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A Very Convenient Truth

Oct19

by: Michael N. Nagler on October 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

“Modern scientists recognize the potency of thought…as a man thinks so does he become.”

-MK Gandhi

THERE ARE TIMES when you can see a familiar scene with fresh eyes.  I had just returned to the U.S. when I found myself in a definitely familiar scene: a local shopping center. The night before I had been on a transatlantic flight where I kept catching glimpses, despite myself, of four private viewing screens shimmering in front of my nearest fellow passengers on the long flight home. They sat there watching ten hours of uninterrupted violence: fights, machine guns, wild explosions – all four of them.  You have to wonder, what does that do to a person’s mind?  You have to wonder, exactly, because in the barrage of detail that floods over us in response to “the latest massacre” you will never hear it mentioned.

It’s sometimes difficult for me to contain my anger when people fail to see this obvious connection, but I try turning it into a kind of amazement: how can people of otherwise normal intelligence think that we can absorb images of violence but never act them out?  Is it because so many watch TV without going out to kill?  Perhaps, but consider this:

  • we’ve proven utterly incapable of predicting who will go over the edge, so we know we’re killing some people though we don’t know whom;
  • violent imagery adds to the general atmosphere of demoralization; they devalue life and normalize its wanton destruction – that is the main reason we have not been roused to do anything about gun control.  And finally,
  • these images hurt, whether you act them out or not.  They alienate.  They demoralize.  Psychologists have demonstrated this repeatedly (with no response from policy makers or the general public).


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Why Did the Pope Choose Francis as His Name?

Oct15

by: Stephen S. Bowman on October 15th, 2015 | Comments Off

Watching Pope Francis cast his spell over America last week I found myself recalling the words of Shakespeare’s Juliet asking “What is in a name?”, or more precisely, why did Pope choose Francis to be his new name upon his ascendancy?  The common answer is that he was told by a friend to remember the poor, but that seems too superficial.   And perhaps equally curious, why have no other pontiffs in the past 800 years taken the name before?  It seems that Francis of Assisi, though the most beloved of all Catholic saints, was seen as just too revolutionary in the past, but that zeal is precisely why this pope chose the name, and it is in that spirit that he is leading us today.

To understand our Pope’s mission, one must review the often overlooked facts of the life of St. Francis, which are often obscured by hagiography and superstition.   Today he is often only remembered for taming wild beasts with a blessing and preaching to larks and sparrows.  But this narrow view does both the saint and ourselves a great disservice and diminishes his radical vision.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

To understand St. Francis, we must put him in his proper context of the 12th century.  In the Middle Ages, Europe was a highly structured feudal hierarchy, largely illiterate, and struggling in subsistence poverty.   And the Catholic Church, was dominated by a monastic system that kept many priests and brothers locked behind the walls of their monasteries serving their God thru prayer.  The church orthodoxy was colored by St. Augustine who offered a bleak view of both human nature, and the world in which we live.   It was an otherworldly institution.


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22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Oct12

by: Kathy Kelly on October 12th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Before the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq, a group of activists living in Baghdad would regularly go to city sites that were crucial for maintaining health and well-being in Baghdad, such as hospitals, electrical facilities, water purification plants, and schools, and string large vinyl banners between the trees outside these buildings which read: “To Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.” We encouraged people in U.S. cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.

Tragically, sadly, the banners must again condemn war crimes, this time echoing international outcry because in an hour of airstrikes this pastSaturdaymorning, the U.S. repeatedly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, a facility that served the fifth largest city in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

U.S./NATO forces carried out the airstrike at about2AMon October 3rd. Doctors Without Bordershad already notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces of their geographical coordinates to clarify that their compound, the size of a football field, was a hospital. When the first bombs hit, medical staff immediately phoned NATO headquarters to report the strike on its facility, and yet strikes continued, at 15 minute intervals, until3:15 a.m., killing 22 people. 12 of the dead were medical staff; ten were patients, and three of the patients were children. At least 37 more people were injured. One survivor said that the first section of the hospital to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit.

