28 October 2007

Street fights in Rome after beatification

Street fights in Rome after beatification—
(From The Independent)

Pope Benedict XVI today waded into a fierce political battle in Spain over its bloody past, beatifying 498 priests and nuns killed in the civil war in the largest ever ceremony of its kind.

Addressing the 30,000 mainly Spanish pilgrims that flocked to Rome, the Pope paid tribute to the “martyrs” of the 1936-39 war, who had “paid in blood for their faith in Christ and his Church” and put them on the path to sainthood.

“Their words and gestures of forgiveness towards their persecutors should enable us to work towards reconciliation and peaceful coexistence,” the Pontiff said.

But far from healing the rifts left by the conflict, the lavish ceremony in St. Peter’s Square stirred anger among those who fought against General Franco and suffered under his subsequent 36-year dictatorship. The Roman Catholic Church largely supported Franco’s side during the war and its aftermath and critics said it was again choosing sides by honouring victims on only one side.

Street fights broke out in Rome following the ceremony when a group of faithful attacked left-wing protesters carrying a banner that read: “Those who have killed, tortured and exploited cannot be beatified”. Around 30 enraged pilgrims tore the banner to pieces along with a large reproduction of Picasso’s “Guernica”, the most famous depiction of atrocities committed by Franco’s side. Italian police arrested seven people and impounded a van that protesters had used to film the fighting.

Others critics said the Pope should have recognised the Church’s role in supporting a fascist dictator that killed untold thousands and overthrew a democratically-elected government.

“The Catholic Church has missed an opportunity to recognise its deeds during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship,” said Spain’s Association for Historical Memory, which is exhuming mass graves of those killed on the Republican side to give them a proper burial. “As long as the Church accepts only its role as victim and not executioner, it will simply be contributing to...the partisan use of the past.”

Spain’s Socialist Government has clashed repeatedly with the Roman Catholic Church over issues ranging from its legalisation of same-sex marriage to the easing of divorce laws and plans to introduce civics lessons into schools. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, whose own grandfather was executed by Franco’s forces during the war, has likened his government to the Leftist Second Republic that was overthrown by Franco in the war.

Mr Zapatero has caused howls of protest from conservatives after introducing a law aimed at redressing the injustices suffered by victims of Franco’s regime. Among other measures, the law orders the removal of any remaining symbols of the dictatorship, which arguably include the shrines in many Spanish churches to the dead on Franco’s side. By contrast, Republican victims still lie in dozens of unmarked mass graves dotted around the country.

On this occasion, however, both the Government and the Vatican have striven to avoid confrontation. The Government sent its Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, to lead the Spanish delegation at the ceremony. And the Vatican has strenuously denied that the beatification ceremony as anything to do with the Government’s controversial “Historic Memory” Bill, which comes to a vote next week.

“The beatification process began well before Zapatero came to Government,” the Spanish Cardinal, Julián Herranz, said in Rome. “Those wishing to see the ceremony as political or as having an anti-Government intent are distorting reality and telling a lie.”

But critics have pointed out that only priests aligned with Franco’s side during the war were honoured today. “Priests that were killed in Catalonia or parts of the Basque Country loyal to the Republic are not being beatified,” said Alejandro Quiroga, professor of Spanish history at Newcastle University. “It is a very selective, political reading of the whole thing.”

Families of several Basque priests, executed by Franco’s men because they supported the Government side or were Basque nationalists, have complained that their cases have been forgotten.

“Are we nothing, or what?” asked Vicenta Sagarna Uriarte, whose brother José was shot in his church by Franco’s men in 1936.

“We feel so helpless seeing the Vatican ceremony. What about our own? No one has asked for our forgiveness,” she told Spain's El País newspaper.

Some 500,000 people, mostly civilians, died during the three-year Spanish Civil War. Bands of Communist and Anarchist irregulars on the Republican side burned churches and killed thousands of priests and nuns, while Falangist death squads executed tens of thousands of Spaniards suspected of harbouring Leftist sympathies.

The conflict was seen as a dress rehearsal for World War II, with Nazi Germany supporting Franco’s side and the Soviet Union backing the Republic.

26 October 2007

Catholic Stuff, Beer, and Masturbation

Padre Pio a Fraud?—
Padre Pio a fraud! The Catholic League, as is their wont, have issued their predictable response.

Beer and Gay Sex—
The Catholic League has also gotten its panties in a twist over Folsom Street Fair and Miller Beer's sponsorship of said street fair. Who would guess that such deviant behavior would be sponsored by such a wholesome industry?

Miller later apologized, but it was not enough:
"The Miller Brewing Company and the Board of Directors of the Folsom Street Fair have both issued press statements this week apologizing for the offensive Last Supper poster that was used to promote the event. As such, they have insulted Catholics one more time. Let me be specific.

“The poster was the least offensive part of this Catholic-bashing forum. What was even more offensive was the sight of Christian symbols being sold at this Miller-sponsored fair as sex toys. The obscene and blasphemous names of these vulgar sex toys are so disgusting that no mainstream newspaper would print them. Then there was the incredible sight of a stripper and a man dressed as Jesus hoisted in cages above a Catholic church on a Sunday. This was done to provoke, taunt and insult Catholics. And who greeted everyone at the street fair? Men dressed as nuns. Had they been dressed like Al Jolson—with blackened faces—they would have been run out of town as racists.

“The Folsom Street Fair news release on this subject shows how utterly clueless its officers are. It says, ‘The mission is to create volunteer-driven leather events that provide the adult alternative lifestyle community with safe venues for self-expression while emphasizing freedom, fun, frolic and fetish and raising funds to benefit charity.’

“To which I say: If your idea of a ‘safe venue’ ‘self-expression’ and ‘fun’ includes men being beaten with chains in broad daylight, men who masturbate in the street, and men who perform oral sex on each other in public—I have pictures of these acts—then spare Catholics of your ‘fun.’ Leave us out of it and you can do to each other whatever you want.

“The only thing Miller is worried about is its logo appearing on a poster for an event it could not possibly defend. Not until it pledges not to sponsor Catholic-bashing events will the Catholic League call off its boycott and its anti-Miller PR campaign. We’re like that proverbial fly who just won’t go away.”

The part about men masturbating in the street is actually quite accurate. I went to Folsom Fair on a lark in 2002 and had the distinct pleasure of observing a man—to whom time had not been kind— with purple, throbbing, greasy member in hand, masturbating at a galloping pace in a doorway. It was gross.

24 October 2007

The Times Are A'Changin'

Starting immediately, the format of this blog is not restricted to religious studies. I've decided to turn Sacred Heart of Odin into a locus of everything that I think is interesting. Narcissism and endless jabber of personal issues/events are still strictly off limits. I welcome your comments--if indeed I have an audience...shit, man, you post comments on what interests you too.

Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus—
MRSA has been in the news recently, and it is a very interesting bug—and killing more Americans than HIV/AIDS.

What makes MRSA so resistant against the penicillin family is that all penicillin-like antibiotics contain a ring called a β-lactam ring which is enables hydrolysis of such antibiotics by producing an enzyme called penicillinase. Without the β-lactam ring, the drugs are ineffective.


Natural Philosophy and the Renaissance Man—
It seems that Renaissance men are hard to come by these days. From this space in time, it seems that the intellectual giants of yesteryear (meaning pre-Renaissance) were versatile individuals, not interested in any one single subject but rather the totality of the world.

I wonder if perhaps the disappearance of the Renaissance Man is related to the Enlightenment and the subsequent development of the scientific method. (By the by, why did it take human beings so long to come up with the method anyway?) As scientific knowledge increased, specialization was a necessity. One of the cool things about natural philosophy was that it was friendly with conjecture—think Pliny's Natural History. Bummer.

07 October 2007


The New York Times reports on the controversy surrounding Evangelicals' use of Halo as a recruitment tool (emphasis mine):

The alliance of popular culture and evangelism is challenging churches much as bingo games did in the 1960s. And the question fits into a rich debate about how far churches should go to reach young people.

Far from being defensive, church leaders who support Halo — despite its “thou shalt kill” credo — celebrate it as a modern and sometimes singularly effective tool. It is crucial, they say, to reach the elusive audience of boys and young men.

Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of the church said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church.

But the question arises: What price to appear relevant? Some parents, religious ethicists and pastors say that Halo may succeed at attracting youths, but that it could have a corroding influence. In providing Halo, churches are permitting access to adult-themed material that young people cannot buy on their own.

“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.

“To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it’s just pixels involved is an illusion,” he said.

Focus on the Family, a large evangelical organization, said it was trying to balance the game’s violent nature with its popularity and the fact that churches are using it anyway. “Internally, we’re still trying to figure out what is our official view on it,” said Lisa Anderson, a spokeswoman for the group.


David Drexler, youth director at the 200-member nondenominational Country Bible Church in Ashby, Minn., said using Halo to recruit was “the most effective thing we’ve done.”

In rural Minnesota, Mr. Drexler said, the church needs something powerful to compete against the lure of less healthy behaviors. “We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex.” His congregation plans to double to eight its number of TVs, which would allow 32 players to compete at one time.

Among parents at the Colorado Community Church, Doug Graham, a pediatric oncologist with a 12-year-old son, said that he was not aware of the game’s M rating and that it gave him pause. He said he felt that parents should be actively involved in deciding whether minors play an M-rated game. “Every family should have a conversation about it,” he said.

