Nancy Pelosi…on Augustine

After Cardinal Egan released a statement yesterday belittling Nancy Pelosi’s comments on abortion, the House Speaker released her own statement.

She won’t back down from her contention that the Catholic Church — Pelosi is Catholic — has not always had clear teachings about abortion.

st-augustine.jpgHer spokesman, according to the AP, says her views are based on the “views of Saint Augustine, who said: ‘… the law does not provide that the act (abortion) pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation …’ ”

On “Meet the Press” Sunday, Pelosi said that the “doctors of the church” have not always agreed on when life begins.

Egan responded with: “What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.”

Additionally, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have issued their own statement. Here it is in full:

In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

Cardinal Egan slaps Pelosi statements on abortion

tjndc5-5b552ruo6tgx5cu17p4_layout.jpgCardinal Egan has jumped into the fray over Nancy Pelosi’s comments regarding abortion on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

House Speaker Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat, said that “doctors of the church” have been unable to pinpoint when life begins. She also suggested that the church has been unable to make up its mind historically about abortion.

Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput first took her on yesterday, saying that church teachings on abortion have not and will not change.

Minutes ago, Egan released this statement:

Like many other citizens of this nation, I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokow of NBC-TV on Sunday, August 24, 2008. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

Believers vs. non-believers (a double-header)

The Templeton Foundation will twice next month bring together Catholic believers and non-believers to do rhetorical battle in NYC.

images4.jpegOn Sept. 17, a Templeton Book Forum will sponsor a “conversation” between neo-conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak (that’s him) and non-believing scholar Heather Mac Donald at the Harvard Club. Novak’s new book, No One Sees God, is said to be a “reasoned response to today’s brigade of new atheists.”

On Sept. 22, at The Pierre on E. 61st, atheist pope Christopher Hitchens images5.jpegwill converse with Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete (right), a sharp and funny Catholic thinker who formerly taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. Hitchens and Albacete should make for a lively hour. Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, who oversee the Washington Post’s On Faith blog, will moderate.

I learned about both events by email. I don’t see any mention of them on the Templeton website, but they should pop up soon on the “upcoming events” page.

Who is praying at the DNC?

rds_sans_glare_bw_166×220.jpgWith the Democratic National Convention underway, it’s worth noting that Rabbi David Saperstein, a revered figure among Reform and liberal Jews, will give the invocation on Thursday (the night Obama accepts).

Saperstein is the 34-year director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, one of the most active and influential religious lobbies in Washington for liberal causes.

He said in a statement: “I am deeply honored to have been invited to offer a religious voice at this celebration of American democracy; the opportunity to do so at an evening of such historic significance to our nation is especially meaningful.”

At the same time, some in the Catholic community are insulted that Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput was not invited to pray or have any role at the DNC. Of course, Chaput is a conservative, outspoken and powerfully articulate Catholic leader who disagrees with many Democratic positions. He’s already said that Joe Biden, a Catholic, should not take Communion because of his support of abortion rights.

Among Catholics who will play a role at the DNC is St. Joseph Sister Catherine Pinkerton of Cleveland. Pinkerton, 86, is a lobbyist for Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby. She is scheduled to close the convention on Thursday.

What I did on my summer vacation

Well, I’m back.

I did not pay close attention to the news (religious or otherwise) during my two weeks off, other than the Olympics. Who knew that beach volleyball could be so entertaining? Or that synchronized diving is a sport? Or that batons are so hard to grab?

Were female gymnasts always so tiny?

I did read a lot during my vacation. And while I did not choose books “about religion,” religious themes kept coming up. That’s why this is such a great beat. Religion is infused through all things (both fiction and non-fiction).

images1.jpegI started off with The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s unrelenting (and Oprah-approved) trip through a post-apocalyptic world. The tale centers around a father and his young son struggling to survive, not knowing whether each grim day will be their last. There is some mention of God’s presence, but the father never wonders why God allowed the world to be wiped out and I don’t believe that he voices any hope that God may help save them.

At one point, an old man that the duo encounter on the road offers this: “There is no God and we are his prophets.”

images2.jpegNext I read The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s much-praised and painfully honest diary about trying to cope with her husband’s death and her daughter’s illness (hey, don’t let me choose your beach reading). Didion is not a religious woman and only addresses religious issues with a sense of detachment. She does not wonder about her husband’s salvation or place in the afterlife.

At one point, she writes:

At dinner in the late spring or early summer I happened to meet a prominent academic theologian. Someone at the table raised a question of faith. The theologian spoke of ritual itself being a form of faith. My reaction was unexpressed but negative, vehement, excessive even to me. Later I realized that my immediate thought had been: But I did the ritual. I did it all. I did St. John the Divine, I did the chant in Latin, I did the Catholic priest and the Episcopal priest, I did “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past” and I did “In paradisum deducant angeli.”
And it still didn’t bring him back.

Then I switched gears and delved into Joseph Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington, a terrific biography of the Father of Our Country. I know that academics like to tussle over the religious faith of the Founding Fathers, but Ellis is quite clear about his conclusions regarding GW.

He wrote this about Washington’s death:

There were no ministers in the room, no prayers uttered, no Christian rituals offering the solace of everlasting life. The inevitable renderings of Washington’s death by nineteenth-century artists often added religious symbols to the scene, frequently depicting his body ascending into heaven surrounded by a chorous of angels. The historical evidence suggests that Washington did not think much about heaven or angels; the only place he knew his body was going was into the ground, and as for his soul, its ultimate location was unknowable. He died as a Roman stoic rather than a Christian saint.

images3.jpegNext was Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, yet another sad tale. I love Green’s novels and knew that this one was supposed to be among his best. It was quite good but a real downer — one man cracking up over the end of an affair.

