Wednesday, August 30, 2006

State of the Union

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Quit Spanking the Monkey

On August 24th the New York Times reported that "Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students."

A spokesperson for the Department of education claimed that the omission was a mistake. Nonetheless, "Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. It's just awfully coincidental, said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University."

Fishy indeed. As far as the LHG can tell, evolutionary biology is still off the list. Doesn't the Department of Education have bigger issues to deal with? Lets take just one example: In a major city like Miami 48 percent of adults 20 and and over never graduated from high school.

Maybe improving our public schools is in order - maybe the Department of Education should quit spanking the monkey and get down to work.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Religious Roots of Violence: Islam III

better than santa claus

(Previously on the LHG: The Religious Roots of Violence: Islam I and II)

Saudi Arabia: Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1791) and the Wahhabi movement.

Al-Wahhab regarded the condition of Arabia of his time - land of Muhammad - as corrupt and idolatrous. He and his followers set out to purge Islam of what they considered impure going as far as to destroy the tomb of Muhammad and his Companions in Mecca and Medina.

Wahhab combined religious zeal and military might when he allied with Muhammad ibn Saud, a local tribe chief, to form a religious and political movement. Eventually Saudia Arabia was created: the kingdom merged the political and religious; it was and is led by a succession of kings from the House of Saud with the close support of the religious Wahhabi establishment.

Today the Saudis export this extreme and militant version of Wahhabi Islam to other countries and communities. They offer development aid, build mosques, fund and distribute religious tracts and commision religious scholars. And provide financial support to extremist groups who follow militant brands of Islam worldwide.


In December of 1979 the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan; and this provides an opening for Saudia Arabia to retake leadership of the radical wing of Islam. Afghanistan allowed the Saudi government to shield the US from radical Islamic activists, making sure that the Soviet Union would replace the US as their main scapegoat.

In the training camps around Peshawar - the capital of the Pakistani NW frontier province where three million Afghan refugees were living - thousands of Islamic radical fighters converged from all over the Muslim world. An international group of Islamic militants, willing to fight worldwide for the sake of their radical understanding of Islam, emerged. They were funded by Saudi Arabia, and the US who provided military support and training.

Think about it: you've got three million refugees and Islamic radicals converging in Peshawar. These refugees were now "detribalized" and had become poor urban youth highly receptive to radical islamic ideology. Children, cut off from their families, where taken to religious schools were they received an education funded by Saudi money and thus connected to a radical Wahhabi version of Islam. Their alliance lay with that radical version of Islam. They are the Taliban - literally meaning students, who adhere to a Wahabbi version of Islam.

Friday, August 25, 2006

To All Those Who Need to See to Believe

and you know who you are, more proof from ebay: Jesus on a rock, Jesus on a tomato, and Jesus in a group of trees.

LHG considers Jesus on a tomato a particularly good buy. Hurry, the first two auctions are ending soon.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Screw the Protestant Ethic

lord, is that really you?

LHG is always looking for ways to make a quick buck. Now God is for Suckers reports on Jesus' sightings. Seems that if you find an image of the guy someplace weird you can make a killing on ebay (check out Jesus on a log).

Our interns our scavenging the dumpsters outside the office as these very words are being typed.

The Religious Roots of Violence: Islam II

here's looking at you, kid

To uncover the roots of today's mess in the Middle East, you need to look at the interplay between Iran, Saudia Arabia and Afganistan that began with the Iranian Revolution.


In the 50's and 60's many Muslim states were governed by modernizing rulers who tried to suppress Islam and follow what they understood to be the US's and Europe's secular example. They thought that if they could just imitate the "West" their nations would prosper.

They were wrong. Economic progress did not follow the closing of mosques and religious schools, the banning of the headscarf and imitation of Western dress. Opposition grew, and no opposition had greater impact than the 1979 Iranian revolution that, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, overthrew the Shah of Iran and set up a theocracy, an Islamic government run by Islamic scholars which he himself led.

Most importantly, however, the Iranian revolution also defined itself in opposition to Saudia Arabia. There emerged a struggle for leadership of the Islamic world. Regimes in Muslim countries viewed the Shah's fate as a lesson, and many of them became ostentiously religious in response.