Mr. Barbour, the youth pastor at the church, said the game had led to a number of internal discussions prompted by elders who complained about its violent content. Mr. Barbour recently met for several hours with the church’s pastor and successfully made his case that the game was a crucial recruiting tool.

In one letter to parents, Mr. Barbour wrote that God calls ministers to be “fishers of men.”

“Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

This is nuts. Desperation is a stinky perfume, as they say. And what pediatric oncologist in his right mind could still believe in God?

Other Christians think that relevance is irrelevant.


Bart reports on the Oregon-Russian-Anti-Gay-Violence connection.


CDF rules on pulling the spoon.

23 September 2007

Kathy Griffin, etc

"Christian theater troupe scolds Griffin":

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. - Members of a Christian theater troupe are spreading the word that they're irate about Kathy Griffin'


In accepting the Emmy for her Bravo reality show, "My Life on the D-List," Griffin said that "a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

She went on to hold up her Emmy, make an off-color remark about Christ and proclaim, "This award is my god now!"


Griffin's comments have also drawn ire from the Catholic League, an anti-defamation group that called on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to "denounce Griffin's obscene and blasphemous comment" at the Sept. 9 ceremony. The E! channel chose to edit Griffin's speech when it aired the taped event last Saturday night.

Griffin, whose standup comedy shows often focus on mocking and dishing on celebrities, issued a statement through her publicist in response to the Catholic League's criticisms, indicating her statements were meant as a joke.

"Am I the only Catholic left with a sense of humor?" she said in the statement.

Notwithstanding the fact that Griffin is a lapsed Catholic and not an active one, this whole debacle only provides more evidence for my theory that (on average) Protestants are tacky and gauche compared (on average) to Catholics.

What is the essence of tackiness? The essence of tackiness is the total permeation of all activity by overzealous and petty concern coupled with a suitably grandiose purported mission. Gaudiness is quickly reduced when tempered with humor or sarcasm. Many conservative Protestants are lacking in this department.

A Church Adapts

the NY Times has an article on a Baptist church in Georgia and the changes it is going through:

CLARKSTON, Ga., Sept. 21 — When the Rev. Phil Kitchin steps into the pulpit of the Clarkston International Bible Church on Sunday mornings, he stands eye to eye with the changing face of America. In the pews before him, alongside white-haired Southern women in their Sunday best, sit immigrants from the Philippines and Togo, refugees from war-scarred Liberia, Ethiopia and Sudan, even a convert from Afghanistan.

“Jesus said heaven is a place for people of all nations,” Mr. Kitchin likes to say. “So if you don’t like Clarkston, you won’t like heaven.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once noted that 11 a.m. on Sunday was the beginning of the most segregated hour of the week in America, and for the better part of 120 years, that certainly applied to this church. From 1883 until a few years ago, anyone on the pulpit would have gazed out at a congregation that was exclusively white. The church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, a group that in 1995 renounced its racist past.

But an influx of immigrants and refugees transformed this town in a little over a decade, and in the process sparked a battle within this church over its identity and its faithfulness to the Bible, one that led it to change not just its name but its mission.

The Clarkston International Bible Church, which sits along an active freight rail line down the road from the former Ku Klux Klan bastion of Stone Mountain, is now home to parishioners from more than 15 countries. The church also houses congregations of Ethiopians, Sudanese, Liberians and French West Africans who worship separately, according to their own traditions. The church’s Sunday potluck lunch features African stews and Asian vegetable dishes alongside hot dogs, sweet tea and homemade cherry pie.

The transformation of what was long known as the Clarkston Baptist Church speaks to a broader change among other American churches. Many evangelical Christians who have long believed in spreading their religion in faraway lands have found that immigrants offer an opportunity for church work within one’s own community. And many immigrants and refugees are drawn by the warm welcome they get from the parishioners, which can stand in stark contrast to the more competitive and alienating nature of workaday America.

Indeed, evangelical churches have begun to stand out as rare centers of ethnic mixing in a country that researchers say has become more culturally fragmented, in part because of immigration.

A recent study by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam underscored the practical complications of diversity. In interviews with 30,000 Americans, the study found that residents of more diverse communities “tend to withdraw from collective life,” voting less and volunteering less than those in more homogeneous communities.

The study noted a conspicuous exception.

“In many large evangelical congregations,” the researchers wrote, “the participants constituted the largest thoroughly integrated gatherings we have ever witnessed.”

Change Comes to Town

Diversity came to Clarkston like a bolt from the blue. The community, just east of the Atlanta Beltway and 11 miles from downtown, was settled by white farmers and railroad workers in the late 1800s.

Clarkston remained rural and mostly white until the 1970s, when developers began to build apartment complexes for middle-class workers drawn to Atlanta after the international airport here opened. In the next decade, many of those workers began to move to new suburbs farther from town. Vacancies increased, rents fell and crime rose.

In the 1990s, aid agencies that contract with the federal government to resettle refugees pegged Clarkston as the perfect place for these vulnerable newcomers. The town had cheap housing: those empty apartments. It had public transportation — few refugees could afford cars. And Clarkston was within commuting distance of downtown Atlanta’s booming economy.

From 1996 to 2001, more than 19,000 refugees were resettled in Georgia, many in Clarkston or surrounding DeKalb County.

The change to Clarkston was profound. The schools became crowded with children who spoke little English. Locals learned not to drive down Indian Creek Drive on Friday afternoons because of traffic from Friday prayers at the mosque. A third to a half of Clarkston’s 7,100 residents are now foreign-born, most of them refugees.

Some older residents left town, alienated and concerned over the quality of education at the overburdened schools.

Many of those families had attended the Clarkston Baptist Church, leaving empty pews. By the end of the decade the church had canceled one of its two Sunday services. The congregation had dwindled to fewer than 100 from 600.

Concerned about its survival, the church commissioned a study that found blacks and immigrants would soon outnumber whites in the area. William S. Perrin, 75 and a member of the church since 1948, said that at one meeting on the issue, a deacon stood up to express his anger.

“If you think black folks are going to come in here and take our church away from us,” Mr. Perrin remembers the man saying, “you got another thing coming.”

Reaching Out

William Perrin was no stranger to such attitudes. A retired Army lieutenant colonel who survived a midair collision over Vietnam, he grew up in Clarkston before the civil rights era. Some old ideas about race were embedded in his own psyche.

He recalled that while in the Army he once used a racial epithet in front of a black pilot he admired. When he realized what he had done, Mr. Perrin said, he broke down, hugged the pilot and begged for forgiveness.

“I’m ashamed of myself,” he said he told the man. “That’s just my white upbringing in Georgia.”

The pilot forgave Mr. Perrin, who then vowed never to disrespect another person because of race or ethnicity.

With his church failing, Mr. Perrin and other longtime members looked to the Scriptures for guidance and found what they believed was a mandate from Jesus to diversify their church.

“We realized that what the Lord had in store for that old Clarkston Baptist Church was to transition into a truly international church and to help minister to all these ethnic groups moving into the county,” Mr. Perrin said.

To offset costs during the lean years, the Clarkston Baptist Church had leased space to congregations of Filipinos, Vietnamese and Africans for their own services. Mr. Perrin and other members of the church proposed that they invite these congregations to join them as a single multiethnic church.

While an outspoken advocate for diversity within his church, Mr. Perrin is quick to point out that he is no liberal. He voted twice for President Bush. Mr. Perrin said he advocated for an international church because the Bible told him to.

That view is growing more common among conservative Christians, said Mark DeYmaz, a leading proponent of multicultural churches and the pastor of the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, in Little Rock, a congregation of 700 from some 30 countries.

In the Book of John, Mr. DeYmaz points out, Jesus is portrayed after the Last Supper as praying for unity among his followers, a message he said runs counter to the notion of an ethnically homogeneous church.

The idea of combining their old Baptist church with congregations of Filipinos and Africans appalled some older white members of the Clarkston Baptist Church, who feared giving up their ways of worship. Some threatened to leave.

“They struggled,” said Allen Hill, the pastor at the time and now an official with the Georgia Baptist Convention. “It’s something Southern Baptists have to struggle with more than others because of our history.”

That history stretches back to 1845, when the Southern Baptist Convention was formed by a group that seceded from a larger national Baptist organization after that group decreed it would not appoint slaveholders as missionaries.

In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its failure to support civil rights and for its congregations that “intentionally and/or unintentionally” excluded blacks. To this day, the overwhelming majority of its members are white, said Michael O. Emerson, a professor of sociology at Rice University who has studied the group.

In 2004, the Clarkston Baptist Church adopted the changes proposed by elders like Mr. Perrin, and merged with the Filipino and Nigerian congregations.

They renamed their church the Clarkston International Bible Church.

That change was too much for many of the older members, like Brenda and Robert White. They left after more than 20 years as members.

“I really resented that,” Mrs. White said of the name change. “I know it’s the 21st century and we have to change and do things differently. But I don’t think it’s fair that we had to cater to the foreign people rather than them trying to change to our way of doing things.”

“It just wasn’t Baptist church anymore,” she said.

A New Church Thrives

Rosa Paige, a 79-year-old Alabama native and member of the church for 46 years, winced and put her fingers in her ears. The staid Baptist hymns of her old church have been replaced by “praise music,” contemporary Christian songs, played by teenagers on electric guitars, that church leaders thought would appeal to new congregants.

“It’s a little loud for me sometimes,” Mrs. Paige said.

Merging congregations has meant compromise for everyone. The immigrants who join the main congregation have to give up worshiping in their native languages. Older Southern Baptist parishioners have given up traditional hymns and organ music.

