June 23, 2011

Jesus never preached “family values”

UNLIKE GEORGE W. BUSH, I’m not exactly what most people would call “a good Christian gentleman.” Even so, I have indeed read much of the Old Testament and nearly all of the New, which is why I’m so frequently mystified to encounter so many bizarre positions and beliefs that get circulated under the heading “Christian.” A case in point: “family values,” a notion touted by such aggressively Christian organizations as “Focus on the Family,” “The Family Research Council,” “The American Family Association,” Harold Camping’s apocalyptic “Family Radio,” and the political pressure group “The Family.” While I’m something of a family man myself, I’ve long wondered where in the Bible Jesus ever promotes “family values”? …

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November 19, 2010

Berlin’s terror alert: What goes around comes around

THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT HAS issued a terror warning for the country and especially for Berlin, where a major terrorist attack is expected “before the end of the month.” Security fences have gone up around the Reichstag building, machine-gun toting policeman with sixteen kilo bullet-proof vests are patrolling public spaces, security has been doubled outside the city’s Jewish institutions, the BVG public transit authority has proclaimed its second highest security level, and Berlin’s senator for interior affairs (i.e. for police and public safety), Ehrhart Körting, has asked all citizens to report “strange-looking” people and activities to the authorities. According to American security officials, up to four al-Qaeda operatives are already in or near Berlin, where they can rely on over 400 Islamist allies in the capital itself and 3,000 nationwide, many of them fresh from terrorist…

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November 10, 2010

“Degenerate art” on display again in Berlin after 69 years

WE TYPICALLY ASSOCIATE BURIED treasure with desert islands and remote monasteries, but sometimes it’s lying right beneath your nose. That’s what Berlin workers discovered earlier this year when they came across a lost trove of so-called degenerate art that had been eliminated from the city’s collections during the Third Reich. “Degenerate art,” of course, was the Nazi term for any kind of modern non-representational or else all-too realistic painting or sculpture that did not fit into the regime’s conception of a heroic Aryan…

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October 29, 2010

Reenacting the Holocaust: A Polish town remembers

REP. JOHN BOEHNER IS out campaigning for Ohio Congressional candidate Rich Iott, and why shouldn’t he be? The upcoming national election may be tight, and if Boehner wants to become Speaker of the House he’s going to need all the Republican backing he can get. And yet, Iott may prove to be a tough sell, largely due to the consternation he caused when he admitted that he regularly plays the role of an SS officer in World War II reenactments, proudly posing for cameras in an SS uniform. While Iott claims a certain admiration for the Third Reich’s military prowess, he protests that he dons the uniform not out of any genocidal impulses but solely “to keep the public aware of what happened.” In a piece on Salon.com today, Joan Walsh writes: “What’s next: Re-enacting cross-burnings while denying fealty to the Ku Klux Klan, just because…

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October 27, 2010

The Hitler icon: How Mount Athos honored the Führer

THERE IS A PIOUS notion out there that organized religion, if practiced devoutly enough, can preserve human beings from immoral thoughts and actions, particularly those stemming from the seductions of supposedly secular political ideologies. The Protestants have their “mighty fortress” of Lutheran song and liturgy, the Catholics have their eternal Vatican, and the Greek Orthodox Church preserves its theological purity in the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos, “the Garden of the Virgins,” on a peninsula in northern Greece, where all females – including dogs and cats – are banished from the premises so as to protect the monks from any impure sensations.* However, even the most cursory glance at the historical record reveals that the devout are not only as likely as anyone else to fall for a totalitarian…

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October 21, 2010

Should the Poles make Jesus their king?

GO INTO ANY CORNER bar in the US and ask the patrons who is really in charge of America, you’ll likely receive a list of the usual suspects in response: the banks, the liberals, the military-industrial complex, the UN, the Trilateral Commission, the gay people, or that old standby, the Jews. Go into your local “Christian” fitness club or megachurch, however, and you may learn that Jesus is really the man in charge, hindered only in his good works by the pernicious influence of the devil (abetted by the liberals, the gay people, etc.). Strangely, though, no one ever suggests hiring the Prince of Peace directly, with people instead preferring to vote for Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell to do His holy work. Ask around on the streets of Warsaw and Krakow and you’ll get an even more definite response: Jesus should actually be placed in charge of Poland. In fact, they might tell you, he should be anointed king…

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October 14, 2010

At the Kremlin banquet hall, it’s the Diet of Worms redux

FOR GENERATIONS, SCHOOL CHILDREN and college students throughout the English-speaking countries have tittered over the implausibly named “Diet of Worms” of 1521, where the great reformer Martin Luther was called onto the carpet by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at a meeting of the Imperial Diet, was the assembly of the Imperial Estates. Luther barely escaped with his life, although there is no record that he was actually fed night crawlers with his black bread and cheese (the German term for the Diet of Worms is der Wormser Reichstag, which has no comical overtones). This week, though, a worm-inspired “tweet” may well cost a Russian provincial governor his job…

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October 13, 2010

New report finds Germany swinging towards the right

FOR MONTHS IN THIS SPACE I have been writing about the resurgence of anti-immigrant sentiment and “respectable” far-right parties in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. While such feelings and parties come and go and have rarely amounted to much since 1945, a new report being presented in Berlin today shows that right wing ideas are becoming increasingly acceptable in Germany and have, in fact, moved into “the center of society.” The Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s new 180-page report The Center in Crisis: Far Right Attitudes in Germany in 2010 finds that “in 2010 there was a significant increase in anti-democratic and racist…

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October 5, 2010

Right-wing Sweden Democrats walk out of anti-racist sermon

IT APPEARS AS IF the Sweden Democrats, the far-right party that recently gained twenty seats in Sweden’s 349-seat Riksdag, are not only skinheads but they are thin-skinned too.  (I have already written about the Sweden Democrats here.)  Today, Prime Minister Reinfeldt, the new parliament, the royal family, and other dignitaries met at Stockholm’s St. Nicholas Cathedral to celebrate a formal service to mark the opening the new parliament.  So far so good.  But as soon as Bishop Eva Brunne began telling the congregation of the thousands of people around the country who were demonstrating against racism, and that it is not worthy of a devout person to make distinctions on the basis of race or ethnic background, the SD group stood up and walked out of the church…

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October 4, 2010

The Berlin Wall returns – as a “serious” computer game

JUST ABOUT EVERYBODY WHO’S tried them derives pleasure from computer games or simulations of one kind or another, and of course we all need to brush up on our recent history, so why not combine the two? That’s what a computer design student in the German town of Karlsruhe thought. But the product of his labours, 1378 km, which was to be unveiled on Sunday to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of German reunification, has elicited nothing but horror and disgust from one end of the country to the other. Why? The game simulates the former inner-German border, and allows players to slip into the role of border guards and blow prospective “republic escapees,” as the communist regime used to call its refugees, to kingdom come…

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