News for Sociology of Religion--Tue Apr 15 07:36:57 EST 1997

    MOSCOW—At a recent rally near Red Square to protest the Russian government's delays in paying salaries and pensions, people's rage quickly focused on a different culprit. (New York Times) (*)

    At least, it used to. Today, with families splintered, scattered and smaller than ever, America's seders are changing, observers say. The intermarriage rate, with more than half of America's Jews  (*)

    To some Roman Catholics, the annulment of a marriage is one of the few areas in which the church shows some flexibility in its doctrine. You can't use birth control, you can't have an abortion,

    PHILADELPHIA—In a long church rally Monday, called to promote racial reconciliation after several recent high-profile crimes, Mayor Edward Rendell joined Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam (New York Times) (*)

    On Tuesday, a collective wail will resound from countless throats across the land as fevered taxpayers scurry to the post office at the last minute to pay Uncle Sam his due.  (*)

    SAN FRANCISCO—Bob Hass, a writer and gay man in Sonoma, Calif., started practicing Buddhism about three years ago because he saw it as an open, nonjudgmental religion.  (*)



    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    MOSCOW—At a recent rally near Red Square to protest the Russian government's delays in paying salaries and pensions, people's rage quickly focused on a different culprit.

    ``Why are there no Russians in government?'' Zinaida Piskunova screeched. ``Why, why, why are there only Jews?'' She is 46, a rosy-cheeked collective farm worker from the city of Yaroslavl who wore a flowered kerchief and a sandwich board that read, ``Down With the Government, Zionist Know-It-Alls!''

    The people around her backed her up.

    ``It's true,'' one man said. ``First Livshits and Yavlinsky, then Berezovsky and now Nemtsov. And Chubais, he's probably a Jew too.''

    He was listing some of the most prominent Russian politicians associated with economic reform, even though not all are Jewish and not all support the policies of President Boris Yeltsin's government.

    But the presence of more Jews in high places than any time under the czars or since the Revolution of 1917 is something that some Russians are depicting as sinister.

    Frustrated with the wrenching economic and social upheaval that followed the collapse of Communism, and the Soviet Union, in 1991, and spurred on by politicians willing to tap their resentments, many people are returning to a traditional scapegoat: Jews.

    ``It is no longer shameful to be Jewish in Russia,'' said Tankred Golenpolsky, the editor of the International Jewish Newspaper, published here. ``And so there is a reflex reaction against that revival.''

    Golenpolsky, who also leads the Anti-Defamation Committee of the Russian Jewish Congress, which was founded last year, added: ``Nobody is hiding the fact they are Jewish anymore, and that plays on the nerves of many people, particularly during this economic crisis. People want a scapegoat.''

    Overt anti-Semitism is mostly at the fringes of society, and it has been flourishing there ever since the mid-1980s, when President Mikhail Gorbachev's program of glasnost unleashed all kinds of grass-roots chauvinism, from the Siberian writers and Russophile revivalists to its more virulent form in the pages of Pamyat and other extreme nationalist newspapers.

    The Anti-Defamation Committee classifies about 200 newspapers in Russia as openly anti-Semitic, but most are cheap newsletters with a small readership. Bigotry is most splashily displayed in the pages of the nationalist and pro-Communist newspaper Zavtra or in the public rantings of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist politician, and other purveyors of a Jewish conspiracy theory.

    There are isolated cases of vandalism and violence: a bomb went off in one of Moscow's main synagogues last year. And there are occasional reports of Jewish graves being desecrated in the provinces. But generally, there is scant evidence that militant anti-Semites are acting on their viler prejudices.

    The paradox of anti-Semitism in Russia today is that in most ways, life for Jews has never been better.

    The state-sponsored discrimination of the Soviet era has been abolished, opening doors to the highest branches of academia, business and government. Russians still brand Judaism as a nationality like Russian or Armenian ethnicity. But in new internal passports, not yet issued, citizens will no longer required to list their nationality.

    Russian Jews, who are estimated to number more than half a million, have re-established Judaism as a religion and a culture. Religious schools and synagogues are flourishing.