Other areas, like the potluck lunch in the gym every Sunday, have required little adjustment. “Everybody likes everybody else’s food,” Mr. Perrin said.

The pastor, Mr. Kitchin, a North Carolina native, joined the church in 2006 and learned quickly to keep his sermons simple because so many in his new congregation were just learning English.

“I’d say, ‘You can take it to the bank,’ and nobody had a clue what I was talking about,” he said in a thick drawl.

Mr. Kitchin described his job as part minister, part cultural translator. Church members seek his advice and help.

Recently, Mr. Kitchin said, a Liberian refugee asked him to sponsor a child’s visa so the man’s family could be reunited. Mr. Kitchin declined.

“If I do it for him, I have to do it for everyone in the church who wants their children to come in,” he said. “To tell this man no rips your heart out.”

There are other problems beyond the church’s front doors. Not everyone in the community has appreciated the church’s efforts to proselytize among Clarkston’s newcomers. Salahadin Wazir, the imam at al-Momineen mosque here, said he frequently heard from Muslim refugees and immigrants who say they attended a community outreach program administered by the church where conversation quickly turned to the teachings of Jesus.

“It’s inappropriate,” Mr. Wazir said. “Playing on the minds of small children or desperate, needy people — that’s not the way to preach.”

Mr. Kitchin said he heard such complaints frequently, but he does not apologize.

“I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, and I am commanded by him to go and tell everybody who he is,” he said. “And because we’re in a free country you have the freedom to choose.”

“How can you choose if you don’t know what’s available?”

Despite those tensions, Mr. Kitchin’s church is now thriving. The congregation has grown to more than 300 from 100 a few years ago, and the 10:45 a.m. service on Sundays, which Mr. Kitchin leads, is well attended.

Ultimately, Mr. Kitchin hopes, the groups who worship separately will join the larger congregation as the Filipino and Nigerian congregations did; many of the youngest members, who prefer church in English, already have.

But those congregations face the same tough choices as did the old white Baptist church. Some have been torn between a desire to assimilate and a fear of giving up their own identities.

That is the case with the Liberian congregation led by the Rev. Peter Nehsahn. His flock had considered joining the larger group but decided against it for now, for fear of losing elements of their worship style, which includes drumming and singing African hymns.

“Our people might get lost in the mix,” Mr. Nehsahn said.

But even worshiping separately within the church gives some of the newcomers a sense of connection to the Clarkston community they would not get if they worshiped alone.

For many of those who have joined the main congregation, the experience has been life changing. Marcelle Bess, a white American and a lifelong member of the church, said two of her daughters were dating young Filipino men they had met through the church. She hopes they will marry, she said.

Mr. Perrin said the impact of the church on his life hit him when he and his wife were traveling through the Midwest. They stopped to worship at whatever Baptist church they could find.

“Every church that we walked into was pure white Caucasian,” he said. “My wife and I really felt uncomfortable, because, we realized, here in Clarkston is what the world is all about.”

Mr. Kitchin thinks that in the not-so-distant future many more American churches will face the sort of questions his church has. He said he was frequently asked for advice.

“I tell people, ‘America is changing,’ ” he said. “ ‘Get over it.’ ”

11 September 2007

"That Term is Not Currently Favored..."

My sister recently converted to Judaism—an event that was broached tactfully by my parents and sister to my grandfather, an elderly and old-fashioned gentleman. Tonight at dinner, my grandfather says, "So is Jane a Jewess now?" The rest of the dinner party remained silent, grasping for the correct answer until I tell him, "that term is not currently favored....I think people prefer 'Jew.'"
"But what do you call a male Jewish person?"
"A Jew."
"So you would call a female Jew a Jewess."
"No," I say, "No more than you would call a female Christian a Christianette."

In the end, Grandpa was not satisfied with our answer that, for some unknown reason, the female form of the word "Jew" was offensive.

03 September 2007

Changing Popes

Out with the old (after the requisite two year mourning period), and in with the new.

24 August 2007

...And Now for Something Completely Different...

How come there aren't Burger Lords or Burger Vassals or Burger Serfs? Implementing such a strategic brand differentiation could better serve the needs of all burger-eaters. Of course, only real beef would be served at Burger King. In contrast, Burger Serf would serve rat tartar on black-market strawberry bagels.


"Meaninglessness Of Preseason Game Plunges Jeremy Shockey Into Existential Crisis."


Look at some of my pretty pictures:


In medieval times, doctors wore things over their faces called nosegays. They looked like beaks and were filled with cloves to ward off the stench of death. Good times!


More proof that the Ancient Greeks kicked ass and the Trojans suck it:

Residents of the ancient city of Troy left their waste on the floors of their homes or tossed it into the streets...


About 500BCE, the city of Athens, Greece, passed the first garbage dump law in the Western world, requiring that garbage be dumped at least one mile outside the city walls.

Garbage and Other Pollution, Cornelia Blair

Hektor made his wife sleep in TRASH! Otherwise, even I admit, he was a devoted and loving husband.

18 August 2007

LINK: "Romania's Orthodox Patriarch dies at 92"

Same source as below:

The head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Teoctist, died on Monday aged 92 due to heart complications after prostate surgery.

Teoctist invited Pope John Paul to Romania in 1999, the first time a Catholic Pope visited an Orthodox country in a trip aimed at narrowing the age-old split between the two Churches.

"Patriarch Teoctist died at 5:00 pm," Constantin Popa, manager of the Fundeni hospital in Bucharest told reporters.

"He had prostate surgery. Afterwards, he developed heart complications ... which eventually led to his heart failure. He did not respond to resuscitation."

Teoctist, who was born in 1915, had been the head of the Orthodox Church since 1986. Eighty-seven percent of Romanians belong to the Church.

One of his main projects was to build a "Cathedral of the Nation's Absolution", which like the vast Christ the Saviour cathedral in Moscow was to be seen as a symbol of rebirth after 50 years of communist repression. Land and financing problems have delayed its construction, however.

LINK: "Church asked to Preach 'Tax Evasion is a Sin'"

From Christian Today (link):

Thou shalt not steal...from the state.

That's the message Italy's prime minister wants Catholic priests to preach from their pulpits to help him stamp out rampant tax evasion robbing the state of sorely needed cash.

"A third of Italians heavily evade taxes," Romano Prodi lamented in an interview with Italy's prominent Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, widely quoted in Wednesday's newspapers.

"Why, when I go to Mass, is this issue almost never touched on in the homilies?"

Italy is struggling under the weight of Europe's largest debt pile in absolute terms. The government estimates the cost of tax evasion at 7 percent of gross domestic product, or about 100 billion euros ($137 billion) a year.

It says this is nearly double the rate of evasion in France, Germany and Britain and nearly four times that of Austria, the Netherlands and Ireland.

One Catholic leader said that while the Church strongly encouraged citizens to pay taxes, Italy's government also needed to prove to taxpayers that their money was being well spent if it wanted more cooperation.

"If at times the Church is cautious on the presentation of this issue, it is because the tax system does not always seem fair," Bruno Forte, archbishop of the central Italian diocese of Chieti-Vasto, told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Prodi's campaign against tax evasion is one of the hallmarks of his unpopular government, and the government says it is part of the reason for a 6 percent hike in state revenues in the first half of 2007.

The premier, under pressure to cut taxes, suggested too many Italians still lie on their tax returns. He questioned out loud whether it was possible that only 300,000 taxpayers -- out of a total 40 million -- made more than 100,000 euros a year.

"To change this mindset, it's up to everyone, starting with the teachers, to do their part ... the Church included," Prodi said.

More Anglican Schism

First the roofs, and now this.

Metal Illegaly Gaffed from British Churchs

by Daniel Blake from Christian Today:

Hundreds of churches across Britain are facing a crime wave as it has been revealed thieves are stealing millions of pounds worth of metal from its rooftops to ship to other parts of the world to take advantage of huge demand.
Thousands of properties, which include other historic buildings as well as the churches, have fallen victim of organised gangs who collect from vulnerable sources to sell on to crooked metal merchants.

It is thought that these dealers then ship the stolen material overseas to countries such as China, Dubai and India where there is a struggle to satisfy booming manufacturing and building markets.

In a report by the Sunday Telegraph, the phenomenon was revealed by Ecclesiastical Insurance, a leading Christian insurance company that covers a majority of Church of England buildings throughout Britain.

The insurance firm told how lead thefts had trebled, and copper thefts had multiplied by 10 times over the past 2 years.

Ecclesiastical told the Sunday Telegraph that over the past 16 months the company had received a massive 750 claims, totalling £1.2 million-worth.

Chris Pitt, Ecclesiastical PR Manager reported: “These people have to be organised because of the amounts they are getting away with. These buildings will never be the same again once they've been stripped in this way.”

It has also emerged that the ruthless gangs are ripping lightning conductors from spires using towropes and vehicles. Going beyond this extreme, fearless thieves have also been known to steel church bells.

One Wolverhampton vicar, whose church earlier this year was targeted by thieves three times in two weeks, had desperately called on church neighbours to help protect the much loved building.

In the first attack at Holy Trinity Church in Heath Town, Wolverhampton, thieves stole lightning conductors. A week later they stole ladders belonging to building contractors and on 30 April it was discovered that thieves had returned to steel lead flashing.

The thefts took place as the church underwent a £200,000 renovation project which has seen repairs to stonework on the tower and spire, replacement guttering and repairs to the church clock.

