Tokyo

I’ve just got back from the 19th World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, which took place in Tokyo. No time for blogging just now, but as a stop-gap here’s a pic from the Kanamara Shrine in Kawasaki, where preparations are currently underway for the yearly festival. According to the English-language handout:

The festival traces its origins to the Edo period, when Kawasaki’s ladies of the night prayed for success in their business and protection from syphilis. At cherry blossom time they would gather baskets of bamboo shoots and other spring delicacies, carry the shrine’s phallic image through the streets, and then sit down on mats spread in the shrine courtyard to enjoy a merry banquet.

These days, people come to pray for “success in business, healthy progeny, a fertile marriage, wedded bliss, an easy delivery, or personal good health.” The shrine also runs a campaign to alleviate victims of HIV and AIDS.

Busy

I’m going to be busy for the next seven days…see you all next week!

Court Case has Miles to Go

The Thomas More Center reports on a court finding in favour of Rev. Austin Miles:

…a California state court has set aside a $1 million dollar default judgment [Michael] Newdow obtained against Reverend Austin Miles for libel.

The libel judgment was based on a news article written by Reverend Miles in which he opined that Newdow had lied to the court when he claimed his daughter was forced to recite the words “under God” as she was actually a Christian who willingly said the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

But that’s not quite what Newdow’s complaint was, as the AP reported at the time:

Newdow denied ever making the comments. “I never said that,” he said. “I only said she had a right to go to school and not be indoctrinated in religion.”

In other words, Miles accused Newdow of saying something which was a lie, while Newdow maintains that he never actually said any such thing. This distorted TMC press release has now formed the basis for other news reports, including one on Agape Press. Miles has also accused Newdow of being a traitor to the USA, since his lawsuit against the “under God” part of the pledge undermined America’s morale while the country was “still digging for bodies of loved ones buried under the rubble of the World’s Trade Buildings and the Pentagon”.

Newdow never expected to get the cash from Miles. But why has the latest court ruled in favour of Miles? Back to TMC:

After a lengthy hearing this past December, the court issued an order lifting the default judgment and allowing the case to proceed to trial. The court explained that Miles had made a sufficient showing that he lacked actual notice of the lawsuit to warrant the default to be set aside. The court explained that Miles’s lack of actual notice “was not caused by his avoidance of service or inexcusable neglect.”

That’s interesting. According to his profile on Blessed Cause, Miles had a very active 2003:

…even though felled by a stroke requiring some time off from duty, and dealing with “Pledge Atheist”, Michale [sic] Newdow who began stalking and harassing within a week after he learned about the stroke.

Miles wanted to have Newdow disbarred; it seems that when Newdow bit back, Miles suddenly became a frail old man being bullied by an heartless atheist (in the past, Miles has also been persecuted by the Assemblies of God, the FBI, and a deputy sheriff in California – see this entry). And in August 2003 WorldNetDaily reported:

The atheist activist whose lawsuit last year targeting the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance – a case that sent shock waves across America and elicited public condemnation from President Bush and dozens of congressmen – yesterday agreed to drop the $1 million libel lawsuit he filed recently against WorldNetDaily.

Michael Newdow’s lawsuit – “Rev. Dr. Michael A. Newdow vs. Chaplain Austin Miles; Assist News Service; WorldNetDaily.com Inc.” – was served on WorldNetDaily last Thursday.

…In fact, the article to which Newdow refers, and from which he quotes, was not written, authorized or published or in any way connected to WorldNetDaily.com, but rather was published by the ASSIST News Service, and written by Rev. Austin Miles, the other two defendants named in the complaint.

The ASSIST article appeared in July 2002, and a couple of weeks later ASSIST published a “right of reply” from Newdow. But, despite all this high-profile legal action going on, and Newdow’s “harassment” of Miles, Miles never received notice of the libel action against him, and so didn’t show up in court.

Miles was in the news on another matter just last month, as the source for a disputed and very unlikely quote attributed to James Watt.

Armyless in Gaza

Ha’aretz has a bit more about the mass rally at the Temple Mount (site of the al-Asqa Mosque and Dome of the Rock) currently being planned by the Israeli far right. I assume this is the same proposed action that WorldNetDaily advertised just a few days ago, although WND gave April as the date, while Ha’aretz and the BBC both suggest July. And while WND’s Jerusalem correspondent presented the event organisers as simply a band of patriotic and pious Israelis, Ha’aretz’s Uzi Benziman offers an alternative description that more likely reflects the view of most Israelis:

The Temple Mount loonies…

The plan is to disrupt the Gaza pullout by creating the need for a massive police and army presence in Jerusalem; and Benziman objects that most of the diversionary protestors will not even be Israelis, but American Jews who will be going home afterwards:

…there is a huge difference between active Jewish involvement, including physical participation, in Israel’s internal affairs, and intervening in its international struggles. Israel is, first and foremost, the state of its citizens. And the right of these citizens to determine Israel’s destiny – including its borders and national security arrangements – precedes the emotional affiliation to Israel of the Jews of the world.