The Muslim world had been under Saudi religious domination since the late sixties: Saudi Arabia claimed to be an Islamic state, was guardian of Islam's holiest sites, had oil and thus lots of money to spread its views around the Muslim world. After 1979, however, the new masters in Iran considered themselves the true standard bearers of Islam. As far as they were concerned, the leaders in Saudi Arabia were usurpers who sold oil to the West in exchange for military protection - a US backed monarchy with a facade for ostentatious piety.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Readers Rejoice

We're back, after a few days off. After all, according to Pope Benedict working too hard harms the spirit.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Jews make naughty professors

Make love, not war

LHG learnt from Progressive Islam that in response to Iranian President Ahmadinejad's anti-semitic cartoon contest - a group of Jews is sponsoring their own. They state: “We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!” said Sandy “No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!”

We like the idea. You can see the entries here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

One more reason not to get married

racquetball anyone?

Unlike Tariq, most of our staff members are marriage phobic. So we're both glad and sad to report that there's one more reason not to get married, Bernard T. Pagano has passed away. Who is Pagano you ask? Only the priest this staff member would have wanted leading the ceremony. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The Rev. Bernard T. Pagano, a maverick Roman Catholic priest who was accused and then cleared in a string of armed robberies by the "Gentleman Bandit," has died. He was 81. A woman who claimed to have been Pagano's lover gave police photographs of him because he closely resembled the composite drawings of the robber.

During Pagano's 1979 trial in Delaware, several witnesses said the lanky priest, then 53, was responsible for the robberies. Pagano drew attention for his cavalier attitude toward the proceedings, and played racquetball during a break in the trial.

In a dramatic turn, Ronald W. Clouser, from the Philadelphia suburb of Brookhaven, showed up with a lawyer and admitted that he was the real Gentleman Bandit. Though his hairline was not receding as much, Clouser closely resembled the priest. A 1981 made-for-TV movie, "The Gentleman Bandit," sympathetically retold Pagano's tale.

But for some law enforcement officials, there was more to the story.

Norman Cochran, who at the time was the Delaware State Police superintendent, said this week that he is still convinced Pagano committed several robberies. He also believes that Clouser committed robberies about the same time in areas north of Wilmington. "The ones that we charged Father Pagano with were south of the city," Cochran said. "The modus operandi was entirely different." Cochran said Clouser touched his victims in a sexual way — something he said Pagano did not do. Despite authorities' misgivings, the case against Pagano was dropped and prosecutors apologized.

Pagano, the associate pastor at St. Mary Refuge of Sinners in Cambridge, Md., at the time of his arrest, once angered church authorities when he entered a charity wrestling event as "The Mad Monk." After he was cleared of the robberies, Pagano moved to New Jersey, where he was an advocate for people wrongly accused of crimes, and he served as a parish priest at St. Mary of Mount Virgin Church in New Brunswick.

Pagano, a priest mind you, may or may not made a hobby of politely robbing people at gunpoint, played racquetball during breaks of his trial for armed robbery, had a mistress, wrestled under the name "the mad monk," had a movie made about him, defended the falsely accused, and did not - I repeat - did not touch his victims in a sexual way. Truly a life well lived.

Sorry Sweetie, let's wait another year. A good priest is hard to find.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Shaken, not stirred

Tariq Ramadan makes many a woman swoon. We quote from comments:
"Tariq Ramadan is a hotty. I'll marry him so that he can get his green card and spread the liberal Muslim word...then we will make little hot muslim babies."
Ladies, he's married and has four kids. So not only is he smart and sexy, he's that rarest of breeds - a man who can commit. Don't give up hope, however. Muhammad had many wives, so all Tariq needs is to be given the attractive options.

As his exclusive agent, the LHG is in charge of the selection process. Send your pictures to - they'll be evaluated by our staff and those selected will be forwarded to the man himself. First fifty submissions get signed copies of Western Muslims and the Future of Islam.

Good luck, ladies. Mcdreamy awaits.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Religious Roots of Violence: Islam

somos los piratas

Exile is the second key story line in Western religion that shapes violent images of God. Notice that the Exodus story is a story about God's liberating violence. But what if instead of defeating your enemies you are always getting your ass kicked? What if instead of living in the Promised Land you are always living under foreign rule? How do you make sense of that?

While Exodus is a story in which God uses superior violence to free an oppressed people; exile, on the other hand, is a story where God uses violence to punish the chosen people for their sins. If Exodus was a story of God's liberating violence; then the exile is a story of God's punishing violence. Obey God and prosper. Disobey God and suffer.

