25 December 2001

Top Fallacies about Christianity

Christians wouldn't welcome someone like me into their Church.

That depends on which Christians. Have you ever walked into a church whose members were a different color than you? Blending in is not always an option during what Martin Luther King called "the most segregated hour in America." But in general, the more authentically Christian the congregation, the more welcome you will find yourself. And remember, most Christian churches wouldn't welcome the historical Jesus either, but we're trying to get better about that.

Christianity is just a cult like any other.

Christianity began as the quintessential anti-cult. Consider that cults usually wind up killing their followers and their opponents. Christianity began with outsiders killing the leader. The followers were neither homicidal nor suicidal, nor were they asked to be. They were emboldened with a miraculous courage to proclaim the Truth as they understood it. Christianity really is about getting in touch with God, not rallying around a psychopath (which is what cults are about).

I can be a Christian without attending Church.

From its beginning, Church has always been understood as community. Even ascetic hermits who meditated alone for years had their influence on the unfolding Church. In other words, if you are called to Christianity, you are called to make yourself known to the Church and the Church to you.

Modern day Christians are mostly Televangelists and their viewers.

Hardly. When my pastor was asked about Televangelism, he replied, "When was the last time a TV screen handed you the wine and the wafer (the elements of the Eucharist or Holy Communion)?"

I can be "spiritual" without being "religious."

Without a normative tradition to stand for or against, you can engage in what Bellah, et al. in Habits of the Heart, called Sheilaism. Sheilaism a hyper-individualistic "my-way" of dealing with one's religious impulses, named for a woman whom the authors interviewed. As such, it does not build institutions that shape societies, which is one of the functions of religion, but it may tear them down, which would be a demonic perversion of religion. In other words, your individualistic faith will do nothing for your world. Even Jesus stood in relation to the normative tradition of his day.

Christianity is not relevant to a technological world.

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indespensable supports....Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintaned without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of the religious principle." — George Washington's farewell address.

There is not one mention of technology in that statement, which remains as true today as when Washington spoke it over two centuries ago. In other words, technology is not relevant to the human need for religion.

All Christians are hypocrites.

So? Do you know of any religion or ethical system whose adherents are not hypocrites to some extent? At least Christianity recognizes this and makes room for it with the doctrine of the Forgiveness of Sin.

Christians can't let themselves have any fun.

Yeah, right. Like we never have any fun here. A humorless faith is an idolatrous faith. If it ain't ever any fun, its probably a foul fantasy.

All Christians are conservative.

Actually, the dominant movements in world Christianity are liberal, like the World Council of Churches. Christians come in all political persuasions. Just pick a congregation in tune with where you are now, and enjoy.

Religion is a sham for the weak-minded.

It's not a sham. It is a constructive way of living with our religious impulses. Basically, religion is for those of us who can't get along without God. Of course our minds are weak, compared to say, God's Mind. So are our bodies and our souls. We participate in religion to connect with our source of strength.

There is no hard evidence for Christianity or any religion.

So... You are convinced without proof that empirical evidence is necessary for you to believe in, or trust in, anything. How long have you had this delusion? How long have you denied all the things you do accept without proof just to get through each day? In our world, the world God gave to us, we live by proof. In God's World, the world to come, we live by faith. It is our job to live in both worlds at once. Trust me, it takes a some common sense.

09 December 2001

An Open Letter to Survivors of Clergy Abuse

contributed by Kay Goodnow

We are the ones we have been waiting for. — Oraibi, Arizona, Hopi Nation
Along with the rest of "us survivors," I have been following the story of the Pope's apology (even if it was just one paragraph) for the sexual and psychological abuse perpetrated against the innocent by the ordained (what I often refer to as ‘authority in organized denomination’). I have also been following the comments and correspondence between us that resulted from that apology.

Before I proceed with this epistle, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to those who put the recent Link-Up conference in Toronto together! For me, and this was my first conference, it was a rewarding experience and possibly the best investment in myself that I have ever made! I am what is known as a "sensitive" and I was a little afraid that what I might find at the conference would open old wounds, but just the opposite occurred. I found myself gaining strength and I rejoiced at the power, the energy that I felt in sharing friendship with those of you who were there. I both felt and saw the light that surrounded all of us and I believe that there just may have been the human equivalent of lightning bolts in some of those sessions. More than happy that I attended, I returned home with new insights, new courage and new hope.

I was in New York City when CNN presented a one-liner relative to this historical apology and I smiled at the television set and breathed the words "This is just the beginning, just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and it is good!"

Later that day I sat in Carnegie Hall, in a packed house, and I listened to a choir perform John Rutter’s Requiem. My oldest daughter was a part of this choir, which consisted of singers who had all attended Shawnee Mission South High School right here in Overland Park, Kansas. A strong part of my personal heritage is the ancient Latin of the church combined with the music, the spirit of God in song, if you will. I dearly love and secretly treasure her music. I know that the "church" can never take that away from me. Although both the composer and director are younger than I, the words were the same as they have been for centuries. Only the interpretation of those words has changed!
That day, that Sunday, two wonderful things happened to me; the apology by the Pope and the joy of that concert. As the words "Lux aeterna dona eis Domine" echoed through that magnificent recital hall my heart kept trying to stop beating as I experienced the Light that truly is God. Here was further verification that God is always present, always near at hand, always available. He was there. He heard that magnificent music and He smiled.

I felt myself accept the Pope’s apology. I felt peace, humility, courage and the empowering strength that comes from accepting the inevitable and making the brave decision to proceed along whatever path it is that I am to follow. I do not have to forgive those atrocities, but I do have to accept the apology. The Requiem had become a channel.

For what it’s worth, from me to you and just between us, what has happened has happened and there is absolutely nothing in this world that we can do to change that. Once we have been abused, life changes. I can no more go back to being an innocent 15-year-old than can any of you go back to before your damage was done. Yes, I agree, it should not have happened; not to me and not to you and not to anyone else and especially not in God’s name! But it did.

I have just read the editorial from the December 7, 2001 issue of the National Catholic Reporter dealing with the need for an "open and just procedure needed in Maciel case." My head and my heart, acting as one, said, "Well, d-u-h-h-h!"

I have just read the new set of norms from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. My head and my heart, acting as one, said, "This may be new to them, but to me it sounds just like all of their 'Hear, Speak and See No Evil' methods for avoiding with their serious internal problems!"
Some clergy are openly committing crimes against humanity. Abuse is one part of those crimes. And the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith continues to both propagate and perpetuate the problem.

The 'committee' defined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is no doubt another attempt to keep the perpetrators and the facts hidden. Like the ostrich that buries it’s head in the sand to avoid confrontation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sounds good, but it isn’t. That is unfortunate, but true. And granted, a token apology cannot take away the years and years of pain that each of us has experienced…

A very wise woman once told me "We are each responsible for our own spirituality." I have accepted that responsibility, with great pleasure. And I would like to submit to each of you, for your consideration, the following:

Maybe it’s time to start telling the truth to ourselves and our children and grandchildren: God is alive and well! He is always there for us! He is too big to be contained, defined, categorized or limited in any way. He existed before Christianity, before the birth of our planet and before the birth of time as we know it. It really doesn’t matter what we call Him… He loves us all, every single one of us!
Maybe it’s time to stop exposing our children and grandchildren to 'authority within organized denomination' while we hope that they never encounter a 'perp' or, if they do, that we can do something about it!

Maybe it’s time to stop enabling this 'authority' by denying access to what it is they want, REGARDLESS of their motivation!

For me, the message brought by Christ is valid. It is the vehicle that is wrong! It was the vehicle that invented the Trinity, pronounced babies sinful, proclaimed those who chose to think for themselves to be heretics. It was the vehicle that 'created' hoaxology ad nauseum. I believed it all, right out of the Baltimore Catechisms of the 1950's! I am now in a phase of berating myself for believing any of it, because it simply doesn't make any sense. Alas, it isn't even logical. They did a very, very good job of brainwashing me. It has taken a lot of years, oceans of water under the bridge, for me to get to where I am today and I certainly did not get here by myself! The Ancient Light that is the author of the universe had quite a lot to do with breaking those deceitful, self-deprecating tapes!

