April 27, 2011

Parting the waters, Part 2: Carl Drews on wind setdown research

Parting the waters, Part 1: The physics of a land bridge

Genesis 30: 16

So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

April 26, 2011

Genesis 27: 28

May God give you of heaven’s dew
and of earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.

det tibi Deus de rore caeli et de pinguedine terrae abundantiam frumenti et vini

April 22, 2011


by Robert Herrick

BE the mistress of my choice
Clean in manners, clear in voice ;
Be she witty, more than wise,
Pure enough, though not precise ;
Be she showing in her dress
Like a civil wilderness ;
That the curious may detect
Order in a sweet neglect ;
Be she rolling in her eye,
Tempting all the passers-by ;
And each ringlet of her hair
An enchantment, or a snare
For to catch the lookers-on ;
But herself held fast by none.
Let her Lucrece all day be,
Thais in the night, to me.
Be she such, as neither will
Famish me, nor overfill.

Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed.
London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 36-37.

Orlando Furioso

cosa non detta in prosa mai, né in rima (Ariosto)

Things unattempted yet in prose or rime (Milton)

April 21, 2011

Against the Reformers

St Alphonsus Mary De Liguori (1696-1787)
Bishop and Doctor of the Church

St. Francis Jerome, when he visited the parents of St. Alphonsus shortly after his birth, made this prophecy: "This child will be blessed with length of days; he shall not see death before his ninetieth year; he will be a bishop and will do great things for Jesus Christ." This prophecy certainly came true. One of the most accomplished of all the saints is Alphonsus Liguori. He was a lawyer in both civil and Church law before he dedicated his whole life to serving God. He was founder of a religious order, author of more than a hundred books, originator of modern moral theology, renowned preacher and confessor, bishop, musical composer and painter. For all of his 91 years on earth, he was also a man of prayer and deep personal holiness.

A church which is not one in its doctrine and faith can never be the True Church. Hence, because truth must be one, of all the different churches, only one can be the true one, and outside of that Church there is no salvation.

Now, in order to determine which is this one true Church, it is necessary to examine which is the Church first founded by Jesus Christ, for when this is ascertained, it must be confessed that this one alone is the true Church which, having once been the true Church must always have been the true Church and must forever be the true Church. For to this first Church has been made the promise of the Savior that the gates of Hell would never be able to overturn it [Matt 16:18].

In the entire history of religion, we find that the Roman Catholic Church alone was the first Church, and that the other false and heretical churches afterwards departed and separated from her. This is the Church which was propagated by the Apostles and afterwards governed by pastors whom the Apostles themselves appointed to rule over her. This character can be found only in the Roman Church, whose pastors descend securely by an uninterrupted and legitimate succession from the Apostles of the world [Matt 28:20].

The innovators themselves do not deny that the Roman Church was the first which Jesus Christ founded. However, they say that it was the true Church until the fifth century, or until it fell away, because it had been corrupted by the Catholics. But how could that Church fall which St. Paul calls the "pillar and ground of truth" [1 Timothy 3:15]? No, the Church has not failed. The truth is, that all the false churches, which have separated from the Roman Church, have fallen away and erred.

To convince all heretical sects of their error, there is no way more certain and safe than to show that our Catholic Church has been the first one founded by Jesus Christ. For, this being established, it is proved beyond all doubt that ours is the only true Church and that all the others which have left it and separated are certainly in error. But, pressed by this argument, the innovators have invented an answer. They say that the visible Church has failed, but not the invisible Church. But these doctrines are diametrically opposed to the Gospel.

The innovators have been challenged several times to produce a text of Sacred Scripture which would prove the existence of the invisible church they invented, and we are unable to obtain any such text from them. How could they adduce such a text when, addressing His Apostles whom He left as the propagators of His Church, Jesus said: "You cannot be hidden" [Matt 5:14].

Thus He has declared that the Church cannot help but be visible to everyone. The Church has been at all times, and will forever be, necessarily visible, so that each person may always be able to learn from his pastor the true doctrine regarding the dogmas of faith, to receive the Sacraments, to be directed in the way of salvation, and to be enlightened and corrected should he ever fall into error.

For, were the Church in any time hidden and invisible, to whom would men have recourse in order to learn what they are to believe and to do? It was necessary that the Church and her pastors be obvious and visible, principally in order that there might be an infallible judge, to resolve all doubts, and to whose decision everyone should necessarily submit. Otherwise, there would be no sure rule of faith by which Christians could know the true dogmas of faith and the true precepts of morality, and among the faithful there would be endless disputes and controversies. "And Christ gave some apostles, and others pastors and doctors, that henceforth we be no more children tossed to-and-fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" [Eph 4:11-14].

But what faith can we learn from these false teachers when, in consequence of separating from the Church, they have no rule of faith. How often Calvin changed his opinions! And, during his life, Luther was constantly contradicting himself: on the single article of the Eucharist, he fell into thirty-three contradictions! A single contradiction is enough to show that they did not have the Spirit of God.

