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News for Sociology of Religion--Sat Apr 26 05:49:37 EST 1997

  • TIBET, THE DALAI LAMA AND THE MEANING OF PASSOVER
    The Passover seder, the festive meal at which Jews tell again the story of the biblical Israelites' liberation from Egyptian bondage, provides ample space for both reflection and celebration. (New York Times) (*)

  • NEW DIVIDE EMERGES IN ISRAELI POLITICS
    When Mr Aryeh Deri, leader of Shas, the ultra- Orthodox party in Mr Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-led coalition, addressed a huge rally this week, he tried to unleash the genie of ethnic nationalism.  (*)

  • No headline.
    That comment leads this column because of what it says and where it was made. Paul Marshall, a writer and teacher on religious persecution, (New York Times)

  • (REPEATING FOR ALL NEEDING)
    House Speaker Don Aldridge is my hero. I hope he stays in office forever. Arizona politics without Aldridge would be like a day without  (*)

  • CHASTITY IS VITAL FOR HOMOSEXUALS TO GAIN SANCTITY
    The Globe and Mail with Reuters News Agency Canadian Catholics welcomed yesterday the Vatican's publication



    TIBET, THE DALAI LAMA AND THE MEANING OF PASSOVER

    By GUSTAV NIEBUHR<

    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    The Passover seder, the festive meal at which Jews tell again the story of the biblical Israelites' liberation from Egyptian bondage, provides ample space for both reflection and celebration. But while the particular story, drawn from the biblical book of Exodus, is fundamental to Jewish history, its themes of exile, slavery and freedom lend it a currency that allow groups and individuals to discover in it new levels of personal meaning.

    Calling attention to this universal element, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington on Thursday played host to a seder whose principal guest was the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet.

    One need not wonder too long what significance the Passover story might hold for the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959, when the Chinese army put down an insurrection in Tibet, destroying monasteries and driving many Buddhist monks and scholars into hiding.

    The Dalai Lama, said Rabbi David Saperstein, the center's director, ``understood the themes'' expressed in the Haggadah, the text that recounts the Israelites' journey from slavery to freedom. ``He was very, very moved by the power of the liturgy,'' the rabbi added.

    The event, a Passover Seder Freedom Celebration, had been in the works for some time, the centerpiece of an effort to promote among American Jews an awareness of restrictions on religion imposed by the Chinese government on Tibet.

    In an opinion column in Reform Judaism magazine recently, Rodger Kamenetz, author of ``The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India'' (HarperCollins, 1994), wrote that when Jews ``recall our own affliction in Egypt, let us recall as well the affliction of the Tibetans today.''

    Kamenetz asked, too, that Jews dedicate to the Tibetans the reading in the seder of Psalm 126 (``When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion . . .'')

    Even before Thursday's event, the Dalai Lama indicated that he recognized the power of the Exodus story. ``In our dialogue with rabbis and Jewish scholars,'' he said, in a statement released early last month, ``the Tibetan people have learned about the secrets of Jewish spiritual survival in exile: one secret is the Passover seder.''

    Afterwards, according to a transcript released by the center, the Dalai Lama said Tibetans ought to ``copy some of the Jewish determination and the techniques they have used to keep their identity, their religious faith, their traditions under difficult circumstances.''

    More than 50 people attended the event, including representatives of Washington's Reform, Conservative and Orthodox communities. Saperstein said many Jewish participants felt a strong sense of pride that their ancient story of liberation had such a striking contemporary resonance.

    Reflecting on the reading of the Haggadah, Saperstein said he had thought that ``you could have been talking about the Tibetan people as easily as the Jewish people.''

    In recent years, there have been an increasing number of seders similar to this one, devoted to social themes or dedicated to groups struggling with oppression.

    Haggadahs have been adapted to incorporate readings dealing with the fight against apartheid in South Africa or the struggle by Jews in the former Soviet Union for religious and civil rights. Often, such gatherings are held later in Passover's eight-day span, after traditional seders on the first two nights.

    ``You find these all over the Jewish community,'' Saperstein said, noting that the Religious Action Center published a Haggadah titled, ``The Common Road to Freedom,'' dealing with black-Jewish relations.

    Of course, it does not require an institution like the center to develop a special theme for a seder. Smaller groups do it on their own.

    In New York, for example, the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism plans to read from its own secular-humanist Haggadah at a congregational seder Saturday afternoon, including a thoroughly contemporary updating of the plagues described at traditional seders. In the Bible, the 10 plagues God visits on the Egyptians force Pharaoh to free the Israelites from bondage.

    The City Congregation, secular Jews who meet at the Village Community School, 272 W. 10th St., will instead name 13 contemporary plagues, beginning with crime and concluding with child abuse, homophobia and homelessness.

