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Faith and Beliefs

Vern Barnet has taken all of Kansas City for his parish, enabling a wide variety of religious traditions to converse with each other through his Center for Religious Experience and Study, and forwarding that work by means of his Wednesday column in the FYI section of the Star. He is truly Kansas City's public minister. . . . He lives out a crucial dimension of the assurance we bring to the world: the assurance that differences need not divide, but may in fact invigorate and enliven and deepen the lives of us all. 
--The Rev Dr John Weston

1994  #001-018
1995   #019-070
1996   #071-122
1997   #123-175
1998   #176-227
1999   #228-279
2000   #280-330
2001   #331-382
2002   #383-434
2003   #435-487
2004   #488-539
2005   #540-591
2006   #592-642
2007   #643-694
2008  #695-746
2009  #747-798
2010  #799-850
2011 #851-902
The Column Ends
Previous critics
Star tag: Vern Barnet does interfaith work in Kansas City. Reach him at
a column by Vern Barnet every Wednesday in The Kansas City Star.
[Star printed and Star web versions, and the version here, may vary.]
Usually the column deadline is one week in advance of printing.
copyright 2012 by Vern Barnet and The Kansas City Star.
We can include reader comment only when we see it.
How to find archived columns on certain subjects,
 2012 Columns
most recent at the top

in left-hand column including some 2011 stuff
 Jacobs book
 Stahl book
 Goldman book
 Vahle book
 Foster book
 Communication Scholars

About MidEastViolence
  CPS 2012 Sept 13
  Muslim Brotherhood

 Hate in all faiths
 Islamophobic emails
 Local Islamohobia 2010
 2011 Mar 16 Press conference
 5 myths American Muslims
 Osama's death KC Star
 Death to Unbelievers?
 Muslims: 9/11 Anniv.

   Vern's 2005 statement



Basic Books

VINTAGE  complaints
 "Vern Barnet" Award
 Gibson's Passion
 Hearing God
 Government size
 Atheists at
 Interfaith Bkfst
 Why Americans still dislike atheists
 KC area atheist groups 

Obama vs Bibi


Some favorite columns
[under construction]

720. 080625
Sufi teacher raises a balloon 
[God veils himself to reveal himself]

Planning progresses for MLK celebration
By Melissa Treolo -- January 6, 2011
  As always, the annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Bonner Springs will promote unity, but this year organizer Kay Shevling wants to highlight unity among religions, not just races.
   She says that’s how Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted it.
   “Martin Luther wanted everyone to get along together; it wasn’t just the blacks and the whites,” Shevling said. “His dream was just for everyone to be friends and to be civil with each other, to support each other and so on.”
   To uphold this theme of religious unity, the 23rd annual celebration, set for 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, at Bonner Springs First Christian Church, will be a little different this year. Instead of one keynote speaker, the main address will be made up of comments from a panel of three people from different religious backgrounds. Ahmed El-Sherif is a Muslim and founder of the American Muslim Council of Greater Kansas City. Regina Stillman is a Christian and an ordained pastor with Foster Memorial Church and Out of the Ashes InterFaith Fellowship. Sheila Sonnenschein is Jewish and a freelance writer and founder of a kosher food pantry in Overland Park.
   All three are members of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, which promotes unification among religions. The panel will be moderated by the Rev. Vern Barnet, who is the founder of the organization. Shevling said the discussion would center on how religions should celebrate their similarities, not be divided by their differences.
   She said the celebration had featured a panel several years ago made up of people who had worked at one time or another with Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s panel, however, will add something unique to the event, she said, noting said she hoped it would be welcomed by the community.
   “I expect it to be positive. I’ve talked to people outside the community, and a lot of people want to come. My worry is that we’ll have more people than we’ll have room for,” Shevling said. “Because it’s something different and it’s something that fits what we’re going through right now. Someone said that religion is the best thing to bring people together in this country, but it’s also the best thing to separate them … and I’ve heard that from a lot of people.”
   The event will also feature performances from the Rosewood and Clark Middle School choirs, and a speech from 6-year-old Joelle Kimbrough, granddaughter of Mary Kimbrough, who is president of the Bonner Springs chapter of the NAACP. A “singspiration,” where all attendees are invited to sing songs of praise together, will be led by Gloria Owens.
   “Well I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting ones we’ve ever had, because it’s something that people will experience things they haven’t experienced before,” Shevling said of the celebration. “I really do think this is going to be great, and I think that people will learn from it.”
   Photo: The NAACP 100 Year Choir performs at the 2010 Bonner Springs/Edwardsville Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration

MLK Celebration opens the door for religious discussion

PHOTO: Gloria Owens leads audience members in a "singspiration" during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Monday. The event included a panel discussion on religious unity. Enlarge photo

PHOTO; Panelists during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration talk about the importance of coming together in spite of religious differences. Pictured are, from left, Sheila Sonnenschein, Regina Stillman and Ahmed El-Sherif.

By Melissa Treolo
January 17, 2011

Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at First Christian Church honored the civil rights leader through music and opened the door for what some might consider a controversial topic: religious unity.
   “We are one people. We’ve got to stop living divided,” Regina Stillman, an ordained Christian minister from Bonner Springs, said.
   Her comment was made during a panel discussion on the topic of finding the similarities but also celebrating the differences among the world’s many religions. Stillman’s fellow panelists were Sheila Sonnenschein, who is Jewish, and Ahmed El-Sherif, a Muslim and founder of the American Muslim Council of Greater Kansas City.
   Stillman and Sonnenschein are members of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, which was founded by Rev. Vern Barnet, who also moderated the discussion.
   Barnet said he met King while still a graduate student in 1967 — an experience he called “overwhelming” and “life-changing.”
  “It would not have happened without Martin Luther King,” Barnet said of founding the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council more than 20 years ago.
   Music during the celebration included performances from the Rosewood and Clark Middle School choirs. Audience members were also invited to sing at frequent times during “singspiration” songs led by Gloria Owens.
   A closing singspiration song, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” had everyone in attendance doing just that.
   If King himself had been sitting in the audience, Sonnenschein said she hoped he would be pleased by the day’s message.
   “I think I would hope that he would be very happy to see everyone gathered together to be respectful of each other and to learn from each other,” she said.
   Added El-Sherif, “You know what he would do? He would join. He would join us, I’m sure.”
   • More of this story can be found in the Jan. 20 issue of The Chieftain.-- Originally published at:


Thank you for your thoughtful note.
   I certainly have no animosity toward the woman who wanted to squash me, or the rabbi, or the couple who punched my son in the nose. I simply was making the point that not everyone likes what I write! I suppose instead I could have bragged on and on about the many more instances, such as the interested case with the Mayors' Prayer breakfast, where some good has  resulted from my humble efforts, including some of the poignant personal stories readers have shared with me.
   I'd like to repeat what I said about Bill Gates -- I detest him not as a person (I never met the man, and I don't judge) but I detest him as a symbol for a corrupt and exploitative economic, social, and political system. Such complaints are in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus himself who frequently condemned those in power, including overturning the tables in the temple. Some have suggested that the reason the poor are blessed is because they are not seduced by power or promises of power, wealth, etc, and can see the nature of the oppressive system clearly, while those who benefit from the system, being part of it, cannot see it clearly.
   I think often of  the "memorable fancy" of William Blake, about whom it is sometimes said that he was the only true Christian since Christ himself:
   The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I  asked them how they dared  so roundly  to assert  that God  spoke  to them; and whether they did not think at the time that they would not be misunderstood,  and so be the cause of  imposition.
   Isaiah answered: "I saw no God, nor heard any,  in a  finite organical perception; but my senses discovered  the  infinite in everything, and as I was then persuaded,  and remain  confirmed,  that the voice of honest indignation  is the voice of God, I cared  not for consequences  but wrote."
   I hope my passion did not alarm you; I would not have spoken as I did if I did not believe I have the duty as a spiritual seeker, one called to the ministry, and as a citizen, to encourage others to challenge the spiritual disease which has overtaken our country. In this I revere other rabble-rousers such as George Washington, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B Anthony, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, etc. While my sway is nothing compared to theirs, still my duty remains. Unless folks at least become conscious of their situation, it is unlikely to change. All any of us can do is do our  duty -- we cannot see clearly the ultimate result. We are called to be righteous, and some whose names we will never know were burned at the stake, and Christ himself was crucified. I do not believe in a religion that puts us to sleep or a selfish coma when we see those around us suffering. I daily see so much unnecessary suffering, how can I not care?
   You wonder if our energy would be better spent on something with more certain results. But how will we know if a thing will be successful if we refuse even to try? Those who railed against the history of slavery enshrined in the US Constitution and worked for emancipation, those woman (and some men) who saw centuries of history of women denied the franchise railed and rallied and died before their right to vote was granted. Such examples are endless. As we enter the season remembering Martin Luther King Jr, may I respectfully request, yea plead, that you reread his amazing "Letter from the Birmingham Jail"? You can find it on my website at .
   And does not democracy and the spiritual life itself involve discernment, and that requires our speaking with each other? How else can we determine where our efforts best be lodged? And may we not have different gifts, so that what I must do, you may not, but must work in another part of the vineyard?
   I have tried in a brief space to respond to your concerns, and will not tire you further except to say I did not expect to be discussing Bill Gates and such, but I went with what I perceived to be the energy in the room, which guided and indeed roused me.
   I do not ask  you to agree with anything I have written here. I simply want to acknowledge your writing by letting you know I have given the issues you raise some thought. I do appreciate your giving me an opportunity to respond.


Vern opened with his initial surprises on becoming a columnist: Not everyone reads The Star, Not everyone who does read The Star reads his column, and not everyone who reads his column likes it! He actually was invited to write the column when The Star decided it needed a balance, at least once a week, to Billy Graham. The column that generated the most response, some 800 emails — including from folks from Europe, Asia, and Africa, identified three reasons why he detested Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” Responses from his column on”Avatar” also generated unusual interest and was reprinted in over a dozen newspapers.

The photo here shows  Vern discussing one of his favorite columns  — about a Mayors' Prayer Breakfast which slammed diversity. Mayor Kay Barnes ultimately announced she would not attend her own Prayer Breakfast the next year since the committee was unresponsive to such complaints. The many stories initiated by Vern’s column he held up (see photo) ultimately became part of an extensive “case study” resource at Harvard University’s Pluralism Project.

Vern distributed copies of four columns, the “Avatar” column, one applying lessons from Epiphany to a show at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, different religions’ approaches to giving thanks, and a theological analysis of the Supreme Court decision giving First Amendment citizenship rights of speech to corporations as if they were actual people, with unchecked corporations anonymously buying the government.

This led to a discussion about whether folks who work hard deserve their wealth or whether chance factors and circumstances play a large part in worldly success, and whether those who benefit from society most should help to support it most. Vern referred to Ecclesiastes 9:11: “the race  is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.”

The discussion concluded with Vern challenging the theology of reward/punishment (if you’re good you go to heaven; if bad, hell) which has been applied to what he called our corrupted economic system, with wealth the reward. Instead, he advocated a morality of simply doing the right thing, that servanthood is its own reward, that satisfaction comes from fulfillment of one’s capacities, that wealth distorts relationships and democracy, and that the accumulation of more than a third of the nation’s wealth by 1% of the population, with 80% of the population sharing just 16%, is manifestly and obscenely evil. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can’t have both.” Vern stressed the religious and theological underpinnings of how we relate to each other in our economic environment.


PO Box 415, Louisburg, KS 66053     913-548-2973
February 9, 2011


Shannon Clark, Executive Director
Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council   913-548-2973

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
stands behind religious liberties in Johnson County

KANSAS CITY, MO – Our community is threatened when any faith is misrepresented. The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council (GKCIC) understands that a controversy has arisen over the purchase of property by a Laotian Buddhist group at 29600 W. 119th St. (Gardner Rd. is closest cross street) in Johnson County. We also understand that two plans for the use of the property have been approved by the professional staff of the County, that all similar plans and purchases in similar neighborhoods have always been approved for over a dozen Christian institutions, but that unfavorable sentiments expressed by some of the neighbors indicate that they may not be accurately informed about the Buddhist faith, appear to ignore our American tradition of religious liberty, and may damage the interfaith civility the Council seeks to assure for all who live in the metro area.

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council's mission is to grow a sustainable, pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation and trust among people of all faiths.   One specific goal of the GKCIC is to "work with educational, spiritual, and religious leaders and the media in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths within our community."

Therefore, we urge the Johnson County Commission to take whatever steps may be appropriate to assure that both proper RUR zoning requirements are met in accommodating the Buddhist group, parallel to requirements for all other faiths, and that the principles of religious liberty are fully respected and practiced in all neighborhoods in Johnson County.

 The GKCIC, founded in 1989, brings together fifteen vital faith communities of the Kansas City area. The council meets on a monthly basis to work toward its mission of growing a sustainable pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation, and trust amongst all people. Members of the following faith groups serve on the council: American Indian, Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christian Orthodox, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Sikhism, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism, Vedanta, and Zoroastrianism. The members of the GKCIC believe that by raising awareness of our differences and similarities, by building relationships, and through education, the community can learn to respect and value its neighbors of many faiths. The GKCIC offers education about the fifteen faith groups through the GKCIC “Speakers Bureau.” Please contact the GKCIC at or 913-548-2973 for information on how to arrange for a speaker at your place of work, your school, or your place of worship and to learn about our other interfaith programs.

Q & A 

READER: I have thought of a question which you may be able to answer as well as anyone. As background, I am a liberal Presbyterian and in my experience it is common to hear ministers or lay people say that the Bible is not actually the words of God but written by humans for a particular time and culture. (Though inspired by God.) In any discussions between Christians and Muslims that I have attended, I have not heard a Muslim say that the Quran was not the actual words of Allah. My questions is: Have you ever heard a Muslim admit  that the Quran is also not the actual words of Allah? I don't think that there will be any reconciliation between Christians and Muslims until both admit that their sacred books are just human documents. Thanks for your thoughts about this.

BARNET: It is said that God's revelations to Muhammad in Arabic became the Qur'an, which is why usually non-Arab Muslims learn at least a bit of Arabic. Arabic is a language that emphasizes relationships and particularly appropriate to the Abrahamic tradition. The word Allah is unique in its grammar. The Qur'an is a book of extraordinary poetic beauty and is regularly chanted rather than merely read as an ordinary text. Sometimes its quality is cited as proof that Muhammad, an illiterate, could not have written it himself.

Normatively, for Christians, Jesus is the Word of God, the Word made flesh, not the Bible. (See John 1.)

However, the problem you cite arises because of our Western tendency to place different things in parallel categories. The Qur'an is a different form of literature than the Bible in many ways and it is unwise to compare them on grounds suggested by your question although both are elaborately (and, within each tradition, variously) interpreted. Just think of the Hadith for starters!  As I understand it, Western-style analysis (such as form criticism) is beginning among Muslim scholars. The question you raise is a scholarly and theological problem of great interest to me.

But your concern -- for "reconciliation" -- need not involve such questions. Muslims are people. Start there. Why do Muslims or Hindus or Christians have to agree about their scriptures? Why not rejoice in the diversity? Isn't our measure of a faith "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God"? What is the point of making a Muslim "admit" the Qur'an is just a human document, or a Christian to "admit" that about the Bible, if it divinely guides them to mercy, justice and God? How do you know that God did not speak to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel? You may not believe it, but what is the point of your argument except to perpetuate colonial-style hegemony over peoples we have oppressed in many ways, including supporting corrupt governments to satisfy our unnecessary addiction to oil?

I worry that both liberals and fundamentalists suffer from the same Enlightenment categories that bury faith in tombs of fact instead of understanding religion arises from the grounds of awe and wonder and gratitude and service, with different intellectual constructions and different stories to honor, elicit, and transmit the values of peace and justice.

One can question the INTERPRETATION of ANY text if it oppresses or exploits while still revering the tradition which holds a text sacred. Certainly looking historically, judging Christianity and Islam from their behavior, one might well conclude that, guided by their texts, Muslims have been far more peaceful and just and tolerant than Christians. Some might even argue that offensive interpretations of Qur'an are largely the result of Christian influence on Islam, as for example with certain forms of sexuality.

There are many questions we do not need to decide. In my opinion living with theological diversity and ambiguity, and embracing many ways that give different folks meaningful lives while following our own paths of commitment is religious maturity, not telling other folks they are wrong about matters we cannot prove one way or the other, which distracts us from the important work of learning how to live together. . . . 

for a starting place for theology
from many fields

See Booklist

 see also General Religion Books

From Left to Right Top Row:Sheik Aasim Baheyadeen; the Rev Sam Mann, Regional Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Front Row:Dr Robert Lee Hill, Pastor, Community Christian Church; Imam Yahya Furqan, Director of Religious Affairs for Culturally Speaking; Imam Bilal Muhammed, Rabbi Alan L Cohen, Director of Interregious Affairs, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City; andDr Vern Barnet of CRES and founder of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. Not in photo but also speaking: Imam Ahmed El-Sherif. 
Photo courtesy of Br Samuel Shareef

A Coalition of Kansas City area Muslims held a press conference on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Muslims, along with other members of the Kansas City faith community, have found Peter King's recent Congressional Hearings on the Radicalization of Muslims in America disturbing and divisive. Dr. Robert Hill lent his support by hosting the the event at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main Street in Kansas City, where he is pastor. Following is the statement made by Bilal Muhammed at the press conference:

With Allah’s help and assistance we greet you in Peace, thank you for your presence.
    Thanks to the honorable faith leaders who have joined us and special thanks to Reverend Robert Lee Hill and the Community Christian Church Family for hosting this Press Conference.
    Leaders in the Muslim Community feel it our obligation to protect our Muslim public living in this Great Land, the land we love and proudly call home from living under a cloud of suspicion. While we share an agreement with Congressman King that “ The responsibility of this committee is to protect America from a terrorist attack”, we register strong objection to the singling out of The Islamic American Community for and in these hearings. Muslims Americans live, work and attend schools in every part of America. Often but not always cultural dress easily identifies us as Muslims and perhaps so does an accent or maybe a certain demeanor. The singling out of Muslims as these Hearings in fact do, cast an undue cloud of suspicion over an entire religion. This singling out of Muslims in particular puts the ninety-nine percent of the law abiding Muslim American population in a position to live as a suspect group. We have children and grandchildren who do not even know what a terrorist is, they only want to experience the life and security that every child wants in every American home. The singling out of Muslims hurts our sense of shared freedom and shades our hopes for the treasured and promised pursuit of happiness protected by our Nation.
    Our message to people who would try and promote radicalization among our youth is simple. To you we say, your position and thinking is weak so you seek to use mere children for front line fodder in your cause. Our family of culturally mixed American Muslims know that you lack a display of the fiber of true men. You show no indication of the high moral and ethical principles of our sacred text The Qur’an.KNOW THAT WE WILL WORK AGAINST YOU.
    To our neighbors, work mates and colleagues we want to get to know you, to work with you and celebrate our differences. We want you to know the core of who we are not suspect us or fear our religion, not to think of us as radical but rather defenders of fairness and human decency.God’s peace be with you and Thank you.

Link to additional photos

Link to culturallyspeaking


Kansas City Star 2011 Apr 01
How can people of faith be good examples for peace?

Serving others brings peace
by A.M. Bhattacharyya,
an active member of Hindu Community: 

People endowed with the power of faith have all the stimulus for peace. As a Hindu I believe that the core teachings of all religions are virtues like purity, nonviolence, honesty, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, selflessness, charity and love, which translate into peace.

To be a good example of peace a person of faith must refrain from making any derogatory comment about another faith. Such comment not only shows the person’s ignorance about another faith, it also hurts the sentiments of the people of that faith, which is not conducive for religious harmony and peace in the community. Faith leaders should encourage interfaith dialogues, interfaith seminars and meetings to create understanding and reverence for different faith traditions. The greater Kansas City area has made tremendous progress toward this goal, thanks to the initiative taken by a local faith leader, the Rev. Vern Barnet about 25 years ago.

Humanitarian service is another good example of peace. Swami Vivekananda, an eminent 19th century Vedantic monk and philosopher, said, “When I asked God for peace, he showed me how to help others.” When he established Ramakrishna Mission in 1897, service to humanity was the mission’s main goal. Relief and rehabilitation became an act of worship. There are many dedicated faith-inspired organizations in Hindu faith and in other faith traditions who are serving humanity in distress. They all are best examples of peace.

This also appeared in the Ledger-Enquirer
West Central Georgia and East Alabama area

Washington Post-- Friday, April 1, 3:28 PM
Five myths about Muslims in America
By Feisal Abdul Rauf

I founded the multi-faith Cordoba Initiative to fight the misunderstandings that broaden the divide between Islam and the West — each perceived as harmful by the other. Millions of American Muslims, who see no contradiction between being American and being Muslim, are working hard to bridge this gap. It is therefore not surprising that they have become the target of attacks by those who would rather burn bridges than build them, and the subject of recent congressional hearings exploring their “radicalization.” What myths are behind the entrenched beliefs that Muslims simply do not belong in the United States and that they threaten its security?

1. American Muslims are foreigners.
Islam was in America even before there was a United States. But Muslims didn’t peaceably emigrate — slave-traders brought them here.

Historians estimate that up to 30 percent of enslaved blacks were Muslims. West African prince Abdul Rahman, freed by President John Quincy Adams in 1828 after 40 years in captivity, was only one of many African Muslims kidnapped and sold into servitude in the New World. In early America, Muslim names could be found in reports of runaway slaves as well as among rosters of soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Muslims fought to preserve American independence in the War of 1812 and for the Union in the Civil War. And more than a century later, thousands of African Americans, including Cassius Clay and Malcolm Little, converted to Islam.

Currently, there are two Muslim members of Congress and thousands of Muslims on active duty in the armed forces. Sure, some Muslim soldiers may have been born elsewhere, but if you wear the uniform of the United States and are willing to die for this country, can you be really be considered a foreigner?

2. American Muslims are ethnically, culturally and politically monolithic.

In fact, the American Muslim community is the most diverse Muslim community in the world.

U.S. Muslims believe different things and honor their faith in different ways. When it comes to politics, a 2007 Pew study found that 63 percent of Muslim Americans “lean Democratic,” 11 percent “lean Republican” and 26 percent “lean independent.” Ethnically, despite the popular misperception, the majority of Muslims in the United States (and in the world, for that matter) are not Arabs — about 88 percent check a different box on their U.S. census form. At least one-quarter, for example, are African American. Anyone who thinks otherwise need look no further than the July 30, 2007, cover of Newsweek magazine, which featured a multicultural portrait of Islam in America.

Muslim Americans are also diverse in their sectarian affiliation. And whether they are Sunni or Shiite, their attendance at religious services varies. According to the State Department publication “Muslims in America — A Statistical Portrait,” Muslim Americans range from highly conservative to moderate to secular in their religious devotion, just like members of other faith communities.

With above-average median household incomes, they are also an indispensable part of the U.S. economy. Sixty-six percent of American Muslim households earn more than $50,000 per year — more than the average U.S. household.

3. American Muslims oppress women.

According to a 2009 study by Gallup, Muslim American women are not only more educated than Muslim women in Western Europe, but are also more educated than the average American. U.S. Muslim women report incomes closer to their male counterparts than American women of any other religion. They are at the helm of many key religious and civic organizations, such as the Arab-American Family Support Center, Azizah magazine, Karamah, Turning Point, the Islamic Networks Group and the American Society for Muslim Advancement.

Of course, challenges to gender justice remain worldwide. In the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Gender Gap Index, which ranks women’s participation in society, 18 of the 25 lowest-ranking countries have Muslim majorities. However, as documented by the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality , Muslim women are leading the struggle for change through their scholarship, civic engagement, education, advocacy and activism in the United States and across the world.

4. American Muslims often become “homegrown” terrorists.

According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, more non-Muslims than Muslims were involved in terrorist plots on U.S. soil in 2010. In a country in the grip of Islamophobia — where Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) can convene hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims — this has been overlooked. In 2010, the Triangle Center also found, the largest single source of initial information on planned terrorist attacks by Muslims in the United States was the Muslim American community.

As an American Muslim leader who worked with FBI agents on countering extremism right after Sept. 11, 2001, I fear that identifying Islam with terrorism threatens to erode American Muslims’ civil liberties and fuels the dangerous perception that the United States is at war with Islam. Policymakers must recognize that, more often than not, the terrorists the world should fear are motived by political and socioeconomic — not religious — concerns.

5. American Muslims want to bring sharia law to the United States.

In Islam, sharia is the divine ideal of justice and compassion, similar to the concept of natural law in the Western tradition. Though radicals exist on the fringes of Islam, as in every religion, most Muslim jurists agree on the principal objectives of sharia: the protection and promotion of life, religion, intellect, property, family and dignity. None of this includes turning the United States into a caliphate.

For centuries, most Islamic scholars around the world have agreed that Muslims must follow the laws of the land in which they live. This principle was established by the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 614-615, when he sent some of his followers to be protected by the Christian king of Abyssinia, where they co-existed peacefully. Not only do American Muslims have no scriptural, historical or political grounds to oppose the U.S. Constitution, but the U.S. Constitution is in line with the objectives and ideals of sharia. Muslims already practice sharia in the United States when they worship freely and follow U.S. laws.

In his 1776 publication “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams praised Muhammad as a “sober inquirer after truth.” And the Supreme Court building contains a likeness of the prophet, whose vision of justice is cited as an important precedent to the U.S. Constitution.

Feisal Abdul Rauf is the founder of the Cordoba Initiative.

Vern's 2005 Statement on Israel
Perhaps because of my lack of precision  in expressing myself, some misunderstandings of my views about Israel have arisen. I hope this statement will be useful in clarifying them. 
   The creation of Israel was important in world history as an admirable effort to create a just society. In Jewish history, it expresses a hope for a place where Jews can be safe from the discrimination, pogroms, and other horrors Jews have known for centuries, undeniably revealed in the Holocaust.
   It is essential, then, that Israel be safe and secure. Not only is this important for Israel and for Jews in diaspora, but it is ultimately important for the world.
   Terrorism and violence must be condemned and, better, prevented. Exactly how this can be achieved may be a political question, but no one should doubt my commitment to this end.
   I hope my work for interfaith understanding might be considered in this light.
   Specifically, I have heard the statement that I am reluctant to condemn Palestinian violence because I fear I might lose Muslim friends. My response is simple and unqualified. I have no Muslim friends who do not condemn Palestinian violence.Any person of any faith who  promotes violence would not be a friend of mine. I have condemned violence in the past, I do so now, and I will continue to do so. I condemn all violence, provoked and unprovoked, and I call on all peoples to use only  non-violent methods in response to attacks and oppression. It is especially important for peoples whose members use violence to do all in their power to condemn and prevent violence.
   In discussions seeking peace, it is important for all parties to distinguish identifying the possible causes of  violence from justifying violence. Violence cannot be justified.
   Jews in Kansas City have played and continue to play a significant role not only in the life and leadership of our community but also particularly in the vision of American religious pluralism. I wish to honor this as part of the genius of the Jewish faith. I am grateful for the many Jewish friendships which have blessed my life in Kansas City.

This statement was composed with the advice and assistance of Alvin Brooks, Rabbi Mark Levin, and Jay Barrish of blessed memory in an effort to enable the Jewish leadership to participate in the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council "Table of Faiths" annual luncheon, even though Vern no longer had any organizational relationship with the Council. The statement was insufficient to generate JCRB/AJC participation in these local interfaith efforts.
From the JCRB/AJC Director

to Ven's Statement

purpose of the statement


Here are my impressions on how I think folks
will read your statement:

 Israel's creation as an "admirable effort" is condescending at best. 

 You write "call on all peoples to use only non-violent methods
in response to attacks 
and oppression"
is an attack on 
Israel's right 
to defend herself,
and shows a lack of understanding
that this is not a cycle of violence, 
it is campaign of terror 
upon innocent victims 
by state supported
political entities against women and children of a democratic nation. 
That is the unfortunate reality recognized 
by the majority, 
including the KC community.

This might be 
an opportunity for you 
to explain why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been your focus, 
why you chose to write about "moral clarity" 
by Israeli leaders, 
more than the Chechnya conflict, India-Pakistan conflict, human rights violations in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, anti-Semitism in Europe, etc.

 Your "lack of precision
in expressing" yourself
is disingenuous. 
You have made
your points very clear, 
over and over in written dialogue with many folks.

You do not mention 
anything about Israel 
in "Old Testament" history, which is acknowledged 
and used by the overwhelming majority of Christians and Jews. 

I am also unclear
what the definition 
of the "genius" 
of the Jewish faith means. 



Marvin Szneler is Executive Director, 
The Jewish Community Relations Bureau/
American Jewish Committee
for the Kansas City area


In the words of Vern Barnet of the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Westport: “I’ve seen a hunger among churches here that have gone to some lengths to learn about the Muslim faith … (even as) a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric intensified.”

The Kansas City Star 2011 May 3
Osama bin Laden changed us in ways minute, monumental


Without him, there would probably be no Department of Homeland Security, no Patriot Act, no Qur’an-burning pastors.

Had Osama bin Laden never been born, there would surely be fewer memorials to slain firefighters, less need for prosthetic limbs for young troops, an American public still largely ignorant of the Muslim notion of martyrdom.

Our military probably would still be more interested in tanks and aircraft carriers, less wary of roadside bombs and suicide belts. The development of killer robot planes might not have come so far. The need to deal with asymmetric threats — battling an army not of battalions but of insurgents — would not be so pressing.

And America would certainly be a country with far fewer long-fading yellow ribbons.

The man who came to symbolize a bloody rejection of all things U.S. left a legacy among those he hated, and those he inspired to hate them. Little wonder that his demise brought so little sympathy.

“In the past few years, (bin Laden’s) main military triumphs have been against such targets as Afghan schoolgirls, Shiite Muslim civilians, and defenseless synagogues in Tunisia and Turkey,” wrote pundit Christopher Hitchens on news of bin Laden’s death and dumping at sea. “Has there ever been a more contemptible leader from behind, or a commander who authorized more blanket death sentences on bystanders?”

In ways small and monumental, bin Laden’s two decades on the world stage changed how America operated within its borders and with other nations. It may not have been entirely his doing, but his life had a profound impact on the nation he so loathed.

It was after he mobilized al-Qaida against the United States, after all, that Washington set up the legal purgatory of Guantanamo Bay for foreign fighters. Since then, the country tormented itself over whether waterboarding is torture and whether torture is always a bad idea.

As fate would have it, the first bits of intelligence that ultimately tracked down bin Laden came from secret prisons overseas. That won’t end the torture debate, but it looks to have ended bin Laden’s run.

Current and former U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, provided the pseudonym of a bin Laden courier. The CIA also got tips from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both men underwent harsh interrogation at CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.

It was, in a way, the nature of bin Laden’s tactics that prompted America to bend its own ways.

Bin Laden no more invented the suicide bomber than Henry Ford invented the automobile. He just made more of them than anyone had before.

Under his leadership, al-Qaida shifted the rationalization behind suicide bombings. The ultimate attacks of 9/11 weren’t done with bombs, but they fit with a devolved sense of justifications for killing. No longer did a man with an explosive vest need to aim for Israeli soldiers or some other combatants. Now, went the reasoning sold by bin Laden’s organization, truck bombs could target civilians as long as the victims could be painted as somehow sympathetic to Islam’s supposed enemies.

“They built this narrative that Muslims are being besieged and humiliated and targeted by the West in wars and occupation,” said Mohammed M. Hafez, an associate professor at the Naval Post Graduate School who has researched suicide bombers. “They elevated martyrdom in online documents and videos. … They’ve really taken the art of martyrdom veneration to a new level.”

Impact on politics

Bin Laden’s more lethal brand of terrorism changed, too, the dynamics of American politics.

George W. Bush arguably would have had a harder time at re-election in 2004 were he not, as he put it, “a war president.”

Barack Obama’s re-election prospects — had he ever made it to the White House — might look bleaker now had troops on his watch not slain the face of terrorism.

And the hope that bin Laden’s 9/11 terrorist attacks might unite a polarized U.S. turned out to be fleeting at best.

Carolyn Marvin, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, said less has changed about U.S. discourse than what was anticipated at the time of the attacks on New York and Washington.

“The thinking then was that from now on, we’d be united as a country,” she said, “and, also, that we’d pay more attention to serious matters rather than the trivial. Neither of those things lasted for long.”

Marvin attributed part of the nation’s polarized political climate to U.S. actions undertaken in pursuit of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups — “in some cases, with war after war, creating a worse situation” for national security than before 9/11.

People such as Tim Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute believe the country went too far in allowing more leeway for warrantless wiretaps and the use of military tribunals to avoid the defendant protections of criminal courts.

“Countries always tend to expand government power in wartime. Then they retract them when the conflict is over,” said Lynch, the director of Cato’s project on criminal justice.

“The problem with the war on terror is it’s never over,” he said. “Not even now that bin Laden’s dead.”

The transformation of law enforcement, though, also wiped out legal and logistical prohibitions that stopped agencies from sharing information. Today, investigators of both terrorism and organized crime laud the changes. They allow investigators not to just connect dots, but to do so before something blows up.

In the 1990s, some analysts accused the Clinton administration of trying to personify an otherwise ambiguous terror threat by sloppily fingering bin Laden. Critics thought the Clinton White House was hyping a bogeyman to fatten intelligence budgets.

(Similar criticism would spill into the Bush years, when many Americans were convinced vague security concerns were excuses for rolling back civil liberties.)

That changed in 2000 when a boat loaded with explosives blew a gaping hole into the side of the USS Cole while it was anchored in a Yemeni harbor. It killed 17 American sailors. All clues pointed to bin Laden.

Prior to his rise among Islamist extremists, pollsters had little to gauge on the image of the United States in world opinion. In the months following 9/11, the Pew Global Attitudes Project tracked generally favorable public viewpoints about U.S. power, only to see those attitudes erode as the war against terror spread.

Bin Laden “prompted the U.S. to advance in the Middle East region in a way that turned public opinion against the U.S. all around the world,” said Stephen Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

America’s image hit bottom about 2007, he said. With the exception of Indonesia and parts of Africa, Kull said, “it has not recovered in the Muslim world.”

For American Muslims, the bin Laden effect has been brutal.

“Before Osama bin Laden told people to hijack airplanes, he hijacked Islam,” said Bassam Helwini, a native Syrian living in Lawrence. “He certainly didn’t do Muslims any favors, especially here in the West.”

The ways many of his fellow Americans treated Helwini changed, sometimes for the better. A Christian neighbor who exchanged few words with him before the terrorist strikes showed up with a cake, gift card and kind expressions in the weeks that followed.

Sales of the Qur’an in this country exploded.

In the words of Vern Barnet of the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Westport: “I’ve seen a hunger among churches here that have gone to some lengths to learn about the Muslim faith … (even as) a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric intensified.”

Military evolution

There’s no question that the military changed to meet the threat of bin Laden and his ilk. Before 9/11, the Pentagon invested heavily in the high-tech materiel that seemed to perform so well in the first Gulf War.

But chasing the terrorist bands who answered bin Laden’s call to jihad felt like drawing water from damp sand. Military thinkers describe it as an asymmetric threat — the brawnier your forces get, the tougher it can be to hunt down bad guys who blend into the village scenery.

So the military, especially the Army, redesigned what it did to counter insurgency and terrorism. Tanks and artillery units lost prestige to commanders who could insinuate their troops among locals and turn civilians who might otherwise harbor the enemy into collaborators in pursuit of peace and quiet.

“Because of bin Laden, we are now truly full-spectrum forces. We are as capable of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism as we are at conventional combat,” said John Nagl, who updated the Army’s counterinsurgency manual before retiring in 2008 and joining the Center for a New American Security.

Where some see the shift as a monumental success, others see it as a blunder. Douglas MacGregor, a retired Army colonel, said the U.S. sent in battalions where it should have sent in commando squads, and unintentionally retooled the military for missions it’s poorly suited for. The result, he contends, has been to make the country unready for the full-scale battlefield operations it had been criticized for obsessing for before bin Laden.

“We’ve structured it all for everything but combat,” said MacGregor, who now writes for the Committee for the Republic. “All the tactics and the strategy we used were a windfall for bin Laden. It fulfilled his prophecies about us wanting to invade these Muslim countries and take the oil.”

Other analysts see the transition less dramatically. They still worry that the war on terror, and bin Laden’s place in it, came at the cost of conventional military readiness.

New resources found their way to the long-troubled Osprey, a tilt rotor aircraft designed for moving Marines quickly into remote locations. Likewise, remote-controlled aircraft such as the Predator and the Global Hawk, which now play critical roles both in surveillance and armed attack, were hurried to the battlefield.

In the meantime, the Marines spent less time training for the amphibious assaults that defined much of their history. And the production of the Marines’ new expeditionary fighting vehicle, essentially amphibious tanks, was delayed.

While the Pentagon shifted to finding and fighting bin Laden, the Chinese steadily moved to improve their navy. Beijing will launch its first aircraft carriers next year.

“The Chinese have declared ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the South China Sea,” said Eric Wertheim, who teaches at the U.S. Naval Institute and authors Combat Fleets of the World.

Taking it personally

The effects were more personal, of course, for the men and women who inspired so many ribbons on so many cars and trucks.

For Mike Davis of Lee’s Summit, bin Laden’s war on the United States is with him whenever he works with his “battle buddies” who came home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

He acts as advocate and ally at the Kansas City VA Medical Center for fellow troops wounded in conflicts sparked by terror.

He took a faceful of shrapnel one day in Baghdad in 2004. He’s medically retired now, working through the effects of a traumatic brain injury that jumbles his memory and can short-circuit his ability to stick with a thought, or a sentence. He feels the legacy of bin Laden every day.

“Now that (bin Laden) is dead, me and my Afghanistan brethren and buddies feel justified for our injuries, and for our fallen comrades,” said the 42-year-old former Army sergeant.

Phil Foster would still just be a weekend warrior, an Army reservist ready if his country needed him but not really expecting it would. Instead, he’s preparing for his third tour of Afghanistan.

Before bin Laden sponsored the 9/11 attacks, Foster was just a fleet manager in Charlotte, N.C., who had no particular expectation he’d really be around bullets fired in anger. But the bin Laden movement changed that. A major in 2001, he is a colonel now with the 475th Quartermaster Group. He has missed the birth of a grandchild and returned home and heard his wife tell him, sympathetically but unhappily, that he’d changed.

The local VA hospital tells him he has post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There were so many bombs. I’m jumpy now,” Foster said. “But it made me remember why I wear this uniform: to defend America.”

Air travel affected

It’s worth remembering that bin Laden truly burst into the American consciousness when he deployed young men with airline tickets and box cutters. They used those tools to topple skyscrapers and send a nation into panic. No wonder then that we worry now about bombs in shoes and underwear, that air travelers now surrender their bottled water and subject themselves to patdowns just to fly out of O’Hare.

“It’s almost as if the age of innocence ended that day,” said Joe McBride, longtime spokesman for the Kansas City Aviation Department. “The childhood I had isn’t going to be the same for my two daughters.”

That crystal-blue morning, as aircraft were being rerouted at Kansas City International Airport, McBride was being interviewed for local radio when the TV in his office showed the collapse of the first of the twin towers.

Airline passengers at the time could board flights carrying knives with blades no longer than four inches. Private security contractors ran checkpoints.

By 2004, screeners employed by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration nationwide would be confiscating more than 7 million dangerous items annually — including lighters, pepper spray, ski poles and tens of thousands of box cutters.

Bin Laden had been the world’s most hunted man for most of Mark Linzille’s life, dating back to U.S. embassy bombings in 1998. Linzille, a University of Missouri-Kansas City senior who edits the independent student newspaper, cannot recall living without slow lines at airport gates and bags being searched at sporting events.

His half brother joined the Marines and completed a two-year tour overseas fighting the war on terror.

“I think war most of the time is senseless,” said Linzille, 22, “but what my peers are doing over there takes a lot of courage. …

“I never really felt unsafe growing up … (but) it is kind of a relief to know we finally got (bin Laden). It’s nice to see something actually good coming out of all that relentless work.”

Is Kansas City the “heartland” of an imminent spiritual shift in consciousness for all of humanity?
May 5, 2011 
by Angie Lile. Co-Authored by Marcella Womack.

Kansas City is a melting pot of religious diversity. Home to several World Religion headquarters, it has been hailed as an undeniable energetic space that many of its residents find sacred. But is it possible that Kansas City is actually an energetic center of what many people believe to be a spiritual and energetic shift in human consciousness? Could Kansas City be home to the 2012 Shift?
. . . .
News of our religious diversity is even found in our mainstream media such as the Kansas City Star by way of a writer who wrote recently:

“In 2007, Religions for Peace-USA at the United Nations Plaza and Harvard University’s Pluralism Project sought a town for their first national interfaith academies. They selected Kansas City for the term because we offered the enrolled professionals and students hospitable Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Buddhist congregations to visit, and speakers from other traditions as well.

A Harvard researcher said, “At the Pluralism Project, we consider Kansas City to be truly at the forefront of interfaith relations.” I believe one of several reasons for this is the proximity and influence of Unity, which has, since the time of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, validated wisdom found in faiths around the world.” (Harmony in a World of Differences: Interfaith Works- copyright 2011 by Unity Magazine and Vern Barnet Kansas City, MO)

Of course Mr Barnet is speaking of the Unity movement which observes all faiths and offers worship in all faiths and was initially initially founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1889 after Mrs. Fillmore was cured of her tuberculosis that she believed came through spiritual healing. Unity Village in Lee’s Summit, Missouri is their world headquarters and offers nonsectarian educational training for ministers who serve those who organize under the “term” Unity. 
. . . .
Posted at 07:04 PM ET, 05/09/2011
Jewish newspaper edits Hillary Clinton out of ‘Situation Room’ 
By Brad Hirschfield

photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011 (HO - REUTERS)

The Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper, Der Zeitung, published the now iconic photograph of President Obama and his team watching as events unfolded in the Pakistan raid which killed Osama Bin Laden, but they did so with two notable changes – they removed both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the only other woman in the shot, Audrey Tomason. That kind of manipulation, not only violates the terms under which the White House makes such images available to the press, but suggests some real problems with the paper and it’s readership which presumably supports such manipulation.

To fully address the question of why they did this, the staff of the Yiddish language paper issued a lengthy statement, excerpted here:

“In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status... All Government employees are sworn into office, promising adherence to the Constitution, and our Constitution attests to our greatness as a nation that is a light beacon to the entire world. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. That has precedence even to our cherished freedom of the press! … Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”

That understanding of sexual modesty is pretty extreme even relative to other members of the Ultra-Orthodox community, but that is not the real issue here. For starters, the publishers of the paper confuse what they have the right to do, with what is right to do.

Without entering a protracted debate about modesty or what Jewish law does and doesn’t allow, their statement fails to recognize that in exercising their right to edit the photo (they claim that White House policy forbid such editing), they needed to assume a related obligation – to inform their readership that they were looking at a re-touched image. In failing to make that clear, the editors avoided a very real challenge for themselves and for their community.

The manipulation of the photo makes it clear that those who read this paper need “facts” which conform to their beliefs, and when those facts are not available, they alter the real ones to conform to their beliefs. That’s not simply bad journalism or a violation of fundamental ethics; it’s actually dangerous for the community itself. No community, at least in America, will succeed for long if they cannot at least appreciate and make sense of what is actually going on around them.

It is also interesting to note that extreme discomfort with the presence of women or even images of women is common to virtually all totalitarian religious communities, regardless of the tradition involved. And in this case especially, it’s not something of which the editors of the paper should be proud.

Among the things for which radical Islam is most well known is its harsh repression of women’s rights. And while there are vast differences between how women function in the most conservative versions of the Jewish and Muslim worlds, the fact that both are often lead by men who seem utterly panicked by the presence of women in public life is only going to be highlighted by the paper’s actions.

The fact that they Photoshopped the image reminds us that even the most inward-looking communities can be technologically sophisticated. Technological sophistication has been shown, in some studies, to be inversely proportional to a community’s degree of religious openness.

The issue is not having technological capacity; it’s the ends to which we use that capacity. Communities may become increasingly sophisticated about keeping the world at bay, and even at using technology to do so, but ultimately that approach fails all those who avail themselves of it.

Of course, we all have versions of Der Zeitung’s editing process going on in our own lives – wanting to see the world as we would like it to be instead of how it really is. No, not as extreme for most of us, but if it weren’t a powerful impulse the news industry, especially on TV and radio would look quite different. If this story reminds us of how foolish that approach is, this Hasidic paper did us, if not themselves, a favor.

Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

By Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, Published: April 29

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens.

Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

Consider that at the societal level, murder rates are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States, which also has a much greater portion of its population in prison. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than far less religious states such as Vermont and Oregon.

As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. They value freedom of thought.

While many studies show that secular Americans don’t fare as well as the religious when it comes to certain indicators of mental health or subjective well-being, new scholarship is showing that the relationships among atheism, theism, and mental health and well-being are complex. After all, Denmark, which is among the least religious countries in the history of the world, consistently rates as the happiest of nations. And studies of apostates — people who were religious but later rejected their religion — report feeling happier, better and liberated in their post-religious lives.

Nontheism isn’t all balloons and ice cream. Some studies suggest that suicide rates are higher among the non-religious. But surveys indicating that religious Americans are better off can be misleading because they include among the non-religious fence-sitters who are as likely to believe in God, whereas atheists who are more convinced are doing about as well as devout believers. On numerous respected measures of societal success — rates of poverty, teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, drug use and crime, as well as economics — high levels of secularity are consistently correlated with positive outcomes in first-world nations. None of the secular advanced democracies suffers from the combined social ills seen here in Christian America.

More than 2,000 years ago, whoever wrote Psalm 14 claimed that atheists were foolish and corrupt, incapable of doing any good. These put-downs have had sticking power. Negative stereotypes of atheists are alive and well. Yet like all stereotypes, they aren’t true — and perhaps they tell us more about those who harbor them than those who are maligned by them. So when the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich engage in the politics of division and destruction by maligning atheists, they do so in disregard of reality.

As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth. Despite the bigotry, the number of American nontheists has tripled as a proportion of the general population since the 1960s. Younger generations’ tolerance for the endless disputes of religion is waning fast. Surveys designed to overcome the understandable reluctance to admit atheism have found that as many as 60 million Americans — a fifth of the population — are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities.

KC  Freethinker Groups

Obama v. Netanyahu
two columns: Friedman, Zakaria

Lessons From Tahrir Sq.

By Thomas L Friedman, New Yoirk Times, May 24, 2011

Cairo. -- Being back in Cairo reminds me that there are two parties in this region that have been untouched by the Arab Spring: the Israelis and the Palestinians. Too bad, because when it comes to ossified, unimaginative, oxygen-deprived governments, the Israelis and Palestinians are right up there with pre-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia. I mean, is there anything less relevant than the prime minister of Israel going to the U.S. Congress for applause and the leader of the Palestinians going to the U.N. — instead of to each other?

Both could actually learn something from Tahrir Square. To the Palestinians I would say: You believe the Israelis are stiffing you because they think they have you in box. If you resort to violence, they will brand you terrorists. And if you don’t resort to violence, the Israelis will just pocket the peace and quiet and build more settlements. Your dilemma is how to move Israel in a way that won’t blow up in your face or require total surrender.

You have to start with the iron law of Israeli-Arab peace: whichever party has the Israeli silent majority on its side wins. Anwar Sadat brought the Israeli majority over to his side when he went to Israel, and he got everything he wanted. Yasir Arafat momentarily did the same with the Oslo peace accords. How could Palestinians do that again today? I can tell you how not to do it. Having the U.N. General Assembly pass a resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state will only rally Israelis around Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, giving him another excuse not to talk.

May I suggest a Tahrir Square alternative? Announce that every Friday from today forward will be “Peace Day,” and have thousands of West Bank Palestinians march nonviolently to Jerusalem, carrying two things — an olive branch in one hand and a sign in Hebrew and Arabic in the other. The sign should say: “Two states for two peoples. We, the Palestinian people, offer the Jewish people a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed adjustments — including Jerusalem, where the Arabs will control their neighborhoods and the Jews theirs.”

If Palestinians peacefully march to Jerusalem by the thousands every Friday with a clear peace message, it would become a global news event. Every network in the world would be there. Trust me, it would stimulate a real peace debate within Israel — especially if Palestinians invited youth delegations from around the Arab world to join the marches, carrying the Saudi peace initiative in Hebrew and Arabic. Israeli Jews and Arabs should be invited to march as well. Together, the marchers could draw up their own peace maps and upload them onto YouTube as a way of telling their leaders what Egyptian youth said to President Hosni Mubarak: “We’re not going to let you waste another day of our lives with your tired mantras and maneuvering.”

Crazy, I know. Bibi is reading this and laughing: “The Palestinians will never do that. They could never get Hamas to adopt nonviolence. It’s not who the Palestinians are.”

That is exactly what Mubarak said about the Egyptian people: “They are not capable of being anything but what they are: docile and willing to eat whatever low expectations I feed them.” But then Egyptians surprised him. How about you, Palestinians, especially Hamas? Do you have any surprise in you? Is Bibi right about you, or not?

As for Bibi, his Tahrir lesson is obvious: Sir, you are well on your way to becoming the Hosni Mubarak of the peace process. The time to make big decisions in life is when you have all the leverage on your side. For 30 years, Mubarak had all the leverage on his side to gradually move Egypt toward democracy — and he never used it. Then, when Mubarak’s people rose up, he tried to do it all in six days. But it was too late. No one believed him. So his tenure ended in ruin.

Israel today still has enormous leverage. It is vastly superior militarily and economically to the Palestinians, and it has the U.S. on its side. If Netanyahu actually put a credible, specific two-state peace map on the table — not just the same old vague promises about “painful compromises” — he could get the Americans and Europeans to toss in anything Israel wanted, including the newest weapons, NATO membership, maybe even European Union membership. It could be a security windfall for Israel. Does Bibi have any surprise in him or do the Palestinians have him right: a big faker, hiding a nationalist-religious agenda under a cloak of security?

It may be that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are incapable of surprising anyone anymore, in which case the logic on the ground will prevail: Israel will gradually absorb the whole West Bank, so, together with Israel proper, a Jewish minority will be ruling over an Arab majority. Israel’s enemies will refer to it as “the Jewish apartheid state.” America, Israel’s only true friend, will find itself having to defend an Israel whose policies it does not believe in and whose leaders it does not respect — and the tensions between the U.S. and Israel displayed in Washington last week will seem quaint by comparison.

Where Netanyahu fails himself and Israel

By Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, May 25

Conventional wisdom is fast congealing in Washington that President Obama was wrong to demarcate a shift in American policy toward Israel last week. In fact, it was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who broke with the past — in one of a series of diversions and obstacles Netanyahu has come up with anytime he is pressed. He wins in the short run, but ultimately, he is turning himself into a version of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, “Mr. Nyet,” a man who will be bypassed by history.

Here is what Netanyahu’s immediate predecessor, Ehud Olmert, said in a widely reported speech to the Israeli Knesset in 2008: “We must give up Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and return to the core of the territory that is the State of Israel prior to 1967, with minor corrections dictated by the reality created since then.” Olmert, a man with a reputation as a hard-liner, said that meant Israel would keep about 6 percent of the West Bank — the major settlements — and give up land elsewhere. This was also the position of Ehud Barak, Israel’s prime minister during the late 1990s.

The Bush administration did not have a different position, as statements from the president and Condoleezza Rice make clear. Here is George W. Bush in 2008: “I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.” (The 1949 armistice lines is another way of saying the 1967 borders.)

Or consider this statement from last November: “[T]he United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.” That’s not Obama, Bush or Rice, but a statement jointly issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu on Nov. 11, 2010.

Today, Netanyahu says that any discussion of the 1967 borders is treason and that new borders must reflect “dramatic changes” since then. So in three years, an Israeli prime minister’s position has gone from “minor corrections” to “dramatic changes.” Netanyahu’s quarrel, it appears, is with himself. Yet we are to think it is Obama who has shifted policy?

Why did Netanyahu turn what was at best a minor difference into a major confrontation? Does it help Israel’s security or otherwise strengthen it to stoke tensions with its strongest ally and largest benefactor? Does such behavior further the resolution of Israel’s problems? No, but it helps Netanyahu stir support at home and maintain his fragile coalition. And while Bibi might sound like Churchill, he acts like a local ward boss, far more interested in holding onto his post than using it to secure Israel’s future.

The newsworthy, and real, shift in U.S. policy was Obama publicly condemning the Palestinian strategy to seek recognition as a state from the U.N. General Assembly in September. He also questioned the accord between Fatah and Hamas. Obama endorsed the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state, a demand Israel has made in recent years. Instead of thanking Obama for this, Netanyahu created a public confrontation to garner applause at home.

Netanyahu’s references to the “indefensible” borders of 1967 reveal him to be mired in a world that has gone away. The chief threat to Israel today is not from a Palestinian army. Israel has the region’s strongest economy and military, complete with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. The chief threats to Israel are from new technologies — rockets, biological weapons — and demography. Its physical existence is less in doubt than its democratic existence as it continues to rule millions of Palestinians in serf-like conditions — entitled to neither a vote nor a country.

The path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear for 20 years. Israel would cede most of the land it conquered in the 1967 war to a Palestinian state, keeping the major settlement blocks. In return, it would get a series of measures designed to protect its security. That’s why the process is called land for peace. The problem is that Netanyahu has never believed in land for peace. His strategy has been to put up obstacles, create confusion and wait it out. But one day there will be peace, along the lines that people have talked about for 20 years. And Netanyahu will be remembered only as a person before the person who made peace, a comma in history.

Originally published Friday, June 24, 2011 at 10:01 PM 
Faith & Values 
Death to unbelievers?
Quran's most misread words 

The often quoted Quranic passage that refers to the killing of unbelievers is often taken out of context, 
leaving an erroneous interpretation for many non-Muslims and also a few misguided Muslims. 
By Aziz Junejo -- Special to The Seattle Times 

At a recent interfaith gathering, a few guests privately expressed sincere concerns about the often quoted Quranic passage that refers to the killing of unbelievers — a passage I am frequently asked about.
   While none of those asking about this passage had had the opportunity to read the entire Quran with understanding, in taking a few lines out of context they sadly came away with an erroneous interpretation, as many non-Muslims and a few misguided Muslims do 
   Muslims believe the Quran to be the preserved and unchanged word of God, a book of moral and spiritual guidance that mentions and confirms three previous Holy Scriptures by name: the Torah, Psalms and Gospels. 
   The Quran was revealed at the peak of the Arabic language in terms of its expression, vocabulary, artistic and poetic value, and Muslims consider it their Lingua Franca.
   The Quran is written in pure, rich, lyrical Arabic that is read from right to left, and its complexity has posed many difficulties for translators. Every word and sentence has deep meanings that speak to the past, present and even the future, but which repeatedly emphasize the monotheistic belief in only one God. 
Muslim children have always been encouraged to memorize all or parts of the Quran in Arabic. When recited aloud, its rhythmical tones make it easy for even non-Arabic speakers to learn by heart. 
   God says in the Quran, "And We have certainly made the Quran easy to remembrance, so is there any who will remember?" (54:17) As a child growing up here in the 1960s, when there were no mosques in the area, I used to sit with an Arabic linguist who attended the University of Washington and who taught me the Quran in Arabic. 
   While memorizing it was easy, interpreting and understanding it was anything but. Some parts 
referred to specific historical situations, while others offered universal spiritual principles. 
   Today, the most quoted — and the most misinterpreted — Quranic passage (2:190-192) is the
one giving permission to fight the unbelievers. What many don't know is that it speaks only to a specific time, and only at the city of Mecca, when the idol worshippers of Mecca had broken a truce with the Muslims and did horrible injustices. The passage speaks to the Muslims with numerous conditions, including that fighting in self-defense was a last resort.
   I am most impressed with an analysis of this passage by Lesley Hazleton, of Seattle, an agnostic Jew and an award-winning British-American writer. Over a period of three months, she read in their entirety four well-known translations and a transliteration of the Quran, along with the Arabic text, then offered an interpretation of this disputed verse. 
   She describes the conditions of this verse as: not that you must kill, but that to do so at that time was allowed only under many conditions: including only after a defined grace period had passed; only if no other pact was in place; only if the idol worshippers stopped you from going to the Kaba (in Mecca); and only if they attacked you first — and even then, God is merciful, 
forgiveness is supreme.
   Her findings reveal that the verse is allowing Muslims to defend themselves only with peace as their ultimate goal, which mirrors the interpretation of Islamic scholars today. 
   God speaks to all of humankind in the Quran without regard to race, color, social or financial situation or even genealogy. The clear unveiling of its truthful message can only come by reading it cover to cover with understanding. 
   From the beginning of creation God has sent prophets, messengers with divine scriptures, to
guide mankind. Muslims believe his final unchanged text is in the Quran. 
   Aziz Junejo is host of "Focus on Islam," a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may send feedback to 
Notes to myself

D Brooks neuro theology challg
Dr bronnrr
Quiz sor grapes. Not to swift. Not fruit of action. Merciful. NT

People who think that the triangle always has one a total of 180? test for some of its three angles ha ha are two dimensional ha ha whereas people who understand the outer surface of a three-dimensional sphere understand test the triangle I'll always be angles the some of the angles of the triangles are more than 180?Deleece is curious where it basically comes from earlier Anglo-Saxon words related also to the Germanic leave that to love means what you give your heart to and when I say I believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ how that is what I give my heart to hand at the time importance is not an intellectual assets but rather a good experience that one has hot in the totality of one's being as one of firms commit a test call to the body of Christ and his divine workReciting the creeds is like participating in a class grand how musical event just as the words .2 what is beyond words so how one creed which may apparently contradict another creed does not do so anymore then you and the multidimensional universe of the holy leave it open 29th piano Sonata does not contradict Mozart's 31st since the idea is that the Eucharist. For example ha ha is a statement about the chemical never been accepted by theologian ,sub species aeternitas  You cannot solve a calculus problem using elementary artimateic, When we discuss anything both as simple and as compicated as Infinite Love, human language is inadequate.
A 3 year old cannot be exected to understand the full meaning of sexual orgasm.A spiritial novice is unlikely to access the depth of experience that a saint in the very same religion can.  It is unfair to expect an illiterate person to completely understand a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet in the original tongue. It is criminal to insist that someone allergic to poison ivy must rub the plant all over his body. Would you expect a blind person to fully appreciate Las Meneis by Valasquez?  Similarly, for those who have not explored certain dimensions of spiritual life cannot be expected to relate to the experiences of those who have, It is only with patience, exposure, and sincere openness that a Christian may gain some understanding of the Hindu perspectice, and vice versa, for example. For those who have only an elementary conception of Christianity, the vision of Christian mystics will seem as nonsense.
Nomore obliged to tell you where I worshp than I need to tell you whether I wear boxers or brief. You seek to invadeg my spiritual intimacy while you have accused me of chartalanism. You have not earned the trust required for such a private knowldge.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. -- C.S. Lewis, /The Weight of Glory/ book
The thing is this works for the world of Christianity. But supose your religion enables you to see ultraviolet radiation- from the sun which normally cannot be erceived except by instruments - you see the wold differently than one narrowly-sighted.You cannot us your micowave to download your email.

Matthew 11:13  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. | And if ye will receive  it,  this is Elias, which was for
to come. | He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. | But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like 
unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, | And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not
danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. |  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. | The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

  Matthew 13:10  And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest
thou unto them in parables? |   He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not 
given. | For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. |  Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
 |  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye
shall see, and shall not perceive: | For this people's heart is waxed gross, and  their  ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with  their  eyes and hear with  their  ears, and should
understand with  their  heart, and should be converted, and I should heal

Luke 8:10  And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the
kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see,
and hearing they might not understand. 

You seem determined to find fault with me. I confess many imperfections. I hope you will find satisfaction in that.

If I am convinced that a person can be helped by such a religious discussion, and I am not  charged with "some other agenda," "being disingenuous," accused of being a "relativist, and implying that there IS NO truth," said to be "hiding" reflecting on my "motives," "playing games," repeatedly taking quotations out of context, "wishy washy talk," "simplistic" answers, that I "won't engage you in discussion: he like to be above it all and just sit back and act superior while others argue," accusing me of fearing loss of readership, and other 

I've been told that the Kansas International Film Festival is one of the top 25 in the country, which explains why it attracts such a following for a full week each year.

The "Holy Wars" film -- made in Missouri, Lebanon, Pakistan, and London -- could hardly have gone better. Alas, friends of mine were turned away because it was sold out. According to Bill Pryor, not a single person left during the 30-40 minute discussion. I worried when I saw Rauf and Naseema Mir in the audience - in part, whether to acknowledge them, torn between honoring them and putting them on the spot as Muslims - but when a question about Sharia came up, Rauf raised his hand and I had him come forward and introduced him and he had a good answer. I started the discussion by asking audience members to raise their hands if they were surprised about how the film turned out. Almost every hand went up. Then I asked for three volunteers to say what surprised them. Then the discussion got off with a good start, and I turned to the filmmaker (from Los Angeles) and put a question to him, and then gave the audience a chance to ask him questions. The filmmaker was excellent.  Afterward I was invited to a party with the filmmakers in town at McCoy's.

The paper today announced the two jury-winners, and that film won in the documentary class, so it is being reshown tomorrow. The narrative class winner was a Slovak film which I saw and thought was extraordinary with character development and surprise (and of course I like foreign movies because the subtitles make up for my problem hearing).

The big thing for me this week-end was the privately-financed free Hymn Fest. The organist, Gerre Hancock, is called the greatest living American organist improviser, and many of the top organists in the area showed up, including John Obetz and his successor Jan Craybill. There were mikes all over the Cathedral for a professional recording, and  they engaged a professional photographer to take photos. My wild selections were extremely well received, and apparently I was  heard properly in the Cathedral (I had brought a "pop" filter for the microphone I used); and the organist, at least once that I'm sure of, responded to what I did by altering his expected arrangement, which was great fun. Afterward I was part of a very nice dinner with key people involved and sat next to the organist and across from the financier who was extremely pleased with both the organist and with me. But most important, John Schaefer, the Cathedral's canon musician, was pleased, and this project has developed a great warmth between us and I've gotten to know his wife much better, too. Plus I now have been given the privilege of  going up to the gallery before the service is over and watch John play! Most of the "audience" were professional musicians and singers, just a few from the Cathedral, as this event was advertised city-wide; so my multi-faith approach to Christian hymns was, I'm sure, an awakening to most folks there. John asked Gerre if in all his career (mainly in New York, but concerts in Europe and Asia) he had ever had a reader select from such a variety of sources, and he said No. I provided brief introductions to several of the readings. My selections:

   Selections from the Holy Qur’an (610-633)
   A Hymn on the Nativity of my Savior — Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
Holy Name:
   Selections about Jesus — Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
Epiphany and Transfiguration:
   Selections from the Bhagavad Gita (3137 BCE? - 1000 CE?)
Lent ? Passiontide:
  On the Eucharist — Thich Nhat Hanh (conversation with Daniel Berrigan in The Raft is Not the Shore, 1975)
Easter and Ascension:
   i thank You God — e e cummings (1884-1962)
  God’s Grandeur — Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
    Batter my heart Three-Personed God, John Donne (1572–1631)
All Saints:
   In Memory of W B Yeats, W H Auden (1907-1973)

Possible Internet trolls Mike Michael
JonHarker [100714]




A Muslim American Declaration
Wajahat Ali, Researcher
Center for American Progress

We are Muslim Americans. We are American Muslims. We live as your neighbors, friends, doctors, lawyers, police officers, soldiers, cab drivers, newspaper vendors, teammates, co-workers, and family -- seamlessly and without conflict. We are fully immersed in the American mosaic, and we are proud.

Our Muslims forefathers have been here since the founding of this country and we proudly continue upholding our legacy of investing in and contributing to America's successes from culture to politics, medicine to business, law enforcement to philanthropy.

As Muslims, we believe there is only one God, the God of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Noah, Moses, Joseph, Jesus and Muhammad (God's peace be on them all).

There is no country on earth that can boast as wide a variety of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and Atheists as America can. As citizens of this country we feel truly blessed to be able to worship as we please, whatever our beliefs. The diversity of the American landscape is mirrored within each of its faith communities; our individual uniqueness, talent and energy make us stronger as one nation.

As Muslim Americans we also share a cultural and spiritual DNA with our fellow citizens and proudly celebrate our common values and ideals.

Our faith teaches us to be honest, hard-working, productive members of society. Compassion and ethical living are core foundations of our beliefs and an integral part of American character. We ask of ourselves what we ask of others, we seek the good in and for everyone and strive to be well-intentioned in our endeavors.

We are loyal to our country and our faith and rely strongly on God's gift of intellect and reason to guide us toward moral and ethical standards of behavior. We look to the wisdom of our past to benefit the present and future of all mankind.