In other words, the Arabs of Umm al-Fahm are, of course, part of the public that will determine the fate of the disengagement; the Jews of Brooklyn are not.

But can some of the “Jews of Brooklyn” really be blamed if they fail to understand this? No doubt politicians on the Israeli far right have been lobbying them for support; MK Benny Elon has even managed to encourage a delusion among millions of American Christians that their views about Israel are more important than what actual Israelis think.

Bashing the Bishop

The BBC reports that Argentine bishop Antonio Baseotto, who ministers to the military, has been “sacked”(“de-recognised” would perhaps be a better term, since only the Pope can do a sacking) by the government after suggesting a Pinochet-style execution for Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia, who supports legalising abortion:

Quoting a passage from the New Testament, he said Mr Gonzalez Garcia deserved to have a millstone hung around his neck and should be “thrown into the sea”.

…During the military regime that ruled the country from 1976-1983, political opponents were thrown into the sea during the so-called “death flights”.

Baseotto claims his words were taken out of context. Those tempted to give the bish the benefit of the doubt should note that just recently the main Argentine Jewish group called for his removal, after these 1986 comments came to light:

[Jews go into big businesses] with lots of ability and lack of moral principles…It doesn’t matter the way they enrich themselves. If pornography is a good business, they sell pornography. If it’s drugs, they sell drugs.

Jerusalem the Pink

Staying with the alleged “Holy City” of Jerusalem (see yesterday), the AP reports in Ha’aretz (link from The Revealer) on the upcoming WorldPride 2005 slated for the city:

A coalition of evangelical Christians from the United States and local ultra-Orthodox Jews said Wednesday it would try to prevent an international gay pride parade from being held in Jerusalem this summer, but the mayor of the holy city said he has no way of stopping it.

…The coalition, which includes Israeli lawmakers, said it wants to collect 1 million signatures against the parade. “Millions of people around the world pray for the peace of Jerusalem and are heartbroken by misguided attempts to divide, inflame and sow disunity,” said a statement by [California pastor Leo] Giovinetti.

Giovinetti is a former Las Vegas entertainer who now pastors the Mission Valley Christian Fellowship in San Diego (Rather oddly, on his church bio he dwells exclusively on his weight problems, including his gastric bypass). The church is Christian Zionist, although there has been some controversy in the past, as this article about Conservative Rabbi Arthur Zuckermann mentions in passing:

…in 2002, Zuckerman parted company with all other San Diego Jewish organizations and rabbis by attending a fundraiser sponsored by the Mission Valley Christian Fellowship, an evangelical group led by Pastor Leo Giovinetti. The dinner featured the then mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, who is now Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister under leader Ariel Sharon.

“I was invited to participate in the event,” Zuckerman said. “It was a huge fundraiser – $1,000 per meal. They raised half a million dollars for the Jerusalem Foundation.”

But leading Jewish groups in town chose to boycott the affair, saying the money raised might be used to try to convert Jews to Christianity. “They felt there was too much proselytizing going on from this group in Israel,” Zuckerman said. “But the way I looked at it was that if the mayor of Jerusalem is coming to be honored by this group, he’s not turning it down. He’s not saying, ‘No, no. We don’t want the money.’ It was going to the Jerusalem Foundation. They would utilize it for appropriate programs in Jerusalem.”

The church also has particular links with the illegal Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel. Giovinetti is leading the Christian end of the anti-gay pride event; according to the Jerusalem Post he was joined in a press conference with Knesset Members Benny Elon (who works closely with the Christian right) and Nissim Ze’ev (a member of the religious Shas party, which, when in control of the Interior Ministry, has used its visa-granting power to exclude Christian officials), as well as New York Rabbi Yehuda Levin, who called the event a “spiritual rape” of the Holy Land (Levin is the Jewish Fred Phelps – his previous claim to fame was when he urged a boycott of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for daring to mention homosexual victims of the Nazis).

