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October 2019

Why we need to remember the Nuremberg trials

On this date in 1945 (I was all of 10 months old at the time), the Nuremberg trials of 22 Nazi war leaders (and later of many more lower-ranking German authorities) began in Germany.

NurembergIf you think about the timing, it's shocking that the trials began just over six months after the end of the war in Europe. Compare that to the still-not-started military tribunal trials of the people charged with the 9/11 terrorist attacks 18-plus years ago who still are being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Six months vs. 18 years. What's wrong with that picture?

As this online entry by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum notes, "The Nazis' highest authority, the person most to blame for the Holocaust, was missing at the trials. Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in the final days of the war, as had several of his closest aides. Many more criminals were never tried. Some fled Germany to live abroad, including hundreds who came to the United States."

One of the things I have learned in not just reading about the Holocaust but also in doing research for the book that Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I wrote (They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust) is that many survivors of the Nazi evil didn't want to talk about what they went through and often hid their story from their children and grandchildren until much later in life.

Indeed, it really wasn't until Raul Hilberg published The Destruction of the European Jews in 1961 that the world began to pay much attention to the Holocaust, at least after the Nuremberg Trials ended.

And in some ways it took the movie "Schindler's List" in the early 1990s to kick-start Holocaust interest and scholarship into its current state.

The scope of the malevolence was so massive, so unexpected, so incredible that it took time for the world to acknowledge that a modern European nation could orchestrate such an intentional catastrophe.

The question remains of how the German people could have been led to support a government that had as its goal the elimination of European Jewry. One of the answers is that Adolf Hitler outlined his thinking about this matter in his repugnant book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in the early 1920s and that most people ignored what was his clear goal. Here is some of what he said in that book malignant and pernicious book:

  • All human culture, all the results of art, science, and technology that we see before us today, are almost exclusively the creative product of the Aryan. This very fact admits of the not unfounded inference that he alone was the founder of all higher humanity, therefore representing the prototype of all that we understand by the word “man.” He is the Prometheus of mankind from whose bright forehead the divine spark of genius has sprung at all times, forever kindling anew that fire of knowledge which illumined the night of silent mysteries and thus caused man to climb the path to mastery over the other beings of this earth. Exclude him — and perhaps after a few thousand years darkness will again descend on earth, human culture will pass, and the world turn to a desert.
  • The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew.
  • Blood mixture and the resultant drop in the racial level is the sole cause of the dying out of old cultures; for men do not perish as a result of lost wars, but by the loss of that force of resistance which is contained only in pure blood. All who are not of good race in this world are chaff.
  • If the Jews were alone in this world, they would stifle in filth and offal; they would try to get ahead of one another in hate-filled struggle and exterminate one another, in so far as the absolute absence of all sense of self-sacrifice, expressing itself in their cowardice, did not turn battle into comedy here too.
  • It was and it is Jews who bring the Negroes into the Rhineland, always with the same secret thought and clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily resulting bastardization, throwing it down from its cultural and political height, and himself rising to be its master. For a racially pure people which is conscious of its blood can never be enslaved by the Jews. In this world he will forever be master over bastards and bastards alone.

I feel almost as if I should apologize for inflicting those words on you, but I hope you already know about them. Besides, we're in terrible trouble if we forget that a man who became the leader of a supposedly civilized and free nation wrote them.

The world had no choice to but behave in a rational, lawful way and convict the Nazi leaders in a fair trial as a way of demonstrating that this kind of putrid straight-line thinking could not stand. The sad reality is that today antisemitism is resurgent. But if we continue to try to teach our children about all of this, through such agencies as the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, we have a chance of unplugging this deadly anti-Jewish thinking.

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A new report says the mainline Anglican Church of Canada won't exist in 20 more years if current trends continue. Does someone offer palliative or hospice care for faith communities?

Learning religious literacy from Sesame Street

With a new movie about Mister Rogers to be released in a few days (starring Tom Hanks), and with the 50th anniversary now of the Sesame Street TV show, we're getting quite a few interesting stories about what both of those shows taught (and still teach) children about being good neighbors and about foundational morality. Imagine where our divided nation would be without them.

Sesame-street-50-years-logoOne of the things about Sesame Street that I was only vaguely aware of was its role in fostering interfaith understanding.

This piece describes that in considerable detail.

