Friday, July 20, 2012

Tennessee Mosque, Fundamental Rights, and a Mission to Mars

This isn't a 'political' blog: I don't claim that one person or party is always right, and that everybody who doesn't agree is icky.

But my faith won't let me ignore civic responsibilities, so I discuss 'political' issues sometimes. Fairly often recently, since there's an election coming in November.

As a practicing Catholic, I have to think that we need some sort of government. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1897-1904)

I also am quite certain that a government can't decide to change fundamental ethical standards. I'm even required to apply ethical standards to what I do, if a ruler tells me to do wrong: 'I was only following orders' isn't an excuse. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2242)

I've been over this sort of thing before. (June 27, 2012,
March 12, 2012)

My take on the week's news:
  1. 'My End of the Boat Isn't Sinking?'
  2. Opinions, and an Impending Election
  3. Fundamental Rights, Democracy, and the Pope
  4. Mars Mission, Robots, and "...a Grownup's God"
One more thing: I think that religious freedom is important. (Catechism, 2104-2109) I also think that forcing a person to act against his or her conscience is wrong: any person. (Catechism, 2106)

1. 'My End of the Boat Isn't Sinking?'

"Judge grants Tennessee mosque's petition, orders county to move ahead with opening new building"
Associated Press, via (July 19, 2012)

"Muslims in a Tennessee congregation prepared Thursday for the holy month of Ramadan a day after a federal judge ruled they have a right to occupy their newly built mosque, overruling a county judge's order that was keeping them out.

"The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro sued Rutherford County on Wednesday and asked U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell for an emergency order to let worshippers into the building before the holy month of Ramadan starts at sundown Thursday.

"Federal prosecutors also filed a similar lawsuit...."
You're not likely to hear 'the only good Indian is a dead Indian' these days. America finally got around to recognizing that the folks living in North America when Leif Ericson and that other dude arrived are people, too: and started recognizing some 19th-century treaties. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the 'dead Indian' attitude is still with us, with a different focus:

'Good Guys,' 'Bad Guys,' and Assumptions

Denver News (1921), from The Library of Congress (American Memory Collection),, via, used w/o permissionIt's easy to assume that 'Muslims are terrorists,' or 'Christians burn crosses:' but that doesn't make the assumptions true. Not in all cases.

Yes, a particularly violent brand of Islam led the death of thousands of folks on September 11, 2001. And some Americans still use burning crosses to express their intolerance of others.

That doesn't mean that every Christian group is a lynch mob, just waiting to happen. I'm quite sure that the same principle can be applied to Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, and Kiwanis.

Love: Everyone

Since Two thousand years ago a man said that we should love God, and love our neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:25-30) He also indicated that everybody is our neighbor. (Matthew 5:43-44), Luke 10:29-37)

That idea spread, slowly. A thousand years ago, my ancestors were still conducting routine human sacrifice. Today I follow the man who wouldn't stay dead, and that's another topic

'We Don't Want Your Kind Around?'

Back to that house of worship:
"...The future of the mosque had been in question since May, when a local judge overturned the county's approval of the mosque construction. This month, he ordered the county not to issue an occupancy permit for the 12,000-square-foot building....

"...The contentious fight over the mosque stems from a 2010 lawsuit filed by a group of residents who made repeated claims that Islam was not a real religion and that local Muslims intended to overthrow the U.S. Constitution in favor of Islamic religious law.

"Those claims were dismissed, but....
(Associated Press,
The notion that 'foreigners' follow a faith that's "not a real religion," and "intended to overthrow the U.S. Constitution" is nothing new.

America has a pretty good track record for tolerance. But my country's history has quite a few examples of Americans who want to keep 'foreigners' out. (March 25, 2012)

Coming from folks whose ancestors were immigrants not all that long ago: that's yet another topic.

Even if my faith didn't demand that I respect everyone's right to exercise their conscience, I think I'd be uncomfortable about denying newcomers the same rights that 'real Americans' have.

Freedom: For Everybody

"...In court Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin said the chancery court judge, in essence, created a separate 'mosque standard' applicable only to someone who wants to build a mosque.

"Citing acts of 'vandalism, arson and a bomb threat against the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Martin said, 'The Muslim community in Rutherford County has been under siege for the last two years. Now, after doing everything right, they are told that they can't move in.'...

"...The congregation is being represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and local civil rights attorney George Barrett. The lawsuit filed in federal court in Nashville alleges violations of federal law and the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and equal protection.

" 'If ICM were a Christian church, it would have been granted a certificate of occupancy and would be worshipping in its new facility today,' a memorandum to the federal court reads, citing 20 instances of Christian churches that have been allowed to build since 2000. ' ... The discriminatory treatment of the mosque also sends a powerful message to the Muslim community that they are second-class citizens, not worthy of the same rights or protection as Christian churches.'..."
(Associated Press, [emphasis mine]
Freedom doesn't mean 'everybody do what I say.' Religious freedom doesn't mean 'everybody believe what I do.' 'My end of the boat isn't sinking' simply isn't a sensible attitude.

