Category Archives: Religion

Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah at the White House

Posted by: Audiegrl
Written by Kori Schulman

Last night, President Obama, Vice President Biden and the First Lady welcomed friends and leaders from the Jewish community to celebrate the second night of Hanukkah at the White House. “So on this second night of Hanukkah,” said President Obama, “Let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy. Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.”

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Before lighting the menorah, the President delivered remarks:

Now, tonight, we gather to celebrate a story as simple as it is timeless. It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly, and the Holy Temple — including the holy of holies — had been desecrated.

It was then that a small band of believers, led by Judah Maccabee, rose up to take back their city and free their people.  And when the Maccabees entered the temple, the oil that should have lasted for a single night ended up burning for eight.

That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair.  And in the 2,000 years since, in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.

And as we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we may all be free. Let us pray for the members of our military who guard that freedom every day, and who may be spending this holiday far away from home.

Let us also think of those for whom these candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future — the men, women and children of all faiths who still suffer under tyranny and oppression.

That’s why families everywhere are taught to place the menorah in public view, so the entire world can see its light. Because, as the Talmud teaches us, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.”

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

He continued, explaining how the menorah and the family who helped light it both stand as symbols of that faith:

This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water.   Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold.  And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.

And that feeling is shared by Susan Retik. It’s a feeling they know all too well.  After her husband, David, was killed on September 11th, Susan could have easily lost herself in feelings of hopelessness and grief.  But instead, she turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission — co-founding “Beyond the 11th,” a group that reaches out to Afghan widows facing their own struggles.

So on this second night of Hanukkah, let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy.  Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.”

Ed. Note: In August 2010, Susan Retik was awarded the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal for advancing women’s rights and the power of America’s ideals. The Medal is among the highest honors a civilian can recieve. Watch a video of her story here.

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle Host Celebration for Jewish American Heritage Month

Posted by: Audiegrl

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle, and Vice President Joseph Biden watch performance during a reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month May 27, 2010 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images North America)


President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle held on Thursday afternoon a reception at the White House in honor of the Jewish American Heritage Month in front of a distinguished group conformed by senators, representatives, entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes and former Major League pitcher Sandy Koufax, the White House said.

The diversity of talents and accomplishments represented in this room underscores the vast contributions that Jewish Americans have made to this country. Even before we were a nation, we were a sanctuary for Jews seeking to live without the specter of violence or exile,” Obama said in his speech.

Remarks by the President at Reception in Honor of Jewish American Heritage Month

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Rima Fakih, Miss Michigan & Arab-American, Crowned 2010 Miss USA

Posted by: Audiegrl

Miss Michigan Rima Fakih is crowned Miss USA 2010 Sunday, May 16, 2010 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

AP~ Lebanese immigrant Rima Fakih says it was a certain look from Donald Trump that tipped her off that she had won the 2010 Miss USA title.

The 24-year-old Miss Michigan beat out 50 other women to take the title Sunday night, despite nearly stumbling in her evening gown.

She told reporters later that she believed she had won after glancing at pageant owner Trump as she awaited the results with the first runner-up, Miss Oklahoma USA Morgan Elizabeth Woolard.

“That’s the same look that he gives them when he says, ‘You’re hired,'” on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” she said.

“She’s a great girl,” said Trump, who owns the pageant with NBC in a joint venture.

Fakih took top honors at the pageant at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip after strutting confidently in an orange and gold bikini, wearing a strapless white gown that resembled a wedding dress and saying health insurance should cover birth control pills.

Fakih, an Arab-American from Dearborn, Mich., told pageant organizers her family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. She moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York, where she attended a Catholic school. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003.

Pageant officials said historical pageant records were not detailed enough to show whether Fakih was the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win the Miss USA title. The pageant started in 1952 as a local bathing suit competition in Long Beach, Calif.

Fakih told reporters she sold her car after graduating college in Michigan to help pay for her run in the Miss Michigan USA pageant.

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Filed under Christianity, Fashion, Islam/Muslim, Michigan, Uncategorized, Women's Issues

The Evangelical “Mainstream” Insanity Behind the Michigan “End Times” Militia

Posted by: Betsm

Written by Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer

NYT Best-selling Author Frank Schaeffer

A federal prosecutor in Michigan says authorities decided to arrest members of the Hutaree Christian militia after learning “they were prepared to kill.”

When I first learned of the news I went to the Hutaree Militia homepage and was struck by the fact that their site included links to a number of evangelical “End Times” sites like that of the Jack Van Impe ministries.

In the 1970s and 80s I appeared several times with Jack Van Impe on his TV program. His act was to predict the “imminent” return of Jesus. My act was to raise money for my latest far religious right effort to make abortion illegal.