The article talks about the show's consistent "mission of teaching its young viewers to understand, respect and love their neighbors — including those who are religiously different from themselves."

And it notes that "Sesame Street’s efforts to foster interfaith friendship and understanding owe in part to the particular background of one of its creators, Joan Ganz Cooney. As Michael Davis explained in Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, Ganz Cooney was the daughter of a German Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother. Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, she witnessed the impact of religion on the lives of the individuals and societies around her: how her mother drew inspiration from Catholic teachings to aid the poor during the Great Depression, how her father despised the antisemitism he witnessed in their local community and how her family grieved the death of a cousin who perished in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany."

This background led to the various ways, described in the Patheos piece, that the show sought to instill in viewers the idea of respect for different religious traditions, with an emphasis on Jewish-Christian relations.

Fred Rogers, too, as a Presbyterian pastor, was in harmony with the values of interfaith understanding, and although he wasn't usually as direct as Sesame Street in talking about religious differences, his approach was to give children the tools they'd need to be respectful of all people, no matter their religious commitments.

My own children, who watched both shows occasionally while growing up, have children of their own today, and we have grandchildren (eight of them) who range in age from 17 to 3. When we have the little ones in our house, we don't often have the television on. So I'm not much in touch with children's TV programming today.

But what I do know is that the Sesame Street and Rogers shows were helpful in giving children the idea that whatever religious commitments their own family had made were not the only ones possible in the world and that it helps to be religiously literate. There still is a lot of religious illiteracy in our country and the more there is the worse off we are. So it's a good idea to notice and encourage the kinds of effort that Sesame Street has made in this field over the years. Even Oscar the Grouch would want you to do that.

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The latest Pew Research poll found that 63 percent of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics, and 76 percent say religious congregations shouldn't make political endorsements, this RNS story reports. Interesting numbers but odd. When Christians tell me they don't want to hear politics from the pulpit, I wonder why they aren't interested in hearing the gospel. The early church's first statement of faith, "Jesus is Lord," was nothing if not political, and Rome knew that. Now, if you say you don't want houses of worship to be partisan, I agree. But that's different from raising political issues.

A question raised by the picture of religion in Ukraine


Do you now know a lot more about Ukraine than you ever imagined you would? Yeah, me, too.

I've been to Central Asia (Uzbekistan and, briefly, Kazakhstan) and Eastern Europe (Poland) but not to Ukraine, which I learned in the impeachment hearings is the European country (not counting Russia) with the largest land mass, about 360,000 square miles. Which makes it bigger than France, Spain and Sweden, the next three largest.

And I've learned that some seven percent of its land mass now is in the hands of Russia after Russian troops took over the Crimea (and about one-third of both Luhans'k and Donets'k oblasts) and are continuing to threaten the eastern boundary of our ally, Ukraine.

You can find that seven percent figure in the CIA Factbook page to which I linked you in the first paragraph above.

But what do we know about the religions practiced in Ukraine? And does that make any difference in how the government of Ukraine relates to the government of the U.S.? (Decent question, to which I don't have much of an answer.)

The CIA Factbook tells us that these are the religions practices in the country:

(Christian) Orthodox (includes Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox (UAOC), Ukrainian Orthodox - Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish (2013 est.)
note: Ukraine's population is overwhelmingly Christian; the vast majority -- up to two-thirds -- identify themselves as Orthodox, but many do not specify a particular branch; the UOC-KP and the UOC-MP each represent less than a quarter of the country's population, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church accounts for 8-10 percent, and the UAOC accounts for 1-2 percent; Muslim and Jewish adherents each compose less than 1% of the total population.

That's different from, say, Uzbekistan, where Islam is, by far, the dominant religion.

Here's another breakdown on religion in Ukraine from a travel site.

It's interesting that in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's latest annual report on violations of religious liberty around the world, Russia comes in for harsh criticism for the way it violates religious freedom in Ukraine: "In Russian-occupied Crimea, the Russian authorities continued to kidnap, torture, and imprison Crimean Tatar Muslims at will. Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, often referred to as the Donbas, continued to expropriate church buildings and intimidate religious communities. . .In 2018, Russian occupation authorities in both Eastern Ukraine and Crimea continued to systematically persecute religious minorities in their efforts to maintain social and political control."

If any of that surprises you, you haven't been paying enough attention to Vladimir Putin's Russia.

