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What the new pope movie is and isn't: 5-31-18

I like and admire Pope Francis. Regular readers of my blog and columns know that, as do readers of a book I co-authored with the Rev. Dr. Paul T. Rock called Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church.

Pope-movieSo you might expect that I would find much to like in the new documentary movie about the pontiff, "Pope Francis: A Man of His Word."

And I did enjoy many aspects of the film when I saw it Monday evening with my wife and friends. I especially loved seeing the pope alone in a chair addressing the camera extemporaneously on various subjects. He is winsome. And what he says usually makes a great deal of sense, especially when he speaks of environmental degradation, of poverty, of war and of the responsibility of Christians to be disciples of Jesus Christ in their response to these and other challenges.

Francis speaks truth to power. And he represents the power to whom he is speaking.

But let's be clear about this film. If it were about a political candidate we might well label it a puff piece designed to get the central figure elected to office. The subtitle of the film gives away the movie's bias.

So propaganda films naturally leave things out or pay slight attention to some matters. And that's what happens in this film.

There is, for instance, no acknowledgement that this pontiff has made a lot of enemies, who are doing their best to undermine his papacy and to throw up roadblocks as he tries to reignite the important and needed spirit of reform that came out of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. In fact, the previous two popes, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, did a lot to slow down those reforms, if not kill them off entirely.

The film doesn't tell you that, at least not directly.

Nor does it get much into the pope's early days as a priest and bishop in Argentina and how he dealt with the brutal military junta there. As this Guardian piece notes, he has received a lot of criticism for his actions and inaction in those days, though many people think he handled it as well as he could. But none of that is in the film. Nor is there anything about the pope's recent initial defense of church authorities in Chile in the face of charges of sexual abuse and of him later apologizing for getting that wrong.

The closest we get in the film to some information about how Francis is trying to change the church's calcified hierarchy is a clip of one of his annual addresses to the Curia, or top Vatican leaders. Here is a story about what he said in 2014 and here's one about what he said in 2017. I'm glad I wasn't on the receiving end on either of those occasions.

There's more, but you get the point I'm trying to make. The film is not journalism. Rather, it's mostly flattery.

And yet there is so much to admire about this pontiff. I think he's truly a humble man with a great heart. That much viewers of the movie will get. But it's the more nuanced picture of a man struggling to make a difference in a hard-to-change system that the movie mostly misses.

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The scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis died the other day, and the reviews of his scholarship have been deservedly mixed. This RNS piece, for instance, describes why many Muslims felt he had disdain for Islam. I found I could not read Lewis without recognizing his sense that Islam had little to offer the world and that the world would be better off without it. Scholars are, of course, entitled to their opinions and analyses, but as Hussein Rashid, author of the RNS piece, notes, "Like colonists of a century before, Lewis understood Muslims as violent by nature, irrational, abusive toward women, lacking in culture. He could not conceive of Muslims in the context of modernity." Speaking of Muslims and modernity, I invite you back here tomorrow for a review of a book by a modern American Muslim woman.

What an old fragment of Mark's gospel tells us: 5-30-18

In my latest Flatland column, which posted on Sunday morning, I described the remarkable Quayle Bible Collection housed in a wing of the library of Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan. (The photo here today shows Nick Pumphrey, the Quayle curator, looking at a 1611 King James Version of the Bible in a Quayle display case.)

Quayle-6My column introduced readers to the world of scholars who study old books and even older manuscripts.

From that sometimes-puzzling world now comes word of the existence of one of the earliest manuscripts containing part of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament.

This important find, it turns out, came from what the Daily Beast story to which I've linked you calls "the ancient garbage dump at Oxyrhynchus (modern Al-Bahnasa) in Egypt."

The authors of the Daily Beast piece then write this: "In what must be the archetypical example of the expression 'one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,' this pile of ancient refuse has produced one of the oldest fragments of the oldest Gospel story (Mark is believed by scholars to be the earliest Gospel). This makes it a substantial and significant discovery for those interested in the history of Christianity, the evidence of the dating of the books of the Bible and the history of book-making. But it also comes with a substantial mystery surrounding its origins, its dating and its potential connection to the ubiquitous Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby and the founders of the Museum of the Bible."

