Facebook Forgivers

So I’ll be honest, some days the factions in the Catholic Church drive me up the wall. For instance my colleague Jim Martin, SJ posted a picture of Sr. Pat Farrell, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on Facebook and immediately people talked about her being a “bad Catholic.”

Fr. Jim then posted the following note:

Earlier I posted a profile about Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, the current president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. David Gibson’s article for Religion News Service focused on her work for the Church, and with the poor, in Central America over the last 30 years, often in situations of great danger. How is it possible that, within a few minutes, I had to delete so many ad hominem comments about Sister Pat, which critiqued her for not being a “good Catholic”? Have people no sense of perspective any longer? If not, I have an idea: If you’d like to criticize Sister Pat for not being a good Catholic, as some did, then I would suggest that you do the following: First, spend some time working with the poor in San Antonio. Then, spend six years working with the poor in Chile during an oppressive and violent political regime. You’ll be working in a Catholic parish in a small town in the desert, by the way. Next, move to El Salvador, where you will be in danger of being killed for working for the Catholic Church. That is, put your life on the line every single day for Jesus Christ and for the Catholic Church. At one point during your almost twenty years there, work in a refugee camp, run by the church, that is the target of military raids. Do all of this, by the way, while living under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; living far from your home country; and having nothing to call your own. Then feel free to come back and post a comment on this Facebook page about what a bad Catholic she is.

And suddenly I’m inspired both by Sr. Pat and also by Fr. Jim’s bravery in standing up for Sr. Pat.

Indeed it is stories like that which inspire me to stay Catholic. It’s people like that, who keep me grounded and help me realize that the church is the people of God inspiring one another and not tearing them down.

I’ve often said that if I weren’t Catholic, I would probably be a Quaker. On Beliefnet’s Belief-o-Matic Quiz I often score high in agreement with the Quakers. So I began to investigate once and said “What do Quakers believe and am I in line with their beliefs?”

What I found was a website that said, Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about being a Quaker. BY Phillip Gulley. Here are the first few lines of what he writes:

I’ve been talking with a wide variety of Quakers these past few months, discussing with them what it means to be a Quaker. It’s been an interesting experience. When I tell evangelical Quakers what progressive Quakers believe, they often say, “That’s not Quakerly!” When I tell progressive Quakers what evangelical Quakers believe, they say the same thing. It seems the only things Quakers agree upon is that other Quakers aren’t real Quakers.

Now substitute Catholic for the word Quaker in this paragraph and see if you feel the same way I did.

No religion, a flawed man-made system is perfect. Only God is perfect and our imperfection doesn’t make God angry…

It makes God more forgiving than we could imagine. It goes beyond denomination into a newness of life for all of us. All we have to be is just as forgiving of our own brothers and sisters.

And that friends, is very, very difficult for all of us. Because hatred runs deep and wounds are even deeper.

And while I can forgive others when they offend me, reconciliation is much harder to achieve because reconciliation is the repairing of the relationship. We’re all required to forgive but reconciliation comes at a much greater price.

Because some people don’t accept the forgiveness of others or are too hurt to move towards reconciliation.

And the internet just might be the worst place ever in that regard. Today can we Catholics who really value forgiveness to the point of making it a sacrament, to the point where we can be examples of reconciliation and civility on the internet.

I’ll start. If anything I’ve ever written has offended you or if I took a tone with you on Facebook, or in any way made you feel less than I should have…know that I apologize and hope we can reconcile if we are estranged.

We need to stay in conversation with one another even when we disagree. One of my students is an atheist and one of the highest honors I could ever have is the fact that she stays in conversation with me and calls me a “reasonable theist.” I hope that people on all sides can be as charitable as she is.

And I hope I can be as well.

Higgs Boson Does Not Disprove God

There’s a few items on my mind with regards to the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, an amazing event in the world of physics, which has been referred to as the “God particle.”

First of all, scientists hate the term “God particle” and it’s called that not for any anti-theological reason, but rather because the higher ups at CERN (the center that has made today’s historic discovery) wouldn’t let the scientists working on the experiment call it “the Goddamned particle” because it was so difficult to find.