The testimony of U.S. foreign service diplomats in the impeachment hearings has emphasized widespread corruption in Ukraine that the new president seems determined to stop. Why would there be widespread corruption in a country with a huge Christian majority of the population? It's a question Christians around the world should be asking themselves. Someone isn't getting the message.

(The image here today came from this site.)

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As Pope Francis prepares to head to Japan later this month, that country's so-called "Hidden Christians" are getting media attention, including this Reuters story. It reports that this interesting group of people believe their faith community may be coming to an end.

How did evangelicals lose their way?

As any adult American with a pulse knows, the term "evangelical" when applied to Christians can mean many different things, including devoted Trump supporters who ignore the reality that his life has been a rejection of most of their values.

Who-evangelicalBut for the term evangelical to retain any meaning -- especially meaning related to Christian doctrine -- it helps to understand the origins of the movement. And that's what a new book (one I haven't yet read) tries to provide. The book is Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis, by Thomas S. Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University.

Samuel D. James, associate acquisitions editor for Crossway Books, has reviewed Kidd's new book here. Even if you never read Kidd's book and even if you (as do I) disagree with some of the things James says, his review is well worth a read.

"There is," James notes, "an emerging identity crisis within evangelicalism. Those disillusioned with evangelical culture ask: What even is an evangelical? Does the word simply mean 'white, Republican Protestant'? If so, would it be better to abandon the term to the sociopolitical abyss. . ."

To understand the evangelical movement in American Christianity, it helps to grasp its history, to say nothing of the foundational idea that all Christians are obliged to share the gospel story in some way, which makes them evangelists, a term that simply means one who shares the good news.

"Kidd," James writes, "insists that the historic meaning of evangelicalism describes its religious distinctives rather than its partisan entanglements. His thesis is compelling and supported by an impressive breadth of research. It is a scholarly rebuke to a generation of journalists and pollsters who abuse the term 'evangelical' in service of tidy ideological narratives. . .The original evangelicals were deeply concerned about what kind of person Christ’s salvation created, an issue summarized in the biblical (and for evangelicals, foundational) doctrine of the new birth."

One of the problems within evangelicalism today seems to be that many who call themselves that seem out of sync with what evangelicalism historically has meant in the U.S. As James notes, "(I)t is hard to resist the conclusion that the pitiful patchwork of prosperity theology and white nationalism currently ascendant owes its rise — at least in part — to an evangelical willingness to relinquish doctrinal commitments for the sake of cultural solidarity."

The complex mystery of why some 81 percent of self-identified white evangelicals voted for Trump begins to come into focus through the lens of the history that Kidd provides in his new book. It happened, at least in part, because of what James calls a "willingness to relinquish doctrinal commitments."

That isn't to say that such doctrinal commitments shouldn't be subject to occasional review and occasional restatement in ways that new generations can understand them. That kind of theological process is healthy and all faith communities are stronger when they engage in it.

But when the process results in a pledge of allegiance to a diseased culture or a diseased politics instead of to a healthy faith tradition, nothing but trouble ensues. It's unclear whether the damage that white evangelical Trump supporters have done to evangelicalism -- and by extension to religion itself -- can be reversed in a timely way. But perhaps they might get some guidance for how to move toward that by reading Kidd's book.

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An imam in Phoenix has been accused of sexual abuse. It's further proof -- if we needed it -- that this category of trouble is not limited to one faith tradition. But that should give absolutely no one any comfort.

Should foreign aid be tied to religious freedom?

Anyone the least bit familiar with American history knows that one of the important impulses behind the creation of this nation was religious freedom.

Religious-libertyAlthough the Puritan immigrants didn't necessarily want that right for others, they certainly wanted it for themselves. And eventually the idea of religious liberty got enshrined in the Constitution.

In more recent times the laudable goal of religious liberty has been more controversial as some have used it, for example, to suggest that it gives people in business the freedom not to serve LGBTQ people, just as a previous kind of racial freedom gave businesses the freedom not to serve black people.

Still, even as we struggle to determine just what religious liberty means, it's a concept that should continue to define us as Americans and should be considered a foundational human right around the world.

Which leads us to take a look at the news that President Donald Trump is considering taking into account how other countries treat religious minorities as he thinks about American aid to those countries. Nothing yet about the idea is final.

