To the New York Times

Edit: The Times on January 8 responded to reader criticism of the obituary in question. Their response, while acknowledging some failings, essentially circled the wagons and justified their position. This is still unacceptable.

On January 3, The New York Times published an obituary for Thomas S. Monson, late president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was revered by its members as their prophet, seer, and revelator.

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Instead of taking the opportunity to pay tribute to an honorable and humble servant of humanity who spent most of his 90 years of life ministering to the lonely, the widowed, and the forgotten, they took an opportunity to turn what should have been an expression of respect into a reprehensible potshot at the Church and its doctrine, commonly known as Mormonism.

A respected newspaper that is charged with reporting facts objectively and without bias instead decided that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was fair game for mockery and disparagement, and prostituted their reputation for a chance to take a reprehensible Cheap Shot at an organization of 15 million members that has done immense good throughout the world since its inception. Instead of an obituary, the piece became a virtual hatchet job, echoing the complaints of disaffected members and sounding like something that might have been written by Gerald and Sandra Tanner.

The Church is a community of faith that believes in ongoing, modern revelation, that believes in a Church led directly by the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a democratic institution where people can agitate and effectuate changes in doctrine. They are free to participate, or not. They are free to follow their leaders, or not. They are free to remain members, or not. They don’t even have to think the same way as their leaders if they don’t want to, and they can remain members in good standing. If the Church is not for them, let them go where they may and find joy – but a vocal minority that captures the attention of a click-hungry press seems to think that they, not God, are directing the affairs of the Church, and they are bitterly angry about this.

It is these feelings and protesting voices that the Times chose to bring to the forefront of President Monson’s obituary, not his nearly a century of life and virtual decades of compassionate service on a personal level as well as an administrator in the Church’s hierarchy. This represents a gross contravention of decency and reputability, for which the Times owes every Latter-day Saint and every lover of respectable journalism a heartfelt apology.

The Times is a newspaper. There is nothing that says they can’t do all the investigative journalism or “exposé” pieces that they want, as long as the facts they report are verifiable and accurate. That’s what journalists do. But to rest this sort of poison-pen letter on the memory of a good, honest, and decent man, possibly one of the most Christlike individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating with, is the ultimate abrogation of all principles of decent journalism that there could be, worthy of a trash publication like The National Enquirer and not one of the nation’s flagship newspapers. Shame, shame, the very deepest shame on The Times.

I trust that they will do the right thing, and express appropriate regret for this horrible lapse of judgment, from writer to editors to publisher. They are, of course, free to choose – but they should remember that every choice has prices and benefits, and choose wisely.

The Old Wolf has Spoken.

 

My Lifelong Wrestle With Mormonism

An insightful and poignant essay, very much worth sharing. His second list is much like one I saw decades ago, compiled by a good friend of mine, Dru White:

A Few Commandments

The Old Wolf has reblogged; be sure to read the full post below.

Love Refined

Since I’ve at times been grumpy, tired, the bad kind of opinionated, and wrong about things, I haven’t felt like I’m the right person, in the right moment, with the right amount of faithfulness to be the giver of the things I’ll discuss below.

I’m not a theologian or doctrine ninja. I’m not extremely well-versed in scripture and I haven’t always been on the straight and narrow path.

View original post 2,440 more words

A visit to a dark corner of my soul

One of my Facebook friends just posted the following question:

“Just a thought….who does the Muslim world and ISIS support for president?”

The obvious answer is “Clinton” – the implication being that Trump would unleash Hell on Islamic terrorists and nuke them back to the stone age, or something similar.

In reality, Daesh does not support anyone for president, because Daesh does not believe in Democracy – but rather in Shari’a law under theocratic rule. If the extremists had their way, New York City might look like the image below, which appeared shortly after 9/11:

musnys

The problem with jingoism and xenophobia is that they know no bounds and do not require facts… just a gut-level fear of the unknown, of the different. Hence Donald Trump’s calls for the exclusion of all Muslim immigrants to the US, deportation of Muslims, issuance of identity cards to Muslims – all these have resonated with a segment of American society who have been terrorized by the terrorists.