    All over Russia there are Hebrew schools and universities, Lubavitch communities and soup kitchens and kosher shops. As they prepare for Passover, Jews in Moscow can choose between matzoh imported from Israel or made in Russia.

    Emigration, which was negligible until Gorbachev opened the floodgates in 1989, peaked in 1991 and 1992, but since then it has slowed down, a sign of stability.

    Boris Berezovsky, a car dealer turned media, banking and real estate tycoon who is deputy chairman of the National Security Council, is one of the more prominent Jews in Moscow.

    Berezovsky is a subject of controversy in Russia, and there are legitimate questions about his business dealings, government contracts and influence in the Kremlin. But oddly, when he was appointed to his government post, Izvestia and other respected newspapers focused mainly on the fact that he once applied for Israeli citizenship.

    Communists and extreme nationalists are not shy about complaining that Jews control banks and the mass media. Berezovsky, whose company Logovaz owns a large share of Russia's largest television network, ORT, is twinned in the public imagination with Vladimir Gusinsky, another powerful banker, who owns the second-largest nongovernment network, NTV. Gusinsky is also chairman of the Russian Jewish Congress.

    Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, the country's chief architect of economic reform and, accordingly, one of the least popular politicians in Russia, is not Jewish. But his more extreme detractors do not believe that.

    The main Communist paper, Sovetskaya Rossiya, recently published a large cartoon of Yeltsin and Chubais together. Chubais is depicted as a snake, coiled around Yeltsin's body and whispering in his ear as the Russian president signs a decree. Stars of David are the scales along his reptilian tail.

    Some of the names most frequently cited as leaders of a Zionist plot to undermine the Russian government from within do not quite fit the job description. Aleksandr Livshits, the former finance minister, is Jewish. He was demoted in a recent Cabinet shuffle. Grigory Yavlinsky, a leading reform economist, is half-Jewish, but he is not in government. In fact, he is one of the government's most ardent liberal critics.

    Boris Nemtsov, the former governor of Nizhni Novgorod who recently became first deputy prime minister in charge of economic reform, is Jewish. In an interview, he denied that anti-Semitism was a problem for him personally.

    ``I have been elected three times, not by Communists but by ordinary voters, 93 percent of whom are Russians,'' he said, referring to the ethnic category that would exclude Jews. ``People tend to judge whether you are a thief or honest, competent or not.''

    But he acknowledged that the increased visibility of Jewish businessmen and government officials could become an issue.

    ``If Russia begins to get out of the crisis, it won't be a problem,'' Nemtsov said. ``If the situation in Russia gets worse, a scapegoat will be needed, and it will be easy to find it.''

    Some Jews say Nemtsov and Berezovsky are contributing to the problem by accepting high-level government jobs.

    ``I especially blame Berezovsky,'' said a Jewish scientist who works in the defense industry and insisted on anonymity. ``He should never have accepted a government job. He should know what kind of country we live in.''

    The scientist, 55, said he was convinced that a return of state-supported anti-Semitism was inevitable.

    ``I look at facts and at history,'' he said. ``Industry has collapsed, people aren't getting paid and people are looking for simple answers. The easiest explanation is `the Jews.''' He added, ``When things get worse—and they will—do you think the government is going to say, no, really, it's all our fault? They will also look for the easiest scapegoat.''

    But there are signs that anti-Semitism is not as widespread as many Russians believe. The American Jewish Committee sponsored a public opinion survey in January 1996 and concluded that open hostility to Jews was relatively low.

    Asked whether Jews have too much influence in society, only 14 percent of the 1,500 respondents said yes. Other minorities, particularly Chechens, drew far more negative responses.

    But much can change in a year. That is one reason that the Anti-Defamation Committee of the Russian Jewish Congress is preparing to conduct its own survey this month.

    Russia has a long history of state-sponsored pogroms and repression. Soviet anti-Semitism reached its peak under Stalin, when the so-called doctors' plot in 1953 served as a pretext to round up those branded ``enemies of the people'' and expel Jews from the government and universities. Official discrimination lingered into Gorbachev's tenure.

