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Vatican Preacher: Accusing Church of Abuse Akin to Anti-Semitism April 4, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Religion, Social/Political Commentary.
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Rev Raniero Cantalamessa, who made the comments on Good Friday

I don’t usually like to comment on religious or political things, but this latest Vatican furore has gotten me worked up — and after all, it’s Easter.

At the Good Friday service delivered by Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher, Rev Raniero Cantalamessa, read out a letter from a friend which likened the recent persecution of the Catholic Church over clerical sex abuse cover ups to the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”

What could have possibly possessed Cantalamessa to compare the allegations of feigned ignorance or blatant cover up over child sex abuse by the Catholic Church to the unspeakable horrors stemming from anti-Semitism?  Rather than whine about and give lame excuses over the flack the Church has copped (and justifiably so) over the child abuse and cover up claims, why not actually do something about it?  Or at least make it look like they’re doing something about it?  By all means, make the point that the Church as a whole is being unfairly blamed, and that not all priests are pedophiles.  But do it in an intelligent way that does not unnecessaily stir up the already sensitive public.

And of course, the expected public backlash/overreaction is equally frustrating.  It’s typical of the media to pick one little bit of a sermon by one person of the Church and blow it out of proportion by saying it’s an insult to all the Jews that perished in the Holocaust.  No wonder the Pope (and the Vatican) is trying to distance himself from the comments.

However, at the end of the day, it’s really just another example of the arrogance and naivete of certain members of the Catholic Church in thinking that they can play the “victim” card in the child abuse saga and expect to get away it.  And to use anti-Semitism to draw parallels is just plain stupid.

In particular, I found the comparison interesting given that the Catholic Church has played a prominent role in both the child abuse cover-up scandals and in perpetuating theological anti-Semitism throughout history.

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Book Review: A Life at Work by Thomas Moore January 13, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Religion.
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The moral of the story is: don’t buy a book you can’t look inside before you pay.

I was on a literary shopping spree in Taiwan’s 24-hour book store, Eslite (I’m going to blog this place soon), picking up all the English book specials I could find.  Just as I was about to head to the counter, I see this neatly wrapped book (in clear plastic) called A Life at Work by Thomas Moore.

‘The joy of discovering what you were born to do’, the cover says.  Oh my goodness, I exclaim silently.  As as person torn between leaving a financially stable job he doesn’t really like and starting over in a risky field he loves, I took it as a sign.

(Read on by clicking ‘More…’)

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Book Review: The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas November 28, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Religion.
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Fear not, religious nuts.  Atheists have not yet taken over the world.  Not yet, anyway.

Remember the infamous Atheist Bus Campaign that stirred up all that controversy at the end of 2008?  You know, the posters on the side of UK buses that said: ‘There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”?  Well, Ariane Sherine, the creator of that campaign, has come up with yet another brilliant idea.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a clever collection of 42 mini-essays about the birth date of Jesus Christ contributed by an assortment of well-known people from all walks of life.  Stand-up comedians, scientists, writers, journalists, filmmakers, cartoonists and bloggers.  And the one thing all of them have in common?  None of them believe in God.  Any God.

Now, I use the term ‘well-known’ loosely, as there are many names in the list that I’m sure many are not familiar with.  The ones people should at least recognise include Derren Brown (the illusionist who does all that freaky mind control stuff), Zoe Margolis (blog author of Girl with a One-Track Mind), Brian Cox (the physicist – though I erroneously thought it was the Scottish actor from X-Men 2), and of course, the most famous atheist of them all, Mr God Delusion himself, Richard Dawkins.

As for the names you don’t recognise, there is a helpful biographies section at the end.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this section until I got there.  A shame, because if I had read about who the authors are and what they do before reading their respective essays it would have put their words in the proper perspective  (potential readers take note).

The various essays are separated into categories: Stories, Science, How To, Philosophy, Arts and Events.  However, I think this was just to make things more manageable for the reader, as each essay is written so differently and touch on such a wide array of issues and themes that it would have been impossible to classify them with any degree of specificity.  The essays range from personal stories and experiences about how they lost their faith, to opinions on what Christmas means to them as an atheist; from complex scientific explanations to discussions on Christmas shopping, gifts, parties, music, film and literature.  You really do get a broad spectrum of views, as some authors were brought up as Catholics, some are Jews, while others were raised by atheist or agnostic parents.