(Just FYI, I wrote about the new Museum of the Bible, located just off the national mall in Washington, D.C., here.)

The story behind the newly announced Mark fragment is, indeed, full of mystery and intrigue. And it should serve as an important reminder that the Bible is a collection of writing by dozens of authors over hundreds and hundreds of years, and nowhere is there an original Bible manuscript for the whole thing -- not the Hebrew scriptures, not the books of the Apocrypha and not the New Testament.

But today we do have many more early manuscripts than did the translation team that put together the 1611 King James Version of the Bible in English.

Knowing a bit about how translation teams work, what Hebrew and Greek manuscripts they're using and what their theological stance is can help in knowing how to read and compare different translations.

So today I'll just pass along this Daily Beast story -- it's fairly long -- and let it help you see the complications of Bible translations. There will be no quiz later.

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The top court of the United Methodist Church has decided, RNS reports, "to allow any organization, clergy member or lay member of the United Methodist Church to submit petitions for consideration by delegates" at a special February 2019 session called to settle the question of how the church deals with the possibility of ordaining LGBTQ people. Those proposals would be beyond what a special bishops' commission already has proposed. The new ruling sounds like a way to make things really complicated. As I wrote here earlier this month, the decision should be simple.

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P.S.: All of the great world religions teach their adherents to be honest with themselves, confessing their sins and asking forgiveness for what they got wrong. If you are looking for a speech that is an almost-perfect example of not doing that but of avoiding any personal responsibility, check out what Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said yesterday as he announced that he would resign as of Friday afternoon. It was appalling, as has been his performance as governor.

A day to celebrate G.K. Chesterton 5-29-18

A few weeks ago, a friend gave me the card you see here containing the actual autograph of G.K. Chesterton, the terrific English Christian scholar and novelist.

ChestertonThe card originally came with one of the limited copies of a specially printed small book by Chesterton called The Sword of Wood, published in 1928.

I have no recollection of ever writing much about Chesterton to introduce readers to him, so because today is the 144th anniversary of his birth, it's a good day to do exactly that.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London in 1874. Eventually he moved his membership and his heart from the Church of England to the Catholic Church.

As the bio information to which I've linked you in the first paragraph asserts, "Chesterton was the best writer of the 20th century. He said something about everything and he said it better than anybody else. But he was no mere wordsmith. He was very good at expressing himself, but more importantly, he had something very good to express. The reason he was the greatest writer of the 20th century was because he was also the greatest thinker of the 20th century."

No doubt others would rank someone else ahead of Chesterton in those writing and thinking categories, but surely Chesterton belongs high in each category.

I also think this summary of Chesterton's work from the website bears repeating: "Chesterton argued eloquently against all the trends that eventually took over the 20th century: materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism and spineless agnosticism. He also argued against both socialism and capitalism and showed why they have both been the enemies of freedom and justice in modern society.

"And what did he argue for? What was it he defended? He defended 'the common man' and common sense. He defended the poor. He defended the family. He defended beauty. And he defended Christianity and the Catholic faith."

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the enormously quotable Chesterton:

-- “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

-- “Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.”

-- “Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.”

-- “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

-- “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”

-- “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

-- “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Well, if you haven't known Chesterton before today, now you have a chance not only to wish his spirit a happy birthday but also to read a bit of his work. You won't be disappointed but you will be challenged. And, no, Chesterton is signing no more books or cards.

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An American Catholic priest, reflecting on the need for a different pro-life strategy after the overwhelming vote in Ireland to scrap its ban on abortion, hits the right note when he writes this: "No longer should Republicans be allowed to call themselves pro-life if they vote down programs that would help mothers and their children." Yes, and pro-choice people, in turn, should honor the choice some women make to give birth even in the most trying of circumstances.

The pope opens a door to sexual sense: 5-28-18

Yes, it's Memorial Day, and I would ask you to observe it in ways that are meaningful for you. I will, too.

Sexual-orientationBut instead of writing about that today I want to return instead to a subject I've been thinking about for several days -- after this news story broke last week. In it, a gay man who had a conversation with Pope Francis reported that the pope told him this: "God made you like this. God loves you like this."

