PETA: Rat = Boy

Monkey-selfieWelcome to the universe of PETA.

Because a macaque took a picture of itself with a photographer’s camera, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a copyright lawsuit today on behalf of the monkey.

There is a mountain of theology tucked under this lawsuit. The Bible describes humans as the only creatures made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This is the basis of human rights (Genesis 9:6).

PETA lives in a different universe: People are another species of animal—nothing more, nothing less. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk has said, “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

Therefore, if people have rights of personhood, great apes should have the same rights. In fact, great apes can deserve even more rights than people. As PETA’s “high priest,” Princeton ethicist Peter Singer said, “Killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person.”

Here are a few milestones in PETA’s quest:
In 2007, Majorca and related Spanish islands granted legal personhood rights to great apes.

In 2014, Argentina granted basic human rights to an orangutan.

On April 20 this year, New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe granted a writ of habeas corpus to two chimpanzees.

The next day, April 21, the words “writ of habeas corpus” were removed from the order.

Today’s lawsuit regarding the monkey selfies is the surprising next step. When will PETA file suit for personhood rights for rats?

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My Homeless Neighbor


Art leans toward personal experience. Next week and next month I will help transition homeless neighbors from long-term camps. Because I struggle with this, my mind has wandered into verse.

“My Homeless Neighbor”

My ceiling is stucco, but yours is the stars.
My floor has some dust, but yours is the dirt.
My walls are light wood, but yours are the wind.
I sit in a rocker, but you on a rock.
I cook on a stove, but you cook in smoke.
I fill my dog’s dish, but your share your dinner.
I rest on a sofa, but you on a stone.
I plan a vacation, but you an eviction.
As darkness descends and we crawl in our beds,
we fluff up our pillows and lay down our heads.
I pray for my family as you pray for yours;
on some nights we whimper, on others we roar.
We wake in the morning another day old,
and I’m wrapped up cozy but you’re in the cold.

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Poem: Writer’s Recipe

stewpot-orangeWriter opens up his pot to make a stew
Sifting lines that don’t belong for words that do
Mashing genres till their fibers are askew
Pounding irony till tender as a shoe
Oils onomatopoeia zoo-zoo-moo
Hones a metaphor that cuts a heart in two
Adds alliteration aptly as a roux
Kneading paradox till toughness gives its cue
Tasting frame of reference choices—I or You?
Forming similes that sprinkle sweet as dew
Splashes assonance for passion as is true
Garnish climax with a plot twist from a clue
Pinch of denouement to make you feel blue
Writer opened up her pot to make a stew
Sifted lines that don’t belong for words that do

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The End of Tolerance

Tolerance PracticeBecause the Daily Beast is a thoughtful forum of opinion and observation, Sally Kohn’s contempt for people with whom she disagrees is surprising and disappointing. She exemplifies the end of tolerance.

Kohn calls out an extremely conservative tweet. And she is almost certainly correct in observing: “[T]he idea of equal treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans (if not its full realization yet) is indeed the new normal in America (emphasis added).”

Then she shifts gears, using straw-man rhetoric to call for formalized bigotry: “Will anti-gay Christians be politically and socially ostracized? I sure hope so (emphasis added).”

Kohn casually rejects the long-held Christian concept of authoritative Scripture: “There are, of course, still congregations that haven’t caught up with the times (emphasis added).”

Can there be social accommodation for people who believe as President Obama and presidential candidate Clinton did a couple years ago? No. “As for everyone else, including florists and county clerks, yes, you will now have to provide the same services to straight couples that you provide to gay couples. Don’t like it? Find a new job (emphasis added).”

Now that tolerance is ended, disagreement equals hatred. “To those who remain in the fringe minority stubbornly mired in hatred and the dark rationalizations of the past, please try to lose gracefully (emphasis added).”

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Farewell Tax-Exempt Churches

Fusion Disney ABCToday Disney/ABC’s subsidiary Fusion published that churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they do not perform wedding ceremonies that contradict their religion. The days of proclaiming tolerance as a virtue are now history. Name-calling is the new normal for the open-minded: “bigoted…the problem…wrong…fanatical and hurtful…narrow-minded…anachronistic.”

“Does Your Church Ban Gay Marriage? Then It Should Start Paying Taxes.”
by Felix Salmon

It’s difficult to see how the nationwide legalization of gay marriage could have any kind of significant negative repercussions for anybody who’s not gay. Difficult – but not impossible. Because now that the US government formally recognizes marriage equality as a fundamental right, it really shouldn’t skew the tax code so as to give millions of dollars in tax breaks to groups which remain steadfastly bigoted on the subject (emphasis added).

I’m talking, of course, about churches.

For all that the US Constitution mandates the separation of church and state, the two do overlap in quite a few areas. (Just look at your currency, with its slogan of “In God We Trust”.) One of those areas is taxation: the US government subsidizes churches to the tune of many billions of dollars per year by giving them tax-exempt status. One conservative estimate put the sum at $71 billion, but the fact is that no one really knows what the number is.

It’s important to note that the tax exemption for churches and other religious organizations is not embedded in the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, but that’s free as in love, not free as in beer. Taxation is a purely secular affair, and by default it applies to everybody equally, whether they’re a religious institution or not. It would be unconstitutional to single out religious institutions to make them pay more tax than anybody else, but the government has every right to stop giving them special tax-free privileges. (One example: the Mormon church owns a theme park in Oahu which pays no federal taxes. That’s even after a Hawaii court found it to be “not for charitable purposes”, and therefore subject to local property taxes.)