This turned out to be a very religious tale, as the story turns on the narrator’s former mistress having a religious experience of sorts. She becomes increasingly religious (Catholic), and her former lover struggles to understand. There are numerous great passages about faith, such as this one:

I have never understood why people who can swallow the enormous improbability of a personal God boggle at a personal Devil….I can image that if there existed a God who loved, the devil would be driven to destroy even the weakest, the most faulty imitation of that love. Wouldn’t he be afraid that the habit of love might grow, and wouldn’t he try to trap us all into being traitors, into helping him extinguish love? If there is a God who uses us and makes us his saints out of such material as we are, the devil too may have his ambitions; he may dream of training even such a person as myself, even poor Parkis, into being his saints, ready with borrowed fanaticism to destroy love wherever we find it.

From the end of a sad but adult affair, I moved on to…Lolita.

I was always curious about how and why a novel about….you know….could be so highly regarded. So I read it. It was really engaging and totally repellent at the same time. What a trick, Mr. Nabokov!

I wouldn’t say that Lolita had any significant religious themes. The narrator, who more or less enslaves a young girl, is not a real believer. Big surprise.

I still had two days left on vacation. Worn out from such depressing material, I picked up America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation. I’m only 200 pages in, but I’m loving it.

To a lot of people, football is a religion. Vacation is over. Let the season begin…

Digital photos ‘mark of the beast,’ group says

Speaking of the antichrist (see below)…

West Virginia today stopped storing digital driver’s license photos of 50 or so Christians who believe that digital storage is a “mark of the beast.”

Here’s the AP story:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ West Virginia started Friday keeping driver’s license photos out of a computer database for members of a small religious group who believe digital storage is a “mark of the beast” that evokes biblical prophecy.

State Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Joseph Cicchirillo said the group of about 50 or 60 Christians, who are not affiliated with a particular church, contacted the agency two or three years ago to object to their pictures “being on a database that can be exchanged throughout the world or hacked into.”

One of the group members is Phil Hudok, who made headlines in 1999 when he was fired as a Randolph County school teacher for refusing to require his students to wear bar-coded identification badges. Hudok was later reinstated after a circuit judge said the school board had made no attempt to accommodate his religious beliefs.

Hudok and other members of his group have said bar codes and digital storage of photos are a way of numbering people, which they liken to a warning in the Bible’s book of Revelation about a “mark of the beast” indicating the arrival of the Antichrist. Continue reading

‘Left Behind’ authors: Obama not antichrist

I just got the following press release from Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the authors of the best-selling “Left Behind” series of books. The books describes the apocalypse from the point of view of a literal reading of the Book of Revelation:

John McCain’s campaign ad “The One” has generated a lot of buzz regarding the “Left Behind Series.” Political commentators are comparing McCain’s portrayal of competitor Barack Obama with the blockbuster apocalyptic series’ depiction of the antichrist. But even the series authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins don’t think Obama is the antichrist. What may have been created as a farce has generated a firestorm of controversy on the internet.

LaHaye and Jenkins take a literal interpretation of prophecies found in the Book of Revelation. They believe the antichrist will surface on the world stage at some point, but neither see Obama in that role. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the antichrist,” says novelist Jenkins. “I tell everyone that I don’t think the antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics.”

“I can see by the language he uses why people think he could be the antichrist,” adds LaHaye, “but from my reading of scripture, he doesn’t meet the criteria. There is no indication in the Bible that the antichrist will be an American.”

Jenkins and LaHaye don’t take McCain’s commercial or the antichrist speculation over Obama too seriously.

Pundits have pointed out that there are similarities between the “Left Behind Series” character Nicolae Carpathia and Obama. Other than some vocabulary and charisma, Carpathia, a young Romanian politician who eventually oversees a one-world government, and Obama don’t have much in common. “If even the people who created the character Nicolae Carpathia don’t see the comparisons as warranted, then perhaps this is overblown,” says Jenkins.

Here is the commercial itself. YOU be the judge:

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The candidates’ religious bios

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life has posted “religious biographies” of McCain and Obama.

They’re mostly pieced together from interviews and the candidates’ own writings. But each biography summarizes things well.

a5b794ddd97f495a9403e2f74707be74.jpgMcCain’s — which includes why he attends a Southern Baptist church after growing up an Episcopalian — includes:

Southern Baptists emphasize adult baptism as a symbol of faith in Christ, and McCain has said that his wife and two of their seven children have been baptized, but he has not. Responding to questions from a reporter in April 2008, McCain called his decision about baptism a “personal thing,” adding on another occasion that “I didn’t find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs.” But he also has said that he has been in discussion with his pastor, Dan Yeary, about being baptized, adding that he would not do it during the campaign because it might appear insincere.

67a6dbe07e684b989157fb56787c5959.jpgAnd Obama’s story, which has become more familiar, includes:

Obama’s mother married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian businessman and non-practicing Muslim, and the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, when Obama was 6 years old. There, he attended a Catholic private school and later a predominantly Muslim public school. At an April 2008 forum for the Democratic presidential primary candidates that focused on the topic of faith and values, Obama said, “The brand of Islam that was being practiced in Indonesia at the time was a very tolerant Islam,” which “taught me … that Islam can be compatible with the modern world”

When Obama was 10 years old, he returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, while his mother — who wanted him to receive an American education — remained in Indonesia. Obama wrote that his grandmother was raised with a “straight-backed form of Methodism that valued reason over passion and temperance over both,” while his grandfather came from a family of “decent, God-fearing Baptists” But neither continued to practice his or her childhood faith. In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Obama wrote that “Gramps” briefly enrolled the family in a local Unitarian Universalist congregation because, in his grandfather’s words, ” ‘It’s like you get five religions in one.’ ” In The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote that “religious faith never really took root in their [his grandparents’] hearts”