“Patients were burning in their beds,” said one nurse, an eyewitness to the ICU attack.”There are no words for how terrible it was.” The U.S. airstrikes continued, even after the Doctors Without Borders officials had notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan military that the warplanes were attacking the hospital.

Taliban forces do not have air power, and the Afghan Air Force fleet is subordinate to the U.S., so it was patently clear that the U.S. had committed a war crime.

The U.S. military has said that the matter is under investigation. Yet another in an endless train of somber apologies; feeling families’ pain but excusing all involved decision makers seems inevitable. Doctors Without Borders has demanded a transparent, independent investigation, assembled by a legitimate international body and without direct involvement by the U.S. or by any other warring party in the Afghan conflict. If such an investigation occurs, and is able to confirm that this was a deliberate, or else a murderously neglectful war crime, how many Americans will ever learn of the verdict?

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The Neglected Mass Shooter and His Need to be Seen

Oct10

by: Cheryl Sheinman on October 10th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

At a vigil to honor the victims of Sandy Hook, I read aloud the piece that Rabbi Lerner wrote on December 14th, 2012, entitled: “Banning All Guns is Necessary but Not Sufficient”, that we also need a fundamental transformation of consciousness both inner and societal. An article in Tikkun‘s spring issue, 2014 entitled, ‘Loving-Kindness to the Thousandth Generation’ by Ana Levy-Lyons mentioned a school administrator, Antoinette Tuff, who persuaded an armed twenty year old who came to her school with an AK-47 to put down his gun by expressing empathy for him. “That’s all?” I thought. Yes, simply empathy. It seems that we have lost that sense of compassion and that we suffer from a collective lack of empathy toward the other. I concur with Rabbi Lerner’s article, I applaud Ms. Tuff, and I believe that we still need to look deeper for, and at, the root causes of this mass gun violence.

In the aftermath of some of the most recent and shocking shootings, the one where the shooter’s intent in Virginia was to have his murders documented on TV and particularly the one at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, we are again appalled that this sort of thing can happen, and at a place of worship or now recorded on live tv. Or are we? Are we surprised anymore when we hear about someone pulling out a gun and shooting people en masse at point blank range, even children, at their schools or has this become commonplace? We have witnessed so much of this violence in our nation alone. In fact, our nation, more than any other advanced country on this planet has been the place of these shootings, they are now just another normalized news story. How can this be?

And, how do we understand the silence, the lack of our country’s response to these shootings? Not one 2016 presidential candidate has even mentioned these shootings. And, absolutely nothing has changed, not a thing has been done to address this pandemic of mass violence. No, excuse me, I learned that one thing was done: Congress’ first vote on guns after the mass shooting in Charleston has been to block federal funding for gun violence research. This is how we respond to violence in this country? That is, ‘let’s just pretend that this never happened and cut funding to find out why’.

I have been involved in fighting for gun control ever since a friend of mine was shot in 1999, in Miami, Fl. He was a physician and a patient of his shot him. Apparently this patient thought that the doctor had not done enough to heal him and he was stalking the man until he snuck into his office one day with a gun. The ninth bullet was the one that killed him.

Since that time and with the slew of mass shootings that have followed, I began to wonder who this shooter is and what makes so many people turn to this kind of violent theater, particularly committed en masse. The largely ineffectual solutions we have sought have been just that: they don’t really address the underlying cause of this phenomenon.


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Women’s Rights and the Decline of the Global Culture Wars

Oct8

by: Jonathan Zimmerman on October 8th, 2015 | Comments Off

Last Sunday, at the United Nations, world leaders marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing accord on women’s rights. They celebrated women’s progress—especially in education, health, and labor—and underscored ongoing gender inequalities.

But they also condemned the jailing of female political dissidents in China, which co-hosted Sunday’s summit. And, most importantly, they didn’t debate abortion, contraception, or forced marriage. That might signal a decline of the global culture wars about gender and sexuality, which have defined the Beijing legacy since 1995.