"He cannot deny Himself" [2 Timothy 2:13]. In a word, take away the authority of the Church, and neither Divine Revelation nor natural reason itself is of any use, for each of them may be interpreted by every individual according to his own caprice. Do they not see that from this accursed liberty of conscience has arisen the immense variety of heretical and atheistic sects? I repeat: if you take away obedience to the Church, there is no error which will not be embraced.

Amazon to launch library lending for Kindle books

By Nancy Blair, USA TODAY

The world of Kindle reading soon will get bigger: Amazon today said that later this year it will launch library lending for Kindle books, from over 11,000 libraries in the U.S.

The Kindle Library Lending feature will be available for all Kindles and Kindle apps, Amazon said. The company did not give a more specific time frame for launch of the service.

You'll be able to check out a Kindle book from a local library and start reading on any Kindle device or Kindle app. If a Kindle book is checked out again or that book is purchased from Amazon, annotations and bookmarks will be preserved, Amazon said in a news release.

Kindle has free reading apps for a range of devices including Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

"We're doing a little something extra here," Jay Marine, Amazon's Kindle director, said in a statement. "Normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we're extending our Whispersync technology so that you can highlight and add margin notes to Kindle books you check out from your local library.

Your notes will not show up when the next patron checks out the book. But if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it, your notes will be there as you left them.

Amazon said it is working digital book distributor OverDrive on the service. OverDrive offers DRM protection and download services for publishers, libraries, schools, and retailers.

Genesis 4:1 in Today's New International Version

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.

Genesis 4:1

April 20, 2011

Hypersexual Desire

In the late 1940s, the sex-research team led by biologist Alfred Kinsey said only 3% of college-age men reported a "total sexual outlet" of seven or more per week. Total sexual outlet was a euphemism for the number of orgasms. Although Kinsey's data set was famously flawed — he used a largely self-selected sample that included some prison inmates — seven orgasms a week (either alone or with someone) is still considered by many experts to be a threshold for possible disorder. In a November 2009 Archives of Sexual Behavior paper, Dr. Martin Kafka, a Harvard Medical School professor and a prominent member of the APA work group on sex disorders, defined "hypersexual desire" among men as having seven or more orgasms per week for at least six months after age 15. Never mind that by Kafka's definition, virtually every human male undergoes a period of sex addiction in his life. It's called high school.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2050027,00.html#ixzz1K4SCkId1

Nymphomania and Don Juanism

It was in the 1960s that the notion of sex addiction entered popular consciousness. Two men — Albert Ellis, one of the most esteemed psychologists of the late 20th century, and Edward Sagarin, a closeted gay sociologist who helped launch the gay-rights movement — wrote a book published in New York in 1964 as Nymphomania: A Study of the Oversexed Woman. The book was titillating and influential. It helped popularize the locution nymphomaniac as a slur against unreserved women, and it inspired a 1975 follow-up by a UCLA psychoanalyst, Dr. Robert Stoller, who introduced the clumsy companion term Don Juanism to describe unbridled male promiscuity.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2050027,00.html#ixzz1K4RZquRf

With a Month to Leave, a Japanese Village Weighs Options

Posted by KRISTA MAHR Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 7:12 pm

IITATEMURA — Spring got off to a something of a false start this year in Iitatemura. On Tuesday afternoon in the farming village in Fukushima prefecture, cherry blossom petals fell to the ground with flurries of snow. Roadside bursts of daffodils hung heavy under white slush, and fields of rice, flowers and strawberries, dusted in white, were empty.

That last part, to be fair, wasn't the weather's fault. On April 12, the local farmers' association held a meeting and decided to put a hold on all new planting. It was the eighth time they had met to measure levels of cesium since the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant started sending radioactive material their way. “The farmers decided that we couldn't continue to plant for the safety of our country,” says Shoji Masatada, the manager of the local branch of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA). He calls it a “moral” decision; unlike other agricultural towns in the region, the farmers of Iitatemura have not been ordered to stop. They have, however, been ordered to pack. This agricultural hamlet of 5000 people, on the national tourist board's list of Japan's most beautiful villages, was one of the five communities outside the original 12-mile (20 km) evacuation zone informed by Tokyo that they may have to leave their homes within a month because high levels of radiation had been detected in their area. When exactly they need to leave – and for how long – are details that Iitatemura's residents and city officials are still trying to discern.

“We don't know anything for sure,” says Kazuki Imai, who works for the village government's emergency preparedness department. He says Tokyo has not given them any signals what kind of funds will be available for the relocation, or even when they will make a final decision on whether the move is necessary. “People are angry at the mayor, at the country, at the whole situation. All we know is what we see on television.”

That can't be reassuring. The latest images to emerge from the nearby plant show a hot, steamy room inside reactor 2, captured by robots, that promises to be yet another arduous environment for the workers who will eventually have to go in and start clearing it. And that's the reactor that has low enough radiation levels to make entry plausible; information gathered by robots at reactors 1 and 3 over the weekend indicated that radiation levels were still too high for humans to work. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has announced a plan to have the power plant in cold shut down in nine months, but the government acknowledges that the timetable will depend entirely on how things go from here. On Tuesday, engineers began pumping 10,000 tons of radioactive water from a turbine into on-site storage to create a safer environment for workers to proceed. After that, there are another 57,500 tons of contaminated water to go.