    The collapse of Communism in 1991 liberated Jews and also the Russian Orthodox Church, but religious freedom did little to open the mindset of many conservative priests and church elders, some of whom still insist that ``The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,'' a fictitious 1905 account of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, is genuine.

    Patriarch Aleksy II, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, is more ecumenically minded than his predecessors, but many of his bishops are not.

    Conservative church leaders still speak resentfully of the fact that there were many Jews among the early Bolsheviks.

    It is not a charge that Russian Jews dispute.

    ``We are a small minority, but we've never missed a barricade,'' Golenpolsky said wryly. ``It's in our nature.

    ``There were Jews who led the October Revolution, and there are Jews leading the revolution for democracy and economic reform. People have an absolute right not to love us, but we have to insist on our right to practice politics and commerce as well as our religion.''

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    @< @For observant Jews, the eight-day Passover holiday begins at the family dinner table, and it's wise to bring an appetite. There, the head of the household leads family and guests in the formal seder, a ritual of responsive reading and ceremonial wine-drinking that recalls the long-ago Jewish exodus from Egypt. But if rumbling stomachs can sometimes make the seder seem interminable, the feast that follows rewards the wait. The Passover meal—launched, frequently, with the beloved matzo ball soup—elicits the best effort any Jewish cook can muster.

    At least, it used to. Today, with families splintered, scattered and smaller than ever, America's seders are changing, observers say. The intermarriage rate, with more than half of America's Jews marrying outside the faith, also takes its toll on tradition.

    These factors may explain why Saul's Delicatessen and Restaurant in Berkeley has found its annual Passover dinners increasingly popular. Held on the first and second nights of the holiday (this year, next Monday and Tuesday), the evenings sell out well in advance, drawing people from as far as Palo Alto as much for the cultural experience as for the food.

    The highly heterogeneous crowd, according to Saul's manager Peter Levitt, includes traditional Orthodox Jews who don't have anywhere else to go, visitors passing through town, intermarried Jews who don't have the resources to put on a seder themselves, secular Jews who ``just want to feel part of something Jewish,'' and a lot of non-Jews brought in by Jewish friends.

    But, clearly, a large number of his customers on these evenings are what Levitt calls ``culinary Jews,'' a tag he applies to himself as well. ``They come together to share these meals because that's the last vestige for them of celebrating the religion,'' says Levitt. ``They still feel deeply about their heritage, and the best way to hold onto it is through food.''


    This phenomenon doesn't surprise Lani Raider, a Jewish culinary ethnographer in Berkeley. ``The foods of Passover are foods of transport—foods that take you back to Egypt in many ways,'' says Raider. At the seder, Jews taste bitter herbs (often horseradish) to remind them of their ancestors' unhappy life as slaves. They eat haroset, a thick fruit and nut mixture that symbolizes the mortar used in the slave work of brickmaking. Even the dryness of the matzo suggests the Egyptian desert, says Raider. ``A lot of people, even those not interested in the seder itself, have strong connections to foods that move them spiritually,'' she claims.

    To appeal to those looking for a taste of their past, Levitt's first-night menu this year will offer dishes from the Ashkenazic, or Eastern European, tradition common to most American Jews _ dishes such as short rib tzimmes (a sweet meat and vegetable stew) and gefilte fish with horseradish. On the second night, for the first time, he will prepare a Sephardic menu devoted to the foods of Mediterranean Jews.

    A former cook at Chez Panisse and Oliveto, Levitt says he struggles on these evenings to balance tradition with current California taste. ``The theme for us has been how to make this old food contemporary,'' says the chef, who wants his cooking to reflect its place. ``We're in Berkeley and it's springtime. We shop at Monterey Market. It's not Poland.''

    He uses local halibut or rockfish in his gefilte fish instead of the conventional Great Lakes whitefish. To lighten some dishes, he uses olive oil in place of chicken fat. Artichokes, asparagus and fava beans—harbingers of spring—brighten his two menus, a reminder that the holiday is a seasonal as well as a spiritual festival.

