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Religion's role in wars: 10-31/11-1-09


Over the years I have written several times about the Parliament of World Religions -- the first one having been held in Chicago in 1893. (One gathering from that event is pictured here.)

Indeed, somewhere on my bookshelves I have the two-volume record of that event, books I picked up at a garage sale in the 1960s. Go figure.

Anyway, the fifth Parliament of Religions will be held in December in Melbourne, Australia, and the people organizing it have just announced that it will include an important conflict resolution program.

The program, officials says, will feature eight peacekeeping teams from regions of the world affected by conflict. There will be panels that will talk about these conflicts from the perspectives of religion, media, women, Indigenous peoples and other viewpoints.

I invite you to surf around on the Parliament Web site to which I've linked you above to find out what else is going to happen Dec. 3-9 in Melbourne, but I'm glad that some specific attention will be paid to the idea of conflict resolution and the role religion can play in making that happen.

Often, but not always, religion is found as a source of conflict and war, and I hope the people participating in this Parliament program will delve into that history and see what lessons can be learned from it.

Certainly not all wars can be attributed to religious disagreements. But some have religious roots and/or religious overtones, and it's the responsibility of people of faith to figure out why that's happened and to prevent it in the future.

(The photo here today was found at:

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Authorities in Malaysia have seized Bibles because they use the Arabic word for God, Allah. Some Christians there think this indicates a growing move toward a radical interpretation of Islam. The Malaysian officials are making the same mistake a writer for The Kansas City Star made recently in an otherwise good piece about Muslims in KC -- saying that "Allah" is the exclusively Islamic name for God. No, it's the Arabic translation of the word God.

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P.S.: In this entry this past August, I shared with you some thoughts from an area pastor who was taking a trip to the Middle East with a peace group. The evening of Saturday, Nov. 7, that pastor, the Rev. Cindy Howard, will be speaking about her experiences at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Kansas City. For information, click here.

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ANOTHER P.S.: A Kansas City anti-poverty group called Care of Poor People will hold its periodic giveaway of clothing and other materials from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28, at 31st and Baltimore in Kansas City. For details and ways to help, click here for a pdf file: Download COPP. In fact, copy it and share it with your own faith community or other group. 

The beauty and limits of words: 10-30-09

A dispute within the Roman Catholic Church about a revision of a worship book provides a chance for all of us to think about how crucial language is -- or can be -- in faith communities. And also about the limits of words.


The Catholics are considering a new translation from Latin to English of the Roman Missal, but Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., former chairman of the U.S. bishops' liturgy committee, recently leveled some sharp criticism at the revision, suggesting it was much too literal and thereby missed a lot of the intended meaning. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is to consider the changes when it meets in November.

Well, as a Presbyterian, I don't have a dog in this fight. So I won't be either leaping in on Trautman's side or defending the translators.

But I think Trautman's critique offers reminders about what use people of faith are to make of language and how important, if limited, that language is.

First, no matter what religion we claim, all of us should acknowledge that all words -- all words -- are simply metaphors in that they themselves are not the objects they describe. Rather, in an almost sacramental way, they point beyond themselves.

One of the implications of that reality is that we would do well not to fall in love with particular words or phrases because we think they exhaust the divine meaning in something. So none of the many creeds in our Presbyterian Book of Confessions, for instance, contains words that, if I say them, will guarantee me an eternal relationship with God. Rather, they direct me to eternal things. They themselves are not eternal. Some of them, it turns out, reflect misguided thinking from centuries ago, and we'd be foolish to hitch our wagons to them -- even though, as an ordained elder in the church, I have pledged to "sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church. . ."

In Christianity, at least, truth is not a doctrine or dogma expressed in exact words. Rather, truth is a person, Christ Jesus, known as the Word of God. And I find that enormously liberating.

But whatever our faith tradition, if any, let's remember not just the importance of beautifully crafted words but also their limits. That's partly what I draw from the current Catholic dispute.

(The illustration here today is from

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When Pope Benedict XVI met the new Iranian ambassador to the Vatican on Thursday, it gave him a chance to let Iran's leaders know that he and other religious leaders around the world are watching the ways in which that country either defends or denigrates the religious freedom of all its citizens. That's one good reason for countries with bad histories of religious oppression to have formal relations with the Vatican.