Another translation of the pope's words had it this way: “You have to be happy with who you are. God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way.”

In both cases, the pope, if those really were his words -- and the Vatican is not denying them -- is rejecting official Catholic teaching, though so far he has not moved to change that teaching.

Section 2358 of the Catholic Catechism says that "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" are "objectively disordered." The section before it, 2357, uses the term "intrinsically disordered." Either way, homosexuality is seen there as some kind of mental disorder, which is what the American Psychiatric Association once considered it, though it no longer does.

Much of the world has moved on from those dark days, recognizing what Pope Francis seems to have recognized in his recent remarks to the gay man, which is that homosexual orientation is a natural state, though an uncommon once compared with heterosexual orientation. One's sexual orientation itself is not a choice, though, of course, people of different orientations can make choices about how to live out their sexuality. And sometimes they do it in destructive ways.

There still are, of course, some branches of Protestantism and other faith traditions that condemn not just homosexual acts but homosexual orientation itself. But many Christians and Jews -- and even some Muslims -- have come to understand that homosexual orientation is simply on the spectrum of sexuality to be expected in any population.

The goal, then, is to find ways to help people of all sexual orientations to be comfortable with who they are and, theologically, to recognize what the pope told the man to whom he spoke: “You have to be happy with who you are. God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way.”

It is, of course, not up to me, a Presbyterian, to change Catholic teaching. But my hope is that Pope Francis has opened the door enough to encourage the church to do a thorough and careful review of its teachings about all of this. In the end, religion should be a force for liberation, for love, for compassion, for healing. Followed to its logical conclusion, that's where what the pope reportedly said is leading. Thank God.

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Because it's Memorial Day, I want to share with you this terrific column by my friend Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News. It tells the fascinating story of why there's just one tombstone for two member of the U.S. Army Air Corps who died in World War II -- a tombstone with both a Christian cross and Jewish Star of David.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about the fascinating Quayle Bible Collection at Baker University -- now is online here.

The anti-torture campaign continues: 5-26/27-18

In the recent confirmation hearings resulting in the approval of the nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, torture got a lot of play.

NRCAT_logoAs the CBS story to which I've linked you above reports, "Her involvement with the agency's enhanced interrogation program – referred to by many as torture – that was implemented in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks generated widespread criticism and concern, as did her role in the subsequent destruction, in 2005, of 92 videotapes documenting some of the interrogations."

It's clear that under the Bush-Cheney administration, some prisoners were tortured so that they would reveal information. Torture is an appalling technique that denies the very humanity of its victims. Under no circumstance should the U.S. use it.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has been making that point for years now. You can look around on its website to see how it has tried to keep the issue of torture on the front burner.

But while you're there, I hope that you'll note that Torture Awareness Month is coming in June. This provides an opportunity for congregations from many faith traditions to do programming and other actions to call attention to the need to ban torture forever as an element of U.S. policy.

Haspel now has promised that under her watch the C.I.A. won't use torture. Torture Awareness Month is a chance to tell her that people will do everything possible to hold her to her no-torture promise. The page to which I've linked you in the previous paragraph has ideas for how to do that.

As the awareness month happens, it wouldn't hurt to remember the words spoken right after Haspel's approval by the Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture:

"In a new low, the U.S. Senate today confirmed a known torturer to a Cabinet-level position in the U.S. government. While Ms. Haspel was forced to say that she would never restart the CIA's torture program, she nevertheless refused repeated requests to say that torture is immoral. This is a good day for tyrants, dictators, and others who abuse human rights. This is a bad day for anyone who cares about reining in this president, and others in his administration, who have no moral hesitation around torturing another human being."

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Pope Francis now has appointed almost half the members of the College of Cardinals, which elects popes. In some ways this is like U.S. presidents appointing judges, especially Supreme Court justices. They can set the direction of the courts (or the church) for a long time after the person who appointed them.