Certainly I believe that there are good people and good leaders in all of the forms of Deism that exist. Certainly I respect every other person and his or her own personal beliefs. Certainly I know that each of us is in a different stage of growth. Certainly I can identify with the rage, the fury or being slapped in the face and called "insignificant." The opposite of love is, after all, indifference. I know for a fact how very scary it is to stand before God and say "I give all of this nonsense back to You, do with me whatever it is You want."

I have what I call the "gift of perception." No doubt this is due in large part to the abuse and the ridicule I experienced from "God’s representative here on earth." I now believe that "authority within organized denomination" is diametrically the opposite to the real message of the Christ…
Some of you may be in crisis with your God identity. Some of you may not honestly know what you do believe. Some of you are caught in the throes of not being able to believe or accept that your church could do these things…

All of these are normal feelings, under the circumstances that have severed you from your churches. Please know that God is alive and well, very present and very real, very aware of the pain and the rage. He simply is not the God that we were taught! He walks around with us in our daily lives. He understands that we are who we are… Once used to this concept and living life in this way, it becomes increasingly difficult to find peace at a church service. At least it has for me!

I have decided to quit believing in somebody else's God. I have decided to invite organized religion to takes its Thou Shalt Not's and go elsewhere with them. Enough hypocrisy! Enough lies! Enough discrimination! Enough duplicity! Enough control! Enough final authority!

As someone at the convention stated with a smile, "I have excommunicated them from me!" I agree, but I have welcomed all people of all faiths into my life. My gift of discernment is like a beacon in a storm or a virus detector on a computer: It shouts "Warning! Warning!" and I walk away… Chances are that you have this gift too; you "feel, sense" that something isn't quite true about someone else. It is okay to protect yourself and it is okay to question! Once the information is obtained, it is okay to sift, sort, pitch, retain and validate. That's how growth and recovery happen. How marvelously freeing it is for me, but how painful was the process, and how slow!

I believe that we must continue to make abuse cases public. We must educate the world and we must be confident in knowing that we will make a difference in the future, each of us. We are, after all, stopping the cycle of abuse by being ourselves. We should be proud, stand tall, hold our heads high and celebrate!

Perhaps it's time to reread the message of Christ and interpret it on our own. If, after all, that message is valid then it is 'authority within organized denomination' that is the so-called anti-Christ!
I wish for all of you, during this season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Solstice, all that is good! If anyone wants to talk, ever, at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me. There will be similarities between us, but no two of us are identical. Therein lies the strength, and light, that is God!

Rejoice in the birth of the Light!

Although this e-mail was started with the intent of communicating with those who attended the Link-Up Conference in Toronto last month, it is also intended for SNAP (Survivor's Network for those Abused by Priests) and all persons who have been abused or seduced by a trusted mentor; those who have experienced the very real (and awful) violation of fiduciary responsibility no matter what their religious expression (or lack of same) may be.
I have emailed a copy of this effort to the National Catholic Reporter with the sincere hope that publication will result in reaching those who have never come forward to tell their stories. — KG

18 November 2001

Lessons from Dogs

In 1990 I wrote in Obscenity and Peace that

We are now living in the "post-Communist" era, whose shape is only beginning to be delineated. Regional or "tribal" conflict rather than peace seems to be at hand, as proliferant nations attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

A decade later, things are worse than I had anticipated. Our technologies are becoming so powerful that a clever band of psychopaths can inflict mass destruction without warning on any society they please, in order to gain some advantage or notoriety for their tribal conflict. And our media are so pervasive that they can find an audience sufficient to hijack an entire religion as they murder in the name of their idolatrous misrepresentation of God.

On September 11, 2001, a band of terrorists who fancied themselves to be Muslims hijacked four passenger airliners and deliberately crashed two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and one into the Pentagon. The terrorists crashed the fourth plane into the ground rather than let the passengers (who by this time had discovered their intent) overpower them. In all, some 7000 non-combatant people of all nations and creeds were brutally murdered. It was a brave act, in that the perpetrators lost their lives doing it. It was a cowardly act, in that they struck soft, unresisting targets by surprise. But mostly it was obscene, evil, and blasphemous.

The responses available to us as the injured nation-state are limited. We are attempting to make our society more difficult to attack, and, we are attempting to eliminate this particular threat — organized global terrorism. But we are also attempting to make peace with the population from whom this particular band of terrorists, the al-Quaeda network, extracted support and safe haven. In other words, we are empowering the powerless, enfranchising the disenfranchised, and destroying (because they cannot be deterred) the wilfully destructive. Our ultimate effectiveness will depend upon whether we can help establish a genuinely Islamic, genuinely democratic, and genuinely pluralistic government to replace the Taliban in Afganistan.

We are implacably against those who are implacably against us, yet we are generous toward those who are willing to reason with us. It is simple, but not simple enough for a distressingly large number of Americans, some of whom are in positions of political power. For instance, the Chancellor of New York City public schools, Harold Levy, has decreed (in violation of the US Constitution) that each NYC school must set aside a room for Muslim children to pray in during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ("Schools OK Ramadan Prayers," New York Post; Nov 15, 2001).

Let's replay the action: (1) Terrorists kill 7000 people in New York in the name of their brand of Islam. (2) New York Schools set aside places for Islamic students to pray. Might I add: (3) Hardline Islamic terrorist sympathizers declare a major victory has been won against America, the bastion of secularizers and Crusaders.

Anyone who is capable of training a dog knows what Mr. Levy has done wrong. Never give your dog a treat when it bites you. The dog will take that as a reward, and bite you again. You must assert dominance over your dog by doing whatever is necessary to force it to the ground and onto its back. The dog will understand that biting you results only in reinforcement of its inferior status to you, and will give up trying to challenge you by biting. If asserting higher status than your dog goes against your ideal of your relationship to your pet, then you shouldn't own a dog. Your lack of common sense, fortitude and responsibility will teach almost any dog you own to become viscious.

Since I believe we humans are all like little blind Chihuahuas, making noise in God's general direction, the parallel is obvious. When terrorists attack, don't abrogate your own laws in favor of the religion they play as a team sport. You make war on the terrorists, and you make sure all people of all religions have the same rights, protections, and priveleges in this pluralistic society. Period.

But there is another thing we can learn from dog ownership in terms of making peace with those who are willing to be reasonable. I remember walking my dog, Samwise, along a street near my home, when he suddenly stopped and left his third poop. I had taken a bag for his usual one poop, and a spare for a possible second, but was unprepared for this third, which was, to be frank, a real steamer. There was nothing for it but to head for home to get resupplied. At that moment, a car swerved up to the sidewalk, and the driver began to berate me for not cleaning up after my dog. The driver was getting angrier and angrier, and so was I. Then I thought to myself, "How would I react to this if I were actually a Christian?"

I smiled at the driver, and asked, "Would you like me to go home, get a plastic bag, and pick this up?"

The driver was flabbergasted. He could only smile back and say, "Well, yes, I would." Grace had struck. The conflict was over.

"That's what I'll do." When I got back with the bag, the driver was gone.

The driver, even though he was venting his anger with irresponsible dog owners at me, was nevertheless a reasonable human being, trying to deal with me concerning values we both shared. He was not a terrorist fed up with dog poop who would kill anyone who walks a dog.

The driver you talk to. The terrorist you confine or kill. If you can't tell the difference, don't vote or run for public office. You'll just teach terrorists to become more viscious.

16 November 2001

Thinwa against Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Fundamentalism

In the Name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, greetings to all people of good will.