This is not the first gay pride event to take place in the city – Jerusalem Open House has details about previous parades. They are also organising WorldPride 2005, and write that:

Jerusalem is one of the cradles of Western and Middle Eastern civilization, but its glittering history has been overshadowed by its contemporary strife. In a city – and indeed, a world – where ethnic and religious tensions have become commonplace, it is easy for people to forget their common humanity, to neglect the basic human rights to dignity and freedom. Prejudice against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people in the Middle East is symptomatic of broader cultural and political intolerance.

Jerusalem WorldPride 2005 will gather people from all over the world to bring a message that is needed throughout the Middle East and beyond: that human rights transcend cultural and ethnic boundaries, that our differences can be respected peacefully, and that love knows no borders. There is no better place in the world than Jerusalem to make that statement, and perhaps no city that needs to hear it more.

The struggle for acceptance and pride is particularly pointed in Jerusalem, a city that is home to three of the world’s great religions. The greatest traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism affirm the dignity of all human beings and our creation in the divine image. Yet these same faiths have often been sources of hostility and intolerance for LGBT people.

The anti-gay pride coalition objects that this is a religious provocation.

The wretched Aaron Klein reported on the event for WorldNetDaily a few days ago (Thanks to Dispatches from the Culture Wars for the link); the ludicrous Mike Evans was cited as saying:

Jerusalem is where heaven and earth met and will meet again. It is the holiest city. This event will bring to the streets homosexuals in immodest dress, in G-strings, with all kinds of pornographic images. They plan to fill the hotels and restaurants and party like Sodomites, while the world press takes pictures. It is a disgrace to the eternal holiness of Jerusalem and to its people.

Well, actually, I’ve lived in Jerusalem. There are bars. There are nightclubs. There are office blocks. There’s a shopping mall. But I suppose that’s merely the mundane reality; for Evans and his like Jerusalem is rather some sort of magical place where the real world dissolves into a Messianic vision – and the same goes for the people who live there. The Christians opposing the gay pride event are not just objecting to homosexuality: they’re expressing bitter disappointment that Israel and Israelis are not acting according to the fantasy drama they have mapped out for them.

Israeli Far Right Puffed on WND (again)

WorldNetDaily‘s Jerusalem correspondent Aaron Klein puffs the Israeli far right with a sensational headline bannered on WND’s homepage:

10,000 Jews to ascend Temple Mount

Group seeks to reclaim Israeli control of holy site

Well, if that is actually the case, then I am rather alarmed. Small groups of Jewish activists have tried to enter the Temple Mount area (now the location of the Muslim Dome of the Rock and al-Asqa Mosque) in the past in order to establish a religious presence, but each time Israeli police have blocked their way. Those events passed off peacefully – but the protestors only ever numbered a couple of dozen or so “Temple Mount Faithful”; when Gershom Gorenberg reported on the subject back in 2000 (see here), he suggested that these protests were becoming smaller. Ten thousand Jews (all, one imagines, armed and seething at Ariel Sharon over Gaza) seeking to gain control of the Muslim holy site would be unprecedented, and another round of pointless bloodshed would be the most likely result.

But from whom did Klein get this information?

“The Temple Mount is the single holiest place in the world for Jews. It’s about time the Israeli government restores it to the Jewish people, where it belongs,” David Ha’ivri, chairman of Revava, the group orchestrating the gathering, told WND.

Klein, however, doesn’t feel the need to burden us with the information that David Ha’ivri is a follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – an American-Israeli fanatic whose political extremism led to his political party being banned in Israel. Take a peek at Ha’ivri’s website at www.hameir.org (I don’t hyperlink hate sites) – a mirror image of KKK-style hate and religious obscurantism. In Israel, these people are a lunatic fringe – although their obsession with the Temple Mount has made them beloved of American Christian fundamentalists who believe that a new Jewish Temple will bring about the events of the Last Days (hence Hal Lindsey’s WND pieces on the subject, like the one I discussed here).

Klein goes on to link to a previous article that he wrote about the Temple Mount, in which he complained that:

Judaism considers it the holiest place on earth. Muslims say it’s the third holiest. Christianity reveres the spot as being of great historic importance. But if someone prays there, if he or she is not Muslim, the worshiper will be immediately arrested…Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Wafq [Muslim Custodian] permission.

Rules are enforced by Wafq agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.

The Israeli police co-operate with the Wafq as part of a status quo agreement worked out in 1967, after the Six-Day War. Jews praying on the site would upset the balance, and create fears among Palestinian Muslims (and the Muslim world generally) that Israel wished to encroach on the Muslim holy site – when in reality most Israelis are happy to settle for the outside Western Wall area, where there is a large plaza that leads into the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Like Ha’ivri, Klein objects to the Wafq’s restrictions, although in fact the Muslims would be within their rights if they simply banned non-Muslims from the site completely.