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P.S.: Here's a cool idea. Sign up to take a tour June 10 of the several homes built or rehabbed under the House of Abraham program of Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City. Christian, Jewish and Islamic congregations work together on these homes. I last wrote about this project in a Flatland column here. If I weren't going to be in Cincinnati then for a columnists' conference, I'd join you. But go and take good notes for me.

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ANOTHER P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about the fascinating Quayle Bible Collection at Baker University -- now is online here.

In the wake of royal wedding, some needed satire: 5-25-18

Yes, yes, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's terrific sermon at the royal wedding last weekend continues to be praised and written about.

SatireAnd with good reason. It was a masterpiece.

But that doesn't mean Anglicans aren't -- or can't be -- a fairly easy target for some theological fun. And that's where the online satirical publication The Babylon Bee comes in. Think of it as a theological version of The Onion.

The Bee has published this shallowly investigative piece reporting that an Episcopal priest from New Hampshire has been forced to resign after confessing that he believes in God -- or at least a "higher power." (If Donald Trump really cared about #FakeNews, he'd be all over this.)

"The shocking revelation came after months of rumors," the "story" says, "as church members claimed they had seen (Father Frederick) Willumsberth praying, reading his Bible and occasionally referencing 'the Man upstairs' in casual conversation. Finally, the longtime priest could no longer deny the allegations, leading to his public statement and apology to his congregation, along with his resignation."

To people outside the Christian theological world, this kind of satire may seem inane or unintelligible. But to insiders who know that Episcopalians have a reputation for valuing the questions more than they value the answers, the piece is both funny and even delicious.

It is also, of course, crazily unfair, but that's what satire is at times.

Bishop Curry's royal wedding sermon was Exhibit A in why it was unfair. But the theologically progressive end of the theological spectrum is just as worthy a target for satire as the other end, with its rigid certainty about all things and its suspicion that most other so-called Christians, including Episcopalians, will spend the afterlife in a place where they will have no trouble lighting cigars.

Besides, a religion that can't laugh at itself is too depressing even to consider.

(By the way, I used this obvious "satire" image here today because it reminded me of a great story I once heard about the famous and late Kansas City Star columnists Bill Vaughan and Landon Laird. One day Laird overheard two people on the bus arguing about whether Vaughan's column that day was true or just satire. When Laird got to the office, he went over to Vaughan and said, "Bill, why don't you just label your columns 'satire'?" Vaughan paused only briefly and said to Laird, "Landon, why don't you just label your columns 'horsesh..'?" It was the right question.)

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Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has lost his job because of stupid things he said to and about women. It's another bit of evidence that sexual misconduct is not limited to any particular faith group, although it seems mostly to happen because of what one particular gender says or does.

The planned steps toward crimes against humanity: 5-24-18


Back in the 1700s, the great French writer pen-named Voltaire (really François-Marie Arouet) wrote this: "The history of the great events of this world is hardly more than the history of crimes."

Well, it's a debatable point, perhaps, but whoever takes a view opposite of Voltaire's inevitably will lose.

What is vital for the future of humanity is that we understand in detail how these crimes happened, who failed to stop them and why.

Which is one of the reasons the Holocaust cannot be glossed over. It is the horrifying details, the moral collapse of a great nation, the step-by-step process -- well thought out in advance -- that produced the state-sponsored murder of six million Jews in Europe and millions of others as well.

Recently I've been reading a fascinating book that ultimately focuses on the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. There, for the first time in human history, leaders of a nation, Germany, were on trial for crimes that were described by terms never before used in court -- crimes against humanity and genocide. The book, badly named (because it tells you essentially nothing about the book's subject) East West Street, by Philippe Sands, tells the story of two men from the same eastern European town who came up with those terms, Hersch Lauterpacht (the first) and Raphael Lemkin (genocide).

It's a terrific read, and slipped in on page 166 is a description of the pattern the German authorities used to pull off their nearly successful goal of wiping out European Jewry.

"The first step," Sands writes as he describes the conclusions about all this that Lemkin drew, "was usually the act of denationalization, making individuals stateless by severing the link of nationality between Jews and the state, so as to limit the protection of the law. This was followed by 'dehumanization,' removing legal rights from members of the target group.