Regardless of whether we were born in this nation or have recently adopted it as our home, we are committed to working with our fellow Americans to create a more perfect union for we, too, want a better life for ourselves, our children and our communities. In order to achieve these standards, we must all strive to understand and cherish the freedoms expressed in our Constitution and ensure none are denied these privileges.

Our respect for the Constitution allows us to appreciate the range of opinions that come with our freedoms. We welcome the ensuing debates, disagreements, and exchange of ideas because we believe this is the best way to understand one another and truly grow together as a community.
While these exchanges have the potential to uncover difficult and complicated subjects, we recognize that all Americans, regardless of their religious backgrounds or otherwise, have as much a right to participate and express their opinions in the name of making our country better. It is our responsibility as citizens to be educated, engaged and civic-minded.

We are today's Muslim Americans. We are striving toward building a better and more just society for all Americans and trust our collective action will result in the greater good: by us, for us all.

Kansas City Muslims: 
Patriot’s Day and Remembering 9/11
September 11, 2011

Kansas City-Area Muslims will be Honoring Muslim Veterans and Their Story of American Patriotism on Sunday, September 11, 2011 at Masjid Al Inshirah located at 3664 Troost Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri. The program will begin at 2:00 pm

 The commemoration will begin with an opening prayer for peace with a reading from the Holy Qu’ran followed by Muslim Boy Scouts conducting a flag ceremony.

Speakers include presentations about the sacred rights that the United States Constitution provides all Americans including Muslim Americans, young people’s presentation on the impact of 911 on their lives today including from a Muslim Eagle Scout.

In addition, a brief presentation of American Muslims who have served the United States along with Muslim Veterans will share their thoughts about their service and their patriotism for America.

Kansas City American Muslims remain confident in the principles of freedom, liberty and equality on which this great nation was founded which Muslim Veterans have defended and join the nation in commemorating the 10th anniversary of 911 of this ghastly tragedy with optimism that the next ten years will support inclusion, tolerance, social and legal justice for all.


The violence in sacred texts: 11-25-11

. . . .

There are violent, dark passages in quite a number of places in both the Bible and the Qur'an, and religion scholar Philip Jenkins insists that it's time to face up to them and seek to understand what they can possibly mean.

So Jenkins, perhaps best known for his insightful book, The Next Christendom, has written Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses.
I. . . .

Jenkins' book is especially helpful for people who seek a reasoned and educated response to those who want to present, as Jenkins says, "the Qur'an as a terrorist tract loaded with hate propaganda." Indeed, says Jenkins, by comparison to the Bible, the Qur'an is lacking in verses that can be read that way: "If Christians or Jews needed biblical texts to justify deeds of terrorism or ethnic slaughter, their main problem would be an embarrassment of riches."

As Jenkins notes, "Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions -- all are in the Bible, occurring with a far greater frequency than in the Qur'an."

Besides, he writes, many of the problematic texts in any religion have to be understood in their proper historical context and how the religion has developed since those texts were written: "If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery. Of course, they are no such thing; nor is Islam."
. . . .

And we need not look long and hard to find such passages: "The Bible contains many passages that to us seem bloodthirsty or upsetting -- stories of casual murder, mass slaughter, rape, adultery, and treachery. In many cases, these texts are so ugly that they have been dropped out of memory."
. . . .

American-Israeli Wickedness

December 13, 2011
Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir

I have a simple motto when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I love both Israelis and Palestinians, but God save me from some of their American friends — those who want to love them to death, literally.

That thought came to mind last week when Newt Gingrich took the Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes — by outloving Israel — to a new low by suggesting that the Palestinians are an “invented” people and not a real nation entitled to a state.

This was supposed to show that Newt loves Israel more than Mitt Romney, who only told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because “I don’t seek to take actions independent of what our allies think is best, and if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts, then that’s something I’ll be inclined to do. ... I don’t think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process. Instead, we should stand by our ally.”

That’s right. America’s role is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its A.T.M. and shut up. We have no interests of our own. And this guy’s running for president?

As for Newt, well, let’s see: If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”?

I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today. My guess is we’re the minority when it comes to secular American Jews. We still care. Many other Jews are just drifting away.

I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused.

It confuses them to read that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia last Wednesday, was quoted as saying that the recent Russian elections were “absolutely fair, free and democratic.” Yes, those elections — the ones that brought thousands of Russian democrats into the streets to protest the fraud. Israel’s foreign minister sided with Putin.

It confuses them to read that right-wing Jewish settlers attacked an Israeli army base on Tuesday in the West Bank, stoning Israeli soldiers in retaliation for the army removing “illegal” settlements that Jewish extremists establish wherever they want.

It confuses them to read, as the New Israel Fund reports on its Web site, that “more than 10 years ago, the ultra-Orthodox community asked Israel’s public bus company, Egged, to provide segregated buses in their neighborhoods. By early 2009, more than 55 such lines were operating around Israel. Typically, women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus, as well as ‘dress modestly.’ ”

It confuses them to read a Financial Times article from Israel on Monday, that said: “In recent weeks, the country has been consumed by an anguished debate over a series of new laws and proposals that many fear are designed to stifle dissent, weaken minority rights, restrict freedom of speech and emasculate the judiciary. They include a law that in effect allows Israeli communities to exclude Arab families; another that imposes penalties on Israelis advocating a boycott of products made in West Bank Jewish settlements; and proposals that would subject the supreme court to greater political oversight.”

And it confuses them to read Gideon Levy, a powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, this week that “anyone who says this is a matter of a few inconsequential laws is leading others astray. ... What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.”

So while Newt is cynically asking who are the Palestinians, he doesn’t even know that more than a few Israelis are asking, “Who are we?”


By Neal Vahle

 Here at last is the story of Eric Butterworth, the man many consider the best writer and preacher of the important but often unacknowledged American religious movement called “Unity.” Ideas from Unity have become part of common American wisdom and permeate many of today’s successful churches, regardless of denomination. Even business management methods such as “Appreciative Inquiry” arise out of the sensibility for which Butterworth may have been, in his era, the strongest voice.
     Through his books and lectures, live and recorded, many heard from New York’s Avery Fischer Hall, Butterworth influenced generations of ministers and ordinary people. Butterworth transformed the sometimes opaque or dated language of Unity founders, especially those of Charles Fillmore, and made their teachings vivid, powerful, and immediately applicable to his hearers and readers. There is no doubt of the power of Butterworth’s message, in person, on the air, and on the page, as folks like Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and Norman Vincent Peale have testified. He mastered applying metaphysical ideas to ordinary situations and enticed those who listened or read his words to brighten their days with affirming and practical steps. Other religious leaders, inspired themselves by his message, sought to imitate him. And within his own ministry, Butterworth developed techniques for training folks working in small groups, making the Word flesh in the retreat experiences he designed to experience the Unity message.
     With extensive original research, Neal Vahle tells us what that message is and how Butterworth became so influential. But Butterworth's life is not always the neat story the message might suggest, certainly not a sure and always confident exhibit of the principles Butterworth proclaimed. In this we all can find assurance, for genuine spirituality is more a life of creative movement through challenges of fallibility toward the divine than a fixed museum model of perfection.
     The book also answers the question, “What was the man delivering the message like?” We discover a man with vision and precision, but whose self-centeredness sometimes overcame his charity, a man whose relationships even with family members seemed oblique to his message. Those who know Butterworth only through his writings will find a fuller portrait that humanizes a man many adored, and may come to admire him more as a man who faced difficulties that most of us would find familiar.
 Granting that Butterworth enormously amplified Unity teachings, his denominational allegiance was weak compared to his concentration on his own ministry. Butterworth seemed sometimes to promote himself more than his Unity affiliation. While he may be the clearest exponent of Unity teachings, he said, “I don’t teach Unity, I teach Eric Butterworth.” What may appear to be a contradiction is resolved in Butterworth’s vision of universal Truth, which cannot be confined within institutions but can be expressed within individual lives. Indeed, a central irony revealed in Vahle’s work is that the Unity teaching of finding God within the individual led Butterworth to emphasize his own individual expression of the teaching over acknowledging indebtedess to the Unity founders. Butterworth’s enormous appeal, especially during his 42-year ministry in New York, was focused on himself rather than building a durable institution to further the message he proclaimed. Vahle's study thus becomes an extraordinary warning for both clergy and laity in the dangers of framing a message around a person rather than within a sustaining community of faith. 
     This book is a signal contribution to scholarly literature on the American New Thought movement and fills a gap in previous studies. Vahle, whose previous historical and biographical volumes have added greatly to our understanding of New Thought, has refrained from degrading his original research with novelistic liberties. Instead, by meticulously documenting Eric Butterworth in the context of his time with the witnesses of his contemporaries, for our own quickening Vahle has given us a fresh view of what Butterworth called “Truth.”

The Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn
Kansas City Star “Faith and Beliefs” columnist; former faculty member, Saint Paul School of Theology (Methodist), Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and Unity Institute and Seminary.

Changing Pictures of God and Me
by Arthur L Foster, PhD, and Marianne Foster 

The ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes observed that if horses and lions could paint, they would paint their gods to look like horses and lions. What is the relationship between how we think of ourselves and how we think of God? In "Changing Pictures of God and Me," Arthur and Marianne Foster accomplish three things. They show that images affect how we live, that our images of God and ourselves are related, and that we can discover healthier images that lead to more complete and satisfying lives. In addition to exposition, these accomplishments are achieved through anecdotes and clinical case studies, including a sketch of Art's own spiritual development with a startling realization when he was ten, and exercises ("reflective meditations") at the end of each chapter. A concluding "workbook" (also on line) provides the reader with a measure of the character of one's images of oneself and one's God. Although both psychological and theological literature, mainly from mid-Twentieth Century, underline and enhance the development of the book, the writing is always clear and effective. Of special note is the application of the book's theme beyond the individual to the nation as well. A bibliography including more recent titles is also provided. The book is sound psychologically and theologically and remarkably easy to read. The book's title itself intrigues; it suggests description--here are some images of God and oneself that have changed as people have matured; it also suggests activity: how we can change our own images of God and ourselves. Some people have never considered the relationship between how they think of themselves and how they think of God. This book will help them. Even those who are aware of the relationship between one's image of oneself and one's image of God may find the book encourages a deeper probing that will bring them a greater congruence between the two.

Interfaith Dialogue in Practice: Christian, Muslim, Jew
edited by Daniel S. Brown, Jr.


Too often, in my thirty years of interfaith work, I have painfully recalled the line from the film, Cool Hand Luke: "What we've got here is failure to communicate." Now in this volume, the analyses, guidelines, anecdotes, and case studies give those of us focused on religion help from scholars whose expertise is in the very field we need most: communication. 

Mainly with material from Jewish, Christian and Muslim contexts in the increasingly diverse American scene, as well as in the terrifying situations the world presents today, the nine scholarly papers that comprise this book, from different angles, using varying strategies, and with different conceptual frameworks, show us how to embrace our differences -- instead of denying they exist, or slandering or even killing each other over them. Interfaith dialogue does not work toward agreement but rather toward building relationships. The purpose of genuine communication is not to win an argument but to win a friend and bring safety to public space.

Too often I've witnessed shallow, misleading and ultimately disrespectful discourse in which participants either sought to score debate points, or presumed an easy harmony among the faiths, or proposed a simple syncretism. This book shows how such efforts are worse than a waste of time because such failures of communication obscure, rather than deepen, understanding. Instead of inquiring which faith is correct or whether they are all the same, it is far more enriching to explore questions like, "How does your faith and mine make us better persons?" By directing our attention to such methods, this book brings us more than mere trinkets from an unfamiliar land; it offers entrance into the precious spiritual core of other human beings, and thereby unlocks regions in our own souls hitherto unexplored.


The analyses, guidelines, anecdotes, and case studies in this volume give us help from scholars whose expertise is in the very field we need most: communication. Interfaith Dialogue in Practice brings us more than mere trinkets from an unfamiliar land; it offers entrance into the precious spiritual core of other human beings, and thereby unlocks regions in our own souls hitherto unexplored.

Images discussed in 917. 120411
See also 557. 050504
Stephen Sawyer

Warner Sallman
Head of Christ

Rogier van der Weyden
Veil of Veronica 

Janet McKenzie
Jesus of the People
winner of 
The National Catholic Reporter

Atheists, Christians plan a chat -- follow-up

Here are my thoughts on the event.  I'm sure that you won't actually be able to print most of this due to the size, but I'm glad to hear that you will post it on your website.  Take whatever you think will add to the article, and I'll trust you not to take anything out of context. :)

    I suppose what I liked best about the event was getting the chance to answer questions both from the Christian panelists as well as the audience.  I loved getting the chance to share my perspective on various facets of life and why I see things the way I do.  I’m always in favor of audience participation, but I did feel like some questions were a little too vague, I could see this in the way that some of the panelists would occasionally give an incomplete or vague response or not really answer what I was interpreting to be the meaning of the question.  I think my favorite question to answer was the question of morality.  I love trying to show people how things like morals and ethics can have logical, naturalistic explanations that don’t require divine revelation. 

    I believe events like this are very beneficial for all of those involved and should be continued, not only by Christian and Atheist panelists, but by panelists of all religions and worldviews.  From the responses I received from both Christian and Atheists members of the audience, I feel like the event was truly a success despite a few problems with the microphones, the lack of question screening and/or clarification, and the lack of substantial time to truly delve into the bigger issues.  We had more questions prepared that, due to time, were left unanswered, and I feel like another event like this would give us a chance to get more of our questions answered, as well as the chance to make the desired changes that we felt could make a second attempt at this an even bigger success. 

    I think the most important thing that I learned from this experience is that there are groups outside of the Atheist/Skeptic community that are interested in having interfaith panels and building bridges to new friendships and a better understanding of each other.  And while I disagree with many of the responses given by the Christian panelists, I greatly appreciate their openness and willingness to both share their perspectives and to invite us to share ours. 

I hope you find this satisfactory for your article.  Please email me back with links to both the finished article and your website.  I'd love to see what others had to say.  Also, I was wondering if anyone recorded the event or has any intent of uploading it to youtube. If you hear anything about that, please pass it along to me. 

Thank you, and best of luck with the article.

James LaRocca
P.S. Please note that that is how I'd like my name to be printed in the article.  Thank you.

There were at least 12 people (I suspect much more) who came to the event because of your first column. Other people heard this too, so I don't know how much overlap was going on with our counts. 

I had a long conversation with one Christian afterward and we agreed to stay in contact for more chat.  (I will send you questions about mid week.) 

This format would be very successful for sure with other religions -I would love to be involved with that! 

We raised $430.  I will do a charity with this same site at each of our events:

When people asked who to make out personal checks to, for the charity donations, a friend of mine saw a positive response when I replied to make it out to the church and Troy said he will cut a check for me and I can deliver it.  It truly showed a joint, trusting, action, which -by the way- was a spontaneous reply on the fly. 

This event created a great conversation between us atheists the next night.  We are already making plans and discussed changes that will make these types of events even better. I agree with Jim that things can be better finely tuned.

I believe with more experience we organizers will be better able to guide the audience for different questions rather than the same old stuff.  Practice, practice, practice.

Troy said he would use a lot of the questions for more dialogue during his upcoming Sunday services.  I think this says a lot about Troy and his congregation. 

There was genuine conversation between both sides after the event over cookies and punch. 

This was a wonderful night of interaction between two opposite views which was a polite, humorous and an educating way to learn just how much we are alike, as well as our differences.  Now I will begin planning for our second event with another church, then another and on down the road.

Thanks for all your help Vern and a big thanks to Troy and church members who helped set up the night with chairs and snacks!  Thanks to everyone involved.  Perhaps we can all work together on another event, again.

Cole Morgan

A short perspective...

The evening cracked the door so people from both groups could see one another more as individuals.  The greater challenge is whether we can find time in our lives for one another -- to understand and maybe even be understood.


Bob Simrak

Thanks for your help in facilitating the conversation. I’m happy to share a couple of thoughts about the evening from my perspective.

First, I was very glad and somewhat relieved by the civility and generally respectful tone of the evening from all involved, including the audience, as far as I could tell. When people attempt to discuss diametrically opposed views on matters they consider profoundly important—their core values and worldview—it’s a pretty sure recipe for pyrotechnics … especially when it’s done in a public forum. The most significant aspect of the evening may be that we parted on friendly terms.

Second, I was pleased with reports of friendly, meaningful conversations after the public discussion was over. I enjoyed some of those myself.

Regarding the substance of the public discussion itself, however, I was less satisfied. The format left me frustrated by the lack of genuine dialogue, and I found it cumbersome to follow up on important lines of thought or to probe deeper for genuine understanding as we might in a real conversation. Though we worked to avoid debate, the exchange tended to slip from time to time into “gotcha” sound bites and “trap questions” … but I think that may be explained by the format and time constraints. The “trap questions” were for the most part very good questions that deserve additional time and relaxed dialogue in order to create more constructive understanding. The most important questions cannot be adequately answered in short, defensive bursts … and trying to do so tends to frustrate both the one seeking  explanations for perplexing dilemmas and the one attempting to provide simple responses to questions that beg consideration of complex issues behind the questions.

That being said, I’m not sure how to improve on the format—I think it was appropriate for a first shot, and the New Life hosts did a great job. Perhaps in the future we should try limiting the scope of public discussion to some thoughtfully chosen and agreed-upon questions, maybe even having the participants dialogue in advance before dialoguing with microphones in their hands.

One thing I probably understand better after the experience is the challenging role assumptions play in dialogue. Questions (on both sides and from the audience) and responses were often framed by somewhat flawed presuppositions, or at least presuppositions that revealed each side’s need to better understand the other. As I walked home and reflected on the evening, I already regretted even attempting to briefly answer certain questions as framed rather than addressing the premises that made it nearly impossible to answer well. Instead, when I answered poorly, I think I failed to help people understand the position I was asked to represent.

I left wishing we could pursue further the following topics raised during the evening:

1.      The “faith” of atheists. Some seemed surprised that Christians would characterize an atheist’s beliefs system as faith (faith in naturalism, faith in human reason, etc.). I was intrigued by the skeptics’ affirmation that science cannot yet answer many of man’s deepest questions, including the question of the origin of the universe.

2.      Intuitive sense of right and wrong. I am grateful that it exists, and that the skeptics on the panel value it … but we had no opportunity to really explore WHY we have that intuitive sense.

3.      The philosophical underpinnings of life’s purpose and meaning. At one point I asked what in or about life really, really mattered to the atheists (purpose and meaning), and why that was so. They explained well what was important to them, but they did not explain WHY those things mattered (at least not to my understanding/satisfaction … so I would have loved to explore that further if time and format would have permitted).

Thanks again for your contribution to this exercise.

John Berger

     Well, It was an awesome event. I believe it went well, both sides brought their questions and comments with respect to to each other. I'm glad we had a chance to visit before and after the event. I think to format was very good, except time ran out and we did not get to all the questions that were asked by the audience. I think it should have been a little longer. One thing I do regret is, not being able to answer the gentleman in the audience his simple question. I don't remember the exact question, but I was something like, "Could you describe God without quoting the Bible?" I wanted to shout out, but I did not want to talk out of turn. I would have said," He is a loving God, he loves you even if you don't believe.  Thanks to all the Panelist in this event it was an honor to be involved 

Suzanne Terrell

Vern and group,
Thank you all so much for your work on this event. I am grateful for so much. It was fun to be a part of such a good team. I enjoyed the setting, conversation over pizza before the event and the conversation afterwards. The event itself was also successful in my opinion for many reasons. The objective was to have a respectful conversation about viewpoints that are drastically different. I believe that happened. There was also a desire to recognize that behind an ideology there are people with vastly different experiences, emotions, education and expertise (notice that alliteration, maybe I can use that in  a sermon :)) that each carry some of the same desires for happiness and fulfillment. Beyond the dialogue the event raised $434.91 for a local public school (to be named soon).

In regard to ongoing events, I am open to the idea, though at the moment it may be a bit difficult to schedule. In the meantime, do any of you have any experience with an organization called the Veritas Forum: I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this and how it may be attempting to facilitate some of the same types of conversations we are pursuing.

Blessing to all!
Troy Campbell

Hi Vern,

Thanks for your coverage of our efforts! I met several people who came because they read your column.

The event went well, I believe. We accomplished a considerate conversation. Like others noted, my favorite part was the lively conversations that happened naturally afterward. I kind of assumed at first that the groups that gathered were homogenous in thought. But after walking around the room listening, it was clear that most were Christians and atheists engaging one another.

I think the format is worth repeating, although I'd personally like to do it differently in the future. By taking such a broad approach we achieved what we set out to do: humanize the other side more and show that we're not all "crazy". However, I had feedback from both Christians and atheists that we weren't able to address some of the questions as seriously as they would've liked. By nature, we covered a broad range of topics and issues, without getting incredibly deep into one.

One alternative would be to pre-select the topic. A few suggested that we take up the same format, but zero in on how our world views address a particular issue or question.

Thanks again,

Jonathan Harrison


September 14, 2012 

Condemning the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya

Crescent Peace Society issued a press release today condemning the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, which came after the preview for an anti-Islamic film by an American filmmaker surfaced online.

Crescent Peace Society strongly condemns the violent attacks on American embassies in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Nothing is worth the cost of a human life, and we firmly believe that there is no honor or faith in committing such violence.

We extend our deepest condolences to the families of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the other three American personnel at this tragic time. We lost a diplomat and friend to the people of Libya; we commend him and U.S. envoys in Libya and elsewhere for their dedication to peace.

The Qur’an clearly and repeatedly states, “No soul is responsible for the crime of others.” Thus, there is absolutely no justification for the attack on the U.S. consulate and killing of innocent people. Islam calls for the protection of all individuals, including diplomats and envoys to other nations.

We are disturbed that the perpetrators of these attacks are claiming to defend the Prophet Muhammad’s honor. The Prophet was a man of peace and mercy; to engage in such violence and senseless killing is to truly defile his legacy. We implore Muslims in the region and around the world to remember the Prophet’s teachings and honor his life by following his example of kindness and love in the face of hostility.

Crescent Peace Society prays for the victims and their families of this atrocious attack and calls for both our government and the government of Libya to bring those who are responsible for these attacks to justice.

Local Islamic organization condemns violence, killings

I am the chairman of the Midland Islamic Council in Kansas City. MIC is an umbrella organization in the central region and includes 15 Muslim organizations. One of the Council’s goals is to foster interfaith understanding. Many people say that moderate Muslims do not speak out enough about the extremists who commit violent crimes in the name of Islam. I want to make sure the Jewish community knows that MIC condemns the violence and killings that happened in Libya and Egypt against our fellow Americans and our embassies. The Islamic Society of North America, The Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim Public Affairs Council and other Muslim groups have also released statements. Here is our statement:

The Midland Islamic Council expresses its profound sorrow at the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Mr. Christopher Stevens and his staff. We also denounce the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned, the act has been committed by a group of savage people who did it independently without support from Muslims, Libyan people or the government. Available reports indicate that this heinous act was committed in response to a video defaming and insulting Prophet Mohammad (peace be on him). Despite the offensive nature of the video, Islam does not allow taking innocent life for any reason. During his lifetime the Prophet (peace be on him) was insulted and attacked many times but he always acted with compassion, forgave the offenders and was never revengeful. Clearly the perpetrators have violated the basic teachings of Islam.

Shakil Haider
Midland Islamic Council


September 13, 2012
‘Our Condolences,’ the Muslim Brotherhood Says
To the Editor:

Today’s world is a global village; nations are closer than ever before. In such a world, respect for values and figures — religious or otherwise — that nations hold dear is a necessary requirement to build sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships.

Despite our resentment of the continued appearance of productions like the anti-Muslim film that led to the current violence, we do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression.

In a new democratic Egypt, Egyptians earned the right to voice their anger over such issues, and they expect their government to uphold and protect their right to do so. However, they should do so peacefully and within the bounds of the law.

The breach of the United States Embassy premises by Egyptian protesters is illegal under international law. The failure of the protecting police force has to be investigated.

We are relieved that no embassy staff in Cairo were harmed. Egypt is going through a state of revolutionary fluidity, and public anger needs to be dealt with responsibly and with caution. Our condolences to the American people for the loss of their ambassador and three members of the embassy staff in Libya.

We hope that the relationships that both Americans and Egyptians worked to build in the past couple of months can sustain the turbulence of this week’s events. Our nations have much to learn from each other as we embark on building the new Egypt.

Deputy President, Muslim Brotherhood
Cairo, Sept. 13, 2012



Following column 944, in the spirit of fair play, here is
The speech from Atlas Shrugged
(Book version; movie version is shorter)

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money?  Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them.  Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.  Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force.  Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

"When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor – your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil?

"Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions – and you'll learn that man's mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.

"But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made – before it can be looted or mooched – made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can't consume more than he has produced.

"To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except by the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss – the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery – that you must offer them values, not wounds – that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best your money can find. And when men live by trade – with reason, not force, as their final arbiter – it is the best product that wins, the best performance, then man of best judgment and highest ability – and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

"But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality – the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.

"Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants; money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

"Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth – the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve that mind that cannot match it. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

"Money is your means of survival. The verdict which you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men's vices or men's stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment's or a penny's worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you'll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity? Is this the root of your hatred of money?

"Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices. Money will not give you the unearned, neither in matter nor in spirit. Is this the root of your hatred of money?

"Or did you say it's the love of money that's the root of all evil? To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men. It's the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is the loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money – and he has good reason to hate it. The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know they are able to deserve it.

"Let me give you a tip on a clue to men's characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.

"Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter. So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another – their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun.

"But money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or to keep it. Men who have no courage, pride, or self-esteem, men who have no moral sense of their right to their money and are not willing to defend it as they defend their life, men who apologize for being rich – will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait for the swarms of looters that stay under rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt – and of his life, as he deserves.

"Then you will see the rise of the double standard – the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money – the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law – men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims – then money becomes its creators' avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they've passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

"Do you wish to know whether that day is coming?  Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society's virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion – when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors – when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.

"Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it becomes, marked: 'Account overdrawn.'

"When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, 'Who is destroying the world?' You are.

"You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it's crumbling around you, while you're damning its life-blood – money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men's history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves – slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody's mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer. Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers – as industrialists.

"To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money – and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man's mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being – the self-made man – the American industrialist.

"If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose – because it contains all the others – the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money'. No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity – to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality.

"Yet these were the words for which Americans were denounced by the rotted cultures of the looters' continents. Now the looters' credo has brought you to regard your proudest achievements as a hallmark of shame, your prosperity as guilt, your greatest men, the industrialists, as blackguards, and your magnificent factories as the product and property of muscular labor, the labor of whip-driven slaves, like the pyramids of Egypt. The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide – as, I think, he will.

"Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns – or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other – and your time is running out."


And for an interesting book review by Mark Scheel, visit



Column number. YrMoDa 
Not all of Vern's courtesy replies are included

Honoring interfaith leaders

Among the interfaith events this month are two of the most important of the entire year.
     Tomorrow is the the first, the 8th annual “Table of Faiths” luncheon, this year at the Overland Park Marriott, a venue emphasizing the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council’s scope because Kansas City mayor Sly James will receive the Steve Jeffers Interfaith Leadership Award while the
Unity Church of Overland Park will receive the Table of Faiths Award.
     The theme this year is “Spirituality and the Environment: Caring for the Earth, Our Legacy,” addressing one of the three great crises identified by the 2001 “Gifts of Pluralism” interfaith conference. (The other two spiritual crises concern ways we are injured as persons and as a society.) For information, visit
     One person who will be missing at the luncheon is David G. Beaham, who died last year at age 47. He was president of Faultless Starch/Bon Ami and a former student of mine. He and his parents for decades have worked for a better future and promoted interfaith understanding.
     The second event is the 28th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Ritual Dinner, Nov. 18, the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day, at the Inn at Unity Village. The folks who now plan this, the longest continuing interfaith observance of its kind in our area, have instituted an award in my name. This year’s honoree is Larry Guillot. Visit
     Many in business and non-profit work will remember Guillot’s leadership of the Center for Management Assistance. A lifelong Kansas Citian, he was ordained in 1960 after studies in Rome. He completed a doctorate in theology and ecumenism from the Gregorian University in 1969. At various points in his career was a VISTA volunteer trainer, an ombudsman and a university dean. 
     His ecumenical and interfaith activities have been amazing, including serving as executive director of the K. C. Ecumenical Library and Program Center, co-secretary of the Joint Commission on Anglican-Roman Catholic Relations in the U.S. and a member of the Interfaith Council’s Board of Community Advisors. Recognition of the quality of his contributions began early, with the NCCJ Brotherhood Award in 1969. He was retained by Harvard and others to evaluate the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies” held at the St. Paul School of Theology.
     Of course I wanted him for the board of my organization, CRES, and he became chairman. Without him the “Gifts” conference could not have drawn 250 people from 15 distinct faiths for over two days. No interfaith conference has yet approached its significance for our region. 
     Congratulations and thank you, Larry!

Wealth and God’s kingdom

The rich young man in Mark 10 desired eternal life. He observed the law, he told Jesus. In the tradition of Hebrew prophets, Jesus required more. He must sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. “How hard it will be for those with wealth to enter God’s kingdom!” he said.
     But what is wealth? I remember driving a young man from the urban core to Westport where he thought folks were rich. Then I took him through Mission Hills. He could not believe such big houses. But many Mission Hills homes are shacks compared to estates of the richest of the rich.
     The top 1 percent owns 35% of net worth in U.S. and 42% of the nation’s financial wealth. The median family net worth in the last year reported (2010) was $77,300. Do statistics like these help us know what wealth is? 
     Suppose you are above average: your net worth is $100,000. Let one foot represent $100. On this scale, your worth would take you from Nichols Fountain to about the Apple Store on the Plaza. If you were a millionaire, you could go all the way to Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue on Mission Road. To go to KU in Lawrence, you’d need 25 million dollars. 
     How far could you go if you were one of the Koch brothers, each worth $31 billion? Well, past Wichita ($106 million), far past San Francisco ($985 million), and even past Beijing ($3.7 billion). You could circle the globe twice and make one more trip to Honolulu and back.
     When so many people can’t even make the walk from Nichols Fountain to the Apple Store, should we ask ourselves how much we need or how much we can get?
     This is not a political question. Politics is, in part, about what generates wealth and how it is distributed. Arguments abound.
     This is really a moral and spiritual question. When scripture, in 1 Timothy 6:10, says, “The love of money is the root of all evils,” we are not asked whether market economies are best, which party we favor or whether extreme wealth endangers democracy. 
     The question that nags me is this: Regardless how smart, talented, productive, successful, powerful, well-connected or otherwise superior in any way a person may be, is right for one to have a dozen mansions while millions of folks are hungry and homeless? 
     In line with every religion, James 2:15-17 says our faith is useless “if a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food.” In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and riches.” 
     If selfish prosperity is the new righteousness, opulence the new modesty and greed the new creed, how will we enter the kingdom of God?

     In the USA now, one percent of the population now owns 40% of the nation's wealth.


D writes
     I once thought we did not have much in the way of material matters, having grown up with hand me downs near the farm where mom was born and raised. Then she and another lady from our church, both members of the local Eastern Star, took me with them one holiday season to take donations to a "poor" family in a nearby textile mill village living in terrible circumstances. 
     By this act, these ladies taught me two things. 1. Open your eyes to see need near you.  2. You always have something to give and, hence, will seem "rich" to some. So give. Endeth the sermon. THANKS for the reminder!

K writes
    I greatly enjoyed your analogy in today's column -- wealth as distance traveled.  I'm not sure I would have enough to get from the Nichols Fountain to the Apple Store, but considering my age and interests, I'd probably be looking for Barnard's instead to buy some photo paper.  Walking a few blocks on an above-average asset mix vs. getting to Johnson County or Wichita as a millionaire really brings it home.  Maybe George Lucas could get from here to Orlando with Disney's $4 billion.
     While we were in Eureka Springs a couple of weeks ago, we picked up a copy of a book titled "How Much Is Enough?" by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, British authors, who seem to have a handle on this concept.  Admittedly I haven't read too far into it yet, but you can always find something that makes you think at Gazebo Books.  I'm not sure why "enough" is always defined as a little bit more than you have right now.
     Thanks again for a thought-provoking essay.

B writes 
    I am tired of the people with supposedly no agenda  subtlety slipping ideology into the text.  You mention the Koch Bros.  what about Opera and you don't even know what the Koch Bros. do for this country.  Opera goes on Entertainment Tonight to let the world know what she is doing for service families right before election.  I thought when you give "the right hand is not suppose to know what the left hand is doing?"  She just built a 50 million dollar home.
     My husband and I work for __ years raising __ children and sold our business __ years ago.  Yes we restore a lovely home which we use to promote community events and we do live there too. In the five years we have supported the __, __ and are helping to make a community center for the ___.  [Many examples  of philanthropy of children are enumerated.]
     Interestingly enough at one time we were the underprivileged.  Do to a 'turn of events' we lost everything mostly due to our own bad choices, but we never looked to anyone except God to get us our of our dilemma.  We pulled together, work hard, and over the next 25 years built the business as a family and taught our children valuable lessons of "not giving up", long suffering and giving back.
I heard you speak at our Sunday School class at [ __ ]  Church some years ago and thought you made some good points, but the article in Wednesday's paper was disheartening.   We had to stop attending that church because the rhetoric became so derisive after President Obama was elected we found no "joy" there.
     I pray for a healing of our nation and an end to pitting the rich against the poor.  It just isn't true.  What we have learned is that struggle empowers people, but they need our leaders to let them know that there is no shame in struggle.  There is honor. 

Vern responds
     I do appreciate your writing and I wonder if you have had unfortunate experiences with others that color a reaction to the column today.
     First, let me express my personal gratitude for your gifts, particularly [ ___ ].  [Additional comment to indicate great familiarity with the gift and its results.]
     Now, in reading your thoughtful email, I wonder if you are not doing what Jesus suggested -- you are giving of your wealth to others. I personally think that supporting [ ___ ] is an extraordinarily spiritual gift as the arts deepen our understandings of who we are a human beings.
     As for Opera, I have never watched Entertainment Tonight (I presume it is on cable and I only have rabbit ears TV) and I do not know who Opera is so I have no ability to make a comment about her.
     I do know some of the things the Koch brothers do. One sponsors on PBS. I also know about their political involvement and I wish the country had a better system for electing our leaders.
     Thank you for remembering me from [the church]. I am sorry today's column troubled you and I am glad that you find some of them worth while.
     I think struggle sometimes empowers people and sometimes destroys them, and I am not wise enough to judge the circumstances or the people in such circumstances.
     I am in no position to judge you or your family or your home except to express appreciation for the contributions you have made and are making to the well-being of others. I think that is what Jesus was talking about -- that we look beyond our own selfish desires and do what we can for others, such as you have done. It is very true that others are not as thoughtful as you.
     I would continue to feel very badly if you viewed the questions raised in the column in any other context, so I hope this response helps. If it does -- or does not, I would be pleased to hear from you again.

B writes again
     Thank you for responding to my concerns.  I have had no unfortunate experiences only blessing.  When people thank us for doing what we do I tell them we are only doing what we SHOULD  be doing.  Americans, from every walk of life, over and over prove they reach out where there is need just as this new catastrophe on the eastern seaboard will prove. 
     I spelled Oprah wrong, but I am surprised you didn't know to who I was referring.
     I have followed you and will continue to read your column.

Vern responds
     I am grateful to receive your reply. I must say that your initial note to me was very helpful. I have asked myself how I could have been clearer in the column itself. Should this topic come up again, I will want to celebrate those with means who have done so much for our community. Over the years I've been lucky enough to know some of the prosperous and generous folks who, like you and your family, have strengthened our community in many ways, arts, education, welfare, relief, science research, and so forth with other charities. I wish others, whatever their financial capacities, could follow these examples in fulfilling the Jesus' command to reach out.
     About Oprah:  There are so many pop stars now with unusual names that I feel quite unacquainted with the field. I have heard of Oprah, though I don't think I've ever seen her show. I don't follow the entertainment pages much, but I have the impression that she has dabbled some with spiritual issues, so perhaps I should have paid more attention.
     I join you in praying for the healing of our nation.
     Thank you for taking the trouble to write me. I am better for it,

H writes
     What if the Koch brothers are active tithers?  What if they provide the resources for thousands of others to tithe?
     Why try and personalize and freeze your opponents?  Are you a Saul Alinsky type?  How does that promote God’s kingdom?
     Does God hate the wealthy?  Does He despise the poor?

Vern responds
     Thank you for reading my column and taking the trouble to write with your interesting questions.
     "What if the Koch brothers are active tithers?  What if they provide the resources for thousands of others to tithe?"
     The purpose of the column was not to pass judgment on anyone, but rather to illustrate a system that seems to promote extreme disparity between the richest of the rich and ordinary folks. I know that at least one of the Koch brothers supports PBS and I am informed that both support numerous charities.
     "Why try and personalize and freeze your opponents?  Are you a Saul Alinsky type?  How does that promote God’s kingdom?"
     The Koch brothers and their wealth were the subject of a front-page story in The Star recently. I had originally thought to use Bill Gates' or Warren Buffet's wealth to illustrate the point, but changed my mind when the situation so much closer to home came into regional awareness. I did not write about the Koch brothers. I wrote about their wealth. I do not believe I attacked them, which may be what Alinsky would have done, I don't know, although Jesus attacked the money-changers in the temple. I think placing Jesus' words in the column was a way of promoting God's kingdom, and the other passages from Scripture.
     "Does God hate the wealthy?  Does He despise the poor?"
     Of course various passages in the Bible in or out of context, can be used to support a variety of opinions. I find the reminder in Ecclesiastes 9:11 a helpful reminder that prosperity is no sign of God's favor: "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." Neither you nor I probably have the time to survey your question adequately. But here is a column I wrote earlier which touches upon the subject:

    Born among the poor
    This is not about quarterback Tim Tebow, though other religion writers have contrasted his shows of faith with the warning Jesus made against such ostentation (Matthew 6:6). 
         Instead let’s approach some questions Tebow’s career raises about winning. Does God help us win? At what cost is winning justified? Is winning even a worthy goal?
         American football coach Vince Lombardi is often credited with saying, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This perspective seems sometimes to dominate our culture. [Nothing succeeds like success.] 
         It differs from the perspective that what is important is not win or loss but how one participates. Many distressed parents have told me this perspective foreign to other parents who cannot see the damage done to kids in the little leagues when the kids are told they must be winners.
         Some Christians will observe Epiphany this Friday, the manifestation to the world of God in human form. Did Jesus in the manger look like a winner? Did his human career end with worldly success on the cross? 
         Myles Coverdale, an early translator of the Bible into English, wrote, “Into this worlde right poore came He,/ To make us ryche in mercye.” But the kind of riches our society encourages is not mercy but money. Nothing is wrong with money itself; in fact it can enable mercy. Still, as scripture says, “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). 
         Money is a measure of success, of winning and even of wisdom. As Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof” observes, if he were rich, folks would ask him for advice. But it would make no difference what he would say because “when you’re rich, they think you really know!”
         Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours” (Luke 6:20). Some say this means that the poor can live worthily because they are not deceived by an oppressive economic system, while others are seduced by it into ignoring real virtue. 
         Equating virtue with winning, success or wisdom is problematic. Ecclesiastes 9:11 reminds us that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to all.” In this uncertain world, perhaps mercy and service to one another are better forms of prayer than calling on God for success. 
         In the Roman world into which Jesus was born, the Christian story made little sense that the master of the universe would be born among the poor instead of in splendor. In a world idolizing winning, would we recognize him today?

     Again, thank you for writing me. I received comments from all sides about my column this past Wednesday, and I keep at it, week after week, and am grateful whatever viewpoint a reader expresses if they are thoughtful like yours.

O writes
     I just would like to express appreciation for the column you write in the KC Star.  Today's was really thought provoking.  It's easy to wish you had more money and think that it would solve so many of your problems.  But in reality, counting your less tangible blessings is where one's worth lies. 
     I just wanted to let you know that I admire your pen.  Thank you for sharing your points of view

 A writes
     As I read your KC Star article on "Wealth and God's Kingdom," I wondered if you were aware of
author Rita Nakashima Brock's book Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of this World for Crucifixion and Empire. 
     A faithful reader of your column,
Sacred Conversations with Rita Nakashima Brock
Friday, November 2 – Saturday, November 3, 2012
Friday Evening Lecture w  Saturday Morning Lectures  w   Saturday Afternoon Workshop on Interfaith Activism  -- All are invited to Saint Andrew Christian Church 13890 W. 127th Street, Olathe, KS  for a weekend with Rita Nakashima Brock. Dr. Brock’s presentations on her ground-breaking work Saving Paradise will be Friday evening at 7:30 and Saturday morning at 9 and 10:45. (No need to have read the book to attend.) On Saturday afternoon at 1:30, Dr. Brock will lead participants in a workshop about interfaith activism. . . . 

Vern responds
     I've never met Dr Brock but I have met her co-author, Unitarian Universalist Dr Rebecca Parker, so I regret very much that my schedule prevents me from being a part of the activities this week-end at St Andrew. I wish I had know about this sooner as I certainly would have wanted to interview Dr Brock for my column in advance of this week-end.  But I'm glad you made the connection with at least part of the subject material and Wednesday's column!


     How do you plan to take if from them, Vern?

Vern responds
    As the column suggests, distribution of wealth seems to be at least in part a political question. The column is concerned with the words of Jesus and similar teaching in other faiths. I'm not sure Jesus suggested the poor should grab money from the rich, but perhaps suggests that those with resources have a special responsibility to assure others are not in need.How that may be best achieved may be a political question. I think that many readers may appreciate having the moral question raised but they may also find a political discussion inappropriate for the column.

Chris_Topher , Catholics Can't Vote Obama
     Whoever fills his heart with the things of this world is simply incapable of having a meaningful encounter with the Lord. Man was made to tend towards and have his end in God. He can reach God through material things or he can make material things his god. The human heart can follow either path. 'You cannot serve God and Mammon.' --Fr. Francis Fernandez 

     Vern, Since the current taxation codes, loop holes, corporate effective rate, taxes on passive income are all products of the current legal system when the incomes of the middle class have not grown (adjusted for inflation since 70's-80's and were expotentially growing right after WWII at much higher taxes than currently) and the incomes of the rich, productivity and corporate profits went up at a skyrocketing rate, the only logical approach to even the income inequality field in the US as compared to other developed countries is through the same legal system that created the mess.
     As more and more people are aware of it and money in politics (Citizens United case) becomes more and more well publicized once it's out of politics there is a much lesser probability of catering to special intersts of the money. Sooner or later, US wll come to the European model of capitalistic socialism and we'll be all better for it.

     The European Model?  Europe is going to implode...the only reason they did as well as they did was because they were riding on the coat tails of the American Defense Establishment, and didn't have huge military outlays. There is Communism, of course...but, wait, that ruined your homeland didn't it?

     Jon, What is my homeland? Can you please, give a definition of what homeland is?

     The former Soviet Union, were you grew up and were educated under the auspices of an Officially Atheistic Government.

A realistic, not rosy, look at Islam

“The evil religion of Islam” is the theme of messages I receive from some readers almost every week, sometimes more often. Do they think I have not studied Islam, traveled in Muslim counties or made friends among the thousands of local Muslims who do everything from fighting fires to healing the sick?
     So I’m glad to let them and all readers know that Mustafa Akyol, a distinguished Muslim journalist from Turkey, will speak Friday at 6 p.m. at the UMKC Student Union Theater. If you can’t go, I recommend his YouTube video, “Faith versus tradition in Islam.” You’ll find a link and the full text of my email interview with him at
     I asked him difficult questions arising in part from these readers’ complaints.
     In his replies, he noted that Islam “has many cultural layers on its original message. There is no stoning or ban on fine arts in the Qur’an, for example, and Prophet Muhammad was much more supportive of women than the patriarchal culture we see in many Muslim societies. Hence one of my efforts is to distinguish the divine core of Islam and the cultural baggage around it.”
     He added, “The truth is that there are some Muslims who indeed do terrible things (such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages or political violence), but there are many other Muslims who deplore these things. And what I do is to offer a theological analysis of these problems, look at their origins, and show why and how we Muslims need some reform in our tradition.”
     He said that sharia “can mean can mean many different things, from the horrible version of the Taliban, to the mild version we used to have in the Ottoman Empire.
     “Sharia is even personal. For example, when I fast in Ramadan, I follow the sharia, which, like the halakha of Orthodox Jews, is a whole life code. But, of course, I don’t have the right to impose this on other people, by forcing them to fast with me.”
     He said that sharia becomes a problem “when you impose it on people who don’t want it. But just like Orthodox Jews who live in closed communities (or the Amish, to give an other example), I believe that conservative Muslims should be able to form communities that honor the sharia, as long as it is all voluntary and basic human rights are protected.”
     He aims his speech here “to draw not a rosy but a realistic picture of Islam, and help the audience to see some nuances that they might not have noticed before.”
     As I love faiths that are not my own, I love Islam and my friends of all faiths. I pray that speeches such as Akyol’s may lead others from ignorance and hate to affection and support.


M writes
     You write: "I pray that speeches such as Akyol’s may lead others from ignorance and hate to affection and support."  Although the chances are slim, I pray for that also.  Good column.  Thanks for promoting Mustafa's visit. Shalom

Vern responds
     And Salaam!

J writes
     It is all well and good to seek common ground with Islam and to point out that there are Muslims who do not follow the literal commands of the Koran any more than many Christian fundamentalists who claim the Bible is the literal word of God follow the commands of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to stone disrespectful children to death and to kill witches.  But no attempts to spin the many vicious and intolerant facets of the Koran and Islamic theology and Sharia whether by CAIR soap-salesmen or by Mustafa Akyol can negate the FACTS that there ARE many vicious and intolerant facets.
     How does this verse reconcile with your Christian outreach: “4:89 They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them, “
      Nope.  No reference to stoning here: 5:33 The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom;
      Or here: Cut off the hands of thieves. It is an exemplary punishment from Allah. 5:38
      Doesn’t this say very clearly that Christians are doomed to hell: 5:72 They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers. 5:73 They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.  5:86 But those who disbelieve and deny Our revelations, they are owners of hell- fire.
      And then to pretend that Sharia is just a code of personal conduct with perhaps a few harmless inheritance laws thrown in is the height of dishonesty.  Good gawd man!  Read what the most respected mainstream Islamic theologians say about Sharia.  Try for a start: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law
      And there is more: much, much more. 

Vern responds
     Thank you for writing. I am always pleased when a reader takes the trouble to respond, even when there is a disagreement.
     But first, a misunderstanding. I am not looking for common ground. That is a common misperception about interfaith work. My own faith is deepened by appreciating the faiths of others who also seek to honor the mysteries of faith and seek to serve others.
     Second, an appreciation. I am glad you are aware of passages of horror in the Bible, and probably know that historically Christians have been far more violent than Muslims.
     Third, if you hear Mr Akyol tonight or view his TEDx video , you will discover substantial agreement between you and him regarding the perverse practices associated with Islam.
     I have traveled over many years in Muslim lands, and for many years I have studied Islam as I have studied other faiths. I think some nations, like Saudi Arabia are vicious in their Wahhabi Islam. Other nations like Turkey still do not allow women to WEAR the veil in certain public areas. What a contrast within what is called Islam! I have many Muslim friends here in Kansas City. They have have been involved with everything from the Royals to government at various levels to running medical facilities to serving in the Armed Forces to heroically saving aircraft to serving as fire-fighters.
     I am quite aware of different opinions (beginning with the classical four legal systems in Islam) about Sharia. What a Muslim-hater considers mainstream may not be mainstream, or certainly not applicable to one country or another. Sharia, literally "the path to the watering hole," is living with the refreshment of awareness of the divine. It can be compared with Western notions of Natural Law or, in the English tradition, common law.
     The goal is to imitate the mercy, generosity, faithfulness, and justice Muslims find in the example of the Prophet Muhammad, the Sunnah, as revealed through the Qur'an and Ahadith and developed by scholars and jurists dealing with both similar and novel situations.Sharia has developed over time in many different ways in different countries and contexts.
     Sharia varies widely today. Its recognition in England today can be compared to Jews in America who submit to the decisions of their rabbis in matters regarding worship, dietary and dress law, and family law, how the dead are buried -- none of which interferes with the application of American civil law. Islamophobes often point to the horrors of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia (a nation the US supports diplomatically and militarily and, through our oil purchases, financially) and Iran (a nation whose democratic government we overthrew leading to today's reactionary, oppressive government, but they seldom cite the use of Sharia in NATO ally Turkey or India (with a Muslim population greater than all the Arab world) or Indonesia (the nation with the largest Muslim population). Sharia is the official  legal system in only two countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran; one friend, the other foe, both have justified barbaric practices in the name of Sharia.
     American Muslim leaders have often and correctly emphasized the consonance of democracy and the US Constitution with Islam, as opposed to the oppressive rule of kings and other leaders of Arab countries the US ironically has historically supported for geo-political reasons. American Muslims in US uniform are fighting for our freedoms along side Christians, Jews, and citizens of other faiths and no faiths. A key to American liberty has been the right of each religion to flourish under the Constitution.
     Our views arise from our backgrounds and predispositions and experiences. Mine have prepared me to listen to Mr Akyol although I have a substantial disagreement with him on one particular issue. I think he is worth regarding. Your experiences and the information you trust provide you with a different perspective.
     Below are some articles about Sharia in case you'd be interested in how others understand Sharia.

C writes
     Last year I spent 3 months in Thailand in a monastery studying Shamata meditation with B. Alan Wallace phd.
     I wanted to comment to you some thoughts I have on the talk I witnessed from Mustafa Akyol this evening.
     He mentioned "the invasion of India" by the Muslims. He brought it up, nobody asked. He said something to the effect of "When we got there we didn't know how to deal with them, we thought they were pagans, but then we realized that they are people of God". He of course failed to mention that the Hindu and Buddhist community of India lost over 80 million people in what is the bloodiest invasion in recorded history.
    Realizing that a nation of humans are "people of God" after you have nearly wiped them off of the planet?
    WOW. That's deep dude. your humility is of the utmost purity....

Vern responds
     I did hear two statements that I questioned, and I have written Mr Akyol about them. I did not hear the statement to which you refer, so I am grateful to you for writing me about it. I will forward that part of your message to him. Islam in India is a very complicated story, and certainly we owe the Indians a great deal (including the "Arabic numerals") as Muslims transmitted portions of the Indian cultures to the West. (As you may know, "Hinduism" is not a native Indian term but an invention by the explorers to cover and unify the various practices of discovered Indian spirituality.) None of us can know everything, and it is hard for us to see anything from everyone else's point of view. For example, I did not hear anything about the Golden Age of Islam in Andalusia, the African American Muslim experience, and so forth. Mr Akyol's knowledge seems centered on the Ottoman Empire and the Arab world, and I'm glad to learn from him about it. I'm sure if we asked him about these other areas of Islam, he would have responded with insight. I do think having some considerable acquaintance and sympathy with many faiths, and immersion in at least one, brings a certain advantage in speaking to an audience where folks may have a variety of backgrounds. This is one reason why I have found the chart at helpful to folks who think of religion primarily through the Abrahamic family as a starting place for their research and study.


G writes 
     Thanks for the kind words but...
     We "reform" every day. But you will never see a Christian reform of Islam, mainly because we are not Christians.

Vern responds
     Mr Akyol is a Muslim who suggests returning to what he regards as the original spiritual insights of Islam rather than the cultural inflections that he believes have distorted the faith. The column does not deal with one faith seeking to reform another. I do not know what a Christian reform of Islam could possibly mean or who might be suggesting such a thing.

G writes again
     Please don't be offended at my comments. I don't mean to jump on you or attack you. Your words are kind. I merely point out we reform every day. If you didn't approve of Mr. Akyol, then you wouldn't quote him. My favorite Muslim scholar is Sherman Jackson. He teaches that there is no such thing as a pristine religion devoid of culture. We all have cultural baggage. I am black American. I strive to do Islam in its purest form. But the fact is, it was through the black experience that I became Muslim and it through the black experience that I interpret the world. Culture will always be with us, but it can evolve. We can do better than our parents and leave their bad ways behind us. I know many Muslims who grew up with genital Mutilation and now they know it's wrong now and they didn't make their kids do it. But that's not really reforming Islam. That is truly cultural reform. So if you say, that our many cultures are defective and in need of reform, I agree wholeheartedly. America is very advanced, but there are social problems here that need urgent attention. When you quote someone talking about religious reform, that was my slight correction. We won't have a Council of Nicea or Vatican II moment. We do have little moments in our collective communities where we move towards new ideas. But most of us who are serious will tell you God has given us a perfect gift that we often abuse, but would never change. Your words were kind and well-intentioned, I know. Please don't take me as hostile. But the serious among us, believe in live an let live and we live for the essentials of our faith, with as little "reform" as possible. 

Vern responds
     Thank you very much. I wanted to be sure I was not understood as saying one faith should change or reform another. I do believe that one's own faith can be deepened by respectful encounter with others. 
     The weekly column does from time to time present views other than my own. I might present a Muslim position for (or against) wearing the scarf without taking a position myself since I am not a Muslim -- but think it is useful for all of us to be informed about and understand, even if we disagree, with such perspectives.
     Again, thank you for your personal statement.

Brian Rush
Scripturally, historically and culturally, Islam is a violent, supremacist religion. No other faith has concepts comparable to infidel, jizya and jihad. The word Islam means not peace, but submission. No submission, no peace. This explains Islam's "bloody borders," as described by Bernard Lewis, and the Islamic terrorism of Al Qaeda, et al.

Vern responds
     Islam has historically been far less violent than Christianity. It is interesting that the concept of "holy war" developed in Christianity, not Islam. Islam has been abused and contaminated by Christianity and Western colonialism. "Islam" means the peace that comes from submitting oneself to the rule of God. Bernard Lewis is , to say the least, controversial. Some regard him as a racist. 
     Some forms of Islam in the 20th Century has sometimes shown a terrifying face, often responding to the terror and oppression from the West. Most Americans easily forget what Muslims, especially in the Middle East, regard as assaults on their integrity. The United States and the West overthrew the democratically elected civilian leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953 and instead installed the ruthless Shah, overthrown in the Revolution in 1979 and the US embassy occupied with US hostages detained for 444 days. We supported the Taliban against the Soviets in the 1980s, and now we fight against them. We supported Iraq’s Saddam Hussein against Iran; some offer evidence that we gave him chemical weapons. Then we attacked Iraq twice and created an unstable state in which Iraq is now largely influenced by Iran. For decades, largely because of oil, we have been supporters of  the corrupt and despotic kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which an extreme interpretation of Islam flourishes. Until last year, we supported the undemocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. Despite international and US condemnation of Israeli settlements, which continue to expand into Palestinian territories, the largely Muslim population  there remain under occupation. 
     But it is important to remember that Arabs constitute less than a quarter of the world's Muslims, and a large percentage of American Muslims are African American.
     Muslims in Kansas City have been involved with everything from the Royals to government at various levels to running medical facilities to serving in the Armed Forces to heroically saving aircraft to serving as fire-fighters.
     Unfortunately some forms of Islam (which we, with oil money and other errors have encouraged) are supremacist, just as some forms of Christianity are theocratic and threaten democracy. Forcing someone to convert (think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Protestant trials) is not characteristic of Islam. As a whole, and as demonstrated historically, Islam has been far more tolerant of other faiths than Christianity has been. 
     Viewing the TEDx video cited in the column or attending the lecture might be helpful -- as significant travel, study and acquaintance with a number of Muslims from different cultures is likely to be.

The Star website comments degenerated thereafter into a total of at least 64 comments, many personal rants which provide no insight into the issues raised by the column. 


The fact that Russian-born Ayn Rand was an atheist does not trouble me because the atheists I know are deeply concerned about fairness. They work toward an expansive commonweal. But when I read Rand’s philosophical novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” popular on campus when I was in school, I was disgusted by its gospel of radical individualism, expressed in an economic system of uncontrolled and unregulated self-interest. 
     Despite its political currency today, this perspective violates the insights and morality of every religion I know. No faith teaches that the individual is independent of others or that success is achieved solely by one’s own effort. 
     Consider American Indian, Jewish and Christian insights. American Indians celebrate not only human bonds but also dependency upon the earth itself, not to be exploited but to be revered. One hundred years ago American naturalist John Muir expressed that wisdom in writing, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
     “No man is an island,” are the famous words of John Donne, a 17th century clergyman, whose Christian thesis was enlarged by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who used these words as the title of his 1955 book.
     Peter Raible, a 20th century clergyman, has paraphrased the ancient Hebrew theme of Deuteronomy 6:11-12: “We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves at fires we did not light. We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant. We drink from wells we did not dig. We profit from persons we did not know. We are ever bound in community.”
     In political discourse, the idea of our indebtedness to others appears in the “You didn’t build that” debate. Among countless examples in history and today, some point out that Abraham Lincoln led the government to support the transcontinental railroad which enabled others to prosper. Government money developed what has become the internet. We all pay taxes to build and maintain roads. Our lives and businesses would be impossible without the many social and political institutions through which our individuality is supported and embodied. 
     Above the elevator doors at the William James dormitory at Harvard University were inscribed the psychologist’s words about the mutuality of individual and group, of citizen and government, of person and organization: “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”
     I think the resurgence of Rand’s philosophy will fall against the unanimity of the world’s faith traditions, embedded in the American experience.


Vern Barnet column
   Thank you, Vern Barnet, for reminding us in your columns how diverse faith traditions see the interplay of the individual and the community. Both are crucial for society to thrive; neither can function without the other, and neither can dominate.
   As an individual, I am not diminished in the least by acknowledging my debt to those who preceded me. And in lifting up others, I am blessed by their success.

  Linda Neal, Prairie Village. published 2012.11.14
N writes
     Thank you for the excellent article on how the world's faiths see the tension between individualism and community. Our hubris has no bounds. I want to send it to far-flung friends . . . .

A writes
     Great column today! . . . I've done a FB post with a link to your column on the Star website now..

M writes
     This morning's piece touched a nerve.  When I began studying economics at , , , ,all of my professors were comfortable melding the insights of classical economics with a belief that single-minded pursuit of individual goals without regard to the social implications of doing so was not in the public interest. The same could be said for the teacher/scholars I studied under at the University of . . .  a few years later en route to my M.A.  Then I went to . . . University (in the early 1970s) for my Ph.D. and learned how to talk the libertarian line well enough to get through the program.
     Unfortunately, the discipline I have loved for most of my life has been taken over by some very unappealing types.  There are a few of us throw-backs to an earlier (Keynesian, really) vision of how the world works and how to use economists' tools to make it better while recognizing the need to strengthen the community, but our influence is fighting a rear action battle.  I fear people like Paul Krugman and his ilk comprise a shrinking part of the discipline.  Sad state of affairs.
     Great column!
     P.S. Did you happen to see "Romney's Go-To Economist," by David Segal in Saturday's NY Times?  Segal paints a very unsettling prospect for economic policy in a Romney administration.  If you didn't see it and would like to do so, I'll be happy to forward it to you.

L writes
     Ayn Rand made many mistakes, but she didn’t advocate “an economic system of uncontrolled and unregulated self-interest.” You’ve set up a straw man to argue against; her positions are more complex than this. Perhaps you should read Atlas Shrugged again, at least the preachy, speechy parts.
     Raised in Petrograd under communist rule, she was against the uncontrolled and unregulated violation of individual rights by the government. What she favored was the rule of law under a constitutional republic, where the laws governing human interaction (including economic activity) would be based on the principle of prohibiting the initiation of force or fraud. The prohibition of fraud, by the way, would have ruled out most of the scurrilous behavior that led to the recent mortgage and credit debacle.
     She also never claimed to have “built” this philosophy herself, but rather frequently expressed her gratitude to Aristotle, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and many others. Her faith was in the inherent goodness of free men (probably a mistake!) and who she worshipped was heroes.  She would not have admitted the likes of Paul Ryan or Rand Paul into her home.
     Thanks for your columns; they are always enjoyable.

S writes
     I enjoy your regular Wednesday columns in the Star.  I just came across your 10/17 column, which I had cut out of the paper, and I thought it was a good and significant piece. -- Keep up the good work! 

D writes
     You surely know that the word "Communism" comes from the word "community."(your word). Liberals have made the first word unacceptable in political discourse, nevertheless, it applies very well to the person who said, "You didn't build that."  Way before Karl Marx, William Bradford experimented with communism and just like Obama's economy, it failed miserably. Bradford, being focused on success rather than political dogma, changed his approach to the use of "individualism" and  succeeded in forming the beginning  of America..
     The resurgence in interest in Ayn Rand is because of the failure of Obuma's brand of Communism which even the great unwashed are now coming to realize is a disaster.
Those who advocate the "You didn't build that" philosophy are often the lazy and/or incompetent who want to be cared for by those who diligently work to improve their own lot and in doing so, pay taxes to support the Obama supporters.

Vern responds
  Thank you for reading my column and taking the trouble to write. I am sure you will not be surprised that I differ from you on a number of points, the first of which is that, while you do some labeling and name-calling, you offer no rebuttal to the substance of the column itself, namely that all religions teach our dependence upon, and obligations to, others. In the Christian tradition, this is emphatic with the teaching that the Church is the Body of Christ. Paul speaks eloquently of how we are different members of one another, comparing us to the members of the physical body -- head, hands, feet.
    Secondly, I cannot understand how Obama, who has saved the market economy in the United States from the disaster caused by two unfunded wars and a ruinous tax policy that took us from surplus to severe deficit -- who has saved the market economy in the United States by arranging for the American auto industry to flourish, by refusing to break up the big banks, by adopting a market-based health care reform (private insurance companies are now assured of more customers), could possibly be considered a Communist. As for Obama's "failure," we have had a full recovery of the stock market despite the problems in Europe and China and elsewhere, the housing situation is clearly now turning around, the financial sector was saved from collapse, Osama bin Laden is no more . . . . While there certainly have been failures, I think only a partisan could call the Obama first term simply a "failure."
     Of course communism, community, communion, communitarian -- these words all come from the same root. So does yoke, subjugate, yoga, and join. So what? I don't get your point.
     While William Bradford, who came to these shores on the Mayflower and signed the Mayflower Compact, and is credited with instituting what has become the American tradition of Thanksgiving, may be criticized for many things, and who, like the early Church, understood the importance of community, can hardly be considered the kind of Randian individualist you seem to make him out to be. An example from his HISTORY OF THE PLYMOUTH PLANTATION:

    “[Of the voyage] The dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties were many but not invincible; and all of them through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might either be borne or overcome. . . . True it was, that such attempts were not to be made and undertaken without good ground and reason. But their condition was not ordinarie; their ends were good and honourable; their calling lawfull, and urgente; and therefore they might expecte the blessing of God in their proceeding. . . . .[The first winter]  So there dyed sometimes 2 or 3 a day and of 100 and odd persons scare 50 remained. And of these, in the time of most distress, there was but 6 or 7 sound persons who, to their commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night or day, but with abundance of toyle and hazard of their own health, fetched them woode, made them fires, drest their meat, made their beds, washed their lothsome clothes, cloathed and unclothed them — in a word, did all the homly and necessarie offices for them which dainty and quesie stomacks cannot endure to hear named. And all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least showing herein their true love unto their friends . . . a rare example and worthy to be remembered.  Two of these 7 were Mr William Brewster, their reverend Elder, and Myles Standish, their Captaine and military commander, unto whom myself and many others were much beholden in our low and sicke condition . . . .And what I have said of these, I may say of many others who dyed in this general visitation, and others yet living, that whilst they had health — yea, or any strength continuing — they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recompence is with the Lord.”
     We simply cannot survive without each other. That is the take-away. This is no dispute with a market economy or capitalism. It is simply a fact. It is a fact regardless of the economic system. I happen to think that capitalism with a level playing field and appropriate protections (like police and fire protection, like safe medications, like a legal system by which disputes can be adjudicated) is best. These kinds of  protections are, in practice, precisely why the column is consonant with religious principles.
     Here is a part of the text of Obama's "You didn't build that" statement. I would think a smart person like you would avoid taking things out ofthe context of citing the GI Bill, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the landing of the moon:
    There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me – because they want to give something back. They know they didn't – look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
      If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business – you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
    The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
     Another significant statement comes from Elizabeth Warren:
    I hear all this, you know, 'Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.' No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
     In short, I stand by the theology of faith presented in the column. I do not expect you to change any of your thinking as a result of my response. I simply wanted you to know I have read your email, thought about it, and wanted to express my appreciation for your consideration, even though we continue to disagree and no doubt could engage in a lengthy exchange, but probably to no different outcome. The paper cannot survive without readers, and I cannot be a columnist without folks like you, so thanks.

