Month: November 2016

(Note: We wish to emphasize, and perhaps to reassure, that we are non-political, and therefore we do not endorse a particular party or candidate in a given election).

The major news outlets, from CNN to the New York Times, have been shown to be in close and unfair collusion with the Democratic Party and with the campaign of Hillary Clinton. In a way, this and the effort by progressives to subvert the Catholic Church from within are the two most troubling revelations from Wikileaks this year.

Other leaks have gotten much more attention in the media and blogosphere, as they have shown us inside information about Clinton’s campaign, touching on how her aides felt about the ill-advised email server, and bringing to light some questionable activities related to her private foundation. But these are merely the private machinations and moral defects of one person. The machinations and moral defects of the Press are another matter altogether.

In the case of the Press, alleged misdeeds are far more sinister and devastating because they have a wider effect. By “The Press” here I am referring to the so-called “mainstream media”, namely the nation’s most prominent newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal), and TV news outlets (CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, Fox), and maybe NPR radio. Note that I am not including blogs (like mine, nice as it may be). Nor do I include progressive or socialist news outlets, or the “alt-right”.  (Regarding “balance” I suppose that one could argue persuasively that if you set the Daily Kos on one end of a teeter-totter with Breitbart on the other end, and put all the other news sources in between, then it all balances out; Although I personally digest information from both ends of the spectrum, I do bemoan this kind of fragmentation–like trying to see through a kaleidoscope). My concern for purposes of this article is about the “mainstream media”.  We are talking about a kind of social institution which has claimed to be our window to truth.

A good bit of the credibility of the Press has been tied to the idea of impartiality.  Despite the fact that media types donate to Democrats over Republicans 10 to 1, and that Gallup polls show most Americans believe the media to be biased towards liberals, those who have publicly questioned this impartiality of the media have generally been dismissed, and besmirched as activists or deceivers. For a recent example, asked University of Connecticut Associate Professor of Communications Dave D’Alessio the question, “Is media bias really rampant?” He replies in the negative; Apparently bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder:

“You want to rally the troops. Both of the sides know that the way to get anything done is to get everyone on the same page, so anything they can do to create an opposition is good, because they can point at the media and say “The media are out to get me. The media are out to get us. So we can fight against this. And the way to do that is to vote for me.”

Well, now there is fairly incontrovertible proof that those who suspected unfairness were right. Evidence from released emails suggests that the problem might even be worse than anyone thought.

In one glaring example of collusion CNN contributor and new interim DNC chair Donna Brazile gave to Hillary Clinton some Town Hall debate questions in advance. She was subsequently fired from CNN but remained as interim DNC chair. (See this Fox News report, for example). When confronted about the email, she showed no remorse or sensitivity: “I will not stand here and be persecuted because your information is totally false,” Brazile said. “Podesta’s emails were stolen. You’re so interested in talking about stolen material, you’re like a thief that wants to bring into the night the things that you found that was in the gutter. (Read more at Politico).

Here are a few more examples:

The Democratic National Committee apparently suggested questions to CNN to hammer at Trump and Cruz.

A Washington Post reporter asked for DNC research / dirt on Trump to put into an article.

CNBC asked the Clinton campaign what questions to ask Trump in advance of an interview.

John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager, has been famously quoted as saying that the New York Times is “our press”.  In support of this idea, leaked emails have shown that he apparently received rough drafts of Politico and New York Times stories to read over prior to publication. In one email he gloated about having placed pro-Hillary articles in Politico.  Furthermore, Clinton staffers were given the option of vetoing parts of NYT stories.

To its credit, the New York Times has issued a statement that, while not containing an actual apology, nonetheless pledges to its readers to do better:

…we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you.

We will hope that the New York Times lives up to this pledge. In the meantime, we are filing this under the category of “Reflections of the Fall”.


