FaithWorld

from Edward Hadas:

Greed, justice and deception

Greed contributes to all the economic and financial woes of prosperous societies. The United States and other rich countries produce much more than is needed to support all of their people in comfort, so if desires were all truly modest, there would be few problems. Greed encourages people to decide that their own share is too small. Greed influences the popular desire for GDP growth (more, faster), financial gains (higher house prices as a human right) and total economic security (guaranteed pension, come what may). Voters’ greed encourages governments to spend more and tax less.

During the boom years, politicians and economists consistently underestimated greed’s disruptive power. While few endorsed the extremist view that greed is actually good, even fewer acted as if it were dangerous. The rhetoric changed during the crisis. It has become fashionable to add “greedy” to the description of any unpopular group - bankers, highly paid executives, rich people in general, welfare cheats.

In theory, the entry of greed into the public discourse ought to be helpful. If those subject to immoderate desire could be identified with certainty, then society might take up arms against them. While we might never win the battle, we could at least hope to shame and restrain the malefactors.

As a political agenda-item, though, “the fight against greed” has a big problem; greed is much easier to identify in other people than in ourselves. The current debate on raising U.S. taxes on the very rich is typical. Few people have any doubt over who is being greedy about the tax system: it’s someone else. Yes, there is the odd Warren Buffett, a multi-billionaire who thinks he is under-taxed. However, the tiny platoon of the self-accusing is up against two large armies of the self-justifying. The privileged force, small but powerful, is certain that the government is already getting at least a fair share of their incomes. The poor, the middle class and the old, who make up the much larger tax-them-more brigades, fight among themselves, but they are all certain that their motivation is justice, not greed.

The problem is profound, and not merely economic. In all domains, greed can be crude - think of a toddler reaching for a sibling’s toy or slice of cake - but it often masquerades as a virtuous desire for deal that is “only fair”.

Americans gave $291 billion to charity in 2010, more than 1/3 to religious groups

(A man dressed as Santa Claus from the Volunteers of America charity waits for donations near the Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York December 19, 2007/Ray Stubblebine)

U.S. donations to charity rose to $291 billion last year, but it was still more than 6 percent below a 2007 record as the nation struggles to recover from its worst recession in decades.  Americans gave nearly 4 percent more in 2010 compared to 2009, the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University said,  perking up after the recession sparked the biggest giving slump in four decades.

Religious groups accounted for the largest single recipient class by far, receiving more than one third of total donations, according to the study released on Monday.

U.S. Catholic bishops approve slight shifts in clerical sexual abuse policy

(Clergy abuse victims advocates protest near the courthouse before a hearing on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 14, 2011/Tim Shaffer)

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday approved slight revisions to their policy governing child sex abuse, saying the church would not tolerate offending priests. But critics said children were still vulnerable. After minimal debate, the bishops passed revisions to its decade-old Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which for the first time listed child pornography as equivalent to sexual abuse and cited the need to protect mentally disabled people from abuse.

The bishops voted 187 in favor of the revised charter, with five opposed and four bishops abstaining. A two-thirds vote was needed for approval.

Pity the pandering U.S. candidate

Politicians pandering for votes on conservative family values issues may want to think again.

A survey of 3,000 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found 42 percent said the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” both described them well, illustrating the complexity of the abortion issue in the minds of many.

“The terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ does not reflect the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion,” said Robert Jones, head of the institute.

U.S evangelical predicting May 21 doomsday to watch it on TV

(An American evangelical from the religious group Family Radio displays a doomsday placard on the streets in Manila May 13, 2011/Romeo Ranoco)

The U.S. evangelical Christian broadcaster predicting that Judgment Day will come on Saturday says he expects to stay close to a TV or radio to monitor the unfolding apocalypse. Harold Camping, 89, previously made a failed prediction that Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994.

The head of the Christian radio network Family Stations Inc says that he is sure an earthquake will shake the Earth on May 21, sweeping true believers to heaven and leaving others behind to be engulfed in the world’s destruction over a few months.

Report says U.S. Catholic sex abuse “historical”, critics see coverup

(Victims of sexual abuse by priests outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC, March 25, 2010/Hyungwon Kang)

A church-sponsored study on Wednesday blamed poorly trained priests and a deviant society for the Roman Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis, but victims dismissed it as a whitewash of an institutional coverup. The largest study ever done on youth sexual abuse by U.S. Catholic clergy concluded that priests were no more likely to abuse than anyone else, gay priests were not more likely than straight priests to abuse, and the priestly vow of celibacy was not directly to blame.

The study, conducted by researchers at John Jay College in New York and covering the past 50 years, also found clergy abuse cases have dropped since the 1980s.

Timeline: Life and Death of Osama bin Laden

(Osama bin Laden speaks in this still image taken from video released on a website September 7, 2007. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital Islamabad, a U.S. source said on May 1, 2011/Reuters TV)

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan and his body was recovered, President Barack Obama announced on Monday.

Here is a timeline of major events in bin Laden’s life.

1957 – Osama bin Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden born in Riyadh, one of more than 50 children of millionaire businessman. There are conflicting accounts of his precise date of birth.

U.S. House panel probes Muslim radicalization, critics see witch hunt

muslimerican

(A woman protests in New York City March 6, 2011/Jessica Rinaldi )

The U.S. House of Representatives will investigate radicalization in the American-Muslim community, sparking outrage that the probe is a witch hunt akin to the 1950s anti-Communist campaign. With al Qaeda and its affiliates openly trying to recruit Americans and Muslims inside the United States for attacks, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King called congressional hearings on the subject “absolutely essential”.

“I am facing reality, my critics are not,” King said on MSNBC. “Al Qaeda is changing its tactics, they realize that it’s very difficult to attack from the outside, they’re recruiting from within.”

King, who will lead a hearing on Thursday, has questioned the cooperation by Muslim Americans with U.S. law enforcement authorities and accused mosques of being a breeding ground for radicalization.

Bless me iPhone for I have sinned — an app for Catholic confession

iphone apps

(Religion apps for the iPhone, photographed in New York, July 21, 2010/Tom Heneghan)

An iPhone app aimed at helping Catholics through confession and encouraging lapsed followers back to the faith has been sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the United States.

Confession: A Roman Catholic app, thought to be the first to be approved by a church authority, walks Catholics through the sacrament and contains what the company behind the program describes as a “personalized examination of conscience for each user”.

Egypt’s Islamists well placed for any post-Mubarak phase

cairo

(Anti-Mubarak protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 1, 2011/Suhaib Salem)

The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Arab world’s oldest Islamist movements and Egypt’s largest opposition group, is well placed to play a prominent role as President Hosni Mubarak’s rule teeters on the brink of collapse.

The movement is active in the protest movement massing in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities on Tuesday in an attempt to persuade Mubarak that after 30 years it is time to go.

But decades of severe repression have taught the Brotherhood to move cautiously, and the movement is anxious to preserve the impression that the protesters are part of a broad-based movement of which the Islamists are just one part.