As the son of well known evangelicals and far right leader Francis Schaeffer I was in the middle of the chain of events that led to the arrests of men prepared to kill cops for Jesus. The rhetoric we in the early pro-life movement unleashed combined, with the apocalyptic fantasies of the fundamentalist evangelicals, is a deadly brew.

As I describe in detail in my books Crazy For God and Patience With God this movement has a deep evangelical background. In fact I’ve been predicting violence from these people for years now, something I talk about in detail in Patience With God (from which I drew material for this article since I have a whole chapter there about the “Left Behind” cult).

My warnings have been largely ignored by the mainstream media who haven’t a clue as to the sort of religious paranoia boiling in the Tea Party and other movements.

Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of sixteen novels (so far!) represents everything that is most deranged about religion. What happened with this militia group is that their paranoid, deranged fantasy jumped from the page into sick brains and was turned into action.

The Left Behind novels have sold 70 million of copies while spawning an “End Times” cult, or rather egging it on. People like Jack Van Impe have built whole TV empires pushing this cult. Combined with the Fox News fantasy take on Obama and the fact he is black, the pot just boiled over in Michigan.

Such products as Left Behind wall paper, screen savers, children’s books, and video games have become part of the ubiquitous American background noise. Less innocuous symptoms include people stocking up on assault rifles and ammunition, adopting “Christ-centered” home school curricula, fearing higher education, embracing rumor as fact, and learning to love hatred for the “other,” as exemplified by a revived anti-immigrant racism, the murder of doctors who do abortions, and even a killing in the Holocaust Museum. And now we have a cult/militia dedicated to the same idea.

Here is what’s on the Hutaree Militia homepage:

As Christians we all are a part of the Souls of the Body of Christ, the one true church of Christ… This is the belief of the Hutaree soldier, as should the belief of all followers in Christ be.

We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. All Christians must know this and prepare, just as Christ commanded. Luke 22:35-37…This clearly states the reason for the training and preparation of the Hutaree.

Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment. The only thing on earth to save the testimony and those who follow it, are the members of the testimony, til the return of Christ in the clouds…

The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it. We will reach out to those who are yet blind in the last days of the kingdoms of men and bring them to life in Christ. Daniel 11:32-35, “Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. 33, “And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. 34, “Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join them by intrigue. 35 “And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time.”

You can find the news we find in some of the places we have in the information sources section. Also you can get gear from some of the choice places we have on gear links…

No, I am not blaming Jenkins and LaHaye’s product line for the plot to murder cops or any other evil intent or result. What I am saying is that feeding the paranoid delusions of people on the fringe of the fringe contributes to a dangerous climate that may provoke violence in a few individuals.

A time-out for disclosure is in order.

I knew Jerry Jenkins quite well many years ago, and we worked on a baseball book project together, with me trying — and failing — to get his book made into a movie. I also have known Tim LaHaye for years, and some thirty years ago we shared the platform at several fundamentalist far right events. I’m betting that they mean well. It seems to me that they also have no idea what they have helped unleash. You can be very decent and very blind.

That said, the evangelical/fundamentalists — and hence, from the early 1980s until the election of President Obama in 2008, the Religious Right as it informed U.S. policy through the then dominant Republican Party — are in the grip of an apocalyptic Rapture cult centered on revenge and vindication. This End Times death wish is built on a literalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

Given that Revelation is now being hyped as the literal — even desired — roadmap to Armageddon, it’s worth pausing to note that it’s nothing more than a bizarre pastoral letter that was addressed to seven specific churches in Asia at the end of the first century by someone (maybe John or maybe not) who appears to have been far from well when he wrote it. In any case, the letter was not intended for use outside of its liturgical context, not to mention that it reads like Jesus on acid.

The Left Behind series is really just recycled evangelical/fundamentalist profit taking from scraps of “prophecy” left over from an earlier commercial effort to mine the vein of fearsome End Times gold. A book called The Late Great Planet Earth was the 1970s incarnation of this nonsense. It was written by Hal Lindsey, a “writer” who dropped by my parents’ ministry several times.

Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth interpreted Revelation for a generation of paranoid evangelicals who were terrified of the Soviet Union and communism and were convinced that the existence of the modern State of Israel was the sign that Jesus was on the way in our lifetimes, as Lindsey claimed.

After everything predicted in the book came to nothing, Lindsey rewrote and “updated” his “interpretations” in many sequels.

According to Jenkins and LaHaye, who have taken over the Hal Lindsey franchise of apocalypse-for-fun-and-profit and expanded it into a vast industry, the “chosen” will soon be airlifted to safety. The focus on the “signs” leading up to this hoped-for aeronautical excursion is understandably no longer the defunct U.S.S.R. but the ripped-from-the-headlines gift that keeps on giving: the Middle East. Check out the accused cop killer’s website and you’ll find a preoccupation with the Middle East.