While you may not find all the essays appealing or interesting, the good thing with having 42 different entries is that you can pick and choose what you want to read, and skip, skim or come back (or not) to the others.  The entries range from just a couple of pages up to 10 pages at the very most, so even if you skip a few completely, you won’t feel as though you’re wasting the book.

My favourite essay of the lot is by comedian Catie Wilkins, who wrote a hilarious yet heart-felt little piece called ‘110 Love Street’.  As a film lover, I also liked ‘An Atheist at the Movies’ by David Baddiel and Arvind Ethan David, who discuss everything from The Golden Compass to The Passion of the Christ to Contact.  Of course, the big names don’t disappoint either.  Derren Brown’s piece ‘On Kindness’ and Richard Dawkins’ original Christmas story ‘The Great Bus Mystery’ are both fabulously written and exceptionally well thought out.  Even if you don’t agree with where they are coming from you can at least marvel at their intellect.

I know many religious people will scoff at such a book (especially one with this title), but it is honestly quite harmless.  There is nothing grossly offensive to be found between the covers (unless you are a nutjob).  It can definitely be enjoyed by agnostics (referred to by Sherine as ‘eggnostics’) and non-self-righteous, open-minded religious folk (who aren’t crazy).  At the end of the day, The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a funny, eye-opening read that turned out to be more educational than I could have imagined.  It would make a great gift for Christmas, especially since 50% of the overall total profit from the book goes to the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity.  For religious fanatics who ‘refuse to read such nonsense’ (or are just too lazy to turn the page), the book is also available in audio format on iTunes.
4 out of 5 stars!

A Few Quick Thoughts on Italy and Vatican City March 24, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Food, Religion, Travel.
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Note: Travel Diary has been updated!  Pictures to be added

I’m having the time of my life on this awesome 3-week European journey, and I’ve tried to put in the effort to write as much as possible during this time, even if it’s just to keep the creative juices flowing and so I don’t ever forget this amazing adventure.

However, I’m falling a little behind with my Travel Diary entries.  I just completed my lengthy entry on Rome (still no pictures, unfortunately, but I’ll try and add some soon), though I have been in Switzerland the last couple of days and from tomorrow will be in Germany!  I’ve finished listening to Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing but I’m still yet to write a review (but more importantly,  jot down some helpful tips from King that I’ll want to employ in my own writing from this point forward).

In my last post I wrote about this wonderful little cake store near the Colosseum called Cristalli Di Zucchero.  Anyway, I thought I’d add a few more thoughts about Italy and Vatican City before I forget it all!

Must-see attractions

I visited 4 cities in Italy: Pisa, Florence, Venice and Rome.  I’d say Venice is the prettiest, with its beautiful turqoise canals, clean, narrow streets and lack of modern architecture.  Rome, of course, is a must visit because of its history, the abundance of attractions, and Vatican City.  Florence is very nice, kind of charming and relaxed in its own way, and Pisa is just good for the Leaning Tower.

Of all the places I visited in Italy, my top 5 attractions (in descending order) are:

5. San Marco (St Mark’s Square) – a massive square and a world heritage site in Venice and home to Basilica Di San Marco.  Moreover, the journey through the canals to get there may be as amazing as the place itself.

4. Galleria dell’Accademia – in Florence, home of Michelangelo’s David, a truly magnificent masterpiece.  See it if you plan on seeing just one sculpture.

3. National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II (or Altare della Patria  or Il Vittoriano for short) – in Rome, very close to the Coloseum.  Big, white and not ancient, but amazing to look at nonetheless.  Plus you can walk up all those stairs to the top where you can enjoy the best views of Rome!

2. Vatican City – corridor after corridor of art in the Vatican Museum (and the most famous ones in the Sistine Chapel) and St Peter’s Basilica are unforgettable regardless of your religion.  Just make sure you buy tickets in advance for the Museum if you want to avoid the long queues.

1. Palantine Hill – the archaeological site next to the Colosseum in Rome.  Head around the walls to the North-Western side and look down from above.