When is it a miracle? 10-29-09


I want to use the publication of an excellent new book to talk today a little about religious language -- its uses and misuses.

The book is Miracle on the Hudson: The Survivors of Flight 1549 Tell Their Extraordinary Stories of Courage, Faith, and Determination, by William Prochnau and Laura Parker. Please note that this is not the book that my friend Jeffrey Zaslow helped Capt. Chesley Sullenberger write, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. I intend to read Jeff's book but haven't yet had a chance.

But back to the Prochnau-Parker book. Just what is a miracle?

I think we'd all do well to limit our use of that term to something that cannot be explained without appeal to divine intervention. We hear about "miraculous" basketball shots or we hear someone say it was "just a miracle" that she ran into an old childhood friend in a distant airport. Similarly, we hear the word "demonic" used to describe evil situations that are clearly the result of human agency.

My plea is that we be more careful about the use of language because using such terms for everyday occurrences devalues the words.

Did an honest-to-God miracle happen when US Airways flight 1549 landed safely -- with no deaths -- in the Hudson River this past January just a few minutes after taking off from from a New York airport and striking a flock of geese? Or was it just a combination of excellent pilot work, fortuitous timing and location and quick thinking by passengers and other crew members?

The authors of this new book do not answer that question directly. Good for them. And they are careful to attribute the original use of the label of "miracle on the Hudson" to New York Gov. David Paterson.

But fairly early in the narrative, they do say that "if a 'miracle on the Hudson' was about to occur, it would require a sequence of 'miracles' to enable it. One Safety Board official close to the investigation counted as many as eight 'miracle requirements' starting with the cockpit crew's experience and innate ability to make almost instant decisions. . ." The other seven "miracles" were: "weather, a calm river clear of traffic, trained rescuers ready at the snap of one's fingers, the structural strength of the airplane, senior flight attendants and, not least, passengers who, despite natural and dreadful fears that would not end when the plane hit the water, did indeed scramble, and occasionally lose it, but got it back fast and did not panic."

The book pays a fair amount of attention to the religious beliefs and practices of the passengers on the plane -- and in some ways these passengers represent the religiously pluralistic America we are becoming:

"Many were praying -- all those faiths, all those visions of God and the route to His Place:

"Balaji Ganesan, a Hindu, looking at the river from seat 20E, sat next to Amber Wells, a Methodist deep in her prayer.

"Heyam Kawas, a Muslim, was hunched over in prayer. . .

"A silent Russian prayer next to a silent Jewish prayer, the believers holding hands.

"There were Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and all the various Christian faiths that had set their own paths. Christmas and Easter churchgoers. Agnostics and nonbelievers. Men and women who had no idea they were religious until this moment, converts in a kind of flying foxhole."

But it's not surprising that some of the 1549 survivors believe that what happened to them was truly a miracle. As passenger Molly Schugel put it near the end of the book: "There was this miracle so the world could continue to have hope."

I don't discount the possibility that what happened that cold January day to 1549 was a legitimate miracle with some kind of divine purpose. But I think it's too easy to label it that. I know it sounds nit-picky, but just as we shouldn't say "I'm freezing" when we're just a little chilly in a house with a thermostat set at 67, so we shouldn't be calling events miracles when there are rational natural explanations. Exaggeration sucks the power out of words eventually.

I hope all this won't spoil a good read for you. The authors have told a compelling story in the right way -- by excellent reporting. And -- given all the trash "journalism" one finds these days, especially on the Internet -- that may be a small miracle in itself.

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A man in Kentucky, arrested for car theft, said God wanted him to steal a Dodge Charger. Well, maybe. But if God were going to ask someone to steal a car, wouldn't it be a Christler?

Respectful disagreements: 10-28-09

Earlier this year, in this blog entry, I wrote about the excellent report from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America called "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust."


What I especially liked about it was its frank acknowledgement that people of good will within the church have come to different conclusions, so the task is to figure out how to live together in love even with those differences.

As a Presbyterian, it pleases me to be able to report that a denominational committee working on this same sexuality issue has come up with a draft of a report I consider to be as good and engaging as the Lutheran report. You can read all 31 pages by clicking on the link I've given you in this paragraph, but I especially want to highlight a list of nine points called "agreement, disagreement and mutual forbearance." In effect, committee members -- drawn from a wide theological perspective within the church -- list here how they will treat each other and how they will proceed in the midst of disagreement.