    Peter H. Schweitzer, a former rabbi and now a social worker, wrote the congregation's Haggadah to focus on ``the human story'' of Judaism. ``It's one of the beautiful experiences in Jewish culture that seders evolve,'' Schweitzer said.

    ``The whole gist of it,'' he added, ``is that the seder lives with us today, in a contemporary way, and if we try to re-experience the Exodus, we need to experience contemporary issues. It's not about a memory that stopped, but a memory that keeps going.''

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    (c) FINANCIAL TIMES, SYNDICATION DAILY NEWS SERVICE.

    NEW DIVIDE EMERGES IN ISRAELI POLITICS

    By Judy Dempsey in Jerusalem

    When Mr Aryeh Deri, leader of Shas, the ultra- Orthodox party in Mr Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-led coalition, addressed a huge rally this week, he tried to unleash the genie of ethnic nationalism.

    Mr Deri, born in Morocco in 1959, was the only person to be indicted for breach of trust, fraud and extortion over the short-lived and controversial appointment of Mr Roni Bar-On as attorney general.

    Even though the prosecutors had ample evidence to indict him on Sunday, Mr Deri did not accept their decision lightly.

    Instead, he used the rally to depict himself and Shas, a political umbrella for the Oriental and North African, or Sephardic, Jewish communities as being made scapegoats by the European, or Ashkenazi, Jews.

    ``I will tell you one big secret,'' he told the chanting black-suited crowds. ``Everyone asks why this movement is being persecuted. This is religious and racial persecution.

    ``The Shasniks will alter the character of the state of Israel. We will get over this.''

    The fear that Mr Deri would reopen divisions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews prompted President Ezer Weizman to hold talks with Shas before the rally.

    ``One should not, God forbid, take this event and turn it into an instance of discrimination against the Sephardi community and the supremacy of the Ashkenazis,'' he said.

    ``I asked the Shas Knesset deputies not to let the ethnic genie out of the bottle.''

    But Mr Deri and Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, Shas's spiritual leader, seem intent on resuscitating the Ashkenazi-Sephari divide to galvanise its support before extracting further concessions from the Netanyahu government. It commands 10 seats in the 66-strong coalition, enough to topple the government if it chose to withdraw.

    As Shas is also synonymous with combating the growing secularisation of the country, the ethnic divide evoked at the rally also had a sub-text - the growing polarisation between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

    ``Shas is trying to establish a system of cultural ghettos,'' said Mr Moshe Lisk, professor of ethnic relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

    ``The second-rank leadership of Shas fosters and strengthens among the movement's supporters the belief that every decision is based on the hatred of religion and the hatred of Sephardi Jews.''

    Likud, founded in 1973, provided a political home for the Sephardim who felt discriminated against by the Ashkenazi, the founders of Israel. But Likud, which has a large secular constituency, was not considered religious enough for Shas, which, after its establishment as a party in 1983, stunned the electorate when Mr Deri won four seats in the 1984 elections.

    Today it is in a stronger position to extract more concessions.

    It is difficult to gauge Mr Netanyahu's commitment, apart from political expediency, to Shas.

    But other Likud deputies, most notably Mr Michael Eitan, the coalition's parliamentary leader, recognise it is not the ethnic divide but the religious one which, apart from the peace process, is becoming the biggest force in Israeli politics.

    Since every government will remain beholden to Shas, particularly since demography is in the latter's favour - Sephardic Jews have an average of nine children per family - there is a very gradual consensus emerging for a new political realignment. Analysts believe that, eventually, Likud's liberal factions will join the opposition Labour party to form a new centrist party.

    ``The old divide between left and right is fading as the new divide between secular and religious is growing stronger,'' Mr Eitan said recently.

    In the meantime, Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox parties will need to do their utmost to extract more concessions as the Jewish state of Israel grapples with the almost irreconcilable task of combining Judaism with democracy.

    FINANCIAL TIMES

    END

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    By A.M. ROSENTHAL<

    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    ``The suffering or death of any human being of any or no religion is as offensive to God and as demeaning to us as is the suffering and death of Christians. However, to act is to act on something particular—and the persecution of Christians worldwide is massive, underreported, largely unknown and when known is often passed by in silence.''

    That comment leads this column because of what it says and where it was made.

    Paul Marshall, a writer and teacher on religious persecution, said it at a New York City Council hearing. The council is considering legislation to take billions in municipal contracts, bank deposits and pensions away from business in the China trade.

    If enough states, cities and stockholders take action the Chinese government and Christians it persecutes will know there is more to America than Washington's trade-driven sycophancy. Local and individual action can be a response to the challenge in the title of Marshall's new book: ``Their Blood Cries Out.''

    A double crime is being committed. The crime of persecution: by communist regimes and those Islamic governments and movements that consider freedom of religion a danger to them. The crime of the accepting witness: free nations that look away out of greed for trade, or political cowardice.

