Big-business religion

Corporations and parishioners are increasingly coming together to spread the word of God and make money. All across the country, churches — once intimate places of spiritual interconnectedness — have been replaced by stadiums of worship that utilize advanced technological innovations to awe, edify and rip off those in attendance.

The jig goes something like this: Corporations underwrite the construction of vast religious complexes that awe people into regular attendance. The preacher's image is projected onto a big screen. His calm baritone is beamed out by state-of-the-art speakers. From all sides, his voice fills the room. The seats shake as he gives expression to the word of God.


One burning question

Why the outrage in Afghanistan over one Florida pastor's burning of a copy of the Quran? Isn't it a form of idolatry in both Christian and Islamic faith to worship objects and symbols? What does it say about the state of faith when the medium corrupts the message?

Radical Islamic groups seem especially prone to exalting symbolism over other moral strictures — such as protecting the innocent and acting justly. Perversely, they seem to find it highly immoral for women to be seen uncovered in public — but not immoral to ruthlessly kill innocent men, women and children in brutal terror attacks.

What does it portend about America’s deepening commitments in the Middle East when it must deal with both partners and adversaries for whom death is preferable to a perceived dishonor?


Are Mormons the Aquarians?

A psychologist in Switzerland who treats people with visions of UFOs suggested once that these images might be understood as messages from the Unconscious: “eyes of God,” “eyes in the sky,” as angels were when the world awaited the birth of the Christ.

But today they anticipate a new age. As C.G. Jung put it in his first psychological study in 1958, UFO visions and cultural images are manifestations of psychic changes that appear at the end of one age and the beginning of another: “We are now nearing that great change which may be expected when the springpoint enters Aquarius.”

And so I was interested in the juxtaposition of two stories in the Sunday op-ed pages of The New York Times: one on alien life by Professor Ray Jayawardhana, to whom it “seems absurd, if not arrogant, to think that ours is the only life-bearing world in the galaxy,” and the other on Mormons by the Times's long-in-the-tooth columnist, Maureen Dowd.


‘Bless me, Father, for I have tweeted’

It’s amazing what we can do with our iPhones: make calls, return e-mails, schedule meetings, file notes, take photos, keep grocery lists, get wake-up calls, time a five-minute egg, check the weather, listen to music, watch a movie, get directions, play games, invest in stock.

But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Now, with the iPhone, you can even save your soul! Yes, the Catholic Church is out with a new iPhone app to help you confess your sins.


Barbaric ‘honor killings.’ Have we returned to the Dark Ages?

Americans have been found guilty of performing reprehensible acts throughout the nation’s history. The Salem Witch Trials are a case in point. Members of the Puritan community in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts were convicted and executed solely on the basis of the testimony of suspicious neighbors and the accusations of teenage girls. And yes, many of them were killed in horrific fashion.

The United States and the greater international community have, for the most part, come to a greater understanding of the value of human rights and the importance of protecting them. Much of this is based upon the individual’s conscience developing to a point where it is strong enough to stand up against the mores of society if it goes against one’s core values and beliefs which are rooted in doing what is best for society overall.


Jesus would be a liberal, right?

On Thursday night I appeared on “The Ed Schultz Show” on MSNBC, answering Newt Gingrich's latest attack on the jobless by suggesting Newt watch “It's a Wonderful Life” and reread the teachings of Jesus, which I offered to send him as my Christmas present.

President Obama is a man of quiet but deep Christian faith. Isn't it odd that every time the president quotes Scripture, he is met by angry rightists who seem to hate (hate is not too strong a word for some of them) that the president quotes the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus?

So let me put this question before the house today: Would Jesus be liberal today?


Where are the moderate Muslims?

Since 9/11, many have asked: Where are the moderate Muslims? Why don’t they stand up and denounce those who pervert Islam to justify violence?
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf exemplifies the type of individual they should be embracing. The man I heard speak at the Fourth Annual Bridges of Understanding Conference, held at the Meridian Center in Washington in early December, bore no resemblance to the stereotype that some have promulgated: that of a stealth Islamic supremacist who seeks to build a “megamosque” to humiliate those who lost loved ones on 9/11. Quite to the contrary, I found him to be polished, engaging, warmly humorous and humble — in a recent interview, in fact, the Imam said that if 9/11 were to happen again, he’d want to be the first to die.


The shameless assault on Christianity by intolerance and greed

You betcha I am talking privately to very senior Democrats about reaching out to the great religions for an enlightened renewal of values. But let me correct Armstrong Williams. America was founded on the idea of religious tolerance and diversity, and Jesus taught again and again about the obligation of Christians to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, treat the ill and help the hurting.

Jesus taught we should sell our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, not that Wall Street bonuses should be huge while we pass tax cuts for the rich while we neglect hunger and homelessness in the land.


The shameless assault on Christianity

We're losing the Christian foundations of this country, and people of faith are letting it happen. It's time for us to take a page from the Tea Party, but instead of taking our government back, we need to take our culture back.
Don't misunderstand me: America is a diverse country, and that's one of our strengths. I'm not denying that at all. However, America was founded on Christian principles; it's part of our national identity. If you go to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, you understand that the culture is based on Islamic principles, and you need to respect that as a visitor. Likewise, when you go to Mexico, you know that the national language is Spanish, and you need to speak it if you want to communicate. Those nations aren't expected to undermine their own foundations just to accommodate other people, so why are non-Christians demanding that of America? Why are we always accommodating?


Winter light: The end of exile

Over the weekend, winter solstice made the big headline on Drudge, with a picture of the moon, because for the first time in 456 years, more or less since the beginning of Protestantism, a lunar eclipse falls on winter solstice. It would be pointless to speculate on the meaning of this or if it has any meaning at all, except that I was struck a few years ago when we here in New England who had been complaining about The Curse for about 80 years had The Curse lifted when the Red Sox beat the Yankees for the pennant during a lunar eclipse. At the end of the game I went outside and sure enough, the shadow was passing across the moon. Eclipse at solstice, the darkest night of the year, might likewise have particular, essential meaning.