There are among us Fundamentalists who believe, as a matter of Religion, in various Paranoid Conspiracy Theories, by which they permit and impel themselves to commit acts of gross violence against those who would do them no harm. They do this because they perceive that their way of experiencing the world is under attack by an aggressive and inexorable modernization of human material circumstances, and with it human sensibilities and desires. But rather than non-violently reject or confront modernization, they attribute it to some group of people they can identify, isolate, demonize, and brutalize. They usually start by fighting their co-religionists (as those who endanger their pure faith by sympathizing with modern notions) in order to establish for themselves a unique group-identity. Then they reach out to attack those whom they consider to be the source or driving force of the bad (modernizing) influences. At various times and in various cultures they have attacked Jews, Women's Rights Activists, Abortionists, Americans and others.

I, a nobody, on no authority whatsoever, declare this Paranoid Conspiracy Theory brand of Fundamentalism to be anathema, a poison infecting the lifeblood of true religion, and its adherents to be enemies of that which is holy. I call upon all people of good will and good faith to say unto them, "Piss off!" and "Get a Life!" and all such manner of expression as may seem appropriate. Let all Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Fundmentalists (henceforth PCTFs — pronounced "pucktuffs", which is f__ed up pronounced backwards) be laughed to scorn in all venues in which they dare to air or act on their delusions. May their gatherings become objects of intense study by social psychologists. Let them be parodied, joked about, and cartooned without mercy. Let them be embarassed into dealing more constructively with the world.

Let them eat Prozac.

I have spoken this thinwa, which cannot be undone.

(See Bin Laden's fatwa.)

Religious Non-Entity Calls for Yeehah!

Paradise, Ky (AP - Oct 25, 2001) In a rare appearance, the Blind Chihuahua, the world's most unrecognised religious non-entity, came out of occultation to call for yeehah (comic conflict) against the worlds' dictatorships. "Large parts of the world are still under the control of clowns who think being an S.O.B. gives them the right to rule. These wannabes can take it from the real thing — being an S.O.B., which I proudly am, gives you nothing more than the right to pee on a tree," he said, standing atop glowing clouds, while the sun shone out his anus.

Sources close to the Blind Chihuahua revealed that yeehah derives from the pleasure-whoop originally uttered by Lutherans of New Braunfels, Texas, whenever they were having a really good time. Now is the time for all good people to chide dictators, apologists for dictators, supporters of dictators, and even the families and pets of dictators, in a humorous manner, they claim.

"Dictators instigate most of the world's warfare," elaborated the Blind Chihuahua. "They either start wars themselves, or simply sit on people so hard that their only chance to participate in any kind of political process is by throwing stones and doing suicide bombings in displaced rage against someone else." The Blind Chihuahua then urged his cult of followers, none of whom were to be found, to take up ridicule and sarcasm against the true foes of world peace.

"Take Saddam Hussein," continued the Blind Chihuahua. "He and his stooges claim that sanctions against Iraq for continuing to develop biological and other nasty weapons are starving the Iraqi people. But the amount of trade Iraq is now conducting under the UN's Oil for Food program is equal to the amount it was conducting before the Gulf War. To them I say, 'Liar, liar, pants on fire!'"

In a related development, the Pooper Scooper, the Blind Chihuahua's webmaster and self-appointed spokesperson for the Blind Chihuahua during his periods of occultation, issued a thinwa (opposite of a fatwa) against Fundamentalists who indulge themselves in Paranoid Conspiracy Theories. "By concocting false conspiracy theories about how their one true way of believing is about to be annihilated by somebody else, these people emotionally masturbate themselves out of anxiety/depression into violent rage," claimed the Pooper Scooper. "They go from being the 'God's fearful faithful' to the 'devil's deadly dick-heads,' as it were."

When asked to respond to the Pooper Scooper's thinwa, the Blind Chihuahua responded, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain..."

Violent Fundamentalists of various religions declined to comment for this story, preferring instead to assault reporters with knives, guns, burning torches, box cutters and other ritual weapons. The world's Dictators all claimed to be too busy to respond to charges leveled by imaginary creatures and fictitious web personae.

08 November 2001

To US Military Members and Families

I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.
I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.
For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. — Psalm 18:37-40

If you are called to this service, your duty is to fight, kill, and, if need be, to die for the rest of us, or to support with your untiring effort those who do. Your work is hallowed in so far as the cause for which you fight is just, and in so far as you use no more force than necessary to subdue our enemies. You serve well if you fight not to destroy what you hate, but to defend what you love.

Let us here acknowledge that those who espouse pacifism do so with the expectation of living full lives only because you protect them with your willingness to make war. May a great and grateful nation welcome you home, or if your fate is beyond this world, may it always remember you. And may it take good care of those of you return with injuries.

May the rest of us take care not to squander the peace that you now buy with your courage and hard work. And may these words be a comfort and inspiration to you and your family.


As far as we know, the first sacred literature were the Vedas (Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda), which consist of hymns to the various gods of the Hindu pantheon (which has uncountably many). The philosophy implied in the Vedas (ca. 4000 — 1500 B.C.) was made explicit in the Upanishads (600 - 300 B.C.). Overlapping and following the period of the Upahishads came the great narrative epic poems. These are the Ramayan, which tells of the adventures of the great hero Ram and his wife Sita (and ascribed to the poet Valmiki), and the Mahabharata (ascribed to the poet and sage Vyasa), which tells of the great hero Arjuna, and the great civil war in which he fought. The sixth book of the Mahabharata is the famous Bhagavad Gita, or Song of the Lord, which tells of the philosophic conversation between Arjuna and the god Krishna, who during his incarnation was Arjuna's chariot driver.

The gods, and indeed everyone and everything, are manifestations of a single divine principle called Brahman. The principal manifestations are three: Brahma - the Creator, Krishna (aka Vishnu) - the Sustainer, and Shiva - the Destroyer (who is also associated with eroticism). The manifesting and unmanifesting of Brahman creates and destroys the entire Universe in an endless series of long cycles. Thus what appears to be progress is illusory — it is but the change associated with this particular cycle.

In addition to this, Hinduism posits that every sentient being in the Universe is reincarnated countless times, until it attains Enlightenment and returns to the eternal Brahman, thus exiting the cycle of Birth and Death. Bad deeds negatively affect one's karma, leading to a less auspicious rebirth, and decreasing one's chance of becoming Enlightened in this lifetime and the next one (or even several).

This Hindu conception of Time is distinct from that of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which implicitly hold that time is linear - that the Universe had a beginning and will have an end, and that one's actions take place in the context of an overall Divine Plan for the Universe. This leads to morality as a heightened concern on the part of monotheistic religions for conformity to what is perceived as God's Will, as distinct from Hinduism and Buddhism, which are concerned with morality as providing a shorter path to escape the suffering associated with the cycle of being reborn, living, dying, and being reborn again. An interesting parallel with Christianity is that Hindus believe Krishna became incarnated as a man for a single human lifetime (although Krishna's mortal life lasted 125 years, ending when he was shot accidentally by a hunter).

Hinduism is the progenitor of Buddhism, which is a simplification of Hinduism from uncountably many manifestations of Brahman to no god at all. That is to say, since you yourself are a manifestation of Brahman, and since Enlightenment is realizing your one-ness with Brahman, it facilitates Enlightenment to eschew conceptualizing Brahman as distinct from oneself, and vice versa.
Jainism is a sect of Hinduism that emphasizes non-violence, which leads many of its followers to take up professions that do no violence to any living or non-living thing, such as being a lawyer like that most famous Jain, Mahatma Mohandas K. Ghandi.

One of the bits of negative cultural baggage to which popular Hinduism in some parts of India still clings is the caste system, which classifies people as
  • Brahmins (the priests and academics)
  • Kshatriyas (rulers, military)
  • Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants)
  • Sudras (peasants, servants, and workers in non-polluting jobs), and
  • and Dalits (Untouchables) who do labor that is considered polluting to one's body or soul.
India has officially disbanded the caste system and has enacted a number of anti-discrimination measures to ameliorate the situation of the Dalits, but more work needs to be done.