(See TIME's full coverage of the Japan quake.)

People here in Iitatemura, 22 miles away from the plant, never thought any of this was going to be their problem. In a corner shop on the village's main drag, Katsuyoshi Hanai sweeps up wisps of black hair from the floor of his salon. With a television droning in the corner and a customer reading the paper while her perm sets, this 43-year-old family business is one of the last bastions of activity in what's quickly becoming a ghost town. Hanai's son has already evacuated, and by the end of the month, Hanai and his wife will also go, leaving the business and their apartment upstairs. “The country guaranteed it wouldn't go over the 12-mile [20 km] area if there was an accident,” Hanai says. Though TEPCO has announced that households forced to evacuate will receive payments of one million yen ($12,000), Hanai says he hasn't personally heard anything about it. His wife, giving a haircut behind him, chimes in. “We don't know anything,” she says, waving her comb around in an exasperated gesture. “Our whole life is here... The government says, 'Just leave,' but they're not even paying for us to go.”

As the village's impromptu evacuation committee tries to figure out where it can rent space for residents, it's also looking into what can be done about the village's 2000 cows. Farmers are understandably reluctant to leave their primary source of income to starve to death. The city has been trying to work out a plan to move the livestock, but hasn't come up with one. Up a snow-covered hill overlooking the deserted fields, 62-year-old Takeshi Yamada buries his pitchfork into a bale of pungent hay in his old barn. He, too, has been looking for some open land where he can relocate the 28 cows that watch him hungrily from their stalls. So far, nothing has panned out, and it's unclear whether the cost of moving the cattle will even be worth it. If not, Yamada says, “I guess we'll have to kill them. But we're trying to save them.”

(See pictures of a 4-year-old tsunami survivor.)

Yamada and the other cattle farmers in the village want TEPCO to cover their losses. Apart from the $12,000 evacuation compensation, the utility has not outlined any plan to cover the widspread loss of livelihood stemming from the plant's woes. The government has said it would pay farmers, small businesses and fishermen affected by the crisis, but not how much, or when. And even with a dose of cash, the long-term prospects for agricultural villages like this one are difficult. Even when atmospheric radiation drops back down to levels safe enough for people to move back, the half-life of cesium, one of the radioactive materials detected here, is 30 years. Before farmers are able to go back to planting food here, the government must complete a massive decontamination of the soil. “We don't know when it's going to go back normal – or if it ever is,” says Masatada of JA.

Yamada, for one, is not in any rush to leave the land he's been working on since he was 15. The face mask he's wearing under a baseball cap is an effort to block allergins – not radioactive materials – and he jokes that he'll die of something else before any radiation poisoning could hurt him. But, he adds as his laugh subsides, “It's different for young people.” His 28-year-old son has already left the farm for the nearby city of Yamagata with his wife and two kids. “I don't think my grandchildren will be able to come back here for two or three years.” He pauses, leaning on his pitchfork, and his moment of seriousness is gone. "Be careful," he says, pointing outside the barn door at the weather with a tone of mock warning. "Radioactive snow."

—With reporting by Tai Dirkse

Read more: http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/04/19/with-a-month-to-leave-a-japanese-village-weighs-options/#ixzz1K42JHQf1

April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Plea: Let Priests Marry

Sunday, Apr. 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Plea: Let Priests Marry
By Tim Padgett

One of the best Roman Catholic priests I've ever known, Father Berns, was a widower. He had a mind as broad as his faith was deep; he served a dry martini but never a dry homily. And I've always wondered how large a role the gloriously messy life experience of a wife and children played in making him such an unusually engaging, and engaged, Catholic cleric.

The answer, of course, is that there is no real answer, especially when I consider all the lifelong celibate priests whom I've admired as much as I did Father Berns. Still, he's on my mind right now because of the Catholic Church's latest sexual abuse scandal, playing out in Philadelphia. There, on Friday, April 15, three priests and a former Catholic school teacher pleaded not guilty to charges of raping and sexually assaulting minors. What makes this case different, however, is that for the first time in the U.S., a higher-ranking Catholic official, Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia archdiocese, is being charged with trying to cover up the abuse. (Lynn too pleaded not guilty on Friday.) (See photos of the Pope visiting America.)

It's that twist that has me thinking of Father Berns — and it has made me more convinced than ever that the Catholic Church has got to drop its celibacy requirement for priests. I say that not because I think letting priests marry would have prevented priestly abuse. Pedophiles prey regardless of marital status. I say it, especially after having interviewed abuse victims, because I think letting Catholic clergy have wives and families may well make the hierarchy, from guys like Lynn on up to bishops and the Vatican, more concerned about safeguarding youths than about protecting priests.

For U.S. Catholics, the arraignment of Lynn and the four other men was a lousy way to kick off Holy Week, which starts today, Palm Sunday, and ends next Sunday on Easter. Then again, what better time than the week that includes Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, to wrestle with it. (And the conservative Catholic League's full-page ad last week in the New York Times — which, astonishingly, blamed much of the abuse crisis on "homosexuality" — is just another reminder why it's so important we keep wrestling with this.)