For example, here's the first of the nine statements:

1. We agree that Christ calls all kinds of persons into fellowship with him, regardless of race, sex, occupation, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or any other worldly condition, and that congregations are to welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God's grace in Jesus Christ and who desire to become part of the membership and mission of his church.

I invite you to read all of these nine affirmations and to consider them a model for how people of faith who disagree with one another can agree to live together in love nonetheless. This is exactly what faith communities should be showing the world how to do. 

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In releasing the U.S. State Department's annual report on religious freedom around the world, Secretary Hillary Clinton took a needed swipe at efforts by some predominantly Islamic countries to ban criticism of religion. Religion is strong enough to withstand its critics. It doesn't need phony protection from governments that would run roughshod over free speech rights. To read the full report on religious freedom, click here. And, by the way, because religious freedom is not simply an American ideal, as Clinton noted, but a basic human right, I'm glad the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom continue to raise this issue through annual reports and other methods. I also agree with the USCIRF that State should expand its list of most abusive countries from eight to 13.

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P.S.: A huge national Catholic youth conference called "Christ Reigns", which is expected to bring thousands of young people to Kansas City, is scheduled for Nov. 19-21. For information and volunteer opportunities, click here.

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NOTE: I was pleased with my comments experiment yesterday -- threatening not to publish posts that sought to attack people and were off topic. Most of you posted interesting and respectful notes, and I appreciated that. I held only a couple of comments. So those rules will be in effect now. If your purpose is to denigrate people, do it elsewhere. You certainly may disagree with one another (and with me) but you can do so respectfully without calling people disgusting names. Civil discourse here is the rule.

A bishop who names names: 10-27-09

As many of you are aware, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church is Katharine Jefferts Schori (pictured here), who is doing her best to hold together and lead a faith community split by all kinds of issues, including the question of whether it should have allowed the ordination of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire a few years ago.


Since her election as bishop in 2006, Jefferts Schori has made at least two trips to the Kansas City area. Her last journey here was just a year ago, and I had a chance then to interview her. I wrote about that on the blog in this entry.

This past weekend, she was in town to preach and speak at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Mission, Kan.

To hear her sermon (well, mostly Anglicans and Catholics call sermons homilies, and they tend to be shorter than the average sermon in my Presbyterian denomination; Jefferts Schori's homily at the first service on Sunday at St. Michael's ran just over 12 minutes) click on this link:

Download J-Schori

The audio begins just a few seconds into her remarks as she's mentioning Anglicans in various countries around the world.

What I liked about her homily was the emphasis on names. She insisted that it's vital that members of faith communities know each other's name as a way of acknowledging the common humanity of the other person. She noted that often in New Testament stories of Jesus healing people, those healed are not named. But she told a story from the gospel of Mark of someone who was both healed and named -- Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.

I was thrilled to hear the presiding bishop speaking about my ancestors (I figure Timaeus must be an old relative), though I've always wondered why they couldn't spell our name very well. But the Timaeus name is pronounced just like the Tammeus name -- tuh-MAY-us. (I thanked Jefferts-Schori afterward for dragging in my old relatives to make her point.)

But the point was well taken. When we refer to others just as, say, "my wife" or "my father" without giving them names, it diminishes them, devalues them, making them seem somehow unimportant. In sacred writ, often women's names are left out. It's a sign of how they were valued at the time. An exception is in the book of Job, when Job's three daughters are named at the end of the book.

Taking away names dehumanizes us. It's one reason the Nazis put numbers on the arms of Jews in concentration and death camps.

In the Hebrew tradition, God gives people the power to name animals. It's a way of bringing people into the creative process. And, in small ways, we affirm the reality of someone's life when we bother to know -- and then speak -- his or her name.

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The Vatican has decided to begin reconciliation talks with the Society of Saint Pius X, a breakaway traditionalist group. Nothing wrong with reconciliation efforts, but let's hope Pope Benedict XVI is more careful in this than he was early this year when he revoked the excommunication of one of the society's bishops, a known Holocaust denier.