But the Politico story to which I've linked you reports that "the proposal is expected to cover U.S. humanitarian and development assistance and could also be broadened to include American military aid to other countries. If the proposal becomes reality, it could have a major effect on U.S. assistance in a range of places, from Iraq to Vietnam. Its mere consideration shows how much the White House prioritizes religious freedom, an emphasis critics say is really about galvanizing Trump’s evangelical Christian base."

The work of the quasi-government U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom (former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback) have as their aim the laudable goal of promoting religious liberty around the world, which means highlighting cases of oppression of religious minorities in their annual reports. (The USCIRF reports are here. And the State Department's reports are here. Both are worth a read.)

So the idea of somehow tying American foreign aid to religious freedom is intriguing and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. But there could be lots of devils in the details, and it behooves us and members of Congress to monitor how the Trump administration handles this. Given the fact that it's handled many other foreign affairs matters so badly, it's difficult to trust that it will get this right, but let's watch.

If motives were always pure, there'd be no question about whether the U.S. should use various tools to advocate religious freedom globally, but motives have a way of being compromised. So, as I say, let's pay attention as this new idea either turns into reality or dies of its own conflicted weight.

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How did the U.S. military chaplaincy move toward including representatives of all kinds of religious traditions beyond Christianity and Judaism? A professor has written a new book about that and has described some of what happened in this article. "It was not until the early 20th century," he writes, "that the chaplain corps professionalized and became fully integrated into the military’s organizational structure. At the same time, the variety of religions represented in the corps increased significantly." Now the chaplaincy corps looks more like America. And that's a good thing.

A Catholic push against gun violence

There are renewed efforts coming from Catholic bishops to work for common-sense laws that can address the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.


As the Religion News Service story to which I linked you above reports, "leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) opened their annual fall meeting in Baltimore. . .calling on clerics to be 'courteous' to combat political polarization and to advocate for certain public policies, such as legislation that could limit gun violence."

The story says that in a presentation by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, "he said the USCCB already advocates for several federal policies designed to curb gun deaths, such as an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, limits on large-capacity magazines and laws pertaining to gun trafficking.

"Even so, Dewane called on his fellow clerics to combat the scourge of gun violence by utilizing the power of the Catholic tradition."

The church has a fine line to walk here. First, it must live out its commitment to the value of every human life, which means protecting people from the scourge of gun violence that plagues the country. But it also must take care that it doesn't advocate removal of the right to bear arms so that hunters and others with legitimate uses of such arms aren't stripped of their constitutional rights.

What should be perfectly obvious to everyone is that the American culture has created an atmosphere in which it seems increasingly acceptable to settle disputes via the trigger. That disrespects life, and people of all faith traditions must respond by seeking various methods -- through laws and through proper gun safety training -- to protect life.

If the American Catholic Church commits itself to a major push for gun safety, it can have a serious effect. If the church combines with people of other faith traditions to do this, the effect can be even greater. Go, Catholics, go.

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Can the word "evangelical" in the Christian tradition be rescued from what it has come to mean? The author of this RNS opinion piece thinks -- or at least hopes -- so. What has the term come to mean? The author says this: "white, bigoted, angry, retrograde, idolatrously devoted to God and country, cozy with dictators and rude to historic friends." He concluded that he had hope in evangelical Christians after visiting a church in St. Joseph, Mo., a church in suburban Kansas City and a Catholic Worker house in Kansas City. Fascinating column. Give it a read.

The value of 'death doulas' for all

The late (thankfully) terrorist leader Osama bin Laden once said the difference between his followers and most Americans is that Americans love life while they love death.

Death-DoulaThere was a lot of truth in what he said. The American love of life is, in fact, a healthy, generative attitude. But it comes at the expense of lots of Americans who act as though death is optional. America is a death-denying culture in many ways, and that is in harmony with the in-the-blood predilection for the worship of youth that leads some of us to do all we can to slow aging, even as some of us seek to live damn near forever.

With that in mind, I was pleased and reassured to read this RNS story about "death doulas," people who seek to guide others toward a deeper understanding of death in general and of their own death in particular. As I've argued before, you'll never understand your own life if you don't understand your own death.

The story says there's "a growing number of death doulas who provide both spiritual guidance and logistical support for those facing the end of life. The name is an adaptation from the more commonly known birth doula profession — rather than facilitating birth, death doulas support a person whose life is coming to a close."