Our warmest greetings to you as we begin the season of preparation for Christmas. From the Advent page of our parent website:

This is the season of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child. As St. Paul said in Galatians 4:4 “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son”. In his book, Time, Science, and Society in China and the West, Nathaniel Morris Lawrence suggests a metaphor in which “fullness of time” can be thought of as the moment before delivery in a pregnancy. During advent, the universe is pregnant. All of history has led up to this moment, when the God of time and creation takes upon himself our nature, becomes enfleshed, and steps into our timeline, into the specific time and place of Bethlehem circa 4 BC. The universe is pregnant, awaiting this moment. Mary, the future mother of Jesus, is pregnant, awaiting the delivery of her child. The people of Israel are expecting a messiah. The moment is almost upon us.

(Image credit: “Adventskranz” by Liesel, available at Wikimedia Commons)

In reading about the tragic earthquakes in Italy I came across this sad revelation reported in Daily Beast, Fortune, and several other news outlets: The destruction of many of the buildings in central Italy may have been due to shoddy workmanship and fraud committed by mafia infiltrating reconstruction efforts and seismic protection contracts. Much of this reporting occurred after the August earthquake that destroyed most of the village of Amitrice.

What struck most people first was why the Romolo Capranica primary school in Amatrice had been destroyed. After all, the city paid more than €700,000 in 2013 to renovate the structure, including high-tech anti-seismic features that are supposed to be in place in any public building. But when investigators looked up the building code records, the seals and stamps that proved compliance were apparently faked and fudged. … The school fell because someone had cheated the system.

A prominent anti-Mafia prosecutor, Franci Roberti, is outraged at what he sees, and opened an investigation. He sees the handiwork of the Mob:

“I don’t want to rush to judgment, but if a building is built well, and if the anti-seismic standards have been met, a dramatic event such as we saw last week would damage or crack a building, but not cause it to pulverize or implode,” Roberti says.

Roberti is predicting that Italian mafia will try it again:

The post-earthquake reconstruction is historically a delicious morsel for criminal groups and complicit businesses.”

If this is all true, then the destructiveness of this natural disaster is being greatly magnified by a moral disaster. Of course, this kind of thing should not be terribly surprising, being evident everywhere and throughout history. Our failure to live up to our best ideals–our human nature’s propensity to cheat and steal and squander and live only for the short term gains–makes natural calamity much worse than it has to be. Our moral failure exacerbate such events.

Canadian researchers David Haskell of Wilfrid Laurier University and his colleagues Kevin Flatt and Stephanie Burgoyne have conducted a study of churches that finds a strong correlation between traditional theology and numerical growth. The growing churches tend to be conservative:

Those in the growing churches are significantly more likely than those at the ones in decline to agree with statements such as “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb,” and “God performs miracles in answer to prayer.” They’re also more likely to pray and read the Bible daily, the researchers found.

The authors surveyed 2255 attendees from 22 churches (13 of which were declining and 9 of which were growing). They also surveyed their church’s clergy (29).

“What we found is that the conservative theological positioning of clergy and attendees is a significant predictor of numerical church growth,” Prof. Haskell said.

On the subject of mission, unsurprisingly, the declining churches were more interested in social justice, and much less interested in evangelism.

Only 50 per cent of pastors in declining parishes agreed that it was very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians, compared with 100 per cent among the growing churches.

Read more at Globe and Mail. An abstract of the study is available here.

One of the more interesting and disturbing revelations from John Podesta’s hacked emails, is that he created fake grassroots organizations to try to subvert the Catholic Church from within. Two front groups were mentioned as Podesta responded to a suggestion that there needed to be a “Catholic Spring” in which lay people rise up in opposition to tradition minded bishops:

“We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”

You can read more on this from an editorial at Boston Globe. More information is available also from Catholic News, which provided a response from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

“There have been recent reports that some may have sought to interfere in the internal life of the church for short-term political gain. If true, this is troubling both for the well-being of faith communities and the good of our country.”