This theme of exile is key to fundamentalist interpretations of Islam today. Islam was once a great empire, far superior in wealth and culture than Western Europe. How then does one explain why the Islamic empire declined and gave way to domination by imperial, capitalistic, and mostly "Christian" nations? The logic is simple: if fidelity to God leads to historical prominence, then historical decline is caused by lack of fidelity to God, Muhammad, and the Qur'an.

As the charter of Hamas states:

Hamas "found itself at a time when Islam disapeared from life. Thus, rules were broken, concepts were vilified, values changed, and evil people took control; oppression and darkness prevailed, cowards became tigers; homelands were invaded, people were scattered…When Islam is absent from the arena, everything changes."

From this perspective, Israel's occupation is seen as punishment from God for deviations from Islam. Thus independence, development, dignity will be achieved only by a return to Islam, the re-Islamization of societies that have become lax and therefore weak.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Modern Islam

Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss Muslim and probably the most important scholar of Islam in the West. He argues for a modernist version of Islam (despite this fact the U.S. last year rescinded his visa thus keeping him from entering the country to deliver a keynote address at the American Academy of Religion and take a position as distinguished visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame).

This interview is a good summary of his views.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Religious Roots of Violence: Judaism III

Wishing he was an only child

In 1979 a small group of Jewish women and children from Kiryat Arba crawled through the window of an abandoned hospital in Hebron, occupying it illegally and establishing a a Jewish settlement on the site, Beit Hadassah. In time the settlement grew to more than fifty families with some 450 Jews sequestered in what amounted to an armed fortress in a city of more than 100,000 Muslims. The land is sacred, it is Jewish sacred land, and the Jews must take what is theirs by divine right.

A Jewish text records the debate of sages 1800 years ago on why Cain murdered Abel. By naming what drove Cain to kill, each sage meant to identify the source of human violence. According to one, a twin sister was born with Abel and the brothers fought over who'd possess the only available woman. Another sage argued that the brothers agreed to divide everything in the world between them. One claimed the shirt on his brother's back and ordered him to strip; the other claimed the ground under his brother's feet and shouted, "fly."

Blows followed, then blood.

The third sage, a Rabbi Levi, also said the brothers agreed to split the world. But then, he said, one claimed the land where Israel would reside, the other insisted it was his, and "Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him."

The history of fratricide began, said Rabbi Levi, with a fight over the Holy Land.

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us?
Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Religious Roots of Violence: Judaism II

Papa Kook
(Previously on the LHG)

Remember that Native Americans were wiped out by European settlers who saw Indians as Cannanites, Indian land as the equivalent of Canaan and themselves as God's chosen people. You make think that times have changed, that these ancient texts no longer have real relevance. You would be wrong.

In the 1967 "Six day war" Israel defeats Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, takes the West Bank of the Jordan River from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, the Gaza Strip from Egypt and completes control over Jerusalem. The frontiers of the territories controlled by the state of Israel now more or less coincided with those of the biblical Promised Land. It's impossible to exaggerate the impact this event had on religious Jews.

One group took this incredible sign and turned it into a model of action. These were the disciples of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook and his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook. They understood 20th century events - events such as the Balfour declaration and the growing Zionist enterprise in Palestine - as steps toward Israel's redemption. Now came a victory that was seen as a pure miracle. Israel's decisive victory and rapid occupation were read as the expression of a divine plan to make the state of Israel conform more closely to the Biblical promise land. Kook's followers formed Gush Emunim or "Bloc of the Faithful." The group’s immediate goal was to establish Jewish settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, making Jewish possession of the occupied territories an established fact. Its members also pressured the Israeli government to undertake a policy of re-judaization of the region, first through the formal annexation of the occupied territories and then by establishing a new state governed by Jewish law. They believe that this process will gradually lead to the coming of the messiah and redemption.

According to the members of Gush Emunim, every grain of the Land of Israel is holy. God gave this land to Abraham and his descendents, God gave it to the Jews. While God was directing history, His believers could help it in the right direction. Since the Jewish conquest of the Land of Israel was a step toward redemption, the believer's task was to take possession of the newly conquered land by settling it.

(To be Continued)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

In Remembrance

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Religious Roots of Violence: Judaism

For Judaism, the Exodus story line is the most problematic. Traditionally, Exodus is supposed to convey the following point: a liberating God heard the cries of an oppressed people and intervened in history to save them. It’s a story of human freedom through divine deliverance. Violence, however, taints this story.