So since I'm a hack and not a theologian, I'd suggest Catholics could start that process this week by recalling another, more benign scandal that hit the church two springs ago. That was the case of the Rev. Albert Cutié, the Catholic priest and Spanish-language television talk-show star who left the church in 2009 after a tabloid printed photos of him and his covert girlfriend (now his wife) cuddling on a Miami beach. Cutié, aka "Padre Alberto," became an Episcopal priest and, this past December, the father of a baby girl. In the process he's refueled the Catholic debate about clerical celibacy, and the upcoming Philadelphia trial makes his story especially relevant. (See how Cutié ignited the celibcay debate.)

That's because Cutié, despite the double life he once led, has forced Catholics to consider a key question: Why did his romantic relationship with a woman — a peccadillo most Catholics shrugged at when the scandal broke — seem to elicit as much if not more outrage from the church hierarchy as the priestly sexual abuse of minors has?

Cutié feels that the hierarchy's overreaction to his indiscretion reflects how celibacy has helped condition the church's lame reaction to the abuse horror. He's of course not suggesting that a man has to have a wife and kids to be sensitive to these issues. But the Catholic Church risks breeding insensitivity by segregating its diocesan priests and bishops from the world of wives, children and the loving sex that begets them. It risks sending the message that those human joys would somehow sully their vocations — that those things are inferior to the priesthood, and so protecting the holy fraternity is what matters most during a crisis like the sexual abuse plague.

If the Philadelphia ugliness isn't enough of a convincer, consider Belgium — where last week former Catholic Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who has admitted to sexually abusing two nephews, turned stomachs all over Europe by insisting his pedophilia was a harmless "little piece of intimacy." Civil authorities can't collar Vangheluwe because the crimes occurred too long ago. But so far neither the Vatican nor the head of the Belgian church has done a thing to punish him or any of the Belgian priests involved in a string of recent abuse accusations. (See "The Pope vs. Belgium: A Bad Fight for the Vatican?")

Celibacy was not a clerical requirement in the early church — in fact, many popes were married during Christianity's first few hundred years. But as Catholicism became more affixed to the Roman Empire, the church fathers fell increasingly under the influence of Stoicism and its demonization of sex, an attitude the medieval church codified. Today the church would argue that celibacy isn't about demonizing sex but rather nobly sacrificing it as part of being alter Christus, or "another Christ."

I and most other Catholics can respect that — if it's a priest's choice. Unfortunately, we're also aware that mandatory celibacy has led to an unnecessary isolation of our clergy — and, in turn, to the harmful sense of clerical superiority we've seen so much of during the abuse crisis. All I know is, I saw a lot less of it in Father Berns.


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Is Hell Dead?

Thursday, Apr. 14, 2011

Is Hell Dead?
By Jon Meacham

As part of a series on peacemaking, in late 2007, Pastor Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church put on an art exhibit about the search for peace in a broken world. It was just the kind of avant-garde project that had helped power Mars Hill's growth (the Michigan church attracts 7,000 people each Sunday) as a nontraditional congregation that emphasizes discussion rather than dogmatic teaching. An artist in the show had included a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi. Hardly a controversial touch, one would have thought. But one would have been wrong.

A visitor to the exhibit had stuck a note next to the Gandhi quotation: "Reality check: He's in hell." Bell was struck. (Vote on Rob Bell's influence in the 2011 TIME 100 poll.)

Really? he recalls thinking.

Gandhi's in hell?

He is?

We have confirmation of this?

Somebody knows this?

Without a doubt?

And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?

So begins Bell's controversial new best seller, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Works by Evangelical Christian pastors tend to be pious or at least on theological message. The standard Christian view of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is summed up in the Gospel of John, which promises "eternal life" to "whosoever believeth in Him." Traditionally, the key is the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God, who, in the words of the ancient creed, "for us and for our salvation came down from heaven ... and was made man." In the Evangelical ethos, one either accepts this and goes to heaven or refuses and goes to hell. (See 10 surprising facts about the world's oldest Bible.)

Bell, a tall, 40-year-old son of a Michigan federal judge, begs to differ. He suggests that the redemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that, as his book's subtitle puts it, "every person who ever lived" could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be. Such a simple premise, but with Easter at hand, this slim, lively book has ignited a new holy war in Christian circles and beyond. When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell," unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the Evangelical community. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell's book is "theologically disastrous. Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way." In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book. (See TIME's photoessay "A Brief History of Hell.")

The traditionalist reaction is understandable, for Bell's arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation. "When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world," says Mohler, "then you don't need the church, and you don't need Christ, and you don't need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism, and it's Rob Bell's tragedy in this book too."

Particularly galling to conservative Christian critics is that Love Wins is not an attack from outside the walls of the Evangelical city but a mutiny from within — a rebellion led by a charismatic, popular and savvy pastor with a following. Is Bell's Christianity — less judgmental, more fluid, open to questioning the most ancient of assumptions — on an inexorable rise? "I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian," Bell says. "Something new is in the air."

See the top 10 religion stories of 2010.

