.

Here's my executive summary of the book -- it's fast-paced, compelling plot, riddled with errors and flat-out slanders about Christianity. If you like word puzzles and conspiracy theories, you'll love this book. If you're looking for an accurate description of Christian history, Scripture, and tradition, look elsewhere.

DaVinci Code author Dan Brown aims his most venomous attack at Opus Dei (OD), a controversial conservative lay Catholic group. OD has drawn criticism from the Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN), among other groups. In a free-wheeling blog, Fr. Dan Wauck offers Opus Dei's side of the story.

Father Wauck's Opus Dei blog
Official DaVinci Code film site
Author Dan Brown's Web site

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Meeting the Master (A True Story)

By Irving Karchmar
(copyright 2006, Irving Karchmar; all rights reserved)

On the day before summer, I finally met the Master. And though I have thought of him often and dreamed of him and talked to him in my mind, even missed him as though we were separated family, I had never actually met him nor spoken to him.

Over the years I have read all his books and heard many stories about him. And for many of those years I had written a Sufi novel entitled Master of the Jinn, a project whose research led me to read many Sufi texts, and whose unfolding became almost like a zekr as I worked on it for hours each night. For much of that time I was fortunate enough to live in a khaniqah, whose library and energy and knowledgeable darvishes helped enormously.

Now, I thought, I had created something worthwhile enough so as to be worthy of meeting the Master and being in his company. How little I knew of the Master, or of his loving-kindness.
And so, after ten hours of travel, I arrived in England, and by chance met a fellow darvish who apparently was on the same plane. He saw my sleeping bag and guessed I was going to the same, very crowded khaniqah. There was to be a large gathering of darvishes from all over the world and many brought tents or sleeping bags. Together we traveled to the khaniqah by taxi.

Shortly after we arrived, the Master called us into his room, as he does all darvishes who come from a far distance. We went into the small bedroom of the main house, kissed the threshold, and entered. The Master was dressed in white and sat cross-legged, and we sat on our knees before him. He greeted us warmly, and as he looked at me his face lit up with wide-eyed surprise and joy, as if I were someone he was not expecting but happy to see. Perhaps it was my imagination, but my heart sang. I remembered well the tales of the Master’s glance and attention.

He asked how our trip had been.

“It was a good trip, one I want to make often, inshallah,” my companion said.

“Sufis are always inshallah (God willing),” the Master replied. “There is no need to say it.”

We nodded our heads, and after a few kind words, he smiled and said, “Welcome, then” and waved us out.

As soon as we were outside, I felt a sharp pain in my left knee, as if I had twisted it, though I could not for the life of me remember how. I limped upstairs to get some aspirin, and found a darvish there whom I knew well.

“Do you have another pair of pants with you?” he asked me.

“Only a pair of sweats. Why?”

“Because you have a large tear in yours, on the seat.”

I turned my head to look, and groaned. It was a wide tear.

“Get a needle and thread from someone and sew it,” he suggested.

“What the hell is going on?” I thought, taking the aspirin and changing into sweat pants for the time being.

Once outside, I met a Shaykh I knew walking on the grounds and greeted him happily, kissing his cheeks. He asked how I was doing.

“Well, I’ve been here for half an hour and I’ve already twisted my knee and torn my pants,” I said.

He chuckled, “Such things are common here.”

I borrowed needle and thread from one of the darvishes and walked to the sleeping area to mend the tear. As I limped along the path, I realized suddenly what a fool I had been. I had walked in with pride, and limped out in humility. I had come in arrogance and received torn pants for my folly.

“Thank you, Master!” I cried.

And the words of the great Junayd came to my heart.

“I will go a thousand leagues in falsehood, that one step of the journey may be true.”

Karchmar has been a darvish of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order since 1992.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

What's So Bad About the March of Dimes?

Animal rights activists are continuing their battle against the March of Dimes. But why would anyone target a charity that works to improve the health of babies?

Whose life is more important? A baby's or a lab rat's? And how much pain can we inflict on a living, sentient being -- in the name of medical progress? Can we go to the point of torture? Well, most people involved in the controversy don't want to discuss these points.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine -- an arm of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals -- alleges that the March of Dimes bankrolls cruel, wasteful animal experiments. PETA's view on animal testing is clear. "PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment."

The March of Dimes maintains: "Some of this research involves laboratory animals. The March of Dimes could not fulfill its mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant death without supporting such research."

Nobody needs to wear fur or eat meat. But can medical research move forward without these tests?