At best, Exodus is a story about God's liberating violence. It teaches that God's violence and violence done in God's name are legitimate means to achieve justice. God liberates the enslaved Israelites. Yet God achieved this goal through vicious violence, including the murder of every firstborn in Egypt as well as wiping out the "entire" army of the pharaoh. Israel, moreover, is created through the massive displacement and destruction of other peoples, laying claim to a land that belonged to others by conducting a bloody conquest under the banner of divine will.

God tells Abraham: "To your descendents I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Cannanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites." (Gen 15:18-21).

"When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you… and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy…" (Deut 7:1-2, 5-6)

Remember that Native Americans were wiped out by European settlers who saw Indians as Cannanites, Indian land as the equivalent of Canaan and themselves as God's chosen people. You make think that times have changed, that these ancient texts no longer have real relevance. You would be wrong.

(To be Continued)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Bombs and Hezbollah

This is an interesting piece from today's New York Times - an op ed that downplays the importance of radical religion for Hezbollah.

ISRAEL has finally conceded that air power alone will not defeat Hezbollah. Over the coming weeks, it will learn that ground power won’t work either. The problem is not that the Israelis have insufficient military might, but that they misunderstand the nature of the enemy.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Hezbollah is principally neither a political party nor an Islamist militia. It is a broad movement that evolved in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. At first it consisted of a small number of Shiites supported by Iran. But as more and more Lebanese came to resent Israel’s occupation, Hezbollah — never tight-knit — expanded into an umbrella organization that tacitly coordinated the resistance operations of a loose collection of groups with a variety of religious and secular aims.

In terms of structure and hierarchy, it is less comparable to, say, a religious cult like the Taliban than to the multidimensional American civil-rights movement of the 1960’s. What made its rise so rapid, and will make it impossible to defeat militarily, was not its international support but the fact that it evolved from a reorientation of pre-existing Lebanese social groups.

Evidence of the broad nature of Hezbollah’s resistance to Israeli occupation can be seen in the identity of its suicide attackers. Hezbollah conducted a broad campaign of suicide bombings against American, French and Israeli targets from 1982 to 1986. Altogether, these attacks — which included the infamous bombing of the Marine barracks in 1983 — involved 41 suicide terrorists.

In writing my book on suicide attackers, I had researchers scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and the biographies of the Hezbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. Shockingly, only eight were Islamic fundamentalists. Twenty-seven were from leftist political groups like the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union. Three were Christians, including a female high-school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.

What these suicide attackers — and their heirs today — shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not root out Hezbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force.

Thus the new Israeli land offensive may take ground and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying the Hezbollah movement. In fact, in the wake of the bombings of civilians, the incursion will probably aid Hezbollah’s recruiting.

Equally important, Israel’s incursion is also squandering the good will it had initially earned from so-called moderate Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The countries are the court of opinion that matters because, while Israel cannot crush Hezbollah, it could achieve a more limited goal: ending Hezbollah’s acquisition of more missiles through Syria.

Given Syria’s total control of its border with Lebanon, stemming the flow of weapons is a job for diplomacy, not force. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, Sunni-led nations that want stability in the region, are motivated to stop the rise of Hezbollah. Under the right conditions, the United States might be able to help assemble an ad hoc coalition of Syria’s neighbors to entice and bully it to prevent Iranian, Chinese or other foreign missiles from entering Lebanon. It could also offer to begin talks over the future of the Golan Heights.

But Israel must take the initiative. Unless it calls off the offensive and accepts a genuine cease-fire, there are likely to be many, many dead Israelis in the coming weeks — and a much stronger Hezbollah.

Robert A. Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, is the author of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.”

Spanking is for sissies

Abraham: spanking is for sissies

There are those who argue that religious violence stems from a misinterpretation of Judaism, Christianity or Islam, that when properly understood these religions are inherently peaceful. Even if the murderer claims to kill in the name of religion, these people respond: False, you are mistaken, you are deluded, you misunderstand your religion. In the face of murderous acts they say - this is not Islam, this is not Christianity, this is not Judaism.

At the LHG we think this is a mistake. It's a mistake because it overlooks the fact that violence is inscribed in these religion's sacred texts. When a Jewish extremist uses the Hebrew Bible to justify the razing of Arab households it's too simple to say that he's just misreading scripture, when a rightwing Christian uses scripture to justify persecuting Jews it's too simple to say he's just misreading the New Testament, and when Bin Laden turns to the Qu'ran to justify terrorism it's simplistic to say he's merely misinterpreting his sacred book. In his Is Religion Killing Us? Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer identifies three "violence of God traditions" - exodus, exile and apocalyptic - that pervade the main Western religions.