The Vicar of Heath Town, the Rev David Vestergaard, said: "It is very discouraging for a congregation who have given generously and sacrificially to enable us to carry out this renovation. We are blessed with a very attractive building but it is expensive to maintain and most of our congregation are not well off.”

Pope and Jews Get Some Friction On

Vatican: Pope Meeting Doesn't Alter Policy on Jews:

The Vatican, trying to allay Jewish concern over Pope Benedict's meeting with a radical Polish priest accused of making anti-Semitic remarks, said 9 August its stance toward Jews had not changed.

The statement followed a meeting at the weekend between the Pope and Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who publicly apologised last month after accusing a "Jewish lobby" of trying to extract millions from the Polish state.

Jewish rights groups condemned the meeting and called on the Pope to denounce Rydzyk and his Radio Maryja, which they accuse of spreading xenophobic, anti-Semitic statements.

The Vatican did not address those demands in its one-line statement, saying only that Rydzyk's widely reported kiss of the German-born Pontiff's hand had no broader implications.

The Vatican said: "In reference to requests for clarification related to (Father) Tadeusz Rydzyk's 'kiss' ... the matter does not imply any change in the Holy See's well-known position on relations between Catholics and Jews."

There was no immediate reaction from Jewish groups.

Poland had the biggest Jewish population in Europe until World War Two, but the murder of millions in the Holocaust under German occupation and an anti-Semitic campaign by post-war communist authorities left only a few thousand in the country.

Israel's ambassador to Warsaw called on Poland and the Catholic Church last month to take action against Rydzyk's Radio Maryja for spreading anti-Semitism, saying it had repeatedly insulted Jews and their culture.

The Pope's meeting with Rydzyk appeared to do the opposite by giving him added legitimacy, Jewish groups said.

"You have unfortunately lent him the priceless credibility of your office and integrity in the eyes of the world," Abraham Foxman, who leads the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League, said in a letter to the Pope.

The European Jewish Congress (EJC) said it was shocked by the meeting. It said the Pope had effectively given "his blessing (to) a man and an institution that have tarnished the image of the Polish church".

Some Jewish leaders criticised the Pope's recent decision to revive a Latin-language rite that includes a prayer for the conversion of the Jews. The Pope's number two suggested the controversial prayer could be dropped, a proposal welcomed by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Pope Benedict visited the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz last year. He called himself "a son of Germany" and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims died there.

Next month, the Pontiff is due to visit a monument for Holocaust victims during a trip to Austria.

Catholics, Protestants Map Out Ethical Conversion Code

Ethan Cole, from Christian Today, has a piece
on "conversion codes":

Dozens of theologians from a wide range of Christian traditions recently gathered to map out a common religious conversion code that would affirm religious freedom while dissuading unethical means of conversion.

The joint Vatican-World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation convened some 30 Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal and evangelical theologians and church representatives in Toulouse, France, this past week for the high-level meeting entitled “Towards An Ethical Approach to Conversion: Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World”.

It was the first time evangelicals and Pentecostals were represented at the consultation since the first meeting was held last year.

“‘Evangelical’ and ‘ecumenical’ Christians have never been as close in this regard as they are today,” said Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance, according to Ecumenical News International on Monday.

“It would be the first time ever that such a broad Christian backing is given to an agreement of this kind.”

Schirrmacher, who was a speaker at the August 8-12 consultation, is a German theologian who chairs the WEA’s International Institute for Religious Freedom. He represented himself as an evangelical individual rather than the WEA's representative during the consultation.

The German theologian noted, however, that it would be difficult to concretely specify “unethical means” of conversion given differences in historical, religious, cultural and political contexts of Christian traditions, according to ENI.

Schirrmacher emphasised that all Christian traditions need to self-reflect based on the code of conduct rather than just direct it against evangelicals and Pentecostals who are known for their strong focus on evangelism.

“Conversion is a controversial issue not only in interreligous relations, but in intra-Christian relations as well,” acknowledged the Rev Dr Hans Ucko, WCC programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, in a statement.

Ucko gave as an example of religious tension that existing between the Roman Catholic Church and the Pentecostal movement in Latin America. He also noted that the Orthodox churches in other regions often feel “targeted” by Protestant missionary groups.

Fiorello Mascarenhas, a Jesuit from India and former chairperson of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office Council, affirmed that evangelisation needs to avoid “stooping to belittle or condemn other religion”.

Rather, evangelisation should promote “inter-religious dialogue and religious harmony, as well as wholehearted cooperation in human welfare projects”.

“The fact that Protestants, Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals were able to meet and discuss such a complex issue is in itself a success,” said WCC’s Ucko.

Despite progress on drawing up the code of conduct, the formidable challenge of enforcing the code remains, seeing that the WEA, WCC, Pentecostals and others have no authority to force their members to adhere to the code. There is also speculation that the Catholic Church will not make the code an official policy.

The study project jointly undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the WCC’s programme on inter-religious dialogue and cooperation - “An Interreligious Reflection on Conversion: From Controversy to a Shared Code of Conduct" - was launched in May 2006 in Lariano/Velletri, near Rome.

It aims to produce a code of conduct on religious conversion commonly agreed among Christians by 2010. The first meeting was attended by representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Yoruba faiths along with Christians.

LINK: "Defrocked Gay US Pastor Returns to Pulpit"

Lutheran Pastor returns triumphant:

The Atlanta pastor at the heart of the homosexual clergy debate in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the US has returned to the pulpit - and the Atlanta congregation is ecstatic.

A day after the nation's largest Lutheran denomination voted to encourage its bishops to practice "restraint" in disciplining gay ministers who are in “faithful” same-sex relationships, St John's Lutheran Church – Atlanta's oldest Lutheran church – celebrated Sunday the continuing pastorship of the Rev Bradley Schmeling.

Earlier this year, Schmeling, was ordered to be removed immediately from the clergy roster after announcing that he had found a lifelong gay companion.

The order by the Committee on Appeals overruled an earlier decision by a disciplinary committee which said Schmeling should be allowed to remain on the clergy roster until after ELCA's biennial churchwide assembly last week.

The committee also suggested that ELCA reinstate gay clergy who were removed or resigned because they were in a same-sex "lifelong partnership".

Despite the removal, Schmeling refused to leave St John's and said he planned to continue to follow his call in ministry there.

Furthermore, although the gay clergy debate was expected to come up in 2009, Schmeling was a major part of the push at this year's assembly to lift the ban on non-celibate homosexual clergy.


Regarding Saturday’s passed resolution, ELCA’s presiding bishop, the Rev Mark S Hanson, highlighted the words "prays, urges, and encourages" as "words of counsel" for synods and bishops considering what actions to take when confronted with non-celibate gay clergy.

"They are not words that change the standards of the Church … or the guidelines for discipline,” he said. “But they reflect the mind of this assembly as it seeks to give counsel to the leaders of this Church."

Still, conservatives say the vote contradicts Church policy and allows gay clergy to ignore the standards of the Church.

"Any time you start ignoring God's word on matters, you better watch out because you're in dangerous territory," said the Rev Mark Chavez, director of the conservative Word Alone Network, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Jaynan Clark Egland, president of Word Alone Network, called it a double standard for discipline.


The assembly decided to postpone a more concrete decision on gay clergy until 2009, when the Task Force on Studies of Sexuality is expected to propose a social statement on human sexuality based on responses from congregants across the denomination collected in a comprehensive study.

Still, Schmeling praised the latest decision by the assembly, calling it a "crack in the dam", according to The Associated Press.

Schmeling will continue to pastor St John's although he will stay off the clergy roster. Since he plans to remain with St John's, he said his removal from the clergy roster will have no effect unless he tries to move to another congregation.

Global Warming, &c.

Cal Thomas decries the fundamentalism of the Global Warming zealots (bracketed red comments mine):

In every child's life there comes a time when childhood fantasies are shattered and he or she is forced to accept reality - there is no Santa Claus or tooth fairy; parents don't always mean it when they promise to stay married until parted by death.

Grown-up scientists, theologians, historians, archaeologists and others who pursue facts and objective truths are rooted in reality and constantly adjusting their conclusions, theories and hypotheses when new information comes to light. Those who ignore facts and cling to outdated information, or outright falsehoods, can quickly embrace fanaticism.
 [Of course, this can go either way...]

So it is with "global warming," the secular religion of our day that even has a good number of adherents among people of faith. Having decided to focus less on the eternal and whether anyone dwells there, global warming fundamentalists are pushing planet worship on us in a manner that would make a jihadist proud.
 [The eternal, and whether or not anyone resides there is completely beside the point. Global warming, or even its possibility, is a time-sensitive issue. "Planet worship"? Please...just because I would rather not see the Earth a frying hellhole in a couple hundred years does not make me a treehugger!]

There are at least two characteristics all fundamentalists share. One is the exclusion and sometimes suppression of any and all information that challenges or contradicts the belief one wishes to impose on all. The other is the use of the state in pursuit of their objectives, overriding the majority's will.
 [Blind obedience to predetermined diktats of faith are always bad, and this is why climate study includes things like "studies" and "evidence"—wonderful tools lacking from the religious fundamentalist's toolbox.]


The Earth has warmed and cooled over many centuries. One can get a sense of who is telling the truth about global warming by the company the concept keeps. Most of the disciples of global warming are liberal Democrats who never have enough of our money and believe there are never enough regulations concerning the way we lead our lives. That ought to be enough to give everyone pause, along with emerging evidence that the global warming jihadists may be more full of hot air than the climate they claim is about to burn us up.
 [Perhaps, but it generally warms up after a long period of being really fucking cold. You can also get a sense of who is telling the truth by looking at these great things that we have called "facts."]

