William Butler Yeats and the avatars

Ross Douthat, the best man on the New York Times op-ed page, has a good piece this week about the movie “Avatar,” the blockbuster hit that is about to set the new zeitgeist. There is some worry in his essay, as he correctly points out that this film by James Cameron is an anthem to pantheism, a faith in opposition to the “literal mindedness of the monotheistic religions” that equates God with nature, “and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.”


The Vatican wants to believe

The questions of life’s origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe deserve serious consideration, says the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observation.

Fox Mulder couldn’t have said it better. Has Father Funes been watching “The X Files”? The Vatican is calling in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implications for the Catholic Church.


Obama in Afghanistan: An unprecedented show of uncertainty

At the end of Ramadan last week, Muslims wanted to pray at Rome's Piazza Vittoria. The Italian government said no, they had to pray in mosques. Despite the ban, thousands left their shoes by the side of the road and laid down their prayer rugs to participate in the Eid al-Fitr ceremonies.

A church, mosque, temple or synagogue is a container. Praying in a public piazza marks — territorializes — the common territory. But what were the Italians going to do, arrest people for praying?


The girl who cried wolf

It was all too easy, after hearing the initial stories about Rifqa Bary, to determine that some crazy fanatical Islamic extremists were going to try to kill their own daughter because of her conversion.

We’ve almost been taught to believe that Muslims’ understanding of God is naturally warped; that they’re just aching for a chance to kill what they term infidels, even those in their own family. Fortunately, being human allows for constant re-examination of our beliefs about other faiths, and it is time to recognize that this girl, whether due to confusion or malicious intent, has slandered and sullied her parents’ good name.


Mitt Romney, After the Storm

Before the storm, said Louisiana resident James Madison, he had Mormons knock on his door, just like everybody else, and the object was to try to get rid of them as fast as possible; go away, not interested, don’t want to hear what you have to say. After the storm, he said, it’s “a little bit different now. They’re part of my family now. Always will be. They got into my heart. They’ll never stand on my doorstep again without being invited into my house.”

They were hearing stories of troops coming in and heard helicopters were flying over, he said — they even heard that the president was flying over. But no one was there on the ground with them except the Mormons in their yellow T-shirts to help them clean up.

Requiem for the Walrus — John Lennon Remembered

Is it not written in your law you are gods?
— John 10:34

John Lennon was gunned down and killed in New York City 28 years ago next Monday. This event goes largely unnoticed in the press today, but in 1969, at the peak of the war in Vietnam, John Lennon was the most important man in the world.

The high point of his art and work had come a couple years before, when he used the expression "I am he" at the beginning of one of his most important and entertaining songs at the height of the hippie days. Lennon was, in his time, a generational shaman. He awakened his own generation between childhood and adulthood. But today he resonates in the world as a pure force all his own.

Religious Fascism?

I first heard the term “Islamofascism” on a summer visit to the U.S. six years ago. Though its source was dubious — talk radio of the most strident sort — the expression immediately rang true with me. Yes, fascism did seem a good way to characterize the extreme Islamic fundamentalism that appeared to be spreading through the Muslim world and beyond.

Before going further, it's worth noting that few expressions are more offensive to Muslims than “Islamofascism,” since it associates their religion with something that is patently evil. You have only to pair fascism with your preferred religious system to see why: “Christian fascism,” “Jewish fascism,” “Buddhist fascism” — we'd like to think all of these are contradictions in terms.

So I'm going to generalize the term and use “religious fascism” instead.

Turning Catholic

Bobby Jindal, governor of Mississippi, has abandoned devotion to Kali, the Mother of Death and Life, and adopted the way of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They say it increases his chances of being chosen as vice president by John McCain. They’ve been saying that about Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia, as well. He’s at the top of the VP list for Barack Obama. Sources close to Kaine say one of the things that makes him appealing for this job is that he is a Roman Catholic.

My own belief systems fall somewhere between the Bodhisattva and Brett Hull, so I shouldn’t claim that much insight into this.

Obama's Berlin Speech Disappointing

Barack Obama's speech in Germany made for quite an impressive picture, and any American gathering an audience of 200,000 in Europe — or anywhere, for that matter — is cause for excitement. No dispute there. But as speeches go, Obama's call for global unity was quite bland, cautious and clearly designed to offend no one. He got to tell Americans how much he loves his country, and to call for peace and justice throughout every land, from Berlin to the Balkans to Bangladesh to Burma.


This is a crucial moment in world history; wars are raging, countries are forming and terrorists are plotting. The opportunity to make positive change and bring about good in the world is right at our fingertips. But in order to make a lasting impact, we as a global community need to be united. This is why I was so disappointed in Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican for releasing a document stating that Roman Catholicism is the only true path to salvation. The document also said that other Christian and Orthodox communities are either defective or not true churches. These actions by the Catholic Church are a big blow to the movement for peace and unity amongst religions and nations.