A digression:

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In the episode of Star Trek, the Next Generation entitled “The Survivors,” Kevin Uxbridge (brilliantly played by John Anderson) portrays a Douwd, an immortal being with godlike powers who fell in love with a human woman. When his wife was killed by a consummately evil race of beings known as the Husnock, Uxbridge explained:

I saw her broken body. I went insane. My hatred exploded. And in an instant of grief… I destroyed the Husnock… You don’t understand the scope of my crime. I didn’t kill just one Husnock, or a hundred, or a thousand. I killed them all. All Husnock, everywhere. – Are 11,000 people worth… 50 billion? Is the love of a woman worth the destruction of an entire species?

This theme was echoed in Attack of the Clones, in which Anakin Skywalker tells Padmé Amidala about the Tuskens who kidnapped and killed his mother, “I killed them. I killed them all. They’re dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children too.”

The desire for ultimate vengeance upon those who have harmed us or our loved ones seems to run deep in the human heart, witness the Hatfields and the McCoys, the internecine conflicts of the Balkans, the Middle East conflicts, the Tutsis and the Hutus, and so many others.

And as I experienced that day of infamy in 2001 when our nation was stabbed to the heart by unspeakably evil men, my soul went to that darkest of places. On that day, had you offered me the Elder Wand and told me that by simply waving it, all Muslims everywhere would simply cease to exist, and every one of their holy sites would be reduced to a glowing lake of slag, I probably would have waved it without a second’s hesitation. Such was the depth of my anguish at the emotional insult of that day.

It has taken a long time, but I was obliged to take those sentiments and wall them up behind the barricade of reason.

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I admit that every time I see images of 9/11, or hear of a new atrocity committed in the name of Islam, I can still hear Fortunato’s bells jingling behind that wall. That day scarred my psyche for all time. I doubt I will ever fully heal, but I refuse to give in to the bestial urges.

With all of that in mind, I cannot support as president of this nation a man who would demonize fully one fourth of this world’s population for the actions of a few deranged and deluded madmen. Yes, those few are dangerous, and a threat to global security. But this is not Riyadh, or Tehran, or Darfur – this is America, and Muslims are as much a part of our country as the Catholic immigrants from Italy and Ireland, or the Jewish immigrants from the global diaspora. The enemy is ignorance, the enemy is extremism. We must be vigilant, but we must also be human.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Now we know: the earth doesn’t move.

Take that headline with about a metric ton of salt.

Once upon a time, Islamic scholars made significant contributions to science, mathematics (algebra is an Arabic word), philosophy, medicine, and other fields.

Today? I’ll let you judge for yourself. Saudi preacher Bandar Al-Khaybari demonstrates that the earth does not revolve around itself, using deeply flawed logic, the absence of scientific understanding, and the Qur’an. Oh, and astronauts never landed on the moon, either.

If you don’t want to take the time to watch the video, here’s the transcript:

Someone is asking whether the Earth moves or whether it is fixed in place. Does it move or remain fixed? The Truth, as described by our scholars Imam Ibn Baz and Sheik Saleh Al-Fawzan, is that the Earth is fixed and does not move. This is in keeping with the Quranic text, and it makes sense as well. […]

There is ample Quranic evidence that it is the sun that revolves around the Earth. As for evidence based on reason… The (Westerners) present all kinds of theories, but we Muslims also have theories and brains.

First, let’s say that we go from here to Sharjah Airport and take a plane to China. Are you with me? Concentrate now. Let’s say that this is the Earth, and let’s assume that it is turning… If we take an international flight from Sharjah to China… You say that the Earth is turning, right? If the plane stopped in mid-air, wouldn’t China come to it? Am I right or not? If the Earth really does turn – China should come to the plane. Now, let’s assume that the Earth revolves the other way – the plane will never catch up with China no matter how long it flies. Since China is also revolving, you will never get there. Secondly, Allah talked about the (celestial) house frequented (by angels). This house is located in the seventh heaven. The Prophet Muhammad said that if it fell from the sky, it would fall on the Kaaba. But if the Earth revolves, it would not fall on the Kaaba. It would fall in the ocean or somewhere on dry land. This proves that the Earth is fixed in place.  […]

The (Americans) say that they landed on the moon, but they never set foot or laid their eyes on it. They produced it all in Hollywood or I don’t know where. They said that they had gone to the moon and we just took their word for it.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Muslims in general are stupid or scientifically ignorant, or that nothing good comes out of the middle east. But what we have here is the equivalent of letting Mike Huckabee or Pat Robertson teach K-12 science. This guy wears the robes of authority, he gets on television, he spouts this phenomenally ignorant nonsense, and millions of people believe him. This is not good for humanity.