The posts that follow will explicate these traditions.

Nibble on this apple

To my New York readers: If you're interested in photography as an art form (and you should be) go see this fantastic exhibit by the incredibly talented Constanza Mirre. Its a great window into the world of old Buenos Aires bars, and the characters that make them their home away from home (or away from the jabru).

12 West 56 street, on the corner of 5th avenue. Monday-Friday, 9-5, through the first week of September. Hurry, and you can buy her book. Better yet, go for a limited edition photo before prices skyrocket.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thy Kingdom Come

Seems like such a nice man

Holy War: A Texas Preacher Leads Campaign To Let Israel Fight

Mr. Hagee Draws Evangelicals By Arguing Jewish State Fulfills Biblical Prophecy 'End of World as We Know It'

By Andrew Higgins
Wall Street Journal
July 27, 2006; Page A1

WASHINGTON -- After Israel sent warplanes into Iraq in 1981 to bomb a nuclear reactor, Texas televangelist John Hagee sent letters to 150 fellow Christian preachers to rally support for the Jewish state. He got just one positive response. When Mr. Hagee pressed ahead with plans for a pro-Israel gathering in a San Antonio theater, he says he got a death threat on the phone and someone shot out all the windows of his station wagon parked in his driveway.

Last week, as Israel's armed forces pounded Lebanon and worries of a wider conflagration mounted, Mr. Hagee presided over what he called a "miracle of God": a gathering of 3,500 evangelical Christians packed into a Washington hotel to cheer Israel and its current military campaign. Standing on a stage bedecked with a huge Israeli flag, Mr. Hagee drew rapturous applause and shouts of "amen" as he hailed Israel for doing God's work in a "war of good versus evil." Calls for Israel to show restraint violate "God's foreign-policy statement" toward Jews, he said, citing a verse from the Old Testament that promises to "bless those who bless you" and curse "the one who curses you."

The gathering was sponsored by Christians United for Israel, a national organization the 66-year-old preacher set up this year. The group lobbies politicians in Washington, rallies grassroots support for Israel and aims to educate Christians on what it calls the "biblical imperative" of supporting the Jewish state.

Mr. Hagee is a leading figure in the so-called Christian-Zionist movement. This evangelical political philosophy is rooted in biblical prophecies and a belief that Israel's struggles signal a prelude to Armageddon. Its followers staunchly support the Bush administration's unequivocal backing of Israel in its current battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

President Bush sent a message to the gathering praising Mr. Hagee and his supporters for "spreading the hope of God's love and the universal gift of freedom." The Israeli prime minister also sent words of thanks. Israel's ambassador, its former military chief and a host of U.S. political heavyweights, mostly Republican, attended.

At a time when Islamist groups are displacing secular nationalists as the main vehicle for political revolt across the Middle East, Mr. Hagee and like-minded evangelicals are injecting greater religious fervor into American attitudes and policy toward the region. They see, and even sometimes seem to embrace, the notion of a global conflict between Islam and the Judeo-Christian West, just as do many zealous Muslims.

"This is a religious war that Islam cannot -- and must not -- win," Mr. Hagee wrote in a recent book, "Jerusalem Countdown," which focuses on what he says is a coming nuclear showdown with Iran. "The end of the world as we know it is rapidly approaching.... Rejoice and be exceeding glad -- the best is yet to be." The book has sold nearly 700,000 copies since it was released in January, according to his Florida-based religious publisher, Strang Communications.

Christian Zionism has been around for years but is now gaining greater prominence as it gets turbocharged by the marketing flair of Mr. Hagee and other religious entrepreneurs. Mr. Hagee has deployed massive resources to galvanize support for Israel. He heads a San Antonio megachurch, which claims 19,000 members, runs a television company and has close ties to Republican Party power brokers. His Washington banquet last week cost about $500,000, according to an organizer. A big Christian broadcasting network, Daystar, carried the event live. The following day, he mobilized evangelicals representing all 50 states in a lobbying blitz through the Capitol. Armed with talking points scripted by Mr. Hagee and his staff, they peppered senators and congressmen with arguments for Israel and against its enemies, particularly Iran.