The key to understanding the popularity of this series (and the whole host of other End Times “ministries” from the ever weirder Jack-the-Rapture-is-coming!-Van-Impe to the smoother but no less bizarre pages of Christianity Today magazine) isn’t some new or sudden interest in prophecy, but the deepening inferiority complex suffered by the evangelical/fundamentalist community.

The words left behind are ironically what the books are about, but not in the way their authors intended. The evangelical/fundamentalists, from their crudest egocentric celebrities to their “intellectuals” touring college campuses trying to make evangelicalism respectable, have been left behind by modernity. They won’t change their literalistic, anti-science, anti-education, anti-everything superstitions, so now they nurse a deep grievance against “the world.” This has led to a profound fear of the “other.”

Jenkins and LaHaye provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the “elite.” They do theologically what Sarah Palin does politically: divide the world and America into “Them” and Us.”

The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last everyone will know “we” were right and “they” were wrong. They’ll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk us away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, “I accept Jesus as my personal savior” and join our side while there was still time! Even better: Jesus will kill all those smart-ass, Democrat-voting, over-educated people who have been mocking us!

All the folks in Michigan did was decide to start the killing a little early.

Knowingly or unknowingly, Jenkins and LaHaye cashed in on years of evangelical/fundamentalists’ imagined victim-hood — something that is now key to understanding the Tea Party movement.

I say imagined, because the born-agains had one of their very own, George W. Bush, in the White House for eight long, ruinous years and also dominated American politics for the better part of thirty years before that. Nevertheless, their sense of being a victimized minority is still very real — and very marketable. Whether they were winning politically or not, they nurtured a mythology of persecution by the “other.” Evangelical/fundamentalists believed that even though they were winning, somehow they had actually lost.

Most of that sense of lost battles is related to the so-called culture wars issues in which evangelical/fundamentalists did not fare so well, from the legalization of abortion to gay rights. But rather than admitting that they were often losing the arguments, or had come across as so mean (or plain dumb) that few outsiders wanted to be like them, they blamed everyone else, from the courts to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the New York Times, and the “left-wing media.” Just about any scapegoat would do to deny or disguise the simple fact that fewer Americans wanted to follow the evangelical/fundamentalist Church Ladies into their gloomy cave (and/or the never-never land of the Rapture) and park their brains there.

I used to be part of the self-pitying, whining, evangelical/fundamentalist chorus.

I remember going on the Today Show with host Jane Pauley back in the late 1970s (or early 1980s). I debated with the head of the American Library Association about my claim that our evangelical/fundamentalist books weren’t getting a fair shake from the “cultural elites.” We Schaeffers were selling millions of books, but the New York Times never reviewed them. I made the point that we were being ignored by the “media elite,” which was somewhat ironic, given that I had been invited to appear on Today to make that claim.

I dropped out of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture soon after that Today appearance (years later I was back on Today in my secular writer incarnation, being interviewed about a book of mine on the military/civilian divide, but I decided not to mention that I’d been on the show about thirty years before in what seemed like either another lifetime or an out-of-body experience.

Others carried on where I left off, pushing the victimhood mythology to the next generation of evangelical/fundamentalists, and they have cultivated a following among the terminally aggrieved based on ceaselessly warning them about “the world.”

A host of evangelical/fundamentalist Cassandras tour college campuses reinforcing their followers’ perennial chip-on-the-shoulder attitude by telling fearful evangelical/fundamentalist students to hold fast against the secular onslaught.

Sometimes right-wing paranoia takes an ugly twist. A website maintained by James Von Brunn, an avowed racist and anti-Semite well known to the netherworld of white supremacy — and the assassin who killed a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in June of 2009 — said that Brunn tried to carry out a “citizen’s arrest” in 1981 on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, whom he accused of “treason.” When he was arrested outside the room where the board was meeting, he was carrying a sawed-off shotgun, a revolver, and a knife. Police said he planned to take members of the Fed hostage.

“Mainstream” (in other words, slightly less nutty and less violent) religious-right Republicans have been saying the same thing as Brunn about the Fed for years, particularly the so-called “dominionists” who believe it’s their job to reestablish God’s dominion on earth. They preach Old Testament-style vengeance and loony gold-standard “economics” from many “respectable” pulpits. They also hate America (as it is), want a revolution in the name of God, and espouse “pro-life” beliefs, anti-gay hate, racism, and far-right Republican politics. They take the Republican anti-government propaganda to the next step and say that even paying taxes is “unconstitutional.” I know them well.