It’s abundantly clear that religious institutions have no right to tax exemption. Most famously, in 1983, Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status when it continued to ban interracial dating. Which prompted this exchange with Donald Verrilli, the solicitor general, during oral argument in the gay-marriage case at the Supreme Court:

Alito Bob Jones

It’s going to be an issue because it should be an issue. America’s highest court has now ruled that marriage is a “fundamental right”. We have decided, correctly, as a nation, that when we say that “all men are created equal,” included in that is the right to marriage, no matter what your sexual orientation.

But while religious organizations have often been ahead of the curve on social issues, in this case they’ve been part of the problem rather than part of the solution (emphasis added). There are gay-friendly churches, of course, but most of the organized opposition to gay marriage came from churches and other religious organizations.

In the Bob Jones case, the US government made a very important statement. It’s not enough, they said, to support the right of interracial couples to date and get married; it’s also important to register official disapproval of any organizations which fail to support that right. To be given exemption from paying taxes is a special privilege bestowed by the state on deserving organizations. But there’s nothing deserving about an organization which bans interracial dating. So, the state is entirely within its powers to remove that privilege.

The same argument can and should be applied to gay marriage. If your organization does not support the right of gay men and women to marry, then the government should be very clear that you’re in the wrong. And it should certainly not bend over backwards to give you the privilege of tax exemption (emphasis added).

We have religious freedom in this country, and any religious organization is entirely free to espouse whatever crazy views it likes. But when those views are fanatical and hurtful, they come into conflict with the views of any honorable legislator who believes in freedom and equality. And at that point, it makes perfect sense for our elected representatives to register their disapproval by abolishing the tax exemption for organizations who cling to narrow-minded and anachronistic views (emphasis added).

Conservatives should not object. The libertarian position here is simple and clear: everybody has freedom of conscience, including religious organizations; the tax code should apply equally to all; and the government should not be in the business of “picking winners”, and deciding who does and who doesn’t qualify for tax exemptions. So, abolish tax exemption for all religious organizations, whether they support gay marriage or not (emphasis added). Religion is concerned with spiritual matters; when it comes to taxes, the general principle is “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. Which is to say, give to the country’s secular monetary authorities that which you owe in tax.

Many people would consider such a move — abolishing all religious tax exemptions — to be too drastic. But at the very least it is entirely right and proper for the state to say to a church that if you want to thumb your nose at a fundamental right which is held by all Americans, then we are not going to privilege you with tax-free status. We’ll let you practice your bigotry, at least within the confines of your own church (emphasis added). But we’re not about to reward you for doing so.

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Authentic Organizational Values

JasminegraduationYesterday I attended the most extraordinary high school graduation I have ever witnessed. At Besant Hill School of Happy Valley, 25 students graduated, and each graduate gave a brief speech including my favorite new alum, Jasmine.

My personal memories of high school include close friends but also fights, bullying and condescension. The brief reflections of these graduates spun a different thread, including the following echo:

• “Besant Hill is more than a school. It’s a community.”
• “I’m very thankful to be part of this community.”
• “because of this community
• “The sense of community built me back up.”
• “community, vulnerability, confidence”
• “lovely community
• “community -building”
• “peaceful, comforting, nurturing”
• “collaborate”
• “We all support each other.”

Besant-Hill-School-bannerWhat word repeats as Besant Hill describes its Mission, Purpose, Philosophy and Founders on its web site? “Community.”

An effective organization communicates its core values and makes its decisions based on these values. Authentic values are the brightest threads in the fabric of any organization. At Besant Hill School, community forms and reforms students.

I hope that my congregation cultivates community as well.

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Will the Next Cardinal Die in Prison?

George Francis obitCardinal Francis George died at home in bed on April 17. This would be normal for any other 78-year-old…except for the cardinal’s prediction.

In 2012, George warned priests “what the complete secularization of our society could bring”:

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

George insisted, “What I said is not ‘prophetic,’” but many of us disagree.

Martyr What Would You Die ForHe echoed an earlier Archbishop of Chicago who before World War II “tried his hand at reading the signs of his times. On May 18, 1937, Cardinal Mundelein,” warned how Adolf Hitler was restricting youth ministry and silencing bishops in German media. He warned, “There is no guarantee that the battle-front may not stretch some day into our own land. Hodie mihi cras tibi. (Today it’s me; tomorrow, you). If we show no interest in this matter now, if we shrug our shoulders and mutter … it is not our fight…when our turn comes, we too will be fighting alone.”

How can we best contend against secularization? Our best weapon against secularization is early experience with the Gospel of Christ. Cardinal George wrote, “‘The first time I thought about being a priest was my first Holy Communion, when I really came to appreciate the nature of that sacrament as much as a 7-year-old could,’ he said in a church documentary in December 2013 commemorating his 50th anniversary as a priest.”

George Francis Interesting Man“George was 13, not even out of grammar school, when polio struck. When he arrived at Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago on crutches, eager to begin his freshman year, George was told he could not stay and likely never would be ordained.” He pressed forward in discipleship and scholarship.

Secularization lost in George’s life. In his final days, he told a friend, “As I’m approaching death, my curiosity is awakened. I’m so eager to see what it’s like.”

As for his legacy? He himself put it best in the refrain that he repeated several times in his final homily at his last Mass as archbishop in a packed cathedral in downtown Chicago:
“‘In short,’ he told the crowd, ‘you are my legacy.’”

Libya-21-beheaded-2015May we be a godly legacy. May the cardinal be wrong about prison and martyrdom. But this year’s news from Africa and the Middle East makes him sound prophetic.

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