Other information recently reported by Catholic News Agency indicates, disturbingly, that at least one of these two “grassroots” organizations received a large sum of money from everyone’s favorite atheist billionaire philanthropist:

The memo lists Catholics In Alliance for the Common Good under the section “grassroots organizing and civic engagement.” It indicates the group received at least $450,000 in financial support from the massive George Soros philanthropy network from 2006-2010, when the foundations also operated under the name Open Society Institute (OSI).


It’s fall again–leaves are changing, a bitter chill is piercing the air, and we look ahead with some trepidation to the coming of winter snows. In the midst of this chill, this annual dying of nature, I am warmed and cheered by a little cup of bitter liquid: Coffee.

Many years ago a friend sent me a funny article entitled “25 reasons beer is better than women”. Items included things like “beer doesn’t get mad at you if you come home late” and “you don’t have to wine and dine a bottle of beer.” (A Google search will quickly provide you dozens of sites where this information can be found). Similar lists are out there with wine. You may run across “ways that wine is like women”–for example, many get better with age. Regarding coffee, there isn’t as much, though I did run across 5 ways great content is like a cup of coffee.

Recently a friend remarked to me that a coffee drink is “a blessing in a cup.” This prompted me to think of some ways that a warm beverage from the corner coffee shop might be like the presence of God.

Ways that Coffee is a Blessing in a Cup

  • Coffee warms your body the way God’s love warms your soul.
  • Coffee doesn’t care about your gender, skin color, or ethnicity.
  • Coffee doesn’t care how you voted in the last election.
  • Coffee invigorates.
  • It helps you see more clearly.
  • It gives you the fortitude to do what needs to be done.
  • It lifts your mood.
  • When it is present in a room, it fills the room with an aroma, a sense of its presence; others notice.
  • While some coffee may be bitter, often like life itself, there are mysterious ingredients that spicen up and sweeten that bitterness, the way God’s Holy Spirit sweetens our lives.
  • We could stretch the analogy further. As with church, you often go to a special place to receive your blessing, in a building designed for the purpose of disseminating it.
  • As with church you step out from the cold dull world into a place of warmth, where you can briefly shed your burdens and put your usual cares behind you.
  • You may get a smile and some interaction, perhaps even a kind word, from the priest of this blessing, known as the barista.

Anyway, the next time you find your hands wrapped around that medium roast, or Latte, or Cafe mocha, and bring the hot liquid to your lips, think of it as a little blessing in a cup. Thank God for these little blessings of life and enjoy your day.

(Image credit: Latte art at Doppio Ristretto in Chiang Mai. Used in accordance with Creative Commons 3.0 license; obtained from Wikimedia Commons).

Today is a day that will be dominated by news from the polls. I have chosen to comment instead on news from different polls.

A survey recently conducted by Lifeway suggests that some deep confusion about Christian doctrine may be found in the American populace. The data, published in full here, came from interviews of 3000 U.S. adults, and could be summarized as a series of “good news-bad news” statements.

Good news: Most Americans believe in God. In fact, in this survey, 70% claim belief in the specifically Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Bad news: Unfortunately, on digging deeper, it appears that peoples’ views aren’t actually very Christian. About half say that Jesus is a created being, and two thirds believe that God accepts the worship of other religions. 77% believe that human efforts contribute to one’s own salvation.

Good news: People think God wrote the Bible (58%) and that it alone is the word of God (52%); Furthermore, a whopping 64% believe in the accounts of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.

Bad news: A majority (51%) believe that the Bible was written for each person to interpret as he or she chooses, and less than half believe that the Bible is 100% accurate. About half recognize the Bible as an authority, “to tell us what we must do”.

Good news: Americans admit that we are all sinners (65%)…

Bad news: However, sin isn’t seen as a big deal. 65% say that humans are basically good, and 64% seem to agree that everyone goes to heaven. Only 40% believe in hell as a place of torment for sinners. Only 19% agree that a small sin is grounds for eternal punishment.