I knew the founders of the dominionist movement — people like the late Reverend Rousas John Rushdoony, the father of “Christian Reconstructionism” and the modern evangelical/fundamentalist home school movement. Rushdoony (whom I met and talked with several times) believed that interracial marriage, which he referred to as “unequal yoking,” should be made illegal. He also opposed “enforced integration,” referred to Southern slavery as “benevolent,” and said that “some people are by nature slaves.”

Many evangelical leaders deny holding Reconstructionist beliefs, but Beverly and Tim LaHaye (of Concerned Women for America and the co-author of the novels we’re talking about in this chapter), Donald Wildmon (of the American Family Association), and the late D. James Kennedy (of Coral Ridge Ministries and a friend of mine before I left the movement) served alongside Rushdoony on the secretive Coalition for Revival, a group formed in 1981 to “reclaim America for Christ.” I went to some of the early meetings.

Many evangelical/fundamentalists can’t get enough of this garbage.

They’ve been sucking it up since the early 1970s, and now, in the Left Behind books, the message has gone viral.

The expanding Left Behind entertainment empire also feeds the dangerous delusions of Christian Zionists, who are convinced that the world is heading to a final Battle of Armageddon and who see this as a good thing! Christian Zionists, led by many “respectable” mega-pastors — including Reverend John Hagee — believe that war in the Middle East is God’s will. In his book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee maintains that Russia and the Arabs will invade Israel and then will be destroyed by God. This will cause the Antichrist — the head of the European Union — to stir up a confrontation over Israel between China and the West.

Perhaps, in the era of Obama, Hagee will do a fast rewrite and say that President Obama is the Antichrist, because the same folks who are into Christian Zionism are also into the far, far loony right of the Republican Party represented by oddities like Sarah Palin. These are the same people who insist that President Obama is a “secret Muslim,” “not an American,” and/or “a communist,” “more European than American,” or whichever one of those contradictory things is worse — not like us anyway, that’s for sure.

Conclusion:

The truth is that the “crazies” in Michigan are just acting on what millions of evangelicals say they believe and I don’t only mean about the so called End Times. I also mean that these days the Tea Party movement is spouting a rhetoric of doom and extremism that holds that the American government and even the nation is no longer legitimate. Add in the theology and you have a self-fulfilling “prophecy” of Armageddon. Sadly we have not seen the last of such actions.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back

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During Passover, President Obama And First Lady Michelle Host Second Annual White House Seder

Posted by: Audiegrl

President Barack Obama and the First Family mark the beginning of Passover with a Seder with friends and staff in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, March 29, 2010. That’s Lisa Kohnke of the Office of Public Engagement to the President’s right at the table, and Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki to his left, who you may know from such White House blogs as this one.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Nuns Show Support for Healthcare Bill

Posted by: Bluedog89

Nuns show support for the hotly-debated healthcare reform bill.

AP ~ In a rare public disagreement that will reverberate among the nation’s 70 million Catholics, leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 nuns sent lawmakers a letter urging lawmakers to pass the Senate health care bill. Expected to come before the House by this weekend, the measure contains abortion funding restrictions that the bishops say don’t go far enough.

“Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions,” said the letter signed by 60 leaders of women’s religious orders. “It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments … in support of pregnant women. This is the real pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life Committee have denounced the bill as a backdoor subsidy for abortion. But the nuns and the Catholic Health Association – representing some 600 hospitals – say restrictions in the Senate bill would still prevent taxpayer funding for abortion, although the legal mechanism for doing so is different from what the bishops prefer.

“This is politics; this isn’t a question of faith and morals,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a national Catholic social activism lobby. “We are the ones who work every day with people who are suffering because they don’t have health care. We cannot turn our backs on them, so for us, health care reform is a faith-based response to human need.”

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Future Pop Stars Risk Their Lives To Sing for Freedom

Written by: Bluedog89

Award-winning film "Afghan Star - The Documentary." Promotional poster by Zeitgeist Films.

The award-winning “Afghan Star – The Documentary,” showcases the “American Idol”-like pop competition “Afghan Star” that is sweeping Afghanistan.

Since the TV show’s inception in 2005, its popularity has spread like wildfire, with “Afghan Star” contestants chosen despite gender and voted on democratically by the general public via cell phone.

The documentary follows several contest participants as they literally sing for their lives, particularly the women, who are judged harshly by the still-mostly conservative public that was once dominated by the Taliban.

The film is available on DVD and will be featured on HBO this month.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Documentary, HBO, Middle East, Movies, Music, Pop, Pop Culture, Religion, Sexism, Television, TV Shows, Women's Issues, World