"The two-step pattern was applied across Europe. The third step was to kill the nation 'in a spiritual and cultural sense': Lemkin identified decrees from early 1941 pointing to the 'complete destruction' of the Jews in 'gradual steps.'

"Individually, each decree looked innocuous, but when they were taken together and examined across borders, a broader purpose emerged. Individual Jews were forced to register, wear a distinctive Star of David badge, a mark of easy identification, then move into designated areas, ghettos. Lemkin found the decrees creating the Warsaw ghetto (October 1940), then the Krakow ghetto (March 1941), noting the death penalty for those who left the ghettos without permission. 'Why the death penalty?' Lemkind enquired. A way of 'hastening' what was 'already in store.'

"Seizure of property rendered the group 'destitute' and 'dependent on rationing.' Decrees limited rations of carbohydrates and proteins, reducing the members of the group to 'living corpses.' Spirits broken, individuals became 'apathetic to their own lives,' subjected to forced labour that caused many deaths. For those who remained alive, there were further measures of 'dehumanization and disintegration' as they were left to await the 'hour of execution.'"

There it is. A pattern. A plan. A goal. In other genocides or other persecutions the steps may well be somewhat different. But the point is that those perpetrating the crimes have almost always thought through the process. Our job is to recognize what is happening and move to stop it before it can succeed and further stain human history.

(The map here of Poland, showing its borders in World War II, highlights, among other locations, the six death camps Germany built there. They are in orange type with a star. You can find this map in the book Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I wrote, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.)

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The death this week of the great author Philip Roth is a reminder of how religion can have an important, revelatory role in fiction. As The New Yorker, where Roth published his first stories, reported, "'Defender of the Faith,' his second piece for the magazine, prompted condemnations from rabbis and the Anti-Defamation League. 'His sin was simple: he'd had the audacity to write about a Jewish kid as being flawed,' David Remnick wrote in a profile of Roth, in 2000. 'He had violated the tribal code on Jewish self-exposure.'" Sometimes great literature comes because the authors turn state's evidence on themselves or their traditions.

When our cemeteries fill up, then what? 5-23-18

Recently here on the blog I wrote about "green burials" to let you know about the publication of a new book on that subject.

Cem-1Today I want to expand on that by telling you about what some Iowa State University students have been doing to come up with alternative burial ideas for communities facing the fact that their cemeteries are running out of room.

But first let me place this in a faith context. Every religion has traditions about how to deal with death and about what, if anything, happens to us after death.

These death traditions can vary widely and even wildly, as funeral director Caitlin Doughty writes in her latest book on the subject, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. Absolutely fascinating read.

So people of faith have lots of reasons to think about how we handle dead bodies -- and environmental concerns certainly are included in that list.

With all that in mind, let's look at what the Iowa State students did.

The city manager of Perry, Iowa, came to an ISU associate professor to ask for help as Perry is about to add space to a cemetery there.

So Carlton Basmajian, the ISU teacher, gathered some students together to work on the matter in a class he called “City of the Dead.”

The students came up with several different options for Perry to consider -- options that all communities no doubt should think about. They include traditional burial, cremation, natural burial, columbaria (which hold urns) and scattering gardens. I believe what they refer to as natural burial here is synonymous with "green burial" mentioned in the book I reviewed. (More details in the press release to which I've linked you above.)

Some of these suggested options may require legal policy adjustments, but those are matters all communities should be thinking about.

In the end, the goal is to honor the dead but focus on the needs of the living.

Speaking of funerals and burial and such, KCTV in Kansas City did this lovely story the other day about a man who wanted to plan and attend his own funeral before he died. And so he did, with the help of friends and of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care (on the board of which I serve).

(The photo here today is one I took at Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City at Troost and Gregory.)

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Pope Francis says the number of priests in Italy and across Europe is falling alarmingly, and he's not sure what to do about it. One obvious answer, ordaining women, is a non-starter in Catholicism. So I join the pontiff in not knowing what else to do about it.

Are faith and science in conflict for kids? 5-22-18

If you have school-age children or grandchildren, do you know what they're learning about science and whether that information is in harmony or conflict with your (and their?) faith tradition?