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NOTE: I'm so tired of the belittling, off-topic, mean, callous, surly comments being left here that -- just for today and as an experiment -- I'm not going to publish any comment that I judge to be insufferable in one of those ways. At the end of the day today, there may be no comments published here at all. And I'll be fine with that. But I hope you will respond by making your comments respectful, kind and on-topic. If they aren't, they will stay unpublished today. Thanks for your help. Bill.

A gift of music: 10-26-09

The other evening I went to the White recital hall at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to hear a "Master's Recital" by the organist at my church.


But the recital wasn't for organ. Rather, Tate Addis played five major pieces on the piano -- one my Mozart, two by Chopin, one by Liszt and one by Bartok.

Look, I'm not a trained musician. In my family, that title fell to my oldest sister, who is a Juilliard pipe organ graduate. But I certainly know what music moves me, and Tate's recital was simply stunning.

What especially struck me -- particularly in his performance of Polish native Frederic (sometimes Fryderyk) Chopin's "Deux Nocturnes," was the way in which he became one with the music and the way in which the music evoked in me memories of being in Poland in 2007 when I was doing interviews for my new book, They Were Just PeopleStories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.

For me, Chopin (1810-1849) was living in a Poland full of shtetls, or small Jewish towns. It was a Poland struggling to find its place in a world moving by fits and starts toward modernity. In the midst of all that and more, Chopin was creating poetic piano music that spoke of the human heart and of what the heart must overcome to thrive.

Watching Tate, I was again astonished at the capacity of the human brain. I have no idea how many notes Tate played in a bit less than two hours, but it must have been hundreds of thousands -- all from memory. Somewhere in his brain a tape was running that told his finger what they must do to recreate the sounds Chopin (and the other composers) may have had in mind when they wrote their music. But it wasn't just a rote memorization exercise. It was also adding Tate's own style and interpretation to the mix as he went along, and as he had practiced it.

In some ways this is why I shy away from the term "intelligent design." It seems far too static to me, as though the process of design was a once and for all event. No, no. Design goes on and on. And I bet that when Tate started practicing some of these pieces, he was unable to make his fingers do exactly what he wanted them to do to produce the sounds he sought. So he worked at it over and over until, in effect, he changed those fingers -- redesigned them -- so they could perform better and created new pathways in his brain for the instructions to get to the fingers.

Well, my church is blessed to have this wonderful musician on our staff -- and doubly blessed to have a newly restored and fabulous-sounding organ for him to play. Even if you have no interest in our church or any church, you might do yourself a favor some Sunday morning and just attend a service to hear the organ. Or put April 10, 2010, on your calendar. A big pipe organ contest will be held at our church that day.

And if you want to hear some of the Chopin piece that Tate played the other night -- but by a different performer I found on YouTube -- click here.

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What's this? An Islamic university in Pakistan so scholarly and reasonable and moderate that even the Taliban is attacking it? Exactly, says this writer and history professor who spoke there in 2007. It's another example of why it's wrong to describe even places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as unmitigated sources of nothing but terror.

Celebrating female clergy: 10-24/25-09

I called up the Rev. Margaret Ellen Towner (pictured here) the other day and, in the process of catching up on her fascinating life, asked if she was interested in submitting her resume to my church, which is in the process of searching for a new pastor -- and I serve on the search committee.


Margaret, now in her mid-80s, laughed and said, "I'm not sure I've got that much energy left."

But she has had energy for ministry for more than half a century. Margaret was ordained to ministry in what is now the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Oct. 24, 1956, thus becoming the first female member of the clergy in our denomination.

And, trust me, Margaret, who lives in Sarasota, Fla., now, still has energy, though perhaps not enough to be the full-time lead pastor of an active 900-member congregation.

"Oh, I'm still doing it," she said of church-related work. In fact, she filled the pulpit for two straight Sundays at a Florida church in October. And she's continued to be active in Peace River Presbytery. In fact, she's on a committee that is planning a celebration of the presbytery's upcoming 20th anniversary.

"I'm not sitting by the wayside," she told me.

She's also trying to write a book about her life in ministry. But she's finding that a slow process.

"What I need," she said, "is a kick in the butt."

