Daily Archives: February 25, 2009

Why Catholic Indulgences Are Making a Comeback

alinari-dante-and-beatrice-in-purgatory

Alinari’s Meeting Between Dante and Beatrice in Purgatory. Through the Catholic doctrine of indulgence, believers can minimize their time spent in purgatory (Alinari Archives / Corbis)

Time | Feb 22, 2009

By Bonnie Rochman

It sounds too good to be true. Now, for a limited time — the year of St. Paul, to be specific, which ends in June — say a prayer, pop by a designated church and qualify for an indulgence that deducts time from your scorching sojourn in the cleansing fires of purgatory.

Indulgences (no relation here to bubble baths or truffles) have been part of Catholic doctrine since the Crusades. When the Church offered them for sale in the 1500s — call it mercy for money — religious reformer Martin Luther protested. These days, they can’t be bought. “How does that MasterCard ad go?” muses Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Some things are priceless.” (See pictures of Pope Benedict XVI visiting the U.S.)

The pardons have fallen by the wayside in the past few decades, but they’re being revived in conjunction with a new emphasis on the importance of charity in Christian life. Catholicism, with 67 million followers in the U.S., is big on formulaic repetition of the Hail Mary and “Our Father” variety. But the Vatican is starting to move away from that and toward, according to the church’s Manual of Indulgences, a “greater zeal for the exercise of charity.”

It’s no longer enough to repeat a prescribed number of prayers; you also have to do good, such as volunteer at a soup kitchen, help resettle refugees or donate to a worthy cause. Much like how many high schoolers have to fulfill a community-service requirement, Catholics are being urged to become do-gooders. “The church’s teaching has evolved,” Walsh says. “Part of indulgences is not just saying special prayers, but also doing good works.” (See pictures of spiritual healing around the world.)

At the core of indulgences is sin, which can either lead to eternal punishment — i.e., hell — or time spent in purgatory, a place of suffering where imperfections are scrubbed away in preparation for entering heaven. Confession erases eternal punishment, but temporal punishment remains. Plenary, or full, indulgences are the equivalent of a get-out-of-purgatory-free card. Partial indulgences simply shorten your stay.

Mike Aquilina, who attends Holy Child Church outside Pittsburgh, Pa., estimates that he fulfills the requirements for an indulgence a few times a year by visiting a saintly burial site Stateside or St. Peter’s Basilica when he’s in Rome on business. “God doesn’t get anything out of it, the Church doesn’t get anything out of it — but I sure do,” says Aquilina.

Indulgences are a handy marketing tool for the church, a way of encouraging people to amp up their spiritual life. But figuring out exactly what they are and how they work can be confusing. “It brings people who aren’t Catholic up short,” says David Steinmetz, a professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School.

The rules can confound even believers. William Damkoehler, an actor from Rhode Island, learned about indulgences as a kid in Catholic school. As an adult, he’s bewildered by them. “It seems like the church is trying to get business back by offering rebates,” he says.

The essence of plenary indulgences is tricky to nail down. They’re granted if you meet specific criteria: go to confession, receive communion, pray for the Pope, visit a particular shrine. How do you know you actually got an indulgence? Faith.

If you merit a full pardon, it’s fine to break out the bubbly. But if you drink too much champagne and start a barroom brawl? Indulgence revoked, and you’re back to square one. How’s that for an incentive to keep doing good works?

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Lawmaker Warns Of “Forced Servitude” Under Obama

dan_itse

New Hampshire state representative Dan Itse leading charge for states’ rights

Prison Planet.com | Feb 24, 2009

By Paul Joseph Watson

New Hampshire state representative Dan Itse, who is one of many lawmakers leading the charge to assert state sovereignty against federal encroachment, has warned that the Obama administration seeks to institute “involuntary servitude”.

Appearing on Fox News to discuss the states’ rights movement, Itse told hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, “This is about drawing a line in the sand and saying we’ve tolerated usurpations for so long but we’re not going to tolerate you violating the constitution, we’re going to hold you accountable.”

Asked if his warning about involuntary servitude under Obama meant young people being forced to attend community service, Itse responded, “Exactly, I mean, if you are required to do a job against your will with a pay scale not set by you or not agreed to by you, that’s involuntary servitude.”

Despite denials that Obama plans to institute a mandatory program of national service, his original change.gov website stated that Americans would be “required” to complete “50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year”. The text was only later changed to state that Americans would be “encouraged” to undertake such programs.

In addition, Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, publicly stated his intention to help create “universal civil defense training” in 2006. Such fears were also stoked when Obama himself said that a “national civilian security force,” that is “just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded” as the U.S. military was required.

Itse cited the No Child Left Behind program as an example of the federal government encroaching on states’ rights.