To give equal time to another brand of fanaticism, I refer you to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, a $27 million facility devoted to the concept of an earth that’s younger than 10,000 years old, and which contradicts science at every turn.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – science and faith don’t mix. I’m not against faith; I have a spiritual walk of my own. But I keep those beliefs separate and apart from the empirical evidence of the universe around me. We get in trouble when we try to make observable facts conform to religious belief, or vice-versa. You can’t shove one into the other’s box.

For myself, I liken our perception and knowledge of the universe around us to an Ames room:

O4 Ames Room with Birgit and Ingrid Brill 1

O4 Ames Room with Ingrid and Birgit Brill 2

In this common illusion, two people who change places in a room appear to change size drastically. Looking at them through a peephole destroys our sense of depth perception and allows the illusion to work:

Fig12-FigurativeArt

The room is actually severely distorted.

Fig13-FigurativeArt

For all we know from empirical observation about our environment – and we have learned a lot – I’m entirely convinced that we know next to nothing, and that we’re looking at our universe through a peephole. Were we to be able to see the “big picture,” a lot more things would make sense.

In the meantime, denying scientific reality makes a body look like a gibbering loon. Don’t do it. As for me, I do my best to live a good and productive life according to principles which I hold sacred and which inform my life, and gaze in wonder at the awesomeness and complexity of the world around me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

I love the people of Chamula. *Belch*

Now, aside from several trips to the barrios of Tijuana to help build houses for Project Mercy, I’ve never been south of the border. So I can’t say I know the people of Chamula, a small town in the Chiapan highlands in the South of Mexico, but their syncretic religion fascinates me, a blend of Catholic and Mayan beliefs.

But in an odd blend of the traditional and the modern, the Chamulans have a higher regard for Coca Cola™ than the Hawai’ians have for Spam™; to them, it’s a sacred libation.

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Praying in San Juan Chamula church. Image courtesy of mam.org.mx, which now appears to be defunct. This picture would have been taken surreptitiously, as photography in town is difficult, and in the church entirely forbidden, a transgression which can get you ejected. It’s not lost on me that one of the bottles shown here is Pepsi, but you know, any port in a storm.

What follows is an extract from a blog post by Julieta Cárdenas at the College Hill Independent, who describes the relationship between Coke™ and the Chamulans far better than I ever could. Her entire post is worth a read.

Coke and Candles

In Chamula, Coke is everywhere. Not just in small businesses and eateries, but also places of worship. Within the ash-covered walls of the Church of San Juan, women wearing black llama-fur skirts kneel on floors flooded with pine needles. Men and women alike melt the bottoms of the candles and use the liquid wax as an adhesive to stick candles of different colors onto the floor, arranging intricate, abstract patterns. These patterns are complemented by the carefully arranged coke bottles that sit adjacent to them. I look aroundthere are many, many gallon bottles of Coke on the floor of this church. The aromatic warmth from the pine and smoke is contrasted by the cold-red plastic label of the bottles. All around me, people are using these branded, corporate soft-drink bottles for prayer.

Chamula is an autonomous town about 30 minutes by van from San Cristóbal de las Casas. The people there, of Mayan descent, gained their freedom from the Mexican government and Catholic Church by ejecting foreigners from their town in the 1970s. Chamula maintains its own leadership, police force, and prison system. It is independent to such an extent that it forbids people born elsewhere to live in it or join its culture: that is to say, it is endogamous.

I had come to Chamula because I had remembered the town from a previous visit when I was fourteen, and wanted to revisit and try to learn more about the culture than I had before. I had also wanted to get some pictures, but photography was forbidden inside the church, and  I had to ask permission before taking pictures of anyone. These rules, although reasonable, made me feel like an outsider in a town where, ironically, residents make a considerable profit from sales of artisan crafts to visitors. Although the small town is a site of tourism, as a non-resident of Chamula you cannot help but be constantly reminded that you are only a visitor.

