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!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Friday Thoughts

Prayer Breakfasts. Our president, the nation's self-proclaimed leading aficionado of religious freedom, decided to address the issue at Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. And let me tell you, it was an uplifting, hopeful address and was doubtless equally well received by the politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, justices, and other holy folk who came together to ask God to advance their respective ideologies.
President and Mrs. Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast
Okay, let me give the president his due. I was very pleased to hear him mention Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American who has been imprisoned in Iran simply because he is a Christian. I may be wrong, but I believe this is the first time the president has mentioned Pastor Abedini publicly. He also referred to another American, Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been imprisoned by the even more barbaric regime in North Korea. The president stated that “The United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free.” Later, speaking of Pastor Abedini, he said, "Today, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini.” It was good to hear these comments and promises, regardless of their efficacy. [Note: As I write this I just heard a news report that North Korea has transferred Kenneth Bae from a hospital to a labor camp, where he will serve out his 15-year sentence. Sad news indeed. We await the president's response.]

Pastor Abedini and his family
The president also referred to the blasphemy laws used by Muslim nations to persecute non-Muslims, especially Christians. As one might expect, Mr. Obama's reference was somewhat circumspect and avoided mentioning Islam: "Going forward, we will keep standing for religious freedom around the world.  And that includes, by the way, opposing blasphemy and defamation of religion measures, which are promoted sometimes as an expression of religion, but, in fact, all too often can be used to suppress religious minorities." 

The president drifted off into political correctness a few times, as when he said, "We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love" [my italics]. With this comment, of course, the president accuses those who believe homosexual acts to be sinful of twisting religion and justifying hatred. I guess that makes me and the Catholic Church and most orthodox Christians twisted haters. I've been called worse things.

Kenneth Bae
Political correctness was also obvious in what the president didn't address. His administration's attack on the Catholic Church and others who object to being forced to use health insurance that funds contraception, abortion, and sex-change procedures was conspicuously omitted, as was the fact that our nation has slaughtered 55 million unborn human beings since 1973. 

My problem with prayer breakfasts is that they center less on on prayer and more on poorly veiled political speeches. The president's comments [you can read his entire address here] are not addressed to God but rather to the gathered Washington insiders, and their purpose is less worshipful than political. But I suppose we should be happy they actually get together once a year to talk about God...a far better subject than what they usually talk about.

Persecution of Christians. The Pew Research Center has released its latest findings on global religious persecution, and not surprisingly Christians are the most persecuted of all believers. The persecution of Christians has been reported in a mind-boggling 110 countries. Jews, who make up a tiny percentage of the world's population, experienced persecution in 95 countries. Interestingly, the harassment and persecution of believers increased in every region of the world, except the Americas. Furthermore, the number of nations experiencing religious terrorism and sectarian violence also increased significantly, doubling over the past five years. These trends are less than encouraging.

The Internet as Teacher. There's a lot of trash on the web, actually more than a lot, but there's also some very interesting stuff. You can read virtually all of the world's great literature. You can access the minds of experts in every field. You can work your way through courses offered by some of the world's great universities. You can even read this blog. And you can do much of this absolutely free! It's truly remarkable. Another fascinating online resource is Youtube. Yes, I admit that there are a lot of strange and ridiculous videos on Youtube, but there are also some very useful things. YouTube is eminently practical. For example, if you want to learn how best to re-grout the ceramic tile in your shower, there's a video showing you how. If you want to clean your Mossberg shotgun...yep, there's a video. Even more remarkable, however, Youtube can teach you how to open a bottle of wine using only your shoe! This is something I've been aching to learn for decades, and now, here it is, wonderfully encapsulated into a 49-second video, thanks to Mirabeau Vineyards.

One can also learn how to open a bottle of beer without a bottle opener, but for some reason it requires over six minutes of instructional video. Perhaps beer drinkers are slower learners.

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