“They dangle a dollar in front of us and we chase it like the donkey with a carrot on a stick but ultimately they are infringing upon our domestic policies in the states, manipulating our domestic policies and we need to stand up and say that’s not your job, that’s our job,” said Itse, adding that if enough states stood up to Washington then they would have to pay attention.

In response to increasing federal encroachment, a growing number of states have passed and proposed resolutions to assert the Tenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.

Washington, New Hampshire, Arizona, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, California, and Georgia have all introduced bills and resolutions declaring sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment. Colorado, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Alaska, Kansas, Alabama, Nevada, Maine, and Illinois are considering such measures.

“This is about enforcing the constitution which states to the government, you’re not the boss of us, we’re the boss of you,” concluded the lawmaker.

Climate change rhetoric spirals out of control

BBC | Feb 24, 2009

By Christopher Booker

It was another bad week for the “warmists”, now more desperate than ever to whip up alarm over an overheating planet. It began last weekend with the BBC leading its bulletins on the news that a “leading climate scientist” in America, Professor Chris Field, had warned that “the severity of global warming over the next century will be much worse than previously believed”. Future temperatures “will be beyond anything predicted”, he told a Chicago conference. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had “seriously underestimated the size of the problem”.

The puzzle as to why the BBC should make this the main news of the day only deepened when it emerged that Prof Field was not a climate scientist at all but an evolutionary biologist. To promote its cause the BBC website even posted a video explaining how warming would be made worse by “negative feedback”. This scientific howler provoked much amusement and derision on expert US blogs, such as Anthony Watts’s Watts Up With That – since “negative feedback” would lower temperatures rather than raise them. The BBC soon pulled its video.

This was followed on Sunday by yet another outburst from the most extreme of all the scientists crying wolf on global warming, Al Gore’s ally Dr James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In The Observer he launched his most vitriolic call yet for the closing down of the coal-fired power stations which are the world’s main source of electricity, repeating his claim to a British court last year that the new coal-fired plant at Kingsnorth will alone be responsible for “the extermination of 400 species”.

“Coal-fired power plants are factories of death,” wrote Hansen, “the trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains”. This deliberate echo of the trains carrying Jews to Nazi death camps recalled how the more extreme warmists like to equate sceptics on climate change with “Holocaust deniers”. But such overheated language seemed somehow at home in the newspaper which in 1996 solemnly predicted that by 2016 half a million Britons would be dying each year from having eaten BSE-infected beef.

Later in the week sceptics were struck by an admission from Professor William Schlesinger, a lead author for the IPCC. Since one of the enduring myths of our time is that the case for global warming is supported by “the world’s top 2,500 climate scientists” on the IPCC, Schlesinger was asked in a public debate how many of its contributors are in fact climate experts. The best he could come up with was that “something on the order of 20 per cent have had some dealing with climate”. (This will not of course stop the BBC calling any old evolutionary biologist or economist who supports its views a “leading climate scientist”).

Finally there was the strange case of the vanishing Arctic ice. Just how far Arctic sea-ice is melting or growing is one of the issues which arouses most passionate interest in the global-warming debate. Observers were therefore startled last week to see the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) showing a very dramatic drop in sea-ice cover, 500,000 square kilometres of ice suddenly disappearing in the depths of the Arctic winter.

When this was queried by a puzzled Anthony Watts, the NSIDC somewhat shamefacedly admitted that a problem had developed with one of its satellites. The data for the previous 45 days was found to be so faulty that it had been withdrawn. But inevitably this provoked the question as to why quality control seemed to be so poor on one of the world’s leading official sources of climate data that it had taken an outside observer to point out that something was wrong,

This is by no means the first time that data on which the official case for global warming rests have had to be corrected, some of the more notorious instances involving temperature data supplied by Dr Hansen’s GISS. Yet this is one of the four official sources of temperature data on which the IPCC itself relies. When politicians plan measures to “combat climate change” costing tens of trillions of dollars, we can at least expect them to ensure that their figures are halfway believable.

China bars foreigners from Tibet

Human rights groups are reporting increased security in and around Tibet

BBC | Feb 24, 2009

Foreign tourists planning to visit Tibet have been told by travel agencies that the region has been closed to outsiders until the end of March.

Related

China orders Tibet to celebrate New Year

The month marks the 50th anniversary of the escape into exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

In March last year, Tibet witnessed a wave of violent anti-China protests – the worst unrest there for 20 years.

Tibetan exiles are planning to boycott their own New Year celebrations on Wednesday in protest at Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama has called for Tibetans not to celebrate New Year, or Losar, partly in memory of those killed or jailed in a crackdown after last year’s riots.

China said at least 18 people were killed during the unrest. Rights groups and activists say about 200 people were killed and several hundred more are still missing.

China does not allow foreign journalists unrestricted access to Tibet or restive areas surrounding it, making it extremely difficult to verify reports from the region.