Which is what has many traditional Evangelicals worried. Bell's book sheds light not only on enduring questions of theology and fate but also on a shift within American Christianity. More indie rock than "Rock of Ages," with its videos and comfort with irony (Bell sometimes seems an odd combination of Billy Graham and Conan O'Brien), his style of doctrine and worship is clearly playing a larger role in religious life, and the ferocity of the reaction suggests that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Otherwise, why reckon with him at all? A similar work by a pastor from one of the declining mainline Protestant denominations might have merited a hostile blog post or two — bloggers, like preachers, always need material — but it is difficult to imagine that an Episcopal priest's eschatological musings would have provoked the volume of criticism directed at Bell, whose reach threatens prevailing Evangelical theology. (From TIME's archives: "Is God Dead?")

Bell insists he is only raising the possibility that theological rigidity — and thus a faith of exclusion — is a dangerous thing. He believes in Jesus' atonement; he says he is just unclear on whether the redemption promised in Christian tradition is limited to those who meet the tests of the church. It is a case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude.

From a traditionalist perspective, though, to take away hell is to leave the church without its most powerful sanction. If heaven, however defined, is everyone's ultimate destination in any event, then what's the incentive to confess Jesus as Lord in this life? If, in other words, Gandhi is in heaven, then why bother with accepting Christ? If you say the Bible doesn't really say what a lot of people have said it says, then where does that stop? If the verses about hell and judgment aren't literal, what about the ones on adultery, say, or homosexuality? Taken to their logical conclusions, such questions could undermine much of conservative Christianity. (From TIME's archives: "Does Heaven Exist?")

What the Hell?
From the Apostle Paul to John Paul II, from Augustine to Calvin, Christians have debated atonement and judgment for nearly 2,000 years. Early in the 20th century, Harry Emerson Fosdick came to represent theological liberalism, arguing against the literal truth of the Bible and the existence of hell. It was time, progressives argued, for the faith to surrender its supernatural claims. (See pictures of Pope Benedict XVI visiting America.)

Bell is more at home with this expansive liberal tradition than he is with the old-time believers of Inherit the Wind. He believes that Jesus, the Son of God, was sacrificed for the sins of humanity and that the prospect of a place of eternal torment seems irreconcilable with the God of love. Belief in Jesus, he says, should lead human beings to work for the good of this world. What comes next has to wait. "When we get to what happens when we die, we don't have any video footage," says Bell. "So let's at least be honest that we are speculating, because we are." He is quick to note, though, that his own speculation, while unconventional, is not unprecedented. "At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church," Bell writes, "have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God."

It is also true that the Christian tradition since the first church has insisted that history is tragic for those who do not believe in Jesus; that hell is, for them, forever; and that love, in the end, will envelop those who profess Jesus as Lord, and they — and they alone — will be reconciled to God. Such views cannot be dismissed because they are inconvenient or uncomfortable: they are based on the same Bible that liberals use to make the opposite case. This is one reason religious debate can seem a wilderness of mirrors, an old CIA phrase describing the bewildering world of counterintelligence.

Still, the dominant view of the righteous in heaven and the damned in hell owes more to the artistic legacy of the West, from Michelangelo to Dante to Blake, than it does to history or to unambiguous biblical teaching. Neither pagan nor Jewish tradition offered a truly equivalent vision of a place of eternal torment; the Greek and Roman underworlds tended to be morally neutral, as did much of the Hebraic tradition concerning Sheol, the realm of the dead.

See the top 10 religious relics.

Things many Christian believers take for granted are more complicated than they seem. It was only when Jesus failed to return soon after the Passion and Resurrection appearances that the early church was compelled to make sense of its recollections of his teachings. Like the Bible — a document that often contradicts itself and from which one can construct sharply different arguments — theology is the product of human hands and hearts. What many believers in the 21st century accept as immutable doctrine was first formulated in the fog and confusion of the 1st century, a time when the followers of Jesus were baffled and overwhelmed by their experience of losing their Lord; many had expected their Messiah to be a Davidic military leader, not an atoning human sacrifice.

When Jesus spoke of the "kingdom of heaven," he was most likely referring not to a place apart from earth, one of clouds and harps and an eternity with your grandmother, but to what he elsewhere called the "kingdom of God," a world redeemed and renewed in ways beyond human imagination. To 1st century ears in ancient Judea, Jesus' talk of the kingdom was centered on the imminent arrival of a new order marked by the defeat of evil, the restoration of Israel and a general resurrection of the dead — all, in the words of the prayer he taught his disciples, "on earth." (See pictures of spiritual healing around the world.)

There is, however, no escaping the fact that Jesus speaks in the Bible of a hell for the "condemned." He sometimes uses the word Gehenna, which was a valley near Jerusalem associated with the sacrifice of children by fire to the Phoenician god Moloch; elsewhere in the New Testament, writers (especially Paul and John the Divine) tell of a fiery pit (Tartarus or Hades) in which the damned will spend eternity. "Depart from me, you cursed [ones], into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels," Jesus says in Matthew. In Mark he speaks of "the unquenchable fire." The Book of Revelation paints a vivid picture — in a fantastical, problematic work that John the Divine says he composed when he was "in the spirit on the Lord's day," a signal that this is not an Associated Press report — of the lake of fire and the dismissal of the damned from the presence of God to a place where "they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever."