Well, maybe, but what Margaret Towner gave the Presbyterian church 53 years ago was a needed kick in the butt to consider the future ordination of many more women. Today, 27 percent of our pastors are female, while 45 percent of our specialized clergy (hospital chaplains and such) are female. And it's not unusual to find Presbyterian seminaries at which women students outnumber men.

Yes, there still are stained-glass ceilings through which women still must break. But things are radically different today than they were when Margaret was the only female clergy in our denomination. Which is reason enough to celebrate with her on the anniversary of her ordination.

For a quick snapshot of Presbyterians today, click here. And for more about women clergy in my denomination, click here.

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For more proof that there are few, if any, simple answers when it comes to world religious trends, a new report issued Friday calls religious change around the world "a complex phenomenon." People with simple (and simplistic) explanations for what's going on in this field distress me. Life rarely is simple. And simple answers usually are wrong answers.

That Catholic-Anglican move: 10-23-09

I will tell your right up front that I don't quite know what to make of the Vatican's recent announcement that it is going to create new structures that would welcome disaffected Anglicans to be Catholics while keeping some of their Anglican practices.


Is the Vatican (pictured here) fishing in the Anglican lake? John L. Allen Jr.'s rather breathless National Catholic Reporter story quoted Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s top ecumenical official, as saying that's exactly what the Vatican is not doing: “We are not fishing in the Anglican lake.”

If you're interested in this Catholic-Anglican story as told by other news agencies, click here for the Christian Science Monitor report. A report from the BBC is here. The Reuters story about this is here. And a report on the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog is here.

Is this a wonderful development that shows needed progress toward ecumenism and toward the possibility of an eventual reunion of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church? Uh, well, maybe, maybe not.

Two top Anglican bishops, in a remarkably indirect statement, put it this way: "The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation." In other words, maybe, maybe not.

Is this new move a victory for those Anglicans described by The National Catholic Reporter as "unhappy with liberalizing moves in the Anglican Communion, including the ordination of women as priests and bishops, the ordination of openly gay clergy and bishops, and the blessing of same-sex unions"?

Well, maybe. A bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which represents some of those people, issued a statement saying that “the Vatican is opening a door for Anglicans who sense a call to be part of the Church of Rome to join that body and still maintain Anglican traditions. This move by the Catholic Church recognizes the reality of the divide within the Anglican Communion. . ."

But if you read church history, you find that often -- not always -- people who break away from one group wind up finding fault with the group they've either created or to which they've decided to become attached. I think (yes, a Protestant is saying this) that generally the church is better served when members stay and work for change from within. Still, a self-described conservative calls the pope's invitation to Anglicans "brilliant" because it's rooted in respect for traditionalism.

I'm all for moves toward Christian unity. I'm just not sure this new Vatican move is one of them. It looks to me more like giving upset Anglicans a chance to leave and become Catholics but not really change.

AND: Earlier today John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter posted this piece about what he sees as the meaning of the Vatican's move.

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No thanks, Pope, some Canadian Anglicans are saying to the Vatican's invitation. In fact, some of them are suggesting Catholics leave the Roman church and become Anglicans.

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P.S.: I mentioned here the other day that Eboo Patel was coming to be the keynote speaker at this year's Kansas City Festival of Faiths. For a video message from Patel about that very event, click here

The religions of Americans: 10-22-09

For years I have been saying that one of the most important tasks for Americans in the 21st Century is to learn how to live in harmony in a society in which people practice many different religions.


We have a chance to show a violent and divided world how to do that.

To help us, we need many tools, including wise people who are religiously literate and can show us how to do this. But we also need written guides to educate us.

Until 15 years ago, we really did not have an up-to-date, comprehensive guide that describes for us how Americans practice the many world religions found within our borders. That's when the first edition of World Religions in America was published.

Well, much has changed since 1994. And now Westminster John Knox Press (the publishing arm of my Presbyterian denomination) has brought forth a fourth edition of this important book, edited by Jacob Neusner. Every chapter is updated and several new ones have been added to cover the Unification Church, New Thought and women and religion.

This is not just another version of, say, Huston Smith's guides to world religions or the Introduction to World Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, or World Religions at Your Fingertips, by Michael McDowell and Nathan Robert Brown. All are useful books, but their aim is not to help us understand specifically how Americans practice these faiths.