Ok, that’s kind of funny. Who knew scientists could have such a sense of humor. I need to watch more of the Big Bang Theory.

What is the Higgs-Boson particle anyway?

From National Geographic:

The Higgs boson is one of the final puzzle pieces required for a complete understanding of the standard model of physics—the so-far successful theory that explains how fundamental particles interact with the elementary forces of nature.

The so-called God particle was proposed in the 1960s by Peter Higgs to explain why some particles, such as quarks—building blocks of protons, among other things—and electrons have mass, while others, such as the light-carrying photon particle, do not.

Higgs’s idea was that the universe is bathed in an invisible field similar to a magnetic field. Every particle feels this field—now known as the Higgs field—but to varying degrees.

If a particle can move through this field with little or no interaction, there will be no drag, and that particle will have little or no mass. Alternatively, if a particle interacts significantly with the Higgs field, it will have a higher mass.

The idea of the Higgs field requires the acceptance of a related particle: the Higgs boson.

According to the standard model, if the Higgs field didn’t exist, the universe would be a very different place, said SLAC’s Peskin, who isn’t involved in the LHC experiments.

“It would be very difficult to form atoms,” Peskin said. “So our orderly world, where matter is made of atoms, and electrons form chemical bonds—we wouldn’t have that if we did not have the Higgs field.”

In other words: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life on Earth.

So some are saying that the Higgs-Boson disproves that a God has any role in the making or maintaining of the universe. That we are simply a random bunch of particles bouncing off each other with little or no meaning. This assumes something about religion that simple isn’t true.

Religion does not try to say anything about the origins of the world. Religion and science have two completely different purposes, but can work complimentarily to give meaning to human existence and have done so for years. It should be noted that a priest proposed the big bang theory, using science as opposed to the Book of Genesis to explain the order of the universe.

Check out this video that I did some time ago on science and religion with the head of the Vatican Observatory, Fr George Coyne, S.J.. It’s focused on evolution, but Fr. Coyne takes us into defining the difference between religion and science in general.

Science and scripture are not compatible, or I should say that the purpose of the Bible is NOT, precisely not, aimed at scientific discovery. These are revelation stories designed to teach us about “meaning” not “scientific origins.”

Now some are going to say that there are nutburgers who’ll say different. And they would be right to say so. These are fundamentalists, people who believe in a LITERAL interpretation of the bible. Catholics are not fundamentalists. We believe that the bible is divinely inspired, meaning that the biblical writers are not God, but rather people who wrote something down to try to tell us a bit about what God is like; mainly that God is loving and allows us to participate in God’s own creation through our humanity.

There are also fundamentalist scientists in my opinion. People who believe that their empirical discoveries are all that there is. That there cannot be anything beyond these discoveries. I find that haughty and arrogant.

Catholics believe in transcendence, that there are things that go beyond our very selves and our experience of the world. This is where we experience God.

And God is ALWAYS mystery, the inexhaustible one that we never truly can grasp with our limited human intellects. God is beyond us, so far beyond that full knowledge of God is impossible. In fact, that would make us God if we had that.

But God is also with us and within us. And we do have some experience of what God is like for us. Scripture tries to give us a glimpse of this, and the experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit links the ineffable with us. We are connected to God, who always is trying to unite with his creation. We need to pay attention to that in order to discover meaning in our lives that is beyond science, but also that doesn’t disprove and still honors scientific discovery.

Much like our political landscape these days, the interaction of scientific communities and religious ones are fraught with division. And it’s unnecessary. Let’s call out the extremes on both sides today and show that Catholics are not part of some radical anti-scientific mentality and also honor science, that continues to discover the wonders of God’s world for all of us.

Bill Maher = Angry Atheist

I’d like to say that I often would watch Bill Maher when his politically incorrect show was on ABC-TV. I’d also like to say that I thought he got a raw deal when he was thrown off the air for his comments about terrorists not being cowardly but Americans lobbing missiles from 2000 miles away was. I heard him say that live and thought he was simply trying to make a point, although I disagree with his statement that Americans are cowardly. I also don’t subscribe to HBO. So while I liked Maher, I didn’t like him enough to drop bucks on him to continue to watch him.