    To date, Levitt and his partner Karen Adelman have declined to organize a pre-meal religious service. Instead, each diner is handed a Haggadah, the manual that contains the readings, and a few customers use it at the table. Levitt also provides the ritual seder plate with its symbolic foods—among them, the haroset, the bitter herbs, a roasted shank bone and a roasted egg.

    ``Yes, it's a hybrid of what's supposed to be happening,'' says Adelman, ``but many, many of the ingredients are there.''


    For Susan Lobo, a Kensington anthropologist, Passover at Saul's has helped illuminate the religion of her ancestors. Her father was a non-practicing Jew, but his parents were strictly observant, so she had heard of the Passover rituals but never experienced them. Going to Saul's was a non-threatening introduction.

    ``I didn't quite know what the appropriate behavior might be,'' admits Lobo, who has now been twice, ``but they have a little brochure.'' (She means the Haggadah.) And the Jews in attendance watch out for the neophytes, she says. ``People at other tables have leaned over and said, `Oh, no, you don't do that. You drink this first.''' Adelman says other customers, unfamiliar with the seder plate, have been known to gnaw on the symbolic shank bone.

    For many Jews, celebrating Passover in a restaurant would have been unthinkable a generation ago. For some, it still is. ``It used to be more of a family thing,'' laments Rabbi Robert Sternberg, executive director of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis, Mo., and author of ``The Sephardic Kitchen.'' ``But today people find themselves in all sorts of alternative situations, and they're looking for something to do that will give them meaning.''

    Miami hotels do a booming business at Passover, says Sternberg, catering to elderly Jews whose children aren't nearby or to people who don't want to bother preparing a seder for just a few people. ``In my home, we bother for two,'' sighs the rabbi.

    To Lobo, these away-from-home Passovers highlight a classic human dichotomy. ``Anthropologists always talk about the ideal and the real,'' she says. Yes, a seder at home with grandparents, in-laws and cousins might be the cultural standard, but it's not often achievable. For Lucille Steinberg, a longtime New Yorker who moved to Emeryville three years ago, Saul's Passover dinner last year helped compensate for being far from the Jewish community she knew. But was it ideal? ```Under the circumstances' is the only way to put it,'' says Steinberg. ``If I was back East, it would not have been this way.''

    But in an era when people spend the majority of their food dollars on food eaten away from home, the rise of the restaurant seder is hardly surprising. ``It's so much more an instant holiday now,'' complains Raider. People may long for the Passover dishes and rituals they grew up on, but they crave convenience even more. In recent years, in Los Angeles supermarkets, Raider has spotted a matzo version of frosted breakfast cereal, matzo bagel mix, even matzo taco shells.

    Convenience clearly lures some of Saul's Passover clients. Curiosity draws others. But for many, the dinner appeals because it comfortably bridges past and present—the tradition-based religious seders of childhood with the circumstances of their adult life. ``It's a secular event,'' admits Adelman, ``but it's deeply Jewish and deeply cultural,'' and that's doubtless what keeps many customers coming back.

    Here are some of the dishes that will be served at this year's seders at Saul's.

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    c.1997 The Boston Globe


    To some Roman Catholics, the annulment of a marriage is one of the few areas in which the church shows some flexibility in its doctrine. You can't use birth control, you can't have an abortion, you're not supposed to engage in premarital sex.

    But if you find yourself in a bad marriage, the church will bend _ even though according to its theology marriage is a sacrament, blessed by God.

    Yet to many others, the act of annulment remains a vexing contradiction, a process that often forces one or both of the partners in a marriage to lie, essentially, by declaring that they were too immature or irresponsible at the time they married to really know what they were doing—whether they believe that or not.

    And the church compounds the unease, many say, by then declaring that the marriage never existed.

    It is these declarations that have upset the former wives of two prominent Massachusetts politicians, US Senator John F. Kerry and US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II. In the public protests of Julia Thorne, Kerry's former wife, and Sheila Rauch Kennedy lies the private anguish of many Catholics.

    Until the late 1960s, the church rarely granted annulments, confining them to such circumstances as severe mental illness, failure to consummate the marriage or the refusal to have children.

