Feb 17

1st Amendment and other Refugees

OK, so the First Amendment isn't dead yet, but it smells the way the wind is blowing and was looking to get out of the country for a while last time we talked. Maybe move to Canada. I asked it not to go, but it said it wasn't safe around here anymore. I had to agree it certainly seems that way.

Our friend the 1st says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Silly Founders, thinking that only the acts of congress might be considered the law of the land.

So what has our Friend First so upset? Lots. But given this is a blog about religion lets stick to that first clause.

There is the draft of a so-called "Religious Freedom" Executive Order. It essentially neuters anti-discrimination laws in the name of religious liberty. It does exactly the opposite. By allowing people to discriminate the White House is essentially allowing one perspective on religion to trump, no pun intended, all others. My religious belief that all people are equal, loved by God, and deserving of love and respect is being violated by an executive order that says "it is OK to hate." Hate is not OK and should not be protected, especially in the name of Religion.

There is the ban that is not a ban. The humanitarian and moral issues here are huge, no pun intended, but not what I want to get at. This is effectively a religious test for Muslims seeking to enter the country. Although, let's be clear, it is a ban on Muslims who do not give the President money. Not all Muslims, not even Muslims from countries whose citizens have actually committed terrorist acts in the US, just those from the poorest countries in the middle east. It is not a ban on Muslims, but it is intended to be seen as such to fulfill campaign promises. Which makes it just as bad or worse. It encourages the perception that Muslims are the enemy, while not actually doing anything to curtail terrorist activity. Quite the opposite in that it plays into the jihadist narrative that the US is at war with Islam. Something that I would once argue was not true.

There is the failure to recognize the plight of the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day. How does that relate to the First Amendment? It is one step away from holocaust denial, a favorite of white supremacists and jihadists alike to deny Jewish identity, heritage, and legitimacy. It is away of minimizing the worst, let's not argue that point, persecution based on race and religion in history and in doing so helps to legitimize other persecution based on race and religion. If not an attack, it is clearly an insult to the free practice of religion.

Then we have the remarks by the POTUS at the National Prayer Breakfast. I'm not entirely sure a president should even go to a National Prayer Breakfast in a pluralist society, but that is beside the point. He used the occasion to plug Celebrity Apprentice. Denying the solemnity of the occasion. This even after 800 Christian leaders denounced his actions and called upon him to act upon the faith he professes ahead of the event.

Worst of all is Trump's plan to destroy the ban on political speech in churches. Something that would make churches subservient to politics and erode any possibility of separation of church and state. Political speech in churches is bad for churches. It is bad for faith. It ties religious identity to political identity, making idols of politics. It is the single most dangerous threat to religious freedom I can think of short of an out right ban on religion.

Let's not even get started on crazy pants Steve Bannon who is possibly the most dangerous man in the country and the Red Skull in disguise.

Maybe not everything here is an attack on the First Amendment. But it does cause those of us in the faith community to cringe and worry. Maybe you think I am being political.

To bad. This is God's Mote. I look for the mote in the eye of those who claim to speak for God. I try to explain the real meaning and context of religious issues. I will defend my faith and your faith, what ever it may or may not be, from threats both foreign and domestic.

Nov 16

It was Flavor-Aid, do your research.


On November 17th, 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan (D, California) arrived in Guyana with a group of journalists and investigators to look into the religious colony of "Jonestown."
Why would an American Congressman do such a thing?

The "Peoples [sic-no apostrophe] Temple of the Disciples of Christ" was founded in 1955 in Indianapolis by Jim Jones. He openly preached the religious virtues of communism and his purported healing and clairvoyant abilities attracted many. Overtime, however, his message lost much of the overly-Christian trappings for a more traditional atheistic communist worldview, yet one in which Jones was seen as a near messianic figure. In 1960 he claimed to have a vision of nuclear war and began looking for places to move his congregation, he lacked the funds but afterword began openly preaching what he called "apostolic socialism." He began claiming that Christianity was a "fly away religion" and that the Bible was used to control blacks and women. He said the God of the Bible was a "Buzzard God" and no God at all. Instead, he said the Divine Principal was Love, and Love was best expressed as Socialism (Communism).

By the 70s he needed to move his followers to more fertile and less hostile ground (the Midwest not being the best place for someone preaching communist atheism to a primarily African American audience.) He moved his organization to LA and San Francisco. In a few years the church was taking in $20k+ a week from at least three different locations in California, plus additional revenue from a publishing house, record company, and the sell of "blessed" items.

However, in 72 and 73 the Temple faced serious investigations by major news sources and the widely publicized defection by the "Gang of Eight." Jones conclusion on the matter was "in order to keep our apostolic socialism, we should all kill ourselves and leave a note saying that because of harassment, a socialist group cannot exist at this time." They did not, at that time, go through with it, but instead ritual preparations for the tragedy of later years would begin, the so called "White Nights".