National Geographic gives us some quick facts on global warming.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone—that unrecalcitrant panderer of liberal propaganda—tells us that the debate is over.

Bill Moyers has a great section of his website dedicated to religion and the environment.

What really boggles my mind is the sheer hostility with which right-wing Christians meet the very possibility of global warming. It seems that if people were behaving rationally (which they seldom do), they would look at the scientific evidence in front of them, and survey the information at hand. All the denials and shenanigans make me want to think that certain right-wing evangelicals want the world to "burn up" in the hope of the Messiah's return. This hope, of course, is sick and twisted. That being the case, they can't possibly admit their true motivations, so they go into denial mode. Not cool at all.

Link: "L. Ron Hubbard Booklet Promoted in Israel and Palestinian Territories"

Bart has an interesting overview of various articles on Scientology's apparent expansion into the Middle East.

12 August 2007

Prosperity Gospel Shenanigans

BeliefNet has an unbelievably naive and sycophantic interview with "Bishop" Bernard E. Jordan. It's the religious equivalent of Bill O'Reilly interviewing George W. Bush. Jordan is also claiming apostolic succession. What a buffoon! His "ministry" is nothing more than another incarnation of the old and tired prosperity gospel (e.g. Bakker, Hinn, et al).

Israeli Right Woos Japanese Christian Zionists

Israeli Right Woos Japanese Christian Zionists. Wow.

11 August 2007

More Porn-Meets-Christianity

In a similar vein with a previous post, the Detroit News has a piece on Ron Jeremy and Craig Gross, an anti-porn evangelical pastor, doing a debate tour together:

The unlikely couple are debating the impact of erotic films during a seven-day, seven-state tour billed as the Porn Pastor vs. the Porn King. The only Michigan appearance is 8 tonight at the Intersection arena in Grand Rapids.

It's the latest marketing salvo by Gross' group, XXXChurch.com, an Internet-based ministry that has taken old-school evangelicals and turned them on their well-coiffed heads.

Gross, 31, who still dresses like the skateboarder he was growing up in California, hosts church breakfasts dubbed Porn and Pancakes, distributes Bibles at adult film trade shows and drives around in his "porn mobile," a black SUV with the slogans, "XXXChurch.com/ The #1 Christian Porn Site/ A Porn Site for the Whole Family."

"We try to do stuff that's fun, clever, odd enough to get people to talk," he said. "If people talk about it, then we get our message across."

The irreverent Gross, who isn't afraid to make fun of himself, will seemingly go to any length to draw attention to his Internet site, which helps porn addicts.

He also isn't afraid of making enemies. The Web site receives hate mail from two groups that couldn't be more different -- the porn industry and the religious right.

"Your theology is way outta whack," one person wrote. "That is the most disgraceful blasphemy I have ever heard."


In one corner is Gross: a 31-year-old Sacramento, Calif., native with chiseled cheeks.

In the other is Jeremy: a 54-year-old from Queens, New York, who has slept with 4,000 women, and describes himself as short, chubby and hairy.

The debate opponents would be surprised to learn they have a lot in common.

They're relentless self-promoters who are well-educated and don't smoke or do drugs.

They're funny and disarmingly open about their motives with the debate, which is charging $10 admission: Gross wants to publicize his ministry while Jeremy wants to make a buck.

When Jeremy and Gross first toured together, two years ago at college campuses, Jeremy drew standing ovations and long lines of autograph seekers.

When it comes to fan favorite, celebrity trumps all.Gross will be hoping to use that celebrity, even one nurtured by porn, to help spread the word of God.

01 August 2007

Milingo's Wacky Adventures

Milingo expects blessing of both Moon and B16. Maybe the Moonie of Moonies will show up, but I'll bet dollars to donuts the Big B will be pretty peeved.

Abraham Would be Proud

Christians/Jews in Iraq.

30 July 2007

Crazy Van

Here are some photos of a van near my house which I thought was the whip of some nutsoid fundamentalist--however, upon further inspection, it is a satire/genuine political expression.

Back of van, Side of van.

22 July 2007

Tammy Faye is Dead + World's Most Stupid Fatwas

Dead dead dead.

* * * *

Stupid ass fatwas:

Denouncing the lovable Japanese cartoon characters as having “possessed the minds” of Saudi youngsters, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority banned Pokémon video games and cards in the spring of 2001. Not only do Saudi scholars believe that Pokémon encourages gambling, which is forbidden in Islam, but it is apparently a front for Israel as well. The fatwa’s authors claimed that Pokémon games include, “the Star of David, which everyone knows is connected to international Zionism and is Israel’s national emblem.” Religious authorities in the United Arab Emirates joined in, condemning the games for promoting evolution, “a Jewish-Darwinist theory that conflicts with the truth about humans and with Islamic principles,” but didn’t ban them outright. Even the Catholic Church in Mexico got into the act, calling Pokémon video games “demonic.”


Many Muslims believe that unmarried men and women should not work alone together—a stricture that can pose problems in today’s global economy. So one Islamic scholar came up with a novel solution: If a woman were to breast-feed her male colleague five times, the two could safely be alone together. “A woman at work can take off the veil or reveal her hair in front of someone whom she breast-fed,” he wrote in an opinion issued in May 2007. He based his reasoning—which was quickly and widely derided in the Egyptian press, in the parliament, and on Arabic-language talk shows—on stories from the Prophet Mohammed’s time in which, Atiya maintained, the practice occurred. Although Atiya headed the department dealing with the Prophet’s sayings, al-Azhar University’s higher authorities were not impressed. They suspended the iconoclastic scholar, and he subsequently recanted his ruling as a “bad interpretation of a particular case.

18 July 2007

Mormonism + Presidency

Romney's Not The First Mormon to Run for President.

Is the Pope catholic?

Is the Pope catholic (small c)?, by Martin Marty.

Islam and Latin America; Gay Marriage; & Hollywood Scientology

Islam and South America—

An interesting "Talk of the Nation" segment (fast forward to 27:00-28:35) featured a person who mentioned the rising number of converts to Islam in South America. I did not know about this. I did a little searching and came up with next to nothing, but here is what I did find:
Islam in Latin America", which is an extended quotation from Radical Islam in Latin America:

Latin America is home to a sizeable and diverse Muslim population with deep roots throughout the region. Most Muslims are of Arab descent, typically of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian origin, although Christian Arabs from the Levant far outnumber their Muslim kin. There are also sizeable South and Southeast Asian Muslim communities with roots in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia in Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere in the Caribbean Basin.


As a result of intermarriage and conversion, Islam is becoming one of the fastest growing religions in Latin America. There is evidence to suggest that Muslim missionaries based in Spain and their regional affiliates are making inroads into disenfranchised and underserved indigenous communities that were once the target of evangelical Christian sects for conversion [6]. The competition between Muslim and Christian missionaries for prospective converts has even led to confrontation and violent clashes in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Spain’s al-Murabitun (The Almoravids, after the African Muslim dynasty that ruled North Africa and Spain in 11th and 12th century) is believed to be the most prolific missionary movement operating in Latin America [7]. The group is an international Sufi order founded in the 1970s by Sheikh Abdel Qader as-Sufi al-Murabit, a controversial Scottish Muslim convert born Ian Dallas. Although no hard evidence has surfaced tying the group to international terrorism, let alone al-Qaeda, Dallas has been accused of harboring extremist leanings.


The Murabitun’s ambitious efforts to gain adherents in Mexico include an unsuccessful attempt to forge an alliance with Subcommandante Marcos and his Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), following the group’s armed rebellion in Chiapas in 1994 [8]. The Murabitun are comprised predominantly of Spanish and European converts to Islam. There are also reports that Muslim missionaries are finding adherents among indigenous peoples in Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America [9].

In an effort to win over converts in Latin America, the Murabtiun emphasize the cultural links between the Arab world and Latin America through Spain’s Moorish heritage. In doing so, the Murabitun and like-minded movements advocate a collective reversion to Islam, which in their view signifies a return to the region’s true heritage, as opposed to what many see as conversion to the Muslim faith. In this sense, Islam not only represents an alternative to the colonial traditions imposed on the indigenous and mestizo peoples of Latin America, namely the Roman Catholic Church, but is also a nativist tradition that has been suppressed. The Murabitun also claim that Islam is not tainted by European and Western colonialism and imperialism, but instead serves as a remedy for the oppression and destruction brought about by the Spanish conquest.


There is no evidence to suggest that the recent trend toward conversion to Islam in Latin America stems from a turn to political and religious radicalism. On the contrary, most Muslim converts see Islam as a vehicle for reasserting their identity. They also see conversion as a form of social and political protest in societies where they are marginalized and experience discrimination [10]. In this context, it is no surprise that groups such as the Murabitun, with their message of social, political, and cultural empowerment, are making inroads into disenfranchised and impoverished indigenous communities. The group also supports local education, social welfare, and other projects that include Arabic language instruction and the publication of the Qur’an in Spanish and other local languages.