    But after the Second Vatican Council, in which the church modernized many of its practices, church officials decided that there could also be compelling psychological reasons for ending a marriage. Today, typical reasons for granting annulments include immaturity, lack of judgment, or unwillingness to assume the responsibilities of married life.

    Since the Second Vatican Council, the number of annulments granted to American Catholics has leaped from 450 in 1968 to more than 50,000 today. Pope John Paul II and other Vatican officials have complained that the US Catholic Church is too lenient in granting them.

    Catholic theologians interviewed say the granting of annulments is a sign of the progressiveness of the church.

    Annulments exist because the church considers marriage not just a legal contract but a divine sacrament that cannot be ``undone'' by man.

    The Catholic Church's refusal to recognize civil divorce is based on a Gospel passage; when Jesus was asked whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, he replied: ``What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.''

    An annulment means that at the time of their wedding, one or both partners was prevented from forming a ``sacramental bond.'' Only with an annulment can divorced Catholics who remarry receive Holy Communion, the central ritual of the church. Indeed, until 1977 Roman Catholics who entered into a second marriage without an annulment were automatically excommunicated.

    Contrary to what some Catholics believe, an annulment does not mean a true marriage never took place. Technically, church officials say, it is the sacrament, not the marriage relationship, that is declared null.

    Church officials say this is an example of the church's commitment to minister to divorced Catholics who want to remain faithful members of a church that does not recognize divorce.

    ``What would be the alternative?'' said the Rev. Thomas Rausch, chairman of the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ``Without the possibility of annulments, divorced Catholics would still be made to feel like they are no longer welcome in the church.''

    For many faithful Catholics an annulment can heal the guilt they feel over having divorced, said Sister Christine Schenk, coordinator of FutureChurch, a national church organization based in Cleveland. ``It's a way to put closure on something that was very painful,'' Schenk said.^

    @ Rauch Kennedy and Thorne have said they view annulments as violating the church's own position on the sanctity of marriage and as casting aspersions on their children.

    ``I could not understand how anyone could claim that our marriage had never been valid,'' Kennedy wrote in her just-published book, ``Shattered Faith,'' which chronicles her efforts to contest her husband's annulment.

    Thorne told the Globe that the church's approach to her annulment was ``disrespectful to me, ... aloof to any emotional issues and devoid of any sense of the humanity of what this means to me and my children.''

    Church officials say the children of annulled marriages are still considered legitimate in the eyes of the church. Annulments also can contain decrees prohibiting spouses from remarrying in the church unless they fulfill financial, emotional and other obligations to their children.

    In cases of physical or emotional abuse, some annulments prohibit abusive spouses from marrying in a Catholic church until they can prove they have sought therapy.

    To those who say the procedure is coldhearted—one of Thorne's criticisms was the impersonal tone of the letter from the church she received in the mail announcing the annulment was being sought _ theologians say the language befits the seriousness of the proceedings.

    Thorne's and Rausch's criticisms do resonate among some American Catholics. Nationwide, polls show that many Catholics are troubled by the annulment procedure.

    Gallup polls in the past two years showed that about 40 percent Catholics believe they should be able to remarry without an annulment, and 70 percent said they could still be good Catholics without obeying church teachings on divorce and remarriage.

    ``I believe annulments are a good thing, but we have a long ways to go in educating people about what they mean,'' said Brian Smith, professor of religion at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisc.

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=

    PHILADELPHIA—In a long church rally Monday, called to promote racial reconciliation after several recent high-profile crimes, Mayor Edward Rendell joined Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, in challenging residents of Philadelphia and the nation to put aside ethnic differences.

    Rendell became one of the few big-city mayors ever to share a podium with Farrakhan, a circumstance that was all the more unusual because Rendell is Jewish and Farrakhan is widely regarded as anti-Semitic. Representatives from the city's leading Jewish and Catholic organizations were invited to participate in the rally, but all declined.

    As the keynote speaker before an enthusiastic audience of more than 3,000 at the Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, Farrakhan praised Rendell, a popular Democrat, for ``his courage and strength to rise above emotion and differences that might be between us or our communities.''