Pizza

Pizza is everywhere and we had it at least once a day (fat city).  It’s difficult to find BAD pizza in Italy, but some are clearly better than others.  Prices can also vary significantly, from a couple of Euros a slice in corner stores to twenty-plus in posh restaurants.  Chances are they won’t taste all that different.  The best ones we had were actually from the small shops where you buy a slice and eat it standing on the side.  The worst would be from chain store restaurants that look too neat and touristy.  However, the most amazing tasting ones we had were actually from a takeout joint called Spizzico, at Roma Termini station.

Most pizzas we came across were pretty authentic – meaning tomato base, cheese, and one or two simple toppings such as mushroom, prosciutto or sausage.  None of the crazy toppings you’d find at Pizza Hut or Dominos.  However, a common problem (for me at least) was that they were too salty, especially the tomato base.  It seems they are a bit inconsistent in this regard.  You can get two pizzas from the same place and one could be just right and the other too salty.

Gelato

We (well, my wife) are big gelato fans.  There are plenty in Italy, just about on every touristy street.  The majority taste pretty similar, to be honest, but prices vary.  €2 for a small cone would be a decent price, but some can charge as much as €3.50 for a single scoop.

The best and cheapest we had was at Old Bridge Gelato (address: Viale dei Bastioni di Michelangelo 5) just around the corner from the Vatican Museum.  The smallest cone is just €1.30 (and the next up is €1.50).  The gelato is top notch and you can get up to 3 flavours regardless of size of cone – plus you can get free cream on top!  Here is a review of the place.

The crepe place next door is very good too.

Coffee

I’m not the biggest coffee fan but my wife likes to look for good coffee places.  There are quite a few in Italy, but some can be quite expensive.  The best one we went to came highly recommended, and it’s very close to the Pantheon.  It’s called Caffé San’ Eustachio and it is quite small and seemingly always crowded.  You order at the counter then give your receipt to the coffee makers.  Most people stand and finish their cup, though a few take them to the limited seats outside.  I found this blog post about the place.

Safety

Before I came to Italy I was warned by family members that it was a dangerous place.  People get mugged all the time.  If you don’t keep an eye on your bags they could disappear any second.  Hoards of kids crowd you in and pick your pockets.  Stuff like that.

Fortunately, I experienced none of the above.  Not even close.  For the most part, I found Italy to be seemingly quite safe.  Of course, I took the necessary precautions, such as not going out too late, keeping my belongings zipped up when I go out, and keep to the main streets.  The street vendors were actually quite nice and polite, totally unlike the thugs we encountered in Paris that try to force you to buy their crap.

Vatican City

Visiting Vatican City was a dream come true.  I’m not a Catholic, but I had always been fascinated by its history, and more importantly, the amazing architecture and priceless art works.  In that regard, the visit was everything I had expected.

What I didn’t expect were the long lines (silly me) and the number of people who tried to push in and sneak to the front.  When everyone’s waiting patiently, seeing people who blatantly break the rules can be frustrating.  So be smart and purchase tickets in advance to avoid the hassle.

Another thing I found disappointing was the over-commercialization of the place.  Sure enough, the tickets were expensive, but I didn’t expect there to be so much merchandise everywhere I went!  And people (I assume mostly the religious ones) were lapping up the over-priced products like Pope pens and pendants like crazy!  Don’t they make enough money from the entry tickets already?  It almost felt like they were exploiting people’s faiths.

Most troubling were the school groups, where the guides would point to various paintings like The Last Judgment and try to scare kids into Catholicism by telling them they’ll go to hell if they don’t do this and that.  Surely there has to be a better way to teach religion to children?

Does the Bible prohibit shorts in basketball? January 29, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, Religion.
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And you thought your basketball shorts were long

Basketball shorts are getting ridiculously long these days.  But then again, who would want to go back to the days when you couldn’t distinguish them from your sister’s bike pants?  Don’t answer that.

basketball-pantsA friend of mine alerted me to this ESPN Page 2 Article about Christian high schools in America that play their basketball games in long pants (there’s a video of this at the site) – not because they’re trying to take long shorts to a whole new level – but because of what the Bible says.

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