PCRM's video about MOD animal experiments
PCRM's statement on animal research
PETA mission statement
March of Dimes statement on biomedical research

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Baptist Press Addresses Gay Sex Scandal

The Baptist Press, official voice of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, takes on the story of Pastor Lonnie Latham. Latham stands accused of soliciting sex from a male police officer posing as a prostitute in Oklahoma City. Latham has resigned from his congregation, South Tulsa (Okla.) Baptist Church. He has also stepped down from executive positions within the denomination. The Southern Baptist Convention is a vocal opponent of homosexual activity and the gay rights movement. Oklahoma is a Southern Baptist stronghold, with fully 30 percent of state residents belonging to the denomination. New Jersey, which has a heavy Roman Catholic presence, has only a few SBC congregations.

Baptist Press story
Original blog post

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ding, Dong NBC's "Book of Daniel" is Dead

Hurrah for the American public. Bad ratings killed NBC's loathsome "Book of Daniel." Good riddance. Note to TV execs -- get a clue.

Read the show's obituary: NBC shuts Book of Daniel

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gay Marriage Foe Accused of Lewdness

Lonnie Latham, a Southern Baptist pastor from Tulsa, Okla., is accused of propositioning an undercover male cop in early January. Latham was arrested in Oklahoma City in an area frequented by gay male prostitutes. Undercover policemen were conducting a sting operation in the area. Latham is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee.

Latham opposes same-sex marriage. He also believes homosexuals should renounce gay life and become born-again Christians. He is also an outspoken critic of gambling. These views are consistent with the teachings of this Evangelical denomination.

The pastor denies the charges.

Read more about the case:
Channel 5, Oklahoma City

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Shut "The Book of Daniel"

By Lisa Haddock
NJ Faith Forum Editor

NBC's "The Book of Daniel" is the most offensive, unbearable show I've seen on network TV. And that includes my childhood years of being forced to watch “Hee Haw.”

Where shall I start?

1. Ethnic stereotypes.
---The only black person on the show is a maid. And of course, she steals from the family and smokes pot. What a fresh portrayal! Why don’t we bring back Prissy from “Gone With the Wind”? "Lordse, we got to have a doctor! I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!"
---The only Italian person on the show is in the Mafia. Italians -- even a priest -- have ties to the Mafia. Quelle unique!

2. Anti-Christian theme.
---Every cleric on the show is morally corrupt. The central character, Father Daniel Webster (how clever), is a pill popper. The female bishop is also a drug user. (Ellen Burstyn, what are you thinking? You're an Oscar-winning actress. Run away from this show!) She's also having an adulterous affair with another bishop (Father Dan's father, of course). The Catholic priest offers to have someone killed by his Mafia friends.

3. Portrayal of Jesus (a series character who regularly appears to the pill-popping padre).
---He is powerless, despite the fact he healed people in the scriptures.
---He is silly and inane.
---His only moral objection to anything on the show is Father Dan's pill-popping.
---He's Jesus -- a rather important figure to 2 billion Christians. Don't mess with him!

The fact that Dan's son is fornicating with a parishioner doesn't bother Jesus Christ. "It's something all kids have to go through," Jesus tells Dan.

Hello, writers!

Submitted for your consideration:
What about Christian teaching on fornication?
What about unplanned pregnancy?
What about STDs?
What about the impropriety of a priest's son cavorting with a parish member?

Pishposh, I guess.

The Father Dan says not a word to his oversexed son. He's more concerned about his daughter's marijuana use. Dad pops Vicodin tabs as if they were popcorn. His wife is a lush. But it's a big deal for his daughter to be involved with pot. Marijuana is illegal as well as harmful to the lungs and memory. But it’s Koolaid compared to highly popular drugs crystal meth and ecstasy. And booze? Come on. We all know what that does to people. So of course, Father D. and wifey are big old hypocrites. What else would Christian parents be?

The networks can run what they like. It's a free country. But I can't imagine why “The Book of Daniel” is on the air. I haven’t been so nauseous since a small plane I was riding in went wacky over some mountains.

The “BOD” reeks of racial, ethnic, and anti-religious bias. Dramatically, it's overwrought. It's like "Dallas Goes to Church." Murder, adultery, drug addiction. Please! Sue Ellen and J.R. strutting the ugliness of their marriage at Southfork Ranch – now that was fun. It was a nighttime soap opera.

“The Book of Daniel” -- ugh -- I don't even have a word for it. Not one I will publish anyway.

I hope other viewers will vote with their remotes so that this dreadful piece of "entertainment" is soon flushed from our airwaves into the sewer of oblivion.

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