Hinduism has produced a system of medicine called Ayurveda, which arose from observation and anecdotal information, without benefit of statistically controlled trials, a germ-theory of disease, internal anatomy or surgery. What is remarkable about Ayurveda is the extent to which some of it works, despite these limitations. Finally, Hinduism in India has led to a rich musical tradition, in which a musical performance is a guided meditation of the audience by the performers. The Hindu varieties of meditation are called Yoga, and some of them involve various bodily movements and postures, because we are an integrated body-mind — the movement of one affects the movement of the other.

Hinduism has enjoyed a reputation of being tolerant of other religions, but has proved itself capable of being as violently intolerant and xenophobic as any other religion when it is politicized.

Hinduism Links

Hinduism, including links to online scriptures
Wikipedia article on Krishna
Resources for the Study of East Asian Language and Thought


The sacred literature of Buddhism is both immense and non-essential. It consists of written accounts of Sutras (sermons) spoken by the most recent Buddha, who was born in ancient India as prince Siddhartha, and by others of his disciples and enlightened followers. But none of these is essential for Enlightenment, the unmediated experience of Reality as It Is. Since you are part of Reality, this includes the experience of your real self, as distinct from your personality, which is your own creation. Thus, Enlightenment can occur in a sudden flash, without any prior conscious preparation, or after years of meditative discipline, or after meditating on the Sutras, or any combination of the foregoing. Because the Enlightenment experience of Reality transcends dualistic distinctions between self and other, or between anything and anything else, there is no personification of God in Buddhism. (In other words, there is no God in Buddhism, because you're It. So is everyone else.) Buddhists do revere the Buddha, because such reverence evokes emotional states that are conducive to Enlightenment, and because those who are Enlightened are grateful to Buddha for having pointed the Way.

That said, Buddhism has divided into many traditions. Zen Buddhism, which began in China, but later became popular with Japan's samurai warriors, emphasizes sudden Enlightenment, and uses riddles called koans to awaken and develop Enlightenment in Zen students. Tibetan Buddhism produced the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is a set of instructions to be spoken to a person immediately before, during, and after death, which tell how to achieve Enlightenment in the bardo state between lives, or, failing that, to achieve an optimal rebirth. According to these instructions, a person's spirit commonly swoons into unconsciousness for three days following death, after which it awakens and imagines a body for itself — a curious parallel with the Christian account of the Resurrection of Christ after three days, and with the Christian notion of bodily resurrection in general.

Buddhism's atheistic conception of Divinity is distinct from, but not in opposition to, the Hinduism from which Buddhism arose. Hinduism's infinity of gods are all emanations from a single Divine Principle, as is everything else, including you. Thus, ultimately, you are that Principle, as is everything else. However, there are many traditions within Hinduism, honoring various deities as ends-in-themselves, which leads to religious conflict with peoples of other traditions.

Buddhism Links

VCBC's Favorite Zen Sayings
Buddhism in Ottawa
Tricycle Buddhist Review
Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors. See also Popular Zen Stories.
The famous "Ten Oxherding Pictures" and commentary describing the stages of enlightenment.
Resources for the Study of East Asian Language and Thought


The Earth is but one country, and Humankind is its citizenry...
These words of Mirza Husayn-'Ali-i-Nuri (1817-1892), known to Baha'is as the Baha'u'llah (Glory of God) summarize the thrust of the Baha'i faith toward the unity of all humankind. He was preceded by his mentor, Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad (1819-1850), who declared himself to be the Bab (Gate) after a Shi'ite Muslim concept, on May 23, 1844 in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran). The Baha'is consider this event to be the founding of their religion, which is as different from its origins in Islam as Islam is from its orgins in Judaism and Christiantity.

In 1866, after years of persecution (both the Bab and the Baha'u'llah were imprisoned, and the Bab was executed in 1850), the Baha'u'llah declared himself to be the new Messenger of God for this age, whose coming had been predicted by the Bab. He left the world a large number of writings, including The Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), and the Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude) as major theological works, and the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys as mystical treatises. He died under imprisonment in Akka in what was then the Ottoman Empire, but is now Israel. The Baha'u'llah left a will which made his eldest son, Abbas Effendi, also known as Abdu'l Baha (Servant of Baha) the next leader of the Baha'i faith. He eventually passed leadership to his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi.

After him, leadership has passed to the Universal House of Justice, currently located in Israel.
Baha'i worship takes place in the homes of individual Baha'is or rented quarters. There are seven Baha'i temples in the world (one for each continent). Baha'is believe that the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions are sacred, and that the Prophets sent by God for each Age include Adam, Krishna, Buddha, Y'shua of Nazareth (Jesus), Muhammad, the Bab and the Baha'u'llah. Baha'is do not have clergy.

The Baha'is
Baha'i Faith on Wikipedia
Baha'i Faith in the US
About.com: Baha'i


In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful...
These words begin 113 of the 114 surahs of the Qur'an, the Book of the words revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Qur'an's beauty and severity shine through even English renderings.

While the Qur'an is the heart of Islam, much can be learned from Muhammad's extra-Qur'anic utterances and deeds, preserved for us in the Sunnah, of which his sayings are called the Hadith.
Still more is revealed in the Salah, the Islamic way of prayer, which involves the whole person, body and soul, in reverence to the Creator, five times per day, with special observances for Islamic Holidays.

In the Qur'an it is twice written (2:62, 5:69):
Surely, those who believe, the Jews, the Christians, the converts; all those who believe in God and in the Hereafter, and do righteousness, will receive their recompense from their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
Surely, we can all get along.

But, reading between the lines of the Qur'an we see that while Jews and Christians initially supported the Prophet because he was teaching monotheism, they felt betrayed when they realized that his teachings diverged from theirs. When two Arab-Jewish tribes who had previously pledged their support to the prophet fought against him at a critical battle in Medina, the Prophet considered them to have committed treason, and he had the men of those tribes executed. This incident has since been considered by Muslims to be an example of the treachery of Jews, and by Jews to be an example of the brutality of Muslims. Thus the seeds of misunderstanding were sown.

This misunderstanding is amplified by those Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have become what the Qur'an calls People of the Book, those who use the narrowest interpretations of their respective Scriptures to justify making enemies of one another.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all claim to worship the one true God of Abraham. Let us take those claims at face value, and respect each other as brothers and sisters proceeding along parallel paths to our Lord. We could in principle even briefly pray together.

This is not to ignore our differences. Muslims do not observe Jewish Law and ritual, nor do Muslims and Jews accept the Divinity of Christ (nor his death on the Cross and subsequent Resurrection). And neither Jews nor Christians accept the authority of the Prophet and the Qur'an. But Muslims observe Islamic Law and ritual, and honor the Hebrew Prophets, among whom Muslims count Jesus. Our differences are not so great that God cannot overcome them. Let us remember that Islam's Prophet was the first to say so.

The central narrative of Islam is the story of the first Muslim community, from the first revelation received by the Prophet until his death. The community underwent periods of violent struggle for its very existence, until it finally triumphed over its enemies. The Qur'anic revelations during the periods of struggle naturally dealt with war, and have led many to develop a warlike understanding of Islam, an understanding that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional in a world in which weapons of mass destruction are becoming increasingly available.

Islam has divided into two major movements, Sunni, and Shi'i originating in a dispute as to who should succeed the Prophet as leader of the Islamic world. Minor movements include the Amahadis, the Nation of Islam in America, and the Druse. A new universalist religion, Baha'i, emerged from the Shi'ite Islam practiced in Iran during the 1800's. A blasphemous perversion of Islam is believed by certain terrorists and the regimes and sects (like the Wahhabis) that support them — they transgress the rules of engagement prescribed for jihad, the sacred struggle.

Sufism is the mystical or esoteric tradition in Islam. Islam's esoteric tradition began with with the teachings of the Prophet and his Companions (Abu Bakr, Ali, Salman al-Farsi and Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, may Allah be pleased with them). In this tradition there are three levels: Islam (submission to God's Will), Iman (faith), and Ihsan (perfection). Muslims strive to journey through these stages until they experience the Beatific Vision of God. Tassawuf is the discipline of achieving Ihsan, and one who achieves it is called a Sufi (Saint).