While Mr. Bush is clearly close to evangelicals, he has never fully embraced their agenda or rhetoric. But their views are generally in sync with the aims of his national-security strategists, who reach similar conclusions through a different logic. They have long blasted what they've termed the "false stability" of a region mostly ruled by autocrats and that has tolerated terrorist organizations committed to Israel's destruction. The influential "neo-conservative" school of foreign-policy advisers has also buttressed this line, arguing that the U.S. must push more aggressively for democracy in the Middle East.

Bedrock for Bush

Christian evangelicals, who first found political traction under President Reagan in the 1980s, now number about 50 million and form a bedrock constituency for President Bush. Best known for their lobbying against abortion, same-sex marriage and on other domestic issues, they have also taken a keen interest in foreign policy, especially since the attacks of 9/11.

"Leave Israel alone. Let them do the job," Mr. Hagee told his supporters last week at the banquet. Israel's enemies, said New York Congressman Eliot Engel, one of the few Democratic speakers, "do the work of Satan." This melding of realpolitik and religion, say former and current U.S. officials, has produced a potent force. Israel's evangelical supporters "were out there before, but didn't really appear on the radar screen," says Dennis Ross, a Middle East envoy in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. "Now they are an important part of the landscape." More than any prior White House, the Bush administration has established formal, regular contacts with American evangelical leaders.

The White House says it isn't overly influenced by any one group. "The president makes decisions about policies for our country based on what is right for our citizens," says Dana Perino, deputy press secretary. "The United States has been an ally of Israel since its founding, and President Bush has worked to strengthen that alliance."

The main vehicle for Mr. Hagee's pro-Israel activities over the years has been San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, which he first joined as pastor back in 1975 when it was called Church of Castle Hill, a moribund parish with only a few dozen worshippers and heavy debts. He had quit his previous church the same year during a messy divorce that was quickly followed by his remarriage to a young churchgoer. Attracted by Mr. Hagee's mix of thundering oratory and folksy humor, the congregation mushroomed.

The son of a puritanical preacher, Mr. Hagee first visited Israel in 1978. He says he went there "as a tourist and came back home a Zionist." While in Israel, Mr. Hagee visited Jerusalem's Western Wall and says he felt a "nearness to God like no other place on Earth." At that moment, he recalls, "The Lord required of me to do everything I could to bring Christians and Jews together."

After returning to Texas, Mr. Hagee says he plunged into a "three-year study binge to discover the Jewish roots of Christianity." This coincided with a surge of contacts between American evangelicals and the then Israeli government of Menachem Begin, a devout biblical scholar and hardline defender of Israel's right to territories won in 1967. Mr. Begin worked hard to cultivate American evangelicals, with whom he shared a belief that Israel's birth in 1948 and subsequent struggles were a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Mr. Hagee says he met with Mr. Begin three times. When Mr. Begin ordered Israel's air force to bomb Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, Mr. Hagee was horrified by widespread criticism that followed. After reading a San Antonio newspaper that described the attack as an act of "gunboat diplomacy," he decided to organize a pro-Israel gathering.

Local Christians initially showed little enthusiasm for the idea. San Antonio's Jewish community was even more wary. "There was a lot of skepticism," recalls Aryeh Scheinberg, an Orthodox rabbi who took part in meetings among Jewish leaders to decide how to respond to Mr. Hagee's proposal. "Everyone wanted to know: 'What does he really want?' I said, 'Let's give the man a chance and take the risk.' "

The pro-Israel gathering went ahead with both Jews and Christians present. As Mr. Scheinberg mounted the podium to deliver a final prayer, security told Mr. Hagee of a bomb threat. Mr. Hagee, a stocky man who got to college on a football scholarship, says he asked God to make the rabbi pray "not like Moses but like a Presbyterian late for lunch." The threat was a hoax.

The event has been held every year since, though some Jewish leaders refuse to attend and reject any alliance with Mr. Hagee. "Many of his views are hateful," says Barry Block, a prominent reform rabbi in San Antonio, who accuses Mr. Hagee of demonizing Muslims and propounding a divisive right-wing agenda that erodes the barrier between church and state.

