Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


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Navel gazing

Today was a day of difference.  We started by meeting Merav’s parents’ friend/guide near the Jaffa Gate, and heading to the Churches of the Holy Sepulchre. Off we went, left turn on to the street of the Greek Patriarchate and then right past the Cloisters of the Greek Orthodox, and into the plaza in front of the complex which is the Holy Sepulchre.

The Holy Sepulchre, as with all the other churches in Jerusalem is a mishmash of tradition, legend, and superstition. The story is Helena, Constantine’s mother, came to Jerusalem to poke about and found not only his tomb, but the crosses of both Jesus and the Two Brigands. Conveniently the tomb was right by the crosses (she tested the veracity of them by touching sick people. One of them healed people, the others did not, ergo she had found, The True Cross).

On top of all that she found the slab of stone on which Christ’s body was prepared for burial, and the tomb of Adam.

It’s no more plausible than George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Alfred and the Cakes. Which is fine by me. I dont think the point of all this isn’t to see the actual sites (which, absent a whole lot of evidence which would have already come to light, ages ago. The point is that Jesus death, if not his life, was tied up with Jerusalem.  If one wants a sense of place, to engage in communion with that sense of place, one needs a focus.

The churches (and there are many, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, each jealously guarding the piece of turf they have staked out, and arguing about who gets to do what, where, and when), manage to do that. These have been places of pilgrimage for going on 1600 years (that’s for the Christians, add the people who came through here on their way to Jerusalem; for any of the three festivals one was supposed to hie oneself to the Temple to observe, and it’s connections stretch back no one can know how long).

It’s a variation on the only heretical scene “The Last Temptation of Christ”, where Paul declaims the actual life, or death, of Jesus is immaterial because the message is what matters.
I didn’t come to Israel as a pilgrim. I came to visit family. On the other hand it IS is a place of pilgrims, and this is a week for pilgrimage. So we went; I’m the only Christian in the family, and I’m not much for performative religiosity. I am not going to bend down to kiss things, nor climb the Spanish Steps on my knees. What I do take to heart is continuity, so putting my hands in the deep hollow on the door, trailing along the wide, dark, band of stained stone; crossing the incised graffiti carved by others heading all the way down to the purported location of the true cross… those are meditative, connective; Communal.

The shared sense of what the teachings in Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles are what tie the various sects of Christianity together. Climbing the stairs to the Chapels overlooking the Stone of Unction the common threads are visible. The Catholic Chapel is cheek by jowl with the Greek Orthodox, where Armenians, Russian Orthodox, Lutherans, Romans, Greeks, Baptists, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Quakers, et alia, all make their personal acts of worship; or observation.

I stood, as in the Women’s Gallery of an Orthodox Shul, listening to the Greek Orthodox liturgy below me, joining in the responsorial Kyrie Elieson: one with the entire body of the faithful.

That, I think, is the thing I was trying to sort out before, how the thread which warps its way from Judaism, to Christianity; and also to Islam, binds up the separate warps of our personal beliefs, bound in the passage of the years, and the variations of the weft spun by our different creeds. It’s all tied up in this city. Even for the devoted, who like myself, are not very devout.

It is, by virtue of historical accident, the Omphalos of the world for something like one third of humanity. That sense of connection  to the rest of humankind, not the fripperies of the fables told of the churches here (be they the Temple, The Dome of the Rock, or the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre) are, I have come to see, what I ended up making pilgrimage to find.

For the moment, I can rest my scallop on the mantlepiece.

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On the politics of infallibility

A lot of Catholics are up in arms about the stances His Holiness the pope has recently taken.  They tell him he ought to stick to the “moral issues” which they aver are the sole province of The Church. They are hypocrites.  By and large they are massive hypocrites. Yes, the pope is a moral steward.  Yes, the prime focus of The Church’s magisterium (to borrow a concept from Stephen Jay Gould) is one of “morality”, but given both the scope of the text used to justify that claim, and the breadth of pronouncements they have accepted in the past, it’s ridiculous to the point of hubris to pretend the question of how we steward the Earth (which contains the part of God’s Creation given over to the Dominion of Man ) is outside His Holiness’ purview.

I could point to the parable of the talents; and argue that just as much as the question of broadcasting the good word (best done by example and not exhortation, were one to ask me; and it seems Pope Francis) so too is how we take care of what God has actually given unto our hands. Refusing to care for it could be said to be as bad as burying it in a field.