But more recently, Maher has become the angry atheist, the kind of person who can’t admit that all religious people aren’t nutburgers. This time Tim Tebow has been the target of his lampooning. Pardon the language in his tweet:

Wow, Jesus just fucked #TimTebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler “Hey, Buffalo’s killing them”

OK, now I’m not the biggest fan of Tim Tebow, mostly because I’m not a Denver fan. But I don’t think that it’s fair of Maher to pick on him just because Tebow is a Christian. I also haven’t heard Tebow proclaim any kind of prosperity gospel messages. He’s just grateful to be able to play. Why not just leave him alone? Besides isn’t it bad enough that Buffalo destroyed his team this weekend? It wasn’t like Tebow said Jesus loves the Broncos and hates the Bills.

See this is the problem I have with the group of atheists who are just so nasty that they can’t let others believe what they believe. They’re angry. They’re mean. And if you ask them what they don’t like about religion, many will claim that all religion leads to violence.

If that’s true, I’d like to come out as being an anti-meanie. Because that seems to lead to violence and hatred as well.

Away In a Manger, The Flying Spaghetti Monster

In Leesburg, VA, Christmas displays are causing discord.

Members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are scheduled to put up their contribution this weekend. It’s a banner portraying a Nativity-style scene, but Jesus is nowhere to be found. Instead, the Virgin Mary cradles a stalk-eyed noodle-and-meatball creature, and the manger is surrounded by pirates, a solemn gnome and barnyard animals. The message proclaims: “Touched by an Angelhair.”

With the new displays, a new tradition was born: a charged seasonal debate.

This year, the dispute struck a particularly raw chord. The skeleton Santa was ripped down — twice — by offended locals. Kenneth D. Reid, Loudoun County supervisor-elect for the Leesburg District, sent a news release opposing “outrageous anti-religious displays.” In a letter to a local newspaper, one resident called the displays a “mean-spirited attack by the faithless on the faithful.”

Let me ask a serious question here. What do the atheists in question trying to say with their display? Some would say that it’s about the separation of church and state. But the state isn’t saying that Christianity should be an established religion here.

A quick perusal of the first amendment:

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.

Nobody’s trying to turn Leesberg, VA into Iraq, which is a theocracy. Once again, desecrating a religious image that others respect does run the risk of being considered hate speech. Secondly, look at the line that says Congress cannot make a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. These folks who created the display are hoping to do exactly that–prohibit displays of religion and so they are mocking it with a display of their own. Mu guess is that their hope is that the end result will be that dueling displays will breed so much discord that the state eliminates all the displays entirely.

Isn’t this supposed to the time of the year when despite religious belief, we celebrate peace and harmony and not discord? It seems the specific branch of atheism here that put up this display just wants to breed dis-harmony.

And many of us who are religious take the bait every time, myself included. We lash back harder and meaner sometimes.

And that, friends, is evil at work amongst all of us. And I’m not saying that the atheists (or any religious group) are evil here. What I am saying is that discord amongst all people is not the way to go here. Why can’t the atheists just leave the manger displays alone? Why can’t they do some charitable work and say “we do this because we are humanists,” just as Catholics and other religious people have their faith serve them in the same way to celebrate the season?

It seems to me that our constitution calls us not to be mean-spirited about religion, but rather, calls us to tolerate expression of religion. In doing so, we breed peace.

Something I’d like to see happen is a group of atheists, Christians, Muslims and Jews (and others) coming together to serve the needs of the poor, or to build a home with habitat and to not disparage one another. Rather, we’re called to love. All of us. It’s in our nature and whether or not we think God was the impetus for that design, it doesn’t change our desire for peace on earth and goodwill towards all.

So what do we really want? What can we accomplish together despite our differences? Who can we not try to take a cheap shot at? Who is too hard for us to love?

What keeps us human? Love.