The Beijing agreement was the first international affirmation of women’s sexual autonomy, declaring that women have the right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality.” And that was anathema to conservatives around the world, who saw it as a prescription for sexual license and an assault on traditional institutions. If all women were sexually independent, could parents no longer arrange their marriages? And would women also have the right to engage in sex outside of marriage, despite traditional religious prohibitions on the same?

Before the ink was dry on the Beijing accord, delegates from Muslim countries and the Vatican joined hands with American right-wing activists to condemn it. They also forged new organizations like the World Congress of Families, which galvanized conservatives around the globe–“the most orthodox of each group, people that are least likely to compromise,” as the WCF declared—to challenge the Beijing principles.


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End the Business of War – An Open Letter

Oct7

by: Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine on October 7th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

The Jewish New Year arrived last month amidst an explosion of chaos in the UK and Europe. The Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashana and the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur, is a time of deep reflection, repentance and renewal.

At the same time, the photograph of 4-year-old Alan, a Syrian refugee washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach, moved millions around the world. From that moment forward, #Refugeeswelcome was trending on twitter. Demonstrations sprung up in hundreds of cities in Europe demonstrating solidarity with refugees fleeing their countries.

Somehow, in these last few weeks, as the New Year arrived, the world changed. The media, once suffuse with racist propaganda about illegal immigrants, began launching appeals for the refugee crisis. The power of people’s emotions and grief over this topic has turned the tides. It has been devastating and inspiring. We, as descendants of refugees from Eastern Europe who were welcomed into Britain, know too well the importance of offering sanctuary for those fleeing war and persecution.

After endless statements purporting to ensure that Britain would deal with the refugee crisis, not by taking in more refugees but by “ensuring their regions are stable”, David Cameron scurried off to Lebanon in September to visit Syrian refugees living in camps.

But at the same time, Cameron’s UK government recently held the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London, which welcomed over 30,000 attendees, 1,683 global defence and security suppliers from 54 countries and hosting 42 international pavilions. The audience included top-level international military staff, major procurement officials, and the entire industry supply chain, from large prime contractors to supplying companies. This UK arms fair, supported and funded by the government, was pursuing the sale of UK arms and internal security equipment to countries strongly criticized for human rights abuses such as Iraq, Bahrain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. (1)


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Stephen Colbert is America’s Holy Fool

Oct4

by: Ed Simon on October 4th, 2015 | Comments Off

In the semiotician Umberto Eco’s unlikely 1980 best-seller The Name of the Rose a medieval Franciscan monk investigating a series of murders at an Italian monastery discovers that the victims have been targeted by the abbot for reading a forbidden book – the only copy of an apocryphal work on comedy by Aristotle. The abbot reasons that if such a distinguished thinker whose work is the very basis for scholasticism was known to have argued that comedy was the equal of drama, then the power of religious authorities such as himself would be questioned, for humor can be used as a tool for not just challenging hierarchy, but for enduring one’s own life without the teachings of hierarchy as well.

William of Baskerville, the fourteenth-century protagonist of Eco’s novel, does not agree with the abbot. He believes that simply because Christ is not depicted as laughing in the gospels does not mean that he didn’t in life. For Baskerville humor and spirituality are inseparable, it is precisely the radical, upending, disruptive nature of joyful comedy that allows for evil and sin to be resisted. It’s worth considering what exactly the relationship is between Christianity and comedy, especially since the popular stereotype (among the secular, but sometimes among the pious as well) sees these two categories as somehow being antithetical. And yet a great tradition exists within Christianity of being a “fool for Christ.”