But more to the point, those same Catholics who now sing a song about how the pope isn’t as permanently infallible as all that*.  Which isn’t (though they have denied it) new for them.  They have been fond of bruiting papally inflexible infallibility on matter of the the US Culture Wars they favor (e.g. homosexuality, abortion, same sex marriage, birth control), but oddly contrary to Church teaching on things like capital punishment, and war.

Which is, at one level, fine.  There are some moral issues on which people of good will can disagree** but it’s offensive for those same people who berate, upbraid, and abuse those with whom they disagree by using one set of the Church’s teachings, while vehemently pursuing goals which are in complete opposition to Church teachings more forcefully expressed.

Take Birth Control.  The Church is ambivalent about it: Rhythm is completely sanctioned.  Hormonal is somewhat sanctioned (in that a doctor recommending it for reasons of health is completely acceptable; as a friend of mine found out when she was converting.  She’d been on the pill for… about eight years (at the age of 21) for debilitating periods.  She asked what she needed to do when she got married (she was still a virgin, though affianced).  He told her to keep taking it, until they wanted to have children, as her health trumped all.

The Church makes no exceptions for capital punishment; yet many of those who yell that The Pill = Abortion = sin unforgivable, not only look the other way at capital punishment but laud its application (yes, I am looking at Scalia, the Cafeteria Catholic).

So those self-same people telling me the Pope is WRONGER THAN WRONG CAN BE about climate change, while screaming blue murder about Abortion/Birth Control/Same-Sex Marriage and ignoring capital punishment are hypocrites, more worried about the motes in my eye, than the beam in theirs.

The Church does not demand I abandon reason. She says God gave it me for a purpose (though one could argue the tale of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil says it’s not necessarily a blessing), and not to use it is a sin.  It’s refusing a gift of God.  She also admits She has been in error (e.g. Gallileo, and the sophistic justifications of Inquisitional excess***), and even were a doctrine made Ex Cathedra, that doesn’t mean one can’t argue against it; merely that one can’t ACT as if it weren’t so.  A later pope might decide the previous one were in error.

For the Pope is a man, as other men; and is subject to all the foibles and weaknesses of men. Pretending he isn’t, when it suits one’s politics; and is when it doesn’t despoils all one’s arguments.



*which he never was. Ex cathedra says that certain type of papal declaration are; when Ex cathedra is invoked, are infallible matters of doctrine.  It has never said being raised to the papacy makes one superhuman, and incapable of philosophical error.

(though the question of what defines a person of good will is somewhat tricky. I, for one, don’t accord that status to either Scalia, or Alito; as things they have said, written, and done, lead me to believe they put their personal opinions ahead of more broad investigation of moral questions.  They accept injustice because it pleases them to use the law as a shield against preventing those injustices which serve their prejudice, but I digress)

*** the legal fiction that the Church didn’t condemn heretics to death; it was merely the choice of the temporal power


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Congress shall make no law…

respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s the first Amendment to the Constitution. So where does Immigration get off telling a woman she has to join a church to become a citizen?   It’s actually worse than that sentence makes it appear.  It’s not that she’s an atheist.  Nope, it’s that she’s a pacifist.

Margaret Doughty has been in the US for 30 years.  She runs a non-profit working to increase adult literacy.  She applied to become a citizen.  One of the questions citizens are asked is if they will bear arms in the defense of the US.  This is what she said in reply:

“I am sure the law would never require a 64 year-old woman like myself to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question, I cannot lie. I must be honest. The truth is that I would not be willing to bear arms. Since my youth I have had a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or in the bearing of arms.  I deeply and sincerely believe that it is not moral or ethical to take another person’s life, and my lifelong spiritual/religious beliefs impose on me a duty of conscience not to contribute to warfare by taking up arms…my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God…I want to make clear, however, that I am willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction or to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States if and when required by the law to do so.”

I’m cool with that.  She’s willing (at 64) to be drafted, and work in non-combatant roles, or to be put to work on civilian efforts the gov’t thinks are essential to the war effort.  That’s certainly in keeping with the thrust of the question.

Immigration told her that’s not acceptable.  The only justification they will accept is that a pacifist church vouches for her.

That’s what makes it worse. That is, in fact, a regulation regarding the establishment of a religion.  It’s not as obvious as, “you must be a Christian”, but what it says is that one cannot have a moral vision which values human life unless you can point to a deity which justifies it. In effect it assets the US Gov’t believes not only that all morality comes from a god, but that absent a god morality can’t exist.