Let’s just hope Ha’ivri is no more than a self-aggrandising fool who has duped a stupid journalist about how much support he has. Klein and WND’s editor Joseph Farah are playing with fire: Klein has encouraged Ha’ivri and his followers in their delusions, and given them a massive free advert; WND readers have been encouraged to identify Israel with a bunch of religious fanatics rather than to understand the complexities of Israeli society. And everyone has been encouraged to put Messianic ethical nihilism before the human tragedy of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

(PS: anyone seriously interested in the topic MUST read Gershom Gorenberg’s The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount)

UPDATE: See today.

Broock No Criticism

Stephen Mansfield, author of the best-selling The Faith of George W Bush, has written a spirited defence of neo-Pentecostal leader Rice Broocks (whom I’ve covered before) on his blog (Feb 21; no permalink – thanks to a reader for the link):

Recently, some friends showed me a web site on which critics were trying to make a connection between Maranatha, a ministry Rice was a part of in the 1980’s, and Every Nation Ministries which Rice now leads. I was shocked. I’m used to heresy hunters who do nothing but attack everything. They are the mental midgets we all have to put up with to do anything of consequence in this world. I was not prepared, though, for the nature of the attacks on my dear friend.

Mansfield is almost certainly referring to this FACTNET message board; as it happens, several of its contributors were recently featured in the North Carolina media in relation to the AIO fraternity story (they have also been in email contact with me). As with all message boards, quality is variable, and indeed many of the posters are concerned that Every Nation (formerly Morning Star International) is heretical. But the issue of orthodoxy (which is of little interest to me either way, aside from historical value) is only one concern: as I have noted before, the campus ministry Maranatha disbanded in 1989 after newspaper reports of authoritarian and abusive behaviour. Even today, feelings run high when Maranatha is mentioned: when sz at World O’Crap referenced my previous entry on the subject, a couple of readers added comments to her site about their experiences with the group, including someone (anonymous) who alleged that despite not even being a member, Maranatha adherents had harassed and assaulted her on her campus on the assumption that she was a lesbian. Broocks was a Maranatha leader, and the Every Nation grouping has a number of sub-ministries, including Victory Campus Ministries.

Mansfield addresses the Maranatha problem rather gingerly:

Rice graduated from college in 1979 and went into campus ministry with Maranatha. As both an historian and a minister, I can tell you that there were many wonderful things that happened in Maranatha. The critics seem interested only in the mistakes. It was common in those days for ministries to lack theological depth and to suffer from the absence of worldview and boundaries that a good grasp of history, particularly theological history, provides. Nevertheless, Rice helped guide Maranatha to an honorable end in 1989. Oddly, he has sometimes been accused since of “destroying Maranatha,” which is, of course, untrue.

Well, of course critics are going to focus on the “mistakes” (a nice way of describing “abuse”, as if it were some sort of accident) if they themselves have been hurt as a result, and no-one has had to take responsibility. But back to Mansfield:

To learn from the mistakes of the past and to build a ministry in a theologically responsible way, he enrolled in one of the most respected institutions in evangelical Christianity, Reformed Theological Seminary, where he earned a Master’s degree in theology. This helped him wed biblical thinking to the spiritual power he already had and laid the foundation for the good things that were to come.

Ahh, a Charismatic embracing Reformed theology in order to get a bit more intellectual muscle. Now who does that remind me of? And I’m glad that being involved with those “mistakes” at Maranatha didn’t cause Broocks to lose confidence in his special “spiritual power”:

I don’t need to tell the whole story here, but Rice ended up teaming with Steve Murrell and Phil Bonasso to form Morning Star International, now known as Every Nation Ministries. I’ve never seen anything like it…I’ve been all through the various ministries and churches of Morningstar/Every Nation and have never seen anything like the discipleship extremes [that were found in the highly authoritarian Shepherding movement] in this movement. If such things should arise, I know that these leaders are committed to doing things the right way and are very much open to admitting shortcomings.