In some ways that's what professionals, including chaplains, who work for hospices do. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, a fabulous organization.)

Among the tasks of death doulas, the RNS story says, is to help clients do end-of-life planning, including creating advanced directives and living wills.

If there is an organization that, in some ways, functions as a death doula it would be the Center for Practical Bioethics, based in Kansas City, especially through its "Caring Conversations" program. If you're not familiar with it, take a look.

In my experience, families that are prepared for death seem to manage that difficult process much better than people who think it's just morbid to talk about it. Not it's not. It's wise.

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A Catholic high school in California is in the news because a former female students there accused school officials of disciplining her and forcing her into counseling for being gay. The school says it did nothing wrong in this case but that all students are held to the same policies “in compliance with the accepted teachings of the Catholic Church.” And the Catholic Church still teaches that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered." (See No. 2357 in the link.) Until the church comes to see that such a description is based on a misreading of scripture, these kinds of stories will continue.

The religious roots of individualism

Is the Catholic Church in some way responsible for the American idea of "rugged individualism?"


That odd and intriguing question is raised, if not fully answered, in this interesting National Public Radio story. It suggests that "Western individualism," as it calls it, may have come about because of the church's ancient "obsession with incest."

If that seems like a long-odds triple bank shot, well, consider this from the story:

"Most people living in Western, developed countries are psychologically distinct from the rest of the world. For one, they tend to be more individualistic and think of themselves as being independent of other people. . .On the other hand, people in other parts of the world tend to be more 'collectivistic'. . .because their lives are embedded in extended family networks and obligations.

"So how did people in the West come to be so different? A new study published. . .in Science suggests it all began in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church pushed a way of life that broke up extended family networks and paved the way for nuclear families, weaker family ties and a more individualistic mindset."

People around the year 500 in Western Europe often married within their extended families -- first, second, third cousins, for instance. "In other words," the NPR story says, "the church began to ban incest and cousin marriage and promote smaller, nuclear families."

That led to a culture in which many people no longer had large family or community networks on which to rely. They became more individualistic and less connected to the common good.

In some ways, that focus has been good for society. It's meant entrepreneurs willing to take risks, for instance. But the individualistic focus also has cost society. More lip service than real service is paid nowadays to the idea of community, of working for a common good. And that latter idea is deeply rooted in the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to list them chronologically. But individualism has weakened that idea. Beyond that, individualism itself seems to have doubled down on itself until today lots of us live in our own silos, paying attention just to what we want to and ignoring almost everything else.

Surely there's some balance to be struck here. But, if so, it requires intentionality and an awareness of the reality that Americans live in an individualistic society. But lots of us American fish swimming in such waters don't even realize that we're wet.

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Latinos in the United States are no longer majority-Catholic, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. And as this RNS story reports, "the share of Latinos who say they are religiously unaffiliated is now 23 percent, up from 15 percent in 2009." The American religious landscape shifts almost daily, it seems. And almost certainly it will take decades to understand the almost-seismic shifts we're seeing now.

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Like many people, author Ken Follett (Pillars of the Earth and many other books) was heart-broken when the Notre-Dame Cathedral de Paris caught fire last April. Among other reasons for that, he's become an expert on cathedral construction and history. In response, he's written a lovely little (fewer than 70 pages) book, Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals, the proceeds of which Follett is donating to La Fondation du Parimoine, a charity devoted to rebuilding and protecting ancient buildings in France. The book is a mixture of architectural history and discussions of how Notre-Dame has played a role in various kind of literature. "A cathedral," he writes, "has a coherent plan, its windows and arches form rhythms, its decorations have themes and tell stories, but the whole thing is so rich that at first it overwhelms us. When we step inside, this changes." And this: "I have compared the building of a cathedral to a space launch. It involved the whole of society in the same way; it developed cutting-edge technology; it brought widespread economic benefits -- and yet when you add up all the pragmatic reasons, they're not quite enough to explain why we did it. There is another element, which is the spiritual, the human being's need to aspire to something above the material life." Indeed, that explains a great deal about religion in general.

Another effort to combat American antisemitism

Almost 75 years after the death of nearly six million Jews in the Holocaust, two members of the U.S. Senate felt it was necessary to create a Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism.

Jacky-rosen James-LankfordThe obvious conclusion is that the ancient bigotry that led Adolf Hitler and his Nazi killing machine to target European Jewry is still alive and spreading its evil.