All of this matches up with other surveys. The most recent Gallup polls indicate that a solid majority of Americans still believe in God, but that this belief is eroding. 80 percent feel sure there is some kind of God, down from 96% in 1944. Those who clearly disbelieve in God have risen from 2% to 10% in the past ten years.

(Gallop data, as described above)

The Pew Reseach Center similarly sees a shift in “unaffiliated” from 15 to 23% of the population in the past ten years. Among millenials, that number rises to about 35%. The youngest generations, representing our future, are the most likely to be atheist or agnostic.

The pollster George Barna finds that 73% of Americans identify as Christian, and 20% as “no faith”; a tiny fraction are other religions. Regarding God, the majority (57%) choose the view that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today.

While the number of believers is encouraging, on digging deeper, only 31% attend a religious service at least once a month and say their faith is very important in their lives. Furthermore, as in the Lifeway survey, most Americans, despite their beliefs, are heterodox with respect to Christian doctrine: Most (55%) agree that if a person is generally good, or does good enough things for others during their life, they will earn a place in heaven.

An older (2009) survey by Barna has indicated that only 9% of Americans hold a biblical worldview. That number is significantly lower than average among young people, liberals/democrats, Catholics, and residents of New England. A biblical worldview is defined in the following way:

For the purposes of the survey, a “biblical worldview” was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.

To a certain extent, the lack of clarity on biblical doctrine is unsurprising. Why shouldn’t there be some confusion about doctrine and erosion of faith given that there exists similar confusion among clergy? The survey of US pastors conducted by Barna in 2004 found that only 51% endorsed a biblical worldview, as defined above. The Barna organization has also surveyed the “nones”, and found that 2/3 of atheists and agnostics used to attend church when they were young, and that distrust of church is a big factor in their current lack of belief:

According to our research, however, it seems the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview.

All these polls are more interesting and shocking to me than the other polling which is taking place today. On the one hand, belief or at least receptivity to the idea of God, though weakening, remains high in our country. Our youngest people appear to be the most lost right now, and may be foretelling our eventual lurch toward a post-Christian society, resembling the widespread atheism of northern Europe. We should pray for revival, while taking heart that no matter how awful things seem to get, we are promised that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against the church.

The polls also suggest what many feel–that many men (and women) of the cloth are as lost as their flocks. Many are burned out, misled by their seminary training, or merely struggling (as we all do) with doubts–they need our prayers. In some cases there may indeed be wolves in sheep’s clothing, evil pastors who are in it for malevolent reasons. They should be avoided.

A video that has recently gone viral shows a black woman in Des Moines, IA approaching a white police officer and giving him some food and water, and a hug. The background of this incident is the Nov 2 ambush and murder of two police officers, Sgt. Tony Beminio and Officer Justin Martin, while they were sitting in their patrol cars. Their funerals are scheduled to be held today and tomorrow in their respective Iowa communities.

The woman in the video, Courtney Bach, was not aware that she was being filmed. The tragedy had hit home for her in two ways: she lived near slain officer Martin, and also she is the daughter of a police captain.

“God says to do good and love your neighbor – that means everybody,” Bach said.She said she’s tried to stay off social media because the response has been so overwhelming.”

I feel like the act doesn’t deserve attention because it should be expected from everyone,” Bach said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise.”

You may read more, and watch the video, at


Over the course of Halloween, we treated ourselves to a binge viewing of the Netflix miniseries “Stranger Things”. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll offer that it was entertaining–an endearing homage to the nineteen-eighties, Steven King stories, and Sci-FI movies like “ET” and “Close Encounters”. And–full disclosure here–this is largely being lauded as a “period piece”, and the “period” in question is my own, particularly the time of my own childhood. Stepping back into a warm cocoon of memory is part of the enjoyment. Wall mounted rotary phones, old “Coke is it” commercials, Atari, 80s cars, shag carpeting, and brown upholstered furniture are evident everywhere.

