The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Around the World...

Pakistani Christians Protest
Pakistan [from AsiaNews]. Finally, out of Pakistan comes some good news for Christians. Asif Masih (24), a young Catholic from the village of Kathore, had been falsely accused of blasphemy by two Muslim neighbors and subsequently arrested. Blasphemy is a very serious offense in Pakistan and can result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty. Defending oneself against such accusations is problematic for Christians since the trial usually turns into a he-said-he-said situation in which the testimony of Muslims carries more weight in court than that of a Christian. This time, however, young Asif was supported by a wealthy Muslim landowner, Chaudhary Khalid Cheema, as well as by most of the villagers (all Muslim) who came to his defense at his trial on May 9.

During the trial, testimony showed that the main accuser, Muhammad Boota, had falsely accused Asif, who was then released for lack of evidence. Asif's parish priest spoke of how the blasphemy law had been often abused in the past, but this time he "was touched by the solicitude of Muslim landowners, the Muslim community and the local administration." Afterwards, Chaudhary Khalid Cheema, Asif's prominent defender, stated that "being Muslim is no reason to defend Muhammad Boota because his behavior towards Asif Masih was repugnant." He then went on to say, "I have no doubts that the young Christian is innocent...We will stand by the Christians for their rights, and will live together with equal respect and dignity."

May his tribe increase...

Indonesia [from AsiaNews]. I'm all for freedom of speech, but I have to admit this little piece of news out of Indonesia generated some mixed feelings. It seems the authorities in Indonesia have cancelled Lady Gaga's concert, scheduled for June 3 in Jakarta, because they deemed it "incompatible with the culture and moral values of the country." Indonesia, of course, is a Muslim nation; indeed it is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. And yet, surprisingly, it's reported that Lady Gaga has quite a large following among young Indonesians, a fact not lost on Indonesia's influential Islamist organizations. While the growing influence of Islamist radicals cannot be considered a good thing for Christians living in the country, a small part of me wants to cheer them on for showing Lady Gaga the door. They have accused the pop star of being an "admirer of Lucifer," an accusation I am unable to affirm or dispute. I simply find her distasteful. The problem, of course, is that these Islamists would likely level this same accusation at Christians simply because we're not Muslim. As I said...mixed feelings.
Advertising the Lady Gaga concert in Jakarta
It's also important to realize that historically freedom of speech -- which today has morphed into "freedom of expression" so that it encompasses far more than speech -- once had its limits. I believe it's safe to say that our founding fathers would not have considered x-rated movies, flag burning, internet porn, or Lady Gaga shows acceptable forms of expression protected by the Constitution. They, too, would have considered each of these "incompatible with the culture and moral values of the country." My, how far we have come since those unenlightened days. We now permit virtually anything under the banner of free speech -- After all, it's a right enshrined in the First Amendment, isn't it? -- while at the same time we prohibit most religious speech in the public square. But isn't that right also explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment? Well, yes, sort of...but our reigning cultural and moral values are different today and they don't include religious expression. All that religious talk irritates too many people.

And so Lady Gaga -- banned in Jakarta, but not in Boston -- will probably just add another concert here in the USA to enhance her bottom line. I'm so happy for her.

Washigton, DC [Cardinal Newman Society]. Georgetown University, the nation's oldest (1789) Catholic University, has invited Kathleen Sebelius, the Obama administration's Secretary of Heath and Human Services (HHS) to speak at the Jesuit university on commencement day. She is slated to speak at an awards ceremony for the university's Public Policy Institute. Normally, inviting a cabinet member to speak would generate little interest or controversy. But Secretary Sebelius is the author and future enforcer of the administration's recent decision to trample on the religious freedom of Catholic organizations by forcing them to either shut down or support government programs that are completely contrary to core Catholic beliefs. This decision has been condemned by the U.S. bishops who have declared that they will not comply with these unjust requirements.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that I attended Georgetown for one academic year (1962-63) prior to receiving an appointment to the Naval Academy. I can say only that this university was a very different place back then. The decision by the school's current administration to invite Sebelius to speak is nothing less than a scandal, and in the minds of many will place the university in opposition to the U.S. bishops as they cope with what is perhaps the greatest threat to religious freedom in our nation's recent history. As Georgetown professor, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., wrote today, "The rule of thumb in these matters is: 'Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.'”

By the way, eight faculty members signed a letter asking the university's president to withdraw the invitation to Secretary Sebelius -- that's eight out of nearly 2,000. How very sad.

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