And yet there is a contrary scriptural trend that suggests, as Jesus puts it, that the gates of hell shall not finally prevail, that God will wipe away every tear — not just the tears of Evangelical Christians but the tears of all. Bell puts much stock in references to the universal redemption of creation: in Matthew, Jesus speaks of the "renewal of all things"; in Acts, Peter says Jesus will "restore everything"; in Colossians, Paul writes that "God was pleased to ... reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven."

So is it heaven for Christians who say they are Christians and hell for everybody else? What about babies, or people who die without ever hearing the Gospel through no fault of their own? (As Bell puts it, "What if the missionary got a flat tire?") Who knows? Such tangles have consumed Christianity for millennia and likely will for millennia to come. (See pictures of Christians under siege in the Muslim world.)

What gives the debate over Bell new significance is that his message is part of an intriguing scholarly trend unfolding simultaneously with the cultural, generational and demographic shifts made manifest at Mars Hill. Best expressed, perhaps, in the work of N.T. Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, England (Bell is a Wright devotee), this school focuses on the meaning of the texts themselves, reading them anew and seeking, where appropriate, to ask whether an idea is truly rooted in the New Testament or is attributable to subsequent church tradition and theological dogma.

For these new thinkers, heaven can mean different things. In some biblical contexts it is a synonym for God. In others it signifies life in the New Jerusalem, which, properly understood, is the reality that will result when God brings together the heavens and the earth. In yet others it seems to suggest moments of intense human communion and compassion that are, in theological terms, glimpses of the divine love that one might expect in the world to come. One thing heaven is not is an exclusive place removed from earth. This line of thinking has implications for the life of religious communities in our own time. If the earth is, in a way, to be our eternal home, then its care, and the care of all its creatures, takes on fresh urgency.

Watch TIME's video "Californians Bring Passion to Jerusalem's Old City."

Bell's Journey
The easy narrative about Bell would be one of rebellion — that he is reacting to the strictures of a suffocating childhood by questioning long-standing dogma. The opposite is true. Bell's creed of conviction and doubt — and his comfort with ambiguity and paradox — comes from an upbringing in which he was immersed in faith but encouraged to ask questions. His father, a central figure in his life, is a federal judge appointed by President Reagan in 1987. (Rob still remembers the drive to Washington in the family Oldsmobile for the confirmation hearings.) "I remember him giving me C.S. Lewis in high school," Bell says. "My parents were both very intellectually honest, straightforward, and for them, faith meant that you were fully engaged." As they were raising their family, the Bells, in addition to regular churchgoing, created a rigorous ethos of devotion and debate at home. Dinner-table conversations were pointed; Lewis' novels and nonfiction were required reading.

The roots of Love Wins can be partly traced to the deathbed of a man Rob Bell never met: his grandfather, a civil engineer in Michigan who died when Rob's father was 8. The Bells' was a very conservative Evangelical household. When the senior Bell died, there was to be no grief. "We weren't allowed to mourn, because the funeral of a Christian is supposed to be a celebration of the believer in heaven with Jesus right now," says Robert Bell Sr. "But if you're 8 years old and your dad — the breadwinner — just died, it feels different. Sad." (See "Christianity's Surge in Indonesia.")

The story of how his dad, still a child, was to deal with death has stayed with Rob. "To weep, to shed any tears — that would be doubting the sovereignty of God," Rob says now, looking back. "That was the thing — 'They're all in heaven, so we're happy about that.' It doesn't matter how you are actually humanly responding to this moment ..." Bell pauses and chuckles ironically, a bit incredulous. "We're all just supposed to be thrilled."

Robby — his mother still calls him that — was emotionally precocious. "When he was around 10 years old, I detected that he had a great interest and concern for people," his father says. "There he'd be, riding along with me, with his little blond hair, going to see sick folks or friends who were having problems, and he would get back in the truck after a visit and begin to analyze them and their situations very acutely. He had a feel for people and how they felt from very early on."

Rob was a twice-a-week churchgoer at the Baptist and nondenominational churches the family attended at different times — services on Sunday, youth group on Wednesday. He recalls a kind of quiet frustration even then. "I remember thinking, 'You know, if Jesus is who this guy standing up there says he is, this should be way more compelling.' This should have a bit more electricity. The knob should be way more to the right, you know?"

Music, not the church, was his first consuming passion. (His wife Kristen claims he said he wanted to be a pastor when they first met early on at Wheaton College in Illinois. Bell is skeptical: "I swear to this day that that was a line.") He and some friends started a band when he was a sophomore. "I had always had creative energy but no outlet," he says. "I really discovered music, writing and playing, working with words and images and metaphors. You might say the music unleashed a monster." (See pictures of spiritual healing around the world.)

The band became central to him. Then two things happened: the guitar player decided to go to seminary, and Bell came down with viral meningitis. "It took the wind out of our sails," he says. "I had no Plan B. I was a wreck. I was devastated, because our band was going to make it. We were going to live in a terrible little house and do terrible jobs at first, because that's what great bands do — they start out living in terrible little houses and doing terrible little jobs." His illness — "a freak brain infection" — changed his life, Bell says.

