4. Religious News

Oct-26-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A fairly wide topic, but the pieces are fascinating. Shalom Rav looks at the fallout over 15 Protestant leaders not supporting aid to Israel; a prominent Catholic theologian calls for a revolt against Roman Catholicism’s hierarchical structure, and there’s interesting evidence that human beings are born believing in an afterlife. And, in an effort to leave no feather unruffled (the bird doesn’t like this metaphor) Robert Fulford speaks out in praise of blasphemy. (There’s a fine old relevant Wiccan saying, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Just remember, no one likes an asshole.”)

* More Fallout from the Protestant Leaders’ Letter on Aid to Israel by Rabbi Brant Rosen

The first comes from the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan:

It seems to me that aid of all kinds should have basic human rights strings attached to it. I would have suspended all aid to Israel when it refused to stop its settlement policy on the West Bank, but that’s a little like being in favor of an immediate space station on Mars, given the Greater Israel lobby’s grip on Congress.

So let me just reiterate something that has no chance of ever happening, but I might as well put on the record: we should treat Israel as any other recipient of US aid. If a country is occupying and settling land conquered through war, if it’s treating a minority population with inhumanity, the US should stand up for Western values. It should not single Israel out; but we have to stop treating Israel as the exception to every other US foreign policy rule.

Rev. Jim C. Wall (Contributing Editor of the “Christian Century”) in an unflinchingly honest blog post:

To begin with, the 15 church leaders are heavyweights, top officials for their denominations. They include the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, not including the Catholic Council of Bishops.

These are not just leaders of a few religious groups, which a Protestant version of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs could corral into an interfaith dialogue meeting. These are the major-domos of American Protestantism, which raises the question of what exactly gives the JCPA and its scattered letter signers, these “outraged Jewish groups” as the Times calls them,  the right to claim religious standing in this conversation. Many of these Jewish groups are secular and function as part of the Israel Lobby, a collection of lobbying organizations that have Israel, not Judaism as their primary client…

* Catholic Theologian Preaches Revolution To End Church’s ‘Authoritarian’ Rule  The Guardian

One of the world’s most prominent Catholic theologians has called for a revolution from below to unseat the pope and force radical reform at the Vatican. Hans Küng is appealing to priests and churchgoers to confront the Catholic hierarchy, which he says is corrupt, lacking credibility and apathetic to the real concerns of the church’s members….

“The only way for reform is from the bottom up,” said Küng, 84, who is a priest. “The priests and others in positions of responsibility need to stop being so subservient, to organize themselves and say that there are certain things that they simply will not put up with anymore.”

* Believe in an Afterlife Comes Hardwired in Humans The Atlantic

In a significant study the psychologists Jesse Bering, of the University of Arkansas, and David Bjorklund, of Florida Atlantic University, told young children a story about an alligator and a mouse, complete with a series of pictures, that ended in tragedy: “Uh oh! Mr. Alligator sees Brown Mouse and is coming to get him!” [The children were shown a picture of the alligator eating the mouse.] “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator. Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”

The experimenters asked the children a set of questions about the mouse’s biological functioning—such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, will he ever need to go to the bathroom? Do his ears still work? Does his brain still work?”—and about the mouse’s mental functioning, such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, is he still hungry? Is he thinking about the alligator? Does he still want to go home?”

As predicted, when asked about biological properties, the children appreciated the effects of death: no need for bathroom breaks; the ears don’t work, and neither does the brain. The mouse’s body is gone. But when asked about the psychological properties, more than half the children said that these would continue: the dead mouse can feel hunger, think thoughts, and have desires. The soul survives. Andchildren believe this more than adults do, suggesting that although we have to learn which specific afterlife people in our culture believe in (heaven, reincarnation, a spirit world, and so on), the notion that life after death is possible is not learned at all. It is a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.

* In Praise of Blasphemy Robert Fulford National Post

…We should be praising blasphemy, in fact proclaiming its many virtues, rather than sheepishly apologizing for it as a necessary evil we must reluctantly tolerate because of our belief in the freedom of speech.

Bernard Shaw may have been overstating the case when he gave to one of his characters the pronouncement that “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” But not by much.

Blasphemy, the challenge of official doctrine, helped create freedom over the centuries — and still needs to create it in many countries, such as Pakistan and Indonesia. Blasphemy is a corollary to freedom of religion. It expresses the right to have no religion, in fact the right to disdain all religions.