Well, maybe we don’t need the whole story, but Mansfield could have cleared up some oddities – like why Broocks and another Maranatha leader named Greg Ball founded a sub-ministry called Champions for Christ back in 1985, but after the end of Maranatha they told Charisma magazine that it dated back only to 1991 (thanks to a reader for pointing that out. CFC has itself also been a subject of controversy). [UPDATE: The 1985 date comes from this Charity Navigator Rating on Wayback; since I wrote this blog entry the profile was changed to reflect the 1991 date]

I’m sure that Mansfield is truthfully reporting what he has seen, and that there are many people associated with Every Nation and its various sub-ministries who are very happy to be where they are. Studying a religious group purely from the viewpoint of disaffected ex-members is methodologically unsound; but so is dismissing the concerns of ex-members just because you yourself are an insider – and Mansfield tells us that he himself is now under Broocks, who invited him to join Morning Star when Mansfield lost his pastorate following a divorce. What about the disturbing accounts from people like Darrell Lucus, who claims to have been subject to abuse by a campus ministry related to Every Nation? Mansfield completely ignores such stories in his defence of Broocks, preferring instead to rail against vague “heresy hunters” and “mental midgets”.

But despite what happened under Maranatha, Mansfield is unable to give us any details about mechanisms of accountability that might prevent such abuses happening in the new organisations formed by ex-Maranatha leaders; instead, all we have is a very vague assurance that the leaders are now “committed to doing things the right way”. Given the unhappy history of Maranatha, this is really not enough, and with the very strange tendency of Every Nation sub-ministries to downplay their links to their mother organisation, it is far from unreasonable to be suspicious of the whole movement.

Mansfield finally comes to a peculiar conclusion:

I don’t have many friends but I plan to be faithful to those few I do have. Rice Broocks is my friend. They’ll have to come through me to get to him.

Erm…that’s not actually how the internet works, Stephen…

UPDATE: Mansfield has written to me with further thoughts about EN. See my entry for today.

Chinatown, Kobe

In Chinatown, Kobe:

kobe-china-buddha

(I’m on the left)

Doug Giles to Reconstruct USA

A contact kindly forwards me a new interview with Doug Giles, posted at the Chalcedon Foundation. Giles relates his early years as a junkie (although the youthful arrests for burglary are no longer part of his shtick) and how a charismatic church caused him to “clean up” his act (no mention of His People either). However, these charismatics were “defeatist”, so he turned to Rousas Rushdoony, now deceased but whose sinister visage frowns out from the Chalcedon page. Says Doug:

“Restless guy that I am, I started reading the old Puritan writers, and they led me to modern Christian writers like Gary North, David Chilton, and Ken Gentry [who writes regularly for Chalcedon, ed.], and finally R. J. Rushdoony [Chalcedon’s founder]. I still keep Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law on my desk where I work.

“The thing I like about Rushdoony and the others—they know we’re gonna win this thing. They know this world isn’t a sinking ship: that Christ intended for souls to be saved and culture to be leavened. They know our labors are not in vain.”

Not really much of a surprise, but it’s interesting to see Giles identifying so strongly with the extremism of Christian Reconstructionism. Rushdoony and his followers are all well-known figures, and for the uninitiated there are good articles to be found in Reason and Wired. Gary North’s defence of stoning (to be meted out against most people who fail to submit), as quoted in Reason, provides a nice flavour of the movement:

Reconstructionists provide the most enthusiastic constituency for stoning since the Taliban seized Kabul. “Why stoning?” asks North. “There are many reasons. First, the implements of execution are available to everyone at virtually no cost.” Thrift and ubiquity aside, “executions are community projects–not with spectators who watch a professional executioner do ‘his’ duty, but rather with actual participants.” You might even say that like square dances or quilting bees, they represent the kind of hands-on neighborliness so often missed in this impersonal era. “That modern Christians never consider the possibility of the reintroduction of stoning for capital crimes,” North continues, “indicates how thoroughly humanistic concepts of punishment have influenced the thinking of Christians.”

Salon meanwhile provides a quick summary of Rushdoony’s 800 page Institutes:

Rushdoony presents his vision for a new America in which the church subsumes the federal government and society is administered according to biblical law, or at least his interpretation of it. According to biblical law, he writes, segregation is a “basic principle,” and slavery is permitted “because some people are by nature slaves and will always be so.” Those who don’t comply with Rushdoony’s rules — disobedient children, “pagans,” adulterers, women who get abortions, repeat criminal offenders and, of course, homosexuals — would be executed.

Of course, some might have doubts that an massive tome of dense Calvinist prose is likely to have much influence in the modern world. But back to Doug:

Giles credits God with finding his ministry a niche on the Internet. “We just stumbled into this thing,” he said. “Really, God did it for us.” The TownHall.com column, he added, is one of the site’s consistently best-read columns. Between Clash Radio and TownHall, the exposure he’s received has allowed him to make plans for expanding his ministry to cable TV and syndicated broadcast radio.

Reconstructionist TV! I can’t wait…