P writes
     Thank you for your excellent column in Wednesday's Star.  It was good to read an article about the current campaign that went beyond superficial political rhetoric, partisan spin-doctoring, or mind-numbing budget/deficit statistics to examine the philosophical positions of the two candidates.
     I remember being impressed, as a naive college freshman nearly 50 years ago, by Ayn Rand's novels and philosophy.  However, as I got older and a little more sophisticated in my moral reasoning, I came to realize how oversimplified and unacceptable her extreme views actually are.  (To be fair, I believe that Rand's extreme postions were a reaction to a totalitarian Communist system. Extremism begats extremism.)  Rational self-interest is fine, but political philosophy and governance must be based on a view of human nature that recognizes a balance of individuality and mutuality, to use the terms in the headline of your column.
     I also appreciated that you used a quote from William James to summarize the point that you wanted to make in your column.  I consider James the greatest philosopher/psychologist that this country has ever produced.  His insights into human nature, religious beliefs, and society are still very relevant today, yet James is seldom discussed even in college classrooms these days. 
     Thanks again for your thought-provoking comments.  I hope that others will think about these issues as they decide whom they want to vote for next month.

Vern responds
     Your observations about Rand's Russian origins and extremism begetting extremism ring true. And the wisdom of William James does, as you suggest, deserve greater recognition.
     With you, I hope that the fundamental approaches of the candidates for public office will be thoughtfully considered beyond the superficial and -- if I may say -- appeals to merely selfish interests.

Vern responds to a friend
     I would be fun to have a discussion, the two of us, about all this. Ayn certainly expresses her view powerfully. But the Scriptures ring truer to me and one particular text is to the point: The love of money is the root of all evil. I won't enumerate others, like Jesus telling the rich young man that to enter the kingdom of heaven, he must sell all that he has. Do the economic conditions of his day supply us with guidance for our time or do they mislead us in the context of the development of a regulated market economy (which I support because I want safe drugs, safe airplanes, etc)? . . . .

J writes
     As introduction, I am a published author-illustrator who reads your column faithfully. I'm writing to you about your Wednesday, October 17, 2012, essay in the Kansas City Star.
     I like what you wrote, mostly. (I believe the qualifier to be necessary since rarely do I agree completely with anyone!)
     I am working on a book, . . .  In the meantime, I continue to read-read-read and think. Which your Wednesday column made me do. I've always been a fan of Anyn Rand's work even though I disagree with her on some major points. However, I am of the opinion there is gold to be mined in reading the viewpoints of others. . . .

Vern responds
     Of course you may quote from my column -- any time! Thanks for the courtesy of asking,
     Sometimes I "mostly" like what I've written, too! And sometimes I even agree! But I like being open to new perspectives. There are certainly columns I've written in the past I would not write today. Sometimes I don't agree with myself two days in a row!
     I wish you well with your developing project. . . .


Laurence Charles Ringo
     Frankly,the atheists you're talking about must be hiding,Vern.My experience of them is usually one of unrelenting arrogance,condescending hubris,and all around unpleasentness! As soon as I"out myself"as a person of faith,mockery and ridicule inevitably rears their ugly heads, atheists grant my faith a fair hearing,so again,what atheists are you talking about?

Vern responds
     The opening of the column simply to clarify that my rejection of Ayn Rand comes from her selfish philosophy, not her atheism.
     I have observed that an aggressive proclamation of one's own faith position can be unwelcome. I find that listening is often a more fruitful way of learning about others and myself and sometimes can lead to invitations to share my own perspective as part of a mutually respectful exchange.
     I cannot dispute anyone's experience. But I can report my own. There is the story of the villager who sat just outside his village. A visitor approached. "What kind of people live in this village?" the man asked. The villager responded by asking, "What kind of people do you come from?" The visitor responded, "Why, the folks there were thoughtful, kind, and generous." "Well," said the villager, "That is the kind of people you will find here in this village."
     Later another visitor approached. He also asked, "What kind of people live in this village?" Again, the villager responded by asking, "What kind of people do you come from?" The visitor responded, "Why, the folks there were ignorant, nasty, and selfish." "Well," said the villager, "That is the kind of people you will find here in this village."
     While I cannot dispute anyone's experience, I have found that sometimes -- certainly not always,  but sometimes -- we project our own needs and deficits -- or our own naive presumptions of wholesomeness -- onto others. To what extent this may apply to myself or anyone else, I am not wise enough to say.

     Ayn Rand makes it clear in her essays in  "The Virtue of Selfisheness" that her self centered philosophy is directely related to her atheism.

Vern responds
     It would be interesting to learn how Christians who follow Ayn Rand, several of whom have emailed or spoken with me directly protesting the column, reconcile their faith with Rand's philosophy. Since GOP Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a Christian, names Rand as a favorite philosopher, his way of reconciling Randian selfishness with the path of Jesus would be especially intriguing. 

     Vern, where did you get the idea that atheists are deeply concerned about fairness?  Can you give me some examples of leaders of local groups that match your description?

Vern responds
     Yes, I can but I won't use names on this public site. So I suggest acquaintance with atheists and other free-thinkers. I know so many that I doubt that my assessment of their concerns for social justice is a statistical fluke. You may meet some truly wonderful and wholesome people.

     why can't you list them? I would love to meet these so called "free-thinkers"  Are they nothing more than liberals who complain about 1%ers and bring their laptop and ipads to protests rich people?

Vern responds
     Some atheists are rich, some poor, some in between, and many do not fit the image being presented by others. Many people who comment on this site do not use their real names. A request for a list of names of atheists in this forum from anyone who do not use his or her real name seems odd. But in any case, there are a dozen or so Freethinker groups in town where one can find many varieties of atheists. Again, the point of the column was that while I find Ayn Rand's writing troublesome, it is not her atheism that is a problem for me. I am not clear how such a statement leads to an interest in a list of local atheists.
     It should be made explicit, I suppose, that some who support Ayn Rand are Christians -- GOP Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is a Roman Catholic.

     Vern, you claimed the atheists you know are concerned about fairness. And yet you can't name anyone you know. But the atheist you do mention, Rand, is not about fairness.

Vern responds
     Yes, I said in the column (please reread), that my objection to Rand is not that she is an atheist, but that she espouses a selfish philosophy. 
     It is not that I CANNOT name atheists who are concerned about fairness. It is that I WILL NOT do so in a public forum where others do not use their real names. (Please see my reply to reader Somekcguy.)That is not my place to do. I am reporting my experience. (Please reread the column which in the very first paragraph says "the atheists I know are deeply concerned about fairness.") I do not say all atheists are concerned about fairness. I am reporting my experience, not everyone's.  I am clear that Ayn Rand, in my opinion, is not fair. Again, my objection to Rand is not that she is an atheist, but that she espouses a selfish philosophy. I simply wanted to be clear that I do not object to atheism, but I do object to selfishness.
     Others may have other experiences. In my reply to reader Ringo, some possibilities are mentioned.

    Paul Ryan reportedly backtacked his comments about admiring Rand and drawing his "winners are winners and takers are losers" philosophy. had a few posts on that recently. I guess when you are in the general election season, you have to run to the center. Nothing new. Politicians have been doing this for ages. 

     Other names include Karl Marx, Frederich Nietzsche, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Uncle Joe Stalin, Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering, Dr. Mengele, Dr "Death" Kevorkian, Benito Mussolini, Eugenicist Margaret Sanger, Advocates of Terrorism like Fanon and Sartre, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, the current leadership of Red China, North Korea, Vietnam, Thousands of Communist Party Workers and thousands more who collectively murdered millions of Christians too numerous to list.

     I am not sure why this list starting with Marx is provided. I have listed mostly US and Anglo Saxon atheists who have done great and honorable things and are still doing it and contributed to progress of society, science, arts, politics, movies. The list you have provided is in a different category "detraction of progress".
     But since you brought it up, can you also post a list of American and Anglo Saxon Christian (for now) "detractors" of progress and mass murderers? 50 or so Christians of notoriety (more or less equal to the numbers I have provided) who participated in mass murders of other Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, Native Americans, Australian Aboreginese and Africans during the colonial era, pre Crusades, Crusades, European wars, etc. throughout the centuries on political, economical, or religious grounds?
     If we are going to compare apples to apples, this would be only fair. American Christians and Anglo Saxons in Europe constitute mostly the list I have provided and then we'll discuss the implications further?
     Thank you.

     I understand that god is an atheist himself? Or so he'd have to be since he doesn't believe in any gods? So, whatever good this particular atheist proclaims he has done and his concerned for humanity is by definition good and supposed to be good by presupposition of the religious belief in the atheistic entity called god.
     Bill Gates is an atheist (or agnostic), so is Warren Buffet. Brad Pitt and Angelina JoLee too if I recall.
     Also some others (there is a list online and I took some of these from it)
     Douglas Adams, Woody Allen, Fred Armisen, Isaac Asimov, Niels Bohr, Richard Branson, James Cameron, George Carlin, Noam Chomsky, Francis Crick, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Feynman, Jodie Foster, Ricky Gervais, Ira Glass, James Gleick, Ernest Hemingway, Jamie Hyneman, Penn Jillette, Billy Joel, Diane Keaton, Michael Kinsley, Keira Knightley, Hugh Laurie, Richard Leakey, Bruce Lee, Seth MacFarlane, Bill Maher, John Malkovich, Barry Manilow, , Claude Monet, Julianne Moore, Rafael Nadal, Jack Nicholson, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan Jr., Rob Reiner, Keanu Reeves, Gene Roddenberry, Andy Rooney, Salman Rushdie, Adam Savage, Erwin Schrödinger, Steven Soderbergh, Annika Sorenstam, George Soros, Teller, Pat Tillman, Alan Turing, Vincent van Gogh, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Steven Weinberg, Ted Williams, Steve Wozniak

     I was a pagan for many years.  I am now an agnostic, affiliated with a Christian church because it plugs me in to community service.  I believe that spiritual traditions of many kinds are helpful, but are not necessary in the understanding of how and what we are.  I am trained as a scientist, and science informs my world view before anything else.  One of my uncles is a lifelong atheist, who is a psychiatric neurologist.  He is an internationally recognized scientist, a pioneer in the field of biofeedback in the 60's at Bedford University, and he has worked tirelessly with the Veterans Administration to craft therapies for the severely mentally ill.  He has worked alongside his wife, also an atheist, who is herself a pioneer in therapies for neurologically impaired children.  There is everything about my relatives to show me that compassion and commitment to human kindness is independent of religion.

     Interesting appeal to authority.  What kind of science were you trained in?  My experience with atheists has been totally different.  I have not met with kindness at all.

     I was a pagan for many years.  I am now an agnostic, affiliated with a Christian church because it plugs me in to community service.  I believe that spiritual traditions of many kinds are helpful, but are not necessary in the understanding of how and what we are.  I am trained as a scientist, and science informs my world view before anything else. One of my uncles is a lifelong atheist, who is a psychiatric neurologist.  He is an internationally recognized scientist, a pioneer in the field of biofeedback in the 60's at Bedford University, and he has worked tirelessly with the Veterans Administration to craft therapies for the severely mentally ill.  He has worked alongside his wife, also an atheist, who is herself a pioneer in therapies for neurologically impaired children.  There is everything about my relatives to show me that compassion and commitment to human kindness is independent of religion.

     I understand that god is an atheist himself? Or so he'd have to be since he doesn't believe in any gods? So, whatever good this particular atheist proclaims he has done and his concerned for humanity is by definition good and supposed to be good by presupposition of the religious belief in the atheistic entity called god.
     Bill Gates is an atheist (or agnostic), so is Warren Buffet. Brad Pitt and Angelina JoLee too if I recall.
     Also some others (there is a list online and I took some of these from it)  Douglas Adams, Woody Allen, Fred Armisen, Isaac Asimov, Niels Bohr, Richard Branson, James Cameron, George Carlin, Noam Chomsky, Francis Crick, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Feynman, Jodie Foster, Ricky Gervais, Ira Glass, James Gleick, Ernest Hemingway, Jamie Hyneman, Penn Jillette, Billy Joel, Diane Keaton, Michael Kinsley, Keira Knightley, Hugh Laurie, Richard Leakey, Bruce Lee, Seth MacFarlane, Bill Maher, John Malkovich, Barry Manilow, , Claude Monet, Julianne Moore, Rafael Nadal, Jack Nicholson, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan Jr., Rob Reiner, Keanu Reeves, Gene Roddenberry, Andy Rooney, Salman Rushdie, Adam Savage, Erwin Schrödinger, Steven Soderbergh, Annika Sorenstam, George Soros, Teller, Pat Tillman, Alan Turing, Vincent van Gogh, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Steven Weinberg, Ted Williams, Steve Wozniak

     I am not sure why this list starting with Marx is provided. I have listed mostly US and Anglo Saxon atheists who have done great and honorable things and are still doing it and contributed to progress of society, science, arts, politics, movies. The list you have provided is in a different category "detraction of progress".
     But since you brought it up, can you also post a list of American and Anglo Saxon Christian (for now) "detractors" of progress and mass murderers? 50 or so Christians of notoriety (more or less equal to the numbers I have provided) who participated in mass murders of other Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, Native Americans, Australian Aboreginese and Africans during the colonial era, pre Crusades, Crusades, European wars, etc. throughout the centuries on political, economical, or religious grounds?
     If we are going to compare apples to apples, this would be only fair. American Christians and Anglo Saxons in Europe constitute mostly the list I have provided and then we'll discuss the implications further?
     Thank you.

     Other names include Karl Marx, Frederich Nietzsche, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Uncle Joe Stalin, Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering, Dr. Mengele, Dr "Death" Kevorkian, Benito Mussolini, Eugenicist Margaret Sanger, Advocates of Terrorism like Fanon and Sartre, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, the current leadership of Red China, North Korea, Vietnam, Thousands of Communist Party Workers and thousands more who collectively murdered millions of Christians too numerous to list.

     Paul Ryan reportedly backtacked his comments about admiring Rand and drawing his "winners are winners and takers are losers" philosophy. had a few posts on that recently. I guess when you are in the general election season, you have to run to the center. Nothing new. Politicians have been doing this for ages. 

The Star website comments degenerated thereafter into at least 39  personal rants between JonHarker and HuhHuhHuh which are of no value here.

Joyous music from a dark time

Can you name a hedonistic text from 13th century — found nowadays as music in film, TV, sports events, commercials and live performances — that includes lusty drinking songs, erotic verse, a spoof of the clergy, a lament to the capricious goddess of fate and the song of a swan being roasted?
     You’ll find an answer in the offerings of the Kansas City Ballet beginning Friday, and again with the Kansas Symphony Nov. 16-18. 
     Discovered in 1803 in a Bavarian monastery, “Carmina Burana” is a collection of about 3000 songs written centuries earlier mostly in Latin. (Carmina is Latin for “songs” and Burana refers to a place.)
     Since we often generalize about the medieval period and think of it as the “Dark Ages,” fraught with plague, famine, war and servitude, it may be surprising to find such joy and ebullience in a period of history mostly opaque to us. “Carmina Burana” is very nearly the opposite of Ingmar Bergman’s famously depressing medieval film, “The Seventh Seal.”
     From “Carmina,” the German composer Carl Orff created a kind of cantata of 24 selections for orchestra, soloists and choirs in 1936. Musically it reminds me of Igor Stravinsky’s profoundly spiritual “Oedipus Rex,” also in Latin; but while both employ insistent rhythms, Stravinsky is menacing while Orff is exuberant. Orff frames both secular and sacred as a wildly affirming pagan-like response to humanity’s subjugation on the wheel of fortune.
     We may not be surprised by the raunchy songs, even in prudish translation; sex is an eternal preoccupation. Still, finding so much pagan material may be a shock because many of us assume the Middle Ages were all about the ubiquitous power of Christianity. (Even today we have the pagan horoscope embraced by many Christians.) These medieval songs celebrate Venus, Cupid and springtime, not Moses, Jesus and the Resurrection.
     Orff begins and ends his settings of the songs with an apostrophe to the ultimate power, Lady Luck. Even if you’ve forgotten your high school Latin, the sounds of the riming words are so delicious you can be reconciled to their dire meaning: 

O Fortuna,
velut Luna
     statu variabilis,
semper crescis 
aut decrescis;
     vita detestabilis . . . .
     The gist is this: fortune is fickle, changing like the moon. Life is a game of chance, win, lose, nothing secure. This uncertainty is a spinning wheel on which we are enslaved.
     Still, paradoxically, it is hard to think of much music that is more immediately uplifting and energizing. Lady Luck has done us a double favor this fall with performances by both the Ballet and the Symphony.

     The Star's headline refers to 20th Century music from 13th Century texts. 
   A kind reader sent me a YouTube message with a link to the funny "O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics (Animated)" with the note "After reading your column today, I just had to send this!" Since YouTube does not forward email addresses, I'm unable to respond directly to express my thanks and delight, so I'm posting this note and encouraging others who might want to see the spoof by searching on YouTube for "O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics (Animated)" -- an interesting way of hearing English in Latin. [posted on The Star website under the column]

A question of personhood

When does the union of human male sperm and female egg become a person? Certainly the zygote and every stage of its growth is human, but when does personhood begin?
     Set forth in Exodus 21:22, Hebrew law required compensation from an adversary causing the death of a fetus, whatever the stage of pregnancy, but the death of the fetus was not murder of a person. Other passages, like Genesis 25:23 and Jeremiah 1:5, are sometimes cited to show that the fetus is a person, but such passages are poetic, not legal.
     The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the fetus developed through vegetative and animal stages before person-like intelligence emerged, 40 days after conception for a male and after 90 days for a female.
     This view was considered worthy by some medieval Christian theologians like Aquinas. For them “ensoulment” or personhood occurred after conception. Dante believed ensoulment occurred after brain structures were developed. Still, abortions might be prohibited in order to fulfill the command to populate the earth and to protect potential personhood.
     Others have thought that personhood begins with the implantation of the embryo in the womb, around a week after fertilization. Implantation is said to trigger the embryonic development of distinct tissues without which there could be no person.
     A highly placed local Catholic priest once presented another view to me. If ensoulment occurs at conception and the embryo later splits in two, which, he asked, would get the soul, or would each twin get half a soul? This is so absurd, he said, that ensoulment must be delayed until after the possibility of twinning has passed, two weeks after conception. 
     English common law distinguished between early pregnancy and “the quickening,” the movement in the womb felt by the mother, usually in the second trimester. Early abortions were not punishable, and abortions after quickening were only misdemeanors. Not until birth was a person recognized. Most parents register the names of their children after they are born.
     In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court did not address the theological question of ensoulment or when personhood begins. Its practical approach set “viability,” when life outside the womb is sustainable, as the point at which the state has an interest in issues of pregnancy.
     Within and among Muslim, Buddhist and other faiths are different opinions about when personhood begins. I am not smart enough to know when an invisible zygote grows into a person. So I think a society of many views works best when it does not make one theology into law for all. 

     While biologists and physicians are able to describe fetal development in great detail, they are unable to answer the theological question of "ensoulment" or the beginning of personhood. The question is one of faith, not science. How the question should be handled legally is much debated.
     Charges that an Obama rule requiring employer health plans to cover birth control without a co-pay tramples on religious freedom were answered on 2012 September 28, in Frank R O'Brien v. US Dept of Health and Human Services, when the US District Court ruled that an employee making "an independent decision to use the plan” to obtain contraceptives, that independent decision is no different from an employee using part of a salary to pay for contraceptives, which clearly would not harm the employer’s right to free exercise of religion. [phrasing adapted from NYTimes Oct 3 editorial.]
     Concerning fetal pain: "Current neuroscience distinguishes a spectrum of degrees of  “consciousness” among organisms, ranging from basic perception of external stimuli to fully developed self-consciousness. Even the idea of self is subject to further differentiation. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, for instance, distinguishes degrees of consciousness in terms of the kind of “self” wielding it: while nonhuman animals may exhibit the levels he calls proto-self and core-self, both necessary for conscious experience, he considers the autobiographical self, which provides the foundations of personal identity, to be an attribute largely limited to humans.
     This more robust concept of consciousness that distinguishes human personhood from more basic forms of perception has a very specific history, which dates to the early 17th century and is most associated with the French philosopher René Descartes and the school of thinkers that followed him. While Descartes considered whether a neonate or even young children might have consciousness of this kind, in the end he rejected this hypothesis, insisting on the “reflective” nature of consciousness. As he writes in a letter responding to some objections voiced by Antoine Arnaud, “I call the first and simple thoughts of children, that come to them as, for example, they feel the pain caused when some gas enclosed in their intestines distends them, or the pleasure caused by the sweetness of the food that nourishes them…. I call these direct and not reflexive thoughts; but when the young man feels something new and at the same time perceives that he has not felt the same thing before, I call this second perception a reflection, and I relate it only to the understanding, insofar as it is so attached to sensation that the two cannot be distinguished.”
     Current neuroscience distinguishes a spectrum of degrees of  “consciousness” among organisms, ranging from basic perception of external stimuli to fully developed self-consciousness. Even the idea of self is subject to further differentiation. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, for instance, distinguishes degrees of consciousness in terms of the kind of “self” wielding it: while nonhuman animals may exhibit the levels he calls proto-self and core-self, both necessary for conscious experience, he considers the autobiographical self, which provides the foundations of personal identity, to be an attribute largely limited to humans.
     This more robust concept of consciousness that distinguishes human personhood from more basic forms of perception has a very specific history, which dates to the early 17th century and is most associated with the French philosopher René Descartes and the school of thinkers that followed him. While Descartes considered whether a neonate or even young children might have consciousness of this kind, in the end he rejected this hypothesis, insisting on the “reflective” nature of consciousness. As he writes in a letter responding to some objections voiced by Antoine Arnaud, “I call the first and simple thoughts of children, that come to them as, for example, they feel the pain caused when some gas enclosed in their intestines distends them, or the pleasure caused by the sweetness of the food that nourishes them…. I call these direct and not reflexive thoughts; but when the young man feels something new and at the same time perceives that he has not felt the same thing before, I call this second perception a reflection, and I relate it only to the understanding, insofar as it is so attached to sensation that the two cannot be distinguished.” --from "THE STONE October 28, 2012, 5:00 PM: Can Neuroscience Challenge Roe V. Wade?" By WILLIAM EGGINTON


M writes
     Superb column today on personhood.  Except you never mentioned that some "people" never achieve it even after leaving the womb and finally reaching "physical" maturity.  ;-)  LOL
     I'll give you another take, one that I'm fond of.  Got this view from a channeling session one time from a spirit I trust to be right about 85% of the time.  <wink>  The soul chooses the body it will incarnate with based on projected life experience that will ensue.  If an abortion is likely, and this is a direct quote from the other side, "souls are smart and they won't incarnate in that fetus."  Otherwise, souls sometimes incarnate after a few months development in the womb has taken place just to begin the experience of a material body, and they playfully jump back and forth to the other side for a while like we visiting a carnival and then going home.  Usually ensoulment occurs a few days or weeks before birth, virtually always within about three days after birth, but sometimes if things are dicey, it may not happen for a week or more.  Hmmmmm.  Take that for what it's worth.  There's an 85% chance it's correct.   :-)

C writes
     . . . What are you saying in the last paragraphs?  That religion should have no say in how abortion law is cast?  That folks who espouse a certain religious view on anything shouldn't have an opinion?  That theology has no place in forming a moral theme about when a person is a person no matter how small?  What else should religion stay out of?   I understand the ancient texts are not particularly on point, but it was clear from the beginning why Christians abhorred abortion.  The Romans were very good at it.  There are famous  texts describing the casual view of Roman infanticide.  Christianity was life affirming in reaction to the moral decadence of Roman.  Young women died in droves because of infection from forced abortion causing major demographic problems and one of the reasons for Roman decline...not enough folks.  I'm not a particular abortion foe, but I do believe that religion is a life affirming enterprise and should have influence on how we view the issue.    clm 

Vern responds
     As I tried to say, I'm not smart enough to know when personhood begins. Since we are a pluralistic society, I think it is most respectful of the various faiths if we honor them. There are certain situations when, for example, a Jewish women is obliged to have an abortion. But I think each faith should be respected when deciding theological issues and not impose them on others.
     English common law seems to have worked pretty well. The history of abortion in this country is fascinating from a political/medical perspective, which I did not have space to write about, but which arises from English common law until medical safety concerns were enabled by advances.
     Christians have often counseled abortion. My first personal experience was with a fragile 13-year old girl raped by her father. The Dean of Rockefeller Chapel and I worked to get her to Canada because abortion was illegal in Illinois at the time.
     But the column is not directly about abortion. It is about the difficulty in knowing when personhood begins. The column does that that there are other reasons for prohibiting abortion, such as replenishing the earth -- some people still think we need more people on the planet, and this is an argument that has been used against masturbation, too -- and to protect POTENTIAL personhood. 
     I'm not saying people of faith should have no say about the law. On the contrary, I am saying that people of faith in a pluralistic society should respect each other and protect a legal situation where none of them can force one belief about personhood on another. I think the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade is right to focus on a practical rather than theological matter. But persons of faith should certainly be constrained by their own consciences without seeking to use the law to force others to obey sectarian positions which have no basis in scientific determination. . . . 

C writes again
     Okay! I always appreciate your insight.  Regarding Roe V. Wade, from a constitutional prospective many in  the legal profession are uncomfortable with the court's attempt to solve an issue by creation of rights under the 10th amendment.  I understand that the court wanted to solve the problem of different states having different approaches to the issue.  But, the states were beginning to come to an accomodation and was not a major concern in the general population.  And, I know from talking with my father, an Emporia physician, that abortion was a private matter between patient and doctor.  With abortion rights or prohibitions taken out of state and local control you would have thought that would be the end of it, but it wasn't.  In fact, the decision made things worse.  It raised the debate to a prominence that it never had before.  Often, the judicial system is not good at forecasting consequences.  One in particular stands out because of exeriences related to me by my associates . . . .  Bussing to achieve racial balance. . . .  It was a major factor in destruction of the pride the community had in its itself.  The impression . . . was that in order to succeed you had to go to a white school. The recent Kelso case regarding eminent domain is another, and we could go on.  I believe in subsidiarity, that is, delegate down to the person or organization best able to effectively solve the problem.  We have too many centralized bureaucratic  decision makers that simply gum things up.  Good intentions don't mean good results.

Vern responds again
     [A PhD friend] in political science . . . agrees with you about the Supreme Court prematurely deciding the abortion issue.  I know many [lawyers] who agree that it would have been better for the states to have worked this out. And of course lawyers disagree about the reasoning used to reach the 7-2 decision.
     But I disagree with my friend. Abortion was not such a terribly politicized issue until the Religious Right seize upon it for political ends, moving from the threatened withdrawal of gov't funds for a racist private school, Bob Jones University, which initiated the Right, to alliance with Catholics to attack on abortion -- see Randall Balmer's wonderful God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush.
     I believe the Court relied mainly on the 14th, not the 10th amendment. At any rate, I think the Common Law tradition itself justified the Court's decision, as explored by Justice Blackman. I do not defend the trimester approach, however, as my personal opinion is simply that a woman has the right to control her own body including her pregnancy. My personal opinion is that personhood begins at birth. My political opinion is that in a diverse culture, the law should provide latitude for all theological opinions to be practiced.
     At any rate, the column sought to address the presumptive reasoning of many who knee-jerk oppose all abortion: Abortion is killing a person. Why? -- because the fertilized egg is a person. These people confuse something that is human (my fingernail is human, my spleen is human, my blood cells are human) with what is a person (my fingernail is not a person, my spleen is not a person, my blood cells are not a person). That is what I am challenging by reciting the many views on when the zygote becomes a person.
     I think Linda Greenhouse's book, Before Roe v. Wade, is wonderful.
     I agree with you about the court-ordered "remedy" which destroyed neighborhood schools. It has been a disaster of enormous social proportions. Even if Johnson County had been included in the busing, the neighborhoods would have been diminished and the resulting loss of social fabric similar, I think. Good will, even from the bench or the legislative chamber, as well as executive functions, hardly assure improvement.

[X] writes
     I haven't done this kind of thing--respond to an article.  But your article in kc star struck my heart and head.
I have had to deal with an abortion on a personal level which can either define or really confuse your outlook.
     [Deadful situation described] . . . .  and the abortion has lead to my shaken faith. I am struggling to renew my faith and align with what i know is true for me.  As the saying goes, there is something about walking in someone else's moccasins.  How can we not allow an abortion for abuse or rape? Your comment about "society with many views works best when it does not make one theology into law for all",  adds to the puzzle.  So do you agree with the government support of abortion? I am also a struggling  moderate republican who is pro-choice. Thank you for any additional insight. . . . 
     PS  Are you affiliated with any church? I realize I have posed to very personal questions so will understand if you do not respond.

Vern responds 
     Thank you for telling me about such a painful personal situation. And thank you for your courage in writing me. [The situation you describe] is horrible, and having to struggle with the morality of abortion can also be a great difficulty. My first personal involvement with abortion issues came while I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. I learned of a fragile 13-year old girl raped by her father. The Dean of Rockefeller Chapel and I worked to get her to Canada because abortion was illegal in Illinois at the time.
     You are correct in interpreting my opinion that government needs to stay out of such matters except to assure that choice is available to those who feel it is best for them. Different religions have different positions, and people should be able to make their own decisions on the basis of whatever religious, medical, and family advice they value.
     For thousands of years in countless cultures, a person appeared at birth, not before. Historically abortion has seldom been considered murder; that is a recent and sectarian position. [Those involved in the situation you describe were victimized and victims should feel no guilt.]
     My position is that every child should be wanted without reservation. I am alarmed by politicians, mainly male Republicans (Todd Akin . . . is a particularly transparent and horrid example, and the official GOP platform is extreme), who cannot see how circumstances sometimes require difficult decisions. This is one reason why I am no longer a Republican. The Roman Catholic priest I cited in my column who opposes his own church's rigid stand on abortion had pastoral experience that opened his eyes to the real world. Republicans need more pro-choice people to save it from the extreme positions the GOP has taken.
     As for my faith, I am grateful to be welcome among many faiths in Kansas City. I founded the Interfaith Council. However, personally, I am an active member of . . . . I don't usually answer the question about my own affiliation, but since you shared such a painful situation with me, I am making this exception. But I urge all persons to find a congregation that best suits them, not me!

J writes
     Thank you so much for expressing so well many of my own thoughts in your “A Question of Personhood” column. For the last few years I have been struggling with formulating my opinion on the abortion question and have come to the conclusion that the question is not when life begins or even when human life begins but rather when is that human life what we would call a person? And my conclusion was that the fetus is not a person in its own right until it is separate from the person of the mother.
     That being said, I would never presume to insist that everyone else agree with me or make laws that provide for only that way of thinking, just as I don’t believe that those who preach that personhood begins at conception should feel they have the right to impose their beliefs upon our laws. As you said so well, “...a society of many views works best when it does not make one theology into law for all.” Brilliant!

Vern responds 
     Thanks for reading today's installment of my weekly "Faith and Beliefs" column, and taking the trouble to let me know it had meaning for you.  I really appreciate this because, as you can imagine, not all the comments I receive are as generous as yours!
     As you know, some folks say abortion is murder. Why? They say because fertilized egg is a little, helpless person needing protection. I want to respect that view but I need to respect also those who  say that you don't have a person if the thing you are talking about, the zygote, isn't even visible to the unaided eye. Many folks are unaware of how many different answers have been given to the question of when the developing fetus becomes a person.
     I especially appreciate your comment on my conclusion. Some have said it proves I have no backbone whereas I think I am standing up for the right of each person to be true to one's own conscience, and standing up against all those who would force their view on others by using the legal power of the state. . . .

S writes
     I appreciate your column in the KC Star very much. I wonder whether there's a chance I can get a copy of your column regarding the philosophical and historical perspectives on abortion, published about a month or so ago.  I meant to clip it out at the time, but my copy got away from me. Thanks very much for considering this. X--- is inclined (as influenced by our Church) to be VERY rigid on this subject.  I'm hoping X--- can come to understand my perspective a bit more -- with your help!
Thanks again for your work!

Vern responds 
     Thank you for the compliment of reading my column regularly! I'm glad to know the column might be of some use! For folks who are rigid, I think the position of the Catholic priest I present may be most effective in opening the possibility of rethinking, plus the fact that Scripture clearly indicates a fetus is not a person.Here are four options.
1. You can find all my columns archived at
The column you want is at
There you'll also find a note by me and reader comments and my responses.
2. The column is still on The Star website at [link]
3. I include the text of the column below.
4. I attach a PDF of the print version of the column which will look ok to print.
Thanks again for writing!  And while reasoning about abortion seldom works with folks who are immersed in a particular subculture, let me know how your efforts turn out!


     Of course Vern would take his Unity stance, that all teaching is morally equivalent. This is hogwash, and he has no backbone to stand up for the truth. What part of the commandment thou shall not kill does he think is wrong?

Vern responds 
     I do not regard moral questions as hogwash. The commandment not to kill is not as simple as it may seem at first. Kill animals for food? Kill animals for sport? Kill humans in war? Kill a person in self-defense or defending someone else? Capital punishment? Abort a toxic fetus that is killing the mother? Most folks also distinguish between killing and murder. When we kill a dog that is suffering, we do not call it murder. The law also has categories such as manslaughter. What part of "Thou shalt not kill" do I not understand? A very great deal, indeed.
     Concerning abortion, a question is whether a zygote is a person. Only if it is a person is murder involved in abortion. 
     I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of a Unity Church, though I respect enormously many of those who are, as I respect Roman Catholics, Hindus, Jews, etc. I do not see why my affiliation should be a matter worthy of comment in this discussion. Reason, not affiliation, can be more useful. Ad hominem attacks seldom change opinions of thinking people.
     Obviously I am not saying "all teaching is morally equivalent." I am saying I am not wise enough to know when personhood begins.

     Your conclusion: "So I think a society of many views works best when it does not make one theology into law for all." This is what I meant when I said your conclusion was inconclusive - morally neutral...that you have no backbone. I apologize for assumption that you were and are a member of Unity. I was misinformed.

Vern responds 
     Does one who will stand up for you -- regardless of your views on when personhood begins -- have a backbone, and will stand up for someone else who has a different opinion, and stand up against both you and the other person if either tries to make a single theological position the law of the land and criminalize those who disagree -- does such a one opposed to forcing one opinion on others have a backbone? Isn't this parallel to defending to the death your right to practice your own religion while resisting to the death your desire to impose your religion on everyone else?
     Rather than attacking folks on their metaphorical anatomy, it is often more productive to discuss reasons folks have for their positions. A discussion can lead to deeper understanding, even if disagreement remains. The goal of a discussion, I would think, rather than simply to win an argument or malign someone's character, might better be to gain fuller understanding of the issues and how various people might see them.

Chris_Topher , Catholics Can't Vote Obama
     "For many people, especially those who regard themselves as Catholics, God has spoken in the Bible on abortion (early or late), homosexuality, and through his appointed authorities on contraception and other matters. While the (liberal-minded persons') unwillingness to judge other persons is admirable, whence comes (their) authority to ignore everything but a very reduced interpretation of the Ten Commandments? Until quite recently, every Christian of whatever stripe agreed on these moral matters, which suggests that the new view comes from somewhere else than the Christian tradition." - Robert Royal

Vern responds 
     Within even the Roman Catholic church there has been a variety of views in theory and in practice regarding abortion and homosexuality, not to mention various weights given to various biblical passages. Aquinas is an excellent example of the latter. Within other forms of Christianity an even greater diversity has existed. It is incorrect to say that there has been an agreement on the Ten Commandments. Throughout most of Christian history, it has been a relatively unimportant teaching.
     Tradition calls the dozen or so found in Ex 20 and Deut 5 “Ten,” though the phrase “Ten Commandments” does not occur there, but rather in Ex 34:28, where the last commandment is “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.” Like the received set, these words constituted a covenant and were written on two tablets which Moses brought down from Mt Sinai. The phrase “ten commandments” also occurs in Deut 4:13 which focuses on images, and in Deut 10:4. The phrase “Ten Commandments” never occurs with the accepted list.
     Scholars note that the Decalogue is shaped in Hittite treaty form and contains elements of earlier traditions.
     There is disagreement about what constitutes a commandment and how to number them (cf lists by Jews, Catholics, Reformed, Josephus, etc), even supposing “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” does not belong to the proper list.
      Which Ten Commandments is the author citing? Ex 20, Deut 5 (which differs in several respects), Ex 34 (the “seething” list) or some other list?
     The commandments are variously interpreted and this is nothing new. For example, the early Christian church did not recognize the sabbath. By the 4th Century, Sunday, the first day of the week, was designated for worship, but not as an imitation of the sabbath, the seventh day. The phrase “Christian sabbath” dates from the 12th Century.
      The Ten had no particular significance in Christianity until the 13th Century when a list was made part of handbooks for confession. Later, Protestants used their versions of the Ten in Christian education. When they were incorporated into catechisms, especially for the young, they began to assume the prestige they have in modern Christianity.
     For some Christians, emphasizing the Ten Commandments neglects the theology of salvation by grace. For them, posting only the Decalogue is an insufficient and misleading guide to spiritual life.
     Since the commandment for Israel to worship only one particular God was made in the context of belief in many gods, do Christians really want to uplift a document that allows for the existence of many gods?
     The prohibition of images would make pictures illegal and our coins sinful and forbid Statues of Mary, Thomas Jefferson, and Vietnam soldiers. Our museums would close.
     Do those who think the Ten Commandments have always meant the same, from the days of the ox to the days of the spaceship, really want the suffering and economic disruption that would be caused by the closing of hospitals, police and fire departments, communication operations, hotels, filling stations, theaters, and shopping malls to observe the sabbath?
     Should a daughter honor her father who molested her?
     While few defend adultery, some might wonder why fornication is not also prohibited. Attitudes have changed somewhat since the days of Moses. For instance, we no longer stone adulterers to death, as the law filling out the Ten in Deut 22:24 instructs us to do.
      It’s hard for guys not to covet what the neighbors have when advertising encourages us to acquire and possess. But is it okay for a wife to covet her neighbor’s husband or goods since that is not explicitly prohibited?
     And do we really want to teach that the children of those who violate these commands, unto the third and fourth generations, will be punished for their parents’ iniquity?
    To say that until recently every Christian agreed on such matters is to ignore the religious wars of Europe, the reasons for the First Amendment in the United States, and the varieties of understanding inflected by culture, intelligence, and the imposition of power.

     Vern, thats a noble goal you state for discussion, but your goal seems to be to promote a certain view...which I know you have...without actually coming out an admitting it.
     After all, such a view might not be conducive to your role as a "faith" leader.

Vern responds 
     Promoting discussion of many views so that people may understand one another better, and refine one's own views, is, I think, a worthy and noble goal for discussion. Such promotion can be practiced without the need to force or even advance one's personal view. If one believes, as I do, that matters of faith are most meaningful when they are the considered result of one's experience, and if we are all in some ways different, it is important to respect a community of discourse in which individuals freely participate, contributing their own insights, enlarged by others, and suited to each individual's situations. This is an on-going and unfolding process that means my own view tomorrow may be different than my view today. This hopefully produces a bit of modesty in whatever I may claim, but that need not be mistaken for a lack of commitment to a present perspective.
     Some may view the role of the "faith" leader to make black-and-white pronouncements or issue authoritarian or authoritative-like judgments. Those who think they know the certain view that I wish to promote without actually coming out and admitting it (as if I would be ashamed, I suppose), are more than welcome to contribute their own views, and are even more than welcome to state what they think I am reluctant to admit. I personally normally prefer people speaking for themselves, but I can imagine the possibility of some good coming from someone speaking what someone else fears to say, or is unable to do, on behalf of another. Aaron was Moses' prophet.
     I personally find it more appealing when a person is modest about one's own view than if one tries to make a hard sell. Some folks may find such modesty and openness suspicious and label it a kind of subversive technique, or accuse such modesty as hiding some nefarious agenda. Others think this is a way for civil and respectful discourse which draws upon the universe of human experience by which we may come closer in comity and thus better approach sacred reality in humanity, humility and thanksgiving. 
     In the case of the present column, the conclusion I personally draw, I hope with due modesty, is stated using the personal pronoun so there can be no mistake of whose opinion it is, drawn from the variety of views previously enumerated in the column:  "I think a society of many views works best when it does not make one theology into law for all." I take full responsibility for saying this, I am hiding nothing, I am not ashamed to hold this view -- and I welcome other perspectives.
     Sometimes people want me to say things so they can feel supported in their own views or so they can have someone to argue with. I am not obliged to please on either account, but I am obliged to offer, over the course of time, a trail of ways of looking at a variety of beliefs in a discussion of matters of faith; hence the name of the column: "Faith and Beliefs."
     True, it is sometimes dismaying when the postings devolve into ad hominem issues or otherwise stray from the topic of the column. Nevertheless, I am grateful for those who read and comment; and I try, when my schedule permits, to respond appropriately.

Rocky Morrison
     Vern, you seem to forget that this is not what you said at the Meetup groups.

Vern responds 
     With the reminder that the discussion here is presumed to be about the column which all readers can access, rather than remarks not available to most readers, still specifying the context and the content as they are recalled might enable a useful comment; I do not recall anything inconsistent, though changing one's mind as one's experience is enlarged can be admirable.

T writes
     I like the way you think, and what you write in  the Star. About your article on personhood, I have a new book on Amazon, Being Human, Knowing God, addessing the matter this way: Incipient life resides in male sperm and  female  seed and at conception being appears first as zygote-being, then fetal-being, and finally as conscious-being (or historical being), initiated with first breath. I breathe, therefore, I am. I am a particular person in a particular time and place, and I mean because I exist. This consciousness proceeds from a primitive hmm moment  to identity and social consciousness to reflective identity.

Vern responds 
     Thank you for your kind comment on my column and for summarizing one of the fascinating perspectives in your new book,
Being Human, Knowing God. The many disciplines, ancient and contemporary, from which you draw provide an expansive context for the development of your thought. Should I have the opportunity to write again about personhood, I would want to cite your perspective on consciousness. I am grateful that you took the time to comment on my meager effort in that particular Wednesday "Faith and Beliefs" article.

A Medieval guide to spiritual life

“Cloud computing” is one thing and “The Cloud of Unknowing” is another. It is a late 14th century Middle English text, probably by an older monastic spiritual director for younger person, according to Glenn Young, an assistant professor at Rockhurst University, whose email responses to my inquiries appear in full at
     Young said that the “Cloud” identifies three stages of spiritual life, each with an appropriate spiritual practice. “The first stage is lower active life, which entails doing acts of service for others in the world. The second stage is a mixture of higher active and lower contemplative lives, and this involves a practice of reflectively meditating on topics such as the passion of Christ, the lives of holy persons and one’s own sinfulness. 
     “The final stage is higher contemplative life, which is characterized by an experience of simply resting in God’s presence in a silent consciousness that is beyond ordinary thought. Here, the emphasis is on a person loving rather than thinking about God. It is at this point that one enters what the author calls ‘the cloud of unknowing.’”
     Young finds the “Cloud” author suggesting that “God cannot be truly known with the ordinary categories of human thought and language. In this, I believe it can serve as a reminder that religions’ claims to truth need to be tempered with a certain humility, since the sacred can never be fully understood. This perspective can also lead to a healthy respect for other religions that contain perspectives different from our own, since all of us are trying to understand and respond to a sacred reality that is ultimately beyond the human ability to comprehend it.”
     Young has spoken to many groups about the “Cloud.” He thinks it appeals to them because of “its conception of a God who is beyond ordinary thought and its offer of a practice for awareness of this God.
     “It is sometimes difficult for persons in contemporary culture, where a great deal of emphasis is put on rational thought, to appreciate the value of not thinking. . . . This text doesn’t say we should never think or talk about God; what it does say is that there are times when one’s love for God is experienced in such a profound way that it transcends anything that could be thought about.
     “I liken this to an experience many persons have had, in which they say to another person something like this: ‘I love you more than I can say.’ This is very much how the ‘Cloud’ describes the human-divine relationship,” Young said.
     Cloud computing is great for information, but “the cloud of unknowing” may be the place for grace and wisdom beyond words.


L writes
     I enjoyed your column today, the idea of a cloud to find God is interesting. I have found that if you empty your mind that God will rush in to fill the void. We don't say any thing to each other, we just hold hands.Moving on- I keep trying to study different religions, feeling sure that someone might have a piece of the answer, and I really dislike the answer to the question that states, "Well, the (book) says." I read that one of the traditions in Islam is the martyrdom of it's leaders. Is that a truism? That would seem to be a discouragement to move to the upper ranks. Thanks for the articles of faith.


Chris_Topher , Catholics Can't Vote Obama
     If reason insists on shutting down every opening to the sacred, the result will be an eclipse of reason itself...
The eclipse of the sacred has led to a do-it-yourself approach to the holy, to a kind of supermarket of religious faiths. - Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Vern responds
     This is why the community, represented by the elder monastic and the younger person being instructed is so important. The "Cloud" in context is hardly a do-it-yourself approach. But clearly Aristotle (and often the Church) is a bit presumptuous in calling "man the rational animal," for which we have much evidence to the contrary. See also Aquinas who, after a mystical experience, called his work "straw." See also De Docta Ignoratia by Cardinal Cusanus. And so many other Catholic, other Christian, and other non-Christian writers who cherish community. In Christianity, the Church is the Body of Christ, a theme our narcissistic, self-centered, profit-oriented culture neglects, which neglect endangers us. And interfaith understanding is about understanding and respecting without compromising one's own tradition.

Chris_Topher , Catholics Can't Vote Obama
     I don't disagree with you Mr. Barnet.  I thought the quote from Cardinal Bertone was somewhat related to what you wrote. 
     Thank you for writing this piece. 
      I fear our society's moral decay is directly tied to our indifference to God... to quote Peter Kreeft, "Our culture has filled our heads but emptied our hearts, stuffed our wallets but starved our wonder. It has fed our thirst for facts but not for meaning or mystery. It produces "nice" people, not heros."

Vern responds
     Thanks for the amplification.

Four players will offer one spirit 

On stage, four chairs. Even empty, they imply relationships. Even before the team of musicians appear or a note is played, I ready myself for musical magic.
     What can come from only four musicians, four instruments? For me, an edifice of the spirit arises from the musical ensemble known as the string quartet and from compositions they play, also called quartets. The unity revealed from four distinct players imitates the wholeness that is created when relationships are perfected.
     In Christian theology, the best example of this perfection of relationships is the Holy Trinity. In the ancient formulation, God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one unity. It is a model for an ongoing process by which distinctions of persons remain within the divine fullness. The 99 names of God in Islam and the trimurti in Hinduism also point to a unity which we humans apprehend in multiple terms.
     The quaternity of the string quartet consists of  two like instruments, the violins, paired with two different instruments, the viola and cello, like two apples, a grapefruit and a melon.
     Of course the instruments require players, and that’s how the thrill ensues. Beginning at least with Haydn, who is sometimes called the father of the string quartet, amateurs like Albert Einstein and countess others, and professionals and their audiences, have found fascination in the interplay of the four parts.
     The conversation the four instruments have with each other recalls theologian Henry Nelson Wieman’s way of speaking of God as “creative interchange.” Without a conductor, the players of a great ensemble must create a performance by their interchange, listening to each other with extraordinary reverence if the whole is to be perfected.
     Theologian Paul Tillich wrestles with the polarity of “individuation and participation,” both of which are required for abundant living. The quartet demonstrates how that works, the participation of each individual creating the single edifice of sound. 
     One of the world’s great quartets, Takacs, comes to Kansas City’s Folly Theater Sept. 28, thanks to the Friends of Chamber Music. Two much-loved pieces, the Schubert “Rosamunde” and the Dvorak “American” quartets are on the program.
     Takacs will also perform the spiritually searing String Quartet No. 2 by Benjamin Britten. A pianist as well as a composer, he wrote it after a tour performing for survivors of German concentration camps. As the third movement begins, the forlorn tone asks whether exsiccated human relationships can be redeemed. The existence of the ensemble is an answer.

Memories of Rev. Moon, who left a complex legacy
{Vern apologizes for The Star's headline "Rev." style}

After years of curiosity, I met the Rev. Sun Myung Moon — in a reception line at the Assembly of the World’s Religions in San Francisco in 1990. Moon, founder of the Unification Church, died earlier this month.
     On Aug. 18 that year, The Kansas City Star ran a story about the meeting. It began, “Surrounding himself with an eclectic collection of swamis, scholars, lamas and imams, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has declared himself the new messiah.”
     The president of the Unification Church of America at the time James Baughman from Kansas City, Kan.
     I remember Moon’s speech with his strained pronunciation. As a guest of the forum he sponsored to make his declaration, I felt a bit exploited. But rumors of his announcement started long before; and though I knew the Assembly was a front for the Unification Church, the event gathered notable scholars and religious leaders from all over the world, including Huston Smith, Ursula King, Inamullah Khan, Seshagiri Rao, J. Gordon Melton and Mohinder Singh.
    Durwood Foster, professor of Christian theology in Berkeley, with family connections here, was the moderator of my dialogue group, which made valuable comments on the paper I presented, “The World’s Religions: Pieces or Pattern?” 
     I outlined the three “families of faith,” as I call them — the primal, Asian and monotheistic. I assumed that none superseded others. The scholars wanted me to be explicit that, for example, primal religions like the American Indian traditions are just as sophisticated and advanced spiritually as Christianity. 
     Experiences with the Unification Church before and after the Assembly were also both valuable and frustrating. I could find no evidence of “brain-washing,” but I did find broken family ties, such as one might find even in denominations that have originated in the United States. I admired the “Moonies” that I came to know, but I detested and spoke out against what seemed to me to be irresponsible distortions about the lack of religious freedom in America and prejudice against homosexuals. A tour of the Washington Times, owned by Moon, left me disgusted when I saw religious power used for secular politics.
     I’m not troubled by Moon’s theology. From outside one’s own circle, there is no reason to scoff at the belief that Moon came to fulfill the work that Jesus, unmarried and with no children, left incomplete. More familiar claims that a first century Jew was God also require faith.
     As I review the Assembly roster of the 500 guests 22 years later, I am grateful to have been included in a genuine interfaith event. Moon did some good.


Vern reports
     A leader of the Unification Church has written me with the objection that the use of the term Moonies is degroggatory, Although the term was used to clearly identify the Church and was originally placed in quotation marks,and although it was used in a sentence of admiration, its use without appropriate explanation was wrong, and I have apologized.

T writes
     Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your column yesterday.  I went to a couple of Unification gatherings, and found the [members] much less harmful than they were generally depicted at the time. I especially liked your penultimate paragraph, which reminds us that outsider and believer perspectives can vary sharply. I once told a Mormon friend that I found their historical claims preposterous, and she reminded me that I belonged to a church that believed its key figure walked on water. Good point.
     . . . I don’t like Moon’s politics, but it’s hard to see the movement as any big threat.  It’s interesting that many still think we should be tolerant of “religions,” but not of “cults,” as if there’s any way to distinguish the two clearly.

M writes
     I read your recent article in the Kansas City Star about Rev. Moon, and your comments about one of the first interfaith events that you had the honor of attending and if I may quote you, "as I review the assembly rooster of the 500 guests,22 years later, I an grateful to have been included in a genuine interfaith event.  In this case, Moon did some good."  In the past 22 years many more barriers have been broken down between people of different faiths.
     I personally participated in 1 of a series of trips to Israel  in which clergy of different faiths visited Rome and the Holy Land to discuss peace and in 2003 held the first Middle East Peace Initiative. But the greatest achievement for interfaith work was to break down the barriers between the major religions that blinded us from seeing the bigger picture that God is the head of all religions and we are his children which makes us brothers and sisters.
      Rev. Moon further advanced God's vision of one world under God, by marrying people from enemy countries, and from different religions so they could discover their common denominator, God and that God is not only color blind, he does not proclaim to be of any particular faith, but only professes to be our Heavenly Father/Parent and would like to have a relationship with his children who are meant to be the dwelling place of His of Love, as so aptly stated in 2 Corinthians  6:16, "What agreement has the temple of God with Idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them and I will be their God and they shall be my people."  Also in 1 Corinthians 3:16, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?  If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him, for God's temple is holy and that  temple you are. "
This is why Jesus could say,  "You see me, you see God." 
      Jesus had perfected his heart of love, and had made himself completely available to God, unlike the first two children of God who made themselves available to another voice that totally betrayed God and themselves and where upon,Adam and Eve became the false parents of mankind establishing a life style of self-centered love.  And what does the True Parent, God teach?  He teaches that we are meant to be the Temple of God and to live for the sake of others.   Did you know that the world is being transformed with this kind of wisdom and heart of love where people are learning to live for the sake of others because we have had the living example on earth with us for the past 77 years, when he accepted the challenge given to him by Jesus at the age of 15?  Not only did Rev. Moon perfect his own heart of love for God, as the restored Adam, he was able to find his bride, and raise her up to where she could stand in the position of the restored Eve, and together stand in the position and the True Parents of mankind.  "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them, "And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth".  By the way, Rev. Moon is an incredible fisherman in every respect.  There is no one who has worked harder, sacrificed more that Rev. Moon for the sake of liberating the lonely, suffering heart of God who lost everything through the disobedience of his children. 
    I would hope that you have Rev. Moon's autobiography, and that you will read it with a new heart so that you will truly come to understand the great good that Rev. Moon did in his life time and why he and his wife stand in the position of the True Parents of Mankind, and the dwelling place of God.   The doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven has been opened and heaven will come to earth as determined by God.
     May God Bless with a renewed Heart of Love and Understanding in advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth,

Vern responds
     Thank you very much for writing. I appreciate your sharing your experience and your perspective.
     Actually the 1990 Assembly was hardly my first interfaith encounter. My involvement with the International Association for Religious Freedom began more than a decade earlier, and I was actually a presenter at the 1984 IARF conference in Tokyo. But my interfaith work began in the 1960s, so I've been around for a while. In 1989 I founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council following the 1988 founding conference of the North American Interfaith Network, for which I was on the planning committee.
     The most unfortunate thing I remember about the 1990 Assembly, which I did not mention in my column, was the ignorance of the Unification planners who prepared in advance a statement expected to be unanimously approved by those gathered. The problem was the statement made a central reference to God, which of course left out the Buddhists and several other faiths. It is amazing to me still, after all the educational materials available and the trips and encounters folks have, how many people assume that all religions include a belief in God, and how offensive it can be to some to assume that there is agreement about that.
     What we can agree upon, and work together on, is a spirit of awe, thanksgiving, and service to one another. I believe it is in this wholesome spirit that you write. You have found your experiences, including your trips and reading the autobiography (which I also have read) to be important to you and you are kind to write to share your own perspective, and I appreciate your taking the trouble to write me in such good length and with such helpful wishes.

K writes
     I just read your article in the Star. 1990 was a long time ago but it seems like yesterday. James Baughman was a close friend of mine in that  . . .  and I went to K-State at the same time as he. He was very sensative about the use of the word "moonie" and found it to be derogatory. It is like calling a Polish person a Polack. (I'm polish) All in all I found the article to be well written (except for the use of the word Moonie). Thank you for taking the time to reflect on your experiences with the Unification Members.

Vern responds
     First, thank you for writing.
     Second, I agree with your report that "Moonie" can be used in a derogatory manner. For this I have apologized to the head of the local Unificationists. It is worth noting that "Methodist," "Unitarian" and "Mormon" were terms that were originally derogatory as well. One area leader of the Unificationists wore a big circular button that said, simply, "Moonie." I think we may be in a transition time. I wanted my readers to know which group I was writing about since the members have been popularly identified. Still, it was a mistake for me to use the term as I did without explanation or qualification.
     Third, I'm glad the column triggered your good memories of James Baughman. I can remember meeting him only a couple times, but he seemed to me to be a person of integrity. I appreciate your sharing with me your past associations with him.
     I'm glad to have intelligent readers like you for my Wednesday column.

M writes again
     I'm responding further to your recent article, as the last few days simply were not the occasion to go into any depth.  In re: to your last sentence "In this case, Moon did some good.", it's implied, I think, that Rev. Moon did little good.  If you had read through Rev. Moon's autobiography, you should clearly know that, it seems to me, that in the area of promoting peace alone, Rev. Moon made tremendous accomplishments.  His results in this area far outshine that of any living or past leader, religious or secular.  In the list (which is not a complete list of those prominent people who paid tribute) published at - In Loving Memory - Dr. Sun Myung Moon, 39 major leaders of nations and other entities pay tribute to Rev. Moon's contributions to world peace and other areas.  Of these people, 11 are current leaders of nations and other entities.  You could well have left some space in your article to enumerate at least a few of his peace accomplishments, but you took what I feel was too much space centered on yourself.
     Here are just a few of the tributes which have been received:
     Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary-General of the U.N. - "His passing is indeed a great loss for the cause of world peace.  His lifetime commitment and constant efforts for peace as well as his deep concern for human rights and family values testify very clearly of his great love for God and humankind."
     Dr. Armando Calderon Sol, President of El Salvador, 1994-99 - "Rev. Dr. Moon dedicated his life world peace and the goal of one family under God.  From the new life realm that he has reached, he will continue to ensure and working (sp.) for this noble ideal for which he fought."
     Gen. Dr. Falak al-Jamaani Arikat, Former Vice-President of the Parliament, Jordan - "People like Dr. Moon are very rare!  I hold for him extreme respect, and I his death a great loss to the whole world for he was a father to all of us."
     Danny Philip, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, 2010-11 - "This great movement will not stop here.  Rather, it will flourish from strength to strength so that many more people are brought to the realization of global peace."
     A former President of Albania also made remarks at the Universal Seonghwa Ceremony in Korea.  To paraphrase him 'Rev. Moons legacy is not at an end - it is just beginning.'
     Here are just a few of Rev. Moon's accomplishments (whether directly founded by him, his wife, or members who were inspired by Rev. Moon) in the area of peace-making.  Much of this information is found in Rev. Moon's autobiography. 
    Founding the Little Angels School of the Arts, which dancers are known around the world as cultural ambassadors for peace.  At a performance in Moscow in 1990, (pg. 156), First Lady Raisa Gorbachev stated "The Little Angels are truly angels of peace . . ." 
     The International Relief and Friendship Foundation, which has done service projects in numerous nations, such the Congo, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast. 
     The Women's Federation for World Peace, which has branches in some 80 nations and is in general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the U.N as an NGO.
     Purchasing 500 trucks - and this while Rev. Moon was in Danbury Prison - used for the distribution of food to food pantries across the U.S.A. 
    International, inter-religious and inter-racial marriages, breaking down the barriers of nations, races and religions.  These are not only the mass weddings which have been shown in the media.  Millions of couples have received the blessing around the world, many of these in door-to-door campaigns.  This is the surest way to remove the hatreds which have existed between peoples of different races and religions.  At least one very moving testimony involving a Korean-Japanese couple, is mentioned by Rev. Moon in his book (from pg. 214). 
     In 1990, Rev. Moon met with President Gorbachev in the Kremlin; Rev. Moon challenged Pres. Gorbachev to permit religious freedom in the Soviet Union.  In January, 1992, a good number of our members, this writer included, assisted in conducting workshops at Yalta, for university students.
     After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990, convening on short notice, on October 2nd, an emergency conference of the Council for the World's Religions in Cairo, Egypt, to deliver his urgent message of peace to the highest spiritual authorities of the Middle East and the Muslim World.  As Rev. Moon put it "There is nothing more fearful than religious war."  This conference in Cairo involved top Muslim leaders and grand muftis  from 9 nations, including the grand muftis of Syria and Yemen. 
     In December, 1991, Rev. Moon met Pres. Kim Il Sung in North Korea.  Following this, long-separated family members were permitted to travel from N. Korea to S. Korea to meet family whom they hadn't seen since the end of the Korean War.  In cooperation with Fiat Motors, an automobile factory was begun in the North, which has been producing vehicles for some years, for use in N. Korea. 
     Within 2 weeks after 9/11, under Rev. Moon's inspiration, a major interfaith conference for peace was convened in New York City.  This writer was among those who went from Kansas City.  This was the first international gathering in New York City after the attacks.  Rev. Moon organized religious leaders from New York and around the nation, to minister to the victims and First Responders at Ground Zero.  With the assistance of one of our prominently placed members, former Pres. Jimmy Carter met with N. Korean leaders.  This writer heard this directly from the brother who helped to make the arrangements. 
     The Interfaith Peace Pilgrimages to the Middle East, going to not only Israel, but Palestine as well.  What other major religious leader has made such an effort in the Middle East?  Clergy also met with Yasser Arafat; Rev. Moon communicated with Chairman Arafat on 12 separate occasions.
     The Founding of the Universal Peace Federation in 2005 (  Under the auspices of the UPF, major and minor conferences and programs have taken place around the world, and these programs are continuing constantly. 
     The initiative to establish a new consultative body at the U.N., composed of religious leaders of all the major faiths, and which body would have equal voice with the other bodies.  A prominent Philippine Government Official has managed to get initial approval for this body to take shape.  Details can be seen at  What other major religious leader has ever proposed such a body?
     The International Highway Project, the Japan-Korean Tunnel, and the Bering Strait Tunnel, to connect all the continents by surface means, around the world.  As for the Japan-Korea Tunnel, boring on this began from the Japanese side some years ago.
     The above are just a small sampling of the many initiatives and activities promoting peace, which Rev. Moon either started or inspired.  As Rev. Moon has been involved in all areas of human endeavor, he has also made most significant contributions in the fishing industry, as this is a frontier which is much needed to alleviate hunger in the world.  Bridgeport University has been significantly 'turned-around' since its acquisition some years back.  Dr. Norge Jerome, Professor Emeritus, University of Kansas School of Medicine, KCK, had been serving on the Board of Trustees for some years.  Dr. Jerome lives in Shawnee.  She had also once expressed to me her desire to see Rev. Moon nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Soccer as a means of promoting peace has resulting in major Peace Cups events in Asia as well as in Spain.  Pele, the great Brazilian soccer player, has played a leading role.  The Universal Ballet in Wahington, D.C. has been instrumental in promoting this aspect of the dance arts.  There is much more, to be sure.
     I'm attaching to this mail, 5 pages of the report "Spiritual phenomena during helicopter incident (sp.) - Angels Protected Rev. and Mrs. Moon.  This is an excerpt from the testimony of Youngho Kim, a Korean Movie Director, who at the time he witnessed this spiritual phenomena, was not a member of the Unification Church.  As a result of Mr. Kim's speaking out, Mr. Kim lost his position in the Korean movie industry.  But he remains steadfast to tell the story of the life of Rev. Moon, in a film. 
     Below this letter, is an article which was in the Washington Times.  In recent years, the media have not been as negative as before, towards Rev. Moon.  I understand that CNN gave a 'glowing report' (according to a member who saw it) after Rev. Moon's passing.  Nonetheless, in general, the media, including the Star, has I think, quite 'a ways to go' in coming to give a true picture of Rev. Moon and what he has accomplished.
     Rev. Moon suffered tremendous torture in some of his imprisonments, but he never wavered in his eternal faithfulness to our Heavenly Father.  While at Hung Nam Prison, he even had cut his meager rations in half for 2 weeks, giving the other portion to other prisoners.  He truly understood the suffering heart of God.  I don't pretend in the least to understand the tremendous heart of suffering - both physically and in his inner being -  which Rev. Moon endured out of his unconditional heart of love for God and humankind.
     Here is a short excerpt of Rev. Moon's words of September 20, 1976, at Tarrytown, NY:  "Even though I have suffered, and I will suffer still more, by taking this treatment without protest I continuously nurture this tradition, and eventually our way of life and our truth will prevail.  I know it.  The work will never stop, whether I am here on earth or up in heaven."  Shortly before his passing, Rev. Moon has said his final goodbyes to Mrs. Moon on four occasions.  He knew that he had given his all for God and humankind. 
     People around the world who believe in the mission of Rev. and Mrs. Moon as the True Parents of Heaven, Earth, and Humankind, look forward to the Declaration of Cheon Il Guk (Nation of Cosmic Peace and Unity), on February 22, 2013, by the solar calendar.  All of Rev. Moon's public declarations in the past in regard to what would take place, did indeed take place, for example, the decline of Soviet Communism (the conference in Geneva in the 1980's clearly spelled this out in the conference title), the landslide election of Ronald Reagan (headlined in the New York City Tribune on election day before the votes began to be cast), and the election of a President, whose father is black and whose mother is white (pg. 180 of his autobiography). 
     Rev. Moon predicted that after Foundation Day, 'Evil and selfish people will start to decline, while goodness and spirituality will rise in people's hearts.'
     As a young man of 15, Sun Myung Moon wrote the following poem: 

Crown of Glory
     When I doubt people, I feel pain.
When I judge people, it is unbearable.
When I hate people, there is no value to my existence.
     Yet if I believe, I am deceived.
If I love, I am betrayed.
Suffering and grieving tonight, my head in my hands
Am I wrong?
     Yes, I am wrong.
Even though we are deceived, still believe.
Though we are betrayed, still forgive.
Love completely even those who hate you.
     Wipe your tears away and welcome with a smile
Those who know nothing but deceit
And those who betray without regret.
     Oh Master!  The pain of loving!
Look at my hands.
Place your hand on my chest.
My heart is bursting, such agony!
     But when I loved those who acted against me
I brought victory.
If you have done the same thing,
I will give you the crown of glory.  --Sun Myung Moon

Rev. Moon's Last Prayer
     Today, as I have returned the completion of final perfection to the Father I am aware that I have offered my whole life up to this moment to the Father. 
     According to His will, I am spending this time to bring my life to conclusions using this time to bring it to a close with jeongseong (devotion)...Tribal messiahs have established a name that can represent the nation...I have accomplished all these tasks.  I have accomplished everything. Aju
     Vern, while I have strong objections to some things which you have said in your article, please know that I continue to wish you well.