When addressing Jewish audiences, Mr. Hagee generally avoids talking about Armageddon. But his books, whose titles include "Beginning of the End" and "From Daniel to Doomsday," are filled with death and mayhem. "The battlefield will cover the nation of Israel!" he writes in "Jerusalem Countdown," his recent work, describing a "sea of human blood drained from the veins of those who have followed Satan." Some fellow evangelicals accuse Mr. Hagee of ignoring Arab Christians. Donald Wagner of North Park University, an evangelical Christian college in Chicago, first traveled to Israel at around the same time as Mr. Hagee but reached the
opposite conclusion. "I was very pro-Israel until I went there," says Mr. Wagner, who heads a research group that challenges the theology of Christian Zionists.

A Turn to Television

Little known outside of Texas when he first embraced Zionism, Mr. Hagee turned to television to promote Jesus, Israel and his own name. His main platform for this was Global Evangelism Television Inc., a nonprofit organization. First set up in 1978, GETV initially relayed the programming of others to local cable operators. In the 1980s it began pumping out its own shows featuring Mr. Hagee for broadcast on national Christian networks. His sermons and chat shows now appear on 120 stations and, he says, reach more than 90 million homes.

By the mid-1980s his flock had outgrown his church in central San Antonio. In 1987, Cornerstone moved to a 35-acre suburban campus with a 5,000-person assembly hall and a new television and radio studio. As his exposure grew, so did controversy. He ran into flak for inviting former White House aide Oliver North, a pardoned felon, and disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart to speak at Cornerstone. He also feuded with the U.S. Postal Service over nonprofit rates for church mailings that contained ads for his books and videos. (He sued and, he says, got a refund of around $40,000.) Mr. Hagee also upset black leaders. To help students seeking odd jobs, his church newsletter, The Cluster, advertised a "slave" sale. "Slavery in America is returning to Cornerstone," it said. "Make plans to come and go home with a slave." Mr. Hagee apologized but, in a radio interview, protested about pressure to be "politically correct" and joked that perhaps his pet dog should be called a "canine American."

The quarrels didn't stop the steady growth of his congregation, which is multiracial. His "nights to honor Israel" got bigger, too, as did his clout as a fund-raiser for Israeli causes. He says he has raised over $12 million so far. Increasingly prominent, the preacher attracted the eye and, initially, the ire of Jerry Falwell, the dean of the Christian
right and another enthusiastic supporter of Israel.

In 1994, The National Liberty Journal, a conservative monthly run by Mr. Falwell, labeled Mr. Hagee a "heretic" for championing so-called dual-covenant theory -- a belief that Jews and Christians have separate deals with God that allow each to get into heaven. The traditional Christian view is that Jews and other non-Christians must convert -- or end up on the wrong side of the battle of Armageddon.

Soon after the article appeared, Mr. Falwell arranged to meet the Texan at a Christian pow-wow in Memphis. Mr. Hagee, says Mr. Falwell, convinced him that he didn't believe in the "dual covenant." Mr. Falwell now sits on the board of Christians United for Israel.

Mr. Hagee, citing a New Testament verse, says a "remnant of Jewish people...have favor with God right now" but he is vague on which Jews will get to heaven without conversion, saying that only God knows this. He dismisses the dual-covenant issue as "something to start coffee-table debate."

Closer to Power

Mr. Bush's 2000 election victory and the Republican Party's control of both houses of Congress brought evangelical Christians closer to power than ever before. Mr. Hagee had met Mr. Bush several times while he was Texas governor and solidly supported his push for the White House. Mr. Hagee was closer, though, to another powerful Texan, Congressman Tom DeLay. Soon after becoming majority leader in the House of Representatives, Mr. DeLay gave the keynote speech at Mr. Hagee's 2002 pro-Israel gathering in San Antonio. Mr. DeLay, since embroiled in a corruption scandal, also spoke last week in Washington.

In 2003, The San Antonio Express-News dug into Mr. Hagee's filings with the Internal Revenue Service. The article alleged no wrongdoing, but reported that Mr. Hagee received more than $1.25 million in 2001 for his church and TV work and had a trust that includes a nearly 8,000-acre $2.1 million Texas ranch. Mr. Hagee says that the bulk of his earnings comes from royalty payments from his 21 books, not from churchgoers' donations. He says he'll earn much the same this year if book sales hold up. His finances under the spotlight, Mr. Hagee reorganized his holdings in a way that allowed him to avoid having to make public filings. In September 2004, Global Evangelism Television re-registered as a church under the name Grace Church of San Antonio. Churches, unlike religious TV companies and other nonprofit outfits, are exempt from filing detailed returns with the IRS. A further reorganization in recent weeks moved all assets into Cornerstone Church. None of the Church's financial records are publicly available. Mr. Hagee said his lawyers had recommended the changes for "greater clarity."

