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.



5. Gaia Bites Back

Apr-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: She’s been teaching us for millennia: as ye sow, so ye shall reap. Fracking produces earthquakes; giant dams redistribute weight, and then things shift; warmer weather produces changing weather patterns. There’s a lesson here, though I don’t suppose we’ll be quick to learn it without some more of Her exemplary grandmotherly kindness.

* Earthquakes Linked To Oil And Gas Extraction, Studies Show Toronto Star

If you prod Mother Earth, she’s likely to shake you up, a new U.S. study has found. It builds on earlier studies – some performed in Canada – that draw links between small earthquakes and a gas production technique known as “fracking,” or breaking up underground shale to release natural gas.

A study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey says that a “remarkable” increase in the number of small quakes in the middle of the U.S. is “almost certainly manmade.” The frequency of quakes recorded in 2011 was six times anything recorded before 2000, the study found. “A naturally occurring rate of change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock, of which there were neither in this region,” the abstract says.

* Three Gorges Forces Further Displacement  China Digital Times

Twenty years ago this month, the Chinese government, amid great controversy but with the blessing of a Canadian government report, authorized construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.The critics said the dam would be an environmental and economic nightmare that would flood millions of people off their land, induce landslides and earthquakes, cripple navigation and produce unaffordable electricity.

Twenty years later, the critics have been proven right on all counts. The arguments in favour of the dam were always thin gruel, without scientific depth or credibility, repeated ad nauseam in the form of propaganda, while the arguments against the dam were extensive and detailed and, as we now know, accurate.

About one year ago, Beijing officially acknowledged the negative social and environmental impact of the project. So far, over a million people have been forced to relocate as the waters of the Yangtze consumed their homes and farmland, and more may soon be forced to move due to related geological changes. The Washington Post reports: Another 100,000 people may have to move away from China’s Three Gorges Dam due to the risk of disastrous landslides and bank collapses around the reservoir of the world’s biggest hydroelectric facility, state media said Wednesday.

* Global Warming is Affecting Weather

Global warming is making hot days hotter, rainfall and flooding heavier, hurricanes stronger and droughts more severe.

This intensification of weather and climate extremes will be the most visible impact of global warming in our everyday lives. People who have the least ability to cope with these changes–the poor, very old, very young, or sick–are the most vulnerable. 



11. Eyecandy: Festivals

Jan-27-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Fine photos of celebratory festivals. Not much else needed to be said really.

* Chinese Lunar New Year 2012   In Focus

* Kalachakra: A Tibetan Buddhist festival of teachings and meditations   The Big Picture

* Pow Wow



11. Eyecandy: Halloween

Oct-28-2011 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Candy of any kind and Halloween just seem to go together. Need some inspiration for next week’s decorations? Here, you’ll find pumpkins beyond belief, the world’s greatest lawn accessory, and a short epistolary story about a pre-school celebration gone terribly wrong.

* The Best Pumpkins Faces 

* Scary Halloween Carving Pumpkins  Zuza Fun

* Ray Villafane Carves the World’s Largest Pumpkin

Last week, we brought you news that the world’s largest pumpkin was going under the knife, and now we have actual photos of the carving in action! We were on the scene yesterday at the New York Botanical Garden, as carving master Ray Villafane whittled away sections of the 1,818.5 lb pumpkin to reveal an incredibly intricate three-dimensional scene of zombies and demons busting out of the orange shell. Click through our gallery to see our photos of the hair-raising sculpture, including close-ups of all the chilling details.

* Radio Controlled Crawling Zombie The Presurfer

Wouldn’t you like to have this Radio Controlled Crawling Zombie on your front lawn at Halloween?

* Day of the Dead or Halloween?  The New Yorker



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