According to my own calculations from ARDA data approximates:
--Muslim pop. in South America: 8,565,675.53
--Total pop. in South America: 384,070,139
--Percentage of total pop. of South America: 2.23%

* * * *

Even though there is no real data on the rate of conversion and total Muslim population available beyond the last century; however, we can get a general sense of the growth of Islam:
-- href="http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm">2.9% growth globally (U.S. Center for World Mission, 1997)
--...the proportion of Muslims in the world will continue to increase dramatically, amounting to 20 percent of the world's population about the turn of the century, surpassing the number of Christians some years later, and probably accounting for about 30 percent of the world's population by 2025." (Samuel Huntington...Todd Johnson says 20.2% of world pop. and 22.6% by 2200)
--1.226 million (19% of world pop.) and growing
--A more in-depth look

* * * *

So it seems that we have some basis to say that Islam has been having a growth spurt as of late. Why? I have a totally unsubstantiated theory...don't take it seriously

The calling into question of traditional values, of objectivity, of absolute truth (moral and otherwise) are hallmarks of modernity. Living in this environment, one has two general choices: go with it or rebel.

It's the rebellion I want to talk about. There are rebels of all stripes and colors, but perhaps the attraction of Islam (and Evangelicalism) is the potent combination of intense religious emotion and solid, seemingly-objective, non-negotiable rules. This heady brew is provided to varying extents in both Islam and charismatic Christianity, which might explain the growth of both in Latin America. Even if you take the rules of the Catholic Church seriously, you just might not feel an emotional connection at Mass. In Chiapas (and other regions?) conversion to Islam is many times a statement about one's identity.

Islam's modernity question (BBC).

Gay Marriage—

American opinion on gay marriage and the positions among people and governments in Europe.

Mormons and Politics—

BeliefWatch: Mormons (Newsweek):
As a rule, Mormons tend to be white, conservative and Republican—and as obedient to established authority as any group out there—but a close look reveals cracks in that glossy surface. There's Harry Reid, of course, the Mormon convert and vocal leader of the Senate Democrats. And there's Orrin Hatch, conservative, Republican and Mormon to the core—except that he supports embryonic-stem-cell research, an issue upon which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official stance but which President George W. Bush opposes. Finally, there's Rocky Anderson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City. A lapsed Mormon—he grew up in an LDS family—Anderson has had to walk a fine line. In Salt Lake, the headquarters of the Latter-day Saints, he has had to be moderate enough attract 20 percent of the LDS vote to win and keep his job. Now, it seems, he's had enough of the high-wire act. This spring, Anderson began calling for the impeachment of President Bush, and more recently he started to launch grenades at his former friend and current presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"There is a culture of obedience in this country, but it's probably no more evident than in most parts of Utah," Anderson told NEWSWEEK in an interview. "That's why we've seen the highest approval ratings here for this entirely corrupt, disastrous presidency." As for Romney, his "opposition to abortion and stem-cell research is a very different Mitt Romney than the one who ran for governor of Massachusetts. I felt that Mitt Romney was a man who could really bring people together in a nonpartisan fashion, who would always stand up for the highest ideals and not worry about the polls ... I can only think this is a man who's caving to what his handlers want him to say."

As a Democrat and former Mormon, Anderson does not represent LDS views. But political scientists at Brigham Young University do say there's a surprising diversity among LDS voters. For starters, Mormons tend to vote regionally: more liberal in Blue States and more conservative in the Red States. And though they are almost universally socially conservative, they are much less predictable on the question of big government versus small government, for example, which means they're up for grabs on issues like health care. Jeff Fox, a researcher at BYU, has studied Mormon voting patterns. Most Mormons, he says, have supported the War on Terror, but "I for one opposed it completely." Rocky Anderson may not be an LDS poster boy, but in some small circles, Mitt Romney isn't either.

Mormons in Congress not Flocking to Romney's Side (Pew Forum).


An article in the N.Y Times Magazine about Hollywood and Scientology:
Giovanni Ribisi called me. Burt Reynolds asked me to call him at home. The director Joel Schumacher called me from Romania between takes for his next movie. Anne Archer and I played phone tag for two weeks. A-list, B-list, stars of stage, stars of screen, they were all eager to talk. The Tony winners John Glover and Tyne Daly. Edie McClurg, the dippy secretary in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” David Carradine.

Put the word on the street that you’re writing about Milton Katselas, and every student he has ever had will want to tell you about the best acting teacher in the world, the man who took them from fresh-faced, straight-off-the-plane-at-LAX ingénues looking for work — commercials; God willing, someday a sitcom — to being real artists. They’ll tell you about how he saved them from the failings of the artist’s personality, like narcissism and drug addiction, and set them aright. They were born with the talent, but he gave them careers.

But there are dissenters too. Students have left Katselas’s school, the Beverly Hills Playhouse, because of the unspoken pressure they felt to join the Church of Scientology, the controversial religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. Nobody ever told them to join, but they could not ignore how many of their classmates and teachers were Scientologists. Or the fact that Milton Katselas, the master himself, credits Hubbard for much of his success in life. And the assorted weirdness: one of Katselas’s students works a day job at the Scientology Celebrity Centre, where Tom Cruise and John Travolta study, and one zealous television star left the playhouse because she said she believed that Katselas wasn’t committed enough to Scientology.

Before trying to metabolize this strange cocktail of Hollywood, dreams both deferred and achieved, and Scientology, consider the very sincere professions of faith in a bearded, baritone septuagenarian with a Mediterranean temper who began as a student of Lee Strasberg and became the teacher of Ribisi, Daly and Carradine; of Michelle Pfeiffer, Tom Selleck, Tony Danza, Priscilla Presley, Patrick Swayze, Cheryl Ladd and hundreds more.

Richard Lawson, a Katselas student and occasional Scientologist, who now teaches at the playhouse, says that Katselas’s teaching helped him cheat death in 1992 when his plane from LaGuardia crashed in Flushing Bay and he was submerged underwater. “I just got this inspiration to overcome it, to fight with everything I had to get out,” Lawson told a reporter in 1998. “One of the things I attribute that to is the teachings of Milton.” Anne Archer, who discovered Scientology at the playhouse nearly 30 years ago, says, “I have seen performances sometimes in that class that are so brilliant that they’re better than anything I have seen on the stage or film.” Her husband, the producer Terry Jastrow — also a Scientologist — says that Katselas changed the texture of his daily existence: “I go out in the world and look at human behavior now. I see a woman or man interacting with a saleslady, and I see the artistry in it. Life is an endless unspooling of art, of acting, of painting, of architecture. And where did I learn that? From Milton.”

Most people in the Los Angeles acting community believe that the Beverly Hills Playhouse is a serious conservatory where actors train with a master teacher, while others think it’s a recruitment center for Scientology. I wondered if it might be both. What if the playhouse was a serious conservatory, and Katselas a master teacher, not in spite of Scientology but because of it?

I first attended Katselas’s weekly master class on a Saturday morning in April. I took my seat in his small theater on South Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills well before the 9:30 start time. I was stargazing — Justina Machado from “Six Feet Under” was there; Beth Grant from “Little Miss Sunshine” was there — when promptly at 9:30 the class rose to its feet in a standing ovation. Katselas had entered by the door near stage left, and he was proceeding slowly, with the shuffle of a man vigorous but in his 70s, to his chair on a landing a few rows up from stage right, offering small, regal waves as he went. Nobody sat until he did.

“What is this, Easter?” he asked.

“Passover,” several students answered at once.

“What is this class, 82 percent Jewish — the rest goyim?” People laughed, and at that the lights dimmed, then came up, and a scene began.

And one thing very quickly became clear: Milton Katselas is an uncommonly good teacher.

In the first scene, Jack Betts, whom I later placed as the judge in “Office Space,” played the actor John Barrymore, from the one-man show “Barrymore,” made famous on Broadway by Christopher Plummer. I thought that Betts captured both the dissolution and the grandeur of a great man in his pickled decline, but after the scene, when Betts sat at the edge of the stage to receive his critique, Katselas made clear how much better the performance could have been.

A Katselas critique is a respectful dialogue; he is never mean, but he is challenging. Katselas wanted Betts to find the quieter notes in Barrymore. One place to start, he thought, might be in the song with which the scene begins: Barrymore singing “I’ve Got a Girl in Kalamazoo.” As Betts had sung it, the song was brassy, vaudevillelike: “A! B! C! D! E! F! G! H! I got a gal in KAL-amazoo!” Katselas had him sing it over again, several times, suggesting that he turn the final syllable, the zoo, into a drunken, slurred, tossed-off note of disdain. After several more takes of the song, Katselas wasn’t satisfied, but it seemed that Betts was getting there. The Barrymore that emerged at the end of 45 minutes was stranger, sadder, perhaps a bit louche, less of a stereotype and altogether more believable than what Betts had delivered at the beginning of class.

In many ways Katselas embodies what we expect from the acting pedagogue. He has a sexual, dangerous edge — I wasn’t shocked when he confessed that he had dated several of his students. He looks unkempt, but deliberately so, very bohemian. He swears a lot, as if perpetually burdened by his inability to wring better performances from his students. But although he believes in sex and danger and anger, Katselas never sounds like a Freudian in search of those emotions, and in this regard he breaks the stereotype.

The great American acting teachers, like Strasberg and Stella Adler, have typically insisted that there is a role for an actor’s emotional history in his or her performance. In various versions of Strasberg’s “Method,” the actor uses “sense memory” or “affective memory” to relive actual experiences — the death of a parent, an episode of sexual violence, the birth of a child — to summon tears, horror, elation or some other emotion for the character. Acting classes can thus resemble talk therapy, as actors, lost in the moment, weep, scream or cackle. But Katselas is adamant that he doesn’t care what his students have been through. Digging into the past might work for some students, and as an avowed pragmatist Katselas tells actors to use whatever works. But he mostly gives actors bits of physical direction rather than asking probing questions about their motivation. In one scene, he had two lovers touch their foreheads together, injecting a note of true intimacy into what had been pure farce; in another, he told an angry junkie to clench his hair in his fists and yank, and all of a sudden the actor found the rage that had been missing from his performance.