It was peculiar to observe an exclusive community—stringent about upholding a boundary between the indigenous and the imported—also incorporate a first-world soft drink into their religious practices. Luckily our guide, a man from San Cristóbal who spoke English, Spanish, and Tzotzil—the Chamula Mayan dialect—offered an explanation.  After leaving the church, we headed to the home of a local woman, who demonstrated her weaving techniques on a handmade loom with homespun thread, and gave us homemade tortillas sprinkled with pumpkin powder and rolled into delicious cylinders. Standing in the path of a number of hens, and against a backdrop of finished textiles, our guide elaborated on the significance of Coke in religious terms. The people of Chamula believe in a syncretic religion—a hybrid of Mayan and Catholic beliefs—that mixes the iconography of the Saints with more ancient symbols like colored corn, which comes in red, yellow, black, and white varieties, each color bearing spiritual significance. This color symbolism manifeststhroughout the church, in candles made from animal fat or beeswax and most prominently in half-filled glasses of vibrantly colored beverages. Among these beverages are Pox (pronounced posh)—a white sugarcane-based liquor—various orange-flavored drinks, and, of course, Coca-Cola.

A Refreshed Perspective

30pcs-lot-vegetable-seeds-font-b-black-b-font-waxy-font-b-corn-b-font-seeds

Coke, distinctively dark brown, has become a representation of the black corn that is sacred to the people of Chamula and to many of Mayan decent. (Black candles are thought to get rid of envy. White is for the tortillas, an offering to the Gods. Yellow is for money, and red is for health.) Each color means something, and the specific placement of the candles on the floor represents different votive pleas to the Saints.

Coca-Cola has not only found its way into Chamula culture for its color. It serves a functional physical cathartic purpose as well—the gaseous qualities of Coke make it invaluablein the context of the preexisting religion; its carbonation has taken on spiritual significance.

When I was a kid, I was delighted to know that the Japanese Chinese consider belching after a meal to be a high compliment to the chef, and it is supposedly appropriate in India as well. But:

The Chamula people believe that burping is a purgative mechanism. It provides an outlet for the body and the soul, a release for the negative energy that affects a person in need of healing. (Emphasis most decidedly mine.)

Do you hear that? Do you hear that? Now, I’ll thank you very much if the rest of you would just kindly rise up out of my face about my sacred purging of negative energy.

The Old Wolf has belch spoken.

Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Czar?

There’s no question in my mind that websites like Yahoo! Answers, FixYa and other such social answer sites are generally not worth the powder to blow them to Hell with. The blind leading the blind is what comes most frequently to mind.

But occasionally one finds an exception.

Listening today to the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof, this particular question happened to strike me, and I started wondering… Is there?

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From Rabbi Andy Vogel:

Everybody loves this scene from “Fiddler on the Roof”: The townspeople acknowledge that in Judaism, there exists a blessing for everything, and then they wonder, ‘Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Czar?’ He thinks for a moment, then, comes up with the answer: ‘May God bless and keep the Czar… far away from us!’ The line is an oldie, but what a goodie.

But then, just a few weeks ago, I found the actual blessing for the Czar. . . .found. . .an old machzor, a High Holy Day prayer book, published in 1895 in Petrokov (today Poland, but until 1919, part of the Russian Empire). I thumbed through it, and saw that it contains the full Hebrew text of the High Holy Day prayers, and includes a Yiddish commentary and translation on every page. What a find! And then, turning to the Torah service, on page 97 of the Rosh Hashanah volume, I saw it, the prayer for the Czar, beautifully composed:

“May the One who gives power to kings, and sovereignty to princes; may the One who is the Ruler of rulers… bless and keep, guard and aid, exalt and raise the Czar Nicholas Alexanderovich, and his widowed mother, Czarina Marie Feodorovna [here, my knowledge of the Russian monarchy is a little weak], and his wife the royal Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna, and their heir, Grigory… May God save them from all harm and pain, and may all their enemies fall before them. And may the Merciful One put in the heart of the Czar compassion and good deeds for the People of Israel…” 

Mazel tov, Rabbi!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Religion to go.

By way of reddtor /u/Typicaldrugdealer, we now have pre-packaged communion. Grape juice and a wafer for the sinner on the go.

YD7585M

u2fM8UQ

 

The top comment from /u/TAU_equals_2PI was… wait for it…

“Christables™ from Oscar Mayer”

Denomination has not been specified.

It may just be me, but this seems to be reducing the core sacrament of the Christian faith to something terribly banal and mundane.

The Old Wolf has spoken.