Vern responds
     Again, condolences on the death of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. You have been richly blessed by him, and of course your perspective is different than mine. I am grateful for knowing you and your many courtesies, and I recognize the positive achievements of  Dr Moon and his worthwhile efforts not yet brought to fruition. You were kind to provide me with his autobiography, you'll recall. Your summary below makes a good point that he has done some good. In my mind, that is to be considered along with the narrow vision often manifested in his political dealings. When you have enormous wealth like Dr Moon, you have power, and people are impressed and say nice things about you, especially when you do nice things. It takes no prophetic gift to predict the landslide of the election of  Ronald Reagan, whose legacy remains troublesome, while Jimmy Carter has proved to be far more prophetic and accurate. But I am not going to argue with your assessment. Of course you would feel as you do, and I am glad that you took the time to share your assessment with me.
     My column is not a news report. If I were writing a news report, your criticism that I took too much space to talk about myself would be more than fair. If I were writing a news report, I would not mention myself at all. My intent in my column was to show how, in the instance of the 1990 Assembly, Dr Moon did a good thing and how he positively affected my life and the lives of 500 others gathered there.
     I did not write about the terrible miscalculation of the leaders of the conference who caused an uproar by preparing a text they expected to be unanimously approved but which upset the Buddhists and others because of its presumptive use of the word "God." To me this indicated that the organizers knew surprisingly little about religion or group process. Still, I make a positive judgment on the Assembly for the Unification support for bringing those folks together.
     There were many other things I could have written about, but given my space, I am comfortable with the topic I selected. I hope the distinction between news report and column is clear to you.
     I wish you and the Unification continued success in your efforts to serve others and make the world a better place.
     You are most welcome to follow-up by making your criticism public by writing a letter to the editor or an "As I See It" column? --

M writes again
  After having been quite tired yesterday, I was simply not in the mood to give a fuller response to your last email.  You mentioned Rev. Moon's wealth and the kind comments of others.  Those who gave tribute either had come to know our movement through their contacts with our members in their nations, or, in some cases, may have had direct contact with Rev. Moon, as he traveled to many nations and had been on a speaking tour to different nations, not long ago.  These leaders and former leaders gave tribute to Rev. Moon from their hearts.  Any suggestion that there was some kind of connection between Rev. Moon's control of a good sum of money and these leaders paying tribute, is to show absolutely no comprehension or understanding whatever of Rev. Moon's heart and the connection of heart which many people had with Rev. Moon.  If you doubt this from the words of a member, well, then please ask others who aren't active members, but who knew Rev. Moon, if you dare - including Dr. Norge Jerome (913/962-9020). 
     It was this heart of love for others which impelled Rev. Moon to go forward, to the point of literal collapse; in fact, many of even us members did not know until just this month, that when Rev. Moon was hospitalized some years back, he had heart surgery.  Many of us knew about his state of exhaustion, but we didn't know about the heart surgery.  Rev. Moon would often eat at McDonald's, and the CEO or other top executive of McDonald's would even send annual Christmas or birthday greetings to Rev. Moon. He was known for speaking hours-on-end to members, giving guidance and inspiration - not long ago he had spoken for over 23 hours, without a bathroom break - such was his heart.  These are not mere anecdotes.  His actions were the external manifestions of a deep, internal, heart. 
     Long after Rev. Moon's detractors are gone and many of them are little (if at all) remembered, Rev. Moon's legacy will live on, without ceasing.  When people are negative, or don't understand, we are always comforted by his words to mankind.  In regard to those who are negative, he admonished people to forgive and forget.  He certainly had to himself forgive, often, even embracing Kim Il Sung, who had put him in the Hung Nam concentration camp in 1948.  What a heart!  Loving one's enemy - that was also Rev. Moon.  Anyone who reads Sun Myung Moon's poem from when he was 15, and his message of 1976 (both of which I sent you), and truly understands them, will have some understanding of Rev. Moon's deep heart. 

Vern responds
     Paying tribute is a metaphorical expression of making respectful acknowledgement. The wealth associated with the Rev Sun Myung Moon comes from the amazing number of business enterprises with which he and his family have been associated. I was not implying that Dr Moon paid others to receive their approbation, but it is observable human behavior for some folks to respond to others because of wealth and position. I have no reason to doubt of Dr Moon's good intentions even though I dislike some of his political efforts.
     Transparency is essential and actually legally required in businesses that trade on Wall Street. This means that the serious illness of those essentially identified with an enterprise must be disclosed if traders are to have equal information with which to judge the future performance of stock. I do not compare the Unification Church to the stock market, but I do think that if transparency is required in a secular enterprise, it is surely paramount in a religious organization, so I am shocked that you were not informed about Dr Moon's heart surgery and kept abreast with his medical condition. At the least, you were deprived of an opportunity to pray for him.
     You obviously are in a position better than I to interpret the poem that he wrote when he was 15. I do not know Korean but I do know English poetry and a bit about religion. The poem is precious as a personal record but I find nothing remarkable about it as a poem or unique as a religious statement. Unificationists would surely respond differently than I because of the relationships they have had with Dr Moon.
     Other material from Dr Moon may be deeply inspiring to Unificationists and I am glad. I am acquainted with many faiths and their literature and have a different perspective.
     I think the column I wrote seems to me to be mostly positive about Dr Moon and the Unificationists. I specifically reject the notion of "brainwashing." While the column was not as positive as you would like, I was writing from my own experience. As I explained, it is not a news report.  I withheld the ugly episode about the prepared draft of the Assembly closing declaration about which I wrote you.
     I want you to know that in fairness, your emails have been included with other comments about the column on my website at
     Please avail yourself of the opportunity to express your dismay with my column by making your criticism public by writing a letter to the editor or an "As I See It" column -- as this may be more satisfactory to you than continued correspondence with me, for which I again thank you . . . .

C from St Louis writes 
     I just read your article in the KC Star. Yes, Rev. Moon did much to bring the faiths together. On that he was amazingly successful. He encouraged people of different races, cultures and nationalities to marry each other.  I do understand your uneasiness with how he spoke of homosexuality, and that is a topic of robust discussion in our movement.  What I find encouraging, is that although opinions do differ greatly within the movement, the conversation is open and ongoing. A lot of genuine love is expressed in those discussions I've witnessed. Rev. Moon truly loved those who disagreed with him.  That much I know.

Vern responds
     Thank you for your comment on last week's "Faith and Beliefs" column. I do think that the Rev Sun Myung Moon deserves some credit for interfaith efforts, even when they were guided by incomplete understanding of where interfaith encounters can lead. He made resources available that moved things forward, and that is, in my mind, a thing of considerable merit.
     I am glad to learn that same-sex phenomena are being robustly discussed withing the movement. I hope also that the narrow, partisan, and self-serving political postures that have been earlier supported are also being reexamined. Dr Moon's attitude toward Richard Nixon, for example, failed to measure the evil Nixon did to this country.
     Without ignoring the problems, my column was intended to be mostly a recognition of the positive legacy of Dr Moon's work in supporting interfaith relations.
     Love is a wonderful thing, and one wishes it were more fully manifested within Dr Moon's own family.
     If the love you have witnessed is genuine and productive, it will surely continue to grow into deeper understanding of the various issues we now are dealing with, such as homosexuality, and the movement Dr Moon fathered may be an instrument in bringing about world peace, as he wished. For your good spirit in writing me, I again wish to express my sincere appreciation.


Rocky Morrison
      Moronic Atheist Discussions for the Masses!  Bahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

‘A hopeful glow in my heart’ 

Josef Walker will receive the Crescent Peace Society’s Peace Award at its 16th Annual Eid Dinner Saturday at the Ritz Charles, in Overland Park.
     I’ve been attending these celebrations since they began, and each year this Muslim organization recognizes excellence not only within the Muslim community, but also within an amazing cadre of those of all faiths strengthening our town by removing metaphorical barriers and building bridges instead.
     Walker is now the interim minister at Westwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). An interfaith activist for years, he was a force at the 2001 “Gift of Pluralism” conference and the nation’s first Interfaith Academies, both held in the metro. He has served on  countless ecumenical and interfaith efforts and agencies and was the faith communities coordinator for Kansas City Harmony. Among his many recognitions is the 2007 Vaisakhi Community Service Award from the Sikh community. He has advised many groups, including the Independence Heritage Festival. 
     Walker has worked especially hard with elected and other officials when minority faiths are disparaged.
     I emailed Walker some questions for this column. His unedited responses can be found at
     “It makes me sad when I see good, well-meaning people become infected with prejudice of any kind,” he wrote. “It is much easier to create an atmosphere of distrust than it is to nurture and maintain a community of healthy relationships.
     “When I experience the faith of my friends who are from other religious traditions, whether we are sharing stories or I am simply observing how they go about their daily life, I feel a hopeful glow in my heart. 
     “Recently I (spent) several hours with a Muslim friend as we planned a workshop presentation. . . . I was struck by both the similarities and the differences in our beliefs and histories. . . . I found it important for me to honor and not minimize those (differences) or reframe his beliefs and experiences in my own Christian terms. On the other hand, many times our beliefs and stories seemed . . . parallel even as they remained distinct.
     “In both similarities and differences I could recognize and affirm that God’s grace — beyond all understanding or tradition — was being experienced in, and expressed through, my friend’s life,” he said.
     At the dinner, Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council headquartered in Los Angeles, will speak on “The Muslim Spirit for Democracy.”  I know he will join the others and me in applauding Walker.


D writes
     I, too, celebrate Josef's work. Great compadre!

M writes 
     Love the article Vern! Congrats Josef!

A writes 
     Thank you for the heart warming article as always.We are so blessed . . . .and thank you for all you do.

W writes
     I am troubled by the comment John Kerry made at the Dem. convention "Ask Osama Bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."  If he is enjoying the company of forty virgins as his belief system supposedly prophesied, then the answer might well be "yes".
     While it is assumed that we have the one true God on our side, it seems to me to be an unattractive arrogance to be so certain that Bin Laden was completly misguided, and it is possible that a sizeable number of Muslim faithful might feel that way, as well. Mike Wheeler

Vern responds
     I think the point of Kerry's remarks is that Osama bin Laden is dead and now longer leads an organization dedicated to terrorize the West because of the decisive action of President Obama. I believe this comment was made to strengthen the argument for Obama as a strong commander in chief. The language Kerry used comes, of course, from the GOP and is a political "backfire" statement. Perhaps you are overthinking this, reading into it your own concerns rather than taking it within its context. I took Kerry's remarks as a statement about the security of the United States, not a comment on misguided Muslim terrorist thinking.
     While I appreciate your statement that "it seems to me to be an unattractive arrogance to be so certain that Bin Laden was completely misguided," I have no doubt in my mind that bin Laden was evil and terribly mistaken in how to go about achieving his purported goals of ridding Saudi Arabia of US military bases and responding to Western neo-colonial economic exploitation. You may not be as certain of his evil as I am, so I want to acknowledge that difference between us.
     I also think it is important to recognize our own misguided actions. For example, we overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran.  prime minister, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh and we are still suffering a terrible price for that neo-colonial action. The Arab Spring makes it clear the despotic arrangements the  West put into power are not liked by the people. The thirst for democracy in Muslim countries is great. Turkey is a member of NATO and a great democratic power. Women have been elected leaders in countries with majority Muslim or strong Muslim minority populations. Comments that are informed, rather than prejudicial, are quite helpful. The basis of Islam is completely consistent with democracy, and it is a historical irony that colonial powers have preferred to install client governments instead of democratic ones and now their successors blame the oppressed countries for the situation they created. The oppressive government of Saudi Arabia is an excellent example. 
     I'm curious where the number  "forty" comes from. Usually people who write me about this crap use the number "seventy." An the word "raisins" apparently has been translated "virgins."
     As for your statement that others may feel like bin Laden, of course that is true, but I think it is an minority, and an extremely small minority feel so strongly that they follow him. At least in Afghanistan, that number has been clearly diminished by US action.
     Tonight I'm attending the Crescent Peace Society Dinner with Salam Al-Marayati, president of the national Muslim Public Affairs Council speaking on “The Muslim Spirit for Democracy.” I'm sure you'd be welcome to attend if they still have places available and if you are interested in a fuller picture of the situation. Lending support to mainstream Islam is probably the best way we can make extremists even more marginal.

L writes
     [From Huffington Post] Hi,Vern! My name is . . . , and I'll be e-mailing you about an article you wrote in the Star a few weeks ago.In the meantime,I'd be interested in what either you or your Muslim friends think about Pakistan's so-called blasphemy laws.I look foward to hearing from you!!-Peace.

Vern responds
     I favor responsible free speech.


     Muslims are killing Christians all over the Middle East.Omgallah
Muslims are killing Christians all over the Middle East.

     What does this comment have to do with the article? What does killing of Christians by Muslims in the Middle East have to do with what Vern wrote?

     Just pointing out that that spirit of "peace" and "democracy" is what Muslims talk about when they are in the minority. When they get control, its a different story.

Vern responds
     The forces of history provide many counter-examples. We overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran.  prime minister, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh and we are still suffering a terrible price for that neo-colonial action. The Arab Spring makes it clear the despots the West put into power are not liked by the people. The thirst for democracy in Muslim countries is great. Turkey is a member of NATO and a great democratic power. Women have been elected leaders in countries with majority Muslim or strong Muslim minority populations. Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world is a democracy. Comments that are informed, rather than prejudicial, are quite helpful. The basis of Islam is completely consistent with democracy, and it is a historical irony that colonial powers have preferred to install client governments instead of democratic ones and now their successors blame the oppressed countries for the situation they created. The oppressive government of Saudi Arabia is an excellent example. 

     The Arab Spring has helped put the Muslim Brotherhood in positions of power.  Omgallah was correct, Christians are being killed all over the Middle East by Muslims.  Vern does not deny this, but is apparently trying shift the blame.
     The Saudi Arabian government is made up of Muslims.
      Those are informed comments.  The claim that colonial powers are responsible is uninformed, since the only reason foreign powers got involved in the area was because the Ottoman Turks who controlled the entire Middle East joined Germay in its attempt at conquest in World War one and lost.
     And Jews of course have no rights in those countries, even though a Million Arabs are full citizens of Israel.

Vern responds
     The Saudi government, placed in power by the British, bows to an extremist movement in Islam, which has its counterpart in other faiths, including Christianity, alas. Some Muslims are killing some Christians, and some Muslims are killing Muslims in even greater numbers. Those responsible should be "blamed" and never excused, but understanding the reasons why these things happen is important if we are to work toward a remedy. The fact that the Ottoman Turks sided with Germany does not seem to me to be a very good excuse for the West emabling a fanatical form of Islam to dominate Saudi Arabia (where Christianity is horribly supressed) and ultimately generate the disasters that happened 11 years ago today, Sept. 11, 2012. Jews are in fact welcome in many Muslim countries and historically have been protected from Christians by Muslims. Remember, less than a third of all Muslims are Arab. I cannot see the future of Egypt; the initial steps taken by the new president, Mohammed Morsi, do not represent the extreme Salafi group. If we wish to support democracy, we might consider respecting the vote of the people.

     I notice that you do not deny Omgallahs statement that Muslims killing Christians all over the middle east. Muslims do not give equal rights to non Muslims in those areas.

Vern responds
     Denying facts is not helpful. The fact that Muslims are killing Muslims is also critically important to understand what is happening. Putting facts in perspective can be helpful. This is one of the uses of history. Geography is also useful. "All over the Middle East" is a phrase that might be considered to include Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and other countries that do not so easily fit into some generalizations.

     Yes, Muslims are killing people in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan as well. Yesterday, on 9-11, Muslims torn down the flag of the US at the American Embassy in Egypt and killed state department officials at the Embassy in Libya. The ARAB SPRING is going well.

Vern responds
     Yes, Christians are people, and Muslims are people. Murderers are murderers. Most of the victims of Muslim rage are Muslims, but, as in the case of our murdered ambassador to Libya and staff members, even those working for justice get caught up in rampages. The point is to identify the causes of the rage as accurately as possible so that policy can be more effective. Those who incite others to violence bear some responsibility. In my view, those who throw a match in the tinderbox, are sinful and wicked. We need to clean up our own act even as we wish others to clean up theirs.

     The American Ambassador is dead. And here you are trying to blame a JEW. Trying to throw a match on that tinderbox is sinful and wicked. Remember a few years back when you tried to blame Israel and the Rabbis called you out on it Vern? I hope you are not going that route again.

Vern responds
     It is important to be consistent in condemning violence and never excusing it. It is unfortunate when folks are unable to distinguish between excuse and explanation; some reasoning ability is required if we are to maximize safety in a dangerous world. Knowing the causes of violence and working to reduce those causes seems to be a wise policy. It is also unfortunate when folks who, so wrapped up in hated and fear, confound those who seek to be helpful with those who are providing  information, like the stubborn child thoughtlessly venturing into dangerous traffic responding in anger when the adult points out the danger, and the child acts as if an insult has been delivered. Certain local and shameful cases are well-documented. One does have a right to expect more of religious leaders than such repeated offenses. Fortunately, I am extremely blessed to have friends in every faith community and have received awards for my work from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and other religious and secular groups, so I respect the vast majority of those within each of these traditions and our nation. Obvious misrepresentations are simply part of being visible.

Weddings also bond families

The weather was perfect for the wedding in the park. The bride and groom, each with one kindergarten-aged son, began the ceremony by creating a large circle with colored sand. The couple then invited their guests to stand inside.
     I abhor the traditional giving the bride away by her father. It is like the conveyance of property. It is sexist without remedy.
     Instead I recommend each family offer blessings. The words I often use are, “Who presents this woman to be married to this man, and blesses their love?” The bride’s family responds, “We do.” Then I ask “Who presents this man to be married to this woman, and blessed their love?” The groom’s family responds similarly.
     For legal reasons, with same-sex couples, I use words like  “being united with one’s beloved,” rather than married.”
     However, in this wedding with the two boys, I asked, “Who comes today to be joined as family?” The groom, and then the bride, responded, “I do with my son,” and each boy, standing with the parent, was named. 
     Some couples wish to dramatize their lives becoming one with a unity candle. Often two candles, one on each side of where the couple will stand, will be lit by mothers before the ceremony begins. After the vows are exchanged, the couple take these candles and light a single candle in the middle. It can be quite beautiful and touching.
     But I cannot recommend it for an outdoor ceremony because of the wind.
     Instead, at the wedding with the two boys, containers of colored sand had been set on a picnic table, with a tall, transparent jar, empty. The bride and groom and both of the boys took turns pouring layers of colored sand into the jar. When it was full, it was sealed as a symbol of the blended family’s commitment.
     I said, “Separate sands of time are now brought together, colors mingling, time joined in promise and joy. As these sands are poured into this vessel, you are poured into one another, for time itself is transformed by your love.”
     While ceremonies may be scripted, surprise and spontaneity make weddings sparkle, with children especially. So I was unprepared for a last-minute request that I bless a handful of dice.
     The boys and their parents enjoyed playing board games together, and blessing the dice accented that bonding experience.
     I don’t remember what I said, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, including the park attendant who, with the crowd, applauded the four and wished them well as the wedding turned into an ice cream party with sprinkles.


Vicki Newman
     Congratulations to the beautiful family.

     Children need a mother and a father.  Of course, that is not always the case, but that does not mean it would not be better if they had both. When you think about it, saying both parents could be male, or both female, is sexist exclusion.

Vern responds
     Children need loving parents, two if possible. Studies show no difference between heterosexual and homosexual couples in the quality of the children they raise. When you think of it, I imagine those favoring full marriage rights for all couples would say the State should not decide who you love and give a commitment to. Relying on the principle of liberty, individuals have the right to association and can exclude any they wish from purely private company, but the State does not have the right to practice exclusion that is sexist.

     You can find a "study" to support anything you want. Fact is, kids need a mom and a dad if at all possible. If not, you of course make the best of what you do have.  And the standard under th e law is not the "right to association" of the parents but "the best interest of the child."

Vern responds
     Studies (plural) show no difference between heterosexual and homosexual couples in the quality of the children they raise.
     However, same-sex marriage need not produce children any more than heterosexual marriages are required to do so.
     In considering standards for different situations, it is important not to confuse marriage with parenthood. Then again, many same-sex couples are as good or better parents compared to heterosexual couples, and meet the standard of "the best interest of the child." 

     The latest study, the Regnerus study, is the most exhaustive of its kind and it demonstrates a large difference in raising children between normal family's and same-sex couples with children.
     Hers is an article wrtten by the Son of a Lesbian Mother who Backs the Regnerus Study:

Vern responds
     The same publication reports that -- "The peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems with a controversial and widely publicized study that seemed to raise doubts about the parenting abilities of gay couples, according to an internal audit scheduled to appear in the November issue of the journal, Social Science Research, that published the study."
     The use in this conversation of outlier studies which are flawed hardly bolsters the case presented against the overwhelming majority of studies that support the parenting outcomes of same-sex partners.

     Yes the pressure is worse today than it was in 1973 when gay activists pressured the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a disorder. As the evidence supports it doesn't change it from being so.
     In the same way two people of the same gender cannot produce offspring... They cannot produce the unique 'dynamic' that two different and complimentary people bring... as they were designed to...

Vern responds
     Most cultures in world history have blessed or at least tolerated same-sex relationships. For hundreds of years, within the Christian Church same-sex relationships were blessed inside the church with the exchanging of vows, rings, kiss, and other elements of what we now call a wedding ceremony, when heterosexual marriage was not an official sacrament until the year 1215. Marriages were considered a secular matter, largely about property, and held outside the church, but same-sex relationships were celebrated inside the church because they were about love.
     If we are to understand the nature of human relationships and how various societies have understood them, it is critical that we not presume that our own prejudices represent the history of humankind or the manifestation of Divine Spirit.
     While two men or two woman alone, without surregates or previous marriage, cannot bring children into a same-sex marriage, they can bring to their children the most important foundation, namely love. In my experience, same-sex relationships are often composed of people with different and complimentary dynamics, and to adopt one culture's assigned gender roles as models for children is a betrayal of the innate human capacity for reflecting, as God's image, His plenitude.

     This might interest you: (from the bi-man raised by a lesbian) "Though I have a biography particularly relevant to gay issues, the first person who contacted me to thank me for sharing my perspective on LGBT issues was Mark Regnerus, in an email dated July 17, 2012. I was not part of his massive survey, but he noticed a comment I’d left on a website about it and took the initiative to begin an email correspondence.
     Forty-one years I’d lived, and nobody—least of all gay activists—had wanted me to speak honestly about the complicated gay threads of my life. If for no other reason than this, Mark Regnerus deserves tremendous credit—and the gay community ought to be crediting him rather than trying to silence him.
    Regnerus’s study identified 248 adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships. Offered a chance to provide frank responses with the hindsight of adulthood, they gave reports unfavorable to the gay marriage equality agenda. Yet the results are backed up by an important thing in life called common sense: Growing up different from other people is difficult and the difficulties raise the risk that children will develop maladjustments or self-medicate with alcohol and other dangerous behaviors. Each of those 248 is a human story, no doubt with many complexities.
     Like my story, these 248 people’s stories deserve to be told. The gay movement is doing everything it can to make sure that nobody hears them. But I care more about the stories than the numbers (especially as an English professor), and Regnerus stumbled unwittingly on a narrative treasure chest."

Vern responds
     Before giving full credence to the Regnerus study, it might be wise to await the November publication of the retraction.

     It doesn't really matter... if it happens its because of the army of gay lawyers bent on warping the truth. I don't need to read a book to discover sodomy is wrong no matter what you call it. Bad for you physically and spiritually.

Vern responds
     If it really doesn't matter if the study is discredited because someone already knows the truth regardless of the facts, then the question is raised why the study was used to prove one's point of view in the first place.

Sure some cultures tolerated same-sex 'whatever' but they were the ones that put marriage (man/woman) on an even higher plane because they knew their very existence depended on it.  Families depend on it.  If we had the same reverence for marriage that they did (as in their cultures failed) there would be no children outside of a true family. "Man and woman He created them..."

Vern responds
     There is excellent reading available to show that many forms of family life have been praised throughout human history, and that the Western romantic idea of love, probably brought to the West by the troubadours, themselves influenced by Islamic culture, is an outlier. 
     Consider for example, classical Greek traditions, in which love between spouses was considered decidedly inferior to love between male friends. Plato's Symposium will make this quite clear. Anthropological studies or books like Theodore Zelden's "An Intimate History of Humanity" may assist those interested in  expanding their understanding of human relationships and of human sexuality.
    The fact that even within Christianity, for centuries, the same-sex relationship was sanctified in the Church while the heterosexual marriage was considered a secular affair and arranged outside the Church indicates how ignorant we are of our own history.

How much do you know about Sikhs?

We can respond to the murders in Wisconsin earlier this month by learning about Sikhs and their faith and making Sikh friends. Which of these statements are true?
     1. World-wide, there are fewer Sikhs than Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, but more Sikhs than Jews.
     2. Although India is overwhelmingly Hindu, the current prime minister is a Sikh, known for his rectitude.
     3. The word Sikh means peace-maker. 
     4. A Sikh building for worship is called a gurdwara, from the words guru (teacher) and wara (gateway).
     5. A gurdwara usually has a langar, a kitchen-dining hall where free communal meals are  offered as an expression of respect and hospitality.
     6. To emphasize the equality of every person under God, traditionally everyone is invited to sit on the floor.
     7. There have been ten human gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak, some 500 years ago, in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent where Muslims and Hindus sometimes contended. His earliest revelation was that “There is no Muslim; there is no Hindu,” meaning that such labels cloak our true nature. 
     8. The 11th and last guru is the written scripture, the 1,430-page Guru Granth Sahib. In a gurdwara, it is reverently placed under a canopy. Since Sikh reject caste and gender discrimination, any Sikh may read from it in public. It contains material by Hindu and Muslim writers as well as by Sikhs. 
     9. Scholars note that Sikhism is like Hinduism in its focus on discovering God within oneself, and like Islam in its focus on history and justice.
     10. In 1699 the Khalsa, a special order of Sikhs, was begun. Males initiated received the name Singh (lion) and women Kaur (princess).
     11. By the 1960s, several Sikh families were living in the metro. By 1989, the Midwest Sikh Association completed a gurdwara in Shawnee. 
     12. The Sat Tirath Ashram in Kansas City’s Hyde Park began in 1973 with American-born followers of Yogi Bhajan, who formed the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization). Bhajan was a master of kundalini yoga, and the ashram continues to offers training in that practice. 
     13. All men who wear turbans are Sikhs.
     14. The most famous Sikh site may be the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India.
     ANSWERS. All statements are correct except #3 (Sikh means disciple) and #13 (some Hindus, Muslims and others also wear turbans).

     Since 9/11, Sikh groups in the United States have reported a rise in bias attacks. There have been more than 700 reports of hate-related incidents against Sikhs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to the Associated Press.


P writes
     Is Vern a psychic as well as his other talents? I have requested copies of today's column for our God Talk meeting tomorrow . . . .

C writes
     Thank you for the writing the article and all your tremendous effort for the interfaith community. This has been picked up by Sikh moderators of various groups and gone worldwide.

A writes
     Great column . . . on the Sikhs!  I made copies for my students . . . . 


Pardeepinder Singh
  good article ..really informative !!

Parvinder Singh
     adn no.12 is not concerned with sikh faith ....there is no concept of Yoga in sikh is very well ...

Vern responds
   Thank you for this opportunity to clarify. 
     In the words of a Sikh friend, many, but perhaps not even a majority, of "those attending to Yogi Bhajan's teaching about Kundalini Yoga also follow his example as a Sikh. Sikhs as a matter of fact, are prohibited from proselytizing for their faith. The story is told of one of the first American yoga student to tie a turban who did so without consulting YB. He was questioned closely by the master who said he approved only because the turban was tied voluntarily, not under YB's instruction. We respect all religious beliefs as valid and pray only that all may practice their beliefs freely and without interference or harassment."
     Also my information indicates that yoga is mentioned in the Sikh scriptures, specifically practices like breath retentions, rhythms and postures. My information is that these "were used by the Gurus to enable or help their followers to attain enlightenment by meditating on the Holy Name of God. Yoga is used to calm or quell the mind as a means to remembering our true nature as children of the One God. This is not something that can be achieved simply by hearing it from a holy man. The mind must be mastered and THEN will our true nature be revealed."
     Naturally every faith has within it variations and viewpoints and applications, especially as it moves from one culture to another. The wonderful rich Sikh history is a shining example of change as external circumstances change. But I believe the key understanding of Guru Nanak and all the Gurus, and the Scriptures, remain untarnished in the vision of God, a vision expanded as never before, blessing our own nation and our community.

Siddharth Choudhury
     we tried about sikh. Sikhism Is just like Hindus.And Muslim and other also wear a turban of man.

Vern responds
     Yes, the ANSWERS portion of the column clearly states that "some Hindus, Muslims and others also wear turbans."

    Vern Barnet, your information is incorrect. Yoga is NOT part of Sikh teachings -- the source of your confusion is no doubt provided by the followers of the late yoga hustler Yogi Bhajan. He did in fact bring a made up blend of New Age ideas and kundalini yoga to the United States in the heady days of the counter culture. He later added the Sikh trappings as well as a requiring a devotion from his students that is unknown among orthodox Sikhs. There are at least half a million Sikhs in this country. This fractured group of  mostly white Americans whom Yogi Bhajan left behind should not be construed as representing mainstream Sikhi. They are an embarrassment.

Vern responds
    Every world religion has distinctions within it, especially as it moves from its parent culture to others. I think it is wonderful that here in the Kansas City area the followers of Yogi Bhajan are welcomed into the more traditional or "mainstream" company, as I have myself witnessed on several occasions. Certainly the traditional Sikhs and those inspired by Yogi Bhajan are doing good things for themselves and the larger society. I am blessed to have friends among both groups and know the mutual regard and respect that exists, just as Protestant and Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians can work together and respect each other. On the other hand, just as Roman Catholics have disputes among themselves about the nature of their faith, I am aware of disputes among the "mainstream" Sikhs as well. I am not in a position to dispute with someone who calls himself a Christian, to tell him he is not, nor can I say to someone who loves the Guru Granth Sahib, knows more about Sikhism than some traditional Sikhs, prays faithfully, does good works, and shows a loving spirit -- I am not in a position to say he is not a Sikh. Others may, of course, say what they will. But scholars, in deciding what is a religion, look to the stories, scriptures, dress, commitments, and do forth, that folks use to understand themselves. In that sense at least, scholars would be inclined to consider the followers of Yogi Bhajan as part of the Sikh faith. While you may say someone thus is not a Sikh,  I do not have that right, nor am I certain that you may properly consider me uninformed on these matters. It might be useful to note how much respect was evident by, for example, Governor Richardson (who also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations), at memorials for Yogi Bhajan, respect which furthered the embrace of orthodox Sikhism. In the authoritative volume, Interactive Faith, page 183, you will find Sikh Dharma described as a subtradition. The book was in part a product of Dr Tarunjit Singh Butalia of the World Sikh Council-America Region.

     The fact that Yogi Bhajan's "Healthy Happy Holy Organization" is widely recognized as an authoritarian group and that this information has eluded you is insightful.
     Linking Yogi Bhajan to ex-governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson won't bail out the corruption in which Yogi Bhajan's Sikh Dharma followers are mired. Yes Yogi Bhajan and Richardson were cronies who had a lot in common as womanizers
who depended on a culture of secrecy to keep themselves in power. Both men have been publicly discredited. Yogi Bhajan's situation is not as fluid as Bill Richardson's since the old charlatan has been dead for several years.
     There is a wealth of information concerning this organization. It's not a pretty story and many Sikhs are actively aware of the situation.

Vern responds
     I am not aware of any organization, traditional or not, without problems. But problems do not indicate whether a movement is or is not a part of a particular tradition. For example, the Vatican obviously has problems with an organization of American nuns, but that does not mean that the nuns are not Catholic. Whether an organization is authoritarian or not may cause us to praise or condemn it, but may not be relevant to deciding whether it is part of a tradition.
     Concerning Richardson, I am not aware that allegations are proof, and I am not aware of his even being brought to trial. The American tradition is to regard a person as innocent until proven guilty.
     In three decades of experience I have had with local members of Sikh Dharma, I have noted great friendliness, wonderful cooperation, service to others, and respect for all faiths. In my experience the Sikh Dharma folks have enjoyed the respect and cooperation with other Sikhs from Asia, Hindus, Muslims, Jains and so forth, even as they have extended friendship to all.
     Some Christians do not want Mormons to be considered Christian, but scholars cannot honor such a narrow request because Momonism is clearly based in the narrative of Jesus Christ. I even know Protestants who do not consider Roman Catholics to be Christian. This is, from a scholarly perspective, absurd. I write from a scholarly perspective. Others have the right to classify folks as they wish, but the standards I try to employ validated by experts in the field of religion.
     I fail to see any error in item #12 in the column.

     Rev. Barnet, You consider yourself a scholar, why not do some reading to, as Yogi Bhajan would say, elevate your consciousness? Sikh Dharma/3HO members are adherents of Yogi Bhajan. His invented yoga teachings are wrapped in the gauze of Sikhism. This is not a benign, evolving offshoot of a major religion nor is it akin to something like the sectarian fracture in the Episcopal Church..
     Authoritarian groups like Yogi Bhajan's are regarded as highly destructive by experts in several fields. While your loyalty to your Kansas City acquaintances is understandable, you might ask yourself why there are so many more former members of 3HO than there are current followers.
    Those who remain have undergone years of conditioning -- repetitive chanting, dietary strictures, sleep deprivation, etc.-- that transformed them into what they are today. They and you are certainly allowed to call them Sikhs. Others -- ex-members, offspring, parents, therapists and law enforcement -- recognize Sikh Dharma as something else.
     Of course, as a scholar, you are aware that yoga, astrology, numerology, as well as criminal behavior, sexual and psychological abuse all violate Sikh teachings.

Vern responds
     I do happen to know a bit about the "fracture in the Episcopal Church," but do not draw the conclusion it seems you wish me to draw. I am also familiar with religious oppression, forced conversion, and conditioning processes. I also know that every faith has members who are less desirable in the views of others. I know Christians, who despite official disapproval, follow astrology. But perhaps most important I am aware of the development of faiths. No faith is static; it is constantly responding to the complex environment around it. Sikhism is an excellent example of how a revelation was possible to Guru Nanak in the environment where Hindus and Muslims populated the Punjab. The development of Sikhism under the ten human Gurus illustrate this point well. For example, Guru Arjan collected the Adi Granth. (His martyrdom also caused changes in the developing faith.)  Other developments include the 5 K's, the  institution of the Khalsa, and the end of human Gurus after Guru Gobind Singh.There is the building of the Golden Temple. And so many more important events. Historical development continues to occur with tension among immigrant Sikhs as they seek to understand and fulfill their faith in the new American circumstances. Disputes about wearing the turban, about cutting the beard, and about chairs in the langar are all part of the continuing development of a tradition on this continent, as is the work of Sikh Dharma, adapted to American devotees. 
     My experience with Sikh Dharma has been most favorable, as has been my experience with the Midwest Sikh Association. Your experience (and perhaps study) concerning Sikh Dharma brings you concerns. I have considered what you have written, but remain of the same opinion. Do not think that I am ignorant of disputes within religious organizations. But I think for readers of these comments, rather than attack followers of a particular sub-tradition who are held in high esteem by those who know them here in Kansas City, your faith would be more appealingly presented by praise of the good work Sikhs perform and the charitable spirit they present to others sincerely seeking to fulfill their love and obligations to God and fellow human beings.
     Frankly, especially after the murders in Wisconsin, spreading hatred of folks with whom you disagree may not be such an admirable thing to do. The purpose of of my column was to praise Sikhs and to suggest that folks make friends with the wonderful people who are rightly proud to call themselves Sikhs, whether they be of Asian, European, or other extraction.

Know what you are missing

A reader of this column recommended me to her daughter, Mackensie Roland, a pastoral associate for the Catholic community in Tokyo. During a visit home, Makensie suggested we met about her interfaith interests. She holds a degree in theology from St. Louis University. I asked how she developed interest in other faiths.
     “I don’t remember why I decided to visit a synagogue, but there I was. Just before reaching the entrance, I passed under a canopy that shaded my path and bridged the space between the synagogue and the outside world. 
     “The canopy was both organic and the work of human hands, a combination of wooden lattices and flowering vines. The final warm rays of the sunset wove their way into the interlaced vines, filling the blossoms so that they seemed to glow from within. I was filled with wonder. 
     “The wonder continued in the sanctuary. The familiar psalms were sung in melodies so different from the intoning of the priests at my own Catholic church.
     “Then the rabbi spoke about the canopy that had enraptured me. It was a sukkah, a shelter created to celebrate the Sukkot festival. She spoke of faith being a sukkat shalom, a ‘shelter of peace’ where people can build and restore their relationships with God and with each other.
     “While I was worshipping with the Jewish community, I finally made sense what I had known all along. I knew Christianity began as a Jewish movement, so many Christian rites have their origins in ancient Jewish traditions. But experiencing Judaism on its own terms, seeing it for itself instead of through my Christian lens, showed me that I knew, but I did not understand either religion. 
     “Of course American Judaism today is not the same religion that Jesus practiced. Jewish beliefs and traditions been  molded by history and perhaps by divine grace. Still, having only a Christian worldview had not only diminished my understanding of Judaism, but also blocked out the full beauty of my own tradition. 
     “They say that you don’t know what you have until it is gone, but I also think sometimes you do not know what you have been missing until you find it. Christianity has always been spiritually fulfilling, but learning about other religions has somehow made my faith more complete,” she said.
     Many of us, like Makensie, find that our own faiths become richer by learning about others, and we are helped to grow in our relationship with God and with others.
     So I was delighted when she concluded, “I expect more wonder as I return to Japan. I am eager to experience Buddhism and Shinto and find what I don’t yet know I’m missing.”


M S writes
     you wrote a terrific column today--right on a topic I've been debating some Catholic friends about.  I'm forwarding it to several.

M F writes

L writes
     I've a quick question for you: I read on a website that you were/are a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church(?). Is that true? I didn't know that; it clears up a lot of questions I had about some comments you've made in your Wednesdays'"Faith&Beliefs"column. For example,you wrote in a column on August 15 entitled"Know what you are missing"about a young pastoral associate named Mackensie Roland who was on a visit from Toyko,Japan. Ms.Roland made several comments that left me somewhat perplexed,given what I know about Roman Catholicism and what it claims about itself,claims I would assume, perhaps erroneously,Ms.Roland would be in full agreement with;otherwise why claim to be Catholic? Ms.Roland claimed that..."Having only a Christian worldview had not only diminished my understanding of Judaism,but also blocked out the full beauty of my own tradition"...What the what,Ms.Roland? What exactly is the source of your confusion? Your own"worldview"became clear,Vern,when you professed yourself delighted when Ms.Roland ended your column by claiming: "I expect more wonder as I return to Japan.I am eager to experience Buddhism and Shinto and to find what I don't yet know I'm missing". Well! To say that I was astonished when I read that would be an understatement. After discovering your UU"tradition" on the biographical website,and having it confirmed by your own writings,Vern,I can see why Ms.Roland's explorations would delight you.What baffles me is the idea that any professed Christian would imply,if not outright state ,that in some ill-defined sense Christ is not enough!! I simply cannot for the life of me fathom that. Now,I've been a student of comparative religions for many years,and Its been my delight to realize that unless Jesus Christ was and is a rank,deluded and deluding liar,charlatan,fraud,and con artist,what He has and is offering cannot be matched,duplicated,or manufactored by any man-made religious system I've ever heard of. Believe it or not Vern,I have a modicum of respect for atheists; at least they let you know up front where they stand.But pseudo-religious dilletantes and equivocators...well. In the UU tradition,Jesus Christ is simply another human teacher/guru,no different than The Buddha or Muhammad;indeed all the cardinal doctrines and teachings of the Christian Faith,and The Scriptures themselves are largely rejected by Unitarian Universalists. My question is this: In what way is that not calling Almighty God a liar,and His Word a lie,a myth,a fable,a fairy tale? I'm saddened that Ms. Roland feels the need to chase after the phantoms of various-"isms"; but then again,perhaps its not so surprising. After all,it is a thoroughly manufactored religion,an-"ism"with man smack-dab in its center(the so-called"pope");no wonder it fails to satisfy our deepest longings to be connected to God,as must all"religions"ultimately. Only The Risen Lord and Saviour can do that,and that's what's missing,Ms.Roland.-Peace.

Vern responds
     Calling someone a Unitarian Universalist is not giving much information. There is a tremendous range of experience and opinion within that denomination, including a trinitarian position and an allied Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. . . .
     You may not know about the rich interfaith tradition within the Roman Catholic Church, with such major events as the 1986 "Assisi" conference convened and presided over by Pope JPII or writings by such profound Catholic theologians and scholars such as Hans Kung, Paul F. Knitter, the work of Benedictine monastics for decades, Thomas Merton, John Borelli, the work of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Karl Rahner, Lumen Gentium, Nostra Aetate and other encyclicals and pronouncements.
     The "relative" question is so beside the point, as beside the point as worrying about the color of the blue, as you will find with some basic reading. You have many wonderful things to explore.

P writes
     Frankly,I've had it with Islam.
     Hello,Vern,how are you? I trust this missive will find you well.I've written you before,most recently in response to your August 15th"Faith & Beliefs"column entitled"Know what you are missing".(I didn't agree with your"delight"at the supposedly Roman Catholic girl's chasing after various religions looking for what she claims she's missing;if it can't be found in Christ,why call yourself a Catholic?)-At any rate,I don't know if you follow world news,but I read about a truly beyond horrific story out of Pakistan,to wit: A 15/16 year-old girl's parents murdered her by dousing her with acid because she was observed talking(talking!)to a boy.Murder by acid,Vern.These...parents refused to take her to a hospital for at least a day;by the time the child received help it was too late,she died the next day.(By the way,her older sister turned the parents in;initially they had the gall to claim the youngster tried to committ suicide,later they confessed to doing the!  vile,heinous deed.) That's it Vern.I'm done trying to understand Islam,after trying for over 25 years of study,interaction with Muslims,etc.Like the Catholics worship of Mary,these so-called"honor killings"(murders) have made it clear to me that Islam has literally nothing to recommend it as a viable religious system,nothing.When I read about the vicious,beyond brutal murder of this innocent child by her own parents for the sake of what the Islamic/Muslim world(or far too many nations in that world) call"honor",I was so filled with rage and horror I could barely speak;even now,you are the first person I've relayed this story to. Frankly,I'm not sure if the average Muslim realizes how incredibly damaging stories like these are to Islam's claims about itself-these incidents portray the religion as intolerably misogynistic.(By the way,I'll be passing this story on to our mutual friend Bill Tammeus;I want to get his take on it.)-At any rate Vern,I'm done.The ironic part of this is Musl!ims are constantly relating to the Christian world how Its advent supposedy elevated the rights of women and girls: doing away with infanticde against female infants,ensuring the rights of women,etc.,and yet it seems to have no answer for the cruel hatred and mistreatment of its female adherents! You can consult with your Muslims friends,Vern,but as far as I'm concerned as long as there is a deafening silence in regard to these so-called"honor"murders,there's not much that can be said in its defense.-Yours in Christ

P writes again
     Frankly,I've had it with Islam. Hey,Vern Laurence here.Just ran across a horrific story out of Saudi Arabia: A prominent religious scholar was arrested yesterday(?) for the torture-murder of his own daughter.She suffered a fractured skull,both arms were broken,and she had been subjected to electric shocks.The worst part? She was 5 years old.Let that sink in,Vern.5 years old,viciously,cruelly murdered by HER OWN FATHER,a so-called"religious"scholar!! I sent a long e-mail to our mutual friend Bill Tammeus on this issue,explaining to him why I am done trying to understanding Islam after over 25 years of study,personal interaction with Muslims,exploring the history,the philosphy...I'm done,Vern.I no longer believe that Islam is a viable religious system worthy of my respect or regard;I simply cannot believe Muslims have any real interest in reforming their faith in light of its virulent misogyny;there is no doubt in my mind that the very worse thing to be in an Islamic country is a woman or ! a girl!!
     Only the most naïve or the most"theologically"correct still believes that this hatred of women and girls on the part of far too many Muslims(not all,but still far,far too many!) Is some kind of"cultural"or"tribal"custom or aberration! Even if it is,so what? Why is Islam powerless to eradicate the perpretration of these vicious,heinous murders,often committed by individuals who are supposed to be the protectors and guardians of these defenseless,powerless girls and women,their own fathers,brothers,uncles,sometimes their own mothers,Vern!!! I'm telling you Vern,there is something deeply disturbing and psychotic in regards to these ugly crimes,and let me make it clear: These so-called"honor"killings(murders) have done and are doing enormous damage to the claims Islam makes about itself! So,whatever you have to say on this matter,Vern: It had better be good!-Yours in Christ,Laurence.[By the way,our friend Bill asked me if I should be"done"with Christianity because of the a!trocities committed by professed"christians"down through the centuries-The Crusades,The Inquisition,The Holocaust, question was so patently absurd I considered ignoring it,but I answered him.Simply put,I would never,EVER give up my Savior because of the actions of disobedient,"say-so"supposed"christians"-that would be a rank absurdity.Just because you stick feathers up your butt,that doesn't make you a chicken! Jesus Himself gave a grave warning to those who CALLED Him"Lord,Lord"]...-At any rate Vern,I await you reply,and again: It better be good!!!

Vern responds 
    Apologies for this delayed response. I've been unable to read your emails ("It had better be good...", "Frankly,I've had it with Islam") until now.
    Your infelicitous synecdoche does nothing to respond to my travels, decades of study, and many Muslim friendships. If you were aiming to change my opinion, you have failed; I remain faithful to my experience and to my . . . understandings. I don't find you asking questions about Islam so much as presenting uninformed rants. If you were open to exploring another view, I'd be happy to suggest some paths for you to examine, beginning with the video I mentioned in my recent column on Islam, and the interview I did with Akyol .
    You've come to your conclusion. What is there for me to say? I'll keep you in my prayers.


     Orthodox Judaism and Christianity can not both be true, as far as the identity of Jesus is concerned.

Vern responds
     A statement claiming that Judaism and Christianity cannot both be true as far as the identity of the Jewish person Jesus is an excellent example of a very particular concern found in many Modern Western approaches to religion.

     Judaism and Christianity both can be wrong, not just as far as identity of Jesus is concerned, but wrong in general as a false view of the world in regards to the claims they both make about the world. Religion, of course, cannot offer a valid picture of the physical world and maybe at best a glimpse into psychology of humans. Christianity maybe right about Jesus as leader of the movement and even him thinking he was a prophet or presenting himself as son of god, yet since Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher he could have been just a "David Koresh" of his times.

Vern responds
     Thank you for this comment. Those who think dualistically (right/wrong in this case), often ignore other options even within Aristotelian logic. Albert Schweitzer's "Quest for the Historical Jesus," after all these years, still presents a compelling case for an eschatologically-motivated Jesus, as suggested. However, the Christ of faith is another matter, and focus on facticity may very well be a Modernist preoccupation.

Recalling our debt to Islam

This may be a good time, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, to ask why many of us, including many Muslims here, don’t think much about the enormous contributions Islamic culture has made to our own.
     Try figuring your tax using Roman instead of Arabic numerals. Do you drink coffee, the brew developed by Muslims? Could Christian Thomas Aquinas have written without his encounter with the thought of Muslim philospher Ibn Rushd (also known by as Averroes)? The story of our indebtedness to Islam is much more pervasive than these examples, and usually ignored.
     Here’s a local example. One of the icons for Kansas City, Giralda Tower on the Country Club Plaza, across from Nichols Fountain, appears twice on the city’s Wikipedia page and on our brochures, calendars, maps and magazine covers (the word “magazine” comes from the Arabic). It is a scaled replica of what was once a minaret in Seville, Spain, from which the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, was chanted. In hometown pride, we point to a monument echoing Islam.
     Why are we uninformed? I put this question to Maria Rosa Menocal, whose 2002 book, “The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain,” is widely praised. She is married to Kansas City Public Library Executive Director R. Crosby Kemper III.
     She said that an answer begins by recognizing “a rupture in the Renaissance” that “traces itself directly back to Latin and Greek” classical culture, ignoring, while utilizing, the advances of Muslims and Jews.
     In many ways, she said, the Renaissance, by erasing its immediate past, is a “reaction to the Middle Ages, which it depicted as dark, unknowing and backward.” As part of this, the Muslim and Jewish brilliance during the Middle Ages gets wiped out.
     And, she said, we grow up thinking that the Middle Ages are “staid and dark and dour.” In fact the Middle Ages, were vibrant and “revolutionary”: the age of the troubadours, the rediscovery of Aristotle, the beginnings of science and the development of vernacular languages, which at first many intellectuals tried to reject by writing in Latin, imitating the classics.
     “Even the (Christian) conquest of Jerusalem (in the year 1099) ends up with bringing great food and clothes home,” importing Muslim goods and manners to the West, she said.
     Her book helps us recover those Medieval splendors and recognize the origins of much of our own Western culture. The book may also help us bring the mutual respect that then existed among Muslims, Jews and Christians into our own lives. 


H H writes
     Great column today.  Not to mention Al-Gebra of course.  I tell you, those Muslims.

Vern responds
      Not to mention alchemy, algorithm  . . . . zenith, zero! You have quite a way of expressing yourself! 

M M writes
    Thank you for your edititorial about our debt to Muslims.
I do wish to make a few comments. We indeed have imported many things from their culture over many hundreds of years. The Crusades saw thousands killed or displaced, however much was learned. Food, textiles and drink were imported from Muslim lands. Years later Marco Polo was intrieged by their culture on his travels. Polo also went to China, where he made other discoveries. He found that the far eastern cultures were much different than the near eastern. 
    The whole of the western world at the time of the Crusades believed that Jerusalum was the home of the Christian religion(the Jewish were there for 2 thousand years or longer). The Muslims were evolving as they read and practiced the teachings of their prophet. He wrote the book for their destiny.
    To the point. Over my years on this earth I have many things Iam aware of that come from other cultures. I accept them as the evolution of this world. 
    I do not, however accept the writings of someone who suggests by a feel good thesis, that Muslims are to be lauded! Do you think that they are such that it is time for the lamb to lie with the lion?
    Their prophet left them with a plan to enslave the world! To wit:(I take some license here). To others who are not Muslim- convert them- enslave them - or kill them! This was pointed out very well from a former Muslim man who lectures around the US. He pointed out that as we sit by, the Muslims are taking over the world bit by bit. Take a look at Europe where Sharia is being written into laws. In England, there have been riots from people resisting the addtion of Muslim laws into their culture. Australia and New Zealand have told the Muslims to obey their laws. What did the Muslims do? They operate their own private courts to enforce their laws. Women and children are property of the men, and in the courts they are treated as such.
    You sir, wish us to feel good about the Muslim faith. OK, I feel good about their contributions. Turn your own paper back a few pages and read about the young woman killed in Afganistan. Do you still have that feel good aura? 
   I have yet to see a Muslim missonary in Kansas doing any good works. I have seen a relative going to South America and Haiti to help others. A fine young woman of 22 years who never has tried to convert, enslave or kill.
    Complancy, if left to grow will let these people over run the world.hank you for your edititorial about our debt to Muslims.
I do wish to make a few comments. We indeed have imported many things from their culture over many hundreds of years. The Crusades saw thousands killed or displaced, however much was learned. Food, textiles and drink were imported from Muslim lands. Years later Marco Polo was intrieged by their culture on his travels. Polo also went to China, where he made other discoveries. He found that the far eastern cultures were much different than the near eastern. 
    The whole of the western world at the time of the Crusades believed that Jerusalum was the home of the Christian religion(the Jewish were there for 2 thousand years or longer). The Muslims were evolving as they read and practiced the teachings of their prophet. He wrote the book for their destiny.
    To the point. Over my years on this earth I have many things Iam aware of that come from other cultures. I accept them as the evolution of this world. 
    I do not, however accept the writings of someone who suggests by a feel good thesis, that Muslims are to be lauded! Do you think that they are such that it is time for the lamb to lie with the lion?
    Their prophet left them with a plan to enslave the world! To wit:(I take some license here). To others who are not Muslim- convert them- enslave them - or kill them! This was pointed out very well from a former Muslim man who lectures around the US. He pointed out that as we sit by, the Muslims are taking over the world bit by bit. Take a look at Europe where Sharia is being written into laws. In England, there have been riots from people resisting the addtion of Muslim laws into their culture. Australia and New Zealand have told the Muslims to obey their laws. What did the Muslims do? They operate their own private courts to enforce their laws. Women and children are property of the men, and in the courts they are treated as such.
   You sir, wish us to feel good about the Muslim faith. OK, I feel good about their contributions. Turn your own paper back a few pages and read about the young woman killed in Afganistan. Do you still have that feel good aura? 
    I have yet to see a Muslim missonary in Kansas doing any good works. I have seen a relative going to South America and Haiti to help others. A fine young woman of 22 years who never has tried to convert, enslave or kill.
    Complancy, if left to grow will let these people over run the world.

Vern responds
     Just to be clear, I write a column, not an editorial. Editorials represent the position of the paper. A column is the responsibility of the writer. My column appears each week. I've been writing for The Star since 1994.
     A word about myself. My background includes a doctorate and world travel, including many Muslim counties. Here in the metro area, I have hundreds of Muslim friends (as I have numerous friends within the various Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and other faith communities). In 1989 I founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council.
    As for Jerusalem, over the 3000 years since its adoption by David, it has been governed by Muslims far more than by Christians or Jews. Muhammad is generally thought to have been illiterate, so your statement that he wrote the book, if you mean the Qur'an, would be disputed by Muslim as well as Christian and Jewish scholars.
     The life of Muhammad and the Qur'an itself clearly demands religious tolerance.  Jews and Christians are particularly protected. As I understand the historical record, it clearly shows that Islam has been far more tolerant of other faiths than Christianity has been. None of the Muslim friends I have have ever tried to convert me. I have never, in this country or abroad, met a Muslim missionary. I do know, however, Muslims who are part of our metro area in sports, medicine, law, engineering, and many other areas who are outstanding citizens. Many of them work to improve society here and elsewhere. One, for example, when Christian churches were being burned in the South, raised money for their rebuilding. Others have joined with Jews and Christians to send aid to both Israeli and Palestinian children.
     Your discussion of Sharia is terribly misinformed. Catholics obey their law, and do Jews. A Catholic cannot get a divorce, but must apply for an annulment through a religious court. A Jew in certain traditions even has legal restrictions on who may marry and what may be eaten. To confuse religious with civil law is not helpful. There can be overlap, as for example, some Christians protest against civil law allowing gay people to marry on the basis of religion, and on the same basis want to outlaw all abortion, even though other religions require it in certain situations (as to protect the life of the mother).
     Certainly there are wicked Muslims, just as there are wicked Christians. But I do not believe that is the fault of Islam or Christianity.
     I strongly suggest you read the wonderful and entertaining book which I featured in today's column.

M M writes again
     I too am educated, however I agree to disagree. I feel that the Islamic(Muslim) extremeists as well as their less violent leaders are on a mission to change the world. A threat that concerns me about the future of my grandchildren. I will never wait idle, I will continue to make my concerns heard. 

Vern responds again
     Well, then, let us join forces on what we agree on: working against extremism wherever it is found, in Islam, in Judaism, in Christianity, in Hinduism -- anywhere !

M M writes a third time
    Once again, I disagree. Your platitudes to the Muslims do not seem to persuade me. I do strongly believe that the extremists want to change the world.
     I grew up in a time when when racial issues would be resolved. Not in my neighborhood as everyone there was poor. The people next door(white), the people down the street(black) got along together. I know that there were wage and social issues that I was not aware of as a child. I did not,however have any bad experiences with the black people. As a young man, I was welcomed into black homes, restaurants, bars and even their private clubs.
    My point in all this is not even in the 60's was I ever threatened by a black person. I evolved to live as best I can with their community. The Muslim community has not shown any thing like that. Their leaders(make no mistake they listen even to the extremists) offer distain at our culture.
     A chance,perhaps to grow into a force that can change the US? I believe that is the agenda. The total disregard of Australian law,for example. So the Muslims(men) set up their own courts that practice Sharia law. The women have less than one half the say in a dispute before the "judge". The man has 100% of the say. Do you think the women and children have a chance under this system?
     They wish to change us by attrition. They are doing it in Europe.
The World will evolve no what I(you) believe. The direction that I believe it is going is worrysome to me. I have a 3 year old grandson and a granddaughter on the way. I will leave them money enough to protect them-but for how long? I don't know! 

Vern responds a third time
     Of course extremists want to change the world. But very few Muslims are extremists, just as very few Christians are.
     I have repeatedly, repeatedly, heard with my own ears, Muslims praise American democracy and especially the US Constitution. Far from disdaining the American culture, millions are part of it, some families going back generations (not just the slaves who are buried not far from the 9/11 site in New York). And obviously you don't know the Muslim women I know!!!
     Look, you have your limited experience and I have mine. Which of our study is more accurate? Naturally I think since I have traveled many times in Muslim countries, have known Muslim friends for decades, see them in prominent roles in Kansas City (literally saving lives in the case of the doctors) and raising money -- for example -- for the Christian Churches that were burned in the South a few years ago  and in many other charitable ways, and having studied Islam historically and contemporaneously, I have my opinion.
     You have yours. You seem unwilling to consider any of the points I have previously raised. I have responded to yours. Are you going to expand your experience by travel, making Muslim acquaintances, or reading the book I recommended? Do you want to be frightened by real threats and figure out how to reduce them, or do you want to be frightened by unlikely threats and waste your energy where it does no good? Do you want to help solve the problems for your grandchildren or leave them a world of increasing violence and hatred?


    Islam attempted to conquer Europe and destroy Christianity, but was defeated in major battles at Tours and Vienna.And Muhammed himself, when he was not killing Jews and other enemies, married an eight year old girl.

 Vern responds
     One can look at history many ways. Islam did in fact "conquer"  Iberia (Spain) but they did not destroy Christianity. On the contrary, Christians and Jews were, in the main, protected, as the book cited in the column demonstrates. Muhammad himself, and the Qur'an, specifically demanded protection of Christians and Jews. When the Christians expelled Muslims and Jews in and after 1492 and confiscated their property, etc, Jews went to Muslim lands for protection. Christians sought to destroy the indigenous cultures of South and Central America, not to mention the near-genocide of the American Indian and the colonization and exploitation of Africa and much of Asia. 
     Many Christians married young girls as well, although Muhammad had but one wife while Khadija was alive, and later married widows and others as part of political, protective, and charitable efforts as was the custom in those times. See also the polygamy in the Bible. Muhammad's marriage to Aisha was not consummated until some time after the marriage. Child marriage was common in Medieval Christian Europe. The concept of marriage then varies from the modern understanding. 
     Historically, Islam has been far more tolerant than Christianity of other faiths. Christianity has often seen itself as the one true religion, while Qur'anic scripture and actual practice has led Muslims not only to recognize other faiths but to protect them. Again, reading the book cited or any scholarly material on the subject will help to remove the very ignorance which is the subject of the column.

    Christians are certainly not "protected" in many Muslim Countries today as example from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt tell us, and as vets I have talked to have told me.
     Historically of course the Muslims did not destroy Christianity largely because they were unable to.  Their attempts to take Europe failed; had they succeeded the story would have been far different.
     And sure, people claiming to be Christians have done a lot of things wrong, but Muhammad was the leader and he ordered the deaths of many and marrying an eight year old girl was sick by any standard.  Of course, that kind of thing is still going on in Muslim countries.
    The claim that Islam is superior in regards to tolerance and other things ignores the differences between the Jesus and Muhammad.

Vern responds
     True, Islam did not come to all of Europe. But a hundred  years after the death of Muhammad, Islamic power stretched from what is now Spain to east of the Indus River, the largest empire the world had ever known. Much of Europe was a backwater, and those who visited the Muslim parts of Europe were amazed with the scientific, literary, and practical advances (like running water). Generally, Muslims do not destroy Christians and Jews because their religion forbids it. Christians and Muslims rose to distinction and power in Islamic Andalusia (Spain), for example, because of the respect accorded them. Alas, the current situation where violence is evident is unusual historically and can be traced to a number of factors, including the reaction some peoples have to the economic colonialism that continues -- cf the West's overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Iran (he wanted Iranian oil for Iran) in 1953, and we are still paying the price. While the Muslim world is extraordinarily varied, from American Black Muslims to Arabs (maybe a quarter of the world's Muslim population), to Indonesia, geo-political and historical circumstances need to be considered in evaluating how, in general, Muslim and Christian peoples have reacted to each other. The terrorists of 9/11 were energized by what they interpreted as American hegemony in the case of US military bases in what they regarded as holy land, Arabia. Failing to see our own faults does not give us much credibility in criticizing the wickedness of others. Our job is to see self and other with greater clarity. Our lives depend upon it.

     Islam has Alla which is master (slave owner) rather than Abba which is Father

Vern responds
     Allah is the Arabic word for God. Christian Arabs and Christian translations of the Bible use Allah for God, just as the French use Dieu and the Germans use Gott and the Spanish use Dios. Prejudicial misunderstandings abound. 

    That is a very simplistic explanation; it is just not a matter of translation. As far as slavery, its still going on in Muslim controlled areas.

Vern responds
     The explanation may seem fully sufficient to those who accept the legitimacy of the dictionary and the universal acceptance of those competent with language.
     Further, I join in criticizing any culture (like our own) that permits the conditions in which enslavement (de facto or de jure) is possible, or the denigration of women and the right to control their own bodies, or the denial of full dignity to folks of all races and different sexual "orientations," and the right of  everyone to health care and basic sustenance. In such matters, it is useful to remember our own Christian history, which until recently denied women the right to vote, enslaved black people, continues the conditions which encourage trafficking, and otherwise fails to achieve a fully moral state.

     And while our own country opposes those things, they still go on in Muslim countries. And I don't see how you can blame Christians anyway...atheists tell me this is not and never was a Christian country. I quite agree.
     But I don't know what you mean by a fully moral state: that is not possible when a million and a half unborn are murdered and deprived by their own mothers of their only chance at life. Heck, if murderous mothers want to eliminate their own offspring, give them all DARWIN AWARDS.

Vern responds
     Whether this is a Christian nation or not depends whether one speaks from a historical, social, demographic, theological, moral, or other perspective, and according to how one describes "Christianity." 
     Whether abortion is murder depends on when a fetus becomes a person, a question to which Christians like Aquinas, Dante, recent popes and others have differed, and different faiths, like Judaism, have different positions on abortion. Whether abortion is justified in cases of the certain death of the mother if the fetus is brought to term, or incest or rape or unviable deformity of the fetus is also debated. A democracy may very well favor the wisdom of decisions made as close to the individual circumstances as possible within the legal parameters developed by the Supreme Court.

     Their religion forbids destroying Christians and Jews? Citations from the Koran, please. In the meantime, it does not prevent the opression of Chirstians in places ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to Indonesia and all the way back to Egypt.  You would have to be truly deluded to deny it. And also in the meantime, your excuses for the 9/11 terrorists and your backhanded blaming of the Americans for it are noted. You gotta be kiddin me.