“The purpose of the acting art is not to bring about therapy,” Katselas told me later. “One taps their own experience of love or violence and tries to pull from it whatever is possible in terms of an association or understanding, but there is also the imagination and the character and the writing. The personal thing is always very strong and can be created, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you go into the traumas of your life in order to get it.”

Is this teaching Scientology? Not at all. But it happens to be quite consonant with Scientology, which is famous for its opposition to psychiatry and psychotherapy. (A group founded by the Church of Scientology operates a museum in Hollywood called Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.) The only time I heard Katselas quote L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology founder, in class, he was oblique about it. Four students had just performed a scene in which two college students, about to have a one-night stand, are suddenly, in an absurdist, “Oleanna”-like twist, interrupted by lawyers who want them to agree in advance how far their petting may go. In his critique of the scene, Katselas railed against the legal profession: he wanted the actors to understand that this was more than a funny scene; it was also an indictment of how litigiousness, as well as the fear of it, separates us from our desires. Lawyers are just one group to whom Americans give over their autonomy, and these undergrads, having let the lawyers in, needed to push them back out and take responsibility for their own actions. It is not therapy that reunites us with our authentic selves but willpower, properly directed. “A cat that I study says you are responsible for the condition you are in,” Katselas told the room. “Period.”

That “cat” is Hubbard. But Katselas never says so, and it’s not clear that he ought to. In the context of the scene critique, Hubbard’s seems a germane aphorism, one that might help the actors get a better feel for the shifting alliances onstage. In other arts, it’s easy to gauge proficiency, if not genius. We know what technically correct music sounds like, and writers have rules of grammar and syntax to follow or to tactfully violate. But what makes a good acting performance? How do you disappear into a character? In addition to being the most ineffable of arts, acting depends on extraneous accidents of fate, like the right look. And it’s the only art that you can’t master alone; there’s not much market for soliloquies. With all those uncertainties, a fine performance, let alone a paycheck for it, can seem terrifyingly elusive. It must be the rare actor who can dismiss supernatural aids, whether Scientology or superstitious incantations like “Break a leg,” without a slight loss of nerve.

hen David Carradine met Milton Katselas at an audition in the mid-1960s, there were 50 people sitting in the back rows of the theater, just watching Katselas watch actors. “He already had a cult fame, these followers who were like disciples,” Carradine says. “He was the hot young director. I read the play, and I really hated it, but I went to the audition anyway.” Katselas was barely 30 years old.

Born to Greek immigrants in Pittsburgh in 1933, Katselas moved to New York straight after graduating from the Carnegie Institute (now Carnegie Mellon). There was no period of ignominy, no nights of waiting tables. He had seeded the town for his arrival. “I told the guy at Carnegie that within a week, I’d be working with Kazan and I’d be studying with Strasberg,” Katselas told me last spring when we met at his house in West Hollywood. “Prior to that, when I was still in university, I was walking in the streets of New York, just visiting over holiday, and I saw Kazan, and I said to a guy, ‘Is that Kazan?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’ ” Elia Kazan was fast becoming a legend. He directed “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1951; “On the Waterfront” would come in 1954 and “East of Eden” the year after. “I ran after him; I lost him; I found him; he went up in a building,” Katselas said. “I had my back to the building, looking away from the building. Then this guy taps me on the back, says, ‘What do you want?’ It’s Kazan. He went up, knew that I was chasing him. We spoke a little bit in Greek. I told him I was in university. He says: ‘When you come from university, look me up. I’ll give you a job.’ ” When Katselas arrived in New York, Kazan kept his promise and hired him as his gofer during the Broadway run of “Tea and Sympathy.”

The charmed life got more charmed. Strasberg let Katselas into his class at the Actors Studio. Kazan sent his young Turk — or, rather, Greek — to the stage director Joseph Anthony, who hired him. Katselas talked himself into a job with Joshua Logan, the great director of movies like “Picnic” and “Bus Stop.” Katselas began teaching and directing, and in 1960, at Edward Albee’s request, he directed the American premiere of “The Zoo Story” for the Provincetown Playhouse. His greatest success, though, was “Butterflies Are Free,” a timely play about a blind Manhattanite who falls for a free-spirited hippie, which opened in 1969 and ran for more than 1,000 performances. Blythe Danner won a Tony for her performance, and Katselas was nominated for his direction. In the early 1970s, Katselas moved to California to direct “40 Carats” with Liv Ullmann and the film version of “Butterflies Are Free,” in which Goldie Hawn took Danner’s role.

Katselas never made it back to New York to live. In his telling, his migration sounds like an inevitable progression: Hollywood beckoned; he began teaching in California; it agreed with him. The truth is somewhat more complicated: New York was where Katselas succumbed to, then defeated, an addiction to methamphetamines; it’s where his first marriage, to an alcoholic, began to fail. California must have represented an escape and a fresh start. In 1983, he returned East to direct “Private Lives” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton but was fired during the tryouts before the show reached New York. “I got along great with Burton, and he told me I was one of the few directors he ever accepted notes from,” Katselas says. “But I didn’t get along with Elizabeth, and I’d rather not go into why.” He never worked on the East Coast again.

+In California, Katselas met L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer and amateur scientist whose teachings form the basis of Scientology. Scientology promises its adherents the ability to become “clear,” ridding themselves of negative memories, or “engrams,” that retard their abilities. After becoming clear, they can proceed up “the bridge to total freedom,” realizing their full potential as “thetans,” spirits trapped in bodies. One mechanism of advancement is “auditing,” in which the Scientologist, in conversation with a church “auditor” and hooked up to a machine called an “E-meter,” deletes engrams; there are also church classes like “Personal Efficiency” and “Life Repair.” As a Scientologist proceeds “up the bridge,” he can gain access to esoteric knowledge, like how we thetans got here. Scientology, it has been widely reported, teaches that 75 million years ago the evil alien Xenu solved galactic overpopulation by dumping 13.5 trillion beings in volcanoes on Earth, where they were vaporized, scattering their souls. (John Carmichael, the president of the Church of Scientology of New York, told me, “That’s not what we believe.” He refused to discuss the church’s esoteric teachings, though he did claim that Scientology’s beliefs about the origins of the universe and mankind “follow the much older tradition of Eastern religion dating back to the Vedic hymns.”)

What most Americans know of Scientology is the alien myth, parodied on a famous “South Park” episode; or the German government’s view that Scientology is less a religion than a cult with totalitarian overtones; or the church’s winning fight for tax-exempt status despite the fees it charges, which for many courses are thousands of dollars; or reports in The Times and elsewhere that while battling with the I.R.S., church lawyers hired private investigators to find dirt on federal employees. Millions are also aware of the religion’s celebrity practitioners, like John Travolta, Isaac Hayes and Beck. But for most people who dabble in Scientology, including dozens of Beverly Hills Playhouse students, the religion boils down to two rather prosaic practices. There is the auditing, which, despite Scientologists’ angry denials, is a lot like the psychotherapy they abhor, and there are the classroom teachings. In class, Scientologists learn Hubbard wisdom like “What’s true is what’s true for you” and “Understanding is composed of affinity, reality and communication,” as well as practical advice about the importance of working hard, not blaming others and communicating clearly. Scientology is a quintessentially American mix of prosperity gospel, grandiose hopes for technology, bizarre New Age mythology and useful self-help nostrums.

Katselas was introduced to Scientology in 1965 and has been studying it, off and on, ever since. He has achieved the state of clear, and gone well beyond it; he is, he told me, an Operating Thetan, Level 5, or O.T. V. According to “What Is Scientology?” published by the church, being an Operating Thetan means that you “can handle things and exist without physical support and assistance. . . . It doesn’t mean one becomes God. It means one becomes wholly oneself.” But despite his advanced level of Scientology training, only “on five or six occasions,” Katselas says, has he urged a student to explore Scientology.

Others confirmed that Katselas does not proselytize. “I didn’t know he was a Scientologist until four days ago,” says Burt Reynolds, who has been a guest teacher at the playhouse. “The Scientologists I know, the actors I know, practically want to drag me there. He’s never brought it up.” Katselas’s devotion to Hubbard notwithstanding — he keeps a picture of L.R.H., as Scientologists call him, on a table in his office — he makes rather modest claims for Scientology. “It certainly helped me,” he says. “It helped me as a painter. I started doing a lot of painting, did the Scientology, and it opened up my visual sense. And it helped me in communication, endlessly, and that’s a vital thing in teaching or directing.”

It was in precisely those two areas, painting and communication, in which I thought I could divine Scientology’s influence. Katselas thinks highly of himself as a visual artist. He maintains his own studio, employs a full-time assistant who helps with his sculpture and mixed-media works and has had a handful of shows (three in a gallery that he owns). And although he has no architectural training, he has collaborated with a local architect, offering ideas for the design of two houses in the trendy Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles; one of the houses, it so happens, was purchased by Apl.de.Ap, one of the singers for the Black Eyed Peas. Katselas does not do the blueprints for the houses he “designs,” just as he does not do all the technical work for his art. Katselas has no reputation among critics of painting or architecture. But he seems to have a strong belief in the multifarious nature of his genius — he eagerly showed me the houses he has helped build and gave me a long tour of his art studio — and that is typical of Scientologists, who are taught to think of their potential as limitless.