Perhaps it’s time we all thought about how to display that together.

Should We Pray for Someone Who Doesn’t Want Us To?

That’s the question in my mind today as I remember the life of columnist and the vitriolic atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who died last night after a brave bout with esophageal cancer.

Hitchens, perhaps the world’s most popular atheist, often said that he didn’t want anyone to pray for him during his illness. During life he was often someone, I thought, who treated religion unfairly. He was particularly critical of Mother Teresa and he rejoiced when she admitted to having dark nights of the soul.

However, what our response is to someone like Hitch, always needs to be love. I would say that his criticism of religion often gave me an opportunity to be validly critical of religion, to admit failings in my church and other churches, to get underneath the surface of religious belief and to admit goofiness on one hand and what leads to transcendence on the other. He made us all look more deeply at ourselves because his brilliance often betrayed us and portrayed us at times accurately, so accurately that it caused us to pray more deeply about the church we profess and the people we become. Even his unfairness, made me think about the times that I’m unfair, especially to atheists and fundamentalists–the people I often find very hard to love, as well as to ask if I’m really living and loving the gospel.

We need to remember that prayer isn’t a request for a magic trick. Prayer is a raising of our hearts and minds to God. It is a relationship with the divine where we need to talk as well as listen for where God is calling us. In short, prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes us. How are we changed by praying for someone who is an atheist?

Perhaps it leads us to remember that God loves Christopher Hitchens. And called us to love him to–even if he didn’t always love us.

Because of his hatred of religion, there will be many who will dance on his grave. His death calls to mind a time when I remember a friend who went to a funeral of someone who he really didn’t get along with. I was impressed that he showed up and told him that it was nice of him to come. His response:

“I just wanted to make sure that bastard’s dead!”

Gallo’s Humor aside, there’s a deep sadness in that kind of attitude, an unchristian one at that. It’s the kind of hatred that Christopher Hitchens often railed against in his criticism of what religion often breeds in people. There’s an uncalled for righteousness in claiming that Hitchens is in hell. A righteousness that allows evil to take hold of us to the point where we rejoice over someone’s death. God expects more and we should expect more of ourselves.

And that is where I think we’re called today in asking God to surprise Christopher Hitchens with the great love that God has for all people, believers or not. God isn’t finished with any of us yet.

From today’s NY Times, HItchen’s was quoted:

“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,” Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, for which he was a contributing editor.

He took pains to emphasize that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling 2007 book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” although he did express amused appreciation at the hope, among some concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion.

Perhaps he did think a bit about the afterlife. I’d like to highlight a quote from a NY Times interview given not so long ago on the subject of death, a topic he thought about writing a book about, and I’m hoping he did write some about. He joked that it could be called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting!”

Turning serious, he said, “I’ve had some dark nights of the soul, of course, but giving in to depression would be a sellout, a defeat.” He added: “I don’t know why I got so sick. Maybe it was the smokes, or maybe it’s genes. My father died of the same thing. It’s pointless getting into remorse.”

True enough. One religious lesson that Mr. Hitchen’s unwittingly gave us all is that he taught us to die well. He considered himself a person living with cancer and not dying from it. While he lost that battle eventually, I believe he also showed us that all human life has value. After all, We all will die one day, some will have that hastened by disease. But his tenacity and his vigor for his beliefs and his often good humor in the face of suffering will be remembered and I hope I have the same strength at the hour of my death.

And so I pray for Christopher Hitchens today, despite his sure protests that I do so. You changed me to become a more peaceful person and ironically deepened my relationship with God. I dare say you made me respect you, despite my disagreements with you. I hope I can give others who disagree with me a fair shake.

And while it’s doubtful that Hitch had any late conversion, I also think that his tenacity revealed some deep seated longing about faith. That perhaps God was working on him so much that he had to push back even harder.

May his pushing back cease today and may he be embraced by eternal rest.

Rest in peace, Hitch.

For more on Hitchens: Check out Fr. James Martin’s piece today.