    Farrakhan added: ``I believe, Mayor Rendell, that history will applaud your efforts.''

    Rendell, whose speech preceded Farrakhan's, commended the Nation of Islam for its emphasis on family values and self-sufficiency.

    He told the audience that many people had warned him against ``sharing a platform'' with a figure as controversial as Farrakhan.

    But, he said, the incidents that prompted the rally—the attack on a black woman, her son and nephew by a group of white men in February, and the fatal shooting of a white teen-ager by two black men in a robbery in the same neighborhood a month later—have taken a toll on the city.

    ``The real risk would be not to be willing to talk about our differences,'' he said.

    Seven white men have been charged in the first attack, and police have arrested two black men in connection with the second.

    The church rally, which lasted four hours, was a compromise negotiated by officials of the Nation of Islam, who wanted to help protest the incidents, and by Rendell, who wanted to preserve the city's peace, two weeks before a presidential summit here on volunteerism.

    The Nation of Islam originally intended to join a march led by black community groups through Grays Ferry, the working-class area where the incidents occurred. But Farrakhan agreed to appear in the more controlled atmosphere of a church rally if Rendell would join him as a speaker.

    Despite the strong objections of the city's leading Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, Rendell agreed, explaining that he was putting the needs of the city ahead of religious differences.

    Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Farrakhan described his deal with Rendell as ``a good sign'' that could lead to a wider dialogue with other prominent Jews.

    In his address Monday, Farrakhan spoke for nearly 90 minutes, often provoking such loud and appreciative responses that his next words were drowned out. Generally holding to the theme that the country risked moral decay if racism was not stamped out, he chastised blacks as well as whites for intolerance and predicted that the United States would fall like ancient Rome and Babylon if stronger efforts were not made toward reconciliation.

    ``American is the golden chalice on the outside, but filled with filth and abomination on the inside,'' he said. ``And here we are at a fork in the road.''

    But the country ``can be healed when we participate in her healing,'' Farrakhan added. ``We have to recognize that she is sick.''

    As in previous speeches, Farrakhan sometimes wandered far afield to make a point, drawing on an eclectic mix of issues including his support for the return to a gold standard, his trip to Libya, Alan Greenspan's power as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, the need for cutting federal taxes to make a greater investment in cities, Palestinian-Israeli relations and Tiger Woods' victory in the Masters golf tournament on Sunday.

    At no time, however, did he make disparaging remarks about his frequent targets of criticism, Jews and Catholics, other than to express disappointment that their representatives had chosen not to participate in the rally. He said their absence stemmed from his reputation as ``a hater, a bigot and anti-Semite.''

    ``But I confess to the world,'' he said solemnly, ``I'm not that.''

    As the church was filling up Monday morning, the march in Grays Ferry began with about 1,000 protesters, almost all of them black, and about the same number of police officers, who kept them separated from several hundred white neighbors and other bystanders. At one point, white residents turned their backs as marchers approached, prompting one marcher to shout, ``If I were afraid, I'd turn my back, too.''

    Sonia Lonon, a community representative for the city who is black, watched in dismay, expressing sorrow that blacks and whites did not march together.

    ``It's all about fear,'' Ms. Lonon said, reflecting a common feeling in the neighborhood. ``They're afraid of young blacks. Black people are afraid of Irish Catholics. Why can't we get together to know each other? If we got to know each other, we wouldn't all be so afraid.''

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    c.1997 Fort Worth Star-Telegram=

    On Tuesday, a collective wail will resound from countless throats across the land as fevered taxpayers scurry to the post office at the last minute to pay Uncle Sam his due.

    Most will fold the forms, sign the check, stuff the envelope and affix the stamp with chagrin, resentment and grudging relief that the agony of blurry-eyed calculations has finally passed—at least for this year, and assuming that the minions of the Internal Revenue Service perform the torment of an audit on someone else.

    Righteous indignation at the very notion of paying taxes is part of the American genetic code. As a certain tea party long ago in Boston Harbor illustrates, the impulse is long-standing.

