Friday, December 30, 2011

Mormons: Why I Like Them Best

I live in Phoenix. There are a lot of Mormons around here. I like them. They fairly consistently practice what they preach, more than any other religion I have observed. 

Yes, the temples are triumphalistic in the extreme. Yes, they banned Negroes for generations.  Yes, they have beliefs and practices that seem odd if you're not used to them. They are sort of sexist. I know all that.

But they may still be my favorite full-blown religion. (I don't consider Buddhism a full-blown religion).

Mormons want everybody to be a Mormon. They send missionaries out to talk about Jesus Christ and about the Church to anyone who will listen, anywhere.  They are cheerful and mightily earnest about it. 

Mormons support the Church, big time.  No Mormon is going to be hungry or homeless if other Mormons know about it. Name another major Christian group you can say that about.

Unlike some big Christian groups, Mormons don't whine if they don't get government contracts because they discriminate or don't want to provide some services. They pay for the programs themselves and run them the way they believe is right. 

I have huge problems with Mitt Romney.  His religion is definitely not one of them.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Catholic Bishops want Cake and Eat it Too: Gay Adoption

Catholic Charities in Illinois has served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children. But now most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois are closing down rather than comply with a new requirement that says they can no longer receive state money if they turn away same-sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents.
For the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, the outcome is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are now the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops, but also for Republican presidential candidates and conservative evangelicals.

The Practical Buddhist Responds
Buddhists are tolerant. With 2600 years of compelling teachings on social justice, they have not a single commandment. Anybody who embraces the dharma teaching can be a Buddhist. Anybody. 
Christianity, like most religions, is a club with rules and requirements for membership. No problem, if you're free to join or abstain.
Our Founding Fathers decided we’d be a secular state, with all religions welcome and none favored. Even though the majority religion is Christian, Christians don't have special rights or protections, any more than Rastafarians.
It’s only a problem when religious leaders want the government to make laws and policies that favor their views. 
The Catholic Church in Illinois doesn't pay taxes, but they provide many noble services for the poor. Catholic Charities serves 10 million people nationwide every year.
But they don't get to benefit from government contracts unless they respect the same civil rights as secular agencies do.
 If you want the contract for helping victims of sex traffic, you have to agree to provide contraception counseling. If you want to run adoption programs for the government, you have to serve all qualified parents, even the gay ones. You can preach against contraception and gay people on every street corner, take out slick ads on TV like the Mormons, or even excommunicate people who don't agree.  It's your club and you get to set the rules, and your club has done a lot of good for a lot of people. 
But you don't get my tax money if you selectively withhold services based on your beliefs.  
Besides, if a bishop ever asked my advice, I'd say leave the gays and the contraceptives alone for a while. There's a war on, Your Excellency, and we need to hear you preach peace in the name of the Prince of Peace. There are increasing social inequities, racial and economic. (I haven't heard a bishop object to Sheriff Joe's abuse of Mexicans).
And quit complaining that your religious rights are being trampled. You have absolute freedom of religion around here, so long as you don't expect government money.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Red Hat Club: Buddhism and Being Yourself

This post was very popular when it appeared a couple of months ago. Here it is again, due to multiple requests.

When I am Old I Shall Wear Purple (and Learn to Spit)

Jenny Joseph wrote this famous poem in the 1960's. The second line inspired the Red Hat Club. She's probably not a Buddhist officially, but she understands compassion, and paying attention.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other peoples' gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickles for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

The old lady in the photo is not Jenny Joseph, whom I've never seen.  She is just somebody sitting canal-side enjoying a smoke on the island Burano near Venice, where all the houses are painted in bright primary colors.  When I saw her, though, I imagined she must have read Jenny's wonderful poem, so we exchanged smiles and a nod and she let me make this snapshot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fake Surgeon does Liposuction while Smoking Cigar

California Man Charged With Impersonating Surgeon, Flushing Fat Down Toilet

Fox News
A California man who allegedly posed as doctor and performed liposuction while smoking a cigar will appear in court this week to face several felony charges, the San Francisco Examiner reported.
Guzmangarza allegedly performed liposuction on a woman in 2010 when he quoted her a price lower than other city doctors. Prosecutors said he smoked a cigar during the procedure and made her hold her own IV bag.
A few days after the surgery, Guzmangarza came to the woman’s home and asked her to flush six pounds of her own fat, which he said he removed during the procedure, down the toilet, according to prosecutors.
When the woman’s abdomen became infected, she sought the help of a real doctor, and that’s when she learned Guzmangarza was a fraud, prosecutors said.