    Recognition of both crimes will be a blessing in itself _ ``dayeinu,'' as Jews sing at the Passover seder—and would lead to others. It is not easy for people of good heart to act against the persecution of one group without opposing the brutalization of the minds and souls of others.

    Religious persecution is committed because dictators know all human rights break holes in the walls of fear that they erect to protect them from their people. But freedom of religion is often not even mentioned in the list of human rights and gets least international support—except when organized with determination and continuity. This has not been done about Christian persecution.

    Human rights movements and writing, including mine, usually deal with arrest, torture and murder of those who try to exercise their political or social rights, not nearly enough on assaults against religious human rights. U.S. politicians and diplomats tend to act as if protest against Christian persecution is against the Constitution.

    All human rights pay the price. Only when religious freedom is understood to be as critical as any other liberty will a nationwide human rights constituency be built in America.

    But such a grass-roots constituency is in the making, largely because of a growing awareness of persecution of Christians.

    That won't make everybody happy. Try asking your local U.S.-China lobby CEOs for contributions to persecuted Chinese.

    Some Christian groups that ``witness'' in China warn that public ``shaming'' of the Chinese government, or economic sanctions, will convince Beijing that Christians are a threat, and increase their persecution. Makes my skin crawl with memories about blaming Jews for upsetting the Nazis.

    High-level ignorance about the techniques of religious persecution must delight the persecutors. Newt Gingrich worshiped at one of China's officially recognized churches, often shunned by other foreign visitors. Imagine how this came across to Chinese Christians who refuse to be part of the government-controlled churches, and instead risk their freedom by worshiping at one of their many underground ``house churches.''

    House churches? What are they? The question came from James Sasser, a defeated Tennessee politician, after he was appointed ambassador to Beijing. Human rights folk will forget that question, in 50 or 60 years.

    Still, the awareness of Christian persecution grows within Congress and across America. Every public hearing that leads to action, every stockholders' suit, every church or synagogue protest helps it grow.

    In my columns on Christian persecution, I have emphasized the Chinese because, for money, Western business and governments strengthen the dictatorship that hounds Chinese Christians. The persecution of Christians outside China also grows—as of the Copts in Egypt. I will write about them soon. Against persecution of Christians, no one column will end my writing or commitment. I've made that promise to myself.

    < NYT-04-24-97 1940EDT<

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    (REPEATING FOR ALL NEEDING)

    By

    c.1997 The Arizona Republic

    House Speaker Don Aldridge is my hero. I hope he stays in office forever.

    Arizona politics without Aldridge would be like a day without sunshine. Or something like that.

    What I mean is that regular old politics can be so boring. We need people like Aldridge to spice things up. Think about it: If Aldridge weren't around, I'd probably be writing about biennial budgets or depreciating tax schedules.

    Personally, I think it's great that Aldridge makes it a habit to call the woman who lobbies for the University of Arizona science center Legs.

    Many of the other university lobbyists are middle-age males, you see, and the anatomical precision of Aldridge's terminology makes it instantly apparent believe me to whom he is referring.

    I really don't see why so many people particularly women find this reference demeaning. I mean, what's wrong with having good legs? Just because a woman uses her brain doesn't mean she should be recognized for it.

    I'm just ticked Aldridge wasn't referring to me.

    Then there is Aldridge's comment to Senate President Brenda Burns about how she could extract almost any political concession from Gov. Fife Symington because she was so pretty.

    Isn't that sweet?

    I don't see why everybody gets their panties in a wad over this one. I'm sure Burns is real proud to know that it's her looks, not her character, that matters most to Aldridge.

    That's all we women want, you know, to be regarded as luscious sex pots especially by men as suave and dashing as Aldridge.

    But it's not just Aldridge's comments with regard to women that seems to have sent everybody over the edge. It's his comments about blacks, Hispanics and Jews.

    At least Aldridge is an equal opportunity offender.

    Not too long ago, Aldridge reportedly told freshman Rep. John Loredo that he should model himself after veteran Rep. Art Hamilton, who Aldridge said is a fine example of how black people can be just as intelligent as the rest of us.

    I'm not exactly sure who the us is that Aldridge was referring to. Maybe he meant all people with brown eyes. Or all Catholics. Or all diabetics. Or all middle-age white guys who wear polyester.

    Whatever.

    But one thing I am sure about is that this comment shows how Aldridge sees the world in shades of us versus them however he defines the terms.

    This, of course, is very helpful. Dividing people by their differences, rather than drawing them together by common interest, is sure to strengthen, not weaken, our society.

    Earlier this year, during a speech in Sun City, Aldridge blamed the state's teenage pregnancy problem on Hispanic males, who, he said, prove their machismo by seeing how many women they can impregnate.