    For most Americans, antipathy against virtually all taxation as a malevolent form of tyranny is so deeply ingrained that few realize, much less acknowledge, that the United States imposes about the lowest tax burden among the Western industrial nations. For folks who despise taxes on general principles, such facts are irrelevant and probably subversive.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes, these folks would contend, misspoke himself when he argued that taxes are the price we pay for civilization.

    Every election cycle—and usually in between—politicians are at their most energetic when decrying the bane of taxes, some going so far as to compare their collection with outright thievery. Walter Mondale sealed his political doom as the Democratic presidential candidate against Ronald Reagan in 1984 when he actually promised to raise taxes to help lift the government from the pit of its deficit. The voters were not amused.

    Americans oppose taxes with almost religious fervor, which is more than a little ironic when considered in light of the teachings of the nation's three most influential religious traditions.

    In a New York Times article last year by Peter Steinfels, Rabbi David Wolpe of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York expressed concern at the view of many politicians and their constituents that taxation was nothing more than official larceny.

    ``Judaism's view is just the opposite,'' Wolpe said. ``As far back as the Bible, where you owed tithes of all sorts, there has always been an obligation to contribute to the good of the whole.''

    From the Protestant perspective, the Rev. Max Stackhouse of Princeton Theological Seminary told Steinfels that the ``classical tradition'' in Protestantism has historically taught that ``there is a positive duty to support the political powers.''

    The Rev. Bryan Hehir, a Roman Catholic priest who teaches social ethics at Harvard Divinity School, emphasized the Catholic teaching that human beings are inherently social creatures with natural responsibilities for the care and nurturing of others. Paying taxes to the state, he said, is one of the ways that people fulfill those duties.

    ``It's always news to Catholics,'' Hehir said, ``to hear that something they regard as (a) totally secular and (b) nothing but a burden, is in fact the exercise of a virtue.''

    These thoughts are somewhat at odds with the views expressed by certain conservative Christian organizations that find the state's role in ministering to the needs and infirmities of society to be ... well, morally repugnant. In that view, then, taxes become not the exercise of a virtue but an unavoidable evil, or as Steinfels wrote, ``at least as unavoidable as one's tax lawyer can make them.''

    Bob Dole expressed a widespread belief during his 1996 presidential campaign that has become an article of faith for many, if not most, Americans. He implied that taxation was the moral equivalent of theft. ``It's your money,'' he said.

    That notion, too, contrasts with the theological proposition of a providential God who ordains, or at least tolerates, government as one of a number of worldly structures to perform the tasks of caring for common human needs. By that reckoning, it's really God's money, placed in stewardship—with government as well as individuals—to accomplish the ends of charity and justice.

    But where taxes are concerned, that goes from preaching to meddling, and the fiscal foxholes are crawling with secular atheists.

    This is especially true when the tax discussion turns to ``how much.'' Modern-day advocates of a ``flat tax'' are likely to find serious fault with traditional Jewish and Christian teachings of ``proportionality'' of tax burdens. Even Jesus of Nazareth, who instructed his compatriots in Palestine to render unto Caesar, said, ``For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.''

    Religious leaders, however, who defend progressive tax structures—the proportion of tax rising in relation to the blessings of material wealth—should anticipate the same passionate opposition that was shown by angry, stone-hurling Israelites against their prophets who bore unpleasant tidings.

    Something there is about April 15 that causes some folks to lose their religion.

    (Tommy Denton is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit the Star-Telegram's online services on the World Wide Web: www.startext.net; www.arlington.net; and www.netarrant.net)

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    c.1997 San Francisco Examiner

    SAN FRANCISCO—Bob Hass, a writer and gay man in Sonoma, Calif., started practicing Buddhism about three years ago because he saw it as an open, nonjudgmental religion.

    No surprise then that he was confused and distraught to learn of published statements by the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of many Buddhists around the world, declaring certain homosexual acts to be ``sexual misconduct.''

    ``It was upsetting,'' said Hass, a member of the Gay Buddhist Fellowship. ``I wanted to learn more about the context in which it was said.''