Again, why is that important? Here's the way Neusner answers that question: "The future of America depends on the answer to the question, How are religions going to relate to one another in this country?" Exactly.

Now, I don't want to suggest that America is on the verge of sectarian violence as Baptists attack Methodists or Buddhists attack Mormons. Not at all. But the truth is, as I have said many times, that ignorance leads to fear and fear eventually can degenerate into violence. How else do you explain the Ku Klux Klan and its followers' belief that they were (and are) being just the right kind of Christians?

In the new book's chapter on Protestantism, the eminent religious scholar Martin E. Marty notes that about 50 percent of Americans are Protestant but he urges Americans of other traditions not to worry because "those. . .Protestants would never be able to form a single team to gang up on you. First of all, they have no reason to be angry with you; most of them have many friends who are not Protestant, and they would not want to hurt their friends. Even more of them would not consider religion the main reason to take sides on anything; race or income would more likely define who is 'in' and who is 'out.'"

Then Marty adds this: "There are two even better protections for the fifty percent of Americans who do not say that Protestantism is their religion. First, American law and custom make holy war difficult to carry out, and also irrelevant. . . .The other reason for protection, one that will help you understand your or your neighbor's Protestantism, is this: Protestants differ very much from one another. It would be hard to get them to agree on everything."

No doubt all true, but as we all know it doesn't take a unified crowd to make followers of minority religions in this country feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. It takes only a few bigots or a few people who act out of ignorance and fear.

Which is why I hope this newly revised book gets a wide readership, including you.

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A University of Nebraska scholar was offering a session yesterday on the similarities between Nebraska football and the old Roman religion. Hmmm. I used to think the "N" on Nebraska football helmets stood for knowledge, but perhaps it stands for gnosticism.

Is happiness a 'Locke'? 10-21-09

Just a week ago here on the blog I wrote about "the pursuit of happiness," and my belief that the idea that all of us should be busy pursuing happiness is suspicious for many reasons.


One or two commenters that day mentioned that in the deliberations over the Declaration of Independence, where that language is found, the phrase originally was "life, liberty and property." The "pursuit of happiness" phrase was used instead of "property," perhaps to avoid the awkwardness of the reality that some humans then were considered property and that lots of people who didn't own property were not allowed to vote.

I want to return to that "property" phrase today to pass along some addition information about its source and what it might say about religion.

In his marvelous book, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, Jacques Barzun reports that the phrase can be attributed to 17th century English physician and philosopher John Locke (an ancestor of my wife, whose mother's maiden name was Locke). (He's depicted here.)

Feeling pressured under the monarchy of the Stuarts, Locke spent eight years as "a wanderer in Holland and France," Barzun says. "When James II was forced out in 1688, Locke returned home and became the voice of the party that had effected the change. The Declaration of Rights that went with it needed a theorist to make it respectable. Locke was the man to do it. . ."

Later, Barzun says that "for Locke and the English who bargained with the new king, William III, the terms of the social contract were the 13 provisions of the Declaration of Rights. . . .The universal rights came down to three: life, liberty and property."

I generally avoid Wikipedia as a source because it has been shown to be inaccurate and unreliable at times, but it seemed to me that this entry on our subject today had some useful information, especially that Ben Franklin agreed with Thomas Jefferson that the Declaration of Independence should downplay the role of government in protecting property.

Well, the point is that, as the author of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote long ago, there is nothing new under the sun. Our ideas come to us via a winding path, and our "pursuit of happiness" today has antecedants. But most of the great religions teach that pursuing happiness is a self-centered enterprise. Rather, happiness is a byproduct of a useful, productive life that focuses on serving others.

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You can get an idea of what original sin is all about when you ponder the recent Vatican criticism of corruption in Spain. The case had to do with money siphoned off from the pope's 2006 visit there. The pope knew nothing about it until recently but sometimes even when you abide by all the rules, those around you can draw you into what the Vatican called an "ugly case." One of the implications of the doctrine of original sin is that no matter how righteously we live, we inevitably get entangled in sin.

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P.S.: My latest column in The Presbyterian Outlook now is oneline. To read it, click here. To read this and previous Outlook columns, click on the Outlook page on the right side of this page under the "Check this out" headline.