Islam is not so much a religion of orthodoxy (right belief) as of orthopraxy (right action). To become a good Muslim, one need only recite the profession of faith (shahada — "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his last Prophet."), keep up prayer (salat — five times a day, facing toward Mecca), give alms to the poor (zakat), fast (sawm) during daylight for the month of Ramadan, and make the pilgrimmage (hajj) to Mecca at least once during one's lifetime if one is able. This last, the hajj, has been a transformative experience for Muslims, including Malcom X, who shed his racism in Mecca. Muslims believe in God, the Qur'an (and therefore in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and Prophets mentioned in it), fate and destiny, the unseen realm and the day of Judgement, and the angels. Many Muslims also believe in the jinn (singular jinni, also written genie), because they are mentioned in the Qur'an.

Islamic Links:

Al-Qur'an al Kareem: English Translation and Arabic Text
Blogging the Qur'an: a serious reader's companion.
Searchable Hadith
IslamiCity in Cyberspace
Masud Ahmed Khan bills itself as a resource on traditional Islam.
About.com: Islam
Faith, Practice, and Law in Sunni and Shi'i Islam
Finding the Law: Islamic Law (Sharia)
A Shi'ite Encyclopedia
Lila Forest suggests the International Sufi Order and a Cherag's library.
Q-News, the Muslim Magazine of Britain
Islamicfinder helps you find all things Islamic, including mosques near you
Ijtihad: a Return to Enlightenment
al-Tafsir: the most comprehensive resource for Qur'anic study on the internet


The Kingdom of God is at Hand.

This was the Good News (Gospel) proclaimed by an itinerant Jewish teacher (rabbi) and faith-healer called Yesu (a Galilean short form of Yehoshua) bar Yosef (Jesus son of Joseph) from the hick town of Nazareth in the Roman province of Judea (formerly the southern Kingdom of Judah), in what is now Israel. Jesus was regarded by his Jewish followers as the Meshiach (Messiah). They expected him to liberate Judea from the brutal Roman Occupation. During the Passover of approximately the year 30 of the Common Era, the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, had Jesus scourged and crucified (executed by being hung from a cross) for the crime of sedition against the authority of the Roman Empire. Three days later, Jesus began appearing to many of his followers alive, in the flesh as the Risen Christ. This event, the Resurrection, galvanized his followers to proclaim what they had witnessed by teaching and preaching throughout first Judea, and then the world.

The most effective of these preachers was a Pharisee named Saul (Greek name Paul). Paul undertook as his special mission to bring Christianity to the Goyim (Gentiles) throughout the Roman Empire. The letters (epistles) he wrote to the churches he founded form the earliest documents of the Christian faith. Others wrote epistles as well, and these were read at clandestine gatherings of Christians until some of the original eyewitnesses of the Resurrection (Apostles) among Yesu's closest students (disciples) began to die. At this point, disciples of the Apostles wrote what we now call Gospels, which were various versions of the life and sayings of Jesus.

Some 300 years later, the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire. This completed the transformation of Christianity from a variant of Judaism to distinct and exclusively Gentile religion. During this process, much of Jewish liturgy (especially the use of Hebrew) and ritual (especially rituals for worship at home) were discarded or simplified in order to make the religion palatable to a Roman pagan sensibility. Constantine's Council of Nicaea fixed (for the most part) the present form of the Christian Bible, which includes a rearrangement of the Hebrew Bible called the Old Testament, followed by the New Testament, which consists of the four canonical Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Epistles of Paul and other writers, and the Revelation to John.

Christianity has split into Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) traditions, and Protestantism has further fragmented into Lutheran, Anglican, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Baptist and other flavors, all with slightly different theological emphases, liturgical (worship) practices, organizational structures (or lack thereof) and social traditions. Christians understand that these schisms (and church politics generally) are manifestations of the present flawed Human Condition, which they attribute to Original Sin (an innate tendency to use our God-given Free Will to disobey God's Will). All of these branches adhere to some version of the Christian Calendar. A new, North American variant of Christianity is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormon Church.

The central message of Christianity is the Incarnation of God as Jesus, his death by Crucifixion, and his Resurrection to new life. Christians believe that this event sequence establishes a new covenant between God and all of Humanity, by which we humans receive Forgiveness of our Sins so that we, too, will be Resurrected to a glorious new life with God, after we die to this Universe. In response to this Good News, Christians are expected to spread the message of Christianity through thought (prayer, study), word (teaching, preaching) and deed (right living, obedience to God's Commandments, ministry, charity).

While there are strains of exclusivity in Christianity, including a poisonous anti-Semitism which set the stage for the Holocaust (Shoah) of the Jews during World War II, as well as a poisonous antipathy toward Islam which set the stage for the Crusades in the Late Middle Ages, there are also strong movements within Christianity to reach out to adherents of these religions, as well as to Buddhists and indeed, to all Humanity. Christianity contains several opposing traditions, such as Just War theory (a temporal ruler may be under a positive moral obligation to make war to defend his or her people) and pacifism (there is never any justification for violence).

Christianity has shaped most of the history, philosophy (political and moral), and legal tradition of Western Civilization (including idea of the sanctity of individual Human Rights). The current fashion on the part of Western intellectual elites to abandon Christianity therefore risks cutting off Western Civiization from the powerful mythic basis (in the Joseph Campbell sense) of its identity and reason to exist. That is to say, if these elites cut off the past, they may lose the way forward as well.

For more on Christianity, check out the links below.

The Christian Church as a Whole
The Roman Catholic Church
The Eastern Orthodox Church
Protestant and Other Churches


Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
Thus spoke Moses (Judaism's most important prophet) to semitic warrior nomads and former Egyptian slaves in the 13th century B.C., as he exhorted them to follow precepts that would give rise to Judaism — the world's first instance of ethical monotheism. Emphasing progress, individuality and freedom, Judaism became one of the chief the cornerstones of Western and now world civilization. Judaism is the progenitor of Christianity and Islam, both of which are enriched when they look to their roots in the more ancient faith.

The sacred literature of Judaism begins with the TaNaKh (the Hebrew Bible), which contains the Torah (Law), the Nevi'im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings), arranged in roughly historical order to take the reader from the beginning of the Universe to the end of the Age of Prophecy in ancient Israel. (The Old Testament contains the same material, but rearranged by Christian editors to convey a sense of prophecy leading up to the event of God's Incarnation in Jesus Christ.)

After the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and its priests in 71 A.D., a group called the Tannaim (rabbis who had been spared by the Romans in hope they could help pacify the Jews) produced the Mishna, a compilation of Biblical and Halakhic (legal) interpretation which would govern Jewish living and worship. After the Mishna, one could be a good Jew without having to make an annual pilgimmage to sacrifice animals at the Temple in Jerusalem. Over the next few centuries, rabbis in Palestine and Babylon wrote the Talmud, which contained extensive commentaries on the Mishna in the form of debates spanning both geography and time. To this are added various collections of Midrash, which are commentaries on the Torah concerning matters of Law. What emerged from this process was rabbinic Judaism, a made-for-diaspora religion in which only a teacher (rabbi) and a few books were needed to pass on the learning and tradition of the faith to the members of the community, all of whom could lead the community in worship. The Jewish legal/moral tradition is continued in many great works, the Mishneh Torah by Moses Maimonides and the Shulhan Arukh by Joseph Caro, among them. For more details see Talmud & Midrash. Central to the observance of Jewish Law is the observance of the Holidays of the Jewish Calendar.

There are strong spiritual and mystical traditions within Judaism, most particularly the tradition of teachings known as Kabbalah. The roots of present day Kabbalah are found in the Zohar.

Judaism has since split into three principal movements since the haskala (Jewish Enlightenment) of the 18th and 19th centuries: Reform Jews do not acknowledge the authority of the Talmud, while Conservative Jews consult it. Orthodox Jews (of whom there are several varieties) observe its precepts as literally as possible and seek to establish Halakha (Jewish Religious Law) in place of current secular law in Israel, just as Islamic Fundamentalists seek to establish Shariah (Islamic Religious Law) in Muslim countries.