    The context was a book called ``Beyond Dogma,'' published last year, in which the Dalai Lama wrote that oral and anal sex were proscribed for men and women.

    However, what added to the confusion were other apparently contradictory statements from the Dalai Lama indicating his approval of same-sex love.

    A group of gay Buddhists who have called on him to address the issue will get an audience with him in June, when the Dalai Lama visits San Francisco as a featured speaker at a conference on nonviolence sponsored by Tibet House in New York.

    The passages in question come from Buddhist teachings that date back thousands of years. The teachings also place restrictions on sex with respect to time and place. For example, sex is not allowed near temples or during daylight hours.

    In ``Beyond Dogma,'' the Dalai Lama writes: ``A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs created for sexual intercourse and nothing else. To have sexual relations with a prostitute paid by you and not by a third person does not, on the other hand, constitute improper behavior. All these examples define what is and what is not proper sexual behavior according to Buddhist morality.

    ``Homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact.''

    Eva Herzer, president of the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet and coordinator of the meeting, said: ``The statements that appear to be discriminatory against gays and lesbians are not; they apply to straight people as well.''

    One of the most vocal of the gay Buddhists is Steve Peskind, co-founder of the Buddhist AIDS Project in San Francisco. In the January newsletter of the Gay Buddhist Fellowship, sent to almost 600 members worldwide, Peskind wrote an open letter to the Dalai Lama pointing out the inconsistencies in his statements and their potential harmful effects.

    ``Comments in `Beyond Dogma' contributed to anti-homosexual attitudes around the world,'' Peskind said in an interview. ``A growing number of gay Buddhists are reading the Dalai Lama's teachings, wondering what the hell is this.''

    While the degree of distress caused by the remarks varies widely among gay Buddhists, there is agreement on one point: That the Dalai Lama has agreed to sit down to a meeting is an obvious sign of his willingness to discuss the issue and, Peskind and others hope, clear up his position on the matter.

    ``The Tibetan issue has been receiving very positive support from the gay and lesbian community,'' said Herzer. ``I would like to see a much more clear statement from His Holiness supporting the gay and lesbian community.''

    Herzer and Peskind, sensitive to a campaign by the government of China to discredit the Dalai Lama, are eager to put the meeting in a positive light. The exiled political and spiritual leader fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese army, which has occupied Tibet since 1950. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent struggle for Tibetan autonomy.

    ``I am quite optimistic His Holiness will come out with answers that will satisfy everyone,'' Herzer said.



    Some scholars believe the ambiguity of the teachings lies in who their audience is: someone who has taken monastic or lay vows or for Buddhists in general.

    Regardless, Jeffrey Hopkins, professor of Tibetan studies at the University of Virginia, said the texts had potentially damaging psychological effects.

    ``It is extremely important that homosexuals not feel bad about who they are,'' said Hopkins, a gay Buddhist who served as the Dalai Lama's chief English interpreter from 1979 to 1989. ``Since we do indeed use these organs, it could easily make someone feel bad about themselves.''

    Peskind hopes one outcome of the meeting, which the Dalai Lama's office has limited to seven participants, will be a statement on universal human rights for gays and lesbians.

    ``Gay men and women all over the world are experiencing murder, torture and suicide due to attitudes against homosexual behavior,'' said Peskind.

    The reaction to Peskind's article in the newsletter was split between two camps—those who cared and those who didn't _ according to Hass, the newsletter's editor at the time.

    In the view of some, the Dalai Lama is only one of many Buddhist teachers. There is no pope or final authority in Buddhism. Practitioners are encouraged to question and interpret and make decisions for themselves.

    When Scott Hunt, a San Francisco writer and gay Buddhist, read the passage, ``I just laughed at it. In Buddhism, the individual is always the ultimate judge of reality and truth.''

    On the other hand, the Dalai Lama is more than just another monk, some argued. He's a world-renowned Nobel Peace laureate whose words carry weight far beyond the Buddhist community.

    ``Because the Dalai Lama is such a public figure, we felt there's a greater responsibility to be accountable,'' Hass said. ``What he says will be heard by more people; therefore, it could have a harmful affect.''

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