Anyone who understands the first thing about human nature should not be surprised. As I say, this is an ages-old prejudice. And, as I've explained in this essay, modern antisemitism has many roots in the theological anti-Judaism that Christianity preached for most of its existence.

But what of the history of antisemitism just in the U.S.?

This interesting article from "The Conversation" deals with exactly that question.

Antisemitic statements and actions, the piece notes, are "rooted in ancient and medieval anti-Judaism," and "have a long history in America." The author is Pamela S. Nadell, director of the Jewish Studies Program at American University.

She begins her long list of antisemitic incidents in American history in 1654, when, she write, "New Amsterdam Governor Peter Stuyvesant tried to expel the 23 Jews fleeing persecution who had just landed in the colony. He called them a 'deceitful race – such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.'”

She finally concludes this: "With antisemitism today bombarding American Jews from the right and the left, the moment appears new, but its language is not. It’s a very old theme."

The co-chairs of the new Senate task force are Sens. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, and James Lankford, R-Okla., (pictured above) members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In launching the group, they said this:

“Today, the two of us — a practicing Jewish Democrat from Nevada and a devoted Christian Republican from Oklahoma — are calling on our colleagues to set aside the labels, the bickering and the grandstanding to join together to take on one of the most disturbing trends of our time. We stand united in the common goal of defeating hate and combating the violent scourge of antisemitism,”

“In the United States, we’ve seen evidence that antisemitism and acts of hate are growing at an alarming rate. The State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism earlier this year called the rise in antisemitism worse than it has been in decades. And the impacts go far beyond the Jewish community alone.”

Resurgent antisemitism makes me wonder again why humans are so susceptible to this kind of fear-based ignorance. And maybe that's an answer -- fear. People fear what they don't know or don't understand. Which is one more reason for improving the religious literacy of our population. Ignorance is the root of much evil.

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You may be aware that recently President Trump named televangelist Paula White to help oversee his Faith and Opportunity Initiative. But what do you know about her? The Tampa Bay Tribune columnist who wrote this piece has some unflattering opinions about her. Take a look.

The role of religious people in saving the planet


Lots of people know the 23rd Psalm and can recite it from memory. But today I want to jump up one to Psalm 24, specifically to this line opening line (in the Common English Bible translation):

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too."

That declaration, or something like it, is pretty much ground zero for many people of faith when they think about their responsibility to be good stewards of creation.

It's the lens through which they read such stories as the recent announcement that thousands of scientists from around the world have declared a climate emergency.

The story to which I've just linked you comes from Oregon State University because the global coalition of scientists who signed the declaration was led by William J. Ripple and Christopher Wolf, both Oregon State scientists. But here is the story about this published by USA Today.

As the OSU story reports, "In a paper published today in BioScience, the authors, along with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from 153 countries, declare a climate emergency, present graphics showing trends as vital signs against which to measure progress, and provide a set of effective mitigating actions."

Many faith communities have both issued statements about ecological mandates and taken various actions to back up their words, but as OSU's Ripple says, “Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis.”

So it's not clear that even the excellent 2015 Laudato Si' encyclical from Pope Francis has persuaded enough people in positions of power that humanity is trashing the only planet it has and we must stop and, more than that, repair the damage already done.

The problem outlined by the scientists who signed this new declaration cannot be solved simply by individuals turning off lights when they leave a room or turning the thermostat down a little in cold weather. Those actions help, but the issue is one of systems and it's systems that much be changed.

Will that happen with an American president who says climate change is a hoax? Unlikely. But Americans knew that -- or should have known that -- about Donald Trump before they elected him. If those voters were people of faith, as many were, it meant that they walked away from their own faith-based environmental responsibilities.

Unless that changes, there's little chance of rescuing the Earth from major damage due to environmental degradation.

(The illustration here today came from this site.)

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If you're still wondering how nine members of Mormon families got murdered in an ambush in Mexico -- and what those Mormons were doing there -- this Guardian story offers the best explanation I've read so far. Those Mormons, the story says, "they trace their origins to 1876, when the Mormon prophet Brigham Young sent exploratory teams at a time the church was trying to escape US prohibitions on polygamy and evangelize in Mexico and Latin America." The ones killed, the story says, got caught in a dispute for control of territory among "the mafia gangs who dominate this part of northern Mexico."