The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, October 12, 2011


IDOLIZING WALL STREET: “Occupy Wall Street, the Golden Calf and the New Idolatry.”

On Sunday, four strong men carried the calf on their shoulders, looking more like pallbearers in a street funeral than anything else. It was hot. They had yellow sponges to cushion the calf’s blow to their shoulders. How they walked the two miles with the 50-pound paper Mache calf aloft is a matter of physics. But why they did it is a matter of the spirit. They suited up so reporters would not dare call them hippies. (There is nothing wrong with hippies except that people use them to stay distant from the Occupation Wall Street’s general and universal message.) The pallbearers wanted to look like the Wall Street they protested. They marched and carried because they know what idolatry is. It is the replacement of a false God for a better one. Note I did not say true one. We all know how much we have internalized capitalism. We all know our distance from the truth. The 99% don’t have an enemy in the 1% so much as a need to bring money in line with human values. Our multifaith service wanted to be sure not to resemble the punishmentalists or those who are absurdly sure about the divine or who like to find someone to blame for what has gone wrong. We went for the basics of our many faiths, the golden rule which is so distanced from and by the golden calf. “Do unto those downstream from you what you would have those upstream from you do to you.” This rule applies to hippies, Republicans, church members, ministers, and financiers.

Interesting, but the last time government tried “to bring money in line with human values,” its policies created the financial crisis that OWS protests. Perhaps the new idolatry worships government, not Wall Street.

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A BILLION WICKED THOUGHTS: “Post-Kinsey: Is There Anything Normal About Pornography?”

Even if we grant that Ogas’s and Gaddam’s research represents the desires of millions, it is a far stretch to claim that their sample is a representative one. Although the amount of online pornography consumed is astounding, only one in four internet users views a pornographic website in a given month. This means that Ogas and Gaddam neglected to account for the sexual desires of the vast majority—75 percent—of people who comprise their target population. Moreover, when one considers current research that details the harmful effects of frequent pornography use on one’s brain and social relationships, there is reason to question whether Ogas’s and Gaddam’s study represents human desire more broadly, as it claims, or whether it reflects the desires of the sexually troubled.

Overall, the authors’ study is limited by subscribing to a type of biological determinism where the sexual cues in our brains determine our desires and thereby excuse them. In this way, Ogas and Gaddam take the ideology of Kinsey a step further. It is both unscientific and unacceptable that the Kinsey reports have been hailed for over half a century as a liberating turning point in American sexual identity, awareness, and health. We would be wise to keep the reports of A Billion Wicked Thoughts from being acclaimed in the same way.

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ARAB SPRING, COPTIC WINTER: “Q&A: Coptic Christians.”

There has been long-standing tension between Egypt’s Coptic Christians and Muslims but CNN’s Ben Wedeman says that since this year’s revolution that removed the former President Hosni Mubarak there have been more of these clashes.

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NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS: “Shalit swap based on ‘ultimate value of human life,’ rabbis say.”

There is a question in Jewish law about whether it’s moral to free a captive in a deal that could potentially endanger other lives – as many Israelis fear will happen when Palestinians who have killed Israelis are released.

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FAITH & POLITICS: “Say No to Negative Talk about Hispanic Americans.”

In particular, we are alarmed by the backlash against Governor Rick Perry’s stand on in-state tuition for undocumented children in Texas. We believe his suggestion that those who oppose educating these undocumented children don’t “have a heart” is both biblically and morally correct. We do not endorse candidates, but we recognize that Mr. Perry’s stand is in accord with the 10th Amendment’s requirement that states exercise their own discretion on issues not delegated to the federal government. Furthermore, we feel that his call for compassion for these children—who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing—is moral and just. His concern that without an opportunity to advance their education these children would become a burden on society has merit. Certainly the argument that with an education they will become a greater source of tax revenue for Texas is indisputable.

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SOMEBODY TELL RICK WARREN: “How Oprah Became America’s Pastor.”

…In December of 1994, Winfrey announced to her audience that her show would begin to explore more elevated themes. She started this ascent by inviting Marianne Williamson, a leading teacher of alternative spirituality, as her guest. This was the beginning. Clearly, Winfrey had decided to offer to her audiences the brand of religion that had long been her private well of inspiration. Over the following years she would feature such figures as Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Iyanla Vanzant, Roger Kemenetz, Gary Zukav, Elizabeth Lesser, Carolyn Myss, Reverend Ed Bacon, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Byron Katie and Andrew Weil, among many others.

What resulted was the airing of religious ideas and practices in a manner that had rarely occurred before an American television audience. There is little question that these broadcasts permanently recast perceptions of spirituality for millions of Winfrey’s faithful. Yet what stunned some viewers and critics was not that religion now took center stage on the highly rated show, but rather that the brand of religion Winfrey touted was so entirely alternative, so non-traditional — what some called occult or “New Age.” On one episode of Winfrey’s show, John Gray, the author of “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” taught audiences to chant, “O glorious future, my heart is open to you. Come into my life.” Gary Zukav assured Winfrey’s audience, “Your feelings are the force field of your soul.” Iyanla Vanzant urged viewers to “surrender to the God of your understanding,” while financial guru Suze Ozman proclaimed “Money is a living entity and responds to energy” and “your self worth equals your net worth.” Winfrey joined in, explaining to her adoring fans, “I am defined by the world as a talk show host, but I know that I am much more. I am spirit connected to greater spirit.”

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PRIMER ON CATHOLICISM: “Vatican II.” Today is the 39th anniversary of the start of Vatican II. Follow the link to read Fred Sanders’ explanation of what Vatican II decided and why it matters.

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NEWS YOU CAN USE: “11 Questions Pastors Should Ask Themselves.”

  1. How can I show the congregation how this passage or topic fits into the grand narrative of Scripture?
  2. As I preach from the Old Testament, is there anything in my sermon that a faithful Jew could not affirm?
  3. As I preach from the New Testament, is there anything in my sermon that a Mormon could not affirm?
  4. Am I addressing this topic or cultural issue from a distinctly Christian point of view?
  5. What is there in me/us (preacher and congregation) that will rebel against the truth of this text and how can I move us beyond that rebellion?
  6. How does the truth I am proclaiming equip Christ’s church to be on mission for the kingdom of God?
  7. If our church were to cease to exist, would anyone in the community be affected? Would anyone mourn the loss?
  8. What would the result be if everyone in our church shared the gospel as often as I do?
  9. What are the unique needs of our community that our church members could address as part of providing a platform for proclaiming the gospel?
  10. Are the programs and activities of our church the best way to spend our time, money, and energy to spread the gospel locally and globally?
  11. Am I focused primarily on training people to bring the lost to church, where I will present the gospel? Or am I focused on equipping people to share the gospel throughout the week in their workplace, neighborhood, and schools?

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MORE NEWS YOU CAN USE: “10 Common Payroll Tax Errors.”

  1. Treating ministers as self-employed for income tax.
  2. Treating ministers as employees for Social Security.
  3. Withholding taxes from ministers’ pay.
  4. Withholding payroll taxes from self-employed ministers.
  5. Giving W-2 forms to self-employed ministers.
  6. Failing to provide 1099-MISC.
  7. Church employees failing to pay self-employment taxes.
  8. Failing to file Form 941.
  9. Failing to issue a W-2 or 1099.
  10. Failing to comply with payroll deposit requirements.

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