In Fairness…I Think This Too, Is Hate Speech

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League Launched a Adopt-An-Atheist Campaign. I almost didn’t blog this because I thought it was from The Onion. A h/t to Deacon Greg:

Here’s a snip from his rather hate-filled news release:

Approximately 80 percent of Americans are Christian, and 96 percent celebrate Christmas. Of the 20 percent who are not Christian, non-believers make up the largest segment, though the number of self-identified atheists is tiny. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, knows this to be true, which is why he is frantically trying to inflate his base. “We want people to realize that there may be atheists in their family,” he told the New York Times, “even if those atheists don’t even know they are atheists.”

We think there is some merit in David’s idea, even if he has things backwards, as usual. Today we are launching our “Adopt An Atheist” campaign, the predicate of which is, “We want atheists to realize that there may be Christians in their community, even if those Christians don’t even know they are Christian.”

Here’s what our campaign entails. We are asking everyone to contact the American Atheist affiliate in his area [click here], letting them know of your interest in “adopting” one of them. All it takes is an e-mail. Let them know of your sincere interest in working with them to uncover their inner self. They may be resistant at first, but eventually they may come to understand that they were Christian all along.

If we hurry, these closeted Christians can celebrate Christmas like the rest of us. As an added bonus, they will no longer be looked upon as people who “believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing.”

Yeesh! Can’t we all just get along? I’m tempted to walk into the Center for Inquiry and apologize on behalf of non-nutty Catholics. I’m not happy with the atheist sign either but I don’t think it calls for that kind of venomous response.

Perhaps we should leave it at this…

While the atheists don’t believe in God they do believe that the end of the year is a special time of year. And while some atheists make a big deal over calling Christians irrational and their God a myth–that certainly doesn’t represent the majority.

Meanwhile, we Catholics have our own nutters to deal with and they can be just as mean, fighting hate with hate.

Perhaps, we non-nuts with cooler heads might get together this coming year or even now while the Advent Season (better known as most of December to the atheists!) winds down to celebrate peace. Perhaps then, we’ll all be able to truly celebrate what it is that we all want all year long.

Peace. Love. And Good Will Towards Everyone.

Should Christians Police Themselves Better?

Off of yesterday’s Atheist comments came this one on the comment line. It was so good I thought I’d formally repost:

From a reader named Kate:

I agree, this is hate speech. But here’s the difference between badmouthing Christians and Jewish people in our culture: The Jewish Community, as a whole, does not have a reputation for being ignorant and hateful themselves.

What we really need to do is some serious damage control on the public persona of “Christian,” because there are a lot of loud, angry, homophobic, evolution-deniers out there who make us look ignorant. There’s no way around it. When the people I work with heard I was a devout Catholic, they were nervous – and perhaps rightfully so – that I’d be an unbearable coworker.

Christian should mean loving, giving, generous, and patient. Instead, thanks to certain fringe groups, and particularly distasteful methods, Christian means homeschooling, creationism, and carrying signs that say, “God hates fags.”

Who would even self-identify as that – let alone leap to defend it?

I love my God, I love my church, and I’m offended by that billboard – but I’m still hesitant to self-identify as a Christian in a public setting without clarifying, “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to preach at you. We can all just chill and be normal.”

Yes we need to solve this, we need to solve the root problem first.

My buddies and I have been talking about this too. Some conclusions that we came to are that Kate’s absolutely right. How many Christians say that Pat Robertson is nuts when he claims that God is punishing the Haitian people? Or when the Westboro Catholic Church protests at military funerals with signs that say “God hates fags”? Or when Glenn Beck says that social justice has nothing to do with Christianity?

That was a big one that is certainly a valid criticism. So thanks to Kate. Keep em coming and like us on Facebook if you haven’t already.

We also concluded that too many groups, us included, pay far too much attention to the fringe groups. For instance, some atheists should concern themselves with bad individuals who take religion to extremes and cause social discord–but some go too far and lump ALL Christians (including us Catholics) into one group of nutters. For some, this reveals a hidden agenda of hate towards religion in general. But that too, can lead fair-minded religious folk to lump all atheists into one grouping and not consider that there may be some very fair-minded atheists who don’t deem religion as something that should be blighted from the earth. It’s just not THEIR thing.