President Bush abandoned President Clinton's efforts to secure a big-bang peace settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict but, under prodding from Britain and others, did back a slow-paced plan known as the Roadmap for Peace.

In May 2003, Mr. Hagee and other evangelical leaders sent a letter to President Bush applauding the invasion of Iraq but complaining about the Israel-Palestine peace plan. They said it would be "morally
reprehensible" for the U.S. to be "evenhanded" between Israel and "the terrorist-infested Palestinian infrastructure."

Last fall, he took his annual "night to honor Israel," to Israel, holding the event in the hangar of an Israeli air-force base. He spoke at the Israeli Parliament and organized a visit for his U.S. followers to Megiddo, an Israeli hilltop that he believes will be the site of the battle of Armageddon.

Mr. Hagee also started laying plans for Christians United for Israel, hoping to meld a plethora of mostly small pro-Israel Christian groups into a national network. He contacted Mr. Falwell, who says he immediately offered support. He hired David Brog, a lawyer who had worked in both Israel and on Capitol Hill and who is a distant cousin of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, as the new organization's executive director. As Mr. Hagee's plans took shape last fall, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, set up an "outreach" unit to work with Christians and others. Appointed to head the unit was a San Antonio native who had previously worshipped at the synagogue of Mr. Scheinberg, the Orthodox rabbi who has been one of Mr. Hagee's keenest supporters.

Christians United for Israel held its first meeting in San Antonio in February and immediately began organizing last week's Washington event. To galvanize support and allay suspicions in some quarters of his motives, Mr. Hagee traveled around the country, meeting with Christian and Jewish leaders. Some Jews worry that Christian-Zionists want to convert Jews to Christianity, something Mr. Hagee has always denied.

The current eruption of violence, says Mr. Hagee, shows that Israel should not surrender land in search of peace and that Christians and Jews are on the same side. "If God opposes giving away the land, if it has never worked, let's come up with another plan," he thundered last week. "Do not give the land away. It belongs to you. It is God's heritage to you."

--Karby Leggett in Jerusalem contributed to this article. Write to
Andrew Higgins at

Too much of a good thing

Here at the LHG we never believed it was possible to have too much of a good thing - World Cup, girls (or guys, depending on your gender and persuasion), cocoa puffs, more was always better. The Los Angeles Times, however, has shown us the error of our ways:

"Stafford, Texas (LHG: we know what you're thinking, it had to be Texas) has 51 churches and other religious institutions packed into its 7 square miles. Gene Bane, the city's director of building permits, has a large map of Stafford that is dotted with round yellow stickers, each dot denoting a church or religious facility. In some parts of town, the dots are so close together they nearly meld into a big yellow glob.In one quarter-mile section near the city center, parishioners can choose among 17 churches. There are three small churches in the Quail Ridge Plaza shopping center, and three large brick churches on the street behind it. Down the road, the Evangelical Formosan Church is tucked behind a muffler shop."

And because churches and religious instututions are tax exempt - guess what - they're bankrupting the town. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.

Which religion is the right one for you?

88% agnosticism and 50% Islam - is the LHG the antidote to Islamic extremism? Actually, we're proudest of our 29% of Satanism.

Next we'd show you our astral chart, but that would scare the hell out of you.

You scored as agnosticism. You are an agnostic. Though it is generally taken that agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve in God, it is possible to be a theist or atheist in addition to an agnostic. Agnostics don't believe it is possible to prove the existence of God (nor lack thereof).

Agnosticism is a philosophy that God's existence cannot be proven. Some say it is possible to be agnostic and follow a religion; however, one cannot be a devout believer if he or she does not truly believe.



















Which religion is the right one for you?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What kind of theologian are you?

Given the options, it could have been a lot worse. After all, Moltmann was a big influence on Latin American liberation theology, we like parts of Tillich's Systematic theology (especially Volume III), Political Expectation and the Protestant Era (on the other hand, we've always thought that The Courage to Be was overrated and yes, we know Tillich was a pervert), and Schleiermacher's On Religion is a classic. Not sure, however, where the 2o% of Calvin came in.

You scored as Jurgen Moltmann. The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Jurgen Moltmann


Paul Tillich


Friedrich Schleiermacher


John Calvin


Charles Finney


Martin Luther


Jonathan Edwards


Karl Barth






Which Kind of Theologian are You?

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