If I don't speak up for the rights of others: and that's yet again another topic. (April 7, 2011)

The Becket Fund is named after Thomas Becket, who got in trouble with the government. That was about nine centuries ago: and we've still got national rulers who want to control religion. (June 23, 2012, September 6, 2011)

The Becket Fund is much newer, of course. It's only been around for about 17 years:

2. Opinions, and an Impending Election

"Fox News poll: Nearly two-thirds of voters say government is the problem"
Dana Blanton, (July 18, 2012)

"By nearly three-to-one, American voters see government as the problem as opposed to the solution in today's economy. Meanwhile, a majority believes President Obama’s policies are expanding the government.

"A Fox News poll released Wednesday shows that 55 percent of voters believe Obama's policies are making the government 'bigger and more expensive.' That's more than five times as many as say 'smaller and less expensive' (10 percent). Another 28 percent say Obama's policies haven't changed the size of government.

"Most Republicans (88 percent), a majority of independents (55 percent) and a quarter of Democrats (25 percent) say Obama is increasing the size of government.

"The poll asks voters which phrase best describes their view of the government's role in the economy given current economic problems. About one in four says 'government is the solution to the problem' (23 percent). Sixty-four percent say government is the problem.'...."
(Associated Press,
I'm rather strongly inclined to believe this, since I think that one of the best things America's national government could do for this country is get out of our way, and let us do our jobs.

I also think that that 'the masses' in America are nowhere near as stupid and incompetent as our leaders seem to assume we are.

I'll admit to a bias: I grew up near the eastern border of North Dakota, where the culture is probably different from what you'll find near the coasts.

Still: even when I lived in San Francisco, most of the 'ordinary folks' seemed quite sensible.

Assumptions, Bias, and Points of View

I've read opinions about Fox News: that it's a tool of the Republican Party, that it's in league with reactionary counter-revolutionists (no, the person didn't put it quite that way), and that they're utterly unreliable.

I can see how someone could form that opinion: Fox News hasn't been consistently praising the American president. Applying the 'America: love it or leave it' attitude of the 'good old days,' how can you trust someone who 'doesn't support the president?'

I've posted about 'the establishment', past and present, before:
As for media bias, I've been over that, too:

3. Fundamental Rights, Democracy, and the Pope

Pope to speak on 'crisis of democracy'"
CNA/EWTN News (July 16, 2012)

"Pope Benedict XVI will use his annual message for the 46th World Day of Peace this Jan. 1 to examine the 'worrying crisis of democracy,' the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said July 16.

"The pontiff will examine 'fundamental rights' including freedom of conscience, expression and religion. He will also reflect upon the measures taken to contain contemporary financial and economic crises and 'the crisis of the institutions and politics.'

"The pontifical council said that this institutional crisis is in many cases a 'crisis of democracy.'..."
There's a bit more, about folks taking responsibility for building peace. That's important, too, and I may get back to it: in another post.

Benedict XVI's message will come on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council - and Pope John XXIII's 1963 "Pacem in Terris."

I think it's important to remember that the Catholic Church 'isn't American.' We're everywhere, and general announcements like this are for the world: not just one country that sits between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

That remark about a "crisis of democracy" may not be directed at the United States. There are countries where folks have it worse than we do, in terms of responsible national governments: Somalia and Belarus come to mind.

On the other hand, I think America can do better. As I've said before, there's an election coming in November: we're overdue for change, and that's a good opportunity.

4. Mars Mission, Robots, and "...a Grownup's God"

"News of Huge Mars Rover's Landing Could be Delayed by Spacecraft Glitch"
Denise Chow, (July 16, 2012)

"NASA is just 20 days away from landing a car-size rover on Mars, but mission managers might have to wait a little longer than anticipated to learn whether the challenging touchdown succeeds or not.

"NASA's 1-ton Curiosity rover, the centerpiece of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, is slated to land on the Martian surface on the night of Aug. 5 to investigate whether the planet is, or ever was, capable of harboring past or present microbial life...."
I gather that Curiosity is doing well: the trouble is in communication links between the robot spaceship and Earth. Curiosity is seems quite capable of landing on its own. Or should be.

Not all ships sent to Mars survive.

21st Century: Flying Cars, Not Yet; Robots, Yes

When I was growing up, the assumption was that exploration of Mars would have to wait until human beings could travel there in person. The idea that robots could handle that sort of task was - literally - science fiction.

Then transistors, integrated circuits, and microprocessors came along: along with industrial robots and Fenway, the robot hospital helper, and the Robovie series of personal assistants.

Also, getting back to Curiosity, robot spaceships. Here's a reduced version of a sort of infographic I found on NASA's website:

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech, used w/o permission)
"Artist's concept of Mars Science Laboratory entry, descent and landing."