The creators of Protestant Christianity were all denounced for blasphemy; so were generations of scholars in a dozen countries who campaigned for the critical examination of the Bible. Without the courage of those who were called blasphemers there would be only one acceptable religion in every country today. Certainly that’s how the royal and church authorities of the 18th century saw the future. As late as 1766, as the Enlightenment was proceeding, a freethinking 20-year-old Frenchman, Jean-François de la Barre, was tortured for blasphemy. He had his tongue cut out before he was burned to death, his copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary thrown on the fire with him. Today there’s a statue of him in Montmartre, as the last person executed for blasphemy in France.



4. Perspectives on the Middle East

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Three Middle East pieces, all on conflict. Rabbi Rosen, familiar to Tikkunistas, has a book out on his struggle to reconcile Judaism and Zionism. In Afghanistan, the government is falling even before NATO withdraws. And War Tard puts on his unique persona to give a fascinating answer to the question of would happen if Turkey and Syria do go to war.

* My “Wrestling” Interview with Truthout Rabbi Brant Rosen

Mark Karlin: …When you talk of your Palestinian solidarity, some critics accuse you of abandoning Jewish solidarity and not sufficiently condemning those Arab extremists who are in the “destroy Israel” industry as much as Netanyahu is in the suppression-of-Palestinian-rights industry. How do you respond?

Brant Rosen: At the end of my book (“Wrestling in the Daylight”) I addressed this issue directly

As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.

For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.

In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.

…Does my solidarity mean that I agree with everything that is done by Palestinians in furtherance of their liberation? Of course not. When you stand in solidarity with a people, it is inevitable that you will find yourself standing next to some people whose actions and beliefs you will find odious. That comes with the territory when you choose to take a stand. And I might add that this is the case for liberal Zionists who stand in solidarity with Israel as well.

* Afghanistan ‘Sliding Towards Collapse’  The Guardian

Afghanistan is increasingly violent, its police and army will struggle to secure the country when foreign forces leave, and it faces a corrupt presidential election in 2014, the Red Cross and a think tank have warned, .

At stake is the limited and fragile stability that has insulated Kabul and most other urban areas from over a decade of escalating aggression since the US invasion. There are growing fears the country could face a full-blown civil war after Nato troops hand over security to the Afghan police and army, and leave.

“Time is running out,” warned Candace Rondeaux, of the International Crisis Group think tank. “Steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse.”

“Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when US and Nato forces withdraw in 2014,” she said in a blunt report about the handover from coalition to Afghan troops.

* Syria: Fantasy war in the desert! War Tard

The First Casualty of War is Photoshop

This Western portrayal of the rebels as oppressed freedom fighters fits with the whole Arab Spring narrative the West likes to push whenever there’s energy in the vicinity. Democracy and all that other funny talk. These days, democracy is just a feel good word the suits on TV say when they want you to know who the good guys are….

For the Turks, losing an F-4 Phantom wasn’t exactly a major loss militarily. Sure, it’s a bummer the pilot didn’t bail out but Phantom’s are basically Vietnam era flying double decker buses with the maneuverability of a cement truck in rush hour traffic. That Turk pilot never saw it coming and was probably sucker punched by one of Syria’s Russian supplied S-300 SAMs (one reason NATO doesn’t fancy a rerun of Libya over Syria). One thing F-4s always had going for them even in Vietnam, despite their lack of cannon was a pair of serious get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here engines that allowed the Phantom to run from any engagement it didn’t fancy the odds in. To my mind, the Turkish F-4 incursion into Syrian airspace was a move designed to get the Syrians to turn their air defines radars on so they could be pinpointed for NATO airstrikes later on in the event Assad doesn’t fall in a timely manner.

…But this war is fun to think about.

   The tank on tank action would pit Turkey’s modern arsenal of German supplied Leapord 1s and 2A4s  against Syria’s aging but more numerous Soviet era T-72s, T-62Ms and believe it or not, T-55s (the most produced tank in history) but completely out of date. That’d make for a fun turkey shoot in the desert. Add in total Turk air superiority by way of US supplied F-16s and naval dominance off the coast and this war that’ll never happen becomes even less fantastic….



6. Followups

Sep-28-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The followup to last week’s Rosh Hashanah sermon, is of course a Yom Kippur sermon, even more moving and universal. Following France’s lead, Russia bans Monsanto’s corn, and yet another study (the most comprehensive and supported I’ve seen) that Iran is NOT edging towards nuclear weapons.

* Why Be Jewish?: A Sermon for Yom Kippur 5773 Rabbi Brandt Shalom Rav

Let me leave you with this vision: the vision of a people who have over the centuries learned to build a nation without borders, a multi-ethnic nation suffused with the beauty of a myriad of cultures, a nation inspired by a religious tradition it constructs and reconstructs in every age and in every generation. At its heart, it a nation committed to the struggle for meaning in our lives and justice in our world. And in the end, a nation that has nothing to fear and every opportunity to gain from the remarkable changes underway in the 21st century.