By 76 and 77 the IRS was investigating the organization. The fact that Jones saw it as a means of social change and not faith was widely known, even acknowledged by his wife in to a New York Times reporter. However, at the same time the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project - or "Jonestown" was underway and had 50 permanent residents.

The population grew and eventually Jones himself would arrive. At its peak the population was around 1000. However, there were reports of human rights violations mainly brought on by a lack of food and adequate housing - in spite of the Temple having access to several million dollars. Up to $65,000 in monthly welfare payments from U.S. government agencies to Jonestown residents were signed over to the Temple. Several minor investigations were conducted to determine if there was Social Security fraud involved, but none was found.

Then the arrival of Congressman Leo. He made the journey in his role as chairman of a congressional subcommittee with jurisdiction over U.S. citizens living in foreign countries. He asked the other members of his Bay Area congressional delegation to join him on the investigation to Jonestown, but they all declined his invitation. While the party was initially planned to consist of only a few members of the Congressman's staff and press as part of the congressional delegation, once the media learned of the trip the entourage ballooned to include, among others, concerned relatives of Temple members. Congressman Ryan traveled to Jonestown with 17 Bay Area relatives of Peoples Temple members, several newspaper reporters and an NBC TV team. He had invited his friend Dan Quayle to come, but the future VP was unavailable at the time.

As best as can be pieced together everything was going fine until his delegation was leaving. At that time a group of residents, including one planted by Jones, asked to be taken home. Their escorts opened fire on the Congressman, killing him and four others and wounding nine. Meanwhile in the plane the plant, Larry Layton, opened fire and wounded several before being subdued.

Meanwhile, back at Jonestown, the White Night plan was put into action. A 44-minute cassette tape, known as the "death tape",records part of the meeting Jones called under the pavilion in the early evening. Before the meeting, aides prepared a large metal tub with grape Flavor Aid, poisoned with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide,and Phenergan.

A total of 909 Americans died.

Because Religion and Politics do not mix.

Nov 14

A Peace of the Rock

Activists intent on Third Temple

According to the Bible, or the Tanak, Solomon had the First Temple constructed sometime in the mid-900s BCE to serve as the center for the cultic (cult just means having a set of proscribed rituals and scripture in case you thought I meant something else) worship of the God of Abraham in Jerusalem. In some ways it was a stone version of the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting that served as the center of worship previously, although we honestly know very little about the specifics. This building lasted until 587 BCE when under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and the city, and carrying away its wealth.

Eventually the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, who saw the support of local shrines as a valuable way to buy the loyalty of subjugated people. Again according to the Bible, funds were provided from the Persian government for the resettlement of Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the Temple. After some hardships the temple was completed around the year 515 BCE. Between being a Persian state, a Greek conquest, the prize over which two Greek successor state fought, a brief foray into independence, and a subsequent conquest by Rome this Second Temple went through major changes and renovations, leading to the final expansion and revitalization ordered by Herod the Great but not completed until long after his death.

That final and likely most glorious stage of the Temple was not long lasting, however, for the Roman's destroyed it in 70 CE (Current Era, same as AD but without the Christian "Year of Our Lord.") The city itself was not razed until about 135 CE and it may be that the sacrificial system continued in part on the Temple grounds until then. No access to the Temple Grounds means no sacrificial system as mandated by the Torah.

Following the Muslim Siege of Jerusalem in 637 CE, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ordered the construction of a mosque on the site in around 690 CE. The place came to be known as the Dome of the Rock and is one of the oldest extant examples of classic Islamic architecture. The building takes its name from a large stone said to be the place where some Muslim scholars say that Mohammad ascended into Heaven. Jews, on the other hand, regard the stone as the site of the Holy of Holies and the place where Abraham lay Issac as an offering to God. For them it is the holiest spot on Earth, and the reason so many gather at the last remains of the Second Temple, the so-called Wailing Wall, to pray near it.

Thus we lay the historic background for the article linked above. Matters are further complicated by certain sects of Evangelical Christianity who believe that the building of a Third Temple will be one of the signs of Christ's immanent Second Coming. As the news story alludes, some of these groups are eager to hasten that event.

These recent tragic events are only a mere hint as to what would happen should any serious attempt be made to destroy or remove the Dome. While in a sane and rational world a means could be worked out for all concerned parties to share access for the sake of peace, we do not live in one. I do not think it overly apocalyptic, in the modern sense, to suggest that violent clashes over the area could lead to a world war or at least an escalation in violence in an area known for such to points as yet undreamed.

All because of Peace.