Read more:

The Practical Buddhist Responds

 After the holidays, the Practical Buddhist would like his belly fat sucked out. Nothing extreme Actually I'd be OK with having a tummy like the guy on the left, the before picture. Good shape and normal. Not gym-obsessed. If it didn't hurt or cost more than thirty five bucks and it was guaranteed safe and the guy did house calls, I might consider it. But if it was expensive, I'd rather eat less and save money two ways. Or if it was dangerous, I'd do something fun and dangerous, like sky diving. But live and let live.

I can tell you that if the guy charged a lot less than everybody else, and lit up a cigar during the operation and made me hold my own IV bag, I'd be a little suspicious.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Americans believe in angels

December 23, 2011 8:25 AM

Poll: Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe in angels

    In this photo released by the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, is seen a fresco painted by Giotto in the famed basilica. (AP Photo/Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, ho)
    Angels don't just sing at Christmastime. For most Americans, they're a year-round presence. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 77 percent of adults believe these ethereal beings are real.
    Belief is primarily tied to religion, with 88 percent of Christians, 95 percent of evangelical Christians and 94 percent of those who attend weekly religious services of any sort saying they believe in angels.
    But belief in angels is fairly widespread even among the less religious. A majority of non-Christians think angels exist, as do more than 4 in 10 of those who never attend religious services.
    Beyond the religious gap, women are more likely than men to believe angels are real, and those over 30 are more apt than younger adults to think they exist.
    The finding mirrors a 2006 AP-AOL poll, which found 81 percent believed in angels.
    Previous polling has found the public a bit more likely to believe in God, but far less likely to believe in other other-worldly beings. In May, 92 percent of adults told Gallup pollsters they believed in God. But just 34 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll in 2007 said they believed in ghosts or UFOs.

    The Practical Buddist Responds

    Buddhists believe in angels, sort of.  It depends on the branch of Buddhism and its relationship to the culture and how it mixes with previous religions.  But there are definitely devas, composed of energy and light, and portrayed in human-like form. The don't involve themselves in human affairs much, unlike Christian angels. Many Thai people do believe that devas encourage meditation and find ways to harass evil-doers. No matter. Humans look for light.

    We seek the light. We crave guidance and inspiration and a model for pure goodness. It's easy to embody the light in a being that looks a bit like us.  Right now Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus, which was announced to Mary by a very senior angel. The Bible is full of divine messengers like Gabriel.

    Somehow, no matter what our religious tradition, we mostly like the idea of angels, beautiful and powerful spirits send to help, guide, or sometimes correct us.

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    Santa and the Economy

    Santa makes some Buddhists squirm a little bit, mostly because he is all about excess.  He is very big and very fat and very loud and carries a huge sack of wonderful gifts on a flying sleigh pulled by a whole herd of reindeer.

    I saw a news feature about a sad-faced family with little kids.  They'd spent too much on the tree, so there was no choice but to go into debt to buy presents for their pre-schoolers.

    Nonsense.  In my office I've got a 15-year-old Lego set, a Fisher-Price doll house from 1983, blank paper and a big cup of Crayolas, mostly broken.  Kids five and down are delighted to play with that stuff with an admiring and engaged adult, even a strange psychologist. Kids crave attention, participation, and a chance to interact.  When the admiring and engaged adult is a parent, it's magic.

    Our commercial culture has somehow convinced moms and dads that their kids will be scarred for life if significant money isn't spent. For little kids, is just ain't so.  (Older kids will try to convince the parents that if they don't get what they want, it's child abuse. But they were little kids once, and the parents helped train them that way.)

    Please don't go into debt to get presents. Use your time and your talent. You are the best gift your kids could ever get, and you are the gift they want.

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Reason for the Season: Glee Christmas Show

    This year's Glee Christmas extravaganza was weird, but it was also politically incorrect, which the Practical Buddhist appreciated.  

    After a too-long segment that caricatured greed and superficiality, the Irish exchange  student Rory  defied the director, went off script, and read the Nativity narrative from Luke's Gospel instead of the silly poem he'd been assigned.

    This year I've gone back to saying "Merry Christmas" and dropped "Happy Holidays" entirely. I was raised as a Christian, and Merry Christmas is a Christian blessing. No apologies.