At 21, Rob was teaching barefoot waterskiing at HoneyRock Camp, near Three Lakes, Wis., when he preached his first sermon. "I didn't know anything," he says. "I took off my Birkenstocks beforehand. I had this awareness that my life would never be the same again." The removal of the shoes is an interesting detail for Bell to remember. ("Do not come any closer," God says to Moses in the Book of Exodus. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.") Bell says it was just intuitive, but the intuition suggests he had a sense of himself as a player in the unfolding drama of God in history. "Create things and share them," Bell says. "It all made sense. That moment is etched. I remember thinking distinctly, 'I could be terrible at this.' But I knew this would get me up in the morning. I went to Fuller that fall."

Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, Calif., is an eclectic place, attracting 4,000 students from 70 countries and more than 100 denominations. "It's pretty hard to sit with Pentecostals and Holiness people and mainline Presbyterians and Anglicans and come away with a closed mind-set that draws firm boundaries about theology," says Fuller president Richard Mouw.

After seminary, Bell's work moved in two directions. He was recovering the context of the New Testament while creating a series of popular videos on Christianity called Nooma, Greek for wind or spirit. He began to attract a following, and Mars Hill — named for the site in Athens where Paul preached the Christian gospel of resurrection to the pagan world — was founded in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1999. "Whenever people wonder why a church is growing, they say, 'He's preaching the Bible.' Well, lots of people are preaching the Bible, and they don't have parking problems," says Bell.

See people finding God on YouTube.

Mars Hill did have parking problems, and Bell's sudden popularity posed some risks for the young pastor. Pride and self-involvement are perennial issues for ministers, who, like politicians, grow accustomed to the sound of their own voices saying Important Things and to the deference of the flock. By the time Bell was 30, he was an Evangelical celebrity. (He had founded Mars Hill when he was 28.) He was referred to as a "rock star" in this magazine. "There was this giant spotlight on me," he says. "All of a sudden your words are parsed. I found myself — and I think this happens to a lot of people — wanting to shrink away from it. But I decided, Just own it. I'm very comfortable in a room with thousands of people. I do have this voice. What will I say?"

And how will he say it? The history of Evangelism is in part the history of media and methods: Billy Sunday mastered the radio, Billy Graham television; now churches like Bell's are at work in the digital vineyards of downloads and social media. Demography is also working in Bell's favor. "He's trying to reach a generation that's more comfortable with mystery, with unsolved questions," says Mouw, noting that his own young grandchildren are growing up with Hindu and Muslim friends and classmates. "For me, Hindus and Muslims were the people we sent missionaries off to in places we called 'Arabia,'" Mouw says. "Now that diversity is part of the fabric of daily life. It makes a difference. My generation wanted truth — these are folks who want authenticity. The whole judgmentalism and harshness is something they want to avoid." (See the top 10 religion stories of 2010.)

If Bell is right about hell, then why do people need ecclesiastical traditions at all? Why aren't the Salvation Army and the United Way sufficient institutions to enact a gospel of love, sparing us the talk of heaven and hellfire and damnation and all the rest of it? Why not close up the churches?

Bell knows the arguments and appreciates the frustrations. "I don't know anyone who hasn't said, 'Let's turn out the lights and say we gave it a shot,'" he says. "But you can't — I can't — get away from what this Jesus was, and is, saying to us. What the book tries to do is park itself right in the midst of the tension with a Jesus who offers an urgent and immediate call — 'Repent! Be transformed! Turn!' At the same time, I've got other sheep. There's a renewal of all things. There's water from the rock. People will come from the East and from the West. The scandal of the gospel is Jesus' radical, healing love for a world that's broken."

Fair enough, but let's be honest: religion heals, but it also kills. Why support a supernatural belief system that, for instance, contributed to that minister in Florida's burning of a Koran, which led to the deaths of innocent U.N. workers in Afghanistan?

"I think Jesus shares your critique," Bell replies. "We don't burn other people's books. I think Jesus is fairly pissed off about it as well."

On Sunday, April 17, at Mars Hill, Bell will be joined by singer-songwriter Brie Stoner (who provided some of the music for his Nooma series) and will teach the first 13 verses of the third chapter of Revelation, which speaks of "the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God ... Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." The precise meaning of the words is open to different interpretations. But this much is clear: Rob Bell has much to say, and many are listening.

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April 12, 2011

For New Mass, Closer to Latin, Critics Voice a Plain Objection

For New Mass, Closer to Latin, Critics Voice a Plain Objection
Published: April 11, 2011

Throughout much of the English-speaking world, the Roman Catholic Church is preparing its priests and parishes for the most significant changes to the Mass in the more than 40 years since the church permitted English in place of the Latin.

The changes are included in a new English-language translation of the Roman Missal, a translation produced after almost 30 years of labor, intrigue and infighting. The new missal, the book of texts and prayers used in the Mass, is intended to be closer to the liturgical Latin that was used for centuries than the current version. The church officials promoting it say it will bring an elevated reverence and authenticity to the Mass. Many Catholics who prefer a more traditional liturgy are eagerly anticipating the change.