More about the Curiosity mission:
What's news about a Mars mission doing in a 'religious' blog? I'll get to that.

Orbital Outpost, News, and Waiting

"...In early June, a NASA spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet, called Mars Odyssey, suffered a malfunction on one of its reaction wheels, an instrument that helps control the probe's attitude in space.

" 'Odyssey looks like it may not be where we expect it to be,' McCuistion said.

"The glitch does not pose a risk to Curiosity's impending arrival at the Red Planet, officials said. But Mars Odyssey's original orbit would have given it a complete view of Curiosity's landing, so the probe had been pegged to act as an orbiting outpost to relay communications and data back to mission managers on Earth.

"With Odyssey in the picture, mission managers may be able to confirm Curiosity's touchdown by 10:31 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6). Without Odyssey, however, mission controllers may not know the outcome of the landing maneuver until 10:35 p.m. PDT or later...."
(Denise Chow,
So: this glitch may delay Curiosity's 'I made it' signal by four minutes? Or, more ominously, the lack of such a signal.

Maybe a four minute delay doesn't seem like much. Think about it this way, though: you're watching the Super Bowl, World Cup, or whatever. The score is tied, with only four minutes left on the clock. Then, just as the teams start a last, desperate, effort for the winning score: networks cut to four minutes of toothpaste and dental floss commercials.

A thousand years from now, I don't know whether the landing of another robot explorer on Mars will seem as important as the New Orleans Saints 2009 Super Bowl victory. The point is that four minutes can be a long time to wait for news of success or failure.

Science: In a 'Religious' Blog?!

I've been interested in science, the systematic study of this universe, since childhood. On the other hand, I've never been one of those dreamy, vaguely-smiling, 'spiritual' folks, which isn't the same as not caring about God:
I could be a 'good Catholic,' and think that all of creation is a few thousand years old, a few thousand miles across, and that the Sun moves around a flat Earth.

But my faith doesn't require me to ignore what folks have learned since Aristarchus of Samos suggested that Earth goes around the Sun, not the other way around.

Taking Creation 'as is'

I might not have opted to make a universe so immense, one which is now estimated to be around 13,730,000,000 years old. But God's God, and I'm not. I think it's prudent to take God's creation 'as is,' and not tell the Almighty how big it's supposed to be:
Would discovery of "past or present microbial life" on Mars affect my faith?

For starters, learning that there's life elsewhere wouldn't cause a 'crisis of faith.' Discussion of extraterrestrial life has been going on for some time. Catholics have been prohibited from saying that God couldn't have planted life on another world: since 1277. (January 29, 2012) So, no: I wouldn't be shocked and horrified at proof of extraterrestrial life.

My faith isn't the 'narrow-minded' sort that shows up in some television shows. (January 29, 2012) More about that sort of thing, under "Related posts - Science and faith."

"Your God is Too Small"

I think it's a huge mistake to insist that God is like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus, with a bit of Harry Houdini thrown in, as a songwriter put it.

A recent post on the USCCB Blog, maintained by the Media Relations staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, discussed ideas - goofy and otherwise - involving the Higgs-bosun subatomic particle. It's a good discussion of science, religion, and common sense. This excerpt gives some of the main points:
"Faith, Science and a Grownup's God"
USCCB Blog (July 17, 2012)

"...In a July 9 Newsweek article, a physicist says this nickname for the Higgs is particularly unfortunate because, he argues, its discovery might actually help eliminate the need for God:...

"...Like the author of the Newsweek piece, Brother Consolmagno sees the importance of the discovery of the Higgs particle. He explains in an interview with Catholic News Service that 'It indicates that reality is deeper and more rich and strange than our everyday life.'...

"...Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap., head of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat on Doctrine, cites another issue: While the Higgs particle may help us in understanding the relationship between mass and matter, it does not explain why the Higgs particle itself exists....

"...In both the origins of the universe and the species, the Catholic Church affirms the important work of science and, implicitly, calls on everyone, Catholic or not, to a more mature understanding of who God is and how God works. It's easy for physicists (and just about anyone, for that matter) to write off religion as somewhere between outdated and laughable when its adherents insist on presenting God, in the words of singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, 'like a genie who does magic like Houdini or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus.'

"With this perception, there is nothing surprising about a lopsided commentary that couples an advanced grasp of science with an elementary grasp of God. It should challenge believers to approach their faith in such a way that, the next time something as tiny as a subatomic particle has universe-defining implications, no one will be able to say, in the the words of the Anglican scholar J.B. Phillips: 'Your God is too small.' "

"Stronger than the Ancient Mountains"

"...the things of the world
and the things of faith
derive from the same God...
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159)

"...Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits."
(Catechism, 2293)

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)

"3 Terrible and awesome are you, stronger than the ancient mountains."
(Psalms 76:5)
I do not think the awe with which I regard God is diminished, now that we've got a better idea of just how old the "ancient mountains" are.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.