    Again, I don't see what the big deal is here. Hispanic males do contribute to the teenage pregnancy problem in this state.

    Of course, so do white males and black males and males (not to mention females) of just about every other hue. I'm sure Aldridge meant no offense by singling out Hispanics.

    Some of Aldridge's best friends, I hear, are Hispanic.

    Just a few weeks ago, Aldridge got a lot of negative publicity for dismissing the importance of a bill cracking down on hate crimes by saying that the bill was supported by a few Jews in the Legislature.

    Actually, that's what a television reporter said Aldridge said. But you know how those TV reporters are, always distorting things and making things up. (They have to, fact could never be stranger than fiction, especially in Arizona.)

    For the record, Aldridge insists that he never said a few Jews.

    On no. Far from it. Instead, Aldridge insists, via his press aide, that what he actually said was that the bill was backed by a couple of Jews.

    This makes, of course, a huge difference.

    The phrase a couple of Jews is far superior to a few Jews. I'm really glad Aldridge clarified that. I don't know about you, but it makes me feel a lot better.

    So getting back to the original point of this column, I just want you to know that I thank my lucky stars every day for House Speaker Don Aldridge.

    God forbid his Republican colleagues should oust him from his leadership post. I can't imagine why they would want to. He does such a good job of speaking for them.

    As long as The Donald is there, all Republican legislators bask in his glow.

    NYT-04-24-97 1536EDT

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    c. 1997 The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

    CHURCH URGES CATHOLICS TO ACCEPT GAYS VATICAN ARTICLE SAYS THAT

    CHASTITY IS VITAL FOR HOMOSEXUALS TO GAIN SANCTITY

    BY MICHAEL GRANGE

    The Globe and Mail

    with Reuters News Agency

    Canadian Catholics welcomed yesterday the Vatican's publication of an article that urges Roman Catholics to respect homosexuals, saying they too can achieve sanctity in the church if they abstain from sex.

    The tone of the article in Wednesday's L'Osservatore Romano was far more compassionate and tolerant of gays than the church has been in the past.

    The article, the last of a 14-part series of reflections on homosexuality and Christianity by Jean-Louis Brugues, a member of the Catholic Church's International Theological Commission, calls for the ``acceptance of people in their diversity.'' Its surprisingly accommodating approach prompted headlines in the Italian press such as one in Rome's La Repubblica yesterday: ``Chaste gays will be saints.''

    The article says gays should have a role in the church and that role should be a full one, including participation in the sacraments, if they remain chaste.

    It also makes clear that, though homosexual tendencies are not wrong, homosexual acts are sinful. It repeated the church teaching that only heterosexual, monogamous marriage is permitted.

    Suzanne Scorsone, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, said yesterday the position presented by Mr. Brugues in the article is ``totally consistent'' with that presented in the church's catechism, last revised in 1992.

    ``I'm happy to see (the article) because it helps people to understand church teachings,'' Ms. Scorsone said. ``It shows that the church is making a distinction between orientation and behaviour and that the person is allowed to be loved, cared for and treated with respect.''

    Ms. Scorsone said the church's view on homosexuality and chastity is in keeping with its views on the expression of sexuality generally.

    ``There isn't something marginalizing about this - unmarried heterosexuals aren't supposed to have sexual relations, either - it's about where we believe sexuality fits in.''

    Sandra Glynn, spokeswoman for Catholics of Vision Canada, a reform group calling for new church teachings on sexuality, said the article seems to contain messages for both reformers and conservatives.

    ``On one hand, it states the church's position and, on the other, it seems to be an attempt to tone down some of the excessive views that have developed from some of those positions,'' Ms. Glynn said. ``(The article) bends over backward to express traditional views, but it also emphasizes compassion.''

    The article says Catholics, including priests, should not show ``contempt'' for homosexuals but treat them with the same charity as they would other Christians.

    A priest who ministers to homosexuals must ``overcome his fears and perhaps repress his opposition or even the repulsion that homosexuality inspires in him more or less consciously.''

    It continues: ``Christian communities should be careful to refrain from every expression of contempt toward persons who have this particularity.''

    Priests who minister to homosexual Catholics should help them come out of the ``ghettos'' and take part with other Catholics in political, social and church life, the article says.

    William Kokesch, spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, praised the article's tone.

    ``There's an element in the church that still has to have a change of mind on this issue to reflect the attitude in this article,'' Mr. Kokesch said. ``If the church doesn't talk about it, it will allow those attitudes to continue.''

    Arci Gay, Italy's largest homosexual rights group, praised the Vatican for drawing attention to gay rights in the church, but blasted it for continuing to insist that they remain chaste.

    ``The repeated interventions of the church are a recognition of the homosexual question, but the opinions expressed are heartless and cruel,'' Arci Gay president Franco Grillini said.

    END

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