Vern responds
    Nothing in reality should be denied, nor should violence be "excused," but its causes should be understood for our own protection, even as we condemn it and seek to prevent it.
     With the Bible, I suppose one can take any passage from the Qur'an and twist it to one's purpose. Still, as the Qur'an is lived by most of the Muslims in the world and throughout history, I think these passages fairly reflect the attitude of Islam toward others. I certainly recommend reading the book the column cited, and other knowledgeable literature, and even more, I commend making friends with local Muslims and travel in Muslim lands.
     "There is no compulsion in religion" (Qur'an 2:256) has been traditionally interpreted to mean that it is forbidden to seek to convert others. I myself have experienced this first hand in the Middle East. Historically, when Muslim rulers (good or evil) came to control new areas, they did not require conversion of the non-Muslims; they were given a special status, known as dhimmis. If this were not true, how did so many Hindus survive the Moghul rule? How did Jews and Christians become part of the government in Muslim Spain?
     "You will surely find that, of all people, the one who are nearest in love to those who believe [in the revelation of the Qur'an] are those who say: "We are Christians. (Qur'an 5:82.)"
     Remember that Moses, Abraham, Jesus and other important figures to Jews and Christians are revered by Muslims (Mary is mentioned more in the Qur'an than in the Bible), and that Jews and Christians are called "People of the Book" -- a term that was later expanded to include other religions as Islam spread. 
     "O mankind, We have . . . made you nations and tribes, so that you might know one another," a passage often cited expressing God's love of diversity (Qur'an 49:13)."
     "And We  caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed kindness and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. (Qur'an 57:27)."
     "Have you seen him who belies religion? --The one who repels the orphan, and urges not the feeding of the needy? So woe be to those who pray, but are  heedless of their prayers! Those who make pretense [of piety], ad withhold acts of kindness. (Qur'an 107:1-7)."
     "The servants of the Compassionate are they who walk upon the earth humbly, and when the foolish address them, they answer: 'Peace!' (Qur'an 25:63)"
     Peace to the foolish and the wise.

      From Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt, all the way to Indonesia, Christians are oppressed by Muslims. And that "special status" you refer to is one of discrimination. You know that.

Vern responds
     And it is clear that Muslims and Sikhs and others, including Christians, are oppressed by Americans. And Muslims oppress Muslims. And Jews oppress Jews. It's amazing we spend so much time pointing out the sins of others when we have so much work to do to clean up our own behavior.

     Muslims have freedom in America that is not granted Chrstians in most other Muslim countries.
     What amazes me is how much you point out the sins of others while refusing to take responsibility by making your own positon clear.
     Just because you think you are above it all does not mean you are.

Vern responds
     I believe we do best by facing all of reality. That is my position. Those who deny the horrors in a few Muslim countries that we continue to fund and support, like Saudi Arabia, and those who condemn Islam wholesale as a religion, are, in my view, very selective in their vision. Those who excuse the burning of the Joplin mosque as unrepresentative of America or Christianity but focus only on wickedness elsewhere seem to me to endanger us all by not dealing constructively with reality, facing evil wherever it is and responding to it effectively. 
    My position is that we need to promote understanding of the world's faiths in order to deal with the three great crises of our time: the endangered environment, the eclipse of true personhood, and the rending of the social fabric. The primal faiths have special insights into nature; the Asian faiths into the soul; the monotheistic faiths into social covenant. 
     My position on these matters, in The Star and elsewhere, is set forth abundantly and I am pleased if anyone is interested. But I do not have to write in categories of thought that are not suitable to the subjects with which I deal, anymore than I can explain differential calculus to someone who has yet make acquaintance with algebra. For those wishing such a study, preparatory materials are certainly available.

     Vern your atheists pals are saying this is not a Christian nation; you are saying it is depending on whether it fits your argument.

Vern responds
     It could be a sloppy and inattentive interpretation of the following to say whether this is a Christian nation depends on "whether it fits your argument." A closer interpretation might be to say it depends on the context of the discussion and the meaning of the term "Christian." It does not have to be an argument at all. Failure to perceive someone else's categories of thought, and instead the forcing them into one's own, is a frequent cause of difficulty.
     "Whether this is a Christian nation or not depends whether one speaks from a historical, social, demographic, theological, moral, or other perspective, and according to how one describes 'Christianity.'" 
     Nowhere does this sentence suggest an argument, or to tailor a usage to an argument. It is simply a reminder that clarity can be useful -- whether one is thinking on one's own, in a discussion, or in an argument. But to assume only an argument seems to be a rather narrow construction.
     By the way, I wonder what this has to do with the column.

See yourself in exhibit's icons

Seldom have I seen an art show that so refreshes the old by presenting the new as “Icons in Transformation,” now at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, in the nave and in Founders Hall, at 13th and Broadway.
     The traditional works, meticulously labeled, come from the Vassilevsky Monastery in Russia. The contemporary pieces have been created by Russian-born artist Ludmila Pawlowska, who told me that her shows, about 60 in Europe and on this continent so far, always include both the old and the new so they can dialogue with each other.
     According to tradition, when Veronica wiped the sweat from the face of Christ as he went to his Crucifixion, his image was imprinted on the cloth. Pawlowska’s transformed Veronica icons, using fabric, revivify the traditional image painted on wood.
     When I saw one of her icons of the crucifixion using shell casings, the modern implements of murder shocked me into recognizing the death of many in the image of Christ.
     At the show’s opening of more than 100 works last month, Tanya Hartman, professor at the KU School of the Arts, and the Very Rev. Steven C. Wilson, rector of Grace Church in Carthage, discussed the  significance of the new and the old icons. You can find the complete text of their remarks at
     Hartman said that “Pawlowska brings the whole world into her art. Using wax, pigment, found objects, masonry, ceramic fragments, wood, glass, burlap and a myriad of other materials, she creates an inclusive metaphor for faith: it is both vast and intimate, profoundly personal and yet universally recognizable as a source of humanity and truth.”
     As a student encountering  icons in Europe, Wilson at first thought they were idolatrous and ugly until “one morning when the scales fell from my eyes and I saw . . . that it wasn’t about me seeing the icons. It was the icons who were watching me — the saints who aren’t dead at all, but alive and well in God’s more immediate presence, looking through these windows of the soul at me.”
     While we can see traditional icons around town — from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church, 3333 Broadway, to Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, 11901 Pflumm Rd. in Overland Park — this show honors the old with the new by cleansing our eyes with the divine. 
     Pawlowska’s icons with mirrors show us our own eyes to find God’s grace. The Very Rev. Peter DeVeau, cathedral dean, told me that, seeing Christ in ourselves and in each other, we all can be icons in transformation.
     The show is open 5-8 p.m. for this “First Friday” and continues through Sept. 7.

From inside another’s head 

This is the fifth time I’ve read Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty’s 1988 book, “Other People’s Myths,” and every time it gets harder. 
     I mean each time the book seems more profound, more shocking. Doniger (the name she now uses) explores how to get inside other people’s heads without costing your own, to purchase the ultimate mysteries in one’s own faith by seeing how other traditions possess what can only be suggested by  rituals and the stories rituals enact.
     The book is difficult because she often addresses her professorial colleagues with methodological as well as spiritual issues. At the University of Chicago Divinity School, she succeeded my teacher, Mircea Eliade.
     (Doniger’s Jewish father, a Talmudic scholar, knew how to get into the Christian head. He founded two magazines for Christian clergy. Many of the sermons he wrote for them were preached without acknowledgment in Protestant pulpits all over America.)
     The book explores sacred stories and the rituals, their origins, how they lose power and how we can recover their insights.
     Since David E. Nelson, a former pastor of St. James Lutheran Church here, is smarter than I am, I wanted his head to help me with the book. We both were studying in the Chicago theological ethos at the same time, though we did not know each other then. David since served on the adjunct faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology and has been convener of the Greater Kansas Interfaith Council.
     In our final session on the book, David recalled John Denver’s song, “Rocky Mountain High.” He said that a person freshly affected by familiar ritual is, in Denver’s words “Comin’ home to a place he’d never been before.”
     Getting inside someone else’s head can help us see home, or a routine, from a startlingly new perspective. We can recognize what has always been there that we did not notice before, or had forgotten.
     Doniger’s discussion of how ancient sacrifices in India — first human victims, then animals, then plants — shocks us to reconsider our own stories, from God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, to the institution of the Eucharistic bread and wine.
     For many Christians the sacrifice, the murder, of the God-man Jesus, is made flesh in the vegetative Eucharistic meal. It also celebrates his resurrection.
     Safe in our seats on a roller coaster or at the movies, we can be terrified. Is our terror real? For Christians, this book can refresh the familiar communion routine with the real terror of deicide, the assurance of redemption and the ecstasy of imitating Christ serving others, whatever the cost.

     This column was drafted and edited with the final paragraph beginning, "Safe in our seats at the movies, we can be terrified." After the shooting crime in Aurora, CO at the opening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” early in the morning of July 20, I changed that sentence, but the  meaning of the column's original ending is deepened by that event. We can feel vicarious terror from our involvement in a movie -- and when violence, such as a movie portrays, becomes literal off the screen.

     The text of the book, which was reissued in 1995, is only 166 pages. Add the notes and bibliography and you still have only 225 pages.
     David and I planned one session on each of the seven chapters.
     The idea expressed by John Denver is similar to the beginning of the last stanza of T S Eliot's "Four Quartets" (Little Gidding):
    We shall not cease from exploration
     And the end of all our exploring
     Will be to arrive where we started
     And know the place for the first time.
The obverse of this idea appears also in the "East Coker" section of the Quartets:
     . . . There is, it seems to us,
     At best, only a limited value
     In the knowledge derived from experiemce.
     The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
     For the pattern is new in every moment
     And every moment is a new and shcoking
     Valuation of all we have been.


J W writes
    Anytime you can work Rocky Mountain High into a column is good with me!

D T writes
     Reminds me of Lloyd Webber's Judas and his questionings of Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar". Helped me see the juxtaposition, tension and grace combined, in the godman, Jesus, in newer ways. We made it a ritual with the kids to watch it each Holy Week. THX!


     Join me and other members of the Anit Atheist Goldstein Squad at Barnes and Noble at 119th and Roe 7 PM Friday night! The Master himself will be there!  Rendevouz in the Coffe Shop.  Iced coffees for atheists willing to debate!

Water, A Kansas City Symbol

As our All-Star visitors discovered last week, we take pride in our fountains. 
     In every major religious tradition water has something of a sacramental character. Christians practice baptism, Muslims observe ablutions, Jews employ a mikvah, Hindus revere the Ganges River, water is an offering in Buddhism, the Shinto tradition includes misoge, Sikhs use amrit in initiation — and so on.
     Recognizing this, the planners for the 2001 “Gifts of Pluralism” interfaith conference concluded the event with a ceremony with water drawn from 14 area fountains on both sides of the State Line. Those waters were mingled with a collection from the Nile, Amazon, Ganges, Tiber, Yangtze, Kaw, Missouri and many other waters  to signify how Kansas City now embraces faiths from around the globe.
     These waters have been used in numerous interfaith ceremonies since, including in 2007, when Harvard University’s Pluralism Project and others brought an international group of teachers and students here for the nation’s first “interfaith academy.” 
     For its first season in the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Kansas City Symphony commissioned three works about water. Chen Yi’s “Fountains of Kansas City” premiered in September, Daniel Kellogg’s “Water Music” in March and Stephen Hartke’s “Muse of Missouri” in June. The compositions celebrated delight in our fountains, the power and motion of water and our history of growing along the river.
     This Friday, the Symphony is featured nationally on the PBS Arts Summer Festival, locally on KCPT. Even though the works about water are not included, Helzberg Hall is awash with blue lights suggesting the fountain theme. This celebrates much of who we are, but I wish the water’s local interfaith significance had been recognized.
      On the first anniversary of 9/11, when the mingled waters honored our tears and cleansed our hearts at the pool at the daybreak observance at Ilus Davis Park, the Symphony contributed a brass ensemble. At the event that evening, again with water, the master of ceremonies was from the Lyric Opera family, and the Kansas City Ballet offered an [unforgettable] solo [performance]. 
     Kansas City became nationally known then for its strong interfaith programs in part because of civic alliance.
     Art gives body to the human spirit. Promoting interfaith understanding means supporting our arts organizations. Conversely, a note in the Symphony program book about how mingled water has become a welcoming symbol here, or a vessel of mingled waters on the platform, would have amplified our city’s values and aspirations. 

    Kansas Citians can be proud of our Symphony, Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and home-town girl, Joyce DiDonato, being featured for the hour-long PBS Arts Summer Festival which you can view on line by clicking on the link.


D T writes
     My father has taught 5tg/6th grade Sunday School for over 60 years. One of the thing this Korean War Vet does is invite the kids to the house and takes them on a "jungle cruise". He hooks the tractor to the trailer and takes them to the creek on the old farm place. The wading is refreshing and fun. 
     See also Jimmy Buffett's writings about how water--from womb to waves--are a part of our lives. Am also reminded about Langston Hughes' "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"--one of my favorites.
     THANKS for "wetting" my spiritual appetite again!

Some 40 posts have been made, mostly by "trolls," 
and most posts have nothing to do with the column's subject.

     Interfaith is valuable, if the faiths in question are valuable. Some aren't. Like the various fountains in Kansas City, some are clean, some are full of disease.

How’s your Sanskrit today? 

How’s your Sanskrit? You may know more than you realize.
     In fact, the word know comes from the same Indo-European (IE) root for the Sanskrit jnana. A Greek form of the root inflected by Latin gives us the English term gnostic, referring to knowledge of spiritual mysteries. You, faithful reader, know what agnostic means.
     Have you ever watched or created a video? Again, an IE root is the source of the term. Some scholars think the Sanskrit vidya, another word for knowledge, arose from a lexeme for seeing. With the twists and turns of consonants and vowels as language developed, we have an astounding number of English words, from advice and evidence to wit and wizard
     Its opposite, avidya, in a spiritual context, is not seeing the unity of our individual selves with the cosmic reality.
     The Hindu god of fire is Agni. Sometimes I like to think of him when the key goes in the car ignition switch or I look at igneous rocks. When I ignite the barbecue charcoals, I think of two meanings agni had for Sanskrit peoples: the fire in the coals and the fire in the stomach that digests the food. Both were key ideas in the development of sacrificial ritual.
     Yoga is a term so familiar we no longer italicize it. It means union with God or the practice which makes that union achievable. The English word most closely related is yoke, but other transformations have given us join, junction, conjugal, subjugation and zygote.
     Sutra is another familiar term, used for some Hindu, Jain and Buddhist sacred texts, such as the Brahma Sutra and the Heart Sutra. In Sanskrit sutra means thread, as in a thread of thought (nowadays we might compare with a thread of emails). The English word derived from the IE source is sew.
     Some Sanskrit terms, like yoga, have come directly into contemporary English.Avatar, karma, nirvana, mantra, mandala, ahimsa, om, soma, pundit, swami, and even satyagraha can be found in recent dictionaries. Of course their religious significance is often bleached or torn by the way we now use the terms.
     I was surprised to find my favorite Sanskrit term in the 2001 “New Oxford American Dictionary,” though I doubt its technically fair definition is very intelligible — shunyata: “the doctrine that phenomena are devoid of an immutable or determinate intrinsic nature.”
     This non-theistic Buddhist teaching is a simple but profound insight that everything depends on everything else. In our time of partisanship, academic specialization and widening gaps in our social order, I wish this Sanskrit term were better known.

     With a bit more space, I would have mentioned cowboy Pecos Bill. The Sanskrit term for sacrificial (domestic, in some systems) animal is pashu, the Latin cognate, pecus, means cattle, and a derived  word in English is impecunious — without cattle (which meant, in effect, wealth), hence without money.
     Thanks to Father Steven Wilson (Grace Episcopal Church, Carthage,  MO), here are two more entries, shampoo and juggernaut:
    Shampoo derives from the Hindi champo, a form of champna, a kind of massaging discovered by Europeans in India. Hindi developed from Sanskrit as modern English developed from Anglo-Saxon/Old English.
    Juggernaut derives from the Hindi Jagannath (an image of Krishna as Lord of the World), from the Sanskrit jagannatha. This is an  interesting example of a Western misinterpretation of an annual festival of the god. No, devotees do not willingly place themselves under the wheels of the perambulating Krishna statue. 


C  V writes
     I am C-- from India and I happened to chance upon your article in titled "How's Your Sanskrit Today?"
     It was a really pleasant surprise to see that you had noted so many words that bear a Sanskrit lineage. As a student of Sanskrit, I am often baffled at how encompassing the language actually is and it was a real surprise to read your article.
     Especially because people from the very land where Sanskrit flourished have forgotten its essence ;) Thank you.
     And it was also another brilliant surprise to see that you had a deeper understanding and belief in the concept of shunyata :)
     Keep up the good work. "Namaste" :)

Vern responds
    . . . As for Shunya -- I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the Buddhist theme of the Void -- 500 pages about Nothing! -- and I just skimmed the surface! . . . 

Honoring "unalienable rights"

The Declaration of Independence provides no hint that corporations are, like human beings, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 
     Our subsequent Constitution never mentions corporations, much less endows them with the First Amendment rights of freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and petition. 
     A corporation is not created by God but by the state, which can and does establish rules for its conduct. A corporation’s worth can be calculated, but the worth of a person’s soul is inherent. 
     In “Citizens United,” the divided Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling recognized corporations as persons with First Amendment protections of speech. Worries about political corruption were dismissed.
     In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that commercial “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” They cannot vote or run for office; they are run for profit, not the general welfare; and their actions may not even reflect the will of their shareholders.
     Corporations are indispensable, but theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s 1932 classic book, “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” pointedly warns against the power of commercial corporations to distort the political process and pervert human values. 
     Valuing personhood above profit is inherent in the Declaration and in every theology and every faith I’ve ever encountered.
     Later this month members of one faith will highlight the value of personhood “by fasting from sunrise to sunset in order to remind themselves that others hunger and to relieve the hunger of others, to practice discipline through self-denial, to nurture family relationships, and to strengthen commitment to God,” in the words of a 1997 proclamation by then governor of Kansas Bill Graves, recognizing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Harvard’s Diana Eck was so impressed with the proclamation that she discusses it and quotes the full text in her 2001 book, “A New Religious America.”
     So when earlier this year the current governor, Sam Brownback, signed legislation based on a misunderstanding of Islam, Graves’ embrace of the First Amendment was compromised and  the personhood of Muslim citizens was slighted.
     This day may we revel in the Declaration’s truths of divinely endowed personhood for everyone. More than the legal fictions that elevate corporations above us, may we cherish our own unalienable rights as citizens.


S H writes
     Thank you for your insightful article in today's Star. I hope it will help people gain the right perspective about Islam-and for that matter-all other faiths that enrich our society.

A M writes
    I was delighted & am deeply appreciative of your wonderful & thought provoking piece in the Paper on 4th of July.

D C writes
     Thank you for expressing those thoughts. Amen and amen !

Vern responds
     I hope that our nation can gain a better perspective as we move through the festivities today. But it requires our ongoing efforts.

D T writes 
     Along with last Sunday's article on Shariah Law and yours from yesterday, perhaps Gov. Brownback's knowledge of law, government and faith will enter the present millenium?

Vern responds
    It is more likely to snow yet today!


Rocky Morrison
     The Constitution in our own time only means what Five People on the SCOTUS say it means.
     "Personhood" is shown to be meaningless. If they say a Corporation IS a person, it is so! If they say an unborn child is NOT a person, it is so!
     We are no longer free, personhood only means what they say it means.

     What about when 'The Star's beloved Obama foisted the HHS mandate, arising from his desire to neutralize The Church, on all Christians of good conscience? Our First Amendment rights have been compromised and our personhood slighted... Where's your outrage there?
     This country was based on those very Judeo-Christian morals and the media opposes Christians at every opportunity...

Vern responds
     The Declaration of Indepdence states that . . . "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"; the Constitution begins, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
     Note that the government is not established by God but by the citizens. Specifically Christian language is not part of the body of either text. While general religious terms such as "Providence" and "Supreme Judge of the world" are employed in the Declaration, they do not appear in the Constitution which espressly forbids religious tests for office.
     The First Amendment should, in my opinion, be  implemented with the least possible entanglement between "church" and "state" and with respect for those of all faiths so far as possible. Sometimes this means balancing various claims. In the case of contraception pills being available through the health program, I think those who serve in a religious capacity in religious organizations should be exempt, and those who serve in secular organizations in part funded by religious organizations and/or managed by them with employees from many faiths, operating under non-discrimination protections, should have contraceptive care provided not by the religious organization but accessible directly from their private insurers. This seems a reasonable balance to respect, to be specific, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in its baliwicks (even though most Catholics use the pill and retain the right of religious freedom as citizens even if the Church wishes them to conform to Humanae Vitae) on one hand, and the conscience of Catholics and non-Catholics who are employees and see contraception as moral choices for their situations. They also deserve respect. This is the balance the Obama administration is seeking and has been applauded by Catholic health care/ hospital associations and criticized by Catholic bishops.
     Thoughtfulness, study, compromise, compassion and humility in dealing with such a difficult situation may be more appropriate than outrage as an effort is sought to honor the personhood of Catholics in the hierarchy, Catholics in the pew, and non-Catholics.

Jim Christensen
    Vern, those "unalienable rights" metioned in the Declaration do not come from the government, but from the Creator, however you envision that.
    As to the Constitution, it only means what Five People on the Supreme Court of the United States say it means.
     As was pointed out, if they say a Corporation is a person, so be it.  It they say an unborn human is not person, but some kind of "subhuman", so be it.
     Rocky is correct, we are  no longer free.

Vern responds
     Do I not quote in the very first paragraph of the column from the Declaration of Independence that human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?
     Does not the column end with a reiteration of this point -- "This day may we revel in the Declaration of Independence’s truths of divinely endowed personhood for everyone"?
     Where does the column state that these rights come from the government?

Jim Christensen
     I was referring to your suggestions in your reply to Trapblock, which has since been deleted.

     It sounds like to me Unitarians only honor certain unalienable rights (the ones that suit their political outlook/social agenda).

Vern responds
     I don't know about Unitarians. The point of the column is that the Declaration of Independence  states that human beings, not corporations, are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Chief Justice Roberts is a Roman Catholic, as is the majority of the Court. Others are Jewish. To my knowledge there is no Unitarian on the Court.

     You as a Unitarian write about honoring unalienable rights but don't believe that extends to Catholics with regards the HHS mandate... In your estimation somehow Catholics are responsible for asserting their religious views on the nation because they don't want to pay for something they hold as immoral...

Vern responds
     The column does not identify me as a Unitarian and that label does not describe my perspective (how could a label like "Unitarian" do so, anyhow?) or my regular religious practice. I do not write "as a Unitarian." It is appropriate to comment on what the column says. Personal presumptions seem unnecessary in discussing ideas.
     The subject of the column is the status of personhood under the First Amendment given to corporations by the Supreme Court, and the respect and disrespect offered to persons of a particular faith by two Kansas governors. No where does the column discuss the HHS regulation regarding the availability of "the pill."I do hold that all religions should be treated fairly, with equal respect. As I understand the modified HHS proposal, contraception would be provided to employees protected by non-discrimination policies who do not work for ecclesiastical organizations directly by the insurance companies. Ecclesiastic organizations would be exempt. Because the pool costs of providing contraception seems to offset the costs of pregnancy, the church-related (but not ecclesiastic organizations) would bear no additional expense, and the service is provided directly to those Catholic and non-Catholic employees whose religion and ethical principles permit or require the use of contraceptives. Those of one faith are not paying for services desired by those of another faith. This seems to me to be a reasonable way of navigating through difficult policy questions to respect those of all faiths. If there is a better way, I hope it is brought forward. 

Jim Christensen
     Vern, just to reiterate, those unalienable rights you are talking about come from the Creator, however you envision that, not from government or your fellow citizens.
     And Moral Relativism offers no solutions either.
     And Trapblock makes an excellent point, that separation of church and state that you talk about protects the church from government as much as, or even more than, the other way around.

Vern responds
     *** Just to reiterate:
     Do I not quote in the very first paragraph of the column from the Declaration of Independence that human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”? Does not the column end with a reiteration of this point -- "This day may we revel in the Declaration of Independence’s truths of divinely endowed personhood for everyone"?Where does the column state that these rights come from the government?
     *** Again, to restate once again about church/state, which is tangential to this particular column:In my view, "church/state" separation is mutual protection, the "church" from the state and the state from the church, although the history of this relationship, even since 1787, is quite complicated.
      It is important to respect all religious views so far as possible within the public realm. Certainly Catholic, Mormon, Buddhist, Jewish, and other spiritual traditions deserve respect, with no one compelled or prohibited from living religiously as he or she sees best to do. Within the public sphere, accommodation so far as possible should be extended to all. And within the private realms of each faith, honor and protection.      This view has been stated and restated over the years and is widely shared. But I understand it may be upsetting to some folks who want their particular religious views to govern the rest of us.

     I would not expect you to understand why contraception and abortifacients are sinful and an affront to Catholic consciences but you must repect it when we abhor it as a violation of our religious beliefs.
     The 'catholic' organizations you mention are well-known dissidents... And the administration lied and deceived the Catholic hierarchy to get this passed... Therefore there is no honor from them and they have demonstrated no desire to compromise with Catholics... They have earned our disdain.
     The separation of church and state you mention was designed to protect the church from the government not the way you've twisted it to mean...
    Additionally you're condescending attitude ticks me off!

Vern responds
     The column's concern with "Citizens United" is not a church/state issue. It is a free speech issue, which is a right given by the Court to corporations, which I am protesting as divinely given to real human beings. Both speech and religious freedom are part of the First Amendment liberties, but it is useful not to confuse them.
    However, since the subject has arisen, in my view, "church/state" separation is mutual protection, the "church" from the state and the state from the church, although the history of this relationship, even since 1787, is quite complicated. 
     It is important to respect all religious views so far as possible within the public realm. Certainly Catholic, Mormon, Buddhist, Jewish, and other spiritual traditions deserve respect, with no one compelled or prohibited from living religiously as he or she sees best to do. Within the public sphere, accommodation so far as possible should be extended to all. And within the private realms of each faith, honor and protection. 
     This view has been stated and restated over the years and is widely shared. But I understand it may be upsetting to some folks who want their particular religious views to govern the rest of us.

Jim Christensen
     Vern, you talk about rights "divinely given to real human beings" but you don't like the court giving those rights to Corporations, while they take it away from unborn human beings.
     Five People are determining life and death for millions and millions but now you are upset that Corporations, which are made up of people, have had rights recocognized by the SUPREME Court?
     Maybe you are mistaken about where Personhood begins.

Vern responds
     "religious views to govern the rest of us"... Is patently absurd. We've had conscience protection since the atrocity of Roe v Wade... Obama promised its continuation but lied... It is the government imposing their 'church of Obama ' views on us...
     From the NY Post today: "Everyone knows President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services is in hot holy water with the Catholic bishops — for trying to force them to conform church beliefs to the administration’s."

Rocky Morrison
     The Constitution in our own time only means what Five People on the SCOTUS say it means.
     "Personhood" is shown to be meaningless.
     If they say a Corporation IS a person, it is so!
     If they say an unborn child is NOT a person, it is so!
     We are no longer free, personhood only means what they say it means.

Vern responds
     Are you saying that five of the six Roman Catholics (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor) on the Supreme Court tell us what personhood is?

Jim Christensen
     Rocky is quite correct. Five people on the Supreme Court determine what personhood is.
     Obviously, their Catholicism has not had much to do with their decisions.

Vern responds
     All nine of the Supreme Court justices can say whatever they like about the law, but that does not mean they are theologically competent to speak on spiritual matters, and I will not cede a spiritual understanding of personhood to them.

Jim Christensen
     It only takes FIVE people on the SCOTUS to render a decision, not NINE
     Their decisions force us to accept what Personhood means; whether it iinvolves a corporation or an unborn human. 
     And that is why, unfortunately, Roe v Wade is still the law.  If you support that, and only believe personhood arises at birth, then you have already ceded the understanding of personhood.

Vern responds
     Of course it  takes but five to render a controlling opinion (when all nine justices participate -- four could be sufficient in a case, for example, when two justices recuse themselves), though even a unanimous court (nine) cannot make theological judgments for me, only legal decisions. That was the point. I am unaware of anyone arguing that it takes nine justices to render a decision.
     This column does not discuss Roe v Wade. Those who wish may find a recent discussion of when personhood begins (ensoulment) in the responses to my June 20th column and plenteous argument elsewhere on the web.

Jim Christensen
     Vern, it looks like you have already conceded the issue of personhood to the court; after all if Roe v Wade allows a person to think their unborn child does not have Personhood and they can go ahead and kill it, then a "theological decision" has already been made.
     And if we can only discuss what your column specifically mentions, and not make any inferences from it, then keep in mind that "Separation of Church and State" is not a phrase you can find in the Constitution of the United States.
     Neither is "Pro Choice" for that matter.

Vern responds
     And "separation of church and state" does not appear in the column.  Nor does "pro choice" appear. These issues are raised by commentators, not by the column.
     It is courteous to allow folks in discussions such as this to speak for oneself and not put words in others' mouths. Any characterization of others' opinions on issues such as abortion can easily be distortions or misrepresentations because the issues can be so emotionally charged. I would never express my own opinion on that subject in the way it has been presented by others in these posts who may not understand it precisely because of emotional overlays or for other reasons I may not be aware of. I am ignorant of why such controversies arise when they are not the subject of the column to which the comments are appended.

Jim Christensen
     Vern, you are not clear about your opinions, which is what may contribute to confusion.
     Whether it is because of your convulted writng style, which is weak grammatically as expressed in your latest post, or deliberate is hard to say.
     You have great difficulty, for whatever reason, is stating clearly what you believe; perhaps you don't want to offend anyone or perhaps you are just being a good politician. 

Vern responds
     My style in these posts does not permit using proper names of correspondents in responding to posts. To me that is rude, like shouting across a theater. The focus should be ideas, not personal attacks.
     While it could be flattering to have one's opinion sought, too often it seems that opinions are elicited not for enlarging one's perspective but to provide opportunity to attack. 
     Further, it is difficult to discuss calculus if one is required to use only the vocabulary of musical notation. It is difficult to explain the subtleties of the history of the nominalist-realist debate from medieval times to contemporary language analysts in a sentence or paragraph. It is a problem to respond to "Have you stopped beating your wife?" with a simple "yes" or "no." When issues are raised in this discussion, such as abortion, that are not the subject of the column, and subtle and complicated analyses seem appropriate to one correspondent, those who think simply in categories of right and wrong are likely to be frustrated by those who decline to place their responses in such categories. It takes more skill than I have to describe the intricacies and significance of, say, "Las Meninas" by Diego Velazquez to someone blind from birth who insists on having the space indicated by the canvas measured as if that were the measure of the painting's meaning. How could I possibly discuss the question of contraception in the meager categories of thought that have been defined for me here?

     Now you are just blowing smoke, Vern.
     Its wrong to murder innocent persons.  If you don't know when "personhood" begins, then you have no right to go ahead and say its OK to kill.
    Its simple to say for an honest person.

Vern responds
     Of course it is wrong to murder innocent persons. No where have I argued it is right to murder. The question in the context of abortion may be "When does ensoulment occur?" -- or to use secular language, "When does a fertilized egg become a person?"Use of the word "kill" in abortion discussions seems like  begging the question. It is polite not to misrepresent the position of participants in this discussion. Having one's position misrepresented repeatedly when this is not even the subject of the column makes further participation problematic. Being told one is "blowing smoke" does not encourage the atmosphere for respectful exchange but appears rather to be an attempt to win an argument by insult, such as implying those who disagree are not "honest person(s).". Those who wish to discuss this topic can find many places to exchange their ideas  about abortion.

P G writes
     Thanks for writing the article in the paper today about Sanskrit!  I just taught my first morning yoga class (21 years teaching!) and was inspired to teach agni sara, fire wash, digestive toning.  I loved reading about the words with roots in Sanskrit, and leaves me hungry for more.  I refer to scholarly books by Georg Feuerstein for such information. 
     FYI, I am helping promote the music for an event this month you may be interested in, including music by our mutual friend, Barclay Martin.

Vern responds
     Twenty-one years!  Wow!  But you're still a youngster!
     Thanks for writing and relating today's column to your yoga class. Agni sara would have been a good entry as well! It would be fun sometime to do a whole column just on breathing. . . . 
     I recall a couple books by Georg Feuerstein, such as his Sacred Sexuality.
    Please greet Barclay for me! You will of course enjoy working with him and he with you. Brush Creek Art Walk is yet move evidence of our thriving culture in KC. May the gods provide good weather! . . . 

The Magisterium intervenes

Although I am not Roman Catholic, some of my favorite people are, and some of them are nuns, amazingly hard-working, inspiring and thoughtful. So naturally I demonstrated last Tuesday at Nichols Fountain to honor their lives and work, along with Catholic clergy and lay people.
     I’m also reading “When the Magisterium Intervenes,” just published by the Liturgical Press, because I’ve been disheartened by the number of distinguished Catholic theologians who, in my view, have been misunderstood or worse by the hierarchy.
     For decades, I’ve thought that some of the best Christian theology, pastoral insight and interfaith understanding  has been offered by Catholics. I don’t always agree, but I respect the depth and integrity of Anthony De Mello, Edward Schillebeeckx, Leonardo Boff, Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Jeannine Gramick, Joan Chittister, Paul F. Knitter, Richard McBrien, Daniel Maguire, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Margaret McBride and Elizabeth Johnson, all of whom have suffered a range of penalties, from withdrawal of invitations to speak to loss of teaching position to excommunication.
     The book includes a “dossier” of the way Johnson’s 2007 “Quest for the Living God,” was condemned by a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Johnson was president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and holds numerous awards including over a dozen honorary doctorates. The bishops failed to follow their own procedures and appear to have approached her book with serious preconceptions.
     The “Magisterium” book shows how, in the Middle Ages, scholars, not the bishops or the pope, were the theological experts. Different views were advanced and debated without Magisterial intervention. 
     The 1864 Syllabus of Errors, which condemned religious freedom, changed that by papal pronouncement. Infallibility was declared in 1870. But even at Vatican II, bishops consulted with theologians for guidance. 
     As I write this, the latest Vatican volley is against Sister of Mercy Margaret Farley, professor emerita at Yale University Divinity School. In its “Notification” about her 2006 award-winning book, “Just Love,” the Magisterium complains about matters such as her failure to recognize that “masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” 
     Others may also have said it, but it was a Catholic, Lord Acton (1834-1902), British historian, who wrote it in the context of ecclesiastical polity: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
     Under Vatican attack, the American nuns understand this.

     The "Magisterium" can be defined as the authority and power of the Church to teach religious truth.
     An interesting case.— In the 16th and 17th centuries, Jesuits and Dominicans argued a theological point — de auxiliis. A papal investigation including 17 debates ended with Pope Paul V prohibiting each side from condemning the other and a admonition to practice humility when contemplating the holy mysteries of God.
     The spirit of cooperation between bishops and theologians at Vatican II was severely damaged by Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which disregarded the recommendation of his own study commission. The disaster of the Humanae Vitae is that it greatly impaired the legitimacy among Catholics who overwhelmingly practice birth control.

     Kansas City Star columnist Vern Barnet has been reading WHEN THE MAGISTERIUM INTERVENES: THE MAGISTERIUM AND THEOLOGIANS IN TODAY'S CHURCH. See his recent column at the link.


B M writes
     Great article.  Thank you for taking the time to comment on this. . . . 
     It is a power issue and such an approach has never and will never work.  I hope that someone or something significant happens among the bishops and the Vatican, else they will all become completely irrelevant, with absolutely no one paying attention to them. 
      Unfortunately, they seem so out of touch in thinking that they can address their insecurity and irrelevance by command and shotgun wedding tactics. 
      It is a sad day for the institution as a whole and for those who continue to struggle to comprehend what exactly is going  on and why. 
      By the way, "When the Magisterium Intervenes" is a great book, laying out some of the key issues that have made the bishops and the magisterium completely out of touch and irrelevant.  We can only hope and pray for better days.  Thank you for you wonderful contributions each week to greater understanding and respect of one another as creatures of a loving God.

T L writes
     This is a very helpful book. I am  reading it, too, although not all at one time. Since, I work at The National Catholic Reporter I follow the news about the theologians.
     The thing I picked up on in your little essay in the paper this morning is that you state that the Magisterium used to consult theologians and they seem to not want them around anymore, (to paraphrase), and that the Magisterium doesn't consult them like they used to. You site Vatican I. If I misunderstood please let me know.
      I must point out that our Magisterium is defined as the "teaching authority of the Church". They have the "teaching authority" because Christ gave it to Peter, our first Pope and with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit, they would know all truth. God did not give the Holy Spirit to everyone at the same time. He gave it to a few men in the upper room and promised to help them remember everything they were taught. The group of men in union with the Pope are the Magisterium. That being said, today's Magisterium or members of the Roman Curia that lead over the faithful, are theologians, also!  Our present Holy Father was a professor and priori at the Second Vatican Council and Blessed Pope John Paul II was a philosopher and theologian and also a priori at the Council. Because they were chosen by the Holy Spirit to be the leaders of the Magisterium as pastors they have to watch over the flock as to what they pronounce for other sheep to hear. I for one, am grateful, as there are many competing voices out there and without the promise of Christ to the first Magisterium, how would we know what to believe? I believe Christ kept his promise. So, you cannot say that the Magisterium is not consulting theologians. They know many and are preminent in the task of theology, themselves.
      The theologians that have been cited by the Magisterium, as the task of theology is defined, do not have the right to put forth their beliefs and arguments counter to the Magisterium, because they are not the teaching authority. Up to our modern times theologians throughout the century have concurred on doctrine and anything new that developed was organic and not coming from one theologian. If you read St. Francis, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila and Augustine, you will find concurance that flows naturally. That has not happened with the theologians listed. They may concur on political social issues, but not on doctrine. After 2,000 years the Magisterium can look back and see what is Truth because it has lasted. What the listed dissident theologians have put forth does not spring from any past doctrine, so it will not last. Time is short, I don't believe the Magisterium wants the people of God to waste their time reading and hearing things from people who are not working in unison with the teachings of the Church to put forth doctrine. I for one, with millions of words to read from Augustine do not have time to read new innovations. G.K. Chesterton helps us understand Orthodox teaching, too, in his book "Orthodoxy". Blessed John Henry Newman in his writings on the development of doctrine is very helpful reading, also.
      When the Magisterium corrects a theologian on their writings it is being "pastoral". It is not about "power". If you say it is, you are insulting these mean who have given their lives to "feed the flock." I will not continue to stand by as people call the hierarchy of the Church "power hungry" and "patriarchal". It just isn't true. Do not judge their intentions that way, they are guiding us in "all truth". Would you prefer that the priests and bishops never point out error in thoughts, words and deeds to their flock? God created a world with order and when things get out of order through dissident words then "on earth as it is in Heaven" the Magisterium through their words, order it back to the good, so that we can see Heaven.

Vern responds
  Thank you for taking the time to present your perspective so thoroughly.
     (BTW, I am a long-time subscriber to NCR which has also published a couple of my reviews.)
    What I actually wrote was "The 'Magisterium' book shows how, in the Middle Ages, scholars, not the bishops or the pope, were the theological experts. Different views were advanced and debated without magisterial intervention."  You write that "You site Vatican I."  I did not explicitly cite (not site) Vatican I though I did include the decision about papal infallibility. I did explicitly mention Vatican II as an example where bishops consulted with theologians. How can you expect administrators to be theological experts? The spirit of cooperation between bishops and theologians at Vatican II was severely damaged by Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which disregarded the recommendation of his own study commission. The disaster of the Humanae Vitae is, in part, that it greatly impaired the legitimacy of hierarchical pronouncements among Catholics who overwhelmingly practice birth control.
     I like your definition of the Magisterium as the "teaching authority of the Church" -- in fact, on my CRES website, I say that "The 'Magisterium' can be defined as the authority and power of the church to teach religious truth." But to say that the bishops and/or the pope constitute the Church is, to me, a peculiar understanding of the Body of Christ. I think it is fair not to beg the question by identifying the Magisterium with the bishops and/or the pope but to consider whether this authority resides within all members of the Body of Christ. The Magisterium can surely be understood as the whole Body of Christ speaking to its members and to the world. Confining the meaning of 'Magisterium' to the bishops wins the argument by begging the question.
     You state that "What the listed dissident theologians have put forth does not spring from any past doctrine, so it will not last."  I find this a remarkable claim. Take, for example, the book by Elizabeth Johnson. She repeatedly invokes previous theologians and doctrinal statements and brings to them fresh insight.
     On my website I also note that, an example from the book, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Jesuits and Dominicans argued a theological point — de auxiliis. A papal investigation including 17 debates ended with the pope prohibiting  each side from condemning the other and a admonition to practice humility when contemplating the holy mysteries of God.
    Since you have written quite frankly, I will do the same. I cannot tell you how little respect I have for Benedict. I am astonished at the claim to scholarship some make for him and your including him as "preminent (sic) in the task of theology . . . ."  His intellectual capacity is laughable, as revealed early on in his papacy in his ridiculous and offensive lecture at Regensburg. Perhaps when he was younger, he was able to think more clearly. Had such a paper as Regensburg been presented to me by a graduate student, I would have flunked the student. Surely the Body of Christ is rightly led in mysterious ways by forces more competent than by Benedict.
     Have you read, for example, the Syllabus of Errors recently? To propose that a teaching from any person at any time constitutes, within the frailty of human language, constitutes a statement of truth for all time, fails the test of modesty the pope rightly commended to the Jesuits and Dominicans. It also, to an independent mind, undercuts the expansive interpretation of the Petrine text you refer to as the basis of the pope's authority, in your words, to "know all truth." Has the pope decided whether the Higgs boson exists, for example? Is it true that Paul did not write Hebrews? Is the American population at this moment exactly 319,726,321? So who was right, the Jesuits or the Dominicans in the de auxiliis debate? Doesn't the pope know? What on earth do you mean in saying that Jesus gave Peter's successors the power to know all truth"? Your claim moves beyond infallibility to omniscience. Such claims ignore the development in the last two thousand years of theological discussions and certainly in our own time. In theology and pastoral life, what is important is not so much authoritative statements but a process of integrity through which continuing revelation may be honored. I do not believe the bishops and Rome currently take this approach. The "Magisterium" case study of Elizabeth Johnson shows a lack of genuine consultation and, contrary to your perspective, an exercise of authority rather than a process of openness to divine revelation. The fact that theologians I have name disagree (as do the list you provide) shows that the Infinite is difficult to place in human language, and that the struggle to understand the breadth of possibilities is more important in the practice of humility before God than authoritative pronouncements that end discussion.
     If you think I am impugning the integrity of some in the hierarchy you are correct. To mention one glaring failure: some have allowed child molestation to be occur. Almost all of the priests I know are righteous people, and I am inspired by them and honor their lives of service, as I do the nuns. Were the bishops covering up abuse, to use your words, "guiding us in 'all truth'"? They plainly lied. But power tends to corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
     I do not expect you to change any of your thinking as a result of my response. I simply wanted you to know I have read your email, thought about it, and wanted to express my appreciation for your taking the trouble to write me, even though we continue to disagree and no doubt could engage in a lengthy exchange, but probably to no different outcome.

N writes
     Because of our contact with . . . [ ] and all the Sisters that know us in KC, we have been flooded with articles about this subject.  But, I believe your article comes from a different prospective, not only a male point of view, but one who has a wide gifted opinion of your research.  I like it.
     This is my opinion...the Bishops are appointed by higher-ups, not by the people of their own dioceses.  The higher-ups have little knowledge what is needed in a given diocese, they are chosen by whether they are conservative or liberal Catholics.  The last 40 years or so the Vatican Catholics have been chosen to shoot down the liberals, to take their subjects back to the 15th Century.  Having come from “the old country” myself, the higher-ups remind me of my . . .  grand-fathers and uncles, macho old men who still believed women should stay in the kitchen.  The Vatican authority men probably still wear jackets on their shoulders and cleats on their shoes. You remember them Vern?  We are not going to change them!  So what happens from here?  This is my opinion…they will shoot the liberal sisters out, and keep a very conservative Vatican Catholic Church.  They have a world full of conservatives, so they just as soon get us out.  But, the liberals will not die because church is a living cell and changes with evolution.  It will just come in a new cloth, hopefully with some old wine in it.  I once looked up the word “religion” and found it came from “religio” meaning “bridging”.  I presume it was picked to mean, bridging people with God or Higher Power. 
     There is so much talk about abused children by priest etc.  What about the abused sisters? I presume two thousand years priest have abused the sisters. This is not just their jobs in high offices in hospitals, schools, orphanages etc, but sexual abuse.  The sisters don’t dare share such things.  I read an article about African sisters have a huge amount of numbers who are often having to submit to their priest’s sexual desires.
     Vern, I had a wonderful Papa . . ., my beloved husband . . .  and now my son and son-in-law.  I love and respect them for who they are.  I am not a “Feminist” with a capitol F.  But, I think you know what I mean.  Have you read any of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza?  I didn’t see her name on your list. The first book I read by her was BREAD NOT STONES.  She taught at Notre Dame U. for 15 years. The Vatican Catholics told her not to write anymore.  So she got a teaching job at Harvard and is still there and writing fantastic books. 
     You see Vern, Vatican Catholics do not listen to their Theologians, in fact, there are none in the Vatican’s round table that I know of.  So there you are Vern.  When you open Pandora’s box with me, you get all this, my opinion.
     Love you!  It is always sooo good to receive a hug from you, you never forget I am a part of Sr. [ ].  Thank you.  See you at the next rally.  . . .  Write a book on abused women religious.

Vern responds
     I am late but sincere in telling you how much I appreciated your writing at some length in response to my column. It was great to see you (and . . .  the others -- including priests!!) at the rally.
     My experience confirms yours, that those in the hierarchy have little pastoral sensibility.
     Thanks for recommending Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza -- quite a scholar! I have not read anything directly by her yet, but Elizabeth Johnson mentions her several times and uses her phrase, "communities of the discipleship of equals" in her book, Quest for the Living God. I'll want to pursue Bread Not Stones!

A V writes
     Interesting that you pick out the part you like, then criticize the substantial part remaining of the Catholic Church.  The Church is one, not a department store that you shop for the parts you like.  Enclosed is an article from June 15 Catholic Key that describes the concern that the Magisterium has with the  LCWR, not with any specific religious order and not with just one doctrine item. Perhaps you should check before weighing in on a religious dispute  Then again maybe you want to see the Catholic Church follow in the footsteps of your type church,  Episcopal, United Methodist etc, that are in complete chaos and rapidly disappearing over the cliff.
     If the LCWR does not change its ways, then I think we will see the Church's official recognition removed and wither and disappear.  Another thought is that most of these sisters are 70 + years age and dying off and taking their dissenting view with them.

Vern responds
     From the tone of your letter it appears you are quite upset. I am sorry about that -- but I am grateful that you took the trouble to write me. You are, of course, welcome to write a letter to the editor and set forth your views.
     I agree that the Body of Christ is one -- with many members, as Paul describes.  In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, an alternative to the opinion that the Magisterium consists of the bishops and the pope is the view that the entire Church, including laity, men and women religious, comprises the Magisterium. I do not believe you cut off dedicated nuns, monks, and highly trained theologians just because those temporarily in power are more interested in power than in keeping the body whole.
     The present situation with the hierarchy's actions against so many simply is not grounded in adequate historical or theological knowledge. If you have not read, for example, the book to which I refer, "When the Magisterium Intervenes" and  Elizabeth Johnson's book and the Bishops' response to it and her rejoinder, etc, you might find that enlightening, maybe. I like your admonition, "Perhaps you should check before weighing in on a religious dispute."
     I had great respect for The Catholic Key under Bishop Boland and his predecessors. That automatic respect has evaporated under the man charged criminally, Robert Finn, a disgrace to this diocese and to this city. The various "Investigations" of the Church from Rome have been not been directed in a timely fashion against sexual abusers but rather against those serving the world as Christ would serve.  Aquinas (a Dominican priest and theologian and a saint, but not a bishop) himself distinguished between the Magisterial capacities of a Bishop and the Magisterial capacities of the scholars. Rome, in arrogating to itself both functions endangers the comity within the faith.
     One of the things that I have admired the Church for though the ages, despite its numerous troubles, is the enormous variety of theological opinion enjoyed by its members. For example, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Jesuits and Dominicans argued a theological point — de auxiliis. Reluctant papal, including 17 debates, ended with the pope prohibiting each side from condemning the other and a admonition to practice humility when contemplating the holy mysteries of God. I would commend this and other examples to the Bishop of Toledo, who presents a distorted and painfully harmful view of the work of LCWR.
     Schism is a terrible sin. Rome, by its demonstration that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, is creating the schism, not those working to fulfill the gospel and exploring the Mysteries of Faith for our time.
     I do not expect you to change any of your thinking as a result of my response. I simply wanted you to know I have read your email and the attachment, thought about it, and wanted to express my appreciation for your taking the trouble to write me, even though we continue to disagree and no doubt could engage in a lengthy exchange, but probably to no different outcome.

A V writes again
     Thanks for your response. I'm not mad, just irked.
     First,  your article makes it seem like the Vatican is criticizing a substantial number of sisters when only the LCWR is involved and one other, Sister Farley.
     Second, you're understanding of the magisterium differs from the official teaching. Of the Church's 3 pillars, the magisterium, scripture and tradition,  the magisterium determines what is scripture and tradition.  The most available popular and official source of Church teaching is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Catechism has very good writings and documentation on these subjects.. This really is an amazing document.
     The Catechism makes it clear that the Magisterium is the pope and the bishops, successors of Peter and the apostles   Theologians, writers, and others may be used as advisers. Disagreement by Catholics with Catechism teachings certainly casts doubts on their Catholicity and needs to be thoughtfully examined.
     As to Sister Farley, the Church is always correcting it's religious members who have gone (or perceived to have gone) astray and may mislead others.  Sometimes things work out ok  and sometimes not.  We'll have to wait and see.
     If you don't have a Catechism,  I'll be happy to send you one.

Vern responds again
     Thanks for considering my response. I'm glad you are only irked, not mad!
     I am a bit uncomfortable to be put in the position of defining for Catholics what is Catholic, but I am trained to be able to identify certain kinds of disputes. So obviously I cannot define the Magisterium for Catholics, but I understand that some consider it to be the bishops and the pope and others consider it to be the entire Church, the Body of Christ. My view of this dispute is that the bishops and the popes have made so many errors in process and in fact that it is difficult for me not to see the corrupting character of power. In practice, I do not see claims for the successors of Peter to be any different than claims for the divine right of kings. In examining specific accusations made by the Magisterium against certain theologians, I have been astonished at the inferior quality of reasoning too often employed. Such quality makes it additionally hard for me to honor those making such pronouncements as what one would properly expect from divinely guided utterances.
     I do have a Catechism, but I thank you for your offer.
     As I stated previously, I write not to change any of your thinking but to let you know I have read your email, thought about it. Please accept my appreciation for your taking the trouble to write me a second time.

J L writes
     How well you understand the situation in the Catholic Church today and how eloquently you expressed your observations in your column.  I was very pleased to see you at Tuesday;'s rally .  Hopefully we will see a return to the spirit of Vatican II in my lifetime, but at the moment I am not optimistic.

P P writes
     Thank you! Thank you! for your support for nuns in June 27 Star.

A L writes
     Thank you so much for your Speaking Voice of TRUTH!  I did see you at the rally at the Fountain from across the wondrous hundreds of folks between was moving for me to have so many of us come together to affirm and support all of us.... I believe this whole Rome FEAR has gotten even bigger than the sisters as I listen to folks really now talk about the sickness of the institution and the FEAR in these men of us particular . . . sisters.....By condemning M Farley's work they have brought attention to her book and now it is a BEST SELLER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Thank you, Vern, for your ever faithful, enduring presence...we need folks like you to keep writing and telling our story............

Vern responds
    It was a wonderful crowd! And it was a surprise to me to see priests there as well, how heartening! I am sorry I missed the opportunity to greet you. It is a wonderful irony that criticisms and condemnations from power-mongers detached from pastoral experience lead to furthering the voices of those, like Srs Johnson and Farley, who live in the world with divine insight! I am so grateful for your message. And I am grateful for your healing work in Kansas City.

R S writes
     Thanks for your great support last week at the Nichols Fountain. Also, your article is right on. What can we say? Keep the LCWR in your prayers. It is a truly CRISES time in which courage and wisdom are needed with the justice issues. Thanks for being you and being true.

Vern responds
     I must say I felt WONDERFUL being in your company and that of so many other women religious I have come to admire -- and from the very threatening cloud raining attack after thundering attack, I hope new life will sprout. . . . .


Rocky Morrison
     And for all this you can't even determine when "personhood" begins.
     Of course, since you don't know, you are in no position to say that the life of an unborn human can be terminated at any point in its development.

     The feigned outrage for the nuns (from the liberal media) is part of their agenda to bring down the church.
     These nuns do not represent all nuns (not by a long shot) and they have been asked nicely for years to stop misleading people by denying or ignoring basic tenants of the faith.... Which they ignored.
     The solution is simple... If you don't want to be in communion with Rome leave the church...
     When I think of heretics like Sr. Joan Chittister and The National Catholic Reporter I am reminded of today's Gospel... Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them. Matt. 7-15

Jim Christensen
     Trapblock, "feigned outrage" describes it exactly.  The support that is given for the various theologians mentioned seems directed at those who would weaken the church.
     There is another blogger advertised on the Faith page, Bill Tammeus, who routinely attacks the Catholic Church.
     There is definitely an agenda here.

Study both sky and scripture

Somewhere in the back of the refrigerator, I remembered, surely there was a left-over roll of Ektachrome. (Cameras in the old days used film.) I found it, cut and placed it over binoculars and June 5 safely watched Venus transiting the sun. It was a thrill.
     The very first chapter in Mircea Eliade’s classic, “Patterns of Comparative Religion,” is about the sky. The sky may be the oldest metaphor for transcendence. The word for sky often used in religion is heaven.
     In second grade, I became fascinated with astronomy. In fourth grade the principal had me talk to every class, even the eighth grade, about the sky. My uncle bought me a telescope. Later I met astronomers like Harlow Shapley who proved that our solar system lies near the edge of the Milky Way galaxy.
     Science and religion were often companions. As late as the 15th century, Nicholas of Cusa, a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote that the earth could not be the center of the universe. It was only later that the Church sought to close down such thinking, as when Galileo was condemned in 1633 because he believed that the earth moved around the sun, contrary to the Church’s reading of scripture.
     Folks still misread the Bible to prove all sorts of things. For example, the current argument that marriage has always been between one man and one woman ignores not only the obvious facts of anthropology but also sacred writ.
     The Bible mentions Jacob’s two wives, Esau’s three, Gideon’s “many,” David’s seven named and more unnamed, Rehoboam’s 18 and Solomon’s extensive harem. Deuteronomy 21 gives some instructions about plural marriage. The levirate marriage, extended into the Christian era, required a man to sire children with his childless dead brother’s wife.
     Scripture is also used to denounce environmental concerns, to argue that personhood begins at conception and to claim that evolution is a hoax, despite both contrary scientific evidence and biblical scholarship.
     As Enlightenment science developed in the West, many saw both the Bible and the laws of nature as revelations of God’s will. But others dispute that they fit together.
     Still, most Christians nowadays do not worry about Jesus, without a spacesuit, ascending into the heavens to the throne of God, which is not on the astronomers’ sky maps.
     So when Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins writes transcendently of “that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour,” we learn through his poem that facts are essential provisions like film to protect our mortal eyes while we see through a glass darkly.

     The transit of Venus (the apparent movement of the planet over the sun) is a rare phenomeon. The next occurs in 2117.
    Clearly personhood does not begin at conception in either English common law or the Bible. Exodus 21:22 describes a situation in which a pregnant woman is struck as men are fighting. If the fetus is killed, a fine must be levied against the attacker. If the fetus were a person, the death would be murder, a capital offense; a fine would not suffice.
    Catholic theologians have speculated at various times that personhood (or "ensoulment") might begin 40 days after conception at "quickening" (this view was a common Catholic position until Pope Pius IX decreed that life begins at conception in 1859). Other points in fetal development have been suggested within the Church such as attachment to the uterine wall (implantation) or.when the possibility of twinning no longer exists (otherwise, would each twin have half a soul?). Its present position is based on no science because science cannot answer the question of when the developing human egg becomes a person. That is a theological and legal question, not a scientific one.
     In my experience such information is unlikely to change anyone's mind because abortion has become a political issue with a strong emotional tone and an issue of ecclesiastical authority. What I mean by this is that too often the question of whether abortion is murder is begged, that is, it is assumed that a fetus is a person, so ending its life must be murder. The prior question -- what makes a living human organism a person? -- is not explored. I do not see how a living human organism, either the cells from the inside of my cheek or a complex of cells such as a blastocyst smaller than 0.1 to 0.2 mm in diameter without a brain can be considered a person. To those who want a defining point of when an embryonic development becomes a person, I offer what I understand to be English common law: at birth.
     See the first column in my "Stem Cell" analysis,
     The Hopkins(1844–89) sonnet is "Hurrahing in Harvest."
     A fuller discussion of biblical views of marriage would note that
the Bible does have passages that appear to support monogamy, but it also supports polygamy. Some examples: Abraham’s arrangement included Sarah and as well, Hagar and Keturah. Lamech was polygamous, Jacob’s had two wives, Esau’s three, Gideon’s “many,” David’s seven named and more unnamed, Rehoboam’s 18 and Solomon’s harem included 700 wives and 300 concubines. Deuteronomy 21 gives some instructions about plural marriage — and is a glaring example of many in the Bible of how marriage is not a “spiritual covenant.” The levirate marriage, extended into the Christian era, required a man to sire children with his childless dead brother’s wife. The Bible also indicates the subjugation of the wife to the husband, the property-like status of the wife in many cases. Wives were often purchased (the case of David’s purchase of Michal with 200 foreskins is particularly interesting) or selected for political alliances, procreation, property rights, honored servants, companionship, sexual opportunities, and sometimes love. The Bible also contains passages that require endogamy which the clergyman ignores, and other passages with examples of exogamy. I’ll not even discuss the issue of arranged marriage.Those who want to be nice to gay people but also find the Bible condemns same-sex behavior and beleive one canmot deviate from biblical junctions are obliged to kill gay people; see Judges 21:11.See also Notes for column 924.


L B writes
    I've been meaning to send you a note for over a year to simply thank you for your wonderful articles in the Kansas City Star.   As a misplaced Oregonian living in the Bible Belt for 20 years, it is refreshing to read something that is more in line with my beliefs. I share these with my teen daughters as confirmation that we are not the only ones out there who think differently than all of our neighbors!

W H writes
     I so appreciate you. 

B K writes
     Your recent article is both factual and thought provoking.  I lost my wife of 59 years last week and while the hurt lingers, I thank the Lord for giving me, an undeserving sinner, this remarkable and wonderful woman as companion for these many years. Why  do people condemn others for their choices of lifetime companions, to enjoy life together as I believe God has intended, whether it is with one wife/one husband, plural marriage, or same sex pairs.  All of our thinking seems to focus on the sexual part, which we then condemn, and not on the beauty of a closeness founded on mutual respect, companionship and yes,love.
     I can say these things easily since I am an heterosexual, Christian male but it does nothing to increase my knowledge or effect any changes in our society. I salute you, sir and look forward to your columns. Do we really see through a glass darkly or is what we see only a reflection of our own predetermined thoughts?

Vern responds
     While I am sorry to learn about the loss of your wife of 59 years, I am very grateful to know that you you were blessed in your marriage and cherish the time you were together.  And that the happiness you had is something you wish for others, regardless if they are "straight" or "gay." I think this is a beautifully Christian attitude.
     As you can imagine, not all the responses I receive from readers are as generous as yours, so I am truly grateful that you took the trouble to let me know that the column was meaningful to you.
     And your final question is indeed profound, "Do we really see through a glass darkly or is what we see only a reflection of our own predetermined thoughts?"  I think we might all get along better with the humility that underlies your question.
     Again, please know I am touched by your message. May the light and love you have known with your wife continues to shine within you.

L B writes
     I've been meaning to send you a note for over a year to simply thank you for your wonderful articles in the Kansas City Star. As a misplaced Oregonian living in the Bible Belt for 20 years, it is refreshing to read something that is more in line with my beliefs. I share these with my teen daughters as confirmation that we are not the only ones out there who think differently than all of our neighbors!

J S writes
Thanks for mentioning Mircea Eliade's book "Patterns of Comparative Religion" in your last couple of columns. I look forward to reading it. I have read his book "Shamanism, Archaic techniques of Ecstasy"  which I think  is a great companion book to read along side of Joseph Campbell and Matthew Fox.
     I also appreciate your dialog concerning the companionship of science and religion as I feel our current collective attempt to  separate the two and make them enemies of each other has created a spiritual decadence in our thinking. I've always felt that our religion should open our minds to go beyond our limited bubble of perception rather then narrowing down our worldview  to shape it according to how we have already decided it should be.
     While I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state (mainly because I believe that it protects our freedom to choose our religion) I believe that our religious teachers have a moral obligation to promote intelligent conversation about current events. The role should not be to tell us what to think as we see in what passes as religious activism today, but rather how to think by bringing historic, cultural, scientific, and religious knowledge together.
     I think that the interfaith communities are doing a wonderful job in teaching us that the best conversationalist is one who has mastered the art of listening but I  would love to see these interfaith communities play a leadership role in creating a better dialog on today's challenges such as environmental responsibility, the spiritual Eco system of interconnectedness, and asking the question of how can we  (not them) be co-creators in manifesting a better community environment and economy that feeds the people both physically and spiritually while bringing healing to both the people and our Mother Earth.
     I would love to see more columns like the one you wrote for the June 20th paper.

Vern responds
     Thanks for your encouragement! I'm glad you like, and want more of, columns like today's.
    I've been fortunate to study with Eliade (and live next door to him for a while when I was studying at the U of Chgo, I also spent a week with Campbell in Santa Barbara one time and even ran the slide projector for him when he visited Kansas City. And one of the first events my organization co-sponsored was a workshop with Fox. So no wonder we are, if not on the same page, at least on the same library shelf!  I really appreciate knowing that at least a few of my readers have such a background as yours.
     And I'm glad for your position on church/state matters. Alas, most folks don't understand how this works, or should work, if we are to judge by letters to the editor.
     And one of my major disappointments with interfaith activities is that, as important as listening is, they fail to use the insights of the world's spiritual traditions to deal with our environmental, personal, and social crises. My summary chart appears  at and an explanation at
I'd be really interested to know what you think about what I've laid out.

B T writes 
     I've just realized that I had your first name mispelled...had an "e" on the end.  I've corrected that! I appreciate your go deep, where I use the "kiss" method, so I hope you won't be offended at my sending attachments of my "Conquest" articles! 
     MARRIAGE.-- It's against the law here in the United States, for a man or woman to have more than one spouse, but what does the Bible say.
     First, let's set the rules.  No, make that rule.  That we go by the Holy Bible's New Testament.  Because we who believe that Jesus is the Christ, are no longer are under the Law of the Old Testament.  You've heard about Solomon's 600 wives and 300 conqubines, and if you've read the bible extensively, you know that there was no law concerning the number of wives a man could have, in those days.  My personal thought, although it's not "bible," is that God allowed it then, to populate the earth.  But don't dwell on that idea.
     And still on my personal thinking...although in Heaven, we will "know as we are known," (I Cor. 13:12), I believe that indicates that persons who have had another spouse after the death of the first, will know that person, but past marriage will not be a factor and will not enter their minds.  As for having another after one has died, Romans 7:2 notes that the one left is free to marry again. 
     As for same sex marriages.  In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus says, "Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.  What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."  And First Corinthians 7:2 says, "let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."  Divorce is allowed only due to an unfaithful spouse (Matthew 5:32).
     People tend to follow their leader, whether it be a pastor or a president, and our president is taking us down the wrong path.  God sees this, and ultimately will make our nation pay; not just for this, but for slighting Israel, His Chosen.  Pray that He be merciful to us. 
     WHEN LIFE BEGINS.-- Those of you who read my website articles, may have seen the item the week of June 3rd, which. noted that if everyone followed the gay idea of man-man and woman-woman marriage, we'd end up with no more babies, and eventually, no more people. I also noted that God made a man and a woman, not two men or two women.  And if evolution brought us a man, how did it split and come up with a woman, too.  I've never heard that wondered; I just thought it up.  You may still see that article by clicking on it, over in the left column of my website.
     Well, with the continued talk about abortion, I believe it's time to talk about when life begins.  When I was growing up, I never heard that word.  No doubt it was occurring, but apparently, it didn't cross the minds of most folks.  Today, it seems that much hinges on when life begins.  I look to the Bible for guidance.
     In Genesis 25:23, Rebekah and Isaac are told that "Two nations are in thy womb," speaking of twins Jacob and Easu.  In Judges 13:5, speaking of Samson, an angel of the Lord appeared to the wife of a man named Manoah, and told his wife that ""Thou shalt conceive, and bear a son...and the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb."  In 1 Chronicles 22:9, King David is told by God that "A son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest...for his name shall be Solomon."
     In Psalms 139:13, King David says to God, "Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb."  Isaiah 44:24,  ?hus saith the Lord, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb."  And he adds in 49:1, "The Lord hath called me from the womb."  And he repeats in the 5th verse, "The Lord that formed me from the womb."
     I'll skip others, to get to the New Testament, to Luke 1:15 (Luke was a physician) telling how a priest, Zacharia, speaking of John the Baptist, prophesied that "Thy wife, Elisabeth, shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John."  And when Mary, who would give birth to Jesus, visited Elisabeth, who was now six month pregnant with John the Baptist, the baby leaped in her womb." 
     And in Luke 2:21, when Jesus was circumcised (they were still under the Law of the Old Testament), he was given the name "Jesus,"So named of the angel before he was conceived."  And Galations 1:15, the Apostle John (not John the Baptist), he spoke of God, "who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by His grace, that I might preach Him."
     There are other examples, but space prevents.  And if these don't convince you that we are known and planned by God, even before birth, you have closed your mind, and are wrong.  If you learned too late, God understands and will deal accordingly.  Talk with Him about it.
     NO MORE BABIES?.-- Let's talk about this man-man and woman-woman marriage plan.  I assume that these gay people want everyone to be "that way," because they promote it, march for it, applaud it, and ridicule we who are against it.
     And so let's pretend for a moment that this IS the way the world should go.  What are we going to do for another generation of people.  Obviously, no more babies are going to be born, and so when the present world population dies, it's the end of everything. This is foolish to even consider.  It would mean that the present generation would WANT civilization to end, when today's people die. 
     Let's even think about what would have happened if God had created humanity with this in mind.  We wouldn't even have the book of Genesis for a Bible.  Adam would not have had a female, and since there wouldn't be a child, God's creation would end before it could begin.
     Let's pretend for a moment that everything came about by evolution.  When that "something" washed up on the beach that nobody had created...that it evolved from nothing...when it was forming a human, how did it decide to split and form both a man AND a woman?  The evolutionists have never even hinted at how that happened, and I've never seen nor read of the thought being advanced.   I even forgot to mention it in my book, after thinking of it. (If you're seeing this in other than my website, the web address, where the book on evolution is located, is
    And finally, what would we do about what our Holy Bible says about homosexuality. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, chapter 14, to the book of Jude, which is the next to last book in the Bible, it talks about what an abomination the man-man and woman-woman marriage plan is. 
     Check just one of the many quotations, Leviticus 20:13: "If a man lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.  Or move over into the New Testament, in the first chapter of Romans 1:26-27 says, "God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.  (27) And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error..."
     Fortunately, Jesus Christ will forgive such sins, if the guilty will truly confess and ask forgiveness in a genuine manner, and quit that mode of living. The Bible doesn't show any other way of handling such a situation.  I really don't see any way of ignoring what the Bible says in Genesis 19:1-5, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, and 20:15, as well as 1st Kings 14:24.  Also  Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, and Mark, Romans, First Corinthians, Ephesians, 1st Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, 1st and 2nd Peter, and the book of Jude.   Think about it. 