I enjoyed also the assembly of 80’s science fiction and horror motifs: You have a group of nerdy middle school friends from broken or dysfunctional families bicycling all around town with little adult supervision or intervention. You have disappearances and other creepy events occurring to people in a small Midwestern town surrounded by a terrifying forest. You have a secret government lab performing mysterious experiments. You have strong (though flawed) characters trying to rise heroically despite their circumstances (the mildly psychopathic yet truth-seeking Sheriff Hopper is a prime example).

In sum, you could find worse ways to spend 7 hours.

Also, stop reading now, because I want to discuss the ending.

But do come back at some point.

Ok, this is the last warning before I plow into details you might not want to know yet…

One of the standout performances for me is the grimly determined orphan “Eleven”, played by 12 year old actress Millie Bobby Brown. Her young eyes radiate despair and terror and hope so hauntingly that it reminded me a bit of Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense”. She surfaces mysteriously into the lives of three friends, who soon learn that she has extraordinary gifts. They also soon find themselves on the run from shadowy government agents, while also hoping to figure out a way to find their missing friend Will.

Since this is a religion-focused blog, I would be remiss to avoid discussing how Eleven (“El” to her friends) is almost a Christ figure. She is of mysterious birth. She possesses an almost unimaginable power–she can levitate objects, kill with a thought, and create portals between parallel worlds. Her life is one of near constant suffering. She reaches out in friendship to the youngsters and loves them. In the end, she sacrifices herself to save the others. Her story is a picture of sacrifice and salvation–one innocent sufferer giving her all so that the others may live. As Jesus stated ages ago, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

The story involving the missing boy Will Byers, can also be seen as a parable of redemption. Early in the series, he disappears into the grim, toxic, and deadly “Upside Down”–a kind of hell existing in parallel to our universe. His mother, portrayed by Winona Ryder as a petite nervous wreck who never gives up hope, is a spot of emotional warmth. She believes she can communicate with her son and will go to any and all crazy lengths in order to do so; for example, when the now invisible young Will somehow makes some lights blink, she responds and by the end of that day she has every inch of her little house plastered with Christmas lights. When she figures out that he is trapped in a parallel universe, she finds a way to the portal in the basement of the heavily guarded government lab, braving the risk of arrest or murder at the hands of the government men. She enters the “upside down”, braving the toxins and monsters, in a quest to retrieve her lost son. Against all odds, she finds him and takes him out of there. He is redeemed, taken back from the shadow of death, retrieved from the grip of Hell and its monster.

The “Upside Down” is also thought provoking in a theological way. In this story, the “upside down” is a parallel universe, one of many possible alternate realities, like ours but inverted. It has the same geography and even the same buildings–houses, schools, and tree forts–but everything is dark, gloomy, and cold. The air is toxic. A terrifying monster inhabits this land. It is hellish.

What if the Christian “Heaven” and “Hell” are in fact alternate dimensions, peopled by versions of ourselves that are better or worse. Hell might be the “upside down”, and Heaven is an alternate reality that is better.

Along these lines, what if our world is actually the “upside down”, a sick and perverted alternate universe to some other better one. That would fit our appalling history of mass murder and other atrocities, both horrific and banal, that are etched upon history. What if we are the demonic versions of our better selves? By no means am I going to claim this as the real truth, or ignore that it wouldn’t quite fit the biblical narratives, but it can be fun to speculate.

For the first time in centuries, the Edicule housing the cave believed to have been the tomb of Jesus, located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is being excavated. In the midst of a larger project to shore up the structure, a conservation team from the National Technical University of Athens was given 60 hours to get into the interior of the tomb. They found the original limestone walls of the burial cave. They also got a look at the burial slab itself.

…as researchers continued their nonstop work over the course of 60 hours, another marble slab with a cross carved into its surface was exposed. By the night of October 28, just hours before the tomb was to be resealed, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact.

For more, including photos, check out the article at National Geographic