As for communication, Katselas is, like Hubbard, fairly obsessed with the idea that if only people communicated better, the world’s problems would disappear. Katselas told me that if he sat down the warring parties in Israel, he could broker a truce — a comment that nicely marries Scientology’s human-potential hubris and its faith in communication as the greatest virtue. Katselas also shares Scientologists’ admirable habit of looking words up in dictionaries. Every teacher at the playhouse has a dictionary handy and has actors learn words they don’t know, and Katselas uses numerous dictionary definitions in “Dreams Into Action,” the self-help book he published in 1996 and hawked on “Oprah.” The book acknowledges Hubbard “for his wisdom, writings and inspiration” and carries blurbs from, incongruously, Mario Cuomo and Molly Yard, the former president of the National Organization for Women.

It might seem odd, then, that Katselas and the Scientologists have been somewhat at odds. I asked Katselas if it was true that the actress Jenna Elfman left the playhouse because she found him insufficiently committed to the church. He confirmed the rumor, hesitantly. “In a certain way, yes,” he said. “I don’t know what really occurred there. She was going to be fully involved with Scientology at a certain point in her life. I don’t know if that crept back in.” (Gary Grossman, who has worked at the playhouse for more than 20 years, also said he thought that Elfman wanted to move Katselas “up the bridge” in Scientology, though he added that “the only ones that would know would be Milton and Jenna.” Elfman never returned calls that I made to her publicist.) “But I’ve got to do what I’m going to do,” Katselas continued, “and I’m not going to do it because somebody tells me I should do it, and it doesn’t matter what somebody else thinks is right.”

Katselas’s stubbornness, and his sheer ego, are the keys to understanding his relationship to Scientology. He takes what he can from the teachings, but he can be rather contemptuous of the church. “I know [Hubbard] made a statement once that Scientology is not the people in it,” Katselas said. “Scientology is a technology that he’s developed that is really powerful, and these artists respond to it because it cleans up certain things that they’ve looking to or that they’re dealing with, and that helps them in their quest or in their way, and there’s no doubt of that.” But, he added: “I don’t go to parties, I don’t go to Scientology events. I just don’t do it. And they’re not enthralled with me because of that.” Katselas agreed that some Scientologists were “zealots,” by which he might have meant that for them Scientology was primary, whereas for Katselas Scientology is instrumental. This is a man, after all, who had the chutzpah to chase down Elia Kazan on the street and ask for a job. Scientology didn’t convince Milton that he had unlimited potential; it just confirmed what he already suspected.

+Katselas was born with the ego and the talent, but Adam Donshik wasn’t. Donshik, who first told me about Katselas three summers ago, is an old high-school classmate of mine. We were part of the small theater crowd, and we acted together in “Guys and Dolls” and “Gypsy.” He had a lovely voice and was always cast in the musicals, but he was an indifferent actor. We hadn’t spoken for more than 10 years when in 2003 I flipped to the ABC drama “Threat Matrix” and saw him playing a terrorist. Eight months later, I was in Beverly Hills on an assignment, and we met for a drink. His hair was a little thinner, but he looked great, all tan and muscled. The West Coast suited him. The career was going great, he said. Life was going great. “You want to know why?” he asked. “Scientology. I’ve become a Scientologist!” He smiled as if to acknowledge the improbability of this Jewish kid from New England finding Scientology. He had gotten involved through friends at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where he studied.

Donshik now works for the playhouse as an admission interviewer, acting in TV series on the side. Of a total playhouse payroll of about a dozen teachers, interviewers and assistants, nearly all, I discovered, had at least dabbled in Scientology. Some, like Allen Barton, who is executive director of the school, are committed Scientologists; others, like Rick Podell and Gary Grossman (who starred with Tom Hanks in “Bachelor Party”), have taken just one class and do not consider themselves Scientologists. Jocelyn Jones and Gary Imhoff, former faculty members, are Scientologists, as is Jeffrey Tambor, an actor best known as the imprisoned patriarch George Bluth Sr. on “Arrested Development” and who was Katselas’s heir apparent until he abruptly quit the faculty several years ago. (Katselas blamed Tambor’s wife: “I think she felt there was a tension between her and me and the school, and I think Jeffrey was caught in the middle of it.”)

Of the students, I easily located a dozen who are Scientologists, and based on interviews, I concluded there are probably several dozen more in the current student body of 500. Like their teachers, some students are devout while others indulge a mild curiosity and then drop off. “I went down and took a couple of classes,” David Carradine said. “I’m no kind of Scientologist, but I’ve been around it enough to know it’s a very intelligent thing.” This being Hollywood, some students, like Giovanni Ribisi, were Scientologists before they came to the playhouse.

Of course, other students worry less about how Scientology will help their acting than how it will help their careers; there’s a widespread perception in Hollywood that Scientology is a networking tool. People notice that, say, two stars of “My Name Is Earl,” Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee, are Scientologists; that the Scientologist Kirstie Alley did a guest appearance on Elfman’s “Dharma and Greg”; that Ribisi has popped up on “My Name Is Earl.” “I knew someone at the playhouse who joined Scientology because she thought it would help her career,” one agent told me. “She thought Jenna Elfman would be her best friend.” And actors who study at the Celebrity Centre on Franklin Avenue do bump into the stars, chat with them, even have lunch with them at the restaurant. How bad could that be for a career?

All religious communities can be networks for business contacts, but Scientology makes a special pitch to celebrities, and church literature is filled with testimonials from Tom Cruise, John Travolta and other stars. According to a pamphlet I was given at the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood (there are eight Celebrity Centres, in cities from Paris to Munich to Nashville), the center was founded in 1969 “to take care of those who entertain, fashion and take care of the world . . . the artists, the leaders of industry, politicians, sports figures and the like.” As a very successful hack sci-fi writer, Hubbard was something of a junior-varsity celebrity himself, and he had great esteem for his betters. “Hollywood makes a picture which strikes the public fancy, and tomorrow we have girls made up like a star walking along the streets of the small towns of America,” Hubbard once wrote. “A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists.”

Of course, the majority of those who study at Celebrity Centres are not actual celebrities, and for many of them the chance to be valued for their art alongside more successful peers, the Cruises and the Travoltas, must be salubrious for the ego. At the centers, the agent can join the same exclusive club as his client, the editor as his writer. And all of them can bask in a theology that holds, again to quote Hubbard, that “one of the greatest single moves which could be made to advance and vitalize a culture such as America would be to free, completely, the artist from all taxes and similar oppressions.”

But if a few students have appreciated the playhouse for its connections to Scientology, others have left alienated. “I have clients who left there because of all the Scientology,” one longtime Hollywood agent told me. Terrell Clayton, who had a recurring role on “Six Feet Under” and studied at the playhouse for five years, says that the pressure to study Scientology is subtle. “It’s not like while you’re being critiqued they say you need to join Scientology,” he says. “It’s small conversations you might have with colleagues or fellow students.” He now studies with Ivana Chubbuck, a highly regarded teacher who wrote “The Power of the Actor.” Chubbuck has kind words for Katselas. “It seems when people come from his studio to work with me, they seem to be pretty good actors, so he must be doing something right,” she says. “In terms of how he operates as a Scientologist or a human being, I would be remiss in saying something based on rumor or hearsay.”

And then Chubbuck told me something unexpected and clarifying: “If he’s putting something else he does in his teaching, if it works, it works.” In other words, even if he were dispensing Scientology-flavored pedagogy, even if his example did lead some young actors to the Celebrity Centre to spend their dollars — earned at union scale, working bit parts in Lifetime movies — on classes meant to bring about a state of clear, that might not be a bad thing, not if it helped their art.

Katselas is adamant that he does not want a cult around himself. “It worries me,” he said when I mentioned that his students seem to worship him. But he collects disciples. His personal chef, art assistant and longtime girlfriend are all students or former students (the latter two have studied Scientology). He knows what’s best for others too: he threatened to fire his art assistant, Richard Shirley, unless Shirley lost weight. (“He’s in my life; it’s very much my business,” Katselas said. “Everything is everybody’s business. Our fellows are our responsibility.”) And he cultivates the image of a man with almost magical powers. “Dreams Into Action,” his motivational book, is full of promises for future greatness, if only people would heed his words. He has style: he drove me around in a restored vintage Mercedes. He’s an entrepreneur, a real estate investor, even a partner in Skylight Books, one of L.A.’s best independent bookstores. He once got drunk with the sculptor David Smith. He has the wit of Thurber, the charm of Zorba. According to one Scientology text, man “is not only able to solve his own problems, accomplish his goals and gain lasting happiness, but also to achieve new states of awareness he may never have dreamed possible.” Katselas seems to have achieved such a state — what student could be blamed for wanting to drink his elixir?

On my last day in Los Angeles, I saw Adam Donshik play Hamlet in class. It was the scene in which he kills Polonius and fights with his mother. Katselas wasn’t impressed — his critique was barbed — but Adam was worlds better than in high school. Even accounting for age and maturity, something else had intervened. An unusual teacher had given Adam both a religion and a talent for acting. If the two were somehow inseparable, it might not pay to try to pull them apart. I could mock Adam for following the man or for following the faith. But perhaps it would be wiser to simply watch him act.