Vern responds
     Thanks for being such a faithful reader. Alas, I am swampt and I can only make a very limited response to all the material you sent, which I have in fact read.
     MARRIAGE.-- The Bible contains apparently contradictory material. My column cites examples that make it impossible to say that marriage has always been between one man and one woman. Please do look up the disgusting material in Deut. 21.
     WHEN LIFE BEGINS..-- I am not conviced by the poetical passages you cite. I am more likely to weigh carefully the explicitly legal judgment offered in the Bible. Clearly personhood does not begin at conception in either English common law or the Bible. Exodus 21:22 describes a situation in which a pregnant woman is struck as men are fighting. If the fetus is killed, a fine must be levied against the attacker. If the fetus were a person, the death would be murder, a capital offense; a fine would not suffice.
     NO MORE BABIES?-- Why would you assume gay people woud want everyone to be gay? And please read Ezekiel 16:49 on the subject of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah-- "Sodom's sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door." And you might be interested in the history of the mistranslations and context of the scriptures you cite.
     I'm glad my column provoked your response and while I wish I had more time to engage in an exchange of views, this will have to do it for me now.
    I'm proud to have you as a reader.


     What is the "contrary scientific evidence" to personhood beginning at conception?  After all, the newly conceived person has the same genetic code it will if allowed to be born and grow to age 21.
     You may define the word "person" to allow you to eliminate those you don't want around, but science does not provide a basis for doing so.

Vern responds
     Thank you for this excellent question.
         Yes, a human fertilized cell and the cells of the inside of one's cheek which easily can be removed with a Q-tip from one's mouth have the same kind of genetic code, that is a union of genetic material from both parents. But the neither fertilized cell and the cells of the inside of one's cheek are persons. I do not commit murder when I remove a cell from my cheek, nor is murder committed when a fertilized cell is brought to death even though they both would contain the same "genetic code." An argument based on "genetic code" to condemn abortion may very well be an "outlier." There are surely better arguments against abortion.
     Neither, according to English common law and the Bible, is a fetus a person. See Exodus 21:22 which describes a situation in which a pregnant woman is struck as men are fighting.This citation is a legal case rather than one of the poetic passages cited by those who think the Bible teaches otherwise. If the fetus is killed, a fine must be levied against the attacker. If the fetus were a person, the death would be murder, a capital offense; a fine would not suffice.
    Catholic theologians have speculated at various times that personhood (or "ensoulment") might begin 40 days after conception at "quickening" (this view was a common Catholic position until Pope Pius IX decreed that life begins at conception in 1859). Other points in fetal development have been suggested within the Church such as attachment to the uterine wall (implantation) or.when the possibility of twinning no longer exists (otherwise, would each twin have half a soul?). Its present position is based on no science because science cannot answer the question of when the developing human egg becomes a person. That is a theological and legal question, not a scientific one.
     In my experience such information is unlikely to change anyone's mind because abortion has become a political issue with a strong emotional tone and an issue of ecclesiastical authority. What I mean by this is that too often the question of whether abortion is murder is begged, that is, it is assumed that a fetus is a person, so ending its life must be murder. The prior question -- what makes a living human organism a person? -- is not explored. I do not see how a living human organism, either the cells from the inside of my cheek or a complex of cells such as a blastocyst smaller than 0.1 to 0.2 mm in diameter without a brain can be considered a person. To those who want a defining point of when an embryonic development becomes a person, I offer what I understand to be English common law: at birth.
     Again, thank you for this excellent question, which I have answered too briefly for the subject but at too great a length for this discussion venue.

     Vern, your second paragraph is scientifically inaccurate.  A fertilized cell and the cells inside your cheek do NOT have the same genetic code. The cell inside your cheek has your genetic code, but the fertilized cell has the combined genetic code of the parents. I am afraid you have not provided any "contrary scientific evidence". I am wondering, do you have any background in science?
    You can assert that it is not a person, but you don't know that.
     As to Exodus 21:22 I think you are misrepresenting it, since it is talking about an accidental death rather than a premeditated one (as in an abortion clinic) and I don't know why you take it as an authority anyway.  You don't take the Old Testament as an authority in other areas of life, do you?  So why this one?
     If you don't know when "personhood" has arrived, then you are in no position to just say "so lets go ahead and kill it since we don't know if it is a person".
     If you were hunting, and weren't sure if a shape moving in the distance was a deer, and you said "lets go ahead and shoot it since we don't know if its a person" you would be guilty of murder if in fact it turned out to be a person.
     People who don't know when "personhood" begins should not be saying "so lets go ahead and kill it".

Vern responds
In responding to what I perceived the intent of the the correspondent who noted, in effect, that the fertilized egg contains the same genetic material as an adult-- I did not claim totipotency or even pluripotency for the cheek cell--it is not a zygote; in the context of the observation of the first writer that a fertilized cell can become an adult human being with the same "genetic code," I agreed that the cell inside my cheek contains the "genetic code" given to me by my parents, just as a fertilized cell contains the "genetic code" from the parents. Neither are persons, as stated in the original response to the question addressed by this comparison. I believe this statement is correct both biologically and legally. Some would say that the fertilized egg is a person, but that opinion is, as I have shown, a sectarian judgment that has become significant relatively recently. The fact that a fertilized cell and an adult contain the same "genetic code" does not prove that both are persons.
     Concerning personhood, I have outlined several theories proposed within the Catholic tradition. I have not here discussed the variety of views within other religious traditions, nor presented any of the various proposals regarding how law might or might not accommodate various faith traditions. I have observed that English common law provides an answer that has worked for centuries; I would add that the Supreme Court, in employing the "viability" test, could be seen as essentially bringing that standard into an era of medical advance. 
     The argument that Ex 21:22 is irrelevant to the question of personhood because the loss of the fetus could be described as accidental rather than intentional seems a reasonable position without additional study of the law code in which it is embedded, which leads me to favor my original interpretation, but good people can arrive at different conclusions about this text.
     I am asked about my background in science. I have studied science at all levels, including during my graduate training at the University of Chicago and the Institute for Advanced Study of Religion in an Age of Science, where I had the opportunity to study with some of the world's greatest scientists -- including geneticists such as Theodosius Dobzhansky. In addition I have done post-doctoral work in various scientific areas and have been especially interested in issues raised by stem cell research, although I retain my childhood fascination with astronomy, physics and other areas. I am not a scientist, but I am particularly interested in the interface between faith and science and how religion and science respond to each other. If I were to recommend a single book for those wishing an elementary understanding of such issues, it would be Ian G. Barbour's "Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues."
    Statements concerning my regard for Hebrew scriptures made by others are likely to be presumptive and simplistic. Statements about the care I take in hunting are similarly likely to be presumptive. Suggestions that I might kill something even if I did not know whether or not it was a person are also inadequate and presumptive. We can welcome different positions and insights and reasons to advance them without personal disrespect. Clarifying our own and each other's views can be mutually beneficial if the goal is clarification and appreciation, rather than winning an argument.
    Such inattentions and personal presumptions, and mischaracterizations in the dialogue -- rather than seeking clarifications or offering responses, rather than focusing on the issues -- suggest that additional exchange is unlikely to engender a mutually respectful dialogue; and therefore I resign from this discussion.

  Thats probably a good idea, since the comparison between the cells in your cheek with a fertilized egg are a false analogy; thats  an elementary mistake which a person with much of a background in science should not make.  Unless of course they have another agenda.
     Moreover, since you don't know when "personhood" begins, you are in no position to say when we can start killing the unborn humans.
     Better to err on the side of life, not possible murder.

     Thank God He gave us Peter and his successors to ensure we always has a living voice to understand His Truth in every age... And we're not subject to every man 'putting himself at the center of the universe'... Inventing things like supposed 'gay' marriage.
     The first Protestant even said... "There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams."- Martin Luther

     Trapblock, Vern is trying to tell us what some Catholic Theologians have speculated on.  What IS the church's postion on abortion these days?
     And "personhood" for that matter? 

     I would add, Vern, that your defining a person as becoming so "at birth" would mean that seven and eight month old "fetuses" could be aborted with impunity, as they are in some places.  There are of course atheistic philosophers and scientists such as Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins who have justified infanticide under the guise of "science', with arguments no less arbitrary than yours.

Jim Christensen
     The New Atheists don't provide a basis for answering these questions. Are they really that "Bright", as they call themselves?
     I welcome debate with local atheists...816-313-5385; I am planning on setting up a meetup to deal with this kind of format.

Silence is the heart of some worship, but not all
This is a time to listen, please

The couple in the pew behind me were chatting loudly during the prelude to a special regional worship service. I turned around, discerned that no circumstance required the jabber and tried to let them know their gabfest was not appropriate by giving them the dirtiest look I could manage. 
     They paid no attention to me — or to the music, performed by one of the area’s finest musicians. Even if the worst possible organist were playing, the continuous confabulation violated the dignity of the sacred occasion, though I’m sure the couple meant no discourtesy and were simply clueless about that congregation’s protocol.
     Later I asked an official of the church what I should have done. He said I should have told them that this was a time to listen.
     But even during services in some traditions, conversations are expected. For example, in Orthodox synagogues, where women sit separately from men, exchanging greetings is common. At some lengthy Hindu festivals, there is a lot of coming and going, and visiting is part of the meaning of such sublime occasions.
     With a different congregation, I observed the value given to concluding the service exactly on time. The clock was not an object of worship, but the many events on the crammed church calendar explained the rushed pacing, and it also honored the schedule the worshippers may have planned for the rest of the day, including a game. 
     Many African-American churches expect a service to be over when it’s over — and that may be three or so hours after it starts. How can any human anticipate exactly how the Holy Spirit will move within the assembly any particular day?
     Some churches include deliberate pauses between parts of the service. The waiting in silence between elements of worship adds dignity to each action and allows worshippers to empty themselves to absorb the fullness of faith though each rubric.
     I don’t want Maestro Michael Stern to conduct faster just to get to the end of the symphony or the movie projectionist to speed up the images to hurry to the end. A friend told me that the best baseball game he ever attended went into three innings overtime and no one complained. 
     We want to respect and to follow the customs of the communities of faith we visit. 
     But I can understand those who look to worship in part as a relief from lives of rush and regimentation, filled with ceaseless chatter and incessant texting.
     They favor scripture like “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).

     I would hate to have a six-course meal with friends with each to be timed to the minute.
     An example of quiet pauses in a liturgical church service:
a lector (reader) from one part of the worship space, perhaps at the back of the nave, may take some time to reach the pulpit or lectern, and may bow in the proces, both before approaching the reading desk and after the conclusion of the reading, after which the congregation waits until the lector returns to the place. I realize such silence would not play well on radio.
     There are some books to guide visits to unfamiliar worship sites, such as How to be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, now in its 4th edition, by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida, editors. And it is always correct to inquire of your host.


M B writes
     . . . There was a time when absolutely no one would talk during our music. . . . I am really turned off by all the noise . . . . One time the original [famous choral group] were performing and although it was 14 degrees outside, they made us turn
off the heat so they could hear each other.  I wish everyone now were appreciative . . . .

R L writes
     After your column today,I thought you might enjoy another of its like. A few years ago, while my dad was still alive, my wife  ,.  . . and I took dad to church with us. Dad had the habit of talking often and loudly whenever he wanted too. So as the organ started its introduction [she] leaned over to dad and said- when the music starts we are all quiet. As dad sat there overly quiet [she] began to be concerned that she might have hurt his feelings, then he looked back at her and said- I bet that really gets to you doesn't it . . . . Thanks for reminding me of an old story, (Of course all of my stories are now old stories) Best of wishes...

R L (a different R L from the one just above) writes
     I read  your article this morning on  talking in church. The article reminded me of my upbringing in a Catholic elementary  school in KCK where I was taught by nuns in a community of people of Slovenian ethnicity.    We were old school.  The rule was silence in church.   But, the article  also reminded me of my now 80 year old sister’s view on this subject.   Her rule told to her grandchildren always was: “Don’t talk to me  in church unless you are sick.”  We laugh about that to this day.

B T writes
     You may get a chuckle out of my attached "Conquest" article.  It's rather self-explanatory, that there are times when I'm the black-sheep at my church, because I don't always agree precisely with our traditions (although I'm a strong conservative).  I finally used the article while we have an interim pastor, and it didn't shorten his one-hour sermons at all! No words were traded, and we're still friends, and each of us adamant.
     As for my website, I may have coined a new word..."website missionary."  At least I've never heard it before.  I don't know how viewers find it, as I don't advertise, and do not accept donations.  But since I started paying attention to its outreach, it has been viewed in 54 countries, on all the continents except Antarctica (and penguins don't read). I pray that it's a help to some, and if I ever hear of even one convert to Christ because of it, my Labor of Love will have been worth it.
     And again, I've told you more than you wanted to know!  I appreciate your column. 
   THIRTY MINUTES? -- This subject has been on my mind for years, but I didn't have the nerve to mention it until the a pastor brought it up himself, although in a humorous way....
     It's about the church service running later than twelve on a Sunday morning.  And I approach my comment with love.  Without Pastors, Evangelists, and Missionaries, where would this world be!
    The fact is...the human body is accustomed to various duties at noon...not only the stomach has its own clock, but  the kidneys also have a timetable that doesn't adjust for Sunday.  And of course there are circumstances, like medicines that have a schedule, either for the person attending church, or for a person at home that is his or her responsibility.
     And so you see, although God has no use for clocks, and time is of no consequence to Him, I'm sure He understands our bodies getting "antsy" when we get them off their established habits.
     Since Broadcasting has been my lifetime career, my brain works in minutes and seconds.  I've done so many commercials that I can count off a "30" or a "60" in my mind, and usually won't be off more than a second. And that gets over into music, which is another of my loves.  I can voice a "middle C" and go to the piano and hit that note, and almost always will be right on.  I've thought many times that every minister should have a radio broadcasting for a time, to get in the habit of introducing, ministering, and closing in a 30-minute period.  It doesn't allow for getting off into other subjects.  I've read that the more brief the subject, the more difficult it is to get the point across.  Airing a program requires sticking to the subject!  And the average mind's attention span is only about 30 minutes.
    And so maybe you can forgive me for being conscious of a clock striking in my mind at 12 noon.  Of course, it's no sin for a service to run over...the Apostle Paul preached a long sermon, and a boy named Eutychus went to sleep and fell "from the third loft" to his death (Acts 20:5). Paul prayed and he came back to life, but still, persons...especially of age...may have nap time come upon them unawares. 
     Mind you...we aren't talking about when the Holy Spirit is moving.  We would never cut Him off, nor would any Bible teaching pastor.  If you weren't at the Bible Study when that pastor made the humorous remark about Sundays at 12, he was not at all suggesting such a thing.  He was, in his words, "never trying to put God in a box of our time schedule, (because) God does not always fit!"  And I totally agree with him.
     And I was teasing all ministers when I said, "Don't grumble if our stomachs rumble at 12 noon!"

Vern responds
     You may be overly generous in estimating attention span among today's population. I'd say fifteen minutes, or surely twenty, is about the limit most people have to listen to a sermon, no matter how excellent.
     I favor short sermons in liturgical churches, but I understand why they must be longer in many other churches.
     I'm still learning to write within my space limit, as you mastered your broadcast time requirements.
    Congratulations on your outstanding career.
     And thanks for your kind comments about my column. I'm proud to have you as a reader!

A considered birthday ritual 

For my 70th birthday, I wanted to look at something really old, so I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Of course many works of art there are quite recent, but this day, as a ritual, I wanted to think about being ancient.
     §  My first station was the stone axe head at the beginning of the American Indian art collection. From the Nebo culture in what is now Jackson County, it is between three and four thousand years old.
     It is beguilingly simple in its perfected symmetry. Perhaps created as a weapon, to chop wood, as an item for trade or as a symbol of authority, it could have been a ceremonial instrument, revealing the human ability to revere the fine-grain stone in such a way as to produce an object of intrinsic meaning beyond what we would call a mere tool. It fills me with awe.
     I imagine the axe participating in forest and festival, animated, a living being. Even today, American Indians refer to “stone people,” for all the world is alive, filled with holy power.
     §  My second posting was also stone, from the other side of the planet, a section of a wall carved perhaps 2900 years ago, “Winged Genie Fertilizing a Date Tree,” from an Assyrian palace large enough to hold five football fields.
     Although most of us don’t have wings like the divine figure pollenating the stylized tree, this relief suggests the sacred intimacy between humans and nature through which both benefit. I had to smile because these days I’m benefiting from eating dates regularly for their magnesium.
     To me, the relief is not just a pleasant garden scene with royal authority; it portrays a ritual of tending the growing of food on which our lives depend.
     §  My third position was in the recently reopened gallery 232 with the amazing collection of Chinese bronzes. On this visit to the museum, I was especially fascinated by a Shang Dynasty “gu,” a sort of goblet, perhaps 3100 years old.
     I have been known to spill a drink, but this vessel was designed to make spilling obligatory. The museum label notes that the “elegant trumpet mouth would have been suitable for pouring libations but impossibly messy for direct drinking.” In our culture, spills are embarrassing, but   sometimes we offer toasts and clink our glasses together as a ritual of celebration.
     In his 1958 ground-breaking “Patterns in Comparative Religion,” Mircea Eliade concludes, “The ideal of the religious man is, of course, that everything he does should be done ritually . . . .” My 70th birthday museum pilgrimage made me think: If as our lives are ritualized to make us freshly aware of what is truly important, we live with perpetual thanksgiving and holiness.


E B writes
    Enjoyed today's article. Hey, 70 is the new 50, OK 55! Anyway, Happy Natal Day!

WH writes
     . . . I was enjoying thinking of ways I can help ritualize your birthday. May I feed you? Take you to a movie (Sound of My Voice?)? Get you a massage? Kidnap you to a beach or a pilgrimage? I am feeling older than dirt so you can gaze upon me. 

L G writes 
     Happy recent Birthday! Some people will do anything to make themselves seem young (a clever article today :).


     Happy Birthday, Vern! It's been a while since I visited Nelson-Atkins. Maybe time to go again some day. I like your mention of rituals as something that is intrinsic in humans. Glad we have a place like Nelson that can bring different rituals from around the world to Heartland and provide insights into comparative religion and cultures.

Vern responds
     Thanks, Marcus, for your good birthday wishes!  And thanks for discerning the importance of ritual in being human. If you've not been to the Nelson lately, you'll indeed find much that is new and thrilling, but I so cherish many treasures from the past. As you say, the Nelson is an extraordinary place to see works of genuine spiritual worth from faiths around the world and throughout history.

     I am wondering if the importance of rituals in humans is becoming less and less expressed and meaningful.  Rituals as actions normally carry some sort of a symbolic value and as less as less prominence is given to religion and its explanations and meanings of the natural world, then mostly traditional and secular meanings are assigned and sought after. As less as less of arbitrary (comparative religion/culture wise) meanings are assigned and rituals are losing importance. We are becoming less involved personally. I am not sure if it's in any way worse or not, just is.

Truer meaning of marriage

In this world of woe, what a wonderful thing it is when two people find each other, delight in their mutual love and commit to share their lives together! As a clergyman, I am grateful to have shared the joy of many such couples by marrying them. And now, late in my career, I sometimes get to marry their children. 
     Helping to plan and to preside at weddings is surely one of the great blessings I’ve been given.
     Except when the couple is two men or two women, the joy of uniting two persons pledging themselves to one another is incomplete because the state does not recognize it as a marriage.
     I can understand why some folks consider it prejudice when the Bible is used to denounce same-sex marriage as most of us ignore the Bible’s words prohibiting a divorced person to remarry (Luke 16:18), repeatedly warning against the love of money (like 1 Timothy 6:10), supporting slavery (Philemon and many other passages) and requiring women to keep silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34). I could cite numerous other such elided topics.
     Religious institutions against the divorced remarrying are not required to perform such services, and churches are free to exclude women from speaking in them. 
     But civil law allows divorce and remarriage. The profit motive is thought to be essential to economic well-being. We have abolished slavery. Many women sing in church choirs and teach Sunday schoo and some preach.
     Yes, I can understand why some folks consider it prejudice when others, like Rush Limbaugh, divorced three times and four times married, inducted earlier this month into the Hall of Famous Missourians, denounces the President’s personal embrace of same-sex marriage as “leading a war on traditional marriage.”
     “Traditional marriage” is far more complicated than many realize, even if they read biblical stories about how Jacob bought Leah and then Rachael for his wives with 14 years of labor, and how Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
     For most of Christian history, marriage ceremonies — about property and sex, not love — were conducted outside the church. Then medieval troubadours developed the idea of romance. Marriage was confirmed as a sacrament by 1563. Eventually we came to think of marriage as based in love.
     In this troubled world, society is strengthened by stable relationships. Same-sex marriage provides this at least as well as heterosexual culture. If God is love (1 John 4:8), then the bonds of same-sex love may be part of God’s unfolding revelation of a truer meaning of marriage.

     One recent example in the changing meaning of marriage is that marriage is now usuaully considered an equal partnership whereas even 100 years ago, and to a large extent even 50 years ago, the wife was was considered the subordinate of the husband. A biblical expression of this notion is Esphesians 5:22-23: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church . . . ." And formerly traditional vows required the wife to obey the husband but not the husband to obey the wife.
    For same-sex unions in the church and in history, see columns
471.030910  and 
473.030924, as well as
218.981028 and 217.981021


T C writes
     Your commentary in today's KC Star is thrilling.  How wonderful to live in a world with truly enlightened people like you.  Thank you.

C S writes
     Loved your column and I thank you for it. Had that appeared not so many years ago in the [name of another paper], someone might have burned down your house as they did the house of someone connected to the first production there of The Normal Heart. The breath of God continues to breathe healing change into the world.

M F writes
    Ah, your column today is a great twentieth wedding anniversary present. None of us is free till all of us are free. Thanks. 

D G writes
     Thanks for your insightful and well written article.
    Your column in today's Kansas City Star is very much appreciated.  My son is a well-adjusted gay adult, and he and his many gay friends make me proud to stand with them in seeking their equal rights.
     I am now 71 years old, grew up in the Christian church, went to a Baptist college, and embraced my religion.  However, I do not recognize what Christianity has become in the past thirty years.   The hate today's Christian churches espouse against homosexuals, or immigrants, or people in need has driven me from its doors.  In many respects, the "church" has become big business, a political party.
       In trying to understand what has happened to the church, it occurred to me that if Christianity can change this drastically in just my lifetime, how greatly it must have changed and been misinterpreted down through the years.   I do not need a hierarchy of officials (or even one) telling me what to believe, whom to love, or how to live my life.
      I wonder, who are these charlatans who now preach this new Christianity, and why isn't someone--some church-- taking a leadership role to preach love and acceptance.  The North Carolina preacher who calls for the encampment of gays and lesbians ("…separately, so they can't reproduce…") is so ignorant about sexuality and devoid of even basic kindness, I can't imagine why he isn't ridiculed and ousted by other so-called ministers or informed members of his congregation.  The song is right, "…you have to be carefully taught to hate…" But I never thought it would be the church who was doing the teaching. 
     Your column is always a breath of fresh air.

S N writes
     Your column today is great.  It's one I will clip and save.

B F writes
     I read your article in The K.C. Star this AM and quite frankly, I wanted to vomit!!!
     If I agreed with your view on 'same sex marriage' as you refer to and gift wrap it, we'd both be wrong . . .
     It is interesting to me how you twisted Biblical scripture around (selecting extreme examples), to support your flawed attempt to justify 'homosexual marriage' and true love!
     Our heavenly Father God used intelligent design when he created Adam & Eve, and I seriously question that he intended it to evolve into Adam & Steve!
     It is a burgeoning and sinful counter-culture that is spreading like an malignant blight; and sadly enough, people like yourself are promoting and endorsing it.
     If you truly believe that homosexual marriage was included in God's intelligent design, then how would our human species continue without the ability to reproduce.
     I recognize the fact that everyone us need and deserve emotional and caring love, but the homosexual life style is unnatural, unhealthy and untenable.
     And please understand . . . I do not discount gay people who are born that way, without any alternatives. My heart goes out to them and they are in my prayers . . .
     I am specifically referring to hetero-sexual people, making a conscious and popular choice to adopt and accept the gay & sinful life style. And believe it or not, this life style is happening more often than people like yourself are willing to acknowledge!
     You are attempting pass off homosexual marriage (same sex marriage as you gift wrap & promote it to be) as a normal and accepted way of life. Moreover, you have attempted to sugar-coat and wrap God's love around it, in order to give it credence and acceptability. Because you are choosing the easy way out, you remind me of a quote one made by Webster . . . "What's always popular isn't always right; and what's always right isn't always popular".
     Unless you are gay yourself, you are completely circumventing the sinful and unnatural act of homosexual intercourse between two men.
     How dare you rationalize an unnatural sex act (anal intercourse) between two men and then pass it off as something that was intended (as natural & normal) and ordained by our almighty God.
     I am aware I will never accept and/or change your belief about normal and natural homosexual love & marriage; but please do not attempt to violate or influence how I believe, about (Godly and intelligent design) hetero-sexual love and marriage, by promulgating your flawed and misguided thinking in my newspaper!
     Again . . . if I agree with your way of thinking, we would both be very wrong . . .

Vern responds
     People do have strong reactions to issues such as this, so if you feel like vomiting, I understand.
     And I know people with views opposite to yours who have the same visceral reaction to the kind of thing you have written.
    But reactions do not establish facts. They can prevent us from seeing the facts.
     While I have answers for the questions you raise (it is, for example, extremely simple to explain (as scientists have explained) why homosexuality is found in cultures around the world and throughout history without impeding reproduction), I simply wanted you to know I have read your email, thought about it, and wanted to express my appreciation for your taking the trouble to write me, even though we continue to disagree and no doubt could engage in a lengthy exchange, but probably to no different outcome.
     I do not know what your experiences and background may be, but I imagine you have some basis for believing as you do. 
     I would be grateful if you could please extend the same presumption to me, with my more than four decades of ministry, study, prayer, and reflection.
     You are most welcome to follow-up by making your criticism of my column public by writing a letter to the editor or an "As I See It" column? --
     Although on this column, my mail is running far more favorably than otherwise, I certainly do not expect all my readers to agree with me.
     In any event, I always appreciate hearing from my readers, and I want to thank you for setting forth your views so clearly.

B F writes again
     At least . . . thank you for your reply.
     In your response to me, you did take the high road  and I appreciate your calm and deliberate response!
     I am fearful that after four decades of ministry, study, prayer and reflection, you have allowed yourself to evolve into a 'bleeding liberal'!
     More than ever  and with your background in ministry (not sure which denomination?), I am compelled to believe . . . you are flying right into the face of our almighty God with your system of rationalization & progressive thinking.
      Quite often when I pray, I ask of God "let Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done; and please bring down Satan and his evil empire". Sodom & Gomorrah, homosexual love & gay marriage, all part of the same ilk, along with Satan and his evil empire!
     Do you honestly believe that our Holy Triune God is sanctioning and approving  the aforementioned way of life as Godly and righteous behavior? Please do an objective invoice on your Christian beliefs and  convince me that God is in concert with all of the intentional evil and sinfulness spreading in our country & world today. I continue to pray that we will regain our national equilibrium and once become 'One nation under God'! But when people like yourself (a man of God) advocate and promote a sinful and alternative life style, we are in very deep trouble.
    When I share my background with you, as a lifelong Missouri Synod German Lutheran, maybe it will provide you some insight, into my level of commitment and depth of conviction to my beliefs.
     I'm sure you are a very decent and caring human being, but I can't help but think . . . you are inadvertently violating God's true will, by espousing your confirmed belief in Homosexual marriage and true love. Moreover, I honestly believe your intentions are positive and decent, and that you are convinced  you own a Divine understanding and special message regarding the sanctity of homosexual marriage & love; but in my heart of hearts I know and believe you are wrong.
     When we enter God's Kingdom . . . and if I learn that all along I have been wrong, I will look you up and offer the most profound apology you will ever receive.
     And if it turns out that you are wrong, I will expect the same consideration . . .!

Vern responds again
     In my experience, arguments through emails are seldom fruitful. On matters concerning Biblical understanding, especially about sins of wealth, sexuality, stewardship of the earth, and so forth, it seems that folks become more understanding as they meet and get to know folks they disagree with. I think this is particularly true about same-sex marriage. When folks get to know righteous couples of the same sex, caring for their children, responsible to their community, and loving with their families and friends, others begin to see the Bible and the very little they know of the history of marriage in different ways.
     But in case you are truly interested in a Biblical study, I have two suggestions for you:
    1. This article, adapted from Christian Century, by Prof Walter Wink:
     2. In addition you might find interesting especially lesson 4 in a curriculum for study by Episcopalians at as they consider blessing same-sex unions.
     Finally, if you are interested in previous columns I've written on related subjects, you can find links for them on the right side of the web page at
     I certainly am eager to correct my understanding and position if I am shown to be wrong. I am glad for your parallel statement.

B F writes a third time
     I do appreciate your reply. One last question . . . If the sin of Sodom was "hubris & fulness of bread", then where did the term (and definition) of sodomy originate from?

Vern responds a third time
     You would find an answer in the material I cited. But additionally, "sodomy" has several meanings, legal and non-legal. It can refer to oral and sexual intercourse (homosexual or heterosexual or with an animal) or it can refer simply to any same-sex sexual activity, though usually the implication is male. The lack of clarity is one reason that some legal codes have been overturned because heterosexuals desired to engage in oral or anal sex.
     The term was a mistranslation in the King James version of the Bible, which is quite ironic since James was a notorious homosexual and even bragged that "Jesus had his John and I have my George."
     Ezekiel is pretty clear about what the sin of Sodom was (16:14), and the rabbis interpreted it as the sin of inhospitality. Jeremiah  (23:14) understood the sin of Sodom as lying and adultery. In the Biblical sense, I am afraid many Americans are Sodomites.
     [The KJV inaccurately translates Deuteronomy 23:17 (KJV) says that "There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel," because the Hebrew word is Qadesh, which can be rendered more faithfully as a temple prostitute, and males were used by females in pagan fertility rites. 
     It is important to remember that translations often have non-Biblical agendas, as the KJV was issued in order to counter-act an earlier anti-Royalist translation, even though just a little earlier, all translations of the Bible were forbidden.]
     In the 6th Century, Justinian I, Byzantine emperor, invented the crime of sodomy as same-sex behavior, against his otherwise blameless enemies. The history thereafter for the term is complicated. Yale historian John Boswell clearly places the misapplication of the term to the Middle Ages. This term's misappliance can be traced to Albertus Magnus (died 1280 AD) in the context of the the then-newly discovered Aristotelian categories of thought -- though of course the Greeks (read Plato's Symposium), especially the Spartans, praised or required same-sex unions, with heterosexual activity for the begetting of children).
     I do not have the leisure to respond more fully. I commend the links I sent to you. There is an enormous amount of Biblical and historical information available to you should you choose to become acquainted with it.
     While I have great respect for scholarship, I repeat that on matters concerning Biblical understanding, especially about sins of wealth, sexuality, stewardship of the earth, and so forth, it seems that folks become more understanding as they meet and get to know folks they disagree with. I think this is particularly true about same-sex marriage. When folks get to know righteous couples of the same sex, caring for their children, responsible to their community, and loving with their families and friends, others begin to see the Bible and the very little they know of the history of marriage in different ways. 

B F writes a fourth time
    Thank you . . . you answered my question!

D T writes
     . . . well articulated yesterday. Its message has made it to South Carolina and across the pond! THX!

B S writes
     I just read, "Truer Meaning of Marriage," in today's paper. You made some really good points! I think your article would help my friend in PA. She loves and accepts her daughter and her daughter's wife, but is concerned about what her church has taught her about homosexuals. Can I find a copy of this online so I can email it to her? Or could you send me an attachment that I can forward to her?
     Also, I have a question. Can you tell me the verses that warn against homosexuality? Someone in my church told me one, I looked it up and it was about men raping other men. To me the horrible thing was the rape. I also found scripture that Paul wrote, but it seemed to be more of his opinion than that of God's word. I read a few verses I found on the internet and they still didn't convince me that homosexuality is wrong. I need to decide my own opinion about homosexuality, and not some vague, "The Bible says it's a sin." I need to see where it says it is a sin. I know I've read that gluttony is sinful, yet look at how many people preaching against homosexuality are obese. I agree with what you said in your column, but how does a person decide what scripture is what God wants us to follow and what scripture is wrong (like slavery). Ah...I see that I've brought up some not easy to answer questions. You don't have to answer. I guess I'm just thinking out loud. Thank you for your thought provoking article!
    I hope you can help me get a copy of "Truer Meaning of Marriage" to my friend.

Vern responds
  Thank you for letting me know that the column was meaningful to you and you'd like to share it. Below my "signature / identification" material you'll find the text of Wednesday's column.
     But for a month you can also get it on The Star's website at .    And all of my 924 (to date) columns are archived on my website at where, right side, underneath the text of the column in the section called NOTES you'll find links to earlier columns on homosexuality. Did you know, for example, that the Church used to solemnize same-sex unions with the exchanging of vows and rings and Holy Communion? Did you know that the sin of Sodom, according to scripture, was not homosexuality but rather "pride, fulness of bread"? You'll find that and more by exploring the links.
    There are different approaches to Biblical texts. While I don't agree with Professor Walter Wink in every detail, his approach in Christian Century magazine to the troublesome Biblical texts seems helpful:
     The Episcopal Church will soon consider blessing same sex unions, and a wonderful curriculum for study with materials useful beyond the denomination (especially unit 4) can be found at

C S writes
     Greetings, Vern, no crack pot here. I just wanted to tell you that I appreciated your thoughtful column last week. With a ruling against the DMA it will surely get to the Supreme Court and receive a proper ruling. I'm sure it will take that and more before this issue is no longer a target of scorn and ignorance. We (Sandi, my wife) and I appreciate your articulate reasoning for any two people to marry. Hopefully we can raise a toast to all marriages in the not too distant future.


    Slavery has not been abolished. Atheism exposed...

     It seems that, thanks to the ‘castrating’ of marriage by the widespread use of contraception, most people, and even many Catholics, think that the primary purpose of marriage is not the procreation and education of children, but rather the celebration of romantic love between two people. Until recently, most people still knew that there must be some reason why a sexual relationship between a man and a woman was different to other human sexual relationships. Sadly, though, such is the society that we live in – in which children often take second place to rather self-indulgent adult romances – that it appears many people in the West now assume that the only purpose of marriage is for the “good of the spouses” (regardless of their gender). This notion however is a modern invention...

     The state has an interest in breaking down the family, by no fault divorce laws and making divorce more economically beneficial for women and burdening men more.
    This makes people more willing to divorce over things that could be worked out, and makes men more reluctant to marry.
     Homosexual marriage won't mean much to divorce lawyers...I know one in Kansas City who looks forward to handling homosexual divorces which she feels will be quite lucrative as the fights are even more bitter and the parties have more money!
     I.E.; homosexual marriage will mean plenty of homosexual divorces and lots of money for the lawyers.
     And with families broken down, people will be more dependent on the STATE for handouts.
    When the Anti Christ appears, he will find little resistance.

     Reverend Barnet misrepresents Pauls letter to Philemon; he most definitely is not supporting slavery in that letter.
     And the Reverend ignores what Jesus Himself had to say about marriage. That many people ignore it does not change the message.

Vern responds
   Actually the column (paragraph 4) cites an example of what Jesus says about marriage (Luke 16:18).
     Paul, instead of following the Biblical command to free escaped slaves (Deut. 23:15), sends the runaway slave, Onesimus, back to his master, Philemon.Paul delicately suggests that Philemon has mistreated Onesimus and might now free his slave, but Paul recognizes Philemon's right to make the decision of slavery over another human being. 

     Actually, you mentioned what Jesus said about divorce, not marriage.
     As to Paul, I see you already know the Old Testament called for freeing run away slaves so your statement in your column about the Bible supporting slavery was misleading. Paul suggested that Philemon receive Onesimus as more than a freed slave, but as a brother.  You are willfully misrepresenting the message of the letter to Philemon is you claim it supports slavery as you claim in your column.
     Slavery is of course still practiced in the Muslim world.

Vern responds
     Actually the text of Luke 16:18 specifically uses the "M" word, twice: "A man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." And  the column context in which the citation appears seems correct -- the point being that civil law is not based on this particular command about marriage.
     I would not accuse someone of WILLFULLY misrepresenting a message; the history of Christianity has plenty of examples of multiple interpretations, and people of good will can disagree in a friendly way. 
    The column offers an example in which slavery is accepted, rather than condemned, in the Bible.There are many examples where slavery is condoned and also rules (such as for runaways) when they are to be freed. Before and during the Civil War, the South often used the Bible to support slavery, as Abraham Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural Address. As I pointed out, Paul does not condemn the institution of slavery but hints to Philemon that he should treat Onesimus, whom Philemon has mistreated, as a brother in Christ. Paul specifically leaves the question of freeing Onesimus to Philemon and does not follow the the Deuteronomic injunction to free a runaway slave. The Hebrews were also required to free a Hebrew slave after six years, and in other ways establish rules for slavery, including, in some circumstances, the mutilation of an ear. Exodus provides conditions for life-time slavery.      Paul's approach is informed by both the Jewish tradition and Greco-Roman practices. Again, the point is that civil law no longer permits slavery; Paul certainly could not write as he did were he writing in today's America, though I certainly admire, in the context of his time, the way he employed Koine Greek (including the pun on the slave's name) and the beautifully tailored progression of the plea (for an escaping slave was subject to capital punishment).
     I am not ignorant nor am I "willfully misrepresenting the message of the letter to Philemon." This is my honest, sincere understanding of the text after prayerfully studying it in theological school and afterwards for many years.
     Correspondents in these discussions do well to offer the courtesy of presuming wholesome intent to one another. I do not recommend further  dialogue with those who accuse others of willful misrepresentation; people have various views and may discuss them respectfully and share their interpretations of scripture without evil intent. I doubt that ad hominem attacks are helpful.

     A interestng explanation, Vern, but in your column you referred to the letter to Philemon as supporting slavery.  It does not, and it is incorrect to say so. If Philemon was to receive him as a brother, that would be an example to all Christians.  Moreover, Paul elsewhere said that we neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, nor slave or free, but all one.  That pretty much covers the range and would eliminate discrimination is followed.
     So I won't way that you were Willfully Misleading but the statement was nevertheless misleading as to the purpose of the letter to Philemon.
     I would say that to insist on following the interpretation that it does is, frankly, incompetent.

Vern responds
     In my opinion, sending a runaway slave back to his master when the penalty for running away is death, with the soft request that the slave be treated as a brother, and not challenging the institution of slavery but rather appealing, while acknowledging that the master may do what he wills, is supporting slavery. Paul did not write Philemon to say "I have declared your slave Onesimus free" or "You must free your slave, Onesimus, because slavery is evil"; but rather he cajoles Philemon with elegant and powerful argument not to punish him for running away and to treat him in Christian brotherhood. Indeed, many slave owners considered their slaves as part of the family, but the slaves were still slaves. This text and many others in the Bible have been used as arguments that slavery is compatible with the Christian faith. Indeed, the purpose of the letter is to deal with Onesimus and not to end the institution of slavery whose rules Paul obviously accepts or he would not have sent Onesimus back when Paul wanted Onesimus to stay with him. To draw a more recent parallel, Paul was. in effect, honoring the Fugitive Slave Act, supporting slavery. Onesimus was the property of Philemon, and Paul acknowledged that fact, even as he sought more humane treatment for Onesimus.
     The citation of --neither male nor female, greek nor jew, slave nor free-- is incomplete -- the expression needs the qualification "in Christ" (Gal. 3:28) as Jews did not become Greeks and men did not become women and slaves were not freed just because Paul wrote it. In fact, in writing attributed to Paul, mentioned in the column, Paul gives women the disability of speaking in church, of all places, where if there is no difference, they should be like men; there may be no difference between male and female in Christ, but most people sure think in the ordinary world there is a noticeable difference; and the "no difference" argument is curious in a complaint about a column suggesting that marriage should not be denied to same-sex couples.  It is helpful to consider the historical context and literary methods in interpreting scripture. 
     As I suggested before, people of good will can disagree without insulting each other; the practice of putting others down is a remarkable evidence of faith. I see no need to trash another person's opinion as "incompetent" when it is informed, thoughtful, and responsive, even if not persuasive to everyone. We have the right to set forth our positions and use what evidence and reasoning seem to apply without being accused of either "willful misrepresentation" or "incompetence." If one disagrees, fine, one can say so and present one's arguments and rejoinders without personal insult. Certainly, in discussing Scripture, disagreements are to be expected and respected, even in the fiercest debate, but not, one would hope, cause for opprobrium.

    Reverend Barnet, this is an interesting discussion. You are contantly putting down beliefs of others, although in a cautious manner and in your own special veiled words, so perhaps its a little disingenous for you to complain when someone calls you out. Do you really think that convuluted grammer, hedging at key points, hides that?
    The point is that you single out the letter to Philemon as supporting slavery, when in fact Paul is not doing anything of the kind.  He is reasoning with Philemon on his own terms, not ordering him around, obviously with the intent that Philemons actions would then be an example to others.
     In the circumstance, Jewish Law did not rule, Roman law did, and Paul was trying to deal with that situation, so you need to consider that historical context you mention.  Paul had only so much time, and was trying to spread the gospel in an occupied state; and as it was he would be executed. 
     That is why I believe you are misrepresenting the letter to Philemon as saying it supports slavery; in fact he was doing what he could to undermine the institution itself. Which leads me to  believe, especially considering your treatment of the passage that we are all one in Christ and neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free and more (of course it is not saying that Jews become Greeks, nor that men "become" gotta be kidding), that you intend to undermine any approach to the Bible that would be a hindrance to you denigrating the messsage.

Vern responds
     Different points of view regarding the letter of Paul to Philemon have been expressed here. I have had my say, and in studying the most recent posts I cannot discern much new. For example, to the restatement of the view that Paul is not supporting slavery, I had already responded. Those interested in pursuing the question certainly can easily read the letter itself (it is quite short and a model of literary composition, which one can appreciate not only in Greek but as it appears in many English translations). And there are many scholarly commentaries which discuss the Epistle. My seminary students have always found it — and consequent issues and varying interpretations — to be a most rewarding study, often leading to deepened admiration for Paul in the context of his time.
     But I’m not sure it is very beneficial to complain about the style of writing in these posts; I suppose some may be determined to complain about anything when arguments may not be as potent as hoped; I have not complained about the repeated inappropriate use of “Reverend,” but many people unacquainted with proper social forms think they are being respectful when they are actually failing to employ polite English style; but detailing such issues would not add much to the discussion of the present topic; and, similarly, it is doubtful that insults and complaints about a “disingenous” [sic] “messsage” [sic] “contantly [sic] putting down beliefs of others” with “ convuluted [sic] grammer [sic], hedging at key points” add much to our discussion of the blessings of marriage, the topic of the column, especially if correspondents are unable to apprehend the nuances of certain considerations. Some folks want an issue discussed in their own terms, even if the issue does not easily lend itself to such confines, such as attempting to present quantum mechanics using only the vocabulary of biological processes; it can be difficult to oblige them. 
    When someone is challenged to defend his views and does so, it seems unfair to complain that he is attacking another. I have not called anyone "incompetent" or "disingenuous" or accused anyone of "willfully misleading" others; rather, while here I have presented reasons for my own views, I have also stated "in discussing Scripture, disagreements are to be expected and respected,” and in that spirit I have tried to contribute to the conversation. I don’t expect agreement, but neither do I expect continuing insult, nor do I want to be the cause of offense. If others have felt misused by my presenting my perspective, I apologize and retire from this discussion.

     Vern seems to ignore verse 16 as he argues that the letter to Philemon supports slavery.
     And he also ignores that Paul was himself in prison as he wrote the letter and was soon executed.
     As to why Vern is striving so hard to argue that the letter to Philemon supports slavery?  I have my own opinion but it is quite consistent with Verns agenda.

     I see JonHarker the stalker is alive and well. Gotta give him a credit for tenacity.

     Says Marus the stalker of many names. LOL!

     Our glorious Supreme Court has given us Slavery, Sterilization, Sodomy and Abortion on demand...which has led to the deaths of 45 Million otherwise healthy unborn children.

     Let's examine the ideas of multiple interpretations... Could that be the reason Jesus initiated His church/kingdom with a teaching leadership like Peter, the apostles and their decendants?
     Doesnt the Bible talk about appealing disagreements to The Church? Well let's see... What structure today would exactly match that description?

     Local author Fred Hereen is answering the atheists.

Beyond questions, holy ground

“Muslims and Christians can’t both be correct,” wrote a reader responding to a recent column about religion in America, including Judaism. Her claim leads to three central questions.
     §  In what particular way is it that Muslims and Christians can’t both be correct? Muslims and Christians agree  that 2+2=4, that the rich should help the poor and that there is only one God, the God of Abraham. Countless other statements are common to both faiths.
     In excluding Jews and writing only about Christian and Muslims, the reader presents a puzzle. Since Judaism and Islam both differ from Christianity on the key issue of whether Jesus is God, the reader, in singling out Islam, may be referring to a difference hardly worth a remonstrance or may not understand Islam or Judaism.
     Christians, such as Roman Catholics, Mormons, Baptists and Quakers, have different beliefs, moral codes, organizational structures and ways of worshipping. Was the reader aware that her type of question could be asked within what may be her own and every other religion? Would she take the trouble to write that Methodists and Presbyterians can’t both be right? What about Lutherans?
     §  In what arena may we judge whether a faith is “correct”? In the arena of our personal faith, we have every right to use our own tradition, experience and resources. But if the statement, like many I receive, implies a political arena, then the statement seems misplaced.
     The United States guarantees freedom of religion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” The government is not competent to decide which religion is “correct.”
     §  Is asking which religion is “correct” useful, even perhaps misleading? Ed Chasteen, founder of HateBusters, says, “Asking who’s right is the wrong question.”
     Physics and chemistry both describe reality, but we don’t ask which one is correct. Is there a problem in saying both Bach and Monet are beautiful? Algebra and geometry both deal with quantities; is one right and the other wrong? Is an artichoke correct and a carrot wrong?
     In Kansas City, there is only one correct way to point south. But if I stand on the North Pole, left and right and every way forward is south. 
     When we stand before the Infinite, assertions that otherwise might appear contradictory become testimonies of awe. When we respect one another, we approach holy ground. When we enter holy ground, a supreme Truth illumines all faiths. Statements about correctness vanish like mist and no shadows remain.

     One can physically experience a metaphor for opposites being true by holding one hand in a container of hot water and the other in cold water, and then placing both hands in a container of lukewarm water.
    Others have emphasized how tricky "truth" can be:
     "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." —Niels Bohr
     “Art is the lie that tells the truth.” —Pablo Picasso
     "The truth is more important than the facts." —Frank Lloyd Wright
    "There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devilWhy are religions so often pitted against each other?". —Afred North Whitehead
     The "oriental mind cannot conceive of perfection unless all opposites are present in their fullness." —Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion (1963), p420.
     Indians such as Hindus "may maintain a belief in several different, contradictory answers to the same question; they alter their definitions of reality in order to let such contradictions survive, All truths being multiple, it is not surprising that the true version of any story is also multiple." —Wendy Donoger O'Flaherty, Other Peoples' Myths (1988), p64.


W writes
      I mist you.

D T writes
As always, this was a great article. It echoes a mantra: "We all got to this planet in the same manner. We're all getting off at the same stop. Let's find some common (holy) ground."

L M writes
     Your insight today makes me say "Amen". God has given you great wisdom. I am thankful for that!

A P writes
     Thanks for all you do for peace.

M J writes
     Hello!  You do not know me but I have heard you speak.  Wednesday's article in the KC Star was just great.  I always read your column.  I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your interfaith work in Kansas City. I like interfaith work and would like to know when their programs are scheduled.  At my age of 81 I can attend but not do much else and I am that rare breed that loves meetings.  My husband was an Air Force Chaplain so we knew Jewish Chaplains and many from various Christian denominations.  He was Presbyterian USA.  Keep up the good work!

R S writes
     [A good friend] sent me your article that begins "Muslims and Christians can both be correct. ... "  Sorry I don't have the date.  I believe it was in the Kansas City Star.  I appreciate your article very much, as well as the work you do.
    Just to share a thought ... I believe there is a way to biblically interpret even "Jesus is God" such that it would be compatible with both Islam and Judaism, at least from the Synoptics.  Jesus referred to himself as the "Son of Man," aka "Son of God."  That goes back to Ezekiel's vision, where he looked up and saw God on the throne in the form of a "Man."  There after, Ezekiel called himself, "Ben Adom," or "Son of Man."  So did the prophet Daniel, and others.  It seems in the Jewish prophetic tradition to designate certain prophets as having this special connection with God.  Jesus, a Jew, to the Jewish writers of the N.T., seemed comfortable with Jesus in this prophetic tradition.  And indeed, there is more in the Koran about Jesus than Mohammed, viewing Jesus in this Prophetic tradition.  Perhaps it was Constantine and Nicaea and about 300 old white men during the forth century who formalized creeds that veered from this rich tradition. 
     In any case, thank you for sparking my thinking.

H J writes
     Thanks very much for your message on Faith & Beliefs in the KC STAR this morning (Wednesday).  I commend you for taking on this controversial subject and I congratulate you for doing so. Your careful analysis of religion (not only in Amercia, but also worldwide) and their conflicts reaffirmed a situation which has been of great concern to me for many years.  Many of the conflicts between religious groups have evolved into wars with loss of many lives.
     That split not only occurs between Christians and Muslims, but also within Christianity as you have carefully written i.e., Protestants and Catholics, and divisions within each of those constituencies.  It extends further involving Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Your reference to which religion is "correct" is certainly not the approach to bring these groups together.  I am fearful that whatever efforts we make to calm down this "religious warfare" will not be noticeably effective.
     One of my hopes was brightened through the pastoral leadership at my Presbyterian Church, where the minister has always encouraged us to try to listen and understand what each group wants to say about their religious beliefs, and our congregation was frequently participated in by Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, Muslim clerics, etc.  Thanks again.

Vern responds
     Your keen mind may be running in the same direction as Yale's Miroslav  Volf whose book, Allah: A Christian Response (New York: HarperOne, 2011) argues that Christians who really understand the Trinity adhere to the same view of God as Muslims. One perspective on the book:

     Of 56 nested posts, many of then insults the various writers hurl at each other (on questions such as whether and how Jesus "fulfilled" the Jewish law or abolished it), only entries relating to the column are included. 

     Vern, Seems to me that all this "you are wrong, I am wright" party line on the part of religions is nothing but a screen smoke that protects with "certainty" the uncertainty we as humans have about the chaotic world we live in. Sure, it maybe comforting to someone to think that god has created the world for us to jump all the hoops in order to prove our worth to him and he'll reward us in after life.
     On a more rational side, simple assertions become more than expressions of awe. When not in check fundamentalism takes over unless it is opposed.

Vern responds
     Thank you for this thoughtful comment. If you are not familiar with the book "Chances Are: Adventures in Probability" by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan (don't be put off by the math), you might find your theme of the "chaotic world we live in" treated in a most interesting way. The last chapter implies a perspective on philosophy/theology that some may find compelling.

     Vern, thanks for the reference to the book. Not sure I have enough time to read it. Instead, I may read comments on Amazon by others who read it and maybe reviews on some sites. Thanks!

     Reverend Barnett mentions "the key issue of whether Jesus is God". So my question to Reverend Barnett is: do you think Jesus is God?

Vern responds
     The context for the phrase "the key of whether Jesus is God" is the comparison of Christianity with Judaism and Islam, not my personal faith.
     You may hope that "JonHarker" enters the conversation here as he has recently written that he knows what I think and wants others to know what I think. I've invited him to do so and await his fulfillment and do not want to deprive him of this pleasure by answering myself. Anyhow I am reluctant to be a model for others (either to emulate or for attack) and wish instead to assist others to find their own answers to such questions, congruent with my pastoral training to encourage others to think for themselves rather than parrot my own belief. 
     However, the column does not depend on an answer to the question, as that is not its subject.  I do appreciate it when my name is spelled correctly.

     Reverend, it looks like you have answered the question.  You said that the key whether Jesus is God is NOT your personal faith.
     That said, I don't care what anyone else says you think, I wanted to know what you have to say. Now you say you want to assist others to find their own answers, but if you in fact have an agenda of your own then perhaps others should be cautious in accepting your "assistance".
     So thanks for your response.

Vern responds
     Excellent advice! Folks should indeed be cautious in accepting assistance from others on religious (and many other) matters. Thanks for putting it so plainly. I couldn't agree more. You are welcome.
     Perhaps JonHarker will appreciate your perspective as he has previously presented extraordinarily similar questions.
    However, you are not correct to interpret what I said that "they key whether Jesus is God is NOT [my] personal faith." You have misread what I wrote. I wrote that "The context for the phrase 'the key of whether Jesus is God' is the comparison of Christianity with Judaism and Islam, not my personal faith." The subject of the sentence is "The context for the phrase . . . " -- not "my personal faith." Perhaps English is your second language, in which case I am grateful for your articulating your interpretation so I can provide this explanation because otherwise you would read me saying what I did not say. Again, thank you.

     Vern could avoid all this confusion if he would be up front about what he believes.

Vern responds
     Very early (1998) in this series of columns I set forth a summary of my religious perspective. It is available at
    JonHarker also states that he knows what I believe, and that he wants others to know. I have repeatedly invited him to share his understanding of what I believe and now do so again.
     I question the value of this, however, as I wish to encourage others to think for themselves, not emulate me or anyone else. And on some matters I may not agree with myself two days in a row. I try to be faithful to enlarging experience, not confined by previous conceptions.
     I also doubt whether setting forth my beliefs would do much to clear up "this confusion" anymore than explaining the meaning of a 50-year marriage to a toddler would convey the import of such love and vicissitudes and ecstasies and relationships involved.
     Finally, religion as I understand it, has very little to do with beliefs. It is a peculiarity of Western Christian tradition since the Reformation to place so much emphasis on belief and so little on the other dimensions of faith.

Joe Dan
     "Asking who's right is the wrong question."  Whut?  LOL. What total complete & total nonsense.  The only reason one would avoid seeking truth---is if they are afraid they might actually find it. And to rationalize this 'everyone is right' position, Vern reaches out to the foolish analogy of "When standing on the North pole---every direction is south."  While a fun mind-game for one-dimentional thought while driving to Topeka ---> but it's bull*** none-the-less.   While there are indeed numerous ironies to living on a round planet… every direction is not the same direction.  And applying this to 'religion' is quite frankly, an ill-informed politically correct cop-out. 
     But on the other hand, it's easy to defend your position when your position can't be defined… because all directions are the same.   Go south young man!

     Along the lines of this worry about saying someone js wrong, one might compare the Reverend's columns to those of Bill Tammeus. Bill is very respectful of all beliefs, although his discussion board had to be shut down due to vicious remarks by anti theists, but he is not afraid to say something is wrong. Nor is he evasive about his own beliefs.

     Vern, Seems to me that all this "you are wrong, I am wright" party line on the part of religions is nothing but a screen smoke that protects with "certainty" the uncertainty we as humans have about the chaotic world we live in.
    Sure, it maybe comforting to someone to think that god has created the world for us to jump all the hoops in order to prove our worth to him and he'll reward us in after life.
     On a more rational side, simple assertions become more than expressions of awe. When not in check fundamentalism takes over unless it is opposed.

Vern responds
     Tim says, "My wife is wonderful." George says, "My wife is wonderful." Asking who is right is the wrong question. Mary says, "Carrots are my favorite vegetable." Sue says, "Artichokes are my favorite vegetable." Asking who is right is the wrong question.   A Christian says "My faith is wonderful." A Muslim says "My faith is wonderful." Asking who is right is the wrong question. Jim says, "Beethoven is a great composer." Judy says, "Rembrandt was a great painter."  Asking who is right is the wrong question. Mike, looking at the famous Rubin Gestalt image, says "It's a goblet." Pete, looking at the famous Rubin Gestalt image, says "It's a silhouette of two faces." Asking who is right is the wrong question. 
     It is too bad, all these years after Wittgenstein (not to mention the Buddha) that folks are still making category mistakes by applying terms appropriate for, say, certain kinds of factual discourse, to certain religious arenas. And these mistakes seem to be made very often by religious fundamentalists, liberals, and freethinkers, who have not freed themselves from Enlightenment paradigms. Alas.

     To put all those questions in the same class is the "category mistake".  If we can't ask who is in correct...then you are in no position to say anyone is wrong to ask the question in the first place.
     And Wittgenstein was a child wonder he liked to obfuscate.

     Vern, you need to take it a notch higher - "My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world, My Daddy is stronger than your Daddy, My God is The Only True god" and things will fall into their own perspectives - well, for rational people. Those who want to have invisible and untestable deities govern their world, worship them and submit themselves to them are more than welcome to do so (including psychological nuances of eternal damnation). For the rest of the non believers in this, lives is moving on. As long as you don't make my kids pray in their school, I will not think in your church. And since I don't go to church, I think this is a fair deal.

Vern responds
     But Ididn't take it a "notch higher." And the notion of "invisible and untestable deities" could be a statement from the fundamentalism (religious or anti-religious--it is pretty much the same level of conceptualization) that the Enlightenment has, alas, ironically generated. But I certainly agree that kids should not be led to pray in public school (though kids will do what they will during algebra tests) and I applaud thinking in church. 
     Of course there are questions which may have right and wrong answers. Some we agree on (What is the capital of Kansas?)(Are there more references to Mary in the Qur'an than in the Bible?) and some about which there are disagreements (Should taxes be raised on the wealthy?)(Could Moses have written the book of Genesis?). But some questions cannot be answered so simply. For example, is the following sentence true or false?
                                 --- This sentence is false. ---
     I wonder if most religious arguments, like most philosophical arguments before the 20th Century, are confusions arising from mistakes about the use of language.

     Now Vurn Brunette is asking the wrong questions. LOL!

John Hubers
     I appreciate the attempt to correct what is clearly a narrow perspective on matters religious, but there is at least one point at which the question about "right" and "wrong" even from a factual perspective could be raised with regard to Islam and Christianity.
     Muslims contend that the person named Jesus of Nazareth was not crucified.  Various theories are proposed with regard to what did happen - he was put in the grave alive, Judas was crucified in his place, etc.  Even apart from what the crucifixion means to Christians in terms of its theological significance, we have a factual conflict, as either Jesus was crucified or he wasn't. He couldn't both have died on the cross and not.  It is a logical contradiction.  So in this case you can, in fact, say that one is correct and the other isn't.
     There are other contradictions between the Qur'anic account of the life of Jesus and the biblical.  The Qur'an, possibly drawing on Gnostic accounts of the 7th century, say that the infant Jesus spoke from the cradle and changed a clay pigeon into a live pigeon.  There is nothing of this in the Bible.  It could, of course, be in this case that the Qur'an has information that the biblical writers didn't, but the very picture this draws of Jesus as a miracle-working baby is not in keeping with the biblical account. 
     The fact is there are factual contradictions between the two accounts. Jews have their own denials based on a similar sort of absolute monotheism, but the factual contradictions are not part of those denials, apart from their denial of the resurrection and virgin birth (which the Qur'an acknowledges).
     This is not to make any kind of value judgment.  This is simply fact checking, which means that your attempt to counter a narrow perspective ends up failing to acknowledge the very real differences in the contours of the two faiths. 

Vern responds
     Thanks for pointing out substantial differences among the three mentioned faiths. My response was to the particular wording of the comment I quoted and did not have space to deal with these matters, so I appreciate your enumerating some of them. I don't think flow of the column depends on such enumeration, but it certainly would have been enhanced by such acknowledgment.

     And excellent illustration of the point Christianity and Islam can't both be correct.
     Islam is wrong, but Reverend Barnett can't say it without losing support for his group.

Vern responds
     Some might wonder if this is an ad hominem, irrelevant to the column's subject. The column might instead be judged on its merits and defects, rather than on the defects of its writer, who is puzzled by the presumption that he fears losing support from "his group," whatever that may be. I do appreciate it when my name is spelled correctly.

     "I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity. . . . That the Roman Church is more honored by God than all others is not to be doubted. St, Peter and St. Paul, forty-six Popes, some hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have laid down their lives in its communion, having overcome Hell and the world; so that the eyes of God rest on the Roman church with special favor. Though nowadays everything is in a wretched state, it is no ground for separating from the Church. On the contrary, the worse things are going, the more should we hold close to her, for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better. We must not separate from God on account of any work of the devil, nor cease to have fellowship with the children of God who are still abiding in the pale of Rome on account of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, no amount of evil, which should be permitted to dissolve the bond of charity or break the bond of unity of the body. For love can do all things, and nothing is difficult to those who are united.” --Martin Luther to Pope Leo X, January 6, 1519, more than a year after the Ninety-Five Theses, quoted in The Facts about Luther, 356 

     "Was the reader aware that her type of question could be asked within what may be her own and every other religion? Would she take the troubleto write that Methodists and Presbyterians  can’t both be right? What about Lutherans?"
     The poor reader appears to be suffering from a disease known as honesty.
     She might even possess integrity, character, and the desire for truth as well.
     Just who does she think she is?
     Obviously, she should acquaint herself with better reading material :)
     Occident, n.:
     The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It
is largely inhabited by Christians, powerful sub-tribe of the
Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call "war" and "commerce." These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient. 

     Vern, I have read a few of your columns and I think that your most ardent follower (JonHarker and Randall) and you may want to set up a meeting at a coffee shop and talk things over. This will make for a fascinating column for KC Star. Just an idea. Can't wait!

Vern responds
    Having gone to some length previously to meet with one of the persons involved in these exchanges only to have that person not show up, I would consider a meeting with these three conditions:
    1. The real names and contact information of those involved must be disclosed as part of these postings.
     2. Insults must stop and evidence of a sincere effort at mutual understanding must be strong and clear in future postings; the goal of postings and the meeting must be not to win an argument but to establish friendship.
    3. An agenda for such a meeting must be agreed to by all prospective participants.

     Vurn is asking the wrong questions.