Jesus-dinosaurOne reason young people sometimes walk away from faith communities is that what they learn about science in school can be radically at odds with what their faith community tells them about it.

The obvious example: creation stories. But those are far from the only area of science that churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship should be talking about both to youth and adults.

So I was glad to read about a recent conference in Minnesota that addressed this. It bore the obviously whimsical name "Jesus Rode a Dinosaur."

The Religion News Service story to which I've linked you reports this: "More than half (56 percent) of youth surveyed by Science for Youth Ministry said they 'have a lot of questions' about God and science. Meanwhile, the survey of 761 youth leaders, conducted online and in person in 2014, showed 32 percent don’t address science at all in youth group, and just over half teach one to three lessons about it over the course of a year. Nearly 82 percent said when they do talk about science, they have to prepare their own lessons; about 7 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the resources that have been published."

In some ways the conference seemed to encourage young people to ask the kind of hard questions that I suggested in my latest book, The Value of Doubt, all of us should ask. As one of the leaders of the Minnesota conference said, God can handle our most difficult questions. And any faith community that doesn't encourage open dialogue about such questions probably has something to hide.

So if you don't know what your kids or grandkids are learning about science in school and/or in their faith communities, it's time to find out. And it's time for you to join the conversation, though you must be willing, in response to questions from kids, to acknowledge that you don't know the answer but are willing to find out.

(The image above today came from here.)

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Did you, too, love the royal wedding sermon over the weekend delivered by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry? Here is an RNS story unpacking some details about that. And here is the full transcript of his remarks. Finally, here is The New Republic's take on Curry's work at the wedding.

The destructive path of sports gambling: 5-21-18

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a federal law that prohibits sports gambling made all kinds of legal sense if you consider just the interests of fairness among states and freedom for individuals.

Sports-gamblingBut it was one more example of why doing the proper thing under the law sometimes can have disastrous moral and social welfare ramifications. Gambling inevitably has attached to it the corrosive and erosive barnacles of moral turpitude. It wastes time, money and other resources so people, some of whom are addicts waiting to trigger into addiction, can chase an ephemeral dream that many of them can't afford to chase.

My inner libertarian says they should be free to do that. You cannot, after all, legislate good sense and wisdom. And it's not the job of the government to teach people that time is a divine gift that should not be spat away by donating money to outfits that give gamblers very little chance of winning in the end.

So let the court's decision stand. But before the 49 states that don't yet have sports gambling jump into this sordid game with countless unforeseen and negative consequences, let's spend some time examining possible results and the public costs associated with those results.

I want you to know that I don't come at this matter as a gambling virgin, though I'm not terribly far from such purity on the issue. Decades ago, I several times went to the Batavia Downs race track in upstate New York with my then-in-laws and, while there, occasionally employed my highly conservative and ridiculous gambling technique of betting $2 that the horse with the best odds to win would at least come in third. Mostly that technique gave me back my $2 along with up to another 20 or even 60 cents.

In addition, when Missouri first began selling lottery tickets (in the 1980s, as I recall), I bought one for each of my two young daughters to show them what a waste of money gambling is. I was lucky that neither of their tickets was a winner, for it would have spoiled the lesson some. But I was confident enough to risk it. And I was right.

All of that said, I think gambling is a wasteful choice in a pile of wasteful choices created to keep us entertained to death. Its costs in addictions and in poverty-producing behavior, not to mention its destruction of time that could be spent in much better ways, is just not worth it to me.

To encourage you to think through the possible ramifications of sports gambling, I'm going to suggest that you read this piece about the ethics of gambling and this piece that raises the question of whether gambling is immoral. And finally I point you to this page, which describes why the United Methodist Church believes gambling "is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, [and] destructive of good government."

But dollars to donuts, none of this will stop an explosion of sports gambling. Will you take that bet?

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I, too, was a little surprised the other day when Vice President Mike Pence said this in a speech: "Religion in America isn’t receding. It’s just the opposite. Faith is gaining new life across America every day." It seemed like a big stretch. But Politifact has done this careful analysis of Pence's contention and has concluded that what Pence said was "Half True." That doesn't seem like a compliment, but it's what we wish we got from President Trump.