Beware the contagiousness of the U.S. Christian right

For most Canadians, I suspect, the alleged activities of the Michigan-based Hutaree militia amount to little more than fresh evidence of the occasional craziness we’ve come to expect from Canada’s neighbour to the south.

Canadians should not be so smug.

    The Church must be held to a higher standard

    Some allegations have staying power no matter how often they are refuted. For the past month, articles and broadcasts have abounded with reports about the sexual-abuse scandal and claims of cover-up at the highest levels of the Church. Most allegations concerned events in Europe and the United States, and spread wildly after suggestions that even Pope Benedict XVI may have known of or approved a decision to return a German priest offender to ministry.

    Led by The New York Times, there were efforts to implicate the Pope — in his former capacity as a cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — with failing to act promptly in a U.S. case. The allegations and The Times’ role in spreading them have been widely and justifiably refuted and discredited, including by The Times itself, albeit with less prominence than it gave the original report.

      The Church needs to take advantage of standing at a new dawn

      The rage that has greeted recent allegations of sex-abuse cover-ups and foot-dragging by the Catholic hierarchy comes, at least in part, from genuine compassion for the victims. This righteous anger, expressed in countless newspaper columns and blogs (Christian and secular) over the last few weeks, is something Catholics at every level of the Church should take seriously. Because it comes from a good place — outrage on behalf of the wounded and defiled — it can be a healing wrath and welcome judgment, summoning all Catholics, not just the clergy and hierarchy, to repentance and spiritual revival.

      But another kind of anger, arising from a dark, hate-filled place in modern culture, has been evident as well. It’s not the whole story, but it’s an important aspect of what’s unfolding in the present moment’s sound and fury. I am speaking of the vengeful drive by some commentators to bring down the Catholic Church completely — the visible institution, of course, but also its mission of announcing the Kingdom of God.

        Who's responsible for web's unregulated side?

        A recent verdict in Italy against executives of Google raises concerns for online media operations around the world. A Milan court convicted three Google Inc. executives Feb. 24 for violating the privacy of an Italian boy with Down’s Syndrome by letting a video of him being bullied be posted on the site in 2006.

        Google will appeal the six-month suspended jail terms and said the verdict “poses a crucial question for the freedom on which the Internet is built,” since none of the three employees found guilty had anything to do with the offending video.

          In Christ we can overcome the world

          In the developed industrial societies of the West, superficiality is among the great scourges of the age. Our prosperity and freedom, and the best values we have inherited from the past, are blighted by a mass culture that trivializes everything, from politics and entertainment to sexuality and social morality.

          Movies, TV and advertising constantly reinforce the notions, for example, that sexual licence is just a normal part of growing up, that living together outside the exclusive terms of marriage is even desirable in the circumstances of our era. The bombardment of highly eroticized entertainment hollows out the personal depth and resonance that can come with sexual commitment.

            Free speech, respect for others must be encouraged

            If there is one subject that provokes more complaints of media bias than religion, it would probably be abortion. From the time of the legalization debates in the 1960s, most pro-life groups have believed their message has been suppressed or misrepresented, and I would not be surprised if some pro-choice groups have felt the same way.

            But one thing about the debate that has changed is the addition of a free-speech component to the moral and religious issues.

              Avatar's sappy, 'dumbed down' spirituality

              Hardly a week into its inaugural run, Hollywood’s big Christmas release, Avatar, evolved from just another holiday blockbuster into a full-scale cultural phenomenon. It skipped past $1 billion in box office receipts faster than any film in history and by the end of January it had become the first movie ever to gross more than $2 billion.

              Millions have seen Avatar, critics have heaped praise on it and it’s currently up for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (James Cameron.)

                Important Canadian periodicals feel government's wrath

                The economic downturns in North America over the last 100 years, paradoxically, have often been times of strong creative upsurge in the arts. American painting, poetry, theatre and music flourished in the 1930s, despite the crushing Great Depression. In the midst of financial turmoil in the 1970s, the Canadian non-profit parallel gallery movement covered the country with incubators for visual artists who would later go on to national and international careers.

                Such innovation in difficult moments has traditionally been made possible by active public-sector investment, without which the many small-scale artistic enterprises that dot the cultural landscape would languish. Since the Second World War, Canada has believed that this public investment in new art, film, theatre, music and the other arts is an important contribution to building a national artistic fibre strong enough to resist the powerful cultural influence of the United States. But this long-standing conviction has become old hat in the Harper government’s ruling circles, if Ottawa’s recent changes in magazine funding policy are anything to go on.

                  The daring and beautiful belongs in God's church

                  {mosimage}For centuries of Western history, Christian churches were the outstanding expressions of the architect’s art and craft. There are many reasons why this is no longer the case. Among them is the widespread decline of church-going and revenues, and the opinion that churches should occupy a more low-profile place in the urban fabric, and, not least important, an attitude of alienation (if not hostility) on the part of the church-going public toward the accomplishments of modern architecture.

                  But as long as new churches continue to be built, the opportunity of making them excellent and beautiful remains open. Catholics surely should not settle for second-rate church buildings in the Toronto archdiocese.

                    Trying times continue for charities

                    Natural disasters that inflict heart-wrenching human suffering, such as we’ve seen in the Haitian earthquake, show us the best and the worst of the changes we’ve witnessed in recent years, particularly in the media.

                    Through the immediate spread of eyewitness accounts, often through the use of social networking tools such as Twitter and cellphone videos, we learn of the devastation almost as it happens. As a result, faster ways to send help to crisis areas and faster ways to donate money have developed very quickly.   

                      Discovering Jesus in the sounds of the Deep South

                      I first heard black gospel singing in the fields of my father’s cotton farm, deep in the American South. No sound was more Southern: slow, serious and melancholy, like the lives of those hard-up blacks who worked in the cotton patch.

                      In one sense, this sad, unforgettable music was foreign to a white child spending the day with his father in the fields. Yet in another, it was close, familiar: for Southern rural religion in those days, whether black or white, was very much a matter of supplicating the beloved Jesus for deliverance from the sorrows and tribulations of life. It probably wasn’t exactly orthodox, this near-exclusive adoration of Jesus and corresponding neglect of the remote Father and ungraspable Spirit. But such religion sprang from a true place in the heart, especially the hearts of rural black Southerners, and found expression in their sincere and devout melodies.