Mill work and spiritual energy 

“Satanic Mills” caught my eye in the list of student works that the Kansas City Symphony would play. William Blake’s phrase is often regarded as a protest against the Industrial Revolution beginning in England in his time. Blake lived near a power mill which protesters called Satanic. Blake hated the mechanization that bespoils nature and dehumanizes society.
     When I was studying Blake in graduate school, the Chicago Musical Society presented a piece I composed based on another Blake poem, and I’ve been fascinated by other composers’ settings of Blake’s words, so I was curious to hear what Joseph Kern would do.
     I had never met Kern, but after hearing his piece at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in April, I interviewed him. He is a doctoral student at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. One of his choral compositions, “De Profundis,” was performed at St. Peter’s in Rome in 2009. 
     “Satanic Mills” is the middle of a three-part work, “Rusted Mechanism.” Kern is not actually anti-industrial; his father was a steel-worker. Still, mill work can generate interesting musical ideas.
     Kern says the piece “paints the picture of a frenzied factory with assembly lines running throughout at different paces. The music begins with a simple melodic motive and a simple rhythmic motif that unwind in several tempos, registers and orchestrations until the final climatic scream.”
     I liked the use of rhythm against rhythm. I could almost see smoke and flames in an oppressive work atmosphere which, for me, can sometimes characterize secular society.
     I asked Kern if he was nervous about the public “reading” (musicians playing without having seen the music before). “I didn’t think about it. I had just so many minutes with this great orchestra and I wanted to learn as much as I could,” he said.
     Associate conductor Steven Jarvi later told me that when he opened Kern’s score, he saw that it was “clear and well-thought out,” and that for a young composer to hear a professional orchestra “read” a composition can be a “stepping stone” toward further development. 
     Kern, an organist who grew up in a United Methodist church, considers himself blessed to have Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist and agnostic friends. “If you are surrounded by people just like yourself, where is the opportunity to grow? A belief is not worth having if you haven’t argued about it, especially with yourself,” he told me.
     In the music and the composer is the sense of exploration that energizes spiritual life. Blake would have loved the irony of converting the mills into such energy.


K H writes
    I read weith interest your article on the young composer who had a Blake inspired work read by the KC Symphony. Being a composer as well and one who has set alot of Blake's Song of Innocence and Experience
to music I just wanted to say hello and that share your interest in Blake. Some of the pomes I've set include
The Tyger, The Sick Rose, In the Garden of Love, The Echoing Green.
      Blake was lucky to ahve lived when he did, a couple of 100 years earlier and they would have string him up by his thumbs! 'Eternity in a grain of sand' yes indeed he was a visionary poet paving the way for many after him, Carlos Williams, ginsburg, etc.
    Just curious what Blake you set to music. Write back if you have time. In the meantime I'm doing some shows onn the KC Fringe Festival with a viol de gamba player later this summer.
      Hope to me you in person sometime, possibly over at Rime Center where I go to service and seminars often.

Vern responds
     Thank you for writing in response to my column.
     In the late 60s, before the invention of the Moog, I sat in on graduate classes on electronic music at the University of Chicago. I constructed an “instrument” with a primitive keyboard controlling feedback from a large box containing a dozen speakers and microphones to produce the acoustic vocabulary I then manipulated using tape recordings into a 15-minute tone poem. Below is the program note from the presentation at the Chicago Musical Society. I had placed a very long leader on the reel-to-reel tape recorder. When it was time for my piece, I flipped on the tape recorder switch and had time to get to my seat in the audience before the piece began. Afterwards, the audience applauded generously and I took a bow. As I am not a musician, it was a thrill. Here are the program notes:
  The Lament of Ahania by Vern Barnet [1968]
    The piece takes its title from William Blake’s poem, “The Book of Ahania,” which is a mythological account of the separation of reason from pleasure.
         Formally, the piece consists of
    -- a slow theme,
   -- a contrasting theme,
    -- three variations of the first (using materials from the second),
    -- a pause, and 
    -- a coda. Most of the sounds were generated by acoustic and electronic feedback, and manipulated by multiple track tape transfers and distortion equipment. 
       This is the second work by Mr. Barnet heard on this campus. Last spring he composed “Ophelia” for a recital by the University of Chicago Dance Group. Mr. Barnet is a graduate student at Meadville Theological School and the University of Chicago.
     You and I are, of course, just a few who have set Blake's words or ideas to music. Even "The Fugs" (friends of Ginsburg) did "Ah! Sun-flower" and "How Sweet I Roamed.".
     But, except for Mr Kern, I don't know anyone else locally who has done so, so it is a joy to receive your email. In former times, I spoke once or twice a year at Rime and certainly have high regard for it and for Lama Chuck and Mary Sanford who have been very gracious to me over the years. I wonder if the viol da gamba player you mention is Gerald Trimble, who, before he moved away, was a great friend to me and who I understand is back in the area but whom I've not seen for some time. If so, please greet him for me if I am unable to do so myself at the Fringe Festival, which I've been unable to attend the last couple years.
    But one way or another, I do hope we can meet. Thank you very much for writing, and for your musical gifts to Kansas City, and for your enthusiasm for William Blake!

K H writes
  Many thanks for your response. Perhaps at some point we c ould exchange audio samples of our respective Blake settings, as i have also set 'Ophelia'. Chicago late 60's must have been a heady time. I think the local legend is that Ginsburg chanted "om" thru a megaphone until he was hoarse once the beatings started that year.

Vern responds
     Or perhaps I'll be able to hear you perform one of your Blake settings live. Yours are bound to be more tuneful than my electronic piece! I first ran into Ginsburg in the early 60s in Lincoln, NE. The second time was around 67 in San Francisco when he was chanting with a harmonium in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. A friend made me get out of town during the Chicago convention for fear I'd get my head busted. Ah, youth!

K H writes
     Many thanks for your response. Perhaps at some point we c ould exchange audio samples of our respective Blake settings, as i have also set 'Ophelia'. Chicago late 60's must have been a heady time. I think the local legend is that Ginsburg chanted "om" thru a megaphone until he was hoarse once the beatings started that year.


     God is not dead. All attempts to destroy Christianity will fail.

     JonHarker, you are right on. Christianity as a meme or religion will not be destroyed by any concerted effort and any attempts will fail to do so. At least not as we know it. I can, however, see how it can be radically dwindled by external factors but this is a topic for another discussion. These attempts can only create more vocal radical religionists and more debacles as is seen in today's cultural wars. Maybe not more radicals, but more vitriol on both sides. It will remain as an ever dwindling religion in the developed world. While it maybe gaining in the developing third world as income and education levels increase, the trend of secularization and societal pressures is likely to cause people to abandon Christianity. No need to destroy it. It will be just abandoned like many other religions were abandoned or integrated into Christianity or new offshoots will pop up using Christian motifs (Protestantism, Anglicanism, Mormonism to name a few). Just like you abandon old socks and underwear with holes in it or find other underwear or socks that feel or fit your better in dress shoes or sneakers depending on the situation or nothing if you wear flip flops or live in the nudist colony. No need to go berserk and destroy old undergarment in any organized way like Hitler burnt books or Stalin conducted massive oppressions. It is much cheaper and peaceful for every person in the society makes their own decision how long they want to have holes in their socks before they develop blisters walking or running and how comfortable they are with the disintegrating underwear. 

    Notice that there aren't more than 4 or 5 people who ever comment on this column?
     Why does the Falling Star run it?
     In fact, why is the Falling Star even around? ...snicker...

     Looks like not too many people care to comment about god, dead or alive. If the issue is irrelevant to them, there is no point to even get involved in it.

     So why did you get involved in it?

     I answered your question as I can see it. I did not get involved into discussing and talking about dead or alive gods. Hope this helps.

Vern responds
     The number of comments this column receives varies, depending on whether the particular column is controversial, informative, inspirational, or otherwise. Some columns are more difficult than others. Some admittedly are of interest to some groups more than others. For example, folks interested in music and Blake (or, for more perceptive readers, the worries about the effect of uncontrolled industrialization on the environment and our modes of perception) would probably be more likely to comment than folks looking for an article about golf. Frequently more comments are sent to me at the email address at the end of the column. One such respondent to this column has also composed music to several Bake poems. I try to respond to all who email me. Their comments and my responses are posted on my website. I believe The Star, over the course of time, seeks to provide information to a wide variety of readers. Few people read every item in the paper. Over the course of time, I try to illustrate various ways the sacred -- or, to use secular language, what is meaningful -- is discovered, experienced, examined, celebrated and of service in all realms of life. From time to time I hope the commentator who is not interested in "dead or alive gods" will keep checking out the column as in a few weeks I expect to do a follow-up to the column about the evening when atheists and Christians presented a panel discussion to a good-sized crowd. The very next column might be more controversial than the instant one. 

     Vern, you've got the lightest touch.

Worship and the holy life 

Have you asked these three questions about worship? Although parallels can be found in many faiths, as an example, let’s consider them within the Christian tradition.
    §  Is the purpose of worship to offer praise and thanks to God or is it to affect the worshiper? Do we worship to please and benefit God or to improve ourselves?
     Both. Worship is a presentation, an offering, a response to the mystery of existence. But a performance of gratitude affects us so we can learn and be transformed. 
     §  Is worship most genuine when it is liturgically structured or spontaneous? 
     Though different worshipping communities may favor one style over the other, both the beauty of worship forms refined through the ages and the unrehearsed, unscripted movement of the Spirit can be powerful. Well-worn forms can prepare us for unexpected moments of awe anywhere.
     §  Is worship a distinct activity like work, play, shopping and eating, or can all these activities be a part of worship? This question interests me most. I asked distinguished leaders of Kansas City’s cathedrals to answer. 
     The Rev. Monsignor Robert S. Gregory, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic), told me, “One of the most often quoted verses from the proceedings of Vatican II is this: ‘The liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life.’” 
     Gregory explained, “Liturgy is the source and summit because, in the sacred liturgy, through Word and Sacrament, we are brought face to face with Jesus Christ, ‘through whom all things were made’ and ‘in whom we live and move and have our being.’ Having been re-membered as members of the Body of Christ in the liturgy, we are sent forth with one of two dismissals: ‘Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,’ or ‘Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.’” 
      The Very Rev. Peter DeVeau, dean of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral (Epsicopal), told me, “The liturgy is God language that readily translates into all manner of living. The words of Scripture and church tradition have a way of shaping our lives. For example, at every baptism we affirm that we will ‘seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.’
     “This promise finds expression in the way we conduct and order our lives. For Anglican Christians, praying shapes believing. Worship is foundational for our living. It does have an impact on our world when we say in that same baptismal covenant that we will ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,’” DeVeau said.
     So a final question: Except through worship, how can one live a holy life?

NOTE: Additional comments from the Very Reverend Peter DeVeau:
    A young woman I know who is ordained talked about how as a child she pretended to be a priest. Her dolls were her regular communicants. In raising our son, my wife and I were in ongoing wonder over how important routine and ritual were to our son. We are amazed at how as a newly married twenty-something he still knows the liturgy of the church, its prayers and hymns and practices, even after a long absence from regular churchgoing.
     I find that life in our household more or less functions within the rhythm of the church year: in Advent we reflect on God’s coming into the world when the world is focused on holiday excess, during Lent we take stock of our lives and how we live faithfully, during the fifty days of Easter we consider the gift of new life and creation restored. What is most amazing is how in revisiting these “seasons” year by year we visit familiar territories and make new discoveries. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a householder who took out of his treasure “what is old and what is new.” The liturgy can actualize this very thing.


C M writes
     . . . I thought your latest article on worship a subject worth exploring in more detail. I thought I might use that as a subject for morning prayer and you could comment. Thoughts? One aspect of worship not covered (space is short) was that worship in the liturgy of the church is best done in groups. Congregational worship intensifys the experience as does the place of worship. As to the "holy man" I suppose we have historical examples, like the Egyptian St. Anthony, who retired to the desert. But even then people tended to gather round him, small communities formed, eventually monasteries.  The world religions are sustained by a community of the faithful doing rituals, building temples, living lives framed by the religious experience, etc.There is no church of magic as in and of itself there is no ritual or purpose related to worship.

B T writes
     I read your column weekly, but have never made contact. You might appreciate one of my "Conquest" articles I titled "Nature Praises God," so I'm attaching it.  I invite you to look at others.  I began writing for Channel 50's "Conquest" magazine when it was religious, and when that all changed, I continued to write for a website as well as inclduing one weekly in the bulletin I take care of for First Assembly here in butler where my wife and I are members.  I also have a brief program on KMAM and KMOE-FM each Sunday, which I put on the air 50 years ago this May 11th.
    I've told you more than you wanted to know!  And since I write songs, poems, these articles, I'll add one of my "Thorntonisms:"  God gives us hobbies to keep us out of mischief.

Nature Praises God
      From the time our oldest child was six, and until the youngest was that age, our family camped out a lot.  And between campings, we visited most of the states.  They still cherish the memories they made around the campfire beside babbling brooks, where racoons would visit, looking for leftovers, after we went inside our tent at night.
     Did you know that nature is very much in touch with God?
I made a project out of searching the Bible for instances, and found at least 33.  No relation, I’m sure, but that’s the age when Christ finished His work here on earth and went back to Heaven, Leaving the Holy Spirit to comfort us. 
      Remember that Jesus said that if we didn’t praise Him, “the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40).  Well, there are examples just as amazing as this.  God told Elijah to “eat what the ravens bring you.”  In First Chronicles, he said “Let the Heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice.”  In Psalms he said, “Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the Lord.”  And also in Psalms, he said, “Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together.  In Isaiah he said, “Sing, heavens, shout of earth, break forth into song, oh mountains.”  In Joel, He said, “The beasts of the field cry also unto thee.”  And in Nahum, He said, “The clouds are dust prints of His feet.”
     I used that line in one of my songs.  And there are many other instances that convince me that when the leaves flutter in the breeze, and when the robins sing, they’re praising God.  I think the sound of rain on the roof is praise to Him.
 Saint or sinner, all should give thanks and praise to the God who made us.  Think about it.   --Bill Thornton November 19, 2006


     Depends on who you worship, and what you mean by God. In your case, its hard to say since you are secretive about it. But I note you have worked to include an Atheist on the Interfaith Council. At least you admit that Atheism is a faith.

     Hey, Vern...look at this.  Your buddy Cole Morgan is organizing The Godless Pistol Waivers. The atheists are getting target practice!

A quiz about religious diversity

“Islam in America,” a three-hour symposium at UMKC Apr. 15, featured three panelists from the Abrahamic faiths: Biagio Mazza from St. Sabina’s Catholic Parish in Belton, Alan Edelman from the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and Sayyid M. Syeed from the Washington, D.C. office of the Islamic Society of North America.
     Catholicism was once unwelcome in America, and Judaism and Islam have also been marginalized. The panelists  sketched the ways these minority faiths have dealt with prejudice and persecution within what was once an overwhelmingly Protestant culture, and how they have become woven into the fabric of American religious pluralism.
     The symposium also featured two rounds of small group discussions. Each group reported back to the plenary session with suggestions for deepening appreciation for  diversity in Kansas City.
     Among the suggestions was better education about various faiths. So I’m responding today with a quiz adapting information presented at the symposium. Which of these statements are true?
     1. The three largest faiths in the world are, in order, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
     2. Judaism comprises less than one percent of the world’s population, mostly in the United States, Israel and France.
     3. American colonies were formed by those escaping religious persecution in Europe who then offered religious liberty to all those who settled here, regardless of their faiths.
     4. The Pledge of Allegiance to the United States was written in 1892 by a socialist, but the words “under God” were not added until 1954.
     5. Jesus appears in the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, more often than Muhammad.
     6. Neither Jesus nor Christianity is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
     7. The Kansas City area has more than ten mosques.
     8. Three major forms of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox) were organized in America in that order, and all are found in Kansas City.
     9. Muslims lived in South Carolina as early as 1790.
     10. Muslim slaves are buried in New York near the site of the 9/11 attacks.
     11. Prejudice was a factor in the defeat of the first Catholic to run for President.
     12. Well over ten percent of American Muslims are African-American.
     ANSWERS: Only the third item is false.


K J writes
     That was “eye-opening”. 

J M writes
     In your next article, I will be anxious to see the references for the “facts” that you sited in Wednesday, May 2, 2012 article.  When writing in print, one must always back up their thoughts/ or “facts” with references.Thank you.

Vern responds
    Thank you for your interest in this week's "Faith and Beliefs" column. Please know that each week -- now for 920 weeks! --  I am careful with the material I include.
     Following my doctoral work at the University of Chicago Divinity School and elsewhere and my ordination, over the course of my 42-year career, I have been asked to teach religious subjects at the college and graduate levels, including at Baptist and Methodist seminaries. My career has included travel in North, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. I have received awards around the country, and locally have been honored by civic and religious groups, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other organizations. In 1989 I founded what is now the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. My work has been recognized by Harvard University's Pluralism Project. I have been cited in over a dozen books and my own writing has appeared in numerous publications.
     I mention these things to let you know that I have some acquaintance with the material about which I write and am often regarded as an expert in my field. Because of space limitations, I seldom give specific references for facts. One has only to read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to confirm that item in the quiz, for example. Any library can provide you with a copy, or you can easily find it on line.
     I think you meant to ask me to cite (rather than "site") references. Indeed, I would be happy to provide you with references and confirmations for specific items in today's column you may wish to ask about. Failing that, let me offer you one handful of general references that you may enjoy and provide you with a great deal of additional information about religious diversity in America today.
  § A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation by Diana L. Eck, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  § America: Religions and Religion(text book) by Catherine L. Albanese, Wadsworth Publishing.  Several editions, but the 2nd (1991) is the most comprehensive.
  § God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter by Stephen Prothero, HarperOne, 2010.
  § InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Communinty-Building Handbook by Bud Heckman, SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2008.
  § Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't by Stephen Prothero, HarperCollins, 2007.
     My column for next Wednesday is on another subject and contains several opinions rather than enumerating factual matters as this week's column does. I hope you will enjoy it. You and other readers are always welcome to write me for additional comment relating to my column or to contribute your own.
     If you have a specific item on the quiz you would like more information about, please let me know.
     Again, thank you for reading and taking the trouble to write me.

S M writes
    Many thanks for the insight / work you have put into your weekly columns! It is a pleasure to read your views whether brought from conferences, or your individual experience / thoughts. While admittedly, I do not agree with you in many areas, I think we have common ground in the prevention of prejudice whether due to race, gender, or above all religion....I chuckle as I wonder if we would come to an agreement on the definition of prejudice sometimes!
     Anyway, I had a quick question regarding your quiz yesterday. I actually got them all correct, but it was not an easy task....In regard to question number three: Would you agree that the question was the only one combining truth and fiction? Yet in your conclusion, you failed to point out which part was false....I am currently reading a book of writings / quotes from a wide variety of early American leaders including the Founding Fathers, and the discussions were sharp as to religious freedom and the prevention of ideas such as marking out territories specifically for a particular religion. Thus, it was obvious that early settlers as well as subsequent generations wanted to prevent a freedom of religion in favor of developing major or minor "theocracies."
    I am terribly saddened / frustrated that you would blend fact / fiction AND then fail to explain how #3 was false. Would that be any different from a person telling a half truth? Could it not be compared to a stereotypical used car salesman who says a car is great, but the minute you drive it off the lot it falls apart----and the salesman says he was merely saying the model of car is great, not the car itself??? Simply put,  I fear the work you put in to fight prejudices is being undermined by a tactic of ignorant twisting of facts without clarification that you yourself argue so vehemently against! While you made a point.  I was thrown by exactly how you got there, and what I would define as a deep failure in getting there....

Vern responds
     Thank you very much for reading my column regularly -- and in this case, for taking the trouble to write about what bothers you about the column.
     I certainly did not intend to mislead but rather to correct the impression many people, alas, have about our American religious history. As someone who has taught and tested students in college and seminary classes, I would have counted as incorrect both parts of third statement.
     1. An unqualified statement that "American colonies were formed by those escaping religious persecution in Europe" would be false since only some colonies were formed for this purpose; others were formed as commercial enterprises.
    2. A statement that colonists "offered religious liberty to all those who settled here, regardless of their faiths" would also be incorrect, as you note. Many colonists wanted freedom to practice their own faiths but persecuted those of other faiths, including Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, American Indians, and others. For a time death was a penalty for a third failing to attend church in one colony. As you may know from your reading, state establishment (support) of religion did not end in the former colonies until decades after the adoption of the Federal Constitution.
     Just to explain my own limitations and mind-set:  I used to teach logic. In this context, a statement is considered false if either part of a two-part statement is false. Thus <President Nixon was elected to two terms which he completed> is false even though the first part of the statement is true. Sometimes I forget that not everyone's brain works this way! However, as I explained above, I would consider both parts of the third statement in the quiz to be false.
    I think the point you raise is important and worthy of a separate column. As you know from reading the column each Wednesday, I have a very limited amount of space and cannot do everything readers would like in a single column. A preacher friend once said that his sermons had to be longer than anyone wanted in order to be sure he covered his point from all the angles that everyone in the congregation would expect. I don't have that luxury in such a short column.
    In a previous column, I did write: The bigotry of many colonists has almost been forgotten but is worth recalling. The Puritans forbade any worship but their own. The Anglican Church was supported by Virginia. Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam (now New York), wanted to keep the Lutherans, the “papists” and “the deceitful race,” the Jews, from settling there. Some suggest it was the success of the more tolerant commercial colonies and the fact that no colony with an established church could impose its will on the others that brought us the promise of religious freedom when the United States was born.
Still, perhaps it is time to revisit this topic, and your thoughtful email encourages me to put this on the list for future exploration. (Right now I'm backed up with other topics.)
     And congratulations on getting all questions on the quiz correct! and, more importantly, in sharing the desire to minimize prejudice!
     Now a request: Would you please send me the name and author of the book you are reading and two or three specific things you found of key value or most surprising?
     P.S. I should have defended myself a bit better from the car salesman you cite! The car salesman makes a misleading statement. My statements were clearly labeled a Quiz, introduced by the question, "Which of these statements are true?" -- so I was giving fair warning of the possibility that both truth and falsehood might be found in the statements. The car salesman makes no such warning, is trying to sell a car, not using a method (a quiz) for instruction and education. At least that's how I'd distinguish what I tried to do and the car salesman in your example. Does that make sense?


Trina DeVore
     Muslims and Christians can't both be correct.

    American colonies were formed by those escaping religious persecution in Europe who then offered religious liberty to all those who settled here, regardless of their faith.
     This point is no longer true... The current administration is waging war against Catholic Christians... Look out brothers you are next...

Vern responds
     The Answers note at the end of the column states that the item quoted is false. Many colonists wanted freedom to practice their own faiths but persecuted those of other faiths, including Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, American Indians, and others. For a time death was a penalty for a third failing to attend church in one colony.

Trina DeVore
  Then those colonists weren't following the ethics of Jesus.
    And death is still a penalty for many Christians under Officially Atheistic Governments.

Vern responds
     These colonists certainly claimed to be following Jesus. Remember, for example, the hatred of the "papists," the Catholics. This is why children went to school on Christmas Day in Boston. The death penalty for not attending church was designed by Christians, not by atheists. Nowadays prejudice still exists against Muslims, pagans, atheists and some other faiths and sometimes these folks are attacked by people claiming the name of Christ. Fortunately the vicious views of Protestants and Catholics, as seen still in places in Ireland, for example, no longer characterize the United States.

     I note that Trina Devore did not say the colonists were not claiming to follow the ethics of Jesus.
      She said they were not following the ethics of Jesus.
      Are you claiming they were following the teachings of Jesus?  Where did he say that children had to go to school on Christmas day? Or any other of the things you smear people with whom you say are claiming the name of Christ?
     You seem to find any excuse to blame Christians, but excuse Anti Christians and Anti Theists.
    By the way...the death penalty FOR attending church, or promoting relgious belief, has been carried out in many Officially Atheistic countries.  It is still very dangerous to be a Christian in the larger part of the Muslim or Communist world.

     For those interested in that Vern Barnet believes...

Vern responds
     The point of the column was religious literacy.
    But for those interested in what Vern Barnet believes -- in his own words:

    Prejudice still exists in the United States, but it is very dangerous to be a Christian in many Muslim and Officially Atheistic societies.
     Most recently, Christians have been suffering intensely in Egypt...not to mention Iraq and Iran..., and China is still oppressing believers, despite the politically correct propaganda to the contrary.
     Of course, that is not happening here, but then again neither the Muslims or Atheists have political control of this society.
     So far

Vern responds
     Let us pray and work for the elimination of all religious prejudice, assault, and disability everywhere, world-wide, and certainly at home, and certainly in these comments. When we ourselves are free of bias, we then can look more clearly at others.

Trina DeVore
     We can't wait until we are free of bias to oppose the killing of Christians in Muslim and Officially Atheistic Countries. We have to expose it now.

Vern responds
    When we are free of bias, we oppose the killing of anyone. We oppose mistreatment of anyone. Bias allows us to see only part of the evil in the world; love opens us to the many tragic situations where inexcusable horrors are perpetrated on others (think of the Christians who killed Jews in Nazi Germany or the Muslims killed by other Muslims in Al Qaeda or the Christians who killed other Christians in Ireland, or the Muslims killed by Jews in the Occupied Territories, etc.) Seeing the enormity of violence caused by bias can help us free ourselves from bias and work to follow Christ in serving one another.

     Vern, you are willfully distorting history.  The Nazis killed Millions of Christians, three million Catholics in Poland alone.
     Hitler despised Christianity;..calling it a Jewish invention along with Bolshevism...and had plans to deal with the Christians after the war.
     You can't possibly be unaware of this.
     So you can say "Christians" were killing Jews, but they weren't following the ethics of Jesus...a Jew were they.
     Seriously Vern, who do you think Jesus Christ was?

Vern responds
    It seems that Germany was a Christian nation and that many of those involved in the genocide were Christian. Christian attacks against Jews have been part of the liturgy of some churches and the history of anti-Semitism in Christianity -- European pograms to the covenant against Jews in Leawood to the exclusion of Henry Bloch from the Kansas City Country Club show a range of prejudice which can ignite within Christendom unspeakable horrors. Prejudice, major and minor, has no place in the Beloved Community. Of course we can say they were not following Christ, as we can say terrorists of whatever faiths are not abiding by the teachings of their faiths. But Jews in Israel who persecute other Jews in Israel claim to be doing so on religious grounds. The point, I think, is to heal the world of all prejudice. Comments which perpetuate prejudice and make presumptions about others are not helpful; comments seeking to understand others can be endearing and healing.

     Sweeping remarks about "Christians" or "Jews in Israel" are promoting the prejudice you claim to oppose.

Vern responds
     Examples to show that evil is committed by some folks claiming to be religious are not sweeping remarks. The history is clear. Fortunately most of the time most folks of all faiths seem to seek peace and justice.

     Vern, who is Jesus Christ to you?

Vern responds

     I don't read Greek, Vern.  Do you feel superior now? Good. Now, tell us, who is Jesus Christ to you?

Vern responds
    In my experience, sharing one's faith with those who have developed a trust with each other can be a very beautiful way of mutual deepening of understanding and relationship, but where no evidence of desire for mutual support can be found and where an appearance of hostility may be perceived, one person describing one's faith may seem as useless as speaking in a foreign language, as some things can be expressed best in a foreign tongue, such as, for example, the original Greek text of Christian scripture for some purposes. In any case, it is doubtful that faith is simply a response to a discursive "gotcha" question or "baiting," and those with deep faith may very well be reluctant to have what is so precious and sacred tested by such a shallow method when faith involves a profound understanding, rich relationships within a worshiping community, significant observances and attempts at moral living. Some might regard personal questions and challenges in a forum dedicated to another topic as argumentum ad hominem, deflecting from the issue at hand, which in this case is a column with a quiz about religious diversity.

     Your personal attacks are noted, Vern, as is the nature of your ad hominem argument.  Your perception of hostility is mistaken; do you have some kind of anger issues?
     And your complaint about "GOTCHA QUESTIONS" is pretty funny, since you column contained GOTCHA QUESTIONS ITSELF.
       I simply asked  "Who is Jesus Christ to you?" and you respond with that.
      If you are ashamed to answer, I think that tells me what I was asking.

Vern responds
     A quiz which no one is pressured to take or had one's integrity questioned if one declines to take the quiz is hardly a "gotcha" situation. I am aware of those only who voluntarily respond to the column.
     I certainly have not intended to attack anyone. I have tried consistently to adhere to the column's subject of religious diversity. I do not see why my answering the question "Who is Jesus Christ to you" is relevant to this discussion. I wish to promote understanding of many views, not specialize in my own view. Presuming one is ashamed to answer a question such as "When did you stop beating your wife" can be far from the case; one may love one's wife so much one does not wish to bring her into such a discussion. Similarly, those who love and seek to follow Christ, or the Buddha's teaching, or the Tao, may not be ready to respond to questions about their devotion when the intent of the questioner is not clear, when a relationship of trust has not been established. If a stranger asks one to describe the intimate relations one has with one's spouse without a supportive context for the question, reluctance to respond is understandable; how much more reluctant one may be in describing one's intimate relationship with what is Holy!
    The Christian tradition, for example, describes Christ in many ways: a Man of sorrows, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, Redeemer, the Way the Truth and the Life, the Mediator between God and men, the Nazarene, Alpha and Omega, King of King, Way-shower, and so forth. Muslims consider Christ a great Prophet. Jews consider him a notable rabbi. All of these ways of answering who Jesus Christ is arise in specific contexts. When one asks a particular person, "Who is Jesus Christ to you?" the person to whom the question is addressed may have a particularly intimate and private and precious answer, perhaps one that continues to deepen as the relationship pervades the transitory nature of life; and responding with a rote answer when no friendship between the parties has been established might seem like a betrayal of the intimacy of the relationship with Christ.
     Certainly in routine social situations one might respond to an inquiry about one's wife, "She is a teacher," but that hardly says who she is. Indeed, it is difficult for one to speak to a stranger to describe even oneself apart from social roles or what one's favorite movie is, etc. Since the sacred relationship with the Divine is even more ineffable, without a sufficient context for understanding, a challenge to answer the question may be declined, just as describing the ecstasy of the marital bed to a three-year old is fraught with difficulties that need to be respected. I personally find it difficult to give a rote answer to a question which is, without context, so intimate and sacred, though I am happy to list (as I have) some of the answers provided within several traditions which can be found in the several contexts. 
     Matters concerning the writer rather than the subject of the column can be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as unnecessarily confounding. When the question is not relevant to the discussion, and is directed to one person, and that person's intent in writing is to encourage others to think about what the reader thinks about one's knowledge of religious diversity, one may seek to deflect attention directed to the personal relationship the writer may have with the Sacred.  At this point, I wonder if I might follow the example of Christ as written in Mark 15:5b: "Jesus made no further reply."

  A lengthy post does not cover up the fact that some might think you have another reason for not wanting to answer the question.

Vern responds
     How true! Some might think I am actually a robot or an alien or a very clever monkey. Some might think I am the devil. I cannot control how others think, despite what might seem to be a usually consistent record over decades of ministry and speaking and writing in many forums. But I can do my best to be faithful to my readers, regardless of how my responses may be perceived. That faithfulness may be all that can be expected of me. 
     There is the story of the man sitting by the entrance to a city. A visitor about to enter asks the man what the residents are like. The man in turn asks, "What were the folks like in the city from which you come?" The visitor says, "They were wonderful, helpful, courteous, generous, full of understanding and delight." The man at the gate says, "That is what you'll find here." Later another visitor approaches the city and speaks to the man at the entrance and inquires about the folks in the city. The man asks the visitor, "What were the folks like in the city from which you come?" The second visitor responds, "They were liars and cheats, nasty and foul, and rightly suspicious of one another." The man at the gate says, "That is what you'll find here."  So often our judgment of others is really a reflection of the life experiences we have had. We project our own backgrounds onto others. I have learned when people praise or criticize anyone in any kind of leadership role, such admiration or attacks may  sometimes be due to the generosity or suspicion developed as a result of their previous desires or fears and have very little to do with the person in the visible role. Irrelevant attacks especially sometimes say more about the attacker than the person attacked, and one must practice compassion for those whose life experiences have not given them a disposition to trust others; from their perspective, they have good reason to be suspicious and to knock folks off what they may perceive to be a pedestal.
     So it is quite likely that someone might think I "have another reason for not wanting to answer the question." I wish I had the skill to heal the hurts such a person may have received in his or her life, or the character modeling, but -- alas! -- I have enormous difficulty in managing my own life toward the good, and I cannot presume to guide others who are predisposed in such ways. Insight offered is often dismissed as patronizing. But I can pray, and sometimes such folks may be open to the mysterious workings of the Divine. So let us all pray for one another.

     Sounds like you are denying Christ.

Vern responds
     I am not aware of any Christian position which would take words about praying that folks may "be open to the mysterious workings of the Divine" as a denial of Christ unless, perhaps they do not consider Christ Divine. I would be most interested in learning about such Christians. I suppose it is possible someone might think what I have written denies Christ (whatever that may mean to him or her). Perhaps someone might think I am trying to deliver a hidden message that the world is really flat or that the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote what we conventionally call Shakespeare's work. I simply have no control of how folks will perceive, correct, distort or otherwise interpret what may be material difficult for them to ken. As the story illustrates, people often reveal their own backgrounds, capacities and, indeed, their character, by the way they approach and interpret others. Because strange possibilities, such as the interpreation of my recent post sounding like a denial of Christ, are so singular, I am not likely to respond to such future postings.

     Actually, Vern, you do have some control over how people peceive you. For example, you have referred to Christ several tiimes, and yet say whatever that many mean to him or her.
    Perhaps in the interests of communication you could say what that means to you, and quit throwing out misdirecting statements.
    The fact that you will not just say what you mean indicates to some people that you are trying to obscure what you really believe.
     Your obvious attempts to seem "mysterious" contribute to the confusion. Perhaps you think this makes you look superior to others in some way,
     But, per your last statemen, if you want to run away thats your business.

Vern responds
     Why are you so interested in what I believe? I don't hear others clamoring for my beliefs. Do you have none of your own and need to borrow some? Why would you think my beliefs would work for you? I am interested in and write about what others believe as a way of stimulating appreciation of variety, not in establishing The Truth for All. I do not offer my own beliefs to be used as a guide for anyone else. The name of the column uses  "Beliefs" in the plural form. It is not about me. For those who want to know what I believe, I have provided you a link to that information, and it can easily be found with a Google search, but I do not have to phrase my approach to faith in the language or form you want. Too much focus on belief statements can reduce our attention to the Mystery which many people of faith consider the basis of religion and spirituality. I am sorry if Mystery is difficult for you. I am obviously unable to satisfy you. If you continue to think the column is about me, you will continue to be frustrated. I doubt that a fixation on what I believe is healthy for my readers. I cannot see that it is benefiting you. I certainly wish you well and hope that you can find someone whose beliefs may be useful to you if that is what you are searching for.

     Vern, I already know what you beleive.  I just want others to know.

Vern responds
    Why? If you desire others to know, and if you know, go ahead and tell the world.

 JonHarker [in reply to Trina DeVore]
     Vern, you claim that you want to heal the world of prejudice, but you are promoting it by such sweeping generalization about "Christians" and Jews.
     You know from history that Christianity in Germany had been gutted by the Higher Critics and rampant Secular Movements.  To say Germany was a Christian nation is to use the term so loosely as to be meaningless.
     You also know that those who did carry out the persecutions were certainly not following the ethics of Jesus.
     So, I repeat, who is Jesus Christ to you? If you are a Christian, you are required to answer when asked.

Vern responds
     Who is Jesus Christ to you? "If you are a Christian, you are required to answer when asked," you contend. I have already responded. Now it is your turn.

  You never responeded.  You evaded.

Vern responds
     Please recognize a response even when it is expressed in terms you may not comprehend. You have written,"I already know what you believe.  I just want others to know." I responded, "If you desire others to know, and if you know, go ahead and tell the world." So be my guest. If you know what I believe and want others to know, what is stopping you from setting forth what I believe? You have my permission; indeed, I urge you to do so. I eagerly await your posting.

Health care is a moral issue 

Health care is a political issue, and now a legal one as the U.S. Supreme Court considers its constitutionality.
     It is also a moral issue. Mark Holland’s perspective is informed by political experience as well as faith.  A Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., commissioner, he also has been that body’s mayor pro tem and is senior pastor at Trinity Community Church (United Methodist). He also serves on the Mayor’s Task Force for Healthy Infrastructure.
     “I am very concerned about health care and wellness on a number of levels,” he told me. “Personally, I know it takes intentionality to eat well and exercise. As a parent, I understand how toxic sugar drinks and salty snacks are to kids.
     “And as a pastor, I see the constant struggle with wellness in the congregation and community. There are compelling statistics out there that show that a huge percentage of healthcare costs nationwide could be averted if we stopped smoking and addressed obesity. . . .
     “The last 30 years we have built our communities around cars and television and fast food. The results have been fairly catastrophic,” he said.
      When Holland made hospital calls ten years ago, he would hear his members talk about their illness and what the doctors were doing. Now, “they also talk about their insurance coverage or lack thereof, and what is not going to be done because it is not covered. Now I pray for healing and financial doors to open so they can receive the treatment their doctors want to provide,” he said.
     Holland raises questions about the profit motive in medicine. While health care professionals certainly deserve to be fairly compensated, he criticizes for-profit companies whose returns to shareholders is based on people getting sick.
     He said, “Shareholders in health care are not only unnecessary, but unethical. Imagine if penicillin or the polio vaccine had been . . .  made available only to the rich. When lifesaving cures are a business enterprise, rather than a lifesaving enterprise, then business wins.
     “The pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance companies are playing by Wall Street rules that require them to continually demonstrate double digit profit. Profit is not health care.  Profit is money taken away from providing care to pay out to third party investors,” he said. 
     He contrasted them with public schools and universities and non-profit educational institutions motivated to serve, not by greed.
     I wonder, instead of focusing on profit, if we could rediscover the religious idea of vocation — doing something because it helps others.

    This column was featured at


C M writes
     When something is posited as a moral issue, what you are saying is that some right is or should necessarily be created.  When you create a right such as free speech, there is no corresponding economic consequence of importannce.  But when you create a right or entitlement that can only be satisfied by a corresponding economic consideration, then the right has to be paid for somehow.  When the right becomes economically overwhelming because of the amount of money required to pay for it, or because of the methods used to enforce it, then the right has to have contingencies.  Regarding health care, the right to access can be created, but there is a point at which access may become meaningless when the supply becomes limited because of cost.  Our friend who practiced gastroenterology in England, since moved to Athens and then home to Cyprus, was on a panel of NHS doctors who did colonoscopies every day.  If you needed one, you waited six months, and if you had a cancer you waited in line, again, but not so long.  However, in England, as in Australia, New Zealand and most of Western Europe, one of the solutions to the "wait" or access problem is to allow a two tier system.  A national health system that everyone can use.  Or, you can also buy insurance and "go to the head of the line".  Our friend also maintained a private practice in Reading, West of London, and if you wanted to see him as a private patient he would see you next week.  An Australian traveling companion on one of our trips needed a knee replacement. I asked if the Australian NHS surgeons were going to do the surgery.  No, they had insurance and could have it done any time privately.  The NHS wait would be maybe a year she thought, and no chance of getting it at all after age 75.  I don't know if that's a solution the "fairness" lobby would be interested in here is the US.  The rule here is that I can't privately contract with my physician and go around Medicare or he loses his right to reimbursement for all medicare patients.   There is no argument that we need reform in health care.  There are ways to do it, that might even allow for those nasty old profits to be had.  But providing care is an economic issue at its core.  It may be moral, it might be right, but it has to be paid for.  The extent to which money is available determines the quality of care you are entitled to receive.  As I learned in my Philosophy of Law class for my Masters of Law, for every right created there is a corresponding obligation.  The obligation on the part of the citizenry asked to pay for a health care system (or subsidized by loans from China) is to expect that we treat our bodies better.  Obesity is a huge problem creating enormous costs.  If you smoke you cost everyone money.  Should the obese and the smoker be obligated to change there ways; or, do we ignore the obligation necessary to balance the right?  Who pays for this and is it moral for a third party to extract extra money from me to ensure that the health abuser gets care?  Interesting questions.  But, to repeat, health care, social security, medicare, medicaid are entitlements that have to be paid for.  But there is a limit at some point in the future when there is limited resources to pay for these benefits.  The laws of economics are very inconvenient.

Vern responds
     There may be perfect solutions in theory, but I don't see any perfect solutions in practice as medicine becomes increasingly complicated and expensive. As I consider my own part in the system, I think it is moral for me to decline certain interventions in certain situations because of the cost burden it would place on society at large, and I reserve the right to euthanasia for several reasons, passing on the cost of care to others being one.
     I really like the point Holland raises about eating properly, but I get befuddled about how to make that government policy. That's why I think considering such questions as moral (as well as economic) deserves greater attention.
     A second thought. When someone calls something a "moral issue," that to me means there is responsibility somewhere. Your training in the law and military may mean that "moral" means "a right"; my training in philosophy and theology gives "moral" a "responsibility" flavor. How can we get the two together?
     When I see a purse on the street, morality tells me that I have a responsibility to do what I can to get it back to the owner. I don't see that this creates any "right" for me at all. How does it for you?

C M writes again
  Good point.  Are there not universal moral laws out there, like the ten commandments.  These don't create rights in the sense I'm talking about, but take your view that they imply responsibility on the the individual or rules to live by that create a moral society.


    The Catholic Church has a non-profit hospital system of 637 hospitals, which account for hospital treatment of 1 out of every 5 people - not just Catholics - in the United States today... and yet under the 'guise' of healthcare 'reform' they will cease to exist. Is that just?... because that is part of the 'solution' being debated. Is the administration really concerned about healthcare?... because their actions show its really about power.
     The 'religious idea of vocation' is a notion that has been hijacked... Our current administration eliminates all references to religion unless they're using it forward their agenda. If the government makes you do it it cannot be a vocation no matter how you sell it... If it is a true vocation... the government will try and stop it.

     The elite have a solution to the health care problem...

     I did not realize how many Catholic non profits there were.
     Where are the atheist hospitals?

Atheism and Obesity .

Michael Middleton
     "He contrasted them with public schools and universities and nonprofit educational institutions motivated to serve, not by greed."   Our public schools are failing while their costs are going up, while   university costs are rising at about 7% per year, comparable to the inflation rate of health care costs.  And at least the health care industry is held accountable.  IF your doctor botches a medical procedure, then you can settle for a boat load of money.  Hundreds of thousands kids graduate college every year with no appreciable education or marketable skills whatsoever, and the colleges take their money and run.  Then the kids are left with nothing to do but camp out and become Occupiers.

    The main contributions of atheism to health care are abortion on demand and working to let old people die sooner if they aren't rich.

Atheists, Christians plan a chat

Friendly Christians and atheists are going to have a conversation and you can participate. They call it “Ask an Atheist/Ask a Christian.”
     Hosted by New Life Ministries, 1828 Walnut St., 4th floor, this Friday, 7 to 8:30 p.m., six panelists will ask each other questions and invite queries from the audience, followed by a social hour. The event is free, but any donations will be forwarded to a public school charity.
     I asked the pastor, Troy Campbell, why he thought the evening would be useful.
     “While my core beliefs differ from atheists, I am in favor of a cooperative approach because at our foundation we are finite individuals in search of truth,” he said. “Instead of wasting our time attacking the other at a personal level, it is a much better use of time to respect each person while still retaining the freedom to question their individual conclusions.
     “While I am not advocating what some have designated as ‘pan-tolerance’ (accepting all ideas and conclusions as equal), I do accept and highly value a tolerance that communicates respectfully on the personal level while still accepting differences in opinion,” he said.
     Skeptic Cole Morgan initiated the program. He has helped to organize a dozen groups of skeptics and stays in touch with seven others. In 2010 Morgan wrote in The Star’s Saturday “Faith Walk” series, responses to which expanded his contacts. One was Gary McClintock, a member of New Life Ministries. That friendship led to this event.
     Morgan is eager “to explain how we non-religious (people) live productive lives without god” and to change the negative view some folks have of skeptics. He also wants to assure skeptics who feel alone that there are others in the community who share their doubts and that it good for them to be open about their skepticism.
     Jonathan Harrison, one of the planning team, says, “This is not a debate. It’s a conversation, the kind you can have with friends old and new. In a society that reduces human beings into caricatures, we’re looking to make friends who believe — or disbelieve — as strongly as we do.” The panelists are (alphabetically by first name) Bob Simak, Don Bell, James Larocca, Jesse Dirks, John Berger and Suzanne Terrell.
     Regular readers know I’ve often advocated interfaith exchanges including Freethinkers, as atheists, agnostics and other skeptics are sometimes called. This program can show how folks with different beliefs can learn from each other when listening and friendship, rather than conversion, is the goal. Each of us is fallible. Sharing experiences and insights together can strengthen our sense of community.


A D writes
     I aspire to your level of calm, and admire the even-handedness of your Wednesday column. It hints at a deep trust that "God knows what He's about." Not sure who said that.
    I regret not being able to attend the "Ask an Atheist/Ask a Christian" conversation Friday night, but have 3 questions I would ask and wonder if you might pass them on to the panelists, if possible?
     In the press, a distinction is made between "Muslims" and "Islamists", the latter being Muslims who use religion as a political weapon and an excuse for violence. So my questions are:
     1) Why is there no such distinction for Christians?
     2) Why don't Christians demand a separate term for those who use religion as a political weapon and an excuse for hatred and intolerance?
     3) Andrew Sullivan of State Magazine uses the word, "Christianist". Do you have suggestions about how to get this term (or another) into wider usage?
     What are non-Christians to make of Rick Santorum and Francis of Assisi supposedly being on the same page? That isn't a question for the panelists, just me letting off steam.
     I don't know how I will find out the panelists' answers but, in all honesty, I just want Christians (the sort who endeavor to live by Jesus' teachings and grow in compassion) to think about it. We need to acknowledge to the world that "Christians" whose compassion is limited to the unborn, are not following Jesus' teaching. We are meant to work out our own salvation, not use salvation as a threat against other people.
     Thanks again for your great column. Though I have yet to attend a meeting you have covered there, I am grateful to know they exist. I pray that Friday's meeting bears good fruit.


     To see how friendly Cole Morgan is, go to the old Bill Tammeus blog and check the "archives" in the right hand column... run his name and see how many times he calls Christians names.  Psychotic, etc.
     He is a real joke.
     My friends can't wait to ask him a few questions.  Print outs will be available for interested parties.

     I second that Jon... If Morgan is involved it most certainly will not be friendly. Sounds like Pastor Troy got 'snow'ed.

     I plan to clue Pastor Troy in on their antics.  As I recall you had some spirited discussions with Cole!
     If Pastor Troy doesn't want to know...well, we shall see what this is really about.

     Vern Barnett is familiar with the local group Morgan is an organizer of, and has spoken at their meetings.  He knows how "friendly" they are to theists.
    A simple look at their discussion board, where Morgan just a couple of days ago referred to "Bat Fecal Matter" beliefs will give you an idea of his attitude.
     Vern even has a message about this posted on their discussion board, so he knows about the discussions and knows what they really have to say... so he knows better.
     Vern even give a SPECIAL THANKS to Cole Morgan in his message to the group, but...not suprisingly...Vern says he will NOT be at the event.

Vern responds
     I am also familiar with a great number of Christian groups. Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and civic groups have presented me with awards. I have been quoted on many sites. The above comment misspells my name, errs mathematically, wrongfully implies agency and confounds my words with distorted context.

     Sorry about the typo, Vern, but are you seriously trying to claim that you don't know about the insulting remarks that I am referring to?
    Is that what you call "friendly"?
     And now you are misrepresenting my remarks...there is message on their board posted yesterday where you specifically give SPECIAL THANKS TO Cole Morgan.
     Gimme a break.

Vern responds
     I do not read the "board" to which you refer and I am not aware of the material to which you refer. The post here does not indicate why I offered thanks. I would think such context is important. I appreciate folks working constructively and in a friendly manner.

  Really, Vern? Here is the message you sent them.

Vern responds
   The message was sent to both Christians and Atheists, all those involved in the project. I appreciate it when distortions are avoided. Accuracy and fairness are valued -- and working to uplift rather than tear down.

    But you only gave SPECIAL THANKS to one.  No distortion there.
     Why was only the atheist worthy of being singled out?
     Do you feel it is uplifting to refer to Christians ideas as BAT FECAL MATTER?

Vern responds
     Lifting the communication out of context is not helpful. I gave thanks to all and special thanks to the atheist because it was the atheist who made me aware of this interesting program, arranged for me to meet with Christians and atheists at one of their planning meetings, kept me informed of the progress of the plans, and was especially helpful to me in preparing the column. I would have given special thanks to a Christian who had been as helpful in these ways.
     Some of these exchanges could be more constructive and less fault-finding and interrogative. Removing the beam in one's own eye before challenging the mote in another's is good Christian practice.

     Don't you mean removing the "Bat Fecal Matter" that Cole talks about from my eye?  LOL!

Jonathan Harrison
    Thanks, Vern, you captured the essence of what we're trying to do quite well!
    I'm a member of New Life and have spent a good amount of time with Cole and others from his group. Even though we obviously disagree on a lot of things, it's always been friendly. We plan for *both* sides keep it that way for the event.

     Jonathan, that is an interesting remark.
     You say Cole has always been friendly?  What about the remarks he has made publicly and on their disussion board.
     Just today he and his friends are calling Christians bat fecal matter.
     What kind of group is "new life", anyway? Are you actually Christians?  And if so, why do you want to expose other Christians to this kind of stuff?

Jonathan Harrison
     Hi Jon, I think Vern explained why pretty well: "...folks with different beliefs can learn from one another when listening and friendship, rather than conversion, is the goal. Each of us is fallible. Sharing our limited experiences and insights can strengthen our sense of community."
     I'm aware that the online boards have all kinds of content on them, but it's only by spending time with folks in person that they'll learn we're not all actually "guano crazy".
     For me personally, my exposure to opposing views has helped me become more literate in my faith and sharper in my thinking. It's harder to let things slide when people are trying to poke holes in your beliefs!

Rocky Morrison
     Priceless comments from Cole Morgan and Pals.

     Vern, today their group has a message telling us that religion is going to DIE soon.
    But maybe they mean that in a friendly way?
     You gotta be kidding me, Vern.

     Yes, for having such an 'enlightened' mind he is awfully unreasonable...

     [[If Vern is tyring to suggest that he was not familiar with the tactics of this group, take a look at something I found.]]
     Vern is talking to them soon, and they brag about how his view include embracing all "species of atheism".

Vern responds
    Before it was edited [by its author], the previous post read: "If Vern is tyring to suggest that he was not familiar with the tactics of this group, take a look at something I found. . . . Vern is talking to them soon, and they brag about how his view include embracing all 'species of atheism.'"
     My comment: I speak to many groups. This group, like all groups whose invitation I accept, has been most courteous to me. ("Tactics" seems a peculiar word to apply to such courtesy.) The event which was the subject of the column was good-spirited as well. Kansas City is fortunate to have American Indians, Baha'is, Buddhists, Christians, Jewish folks, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Sufis, Unitarian Universalists, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Freethinkers of many sorts, and well-meaning folks of all faiths who contribute to mutual understanding and use public space advancing our commonweal rather than making personal attacks, distorting reports, or questioning others' motives. Comments that seek delight in sowing mistrust and hostility do not contribute much. Comments on this page that are as respectful as theirs (as demonstrated last night) are appreciated.

      Vern Barnett!  Your buddies are posting today about how happy you are with the response to your article and are going to do a follow up article.
    Since I have now shown you how some of their leadership talk about believers, I trust you will be forthcoming with a balanced discussion.

     You were not at the event, Vern.
    And they may have been courteous to you, since they say you embrace their atheism, but you are also aware of how they talk about others.
     And I know you are aware of their personal attacks. Bill Tammeus certainly was.
     If you consider their comments respectful, you are trying to kid us.

Vern responds
    One of the valuable lessons of interfaith work -- and indeed polite society -- is that one listens respectfully to others' views of reality but does not tell the other person what the other person's reality is, and certainly not define the other person's reality to third parties in contradiction to the report of the person oneself. 

    No contradiction.  Their remarks on their blog say it all.
     And thanks for the admission, Vern.

Vern responds
     Ad versus solem ne loquitor.

    Are you denying that they frequently insult and ridicule Christianas on their message board?
     And that you were NOT AT THE MEETING?
     Note: you refusal to answer will have to be considered an admission.

Vern responds

    Atheists and Theists reason differently about God.

     I didn't find them expecialty friendly.  Condescending might be a better word.
     And the host of their group, who was hilarious in his all black outfit and black cowboy hat, is well known for his name calling on blogs and message boards.

    Vern Barnett was not at the meeting, but he is trying to tell you all about it.

Vern responds
    The column was written before the meeting was held -- as indicated by the first sentence, "Friendly Christians and atheists are going to have a conversation." Even if the column were written after the event, space would not allow a report "all about it."  Repeated inattention to spelling a name when correction is offered may be an indicator. 

    Vern, we have been discussing the meeting, and you said they were friendly at the meeting.
     How would you know?  You weren't there.
     Repeatedly pretending that you don't know how their leader refers to Christians when it is pointed out may be an indicator.
    Of course, you will be speaking to their group in a couple of weeks, since they say you "emrace all species of Atheism".

Vern responds
     Questioning the many written reports of the event provided by both Christians and Atheists does not enhance the questioner's credibility. Misquoting the phrase "emrace all specials of Atheism" -- the wording actually was  "develop a post-modern perspective that embraces both Christianity and all species of atheism" -- note the word BOTH -- again diminishes one's credibility. And failing to use one's actual name in public posts is an additional indication.

  Embrace BOTH is credible?
     More like irrational or misleading.
     And your friends have my phone number.  They, or you, can call any time.

Vern responds
     Some may consider Christ's love for both saint and sinner to be irrational or misleading, too. I do not. But the point was being misquoted, which does seem to be misleading. I suppose with "seven degrees of separation" we all might find some phone numbers, but that is not the same as supplying one's real name for all to see on a post here.

     You have my name. Your buddies have my contact information.  No seven degrees of separation required.
    And talk about misleading...I was not refering to Christs love for both, which is undoubtedly true.
     I was refering to your representations.
     P.S.; when I start deriving an income from this activity, as you do, I will put the contact information up for the public.

Vern responds
     The comment above contains numerous inaccuracies including matters regarding acquaintances, references, compensation, and identification. Assumptions piled on assumptions do not seem to further fruitful discussion of the topic raised by the column. It is curious if one's comments depend on payment rather than personal identity and integrity. In exchanges such as this, failing to use one's name for all others to see undercuts credibility. If Christ can love both saint and sinner without being irrational or misleading, perhaps mortals who seek to follow His example can embrace both Christians and atheists in His love, and the column applauds the efforts of both Christians and Atheists to reach out to one another in a way that I would think those filled with Christ's love would consider. Seeking such understanding is perhaps a better use of this space than proclaiming multiple misleading assumptions about others which do not seem to make the love of Christ the guide for one's life.

    If you would be specific about what assumptions you are talking about, it would be helpful.
     As it would be if you would cease your repeated accusations that I am not using my name.
     But what is troublesome about your column is the representations you make about atheists.
     If they are trying to reach out maybe they should quite refering to Christian ideas as Bat Fecal Matter and the like.

Vern responds
     The column is based on face-to-face interviews with both Christians and atheists and considerable correspondence with them regarding the event which was the subject of the column. At no time did I hear the kind of language the above writer repeatedly, repeatedly refers to or anything remotely disrespectful. I'm sure if I trolled websites, I could find such language used by both Christians and atheists, but I was not writing about websites; I wrote about a wonderful opportunity for Christians and atheists to express mutual regard and understand each other better. In this regard, the precept of Jesus to remove the beam in one's own eye before attempting to remove the mote in the other's, may be useful.

Why the many images of Jesus?
See also this: 557

No photograph of Jesus exists. Yet throughout most of Christian history, Christians have created and contemplated images of Jesus. Why try to portray Jesus?
     Well, if you’ve been to the Faces of Jesus Gallery, collected by Paul Smith, at Broadway Church, 3931 Washington St., where 240 images, both traditional and provocative, from Michelangelo to Andy Warhol are displayed, you know the attempts to imagine Jesus are fascinating.
     The collection illustrates what the ancient philosopher Xenophanes wrote, that Ethiopian gods are snub-nosed and black, Thracians picture them blue-eyed and red-haired, and that if horses could draw, their gods would look like horses. 
     I asked Duke University’s David Morgan about this. He will lecture on “The Likeness of Jesus” April 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kansas Room at the KU Union in Lawrence. His latest book is “The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling.”
     “People want to see the likeness of the Jesus who is like them. Likeness is about . . . the relationship between who is seeing and who is being seen,” Morgan said.
     He contrasted three modern images of Jesus. Warner Sallman’s familiar “Head of Christ,” Stephen S, Sawyer’s Jesus as a boxer in “Undefeated” and Janet McKenzie’s “Jesus of the People,” portraying Jesus as an African-American woman.
     Sallman portrayed “Jesus submitting to his father’s will to go to Jerusalem and undertake the arduous work of suffering and death. So he looks quietly upward in an act of solemn acknowledgment of his father’s bidding,” Morgan said. 
     Others want “a hero, a man of whom they are proud, a man capable of suffering in a mighty way. A hero figure who fights hard and cuts a sleek, impressive figure . . .  a Jesus who fights back. A guy who does not take disrespect by appearing humble or meek,” Morgan said referring to images like Sawyer’s.
     “Many Christians in the U.S. today feel that their faith has taken it on the chin” and “feel their faith is under siege.” Morgan said “they look to a Jesus who will vindicate their cause.”
     Of the McKenzie portrait, Morgan said, “Some feel that all the male Jesus figures miss half of Christendom’s faithful—women. And they feel that the excessively masculine Jesus warps the faith and needs badly to be corrected by visual explorations of neglected aspects of Jesus’ character. They want a Jesus who is like something different than anger and pride and machismo.”
     My complete interview including images appears at [The interview also appears below.]

Email "Interview" with Dr Morgan   [click here for images]

     Q1. When I read the following description of your talk, two perplexing images immediately came to mind. "The Likeness of Jesus." --Embedded in our minds, whether we are Christian or not, are images of Jesus that strongly predispose us to assume that we know what he looked like. We recognize versions of these quite easily, and when we think about who he was and what he meant, we automatically call up these images, which intermingle with our ideas, shaping them in important ways. Professor Morgan will explore in his illustrated presentation the history and characteristics of visual thinking about Jesus, exploring what “likeness” is and why it matters, how religion happens visually in the instance of Christian imagination, and how conceptions of Jesus have come to be challenged by alternate visual treatments of his appearance.
     The first image is an icon of Christ described by Nicholas of Cusa in his mystical "The Vision of God" in which the fixed eyes seem to follow the viewer wherever the viewer stands to view the image. of Christ is fixed and unmoved. In Chapter VI, Cusa writes "that face which is of the true type of all faces hath not quantity. Wherefore it is neither greater nor less than others, and yet 'tis not equal to any other; since it hath not quantity, but 'tis absolute, and exalted above all." The second image is of Stephen S Sawyer's pugilistic painting of Jesus, "Undefeated." I'll insert the image here. 
     Any comment about either or both?
     A1. I am familiar with both images, and in my latest book, The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling (University of California Press, 2012) I even wrote about Nicholas of Cusa's text and the Veil of Veronica image by Rogier van der Weyden that inspired his fascinating discussion. Both images seek a direct relationship with the viewer, one that will make the viewer feel addressed by Jesus, individually or personally but also collectively addressed. The images hail a response--from the individual and from the group. These images look first in order that viewers will return the look. This is one powerful form of visual piety because it touches the individual and it knits together the group that responds in kind, together. 
     Evangelicals will understand the individual colloquy with the image as a "personal relationship with Jesus." But it's much older than modern Evangelicalism. It goes back to the late medieval spiritual ideal of "imitatio christi" and even further than that to the earliest history of icons. The Veronica is a legend about an image taken directly from Jesus' face as he marched to Calvary to be executed. He was in the midst of his passion, his suffering, and it was at that point that he sought a direct encounter with the viewer through the image. That image marks one of the powerful moments in which Christians sought to imitate Jesus, to be like him, to share his suffering in order to endure their own suffering in a Christ-like manner. This is a Latin Christian idea, one that prevailed in western Christianity. In the East, the likeness of Jesus was linked theologically to the incarnation and to the liturgical context of worship and devotional life. Jesus was the summit of the intercessional apparatus of salvation that his life and death put in place, and he appeared with icons of Mary and the saints in churches, shrines, and homes to enable the sacramental means of salvation and sanctification that structured the lives of those seeking holiness. The direct gaze of icons, Jesus and all of the saints, meant their presence made available in prayer and worship for the sake of the faithful.
     Stephen Sawyer's image addresses viewers not only with his gaze, but with his body. In contrast to most icons and devotional images like Van der Weyden's Veronica, Sawyer's Jesus is macho. He flexes his arms to proudly display his musculature, perhaps to address viewers in a way that assures them of his machismo. People want different kinds of Jesus, so his likeness varies, depending on who is doing the looking. Sawyer's Jesus seeks out those for whom masculinity is a primary feature of their connection to Jesus. For others, who don't want that, this image probably looks silly.

     Q2. Twenty-five hundred years ago Xenophanes wrote to the effect that Ethiopians say their gods are snub-nosed and black, Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired, and that if horses could draw, their gods would look like horses. At the back of our minds we know this. But why do many of us persist in carrying images of Jesus that affect us even when we know the images are inaccurate? Can we benefit by seeing many images of Jesus from various ages and cultures?
     A2. People want to see the likeness of the Jesus who is like them. Likeness is about more than appearance. It is about the relationship between who is seeing and who is being seen. So the Greek philosopher shrewdly pointed out that human beings tend to see gods who resemble themselves. Is that because humans are narcissistic and narrow-minded by nature? Not necessarily. It's because people seek out a relationship with their deities. They want to be like them, and that means that deities can often appear like those who image them. Likeness discerns a mode of connection, an affinity that brings parties together and helps to keep them together. The relationship might easily become narcissistic, ethnocentric, even racist. Or what theologians call "idolatrous," which means substituting a symbol or image or object for what is hailed, discerned, and encountered in an artifact, but not limited to it. The value of looking at many different portrayals of a god or an ideal or a goal in life is very clear: by seeing it in different forms one is able to evaluate more dispassionately what the nature of one's relationship is and what vital differences may or ought to exist between what we want and what we need.

     Q3. The Sawyer image contrasts (for me, at least) with the more familiar Warner Sallman's portrait of Jesus. I've also seen Jesus as a woman. Can you give some examples of alternate images of Jesus and why they might be important?
     A3. Warner Sallman's Jesus is much closer to the traditional conception of Jesus as a slender, humble, meek character. Sallman intended to portray Jesus submitting to his father's will to go to Jerusalem and undertake the arduous work of suffering and death. So he looks quietly upward in an act of solemn acknowledgment of his father's bidding. The thinness and non-macho character of this Jesus was meant to signal that he did not belong to this world, did not prize achievement, food, drink, fine clothing, comfort, reputation, or worldly success, but pursued the non-material aim of his mission to do God's will. 
     Many images of Jesus today seek to portray him in a very different way. Sawyer and many others craft pictures that will appeal to viewers by presenting a Jesus who makes them proud. They want a hero, a man of whom they are proud, a man capable of suffering in a mighty way. A hero figure who fights hard and cuts a sleek, impressive figure. Many Christians in the US today feel that their faith has taken it on the chin in a nation which they believe was once Christian but has since abandoned the faith and even come to disrespect Christianity. They feel their faith is under siege. So they want a Jesus who fights back. A guy who does not take disrespect by appearing humble or meek. You don't have to look far to find anger among conservative Christians, Catholic or Protestant. They resent what they believe is contempt for their faith, and they look to a Jesus who will vindicate their cause.
     Others search for a different alternative. Some feel that all the male Jesus figures miss half of Christendom's faithful--women. And they feel that the excessively masculine Jesus warps the faith and needs badly to be corrected by visual explorations of neglected aspects of Jesus' character. They want a Jesus who is like something different than anger and pride and machismo. Perhaps the most memorable recent image is Janet McKenzie's "Jesus of the People," which won the National Catholic Reporter's 1999 contest for the Jesus of the New Millennium. McKenzie used an African-American woman as a model and ignored the ancient visual formula for portraying Jesus. When you first see the image she produced, you may not recognize it as Jesus. But it's a fascinating experiment in likeness. It helps one realize what constitutes "likeness."

     Q4. Although Islamic art has portrayed Muhammad, in most cultures Islam has prohibited such images even though Muhammad is not considered divine. Do you think that Muslims benefit by eschewing images of Muhammad?
     4. Muslims practice enormous respect for Muhammad, and they have produced images of him over their long and varied history. But in the Sunni tradition in the last several centuries, the practice of refusing to produce visual images of him has prevailed. In other traditions of the faith, Sufism and Shi'ism, for example, there is much less anxiety and a greater use of images generally. As a scholar of religious images, I wonder if we won't see fascinating innovations as Islam becomes rooted and pervasive in North America and Europe and far beyond, say in Latin America, for example. Religions must compete for adherents in the marketplace of culture, and that means that no religion ever stays the same. I would not be surprised if Muslims one day found that images of the Prophet became helpful in image-laden cultures such as the United States and Latin America. Not to be worshiped, but to display them as advertising or as instructional illustrations, as political totems, as icons of group identity. After all, when your children are being bombarded by television and internet images all day long, using fire to fight fire becomes a very compelling tactic in safeguarding their formation.