I’m hoping that I didn’t insinuate that all atheists are crazy yesterday. Certainly not the case. However, some do have a hidden agenda and I fear that is what is behind the signage.

One of my friends, Ian, is an atheist and he once said to me that many people think that atheists believe in “nothing.”

“We don’t think that there’s nothing or that life is meaningless, we’re all connected in some way. We just don’t believe in God.”

Some would also say that our bodies unite with the environment after we die and the earth keeps on moving. But there’s not much more beyond that. So I’d like to point out that I like having those kinds of conversations so I can understand where people come from.

However, once you start denigrating my faith, when I don’t do that to you, I’ve got a huge problem. And that problem is that some can’t deal with people believing in God. The need to be “right” surfaces and dominates their psyche and until religion (in this case) kow-tows to them, they are like a dog with a bone.

So maybe we all need to be cautious of the extremes here. I think we should probably use the word some Christians, some atheists, some Muslims, some Buddhists…

And maybe, just maybe, fair minded people of all faiths can unite around one thing:

Peace. Amen.

Atheist Billboard: Hate Crime Against Christians?

I’d like to start out by saying that I know a few people who are atheists. It doesn’t bother me that they are atheists, honestly. I believe what I believe and I’m OK with letting other people believe what they believe. I’m the co-conveener of the Campus Ministry Association and have really tried this year to bring people of all faiths together to work for the common good of the University and of course, the students. Sometimes we’re all on the same page and sometimes we’re a divided group.

And because of those divisions, because we tend to not work together on things, I fear atheists have a huge advantage over the religious community. Say what you will about the atheists, at least they are united.

Which is more than I can say about Catholics most days of the week. While we Catholics argue about the new changes to the liturgy this one slipped by us:

It begs the question of why there hasn’t been a vocal response against hate ads like this one.

Recently, a Vodka company had a billboard up that read “Christmas Quality, Hanukkah Pricing” and immediately and appropriately there was a huge uproar from the Jewish community and the anti-defamation league. The company apologized and removed the ad immediately. To equate the Jewish people with frugality is indeed hateful and I’m glad people got behind this and took it down.

So why aren’t Christians of all denominations upset when another group of people intentionally call their God a myth? Isn’t that just as hateful? I would also say that if they put a big poster up that claimed that Judaism was a farce that would quickly be squashed. Why? Because the Jewish people know what hate speech leads to. Auschwitz was not that long ago and one man led the charge to claim that a group of people were evil because of their religion and began to have them exterminated.

Where do the atheists plan to go from here? Is the next step to exterminate all religious people? Religious icons? Churches?

Furthermore, a general question: Why is an anti-Jewish ad not OK, but an anti-Christian one just fine?

I’d like to issue a challenge to contact the anti-defamation league today and ask them to remove the offensive billboard. Perhaps our Bishops might want to get on board? Archbishop Dolan should speak loudly on this since it’s in his diocese and he’s the President of the Conference.

Martin Sheen, in a Notre Dame graduation speech told this story that I’ll paraphrase:

A man went to heaven and God looked at him and asked, “Where are ye scars?” And the man said that he had none. “Pity” God replied. “Wasn’t there SOMETHING worth fighting for?”

I never liked it when Bill Donahue (Catholic League) started ranting and raving, but perhaps at times we should get as angry as he would get? Some things are worth being angry about.

As I look to my secular campus, I note that most students aren’t choosing between different religious denominations, rather they are choosing between religion and atheism. And when we let the atheists say bad things about Jesus without a response, I fear it makes us look like we have no passion—that God isn’t worth fighting for sometimes.

Perhaps we need to unite against a common enemy. The sin of hate. And it seems to be wielded well by atheists who never seem to be able to live in freedom with others who espouse religious belief. Perhaps it’s time that someone tells them that they should simply leave us the hell alone and take their offensive billboard down.

Oh, and one more thing…

Merry Christmas.