Jewish worship consists of daily prayer and ritual in the home for both men and women, and communal worship at a synagogue on Shabbat (Sabbath, observed on Saturdays) and High Holidays. There are also special holiday prayers and rituals for the home. Jewish liturgy is written in several types of prayer-book: a Siddur for home prayer and Shabbat worship, a Mahzor for High Holidays (like Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement), and a Haggadah for the seder (Passover — which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt) service held in the home. Various versions of prayer books have been written for these observances according to one's preferred style of Judaism. For a quick introduction to Jewish observance, holidays, literature, and the state of Israel, see Herman Wouk's, This is my God.

The central narrative of Judaism is the story of the Israelites, from God's promise to Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would inherit Canaan and be God's Chosen People, to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the beginning of the dissolution of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). The central story within that narrative is the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt: Moses challenges the Pharoah (Rameses II?) and leads his people out of Egypt to the border of the Promised Land. In a dramatic encounter with God at Mt. Sinai, witnessed by all the people, Moses receives the first Ten Commandments of the Law, which establishes both a code of behavior and a covenant between God and the nation of Israel. This is a story of liberation combined with one of responsibility: the Israelites are freed, but their freedom is not arbitrary. They are freed to become People of God.

Judaism Links:

About.com: Judaism
HADASSAH - because my grandmother said so.
Jewishnet - Global Jewish Information Network
Online Jewish Library
Maven - The Portal Directory to the Jewish World
Virtual Jerusalem - another Jewish Portal
National Museum of American Jewish History
Nizkor: A Holocaust Rememberance
Navigating the Bible II: Online Bat/Bar Mitzvah Tutor
Torah.org — online study of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament)
Where was God in the Holocaust? — A RealAudio Sermon by Rabbi Dr. N. Cardozo, hosted by 613.org
Chabad.org - Chabad Lubavitscher Hasidic Judaism for the Internet Age.
A Jewish Catechism

07 November 2001

Statement of Belief

I believe that the members of the VCBC believe all kinds of different things.
I believe that what I believe is not nearly as important for you as what you believe.
I believe that what I believe is not ultimately important even for me, because I refuse to commit the idolatry of worshipping my own opinions (some of which must be wrong, because I am human).

I believe the following, common to most faith traditions:
Organized religion tames the idea of God (or Ultimate Reality) to support its existence and to affirm its cultural milieu. This is a leading cause of atheism.
God is one. Truth is one. We are one. We need love, honesty, and faith to get ourselves together. Since all truth is God's Truth, any honest method of inquiry, pursued faithfully, with loving regard for the subject, will point toward God. This includes science, which can serve to correct our idolatrous beliefs.
Being human means being on our own, free to become ourselves without reference to God. To enable this, God makes the universe work according to rational principles, which means that God does not fix things when they don't work out the way we want.
We think we are human beings who occasionally have spiritual experiences, but we are really spiritual beings who are here to have human experiences. When we think we are the only spiritual beings in our world we deceive ourselves.
The spirit of God creates, sustains, pervades, participates in, and transcends, everything.
I believe the following, specific to Christianity:
God, for love of us, became an ordinary person — Jesus — to be with us as one of us. People just like us — which means that we are just like them — killed him because he did not conform to their beliefs about God.
Belief is an act of embracing opinions, which becomes idolatry when our opinions about God become more important to us than our relationship with God (i.e., when we crucify Christ).
Jesus arose from death — an act by which God not only forgives us for being like his murderers, but promises to bring us into a new relationship with God beyond our present lives. This act is powerful enough to redeem the entire universe.
I further believe that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are different ways to worship the same God, see below.
I believe that because the moral teachings of the world's major religions are summarized in passages like these (from the Bible):
"And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
"Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength... Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
we need to quit fighting over the details of what we believe.

08 October 2001

No Sympathy for Evil

I have a message to those of you, especially you Americans, who say of the attacks of September 11 that America "had it coming," because of America's insensitive foreign policy in regions that now harbor terrorists. That is called "blaming the victim," and it morally repugnant when you blame victims of rape. It is equally repugnant when you blame victims of terror, including the people of this nation. With your misguided words you give encouragement to those who need no encouragement. Your cowardice will not help you — the terrorists in their rage will not distinguish you from the rest of us.

Still, my assertion begs the question that all Americans ask. "Why do they hate us?" I have tried to answer that in a previous piece, "The Right to Be Ourselves." They hate us for being us. Fundamentalism is a recent reaction against modernism, and we are modern. The current crop of terrorists has simply taken that reaction far into the realm of that which is Evil.

Now, Bin Laden has managed to issue a televised statement calling for pan-Muslim jihad against the United States and its allies until "the Palestinians have peace, and the infidel is out of the land of Muhammad."

I have three responses to those ideas. The first is that this is clearly manipulative propaganda. Only now has Bin Laden put Palestine ahead of Saudi Arabia in his rhetoric. A man with no legitimate friends is changing his message in hope of wider support.

The second is that every particle in the Universe is sacred to the One who created it. Therefore all parts of the world are equally sacred, but we remember that sacredness more strongly at some places than at others. Taking offense that some of our troops are stationed at a remote base in Saudi Arabia has therefore nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with tribalism. We are on earth by God's design, just like everyone else.

The third response is that the Palestinian people, beginning with Yasser Arafat, need to re-think their support, no their reverence, of suicide bombing and other terrorist tactics. As Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald wrote of the then unknown terrorists, on the day of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,

Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause. [more...]

Any advance of the Palestinian cause should await the successful destruction of the world's international terror networks. Further, the creation of a Palestinian state should wait until the Palestinian leadership, propaganda, and people turn their backs on suicide bombing and all forms of terrorism. Otherwise, the world will have simply set up another terrorist state.

I leave you with these words from a recent speech to the United Nations by Rudolf Giuliani, the Mayor of New York:

The era of moral relativism between those who practice or condone terrorism and those who stand up against it must end. There's no moral way to sympathize with grossly immoral actions . . . Unfortunately by trying to do that, a fertile field for terrorism has grown.

27 September 2001

The Shape of Peace to Come

Make no mistake, four US carrier battle groups are moving into position as America gets ready to strike back against the terrorist organizations who attacked us, and against the governments who provide them with safe haven. We are going to wage our part of the ugly war they have thrust upon us.

But after every war there comes peace. If we are to wage war sucessfully, we must contemplate the peace we are trying to shape before we strike our first blow. For we must hew that peace out of the war as a sculptor carves a beautiful statue out of a granite block.

Part of that peace must include the most powerful concentration of Islamic Fundamentalists in the world — the Islamic Republic of Iran. The news media protray Iran as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and as a sponsor of terrorism. Iran appears to have come a long way from the nation that declared chemical weapons to be "un-Islamic" and that did not kill a single American hostage taken during its founding revolution.

Iran took those hostages from the American Embassy in Tehran, because America had helped Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi stay in power far longer than the Iranian people wished, because we tolerated his use of a repressive secret police to maintain his power, and because the US provided him safe haven after he was finally overthrown by a popular revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. That the Shah was staying only temporarily in the US to receive treatment for cancer (which was ultimately unsuccessful) carried no weight with Khomeini — he saw the Shah as a criminal (the way we might view Slobodan Milosevic), and wanted to subject him to Islamic Law. For our part, we saw the Shah as an ally, and while we were not going to defend him against the revolution, we were equally unwilling to hand over an ally to his enemies. There had to be some small benefit for supporting the US.

I believe protecting the deposed Shah was unjust, but less so than giving him to his enemies, and therefore we cannot apologize for making what we considered to be best choice. But we did a great injustice, according to the philosophy behind our own Declaration of Independence and our Constitution by helping to maintain his regime in power against overwhelming popular will. We have an opportunity to begin making peace with the Iranian people by officially apologizing for that act.