 * Russia Bans Use and Import of Monsanto’s GMO Corn Following Study  NationofChange

Following the groundbreaking French study that graphically linked the lifetime consumption of Monsanto’s GMO corn in rats to massive tumours and direct organ failure, Russia’s premiere consumers rights organization has suspended both the importation and use of Monsanto’s GMO corn within the nation’s borders.

The move may soon be echoed by other nations, who may soon be urged by France to ban Monsanto’s GMOs due to serious health concerns. France, who also recently upheld a key ban on growing GMOs, has been instrumental in alerting the world to the dangers of GMOs and Monsanto’s overall corruption.

* The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Iran and the Bomb

Given how easily the American public and media were manipulated into believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, this moment should give us some pause. The disastrous effects of that $3 Trillion Dollar War are still being felt across the world. For those not interested in seeing a much-bloodier, costlier sequel, I offer this introductory course in intellectual self-defence. The only way to rebuff and dismantle propaganda is to be aware of the truth on which it claims to comment.

Lesson #1: Iran is not building nuclear weapons

National Intelligence Estimate: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” (2007 National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities; November 2007)

“Several senior Israeli officials who spoke in recent days to The Associated Press said Israel has come around to the U.S. view that no final decision to build a bomb has been made by Iran.” (Associated Press, “Israel shifts views on Iran”; March 18, 2012)

The 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a synthesized compilation of data evaluated by America’s 17 intelligence agencies, declared that there were no serious revisions to the controversial (for war hawks) 2007 NIE—which stated Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. While the 2011 estimate did include updated progress on Iran’s civilian nuclear program, such as an increased number of operative centrifuges, it still could not muster any evidence to indicate the program was being weaponized.

These findings echo reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has also concluded that Iran is not building nuclear weapons. The IAEA accounts are typically pored over for the slightest hint of ambiguity or malevolence, which are then promulgated as the most important takeaways in Western news summaries.



6. Happy New Year

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Shana Tova! Two New Year’s treats: a powerful sermon from Rabbi Brant Rosen, and the video of a man wandering the streets of L.A. blowing his shofar. Shofar, so good.

* Judaism Without Tribalism: A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5773  Shalom Rav

I also wonder if Jewish tribalism is starting to come at a cost.  I especially wonder what it means for the Jewish community to be tribal in this day and age, when we are experiencing openness and freedom in historically unprecedented ways.  Given the global realities of our 21stcentury world, I wonder if there might be new models for Jewish identity – ones that value tribalism less than a deeper sense of engagement and kinship with the world outside….

I know personally how hard it is for many of us to challenge our tribal Jewish legacy.  But as for me, I believe to my very core that whether we like it or not, our collective future will depend upon building more bridges, and not more walls, between peoples and nations.  I believe the most effective way for us to survive – the only way we will bequeath our traditions to the next generation –  is to affirm a Judaism that finds sacred meaning in our connection to mol yoshvei revel – all who dwell on earth.

I also believe this because I know that while Judaism certainly contains tribal and parochial teachings, it also has also a strong tradition of religious humanism – mitzvoth that demand we love all our neighbours as ourselves.  After all, one of the first – and most powerful – teachings in the Torah is that human beings are created B’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God.  From the outset we learn that all human beings are equally worthy of respect, dignity and love – and, I would add, equally worthy of one anthers’ allegiance and loyalty.  Moreover, a key rabbinic concept, Kavod HaBriyot, demands that we ensure all people are treated with honour and dignity.  In a famous verse from Pirke Avot, Rabbi Ben Zoma teaches: “Who is honored?  The one who honours all human beings.”

All are created in God’s image.  Honor comes to the one who honours all people.  To my mind, these are the strands of Judaism we must seek out and and affirm in no uncertain terms.

* Street Shofar featuring IKAR’s Sexy Shofar Man  Boing Boing

IKAR is a progressive, egalitarian Jewish community, driven by a passionate belief in the relevance of the Jewish tradition and its power to infuse our lives with meaning and purpose. We believe that Jewish religious practice challenges us to wake up to our responsibilities as Jews and as human beings, and that the upcoming High Holy Days are nothing short of a call to transform our lives, our city and our world. So we sent our Sexy Shofar Man to hit the streets with his sweet shofar blowing to beckon the people of Los Angeles to wake up and think about what’s possible in 5773.



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