But after getting a glimpse of the texts in recent months, thousands of priests in the United States, Ireland and Australia have publicly objected that the translation is awkward, archaic and inaccessible. Although most are resigned to adopting the new missal, some have mounted campaigns to prevent it from being introduced.

“What we are asking of the bishops is to scrap this text,” said the Rev. Sean McDonagh, a leader of an Irish group, the Association of Catholic Priests, which represents 450 priests — about 1 out of 10 — in that country. “I know people are not going to use it. I wouldn’t use it, because everything I know in terms of theology and anthropology and linguistics, it breaches every one of those.”

American Catholics will first encounter the new missal on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the liturgical year and the season leading up to Christmas. Even bishops and church officials in charge of preparing the way for the new language in the Mass acknowledge that it will take some adjustment — especially for priests, who will have to master complicated new speaking parts.

“The first time I saw some of the texts, I was shocked,” said the Rev. Richard Hilgartner, who as executive director of the American bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship is overseeing the introduction of the new missal in the United States.

“But the more time I’ve spent with it, the more comfortable I became with it,” he said. “The new translation tries to be more faithful to the Scriptures, and a little more poetic and evocative in terms of imagery and metaphor.”

One of the most noticeable changes is in the Nicene Creed, the statement of faith that Catholics learn to recite as children. Currently, Catholics say that Jesus is “one in being with the Father,” but in the future they will say that Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father.” This is one of several changes that include unfamiliar vocabulary.

Father Hilgartner said, “We know that people aren’t going to understand it initially, and we’ll have to talk about it. I’ve said to priests, we will welcome and crave opportunities for people to come up and ask us about God. It’s a catechetical opportunity.”

In the current Mass, when the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” the congregation responds, “And also with you.” Come November, the congregation will respond, “And with your spirit.”

Church leaders say that this new choice of words is not only less casual, as befits a greeting to a priest, but is also consistent with the language used in the Catholic Mass in French, Spanish, Italian and German. A universal church, they say, should have the closest thing possible to a universal missal.

The new missal is the product of a long tug-of-war over liturgy, which began with the decision of the Second Vatican Council to make the Mass more accessible to Catholics by allowing churches to replace the Latin with the local vernacular. Bishops in the English-speaking world set up the International Commission on English in the Liturgy to share the monumental task of translation. By 1973, they had produced a new missal, but many experts in liturgy agreed that it was hastily done and required revision.

The commission continued its work, and produced texts that did not always adhere tightly to the Latin, but instead aspired to what it called a “dynamic equivalent.” The commission also strived to use language that it considered more gender neutral.

Those efforts were upended in 2001, when the Vatican issued “Liturgiam authenticam” (Authentic Liturgy), an instruction requiring that translations of the Mass adhere literally to the Latin vocabulary, syntax, punctuation and even capitalization. And the Vatican appointed a committee it called “Vox Clara” (Clear Voice) to advise the translation efforts, but it gradually took on a more supervisory role.

After 10 more years of often-contentious back and forth, the final text was issued by the Vatican in December, Father Hilgartner said. But even before it was finalized, the early reviews were often startlingly negative.

The Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, started a petition asking to delay the introduction of the new missal. The petition, called “What if We Just Said Wait,” has been supported by more than 22,000 priests, nuns and laypeople around the world, some of them prominent liturgists, theologians and musicians. Only about 10 percent asked to be anonymous; the rest signed their names.

More recently, the association of priests in Ireland and a much smaller group of priests in Australia also called on their bishops to hold off on introducing the missal. And the Rev. Anthony Ruff, a Benedictine monk and a professor of liturgy at St. John’s University in Minnesota, wrote an open letter to the American bishops saying he was canceling his engagements to speak in eight dioceses at sessions designed to familiarize priests with the new missal, because he could not in good conscience support it.

Father Ruff served as head of the music committee of the international commission working on the translation, but said he was removed in November for posting negative comments about the new missal on his blog.

“The problem is not vocabulary, though critics will point out words like ‘consubstantial,’ ” Father Ruff said in an interview. “The problem is syntax and word order. The sentences are too complicated, the pronouns are so far away from their antecedent you can’t even tell what the pronoun refers to.”

Father Ruff said, “I fully support a retranslation. We need better texts that are more beautiful and more accurate, but we have to do it well.”

The missal has already had a test run in South Africa, where the bishops said they mistook the instructions and introduced it a year too early. The Rev. Larry Kaufmann, provincial superior of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, was an early opponent of the missal in South Africa.

“No one is saying that it’s improved the liturgy,” he said in telephone interview, “or that it’s more prayerful or solemn. It would be great if it were. I’d be the first to listen.

“But no one is putting up a fight any more,” he said.

As the orientation sessions in the American dioceses have continued, more priests who initially objected are accepting the change. In the Archdiocese of New York, two vicariates (or regional groupings) of priests withdrew resolutions expressing concern about the missal after attending an orientation session.

Msgr. Chris Maloney, a pastor in Yonkers who had backed one of the resolutions, said, “When you think about it, the change from the Latin to English was a much more difficult transition, and the church survived.”

A version of this article appeared in print on April 12, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.