We have a further opportunity to begin making peace with the Iranian people by apologizing for standing by while Iraq began using chemical weapons against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Iran was originally reluctant to employ such weapons, but eventually began using them to deter their unlimited use by the Iraqis. This was shortly after the hostages were finally returned to America by Iran upon the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Henry Kissinger spoke for most Americans when he said that it was a pity that both sides couldn't lose. But we would have changed the world's perception of us (and the balance of power in the Middle East) if we had told Iraq that we would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons even against our enemies, and that we would intervene on the side of Iran if they did not stop using them. Once again, we failed to do the right thing, and we have an opportunity to apologize for it now.

The world has much to gain if the dominant Islamic Fundamentalist power in the Middle East can bring itself to perceive the US as anything other than "the Great Satan." With the help of Iran we might be able to more quickly and effectively suppress international terrorism. With the help, or at least the non-hindrance, of Iran we might eventually be able to broker a peace with justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. And, quite frankly, Iran is the only country that has come close to blending Islamic Fundamentalism with representative democracy — we might do well to consult Iran on how to set up a government to replace the Taliban in Afganistan, or even Saddam Hussein in Iraq (should that become necessary).

I think United States would do well to apologize to Iran for our past shortcomings in order to give Iran its moment of historical opportunity to help shape the coming peace, instead of helping to prolong the current war.

Note added in 2008: On the other hand, Iran has never apologized to the West for its fatwa against Salman Rushdie, which was in effect, a declaration of war against the West in general, and Freedom of Expression in particular.

17 September 2001

Against Terrorism, not Islam

The war against terrorism is not a war against Islam, because the terrorists who attacked us are not necessarily Muslims. A Muslim is one who submits his or her will to the Will of God. Now the Qur'an says something so important about God that it is repeated 113 times — every chapter but one of the Qur'an begins with the words, In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. I believe that those who would fly jets into buildings, killing over 5,000 unsuspecting men, women, and children, none of whom posed a threat to the terrorists' societies or homelands, could not do so in submission to God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. At best, they submit to no will other than their own. At worst, well, may God rebuke them.

Thus, war against these terrorists and their organizations is not a war against Islam, but rather against pretenders to that honored religion. Giving the terrorists into our hands is a rejection of those who defame Islam by actions done falsely in God's Name. Those who fail to do so may ally themselves to the terrorists' fate.

15 September 2001

The Right to be Ourselves

I was just leaving for work this past Tuesday (11 September 2001), when my niece phoned to tell me to turn on my television. She didn't need to say which channel. I saw the World Trade Center collapse in flames. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. This, I felt, is the beginning of World War III.

We have already suffered 1/10 the casualties of the entire Vietnam War in the very first battle, which took place in New York and Washington. Those Americans who are hoping we will not "commit ground troops" please get your heads out of your asses. [Oops, that was my father's voice from WW II and Korea.] We now have to be prepared to invade and crush any government that refuses to cough up the perpetrators of this attack, and attacks like it. Otherwise, the only credible threat we have is nuclear weaponry, and I think we need to reserve that threat to reply to chemical or biological attacks.

In particular, it takes relatively little biological material to cause mass casualties, which is why bio-weapons have been called the "poor man's nuke." The name implies the only means we have to retaliate — nuclear weapons. We need to make it clear to ourselves and our adversaries, that if biological weapons are used against the US, our allies, or our troops, that we reserve the right to demand the evacuation of the entire country that harbors such terrorists, after which we will erase it from the earth, while sparing as much of its people as possible, who will then have to live in diaspora for the next couple of centuries.

Therefore I urge the US and our allies to act with due regard for speed to take out all the major terrorist players before they find a way to carry out a successful biological attack. An overly prolonged war against terrorism will be a nuclear war, possibly with many more of us dead before it gets that way.

But we must also prepare to be strict with ourselves. Are we ready to make it a federal crime, punishable as treason, for anyone knowingly to aid, monetarily or otherwise, a known terrorist organization? Forget Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the PLO — are you willing to see your neighbor jailed, or even executed, for donating to the IRA? To Chechnya? And, since our enemies are determined to bring some of the battles to the heart of America, are you willing to report suspicious activity, rather than hope someone else will magically find out about it before it's too late?

I am not engaging in all this bloodthirsty language for its own sake. I want you to know clearly what you're in for, if you are one of the 90% of Americans who want to go to war. Nor am I trying to scare you out of it. I just want you to steel your nerve for very ugly war, in which many of us may lose our lives as victims, and some of us our souls as perpetrators.

Let us not delude ourselves that our enemies are cowards. They are not. They are misguided, but courageous, self-sacrificing people, who are hitting us with all the heart, wealth, stealth, genius and force they can muster. Think of the Afgan freedom fighters (whom the US funded and eventually supplied with shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles) who would throw themselves, with explosives hidden in their clothing, onto Soviet tanks. These enemies are more dangerous to us than another nation-state, because we know how to fight nation-states. We have to invent the ways to fight terrorists.

Finally, we need to understand the sympathies of those who have brought the war to us. They don't just hate us for supporting Israel (however luke-warmly). They hate us for being us. They hate our culture for glorifying its crime, drugs, and sexual immorality, and most of all its luxury. They hate culture's success at advertizing itself to the world, which they see as cultural imperialism. To them, we are filthy whores bent on seducing their children, bent on destroying their way of life by Americanizing the whole planet.

Which is really what this war is about. We have the right to be ourselves, and to be so openly. There are those in our midst who turn their backs to our way of life — like the Amish — but they tolerate us, and we tolerate them, because they accept our core values of individual liberty and responsibility in expression, lifestyle, politics, economics, and religion. We are even grateful to them for preserving an alternative to the way we live, because we know we have problems. Now we must destroy those who cannot bring themselves to do anything but destroy us. In Stephen Sondheim's musical, Into the Woods, a character mourns the loss of his family by violence with the words

Can't we just pursue our lives
With our children and our wives?

We can. We must. Even if we have to fight for our right to do so, yet again. Even if we have to open another century with war.

13 September 2001

How Much Angrier?

Two days after the attack on America, a man carrying phony Delta Airlines pilot's ID was arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, trying to board a plane using a ticket for Tuesday, September 11. Two other men carrying box-cutter knives were picked up at Dallas airport. The message to Americans is clear. The bastards are not finished yet. The attempts are still coming. We are at war with international terrorism, whether we like it or not. (Yes, war - and the sneak attack that started this war has just killed some 5,000 of us, not on a remote island, but in our financial and governmental hearts.) The only question is whether we have the moral will to fight and win. And the wisdom afterward to forge a just peace.

And now a message to the terror organizations that are continuing to attack us: There are still around 250 million of us left, and polls indicate that 90% of us want to flush your cremated remains down the sewers of New York and Washington. How much angrier do you want us to get? How much of your world do you want destroyed?

12 September 2001

War and Peace

One day after the attack on America, evidence is accumulating that begins to point toward Extremist "Islamic" Organizations, such as the motley collection funded by Osama Bin Laden. I use the word "Islamic" in quotes because there is nothing truly Islamic about such organizations beyond the cultural affiliation of their members. This is a view supported by the three English translations of the Qur'an that I read in parallel some years ago, and by almost all Muslims, both within the US and abroad.

I will confess to you that part of the reason for VCBC's existence is to provide a tiny place to speak for a rapprochement between the West and Islam. The desire for this came to me in a dream, which I knew to be absurd even as I was dreaming it. Over twenty years ago, when I was a graduate student, I dreamed that I was in an antebellum mansion, shaking hands with Anwar Sadat, then President (well, dictator) of Egypt. "You idiot," I thought to myself. "You'll never really shake hands with Anwar Sadat." The next morning, I dismissed the dream as an infantile egoistic fantasy, and took a bus to work. It was only then that I began to feel creepy. On the bus someone's radio announced that Sadat had been assassinated during the night, martyred by his own people for making peace with Israel.