David Morgan, Professor, Department of Religion
Director of Graduate Studies, Graduate Program in Religion
Duke University


D T writes 
     You reminded me of a painting a fellow student showed me in seminary. It was a female crucifixion , with milk from one breast running down the torso and mingling with the blood from the spear wound in the side. Powerful and stretching!

You reminded me of a painting a fellow student showed me in seminary. It was a female crucifixion , with milk from one breast running down the torso and mingling with the blood from the spear wound in the side. Powerful and stretching!
A different D T writes
     I just wanted to see how your Easter went.  Mine was fantastic, from worshipping at church to teaching Sunday School to spending lots of time with family celebrating the risen Christ.  It's my favorite holiday of the year!

Vern responds
     Lent is always very meaningful to me, and Holy Week was freshly awesome. Maundy Thursday, Stations of the Cross on Friday and later the Good Friday service, Holy Saturday service, then Easter Vigil, then Easter Sunday. The season is so overwhelming (no Easter without Good Friday), I feel a bit sorry for folks who consider Christmas to be the high point of the Christian year. Since Easter is your favorite, you understand. But actually the entire Christian calendar is a blessing as it offers patterns and lessons for which to be supremely grateful.
     Glad your Easter was a good celebration for you.

D T writes again
     What do you believe regarding the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Christ, and what inspiration do you draw from that perspective during your Easter celebration?
    I had a "freshly awesome" experience at our worship service on Sunday. Our pastor said that although we can make a very solid case for Christ's resurrection being a fact of history, it is in fact our own personal transformation that is most convincing to non-believers. Rather than trying to prove that a man 2000 years ago could cure the blind, how much more powerful to say "I've met him, and I once was blind, but he gave me sight."  As someone who has always thought that logic would overcome any skeptics doubt, he gave us a fresh reminder that "he who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

Vern responds again
     I cannot answer your question in the terms you use. We have encountered this problem before. I gave you a list of books that might help form the basis of a conversation. Even if you understood just the Hofstadter and Kaplan books,we might try a conversation.
     Please be happy with your faith and let me be happy with mine.

D T writes again
     I loved your column this week!  It's so interesting seeing the varying portrayals of Christ.  You have John Eldredge saying he would portrays him as the absolute tough guy and then you have those who prefer the meeker and milder brand.  I'm somewhere in the middle, but I find the varying perspectives fascinating.
     I'd gladly oblige to your reading requirement if I thought it were relevant.  I do appreciate your advice though.
     Consider the following scenario...A parade is coming through town celebrating the independance of the U.S. from England.  There is all kind of pomp and circumstance, there is a wide variety of moving songs in the genre of freedom.  Everything about the ceremony is in your words "freshly awesome."  But, what if we were in fact not independant?  Would that have any bearing on your celebration?  Would the reality of our dependance on England make any difference in your participation in the moving festivities?
     Personally, no matter how inspirational the festivities, I'd feel like a fool.


     We cannot remake God in our own image... one of the marks of a disciple of Christ is self forgetfulness... which would include what 'we want' Jesus to look like.
     "Therefore obedience is not a mark of inferiority. To respond, to sing second voice, to play second fiddle, is not demeaning, for the Christ who is very God of very God, was the perfect obeyer. In this we have one of the most astounding and radical revolutions the world has ever heard, and has not yet understood. Women still resent being women, that is, biologically receptive to male impregnation and needing male protection and leadership, because they think this makes them inferior. Children resent having to obey parents, and citizens resent having to obey civil authority, for the same reason: they think this obedience marks their inferiority. It does not." Peter Kreeft

We need to learn about Islam

Have you ever attended a program at which much-loved community leader Al Brooks spoke — and then the event organizers, without warning, turned to you to speak following Al?
      The occasion earlier this year was to honor Jabir Hazziez, a hero who handled an emergency in flight, so I could not decline. Hazziez has served in Iraq, in the KCMO Fire Department, as deputy county sheriff and in many volunteer roles, including as vice chairman as the Midland Islamic Council.
     Without Brooks’ eloquence, I simply applauded Hazziez as an extraordinary community servant who is Muslim. Too many of us have yet to recognize how we are all benefited by the Muslims in our community and nation. That was about all I could say.
     I thought of this last month at an interfaith luncheon sponsored by the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, when among the superb speakers was Muslim Taalib-ud-Din al-Ansare, chaplain supervisor at Research Medical Center.
     And I’m excited about new opportunities for us to learn about Islam.
     Apr. 14 at 6:30 p.m., the Institute of Interfaith Dialog in Lenexa brings the brilliant Turkish writer and speaker Mustafa Akyol to the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center, 11902 Lowell, Overland Park, for a free lecture. His most recent book is “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty.” In a TED video you can find on YouTube, he distinguishes Islam from cultural practices, some of which he finds objectionable, and explains how modern Islam was subverted by colonialism.
     The next day, Apr. 15 at 2 p.m., two distinguished local faith leaders, Alan Edelman, associate executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and Biagio Mazza, pastoral associate at St. Sabina’s Parish, join Sayyid M. Syeed, from Washington, D.C., where he is national director for interfaith and community alliances at the Islamic Society of North America, to discuss “Islam in America.”
     The three-hour program is designed to provide considerable audience participation. The free program is held at the UMKC Student Union, Room 401.
     I’m especially interested to learn how Jews and Catholics have, over generations in America, responded to misunderstanding, prejudice and violence then directed against them that Muslims now too often experience as they become woven into the pluralistic fabric that makes America great.
     As outstanding as these speakers are, they won’t have to follow Al Brooks whose interfaith example makes his own words so inspiring.


S H writes
     Very nice and insightful article!  Thanks for such a remarkable and sustained effort for educating the community about various faiths! . . . .

A A writes
    . . . As always, the content was excellent. Few have the courage to articulate the difficulty involved in living behind Al Brooks let alone trying to craft something meaningful to say behind him. . . . .

J L writes
     Thanks for the info on upcoming events  on understanding Islam. You might want to mention the upcoming  Forum on the Conflict in the Middle East at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.  Pastor Adam Hamilton will moderate a forum presenting the Israeli and Palestinian  view of the conflict. Rabbi Alan Cohen and Rev. Alex Awad will present. I traveled to Israel and Jordan with Rabbi Cohen on a Jerusalem Gathering trip to the Holy Land in January 2006. It was a wonderful learning experience with both Christian and Jewish leaders. I have followed your work for many years. . . .

J B writes
    Your article in today's KCStar reminded me to update you on our little ladies group at First Christian Church, NKC.
     A couple of years ago I shared with you our study of The Faith Club, you knew the authors & sent me pictures, then graciously helped me with our participant surveys.
   From there we moved into Half the Sky, by Kristof and WuDunn.  It has been painful, we have cried a lot, learned a lot, enjoyed the accomplishments, and the ladies have stuck with me.
     About a month ago I stumbled across (or God led me to) I Speak for Myself...American Women on Being Muslim, which we plan to begin in September.  The book was just published last spring.  Forty Muslim ladies under the age of 40, well educated and accomplished, write essays about growing up in the United States, being second or third generation Americans.  They debunk the myths!
    I think the book will bring us full circle and continue our "learning for understanding" as we see ladies wearing their hijabs while checking our groceries at our WalMart stores, or taking our food orders at IHOP here in the Northland,  as well as following the progress on the new mosque to be built near Metro North.
    And I frequently share your column or quote you in our meetings.  Thank you and bless you for being there.

R O writes
    Thanks for today’s column (and each week).  I appreciate both what you said and the information about the events you highlighted. . . . .


OFFENSIVE COMMENT REMOVED by The Star before it could be copied here.

ommo krommo
     The website given by Pamela Liner is full of hatred towards Muslims. Only people of their own religion can give a better picture of their religion and not outsiders. Islam is submission to God alone who created mankind and every living thing and the master of time and space. When we fail to learn this we create chaos. That is why one of the evangelist church leaders gave an idea why don't US nuke Mecca and Medina in Arabia. Now you tell me what kind of derange is this. It's gangster ism at its' highest level. I am sure most Americans think otherwise. 

Gary Rumain , The anti-arselifter.
     We all learned everything we needed to know on 9/11/2001.

     In a column in The Star on August 23, 2008, Syed E. Hasan wrote: “Islam recognizes that certain situations may arise where peaceful means of achieving justice and restoring rights of the oppressed would fail. An example of such a situation would be a ruler or a government that imposes restrictions on Muslims to practice their religion, or when they are attacked without any provocation. Under such circumstances
Muslims are allowed to take up arms to defend themselves or their faith.”
     Few people disagree with the right of an individual to defend his physical safety.  But, at what point is one justified in taking up arms to defend one’s faith? Would something like the French ban on full face veils justify violence?  All religions need to emphasize that the
circumstances justifying violence are extremely rare. 

matthew nixdorf
     Thank you very much for the list of the upcoming events.
     I think the one on April 14th seems to me very interesting.
     Here is the youtube link of his speech:

On playing Passover roles 

“From empathy comes ethics,” Eric Rosen, artistic director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, told me when I asked him about how drama — whether in a religious ritual or a playhouse — lifts us as persons and as communities.
     The context for my question was the play he is now directing which is both theater and rite. “The Whipping Man” tells what happens when, right after the Civil War, a former Jewish slave owner returns severely injured from battle to his ruined home, to find his two just-freed black slaves who are also Jewish, occupying the place, and together they celebrate an improvised Seder because it is now Passover. How do the former master and former slaves explore their past and presently-changed relationships through the ritual?
     Can we in the audience, as vicarious participants in the play, come to understand and empathize with each character and thus assess our own present responsibilities to one another more clearly?
      The Seder, an annual Jewish ceremonial meal recalling the Exodus of Israelite slaves from Egyptian bondage, usually employs a text called the Haggadah. 
     Simon, the former slave who leads the Seder, cannot read or write; so the power of memory and adaptability becomes an expression of owning his faith in circumstances where the traditional symbolic foods and arrangements are unavailable and impossible.
     Rosen’s undergraduate thesis was on the Passover ritual. He discovered “thousands” of versions of the Haggadah, each responding to different historical circumstances. Since the observance is about liberation, the appropriate question to ask each year is, “Who now is being oppressed?”
     In Kansas City, for nearly three decades, this question has focused an annual fall interfaith gathering. In parallel with the Exodus story, a ritual meal — a species of theater — presents an account of those escaping religious persecution in Europe coming to these shores, with subsequent recognition of genocidal attacks on American Indians, enslavement of African Americans and the continuing prejudice and dangers religious minorities experience.
     Rosen pointed out that the ancient Greeks developed theater to promote public discourse. This play can lift us as characters in the human drama by asking: In what ways are we Pharaoh? in what ways slave? 
     This play is made for discussion, and the Rep has designated tonight and Thursday as “Faith Nights.” After these performances local religious leaders will be part of the  conversation, moderated by Brian Ellison. For information visit or call 816.235.2700.

Preferring the Tough Questions 

Within every faith are folks who prefer questions and other folks more comfortable with answers. Julie M. Lee of Village Presbyterian Church who died last fall, seemed always to have a good question. She inspired the church’s Visiting Scholars series which this year featured Brian D. McLaren, often considered a leader of the “emergent church” movement.
     In an preview column, I included McLaren’s title for his third lecture: “Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad Walk into a Bar . . . .” When McLaren planned his lecture, he said that he had thought he would use that title for his next book. (He has already written nearly two dozen books offering a post-modern approach to Christianity.)
     His editor was concerned that the title might be offensive, so the book will instead ask “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad Cross the Road?”
     Both titles are discomforting to some, he said, because the idea of religious figures meeting together challenges our human ways of identifying our own faiths by opposing them to others’ faiths.
     McLaren did not mention counter-examples such as Japan where Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism easily interplay. And Islam historically has often recognized other faiths as cultural enrichments, not as threats.
     But what he says is frequently true nowadays of the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Christians to find a hospitable, rather than hostile, approach to other faiths, he outlined historical, doctrinal, liturgical and missional challenges.
     A few notes on the historical challenge: the first Christian emperor’s famous vision of the cross in the sky, a spear with a crosspiece, with the words, “In this sign, conquer,” led Constantine to slaughter his enemies. The cross was brought to the New World by Columbus who wrote back to Spain that the American natives make excellent slaves, and that 8- to 14-year old girls were suitable for sexual purposes. McLaren noted we honor Columbus with a holiday and mentioned other overwhelming horrors throughout history done in the name of Christianity. 
     I write following reports of U.S. forces in Afghanistan urinating on Afghan corpses and an unwitting incineration of  the Qur’an, and now a lone soldier is accused of massacring 16 civilians, mostly women and children, within Afghan homes. Afghan responses have included burning the cross of Christianity. 
     Some Americans still identify 9/11 with Islam. Should we be surprised if some Afghans identify Christianity with colonial oppression?
     Asking such tough questions may be more important for genuine interfaith exchange than stock answers.


S T writes
     Your column this week was great.

V S writes
     I saw the column.  We appreciated your mention of Julie.  Thanks for all your help.  People do tell us they learn about our events by reading your column.

B L writes
     Thank you for recognizing my wife's contribution!
I didn’t get to attend the McLaren  talks  – Julie would never had scheduled the event on the first week-end of Spring Break! 
     She knew that I would be taking the boys to Florida.  It is John’s Senior Year at Shawnee Mission East High School, and this trip was a part of that .   Before Julie passed, we talked about the trip and how it would be important for me to be involved regardless of where she was…
     Julie was honored – she was too modest to be “thrilled”- when our pastor and Julie’s good friend, Tom Are, visited us back in August of last year and told her that the McLaren talks would be “in her honor”.   Having to watch my incredibly beautiful, incredibly intelligent and incredibly wonderful –in-all-ways wife of 20 years -suffer through 10 months of Pancreatic Cancer and the efforts to abort it’s progress- was the hardest thing that I will ever do.     BUT through it all, I did get to say good-bye and visit/consult with Julie every day, about all of the things that matter in completing the job that we started together – raising our 2 sons.
    Certainly the Village Church and its role in helping to establish a “moral compass”  for them and – even more importantly – a Community for them - stands at the foundation of our life strategy.   Respect for people of all faiths and being actively involved in learning more about the other faiths – especially those that are non-Christian- was central to Julie’s understanding of Faith!   I am continually motivated to live with that guidance - under her star - that shines as brightly in her absence, as it did when we walked hand-in-hand.
     Thank you for putting Julie’s name at the front of your comments that trumpet those beliefs. 

Vern responds
     Your email means a great deal to me.   It must give you and your sons and friends comfort to know that Julie's influence for good continues in the hearts of many and through the outreach of the Visiting Scholars program. I sometimes think that religion is an inheritance not as much of psalms and theologies as it is the accumulated blessings of the lives of people such as Julie who inspire and guide us even after they are gone. That's why I thought the column should begin with her. Thank you for writing as you  have.

J W writes
     Great column today...I'm sure it will get lots of flack :)


     The Inquisition? Yes, let’s not be shy. The Inquisition is every Catholic-basher’s favorite tool of abuse — though it is one that is very much not in the basher’s favor. There were several Inquisitions. The first in order of importance in Catholic history was the Inquisition against the Albigensians — a heresy that encouraged suicide, euthanasia, abortion, sodomy, fornication, and other modern ideas that were distasteful to the medieval mind. The struggle against the Albigensians erupted into war — and a war that could not be carefully trammeled within crusading boundaries. So Pope Gregory IX entrusted the final excision of the Albigensian heresy to the scalpel of the Inquisition rather than the sword of the Crusader.
     Did this Inquisition of the 13th century strike fear into the people of western Europe? No. Its scope was limited; its trials and punishments more lenient to the accused than were those of its secular counterparts. Inquisitional punishment was often no more than the sort of penance — charity, pilgrimage, mortification — that one might be given by a priest in a confessional. If one were fortunate enough to live in England, northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, or, with the exception of Aragon, even, at this time, Spain, the risk that one might be called before an inquisitional trial was virtually zero. The focus of the Inquisition was in the Albigensian districts of southern France; in Germany, where some of the worst abuses occurred; and in those parts of chaotic Italy rife with anticlerical heresy. In all cases, inquisitional courts sat only where Church and state agreed that peace and security were threatened. Nevertheless, the courts were abused. The Church could not modify an ironclad rule of life as true in the 13th century as it is today: Every recourse to law and the courts is a calamity. But the Church then, and people today, seemed to assume it is better than vigilantes and war. There’s no accounting for some tastes.
     More famous, certainly, is the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was a state-run affair, where the Church’ role was to act as a brake of responsibility, fairness, and justice on the royal court’s ferreting out of quislings (who were defined, after centuries of war against the Muslims, as those who were not sincere and orthodox Catholics). Recent scholarship, which has actually examined the meticulous records kept by the Spanish Inquisition, has proven — to take the title of a BBC documentary on the subject –The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition. We now know, beyond all doubt, that the Monty Python sketch of inquisitors holding an old lady in “the comfy chair” while they tickle her with feather dusters is closer to the truth than images of people impaled within iron maidens. (One of the standard works of scholarship is Henry Kamen’s The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, Yale University Press.) In the course of an average year, the number of executions ordered by the Spanish Inquisition — which covered not only Spain but its vast overseas empire — was less than the number of people put to death annually by the state of Texas. And this at a time when heresy was universally considered a capital crime in Europe. The myth of the Spanish Inquisition comes from forged documents, propagandizing Protestant polemicists, and anti-Spanish Catholics, who were numerous. The fact is, far from being the bloodthirsty tribunals of myth, the courts of the Spanish Inquisition were probably the fairest, most lenient, and most progressive in Europe.
     Can we now please stop comparing the inquisition with the modern day atrocities of Islam?

Vern responds
    The column does not mention the Inquisition -- which continues today as the  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then its Prefect, before he became Pope Benedict XVI. A history of Christianity would include forms of iniquity committed by all branches of the faith, including Protestantism. The sins identified with many other faiths are also numerous.

Why does “Tommy” Endure? 

I wish that I could have told my skeptical professor in 1969 when I was writing my doctoral dissertation in Chicago that more than four decades into the future, within a single year, I would see three different Kansas City area productions of The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy.”
     Faithful readers may recall that my professor did not find my argument that “Tommy,” then a new release, would endure, as has Handel’s 1742 masterpiece, “Messiah.” He thought “Tommy” would quickly vanish.
     But it hasn’t. In the last nine months I’ve seen productions by the Metropolitan Ensemble Theater, Olathe East High School and the White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center. I could have also seen Roger Daltrey, one of The Who, perform the show here last year, and the year before Avila University produced “Tommy.”
     Why has it endured? Surely the music, within in its own genre, ranks as Handel’s does within his.
     But the deeper reason it lasts is its spiritual message, at least as complex as the story of the advent, life and passion of the Christ as presented in Handel’s work. Both tell a story of salvation. 
     In this season of Lent, I reviewed statements by some of Olathe East’s students after their production. Many of them pointed to Tommy’s rise to fame, only to be rejected when he showed the people a better way. Similarly, after Palm Sunday praises, Jesus, too, was soon deserted by those who claimed they loved him. 
     The crowd in the Christian story demanded, “Crucify him!” Tommy’s crowd shouted, “We’re not gonna take it, never did and never will. Don’t want no religion. . . . We forsake you, gonna rape you, let’s forget you, better still.”
     One student said the show made him “focus on how people idolize celebrities and how we . . . go so crazy over them.” Another said she learned how people “move on to the next new thing” when they hear something they don’t like.
     Such parallels between Jesus and Tommy are numerous: the annunciation and nativity, a view of the human condition, returning good for evil, temptation overcome, a model of the wounded healer, and a vision of paradise, among other themes. 
      Of course there are huge differences as well. The Christian story tells of redemption from sin; “Tommy” mixes Jewish, Christian, Sufi, Buddhist and other materials to lead us from ignorance to enlightenment. 
     Both “Messiah” and “Tommy” endure because they powerfully express the suffering and exaltation in everyone’s story.


    Could have seen Roger -- *Roger*, the original -- perform it, and didn't? Lightweight. I share your admiration for Tommy, though.

‘Emergent’ scholar offers views 

Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Muhammad walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Is this a joke?” 
     Actually it is the title of Brian D. McLaren’s final lecture of the three he presents here this week-end. 
     McLaren may be the most effective leader of what is often called the “emergent church,” a postmodern approach to Christianity. He has written nearly two dozen books and roused great controversy. He has been called one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals.
     In the Foreword to one of those books, “A Generous Orthodoxy,” Phyllis Tickle, the founding editor of the religion department of Publishers Weekly, compares McLaren to Martin Luther, and the ideas of the emergent church he expresses to Luther’s 95 theses which sparked the Protestant Reformation.
     McLaren emphasizes story over doctrine and what seems to me a more Jewish reading of scripture than the conventional treatment of the Bible as a rule book or source of theology. He attributes the usual way the Bible is interpreted to the persistent influence of Greco-Roman categories of thought with a consistent narrative, rather than as a collection of variously inspired writings.
     For example, McLaren questions the traditional ways of understanding original sin, a doctrine he does not find in the Hebrew text, but which has been interpreted by theologians who used ancient pagan ways of thinking as they read the scriptures.
     “The Fall,” is a Christian label for the original sin of Adam and Eve, transmitted to all humankind. After the story is told in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, it is never again mentioned in Hebrew scriptures. Yet Christians have given it a central role in the story of salvation.
     McLaren also questions ideas from Plato for whom the separation between body and spirit was sharp. Similar ideas were part of the culture in which early Christian theology developed. As a result, it is easy to read into Biblical texts ideas the inspired writers never had.
     It’s ironic that postmodern thought claims to help us better understand and utilize the original ancient texts.
     McLaren lectures at Village Presbyterian Church Friday at 7 p.m. on the emerging church. Saturday at 9 a.m. he casts a wider net to discuss what he sees as the “emerging culture.” His 10:30 a.m. lecture addresses Christianity among world faiths. For information, visit and click on “Visiting Scholar.”
     I heard McLaren speak several years ago. I did not always agree, but I will not miss this chance to hear him again.


C M writes
     I'm going to try and make one of McLaren's lectures this weekend. Phyllis Tickle's book on emergent church is interesting, but difficult. I have not read any of McLaren's works, but I'm motivated to do so.  If Christianity is again moving into a new epoch, as Tickle points out, the issue is one of authority.  It has always been a strength as well as weakness of Protestantism as to where authority rests.  Some have suggested that we have moved from epochs of the Father, then to the Son, and now to the Holy Spirit characterized by the emergence of pentacostalism in countries of the Southern Hemisphere.  In any case, we have only to look in our own region to the Methodist Church of the Resurrection to see one possible outcome of the new church.  It claims 17,000 members  . . . .  The COR mission is to reach the unchurched and it does so by an almost fanatical emphasis on Pastoral Care through its small groups.  If you have a problem, COR has a seminar or small group for that, and for any age.  This is a very traditional Methodist outlook and not necessarily anything new in concept.  Our Health Ministry visited with the COR Pastoral Care Director several months ago and we were amazed at the scope of its ministries.  COR has 9 or 10 full time pastors to handle the loads of people that participate in ministry.  . . .  One of the strengths of Protestantism and the wider faith generally, is its ability to adapt and change over time.  The church has suffered many body blows in the last 400 years and it continues to be wracked with scandal. Still, by enlarging the religious market place of ideas centered on the faith, and McLaren may be in the forefront of change, Christianity has grown over the last century.  No other major religion has this characteristic or ability.  Allowed freely to move without the restrictions imposed by a state enforced religion, I believe the Christian message will continue to prosper.  We just don't know what it will look like.  Thanks for bringing McLaren to the folks attention.

Vern responds
     . . . .I especially appreciate your attention to pastoral ministry as I can too easily focus too much on theology when I'm thinking about McLaren, even though, as I understand him, what he says has profound implications for pastoral care.
    I am not able to support your suggestion that Christianity has a special ability to adapt, at least not inherently. That would be an interesting discussion.

C M writes again
    Most of the adaptation has been to accomodate to outside influences, no doubt.  But, adapt it did whatever the reasons.  There is nothing inherent in any institution that will compel change unless forced to do so be either internal or external forces.  Otherwise, we'd probably still be sitting around a fire in our caves.  Perhaps its the inherent abilit of humans to change and adapt. 

D H writes
     Don't know how easy it would be for you to honor this request.  If not easy, please ignore!
     I had clipped and saved your feature on or near Valentine's Day and had intended to order the book that you had referenced.  It has disappeared, likely into recycle.  I just spent 15 or 20 minutes on the Star home page and was unable to find it.  Would it be possible to email the article or the book title and author to me?
     Thanks for your attention.  So enjoyed this morning's feature on emergent religion and wish I were able to attend one of the events.  Will we hear more?

Vern responds
     My columns are archived on my CRES website, and the one you want is in the right column from this link:
     “Deliberate Love,” is a 2004 book by Kansas City counselor Jim Roberts. As the column mentions, you can find out more at
     If you have any trouble accessing the column, lemme know and I'll send you the text.
     Yes, I plan to write a follow-up after this week-end lectures by Brian McLaren. The column would likely appear before or in early April.
     Thank you very much for following my column!  I think you will find the book to be quite useful.


     Second Letter of John 1:4-9. I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth just as we were commanded by the Father.
But now, Lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing a new commandment but the one we have had from the beginning: let us love one another. For this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning, in which you should walk. Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense. 
Anyone who is so "progressive" as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.

Three attitudes about beliefs

“So what do you believe?” is usually a poor way to begin a religious discussion. Sharing experiences is often more useful than an abstract theological debate.
     Still, in our culture, most people focus on beliefs. Here are three ways beliefs can be understood.
    § Literal belief.— For some folks, religious statements are factual. “Jesus rose from the dead” is a physical and historical fact, and one’s faith pivots on this and other facts. “God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh” is a statement about 24-hour days. Paul’s prohibition against women speaking in church must be scrupulously honored.
     Faith is grounded in truths that can be established by scripture, reason, tradition or ecclesiastical authority.
     § Irrelevant or compartmentalized belief.— I once had a student who surveyed dozens of members of his church to learn why they had joined. Their reasons including liking the stained-glass windows, a friendship network, a good program for children, the fact that the building was in the neighborhood. Not one person identified the church’s creed as a reason for membership.
     For some people the creed is secondary to other features of a religious community, and statements of belief that mean little to the individual are ignored, discounted or shoved aside. 
     § Affirmation of heritage.— Those who might not believe what the creeds say may still claim them as part of a tradition with stories of people struggling to put words to the ineffable mysteries of existence.
     An atheist can sing the Credo of the Bach B Minor Mass with sincerity because words, carried by such music, point beyond the confinements of specific language and culture. 
     And in a liturgical context,  even a skeptic can say, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . .” — not because of an intellectual assent to the literal content but because the skeptic gives his heart to the spiritual quest of which the creeds are, though partial, a valued expression.
     An actor playing Shakespeare’s Macbeth can say life “is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing” without violating the actor’s personal conviction that life is meaningful. In the context of the play, he believes that saying words he does not believe helps to reveal a greater truth about the range of human experience than if those words were not uttered.
     Knowing which of these three or other approaches your conversation partner favors may be more important than the belief statements themselves.


A Biblical statement some might otherwise find offensive, such as "I have been wicked from my birth, a siner from my mother's womb," still may be pronounced with integrity in the context of the history of a community wrestling with questions of human nature and the reality which produces it.


A J writes
    Great column today! I wonder how many literalists can get their head around what you said, enough to understand the alternative frames of reference.


        'What do you worship?'

What's natural about 'natural law'?

The current political question of providing contraceptive means to those who wish them through insurance programs has been framed in terms of whose religious right might be denied. Is it the Catholic employer whose conscience would be violated, or the employee, Catholic or non-Catholic, who wishes to use “the pill”? Even though a compromise removes the agency of the employer, the question lingers.
     [But here is a more fundamental question: What is the theological basis for opposing contraception?]
     The biblical command, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is one basis for opposing contraception. Is there another? 
    That basis is “natural law,” cited in Section 4 of “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, which overrode his own study commission. He found artificial birth control unlawful because it is unnatural.
     In Section 11 under the heading, “Observing the Natural Law,” the Pope proclaims that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” Later he says that it is nonetheless licit to use [knowledge of] naturally infertile periods to avoid pregnancy.
     In plain language, the natural law argument is that the purpose of genitals is to produce children when they can. Masturbation and withdrawal are wicked because their purposes are instead mere pleasure. To prevent conception from happening is to violate the natural purpose of the genitals and God’s intent.
     But is natural law really so obvious? One might argue that the natural purpose of the legs is to stand, walk and run. The natural law position then suggests that anything that frustrates this purpose, such as an escalator, is evil. Cars, planes and even riding a horse should be outlawed.
     But who says the purpose of the genitals is to produce children? Perhaps their primary functions are actually elimination, pleasure and pair-bonding.
     If procreation is their chief purpose, then should not men and women be sexual indiscriminately, producing as many babies as fast as possible? This question is ridiculous because we look at the whole human being and the welfare of society, not simply natural law narrowly about genitals. 
     We engage another natural organ, the brain, in discerning how to live our lives. And if the brain suggests spacing children, or for health, age or other reasons, there should be no (further) children, then safe birth control may seem wise. Medicine, surgery and other interventions for many other purposes are seldom eschewed simply because they are not natural. 
     In what situations should anyone have access to contraception, and in what spheres should ecclesiastical powers using problematic natural law theology withhold medical means from those of their own faith who disagree, as well as from those of other faiths?

     It may not be as easy as previously thought to know what natural law means and whether what is natural is always responsible. Uncertainty suggests personal rather than ecclesiastical choice and modesty in political as well as theological debate as we seek to care for one another.
     See also comment under Star website posts.


R L writes 
    I saw your article in the KC Star this morning.
     “Birth control, or family planning, is nothing more or less than good Christian stewardship. Generally we tend to think of stewardship only in terms of money, but it extends to all areas of life. Jesus calls us to be good stewards of our resources, and he explains that to us in places like Luke 16. Jesus holds us accountable for all the resources he provides in our life. We show good stewardship when we bring children into this world that we can love, feed and educate. We show bad stewardship when we neglect, though our emotional or financial limitations, the children we bring into the world.”
     Whenever we discuss divine sovereignty, we want to be careful not to set aside human responsibility. We may not be good stewards if we choose to engage in behavior in such a way that we are likely to have children.

Vern responds
     Thanks for reading this installment of my weekly (Wednesday) column, and for writing with your interesting application of the idea that we are responsible for our resources -- beyond money.
     I am not sure about the application of the so-called Parable of the Unjust Steward. The text is troublesome to modern readers since on the face of it Jesus seems to be praising dishonesty. Its original context may suggest something entirely different. The parable has troubled folks for two thousand years seeking to discern its meaning.
     But I certainly applaud the intent of the passage you cite from and will want to keep it or hand for future use -- as well as your own very significant summary statement about divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Thank you for this clear wording! And again, thanks for responding to today's column!   our email address, at the end of your column, is bogus.

T S writes
     Excellent column. I applaud your research and scholarship.
There is one little point that you might have included, which would support your hypothesis:
    Whether humans (and the Pope) like to admit it, we are animals. Unlike many animals, the female of the species is usually receptive to sex, most of the time. Most other mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, and fish, are only receptive to sex when fertile. If sex did not serve some purpose, other than procreation, then humans would be the same.
Just a thought......

Vern responds
     Apologies for the misprint of my email address in today's print version of The Star. I have reported that to my editor. This has never happened before. I'm glad you figured out how to contact me!
     Thank you for your comment on the column, and for taking the trouble not only to write, but to discern the proper email address.
     I am aware of the fact that humans are quite special in the animal world in maintaining sexual interest and the capacity for arousal without regard to fertility cycles, but I had not thought about what an excellent argument this makes to strengthen the point that sex musty serve some purpose other than procreation if we use natural law to discover purposes. Should a similar topic "arouse" me to write in the future, I will want to include this point.
     Again, I am grateful to you for writing me with this insight. 

T S writes
     Thank you for your articles on faith – I enjoy reading the Star and in particular the articles on faith.
    I hope it is okay that I write and share some thoughts on your recent article: “What’s Natural about Natural Law.”
    I wanted to share my understanding, first on Humanae Vitae itself, and then on the HHS mandate. I don’t write this in order to change your mind, but only to offer a couple thoughts for your consideration, as I believe that there is more to the story. 
     Perhaps it was not your intent, but I interpreted what you wrote to imply that Humanae Vitae suggests that procreation is the only purpose of sexual union.   Humanae Vitae suggests that there are two purposes – the union of the husband and wife and procreation.  So the act is unitive as well as potentially procreative.  By not mentioning the unitive aspect, it sounds as if the Catholic faith narrowly promotes sex only in order to procreate.
     Regarding the HHS mandate – again perhaps I misunderstand your words, but it seems unfair to ask “in what spheres should ecclesiastical powers using ‘natural law’” withhold medical means from those of their own faith who disagree, as well as those from other faiths?”
      I don’t believe the Church is actively withholding medical procedures.  Nor do I think the Church has voiced opposition to the recent mandate on the grounds of Humanae Vitae or any theological reason.  It opposes it because it forces them to subsidize or pay for something that violates their basic beliefs about life and death.  Some of the approved drugs are abortion-inducing.  There is a big difference between people disagreeing (theologically or morally or practically) with the Church’s position, and an outside entity mandating that this religious institution pay for something that violates its own teaching.  I know many Catholics who may at one time or other disagree with teaching on contraception – but I do not know any who expect the Church to pay for it.  I do believe this distinction is an important one.
     On a side note: I do not always agree with how the Church handles things – but many of its institutions do immeasurable good for countless women, children, and men of all faiths (Catholic Charities, for example, is the largest private provider of social services in the nation).  In this case, I believe it is unfair to force them to choose between their basic teaching and their mission to serve others. 
     Perhaps I do not have all the information and am overlooking something, but these distinctions seem important to me and I wanted to share these thoughts. 
     My best to you in your work and writing. 

Vern responds
     You are quite right that the column fails to deal with the complexity of issues involved. Other writers have addressed them, so I focused on a single point I have not seen adequately addressed, a theological point, not a political one, within the small space I am given to write. In responding to you, I will try briefly to indicate my view even of the political issue you raise.
     But first, regarding Humanae Vitae, you are again correct, as I read the document, that one of the purposes of sex is the uniting of husband and wife. However, the argument against contraception has little to do with the uniting of husband and wife but rather with the purpose of the genitals. I did not have space to acknowledge the pastoral character of the encyclical.
     Regarding the HHS mandate, in my view, in refusing to allow (as the Church actually does allow in several states) a national mandate that religious organizations employing and serving folks of many traditions it would be, would for practical purposes, deny them of actual medical care. This is because many such folks would be unable financially or otherwise to obtain these services outside of narrowly drawn insurance. The compromise removes your objection as it does not involve the institutions providing the access to the pill but rather the insurance companies, at no net cost because, it is maintained, that insurance covering the pill reduces costs to the insurer that otherwise would occur with the statistical number of pregnancies and subsequent care. The important distinction you cite is thus honored.
     The Affordable Care Act is not to my liking because it does raise such problems and many others. I would have preferred a single-payer system directly insuring and serving each individual. But, alas! we do not have a government-run health care system, such as I have experienced abroad. Instead we have the complicated free-enterprise system with federal government mandates within 50 different state-systems in order to achieve a similar level of health care, although at greater cost.
     I certainly want to affirm the American tradition of religious liberty -- not just for religious institutions but for every citizen. Such an affirmation in practice sometimes becomes messy when conflicting interests and values are at stake. In this situation I favor the conscience of the individuals, who are overwhelming in favor of access to contraception, including an overwhelming majority of American Catholics. I do not think those of other faiths should be denied their right to practice their faiths as they see fit simply because of what seems to me an amazingly irrational and inconsistent theology (as the column seeks to suggest) is supported by a Church seeking to impose its theology on others and deprive them of the  free practice of their own faiths. Thus I am grateful for the compromise which is, as far as I can see presently, the best way of achieving the rights of the Catholic hierarchy to teach this, to me and most folks, unreasonable theology while also protecting the rights of others to practice their consciences without impediment. Thus the Church is not in the position of having to pay for something it find abhorrent.
     Thank you for stating that the purpose of your email was not to convince me of your position, and I assure you I do not seek to change yours. But I did not want to ignore your thoughtfulness in writing me and I felt I should do my best to respond briefly to the points you raised in order to assure you that I honor your position, even though I disagree with it.
     And thank you for your compliments and good wishes!


    Questions like, 'What is natural about ‘natural law’?' are the exact reason Jesus built His church on Peter and the apostles... so that they and their decendents would be a living voice in the world for all time.
     But let's not muddy the waters, the HHS mandate is a clear violation of our first amendment rights now matter what your stance is on contraception.
     The representation of the Church's teaching on human sexuality (listed here) is incomplete and innaccurate.
     JP2 writes in 'Familiaris Consortio', "And so the Church never ceases to exhort and encourage all to resolve whatever conjugal difficulties may arise without ever falsifying or compromising the truth: she is convinced that there can be no true contradiction between the divine law on transmitting life (pro-creative) and that on fostering authentic married love.(unitive)"
     Did you know until the 1930's ALL Christian churches knew and taught that contraception was sinful?  So what happened?  Did the Truth change in 1930 or did we?
     I don't think the Truth is subject to a democratic vote.
     "Not only did many of the great theologians address abortion and contraception, but so did some councils. The Council of Elvira in Spain (305) decreed two canons forbidding the sacraments to women who committed abortion: “If a woman becomes pregnant by committing adultery, while her husband is absent, and after the act she destroys (the child), it is proper to keep her from Communion until death, because she has doubled her crime” (63). Canon 68 reads: “If a catechumen should conceive by an adulterer, and should procure the death of the child, she can be baptized only at the end of her life.” A similar decision was reached at the Council of Ancyra (314): “Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them [from Communion] until the hour of death” (29)
     None of the Fathers or councils offer contradictory opinions on contraception or abortion.  ...Blessed John Paul II [was] simply presenting the teaching of the Church in the same line of thought that began in the earliest generations, continued through the Middle Ages, and was taught by the Protestant reformers. (Martin Luther called people who use contraception “logs,” “stock” and “swine.” John Calvin said contraception was “condemned and “doubly monstrous,” while abortion was “a crime incapable of expiation.”)
     The popes have called the Church to a moral and holy approach to marriage and the conception of children. We form our conscience in the light of this constant tradition, and we teach and live it by the graces God gives us. 
     On this basis we insist that the government allow us complete freedom to practice our religion and its precepts." - Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa        vbarnet

     Has anybody ever bothered to ask why we should care what Vern Barnet has to say about these issues?
     His real views are well known to certain local groups.

     It was thought by some earlier theologians, in part influenced by readings of Aristotle, especially as interpreted by Aquinas, that natural law -- lex naturalis -- could be established by reason, independent of revelation. Natural law was thought to be universal, independent of culture. Natural law also can be contrasted with human law. It can be argued that Paul had some sort of conception of natural law. Other conceptions of natural law, rather than being orderly, involve images such as "the law of the jungle." An interesting contemporary example of a perhaps distant parallel to the natural law impulse is John Rawls's greatly admired 1971 book  "A Theory of Justice."  A much-challenged effort to draw morality from nature is the 2010 book "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values" by Sam Harris.

Readings for God’s Kingdom

Feb. 1, exactly 110 years after the birth of Langston Hughes in Joplin, I read one of his poems at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy. For Black History Month, I joined others of  some 260 students in English classes who, for the entire day, recited, acted and sang texts I found  deeply spiritual.
     They and their teachers, Bridgett Shirley, Joyce Nguyen-Hernandez, David “Allen” Holder, and International Baccalaureate coordinator, Sharon Showalter, selected material such as the Emancipation Proclamation and work by African-American artists including Frederick Douglass, August Wilson, Arthur Ashe, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin and Maya Angelou.
     I was astounded. Whether the material was a love poem or a political statement, the students brought history into the present, and the present into a discerning sense of personhood.
     I asked principal Carl Pelofsky what he thought. “To silently read great works of literature, watch dramatic performances and hear landmark speeches unquestionably serves students, but for the students literally to (use) their voices adds to the words’ relevance and meaning.
     “The Lincoln students who read the poetry, who sang the songs, who performed the excerpts from the plays, will remember the experience in a profoundly different way because they heard their own voices and their classmates’ voices in the room. They are remembering, but they are also creating,” he said.
     I also wanted to know the students’ reactions. Shirley, a lawyer who is in her 12th year at Lincoln, told me that students listened afresh to words that were familiar. “Many students asked when we could do this activity again,” she said
     I wish I had space for the essays students wrote about the experience. Let me quote from Tanesha Ray, who sang “Strange Fruit” about lynches in the South:
     “I go to school with people of every color and we aspire to obtain camaraderie where we see no color. 
     “When I first saw Billie Holiday perform this song, . . . it appeared as though the pain of an entire people was being poured out of her soul. I could not hope for this in my own performance, but what I did hope was that the unceasing vanity which plagues my generation would be quenched, if only for a moment, (to see that our freedom is) not to be taken for granted.” 
     Most of the school’s student body is African-American. When two white young men took their turns reading from the famous King “I have a dream” speech with compelling clarity and emphasis, they manifested the spiritual foundation and promise of what theologians call the Kingdom of God on earth.

Full Statement by Carl Pelofsky, Secondary Principal, Lincoln College Prep Academy
     To silently read great works of literature, watch dramatic performances and hear landmark speeches unquestionably serves students, but for the students literally to add their voices adds to the words’ relevance and meaning. The Lincoln students who read the poetry, who sang the songs, who performed the excerpts from the plays, will remember the experience in a profoundly different way because they heard their own voice and their classmates’ voices in the room. They are remembering, but they are also creating. We speak about literature and art in the present tense because it’s always happening; during our day of reflection, learning was definitely happening.

Some Additional Student Comments

Anna Hirsekorn wrote:
    I listened and everything I heard I could also see it in someone else’s life, someone else of a different culture background going through these sufferings.

Deja Benton wrote:
     These poems helped show some the feelings women had, specifically black women.  This allowed me to appreciate the features I have as a black woman.  I was totally amazed the confidence these women managed to hold through the time that they were being degraded.

Jesus Garcia wrote:
    During the reading of Afro-American Works, two pieces of literature changed my cultural considerations.  Those two pieces were Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” and my favorite, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have A Dream” speech.  I learned that some of the sources of will-power were”  the desire for freedom, faith in the church, people gathering for a cause and having a righteous leader.

Jonae Daniels wrote:
    Our Black History Month program was unlike any in which I have participated. In the past, I have not learned anything new.  It’s usually the same material and same common names; such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” works by Maya Angelou and James Weldon Johnson’s, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  Although these are great, it is also good to add in something new.
This year in our program, I got that “something new.”  I felt a sense of what it was like to be Black and living in the South.  I received this message through songs, poems and dialogue…….
    … After a fellow student sang “Strange Fruit” there was a moment of silence in the room where everyone was clearly and heavily impacted.  I loved the program and enjoyed learning new information.  Hopefully next year we can do the same program with more people and performances.

Lawrence Jones wrote:
     We have all heard the late Doctor King’s quote, “I have a dream,” but reading his speech aloud was an eye opening experience for me.  After reading his speech and other African-American works of literature in remembrance and honor of Black History Month, I now have a sense and understanding of how so many shaped their future and my present.

AhmaniLewis wrote:
     What I liked about the Black History Month read-in is that it is the time of year when we take time to acknowledge all the hard work African-Americans went through just to get us where we are today.  I liked that we all played a part in reading some type of poetry, son, and or speech.

Brandi Smith wrote:
    During my fifth grade year in elementary school, I was approached by the Principal of Richardson Elementary to present a poem in honor of Black History Month. Honestly, I had no experience in public performances or poetry. Therefore, I sought the assistance of my art instructor, Ms. Cheryl Looney, the most joyful, confident and passionate African-American women, whom I idolized. She gave me a book of poems and told me to choose whatever moves me. Ego Tripping (There May be a Reason Why) by Nikki Giovanni was one of the two poems I chose. The speaker’s persona and proud aura captured my attention immediately. I myself am a lady of strength and attitude and through this poem; I could creatively express my alternate self.  The speaker presents the impossible and impels me, the reader, to believe the impossible is attainable. Ego Tripping defines me, my thoughts, hopes, dreams and especially my desire of life and I wanted to share that with my peers. 

Tanesha Ray wrote:
     Strange Fruit is an iconic song which immortalizes a haunting period in American history. The language, both graphic and lyrical, is some of the most beautiful I have ever come across and when I was asked to perform a piece for African-American history month I knew immediately that Strange Fruit was the one. Its just one of those songs, one of very few songs, which is meant to be felt, seen, heard, smelled and tasted.  Personally, as an African-American, I thank Jesus Christ that I live in a land of many freedoms. I am not afraid of being lynched or beaten or raped. I am not afraid of my family members disappearing in the middle of the night. I got to school with people of every color and we aspire to obtain camaraderie where we see no color. I am blessed to have been born in such a time as this.
    When I first saw Billie Holiday perform this song I was amazed, for it appeared as though the pain of an entire people was being poured out of her soul.  I could not hope for this in my own performance, but what I did hope was that the unceasing vanity which plagues my generation would be quenched, if only for a moment, and that the eyes of the blind would be open and they’d see that we have such freedom surrounding us and its not to be taken for granted


C P writes 
     Thank you! A fantastic article.

D T writes
     Langston Hughes' writings captured me in high school and never let me go. "Not Without Laughter" has a depth of descriptive color. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" displays a common humanity for all of us riding this 3rd rock.
     Too, I have been intrigued by James Weldon Johnson's "God's Trombones" (Interesting parallels exist in Tony Campolo's sermon "It's Friday, But Sunday's Comin'".). W. E. B. DuBois and Bill Cosby. 
     Long live their call to freedom, respect and barrier-breaking love. 

F W writes 
     Thank you so much for your beautiful Faith & Beliefs essay in today's Kansas City Star (Wednesday, February 15, 2012).
     On so many levels it was a joy to read.  Like you, I was moved by the words of Tanesha Ray. Her hope "that the unceasing vanity which plaques my generation would be quenched, if only for a moment, (to see that our freedom is) not to be taken for granted." Wow! 

Vern responds
   Thanks for reading this installment of my weekly (Wednesday) column,  and for writing!
  I, too, was blown away by the thoughtfulness of Tanesha Ray.
   It was a great experience for me to be there that day, and I am glad that readers like you understood what I was trying to do in writing about it. 

M P writes
     Mr. Barnet, as someone who began to do volunteer work in the KCMO school district in December, I enjoyed reading your column about the Black History Month observance at Lincoln Prep.  It’s very important for the public to read about the good things that are happening in the KCMO schools.  However, I also think it is important for you to remember what life is like in the rest of the district.
     First, a little background:  According to 2011 records from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 90.0 % of Lincoln Prep students scored proficient or above on the Communication Arts MAP test, and 77.6% scored proficient or above on the Math MAP test.  At [school name deleted] (the school where I volunteer), the corresponding figures were 21.9% and 11.2%.  The state records show that Lincoln Prep is 58 % black; the comparable figure for [School] is 80%.
     Since I was an actuary during my working career, I try to assist an eighth-grade pre-algebra teacher during her 7:25 – 9:20 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  My understanding is that most classes at [School] last only an hour, but this and a few others are two hours in order to give the students more instruction on a topic.  At 8:20 the bell rings and the students take a five minute break.  Around 8:30 school announcements are broadcast over the PA system.
     31 are supposed to be in the class; attendance while I have been there has been in the 15-20 range.  For this group of students, the PA announcements are a total waste of time.  The talking, shouting, frequent profanity, walking around the class, occasional shoving and punching, and disrespectful backtalk to the teacher continue unabated during the announcement.  Yesterday was typical.  I am pretty sure I heard the words “black history” over the PA, and I had the sense that a student was reading some sort of piece in recognition of the month.  The students, all of whom are black in this class, showed no interest at all in hearing about Black History Month.
     I am determined to make it through to the end of the year because 1) these students need so much help and 2) some of the students express sincere appreciation for any help they receive.  But, after each session, I leave the school emotionally exhausted and extremely discouraged.  Unfortunately, the reality is that [School] is more typical of the district than Lincoln. 

Vern responds
     My own experience, wider than Lincoln Academy, suggests you are, alas, unfortunately accurate. The stories I could tell!  Southwest is a particular disappointment. You will likely never know the extent of the help you are providing those students who welcome your work with them and will at some point reflect with gratitude, but you are certainly doing a good thing.  I admire your persistence.
     Thanks for reading my column, and for writing!

Each day can be Valentine's Day

One of the most upsetting books I’ve ever read is psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s 1970 “Knots.” Each page describes the self or a relationship in a bind, impasse or impenetrable contradiction with no way out. The knotty situations have no answer.
     Except perhaps if you treat them as koans, those Zen puzzles — “Does a dog have a Buddha nature?” — which can be resolved only by transcending the terms in which they are stated.
     When we are in a relationship twisted and knotted with no way of straightening it out, we need a method for escaping its terms to affirm our love.
     “Deliberate Love,” a 2004 book by Kansas City counselor Jim Roberts, presents such a way, summarized in the word “attention.”
     Roberts told me that his father was unavailable emotionally. “Well into my adulthood I harbored resentment for his failure to be more involved in my life,” he said.
     Catholic priest Ed Hayes suggested that Roberts, then in his 30s, take his father a gift with each fortnightly visit.
     “The gifts were unconventional, as was my father: specialty popcorn, heirloom seeds for his garden, a frozen duck. Other than becoming a little puzzled by all of this, the exercise didn’t seem to affect Dad much. The genius of Father Ed Hayes’s suggestion, however, was that it required me to pay attention to my father in a new way.
     “I had to shift my focus from how he had failed and disappointed me in the past to how I could please him here and now. I had to pay attention what he liked, I had to observe in detail what he did with his day, I had listen to him.
     “This subtle, deliberate shift in my attention transformed me. Instead of focusing on my anger and pain, my feelings began to soften into something like compassion, patience and forgiveness,” Roberts said.
     “Deliberate Love,” with Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian references, provides  suggestions for refocusing attention to transcend such knots that develop in relationships. Visit
     Ron Matson, professor at Wichita State University, selected the book as a text for his “Sociology 399: Love” course last fall. He praised the book for its “deep, accessible wisdom from therapeutic psychology and Eastern philosophy; (it is) concise, profound and practical.”
     I wonder why a subject as important as love is not explored at all grade levels. Both Roberts and Matson told me that instead of dismissing puppy love or crushes, young people would benefit from respectful attention. Such attention might prevent a lot of the agonizing knots that afflict so many relationships.
     This attention can help make every day Valentine’s Day.

NOTE 1: Roberts' narrative about relating to his father:
     My relationship with my father was never easy.  Dad wasn’t an alcoholic, he didn’t abuse me, and he was a good provider, but he was deeply introverted and simply unavailable emotionally.  Well into my adulthood I harbored resentment for his failure to be more involved in my life.
     Late in my thirties I met a Catholic priest, Father Ed Hayes, with whom I had several sessions of spiritual guidance.   Without my intending it the sessions quickly turned to my troubled relationship with my father.  After one lengthy conversation about Dad, Father Ed made a simple suggestion: to take my father a gift each time I visited him.
    At that time I saw my parents with regularity, since their house was where I met with my young son every other weekend after my divorce. 
     The gifts I brought my father were unconventional, as was my father: specialty popcorn, heirloom seeds for his garden, a frozen duck.  Other than becoming a little puzzled by all of this, the exercise didn’t have much noticeable impact on Dad at all. The genius of Father Ed’s suggestion, however, was that it required me to pay attention to my father in a fundamentally different way.  I had to shift my focus from how he had failed and disappointed me in the past to how I could please him in the here and now.  I had to pay attention what he liked, I had to observe in detail what he did with his day, I had listen to him.
     This subtle shift in my attention was transformative; not so much, if at all, for Dad, but for me.  After years of therapy in which the focus was expressing my anger and pain over my father, my feelings began to soften into something like compassion, patience, and forgiveness. 
My relationship with my father was never easy.  Dad wasn’t an alcoholic, he didn’t abuse me, and he was a good provider, but he was deeply introverted and simply unavailable emotionally.  Well into my adulthood I harbored resentment for his failure to be more involved in my life.
     Late in my thirties I met a Catholic priest, Father Ed Hayes, with whom I had several sessions of spiritual guidance.   Without my intending it the sessions quickly turned to my troubled relationship with my father.  After one lengthy conversation about Dad, Father Ed made a simple suggestion: to take my father a gift each time I visited him.
     At that time I saw my parents with regularity, since their house was where I met with my young son every other weekend after my divorce.
    The gifts I brought my father were unconventional, as was my father: specialty popcorn, heirloom seeds for his garden, a frozen duck.  Other than becoming a little puzzled by all of this, the exercise didn’t have much noticeable impact on Dad at all. The genius of Father Ed’s suggestion, however, was that it required me to pay attention to my father in a fundamentally different way.  I had to shift my focus from how he had failed and disappointed me in the past to how I could please him in the here and now.  I had to pay attention what he liked, I had to observe in detail what he did with his day, I had listen to him.
   This subtle shift in my attention was transformative; not so much, if at all, for Dad, but for me. After years of therapy in which the focus was expressing my anger and pain over my father, my feelings began to soften into something like compassion, patience, and forgiveness. 
     There's so much more to say about this, but I know you're limited in space.  Where the attached story leaves off I could certainly say more about how at around the same time I was learning about Morita and Naikan, both of which emphasized the mindful use of attention.  My direct experience with Dad reinforced my formal learning about these therapies.  My personal experience combined with my professional learning, resulting in Deliberate Love.

NOTE 2: Matson's responses to my questions
   Thanks for the inclusive attitude!  I appreciate Jim’s work immensely and am delighted to be included in this discussion.  Thanks!
    1. For the column Jim mentions, I'd be grateful if you could send me a list of the other books required for your course.
    1. The other book I use is John Powell’s Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?  in addition to some other readings.  I teach other relationship courses that use articles and books by academics and more popular writers.
     2. Jim and I were talking about how often young love, kindergarten to teens, is often dismissed as puppy love or mere infatuation. I'm on a jag about how love should be a course or at least a topic in school from early age; it is hard for me to think of topics more important. As I recall the conversation, Jim said he thought that even early love can manifest issues similar to those that adults deal with.  If you agree on the importance of studying love even in grade school, would you write me a sentence saying so or a paragraph about how that might be approached?
  2. My paragraph:  “The importance of relationships in human existence is documented by legions of social scientists and medical professionals.  Learning how to relate to others in intimate and loving ways is fundamental to our emotional and physical health.  In an urbanized, highly differentiated  world adapting to technologies that increase our alienation and isolation, what could be more critical than teaching the complex nuances of loving and being loved by others?  As an outgrowth of the isolation and alienation, intimate connections with friends, family, lovers, and co-workers is even more paramount!   In a world that objectifies, commodifies and uses people instead of things (Erich Fromm), children and adults need guidance into healthy relationships and increased self-awareness from an early age.  Indeed, children would more easily embrace connecting with others than adults.”
    3. I'd also appreciate a short statement about why you selected Jim's book for your course.
  3. Robert’s Deliberate Love is ideal for a telecourse or workshop on Love because of its deep, accessible wisdom from therapeutic psychology and eastern philosophy; concise, profound, and practical.
     4. What is the best short way to give your name and identify your position(s)?
  4. Ron Matson, Ph.D. / Associate Professor and Chair in Sociology / Wichita State University / Wichita, KS.  Author of The Spirit of Sociology  and One of the Guys:  Masculinities in Social Context.


D T writes
     Seems as though the "Deliberate Love" approach changed Roberts in a manner resembling prayer!

D B writes
    . . . In looking for [this] article, I found many others I managed to file for safe-keeping, including one from April 27, 2011 (about the Sisters of Mercy and ‘sacred space”).  Please know that your ministry via the KC Star is effective, appreciated, and comforting.  There are times I call up my best friend . . . and make sure that he reads what you so eloquently have written. 

A conference for the open-minded

What do Freethinkers — atheists and others — have against religion? I put this question to Conrad Hudson, one of the leaders of SOMA, the Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics at the University of Kansas.
     Wearing a Harvard bracelet with the motto, “Good without God,” he said, “We are not against religious people. But we don’t understand why we should accept religious claims without evidence.
      “We don’t understand why people reject science and discriminate against gay people. We don’t understand why people who question are shunned by their families and excluded from friendships. We are not satisfied with faith as an answer,” he said.
     SOMA ( supports those who may feel isolated because they question religion. Its Reasonfest conference last year attracted 700 people. This year 1000 are expected Feb. 11 and 12 (Darwin’s birthday). Held at the KU Student Union Woodruff Auditorium, Reasonfest is free and open to everyone. Here are three of a dozen major speakers:
     Greg M. Epstein serves as Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University. His book, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe,” has been a New York Times bestseller.
     Jennifer Michael Hecht’s books include “Doubt: A History,” “The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology” and “The Happiness Myth.” She teaches at Columbia University.
     Darrel Ray, perhaps best known for his book, “The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture,” has degrees in both religion and psychology,
     Hudson thinks that religious and non-religious people should work together to solve community problems. He was inspired by an experience working in Chicago with Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core, where he was welcomed along with young people of many faiths.
     I asked Hudson about the so-called “New Atheists” — Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris  Christopher Hitchens and others — who are harsh in their criticisms of religion. I said the atheists I know are less polemical and more interested in dialogue.
     “Initially, critics of religion gave me confidence to speak out. But now my goal is to reduce discrimination against non-religious people by building understanding through dialogue, service, and educational events like Reasonfest,” he said.
     “I wish all religious people were as open to dialogue and service as you,” I replied. 
     Fragile and finite, we peer into the ultimate mysteries of the universe. Sometimes we think we should make others see as we do instead of listening to each other with an open mind.


R K writes
     I appreciated your article in today's paper.  B. also appreciated the last paragraph.


    Some people are so open-minded that their brains are coming out...

     And some so closed-minded, their brains have suffocated.

     Vern, the name of that group is amusing.  SOMA was the name of the mind control drug used by the government in Huxley's Brave New World.
     I think the atheists are letting us know they have something planned for us.

Vern, Conrad Hudson is not a student at Harvard.  Never was.

    The column indicates he is at the University of Kansas. It does not indicate he is or was a student at Harvard. Anyone can wear a Harvard bracelet. One can even purchase clothing, such a sweatshirts, with the word "Harvard" on them. One need not even be a student to wear such apparel. 

     Randall never mentioned did.

     "Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning." C.S. Lewis (former atheist)

    Comment removed.

     Those are mild epithets.  You should see the filth Christians spew against us.  Usually horribly misspelled, and in all caps.

     The name of that group, SOMA is amusing....SOMA was the name of the mind control drug that the government used in Huxley's Brave New World.
     And when Hudson talks about religious people rejecting science and discriminating, he is talking like someone who discriminates and who blames an entire group for the actions of different than someone who attacks all Blacks, Catholics, Jews, or Immigrants because of the actions of some. He ignores the fact that many of the greatest scientists in history were Christians, who believed they were investigating God's creation, and that there are many outspoken scientists today who are Christians, like Francis Collins, James McGrath, Kenneth Miller, Polkingshorne and many others.
     However, Vern, I can show you local atheists blogs...whose leaders will be attending this "open minded" conference... where they say the they want to "kill relgion", "end religion", and sites where the leaders of local groups have called Christians "psychotic", "delusional" and told them the they need to "crawl under a rock" and "shut up" and "keep their beliefs to themselves".
     In fact, it got so bad on the Bill Tammeus blog that he shut down comments. 
     And when Darell Ray calls relgion a virus, thats remember a leader who called Jews a bacillus?
     Oh yeah, these groups are really "open minded".

Jack Phillips
     The atheists I know who are angry, feel that way because of the abuse they get from Christians who seem to feel threatened by the possibility of ethical living without theism and mythology. Most of the atheists I know have actively studied Christianity and the Bible as well as other religions. Many of them see beyond the simpleminded hypothesis that only one religion is true and all the others false.

     The atheists I know are arrogant bullies how enjoy making fun of believers. They continually tell Christians how much smarter they are, etc.
     I have experienced that kind of abuse from them since middle school.  I have see no evidence that they are ethically superior in any way.
    Moreover, as has been pointed out in someone else's post, their name calling, and worse, is well documented on local blogs.
     Jack's remarks about the "simpleminded" believers is simply another case in point.

Ways of seeing the sun rise

I don’t know any scientists who are rattled when we talk about the sunrise, even though we learn in astronomy class that the sun only appears to mount the heavens. The correct answer on your exam is that the earth rotates, not that the sun ascends into the sky. Regardless, when you wake up on a camping trip, especially in the snow, it can be glorious.
     We use factually incorrect, absurd and metaphorical expressions comfortably in different situations. When Shelly calls out, “O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, . . . ” he does not expect the wind to hear him. Eliciting a metaphorical, not literal, response is his purpose.
     But scientists and religionists can get muddled if they fight in the same linguistic territory over terms like “purpose.” I wonder if this is happening in the Missouri legislature with a proposal that “intelligent design” be taught with evolution as part of the science curriculum.
     Intelligent design claims life is so complex that it could not have evolved on its own. It must have a designer. This is a variation on the 18th century argument that as a watch implies a watchmaker, so a complex universe implies an intelligent creator.
     But I think intelligent design theory is really a mask for an emotional conviction that the universe has purpose. It counters Darwin’s proof that species evolve by natural selection within changing environments.
     Many religious people want language to affirm that the universe is not accidental; it is   a divine design. Some scientists defend natural selection by unnecessarily excluding the possibility that God designed the universe to evolve through natural selection. Neither view is science;
it is how you look at the  same set of facts.
     The problem arises when folks on both sides use the metaphor of purpose for the facts as if it were scientific proof to support their positions.
     The human body is amazingly complex, not to mention the intricacy within the ecosphere which we don’t begin to understand. This may be evidence for design, but not proof since natural selection explains these phenomena.
     On the other hand, anyone with a backache can question whether the body is smartly constructed. Countless other examples of  defective design nonetheless do not prove that the universe is merely accidental.
     A believer may see the world as purposeful. But, like seeing the sun rise, this is a perspective, not a scientific fact. A non-believer may see the glory of the sun as accidental, but this is also a perspective, not a scientific fact. Perhaps  more valuable than an unwinnable metaphorical argument about design or purpose is the simple sense of wonder. 


C W writes
    I really appreciated the tone of your article, however, you seem to hold certain presupposition that I believe are scientifically inaccurate and perhaps represent your "emotional convictions." The presuppositions, as I understand your material, are:
     1) Darwin has PROVED "that species evolve by natural selection within changing environments."
     2) Complexity of the human body and the ecosphere cannot PROVE design "because natural selection explains these phenomena."
     3) "because natural selection explains these phenomena" Darwin thus PROVED his theory to be a scientific fact.
     4) Explanatory power is the measure of what constitutes scientific fact.
     From these it is obvious that your argument for not teaching intelligent design as part of the science curriculum rest specifically on your perceived explanatory power of natural selection.
     This is a very weak argument since the explanatory power of natural selection is undergoing a massive attack from within the science establishment.
     I have attached an article that I recently wrote which documents the above claim. Also, I have attached a Word document with a link to the book Epigenetics Principles of Evolution. The author of this book attacks the neo-Darwinian hegemony of modern science concerning the explanatory power of natural selection.
     Many scientists are calling for a paradigm shift in the basic theory of evolution. Perhaps design is the better explanation after all.
     I do hope you will respond to this email. At least let me know if you have received and read the attachements.

Vern responds
    One of the biggest gasps ever escaping from my mouth was when, in my graduate work at the University of Chicago, I spent several history of science class periods learning how difficult it is to offer an explanation of what an explanation is. My column only hints at that, but the problem of determining what is an explanation underlies my concern.
     Your summary of the column's argument seems to me to be fair. (Detail: I do not think the Darwinian approach depends on literally a single organism from which all life has evolved. Multiple origins seem possible to me. Similarly I do not think that gradualism is the only way evolution need be described. Cf Mayr. Curious that in your attached paper you cite Gould but I don't recall seeing his phrase, Punctuated equilibrium.)
     Also I am familiar with Epigenetics but I find that in no way troublesome to the argument I have presented. I assume additional evolutionary processes will be discovered as we look more closely at the amazing development of life.
    You state that
. . .  it is obvious that your argument for not teaching intelligent design as part of the science curriculum rest specifically on your perceived explanatory power of natural selection.