    Christians believe God sent His Son to be born of a woman's flesh -- the Incarnation, or God-With-Us. That's something to live for, and in.

    To you it may be a quaint myth or a central belief. Either way it's beautiful. Merry Christmas.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    The End of the World: Apocalypse Soon

    2012 End-of-the-World Countdown  Starts Today

    Stone/Getty Images
    We’re one year away from Dec. 21, 2012, the date that the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar allegedly marked as the end of an era that would reset the date to zero and signal the end of humanity.
    But will it?
    There have been many end of times predictions over the years. Christian radio host Harold Camping faced widespread ridicule when his predictions that the world would end twice this year – on May 21, and then on Oct. 21 – failed to materialize.
    But in the flurry of doomsday predictions – there have been similar dire warnings about the world coming to an end from various cultures, including Native Americans, the Chinese, Egyptians and even the Irish — the supposed Mayan prophecy seems to have held the most sway with believers.
    This stuff makes the average Buddhist smile. We already know nothing lasts. We already know we don't have much control over much. Some folks  spend a lot of energy trying to figure out from ancient scriptures when the planet or the people will end.  They are looking for controls and maybe for meaning, and they won't find them there. A life richly lived is one that serves others by relieving suffering and by paying  close attention, here and now.

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    Brand New Death Chamber in California Still Unused

    California's new lethal injection protocol tossed by judge

    San Quentin State Prison

    Officials failed to consider one-drug execution used by other states, or explain why not, judge says

    State officials now must decide whether to appeal D'Opal's ruling or again revise the lethal injection procedures that were deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2006. The ruling — at least for now, experts say — appears to halt a federal judge's review of whether the changes to the state procedures are sufficient to allow executions to resume after a six-year suspension.

    D'Opal criticized the state for ignoring many requirements of the law on revising official procedures, saying that officials failed even to explain why they rejected the one-drug method.

    The last execution in the state was in January 2006, when 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen was put to death. A month later, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel halted the scheduled lethal injection of convicted murderer Michael A. Morales because of concerns that some of the 13 men put to death in California since 1978 may have experienced excessive pain.

    The Practical Buddhist Reacts

    Mitchell Sims is one of over 700 men who have exhausted all appeals. It took him 24 years to do so. Now all the separates him from being ritualistically killed is a technicality. More and more Americans now realize executions are barbaric and pointless. They don't deter, they are racially inequitable, and they cost years of work and millions of dollars. Other civilized countries have dropped the practice long ago. Even if executions were timely, evenly applied, humane, and effective as a deterrent, they would still be wrong.  No religion today has a developed theology that supports our form of capital punishment.  Sure, fanatics find proof texts in ancient scriptures, like the Old Testament's death by stoning for adultery, but Jesus reformed all that 2000 years ago. Thou Shalt Not Kill is a central tenet of modern Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, even if weasel theologians can come up with exceptions for Oil Wars and executions.

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    Saudi woman beheaded for 'witchcraft and sorcery'


    December 13, 2011|By Mohammed Jamjoom and Saad Abedine, CNN
    Saudi woman beheaded for 'sorcery'
    A woman was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft and sorcery, the kingdom's Interior Ministry said, prompting Amnesty International to call for a halt in executions there.
    Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar was executed Monday for having "committed the practice of witchcraft and sorcery," according to an Interior Ministry statement. Nassar was investigated before her arrest and was "convicted of what she was accused of based on the law," the statement said. Her beheading took place in the Qariyat province of the region of Al-Jawf, the ministry said.

    The Practical Buddhist Responds

    Tomorrow I'll write about Mitchell Sims, who's been on California's death row for 24 years. His current appeal is technical, based on the yet-again revised killing method proposed by the state. He's winning this one, so far.

    People don't seem to care much about Sims or his 744 condemned fellow-inmates, long ago sentenced to death for crimes of hate and greed and passion, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Amina Nassar is another story. She was killed for "sorcery." She sold potions to the lovelorn and others hoping for magic. Her death horrifies and shocks. It convinces us that the Saudi kingdom is medieval and cruel.


    In a land still enamored of killing its criminals, sorcery is not on the list of capital crimes. In fact we celebrate it. Outrageously expensive scents and cosmetics promise to bring beauty and adoration. Everyone knows these are lies. No one cares.

    In Saudi Arabia you can be killed for making fake potions and false promises. Here they will make you rich.