As a scientist, I can only say that the dream was a coincidence. That is, the dream and the assassination happened within hours, possibly within minutes, of each other. But the co-occurrence (coincidence) of two events does not imply that they are related to one another. But as a religious person, I must admit that I feel a bit like Native American seer Black Elk must have felt, when observed how little he had been able to make of the great visions he had experienced in his youth. I still have no idea what the dream might have meant, but I feel that it ought to have meant something.

And so, Jewish Christian that I am, I am sympathetic to the grievances of the people of Islam, and the people of Palestine in particular. Yet, I cannot forget the images of Palestinians in East Jerusalem celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center. I would like to think that they were only a small group performing for the cameras. They discredit the cause for which they seek justice, and take the heart out of my sympathy for them. It is shameful and wicked that a group of people would so lightly take upon themselves a kind of spiritual guilt for the murders of tens of thousands. (I am thankful that Arafat spoke words of condolence, but he is capable of presenting one face to the Arabic speaking world, and another to the English.)

Similarly, we must present two faces to the world. We must use military force destroy the ability of the perpetrators to continue their terrorism, their "war by other means," because the perpetrators will only escalate, if we don't. But the only way to minimize the formation of new terrorist organizations after we deal with the current set of bad actors, is to make peace with populations from which they will otherwise draw their recruits.

11 September 2001

War by other Means

Today, a coordinated terrorist attack was carried out against the People of the United States of America. Four commercial airliners were hijacked, of which two were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, and one was flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed in western Pennsylvania.

By coordinated, I mean that the four airliners took off within minutes of each other. The coordination, however, is only one indication that a sizeable organization carried out this attack. Another indication is that the airplanes struck the towers of the world trade center at a point low enough to destabilize the entire structures — which indicates that the perpetrators had been advised by engineers. Finally, assuming that a commercial airline pilot would crash a plane into a clear field or into water rather than crash into a building, it seems to me that the perpetrators had trained pilots among their number, who could navigate and fly a commercial jetliner. Coordination, engineering expertise, and piloting expertise all point toward a terrorist organization, rather than a small group of like-minded, evil crazies.

Now, with regard to America's future, there are two possibilities regarding the origin or the perpetrator organization. Either the perpetrators come from within, like Tim McVeigh, or from outside the United States. If the perpetrators are domestic, the challenge is whether we can root out and destroy them and their organization without giving up the individual liberties that are the reason for this country's existence and uniqueness. If the perpetrators are from a foreign terrorist organization, then the challenge is whether or not we have the will to wage war against international terrorism, and the self-restraint to prevent that war from becoming a civilization-destroying conflagration.

Why do I mention war? Because the World Trade Center, when fully occupied, held approximately 50,000 people. Some tens of thousand of them now lie dead or dying beneath the rubble of the collapsed buildings, along with some 200 police, paramedics, and firefighters who were trying to rescue them. If this was perpetrated by a foreign terrorist organization, then it goes far beyond an act that is addressable by law enforcement. It is an act of war, by other means. And if it is an act of state-sponsored terrorism, it is an act of war, period. And if we fail to respond decisively to an act of war, it will be open season on Americans.

So, to my fellow Americans, I counsel you to enjoy the next few weeks of uncertainty as the calm before the storm. Once we know who the perpetrator organization is, then we will be fighting to eliminate enemies from our midst while maintaining our individual liberties and our democracy, or we will be at war.

May God gather up the dead and dying, comfort their families, and help the wounded. May the perpetrators, living and dead, stand before the awful eye of God's Justice, as may any and all who rejoice in this despicable action. And may God have mercy on us all.

Note added in 2007: We recommend you also read We'll Go Forward from this Moment and Li'l Johnnie's Jihad/Hirabah Page.

03 September 2001

Silent Sermons

Sometimes Beauty & Simplicity say it All
contributed by Kay Goodnow

I grew up a Sunday Episcopalian and a Roman Catholic the rest of the time. I attended Notre Dame de Sion, a private Catholic French finishing school for girls. But I would go to church on Sundays at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 40th and Main Streets in Kansas City.

I do not remember much about what I was taught. I do remember that St. Paul’s had the most magnificent stained glass window I had ever seen. It was a round window, and the colors in it were predominantly red. During the years when I attended a youth group there on Sunday evenings, as the sun was setting in the west, the window would literally explode with color. It spoke to my heart and somehow it remained there. With the single exception of a white lamb with one paw raised, I do not remember what it depicted.

Some fifty years later I had occasion to be in the vicinity of that church and I went in, just to see. Although the building has been enlarged to accommodate classrooms and administrative offices, the sanctuary remains nearly the same. The red carpeting, which led from the front door to the altar and which I believed to be miles long, is gone, and has been replaced with hardwood floors. St. Paul’s is today, and probably always has been, a beautiful church. It has an air of majestic dignity and commands respect; to me it seems to call for silence, for meditation.

There it was, ‘my’ magnificent round red window. As in my youth, it took my breath away. It is pure beauty, and even today, undefiled. I wanted to stand there and let it speak to me, to let it repeat over and over again "I am here" just as it had in my youth. Tears started, but it was time for the church to be locked. I went away, glad that I had gone there.

There are beautiful things in this life.

When I was in the 7th or 8th grade a friend invited me to go with her family to the Benedictine Abbey in Conception, Missouri. I went, because it was something to do, but mainly because it was a Catholic thing to do. I do not remember the nature of what transpired or the reason for the trip; just that it was in winter and it was snowing.

It seemed like a very long trip to me and I was excited when we finally arrived. I stepped out of the car. It was early in the evening, but dark. Unmarked snow covered the fields and the buildings. I felt no sense of cold, only awe at the pure beauty of the stark but regal landscape. I wanted to stay there forever, and just let my feelings be what they were.

When we entered the monastery (in my memory, the word ‘basilica’ replaces ‘monastery’) we were ushered into a chapel, which also was dark. Only the eternal tabernacle light and what seemed like millions of vigil lights, red, blue green and gold, kept it from total darkness. I was mesmerized. I could not move and I do not remember breathing. The round, red window from St. Paul’s placed itself squarely above that massive altar, high up, nearly to where the two sides joined in an arch. It was a perfect place, one of those perfect moments in time. The tears began, but this time no one hurried me away from the beauty and I was content.

When the chanting started I believed I was imagining something or that my ears were deceiving me. Here was more beauty and, as with the window and the snow, it was pure and unadulterated. I let it pour over me and I consumed it. It spoke to my heart. As it grew in volume and complexity, sometimes changing from full tone to half tone, and sometimes changing cadence, I knew that it would always remain with me.

At first I didn’t hear the words. I heard only the quality of the sound and the love that it conveyed. I could feel the peace that lived in the hearts of those monks who were singing. And then I heard the words of praise and knew them as Lauds, the Evening Prayer. The Latin came and went in my mind and in my heart and then I was hearing, over and over again, "I am here."
There are beautiful things in this life.

I believe that all of us experience what the camera industry refers to as a "Kodak moment." They are to be treasured, as time passes quickly and our lives become full of the demands that added responsibilities incur.

The beautiful moments come more frequently now, for me anyway, ‘mellowing’ with age and experience. I had one just this week that I feel is more than significant. I had just met a grandmother and we were exchanging glorious stories and enjoying the fact that grandchildren are well worth the effort of having lived through the agony of raising our children. She related that two of her granddaughters, ages two and four, are learning to pray. She was laughing.

"The two-year-old is just starting to form sentences," she said, "except for when she prays. We can’t get her to say anything other than ‘God is.’"

God is! Time, and my heart, stopped. Reality stopped. My heart filled with so much golden light that I had to give it away but it kept coming back, stronger each time. God is! Blessed is that child who knows that God, simply, is!

The tears, always there as my companion in a time of great joy, began. My mind wondered how and when all of life became so complicated, so frenzied, so duplicitous.

For me, the stained glass window, the snow, the vigil lights and the Gregorian chant are linked somehow to ‘silent sermons’. Their simple beauty, etched delicately in my memory, remains constant, long after the spoken words have faded. But then, so is a baby’s first smile, the crocus in spring, and the magnetic pull of the tides. Life is beautiful in it’s simplicity. God is!