‘Civil disobedience’

“This year it’s going to be observed as a day of prayer in memory of all the Tibetans who died and all those who are still suffering under Chinese rule,” Tenzin Taklha, the Dalai Lama’s India-based spokesman, was quoted by AFP as saying.

Groups representing Tibetans-in-exile have described the move as an “act of civil disobedience” against Chinese “repression”.

The defiant stance comes amid reports by human rights groups of increased security in Tibet and neighbouring Tibetan-populated regions of western China.

Last year’s protests took the Chinese authorities by surprise, and the BBC’s James Reynolds in Beijing says the state wants to make sure that there is no repeat.

The BBC has also been told privately by senior Chinese sources that no foreign journalists will be allowed into the region during March.

Travel agencies say that permits already issued to foreigners have been cancelled.

However, Chinese foreign ministry official Ma Zhaoxu told the BBC that Tibet currently enjoys social stability and growth, and that foreigners can apply to visit the region through normal channels.

Opposing views

China has ruled Tibet since 1951 and views it as an integral part of its territory.

It believes that the Chinese Communist Party liberated the Tibetan people from the oppressive feudal rule of the Dalai Lama, following a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

On 28 March 1959 the Communist Party announced the dissolution of the existing local government in Tibet – following the Dalai Lama’s flight a few days’ beforehand.

China says that this move freed about one million Tibetans from serfdom and slavery.

But to Tibetan groups in exile, the events of March 1959 and the exile of the Dalai Lama were a tragedy.

The Dalai Lama has said he does not want independence for Tibet, only meaningful autonomy.

Czech president compares EU to Soviet Union

AP | Feb 19, 2009

By CONSTANT BRAND

BRUSSELS (AP) — The president of the Czech Republic launched a scathing attack on the European Union Thursday, saying the bloc his country currently heads is undemocratic, elitist and reminiscent of Soviet-era Communist dictatorships .

Vaclav Klaus, who holds the rotating EU presidency, provoked boos from many lawmakers, some of whom walked out, but applause from nationalists and other anti-EU legislators.

Klaus is known for deep skepticism of the EU and has refused to fly the EU flag over his official seat in Prague during the Czech presidency, saying the country is not an EU province.

He said current EU practices smacked of communist times when the Soviet Union controlled much of eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic and when dissent or even discussions were not tolerated.

“Not so long ago, in our part of Europe we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition,” said Klaus. “We learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom.”

He said the 27-nation bloc should concentrate on offering prosperity to Europeans, rather than closer political union, and scrap a stalled EU reform treaty that Irish voters have already rejected.

Klaus said that questioning deeper integration has become an “uncriticizable assumption that there is only one possible and correct future of the European integration.”

“The enforcement of these notions … is unacceptable,” Klaus said. “Those who dare thinking about a different option are labeled as enemies.” Observers had been expecting Klaus to deliver a critical speech during his first and only visit to the EU chamber at a time when his country holds the EU limelight as chair of the 27-nation bloc.

“I have never experienced a situation where the presidency of the European Union … compares the EU with the Soviet Union,” said Belgian lawmaker Ivo Belet.

Gene could allow replacement teeth to be grown in a lab

Teeth could be repaired or regrown

BBC | Feb 24, 2009

teethScientists believe they have found a way to grow teeth in the laboratory, a discovery that could put an end to fillings and dentures.

The US team from Oregon have located the gene responsible for the growth of enamel, the hard outer layer of teeth which cannot grow back naturally.

Other scientists are already growing the inner parts of teeth in animals – but they have no hard enamel coatings.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences work may plug this gap.

Experiments in mice have shown that the gene, a “transcription factor” called Ctip2, has several functions involving immune responses and the development of skin and nerves.

The work at Oregon State University made the link with enamel by studying mice bred to lack Ctip2.

Lead researcher Dr Chrissa Kioussi said: “It’s not unusual for a gene to have multiple functions, but before this we didn’t know what regulated the production of tooth enamel.”

The scientists found that Ctip2 was crucial for the enamel-producing cells, called ameloblasts, to form and work properly.

Dr Kioussi said: “This is the first transcription factor ever found to control the formation and maturation of ameloblasts, which are the cells that secrete enamel.”

Controlling the gene in conjunction with stem-cell technology could make the artificial creation of functional teeth a real possibility.

Alternatively, the knowledge could be used to strengthen existing enamel and repair damaged enamel, cutting decay and the need for fillings.

Dr Kioussi said: “A lot of work would still be needed to bring this to human applications, but it should work. It could be really cool, a whole new approach to dental health.”

Paul Sharpe, an expert on tooth development at the Dental Institute at King’s College London, said: “If you could find some way of growing ameloblasts that make enamel, you could find a way to repair teeth.

“Any gene like this is worth understanding. The more we learn about it the more we can use the information to make biological models of tooth repair.”