Stephen Colbert in Iraq

Credit: Creative Commons

Stephen Colbert, formerly of the brilliant Colbert Report which satirically skewered right-wing blowhards like Bill O’Reilly and now David Letterman’s replacement on The Late Show is a devout Roman Catholic. He has made no secret of his faith (in fact the comedian once taught catechism class), but for some viewers confused about how to separate Colbert from his performance the intensity of the host’s religion can seem disorienting. And yet Colbert himself sees absolutely no conflict between his humor and his faith. In an interview with Colbert posted on September 9th, Father Thomas Rosica of the Canadian based and Vatican-affiliated Salt and Light Television asked what one question would be that he would ask Pope Francis. The performer replied “I would ask him about being a fool for Christ… to be a fool for Christ is to love, because we are made, we are here to dig our brief moment in time.” A “fool for Christ” – it’s a seemingly counter-intuitive concept, but one that is threaded throughout orthodoxy.

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Justice for Mohammad Akhlaq

Oct2

by: Sunita Viswanath on October 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

On this auspicious day – Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) and International Day of Non-Violence – my colleagues and I at Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus are heartbroken to read the news that a Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched and murdered by a Hindu mob in Northern India because it was rumored that he killed and cow and consumed the meat. News reports claim that a mob of Hindus wielding bricks, batons, and swords came to the man’s house to hunt him down, beat him to death and severely injure his son and mother.


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Settle into fall with these crisp online features from Tikkun!

Oct2

by: Tikkun on October 2nd, 2015 | Comments Off

Tikkun is not only a print quarterly with a thirty-year history of publishing the best critical thought in spirituality, social justice, politics, and culture—it’s also a web magazine that publishes dozens of online exclusives each month.

Below, find online-access features from the print magazine, like Peter Gabel’s plan for transforming the justice system, as well as web-only exclusives from Marc Gopin, Candace Mittel, and Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis—plus poetry by Philip Terman and Admiel Kosman, and book reviews by Matthew Fox and Michael LaPointe.

Don’t miss a beat—make it a habit to visit us online at tikkun.org!

 

The Spiritual Dimension of Social Justice: Transforming the Legal Arena
by Peter Gabel

We need a new legal paradigm that affirms the spiritual dimension of our common existence. Join our efforts to place empathy at the center of the law.

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Plus—scholars and experts respond to Gabel’s call to transform the justice system.

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A Rightwingers’ Guide to Political Correctness

Oct1

by: Ron Hirschbein on October 1st, 2015 | Comments Off

Donald Trump gives a speech

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fellow rightwingers expect you to be politically correct. Here’s how. Overuse the putdown “you’re just being politically correct” against all enemies foreign and domestic. Use the argument-stopping, dismissive putdown against those questioning your ideology or correcting your racist and sexist slurs. For example, when someone reminds you that the 1% gets the lion’s share of the wealth, there’s no need for discussion; they’re just being politically correct, right? If you’re criticized for calling Arabs ragheads or women chicks you know what to say: Don’t take responsibility for insults deeply offensive to fellow human beings.

It’s not enough, of course, to put opponents down by calling them politically correct. You must be politically correct lest you offend your cohort by calling things by their right name.  Let’s look at examples from business and the military: You’re probably in one of these communities, or that’s where your sympathies lie. Here’s what’s politically correct if you’re a true, patriotic American in the rightwing echo chamber:

  • There’s no such thing as a greedy capitalist; there are only job-creators. (Any criticism of inequality is class warfare—smacks of Marxism.)
  • Playing the stock market isn’t gambling; it’s investing. The market never crashes; it undergoes needed corrections. [Careful! Don’t call it a bull market a mistake.]
  • That used car with a sordid history is a pre-owned vehicle.
  • That cramped, almost unusable house, is a cozy dollhouse or starter home. It’s not dilapidated; it simply needs TCL.
  • You don’t buy death insurance—it’s life insurance.
  • There are no estate taxes—just death taxes. (Who would want to victimize those inheriting sums over $5,000,000 by taxing their proceeds? Next thing you know, hedge fund managers will be taxed at the same rate as wage earners. Speaking of wage earners, liberals want to subject earnings exceeding $118,500 to Social Security Taxes: Surely this would quash incentive to make more money.)


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