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Pope Benedict XVI continues to hold the line on Roman Catholic doctrine, as evidenced by the recent appointment of Archbishop Raymond Burke, recently of St. Louis, to head the Supreme Tribunal, the highest court for ecclesiastical law.

From USA TODAY:

Burke has led the charge among a handful of U.S. bishops to discipline Catholic politicians who stray from church teaching. In 2004, he told Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry he could not receive Communion in St. Louis because of his support of abortion rights and in 2007 said he would refuse Communion to then-Republican candidate former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani for the same reason.

Full Story.

Official Site of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The front page contains Burke's farewell statement upon his new appointment.

Burke's traditional Roman Catholicism can be seen in this excerpt from a 2007 column:

Last year, in the face of the fierce battle to prevent the approval of a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to clone human life for the purposes of scientific experiment, the Archdiocese
launched the Rosary Crusade for the Protection of Embryonic Human Life. As you know, now the battle ground has shifted. Now, we must work steadfastly and tirelessly to repeal the constitutional amendment
which was passed. I urge you to continue to pray the Rosary daily for the work of the Respect Life Apostolate, for the reversal of the decisions in
Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, and the reversal of ďAmendment 2").

The Rosary is one of the most effective prayers in the Church. Many victories of the Church are connected to a crusade of praying the Rosary, for example, the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. It is my desire to renew publicly the Rosary Crusade in the Archdiocese, during the next months. If you have remained faithful in praying the Rosary for the Protection of Embryonic Human Life, please continue the same. If you have not yet begun or have discontinued the praying of the Rosary, I ask you to begin praying, at least some decades of the Rosary, from today forward. Our Blessed Mother never fails to hear the pleas of her children, especially when they are on behalf of innocent and defenseless unborn human lives or the lives of those who are heavily burdened by advanced years, special needs or serious illness.


From a Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Burke's which drew some attention at the time:

39. But, there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, that a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the deliberate killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, human cloning or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as legal marriage. These elements are so fundamental to the common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter how good.

Ol' Benny 16 knows how to pope.
The Pew Foundation has released the latest data from its survey of Americans on religion, including religion and politics.

Some of the data on party affiliation:

38% of Evangelicals identify as Republican and 24% as Democrat.
31% of Mainliners identify as Republican and 29% as Democrat.
66% of those belonging to Historically Black Churches identify as Democrat.
52% of Mormons identify as Republican.
47% of Jews identify as Democrat.
37% of Muslims identify as Democrat.
41% of Hindus identify as Democrat.

Survey results on party identification.

Full results including demographics, state-by-state percentage composition, etc.
The Los Angeles Times has this story the other day on the religious debates surrounding same-sex marriage. I want to engage some of the ideas found in the article.

Nonsense [speaking against the idea that moderns must be bound by the literal message of the text] , says the Rev. Mel White, a former Fuller professor and evangelical author who married his partner of 27 years in a ceremony Wednesday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

White calls the Bible a living document that must be understood in its historical context -- a view shared by reform-minded clergy and theologians from other faiths.


A major issue in the religious debate over homosexual practice is the interpretation of the Bible, specifically, how the Bible is to be interpretted and implemented. The two sides in the issue correspond roughly to the political debates over the U.S. Constitution and its interpretation. On one side are those who think we are bound to follow the text as written, on the other are those who think the Bible is a "living document" whose meaning and application must change as circumstances change. The problem for biblical conservatives is that few are truly conservative in their reading and application of Scripture: witness the NT teachings that women are not to have authority over men, that we are to be content with what we have, are not to remarry after divorce, or that charging interest on loans is a sin. Small wonder that polls show that for young evangelicals, homosexuality is just not an issue. The problem for biblical liberals is the danger that a person or group can make Scripture appear to bless any sort of behavior or practice. One could argue, I suppose, that due to the current situation of world overpopulation we should reexamine those passages that state we should feed the hungry, etc.

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The Infidel Bloggers Alliance posts this essay which is well worth reading.

It begins with a quotation from the Ayatollah Khomeini whom we'll regard as an expert on Islam, or at least an authority of Shia.

Let me begin with a quote from a fatwa by the late and unlamented Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.
"A man can marry a girl younger than nine years of age, even if the girl is still a baby being breastfed. A man, however is prohibited from having intercourse with a girl younger than nine, other sexual acts such as foreplay, rubbing, kissing and sodomy is allowed.


A man having intercourse with a girl younger than nine years of age has not committed a crime, but only an infraction, if the girl is not permanently damaged. If the girl, however, is permanently damaged, the man must provide for her all her life. But this girl will not count as one of the man's four permanent wives. He also is not permitted to marry the girl's sister."


The Ayatollah is not simply giving a personal, idiosycratic opinion. For Muslims of all branches, the life of Muhammad serves as a prescriptive example of how a man should live. His is the exemplary life. And, he married his last wife when she was still a child, having sex-play with her until he had intercourse when she was nine. Since The Messenger of God did these things, then no good Muslim can disavow the practice.

Multiculturalism, what a crock.
Religion does not always move public policy in a conservative direction.

Story here from The Christian Century.

Excerpts:

Little noted in the history behind the California Supreme Court decision that gives the "right to marry" to same-sex couples are the bold steps taken over four decades by onetime Pentecostal minister Troy Perry in trying to establish legal and religious rights for gays and lesbians.

Perry, who founded a church 40 years ago that became an international denomination for Christian homosexuals, filed the initial lawsuit with his spouse and a lesbian couple in February 2004 that led to last month's ruling making California the second state, after Massachusetts, to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
. . .
A sociologist of religion who has studied the MCC movement credited Perry's leadership for the changes. "He has had the audacity and the tenacity to claim for gay and lesbian people the religious and civil rights that most Americans have the privilege to take for granted," said Steven Warner, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Chicago and immediate past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
. . .
By contrast, some mainline leaders who have welcomed homosexual clergy into their ranks praised the California high court.

The United Church of Christ, which joined a brief in the California case, approved overwhelmingly in its 2005 convention a resolution supporting legalization of same-sex marriages. Bill McKinney, president of the UCC-related Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, said the seminary "celebrates this historic decision."

Episcopal priest Susan Russell, the national president of the gay-advocacy group Integrity, indicated that supporters for gay union rites should raise these issues at the 2009 triennial Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, California. She told Episcopal News Service that it is time for the church to "be as prophetic as the state of California has been."

I don't have the skills or resources to research the answer to my question, so I'll lay the question on you:

How big a part in the rise of oil prices is due to commodity futures trading, rather than current supply and demand?

UPDATE: I have located an essay by Raymond P. Learsy, whose bio states that his career was in commodites trading. His argument is that the current price of oil is indeed being manipulated by the futures trading of unkown agents, perhaps OPEC. He offers some evidence. I don't have the skills to do a good analysis of the essay, but, if I were running OPEC, I certainly would do whatever I could to keep prices high and push them higher.

UPDATE 2: Somehow I missed this item before. Congressional Democrats are accusing futures traders of artificially running up the price of oil.

"Legislation has been proposed to make speculation more difficult. But arguing that "rampant speculation" in the oil markets has helped drive up crude prices, Senate Democrats proposed a new measure that would increase the amount of money traders would have to put down when buying oil futures. With gas and oil prices at record levels, it makes no sense to allow this growing bubble of speculation to take place," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who is championing the measure. "By increasing the margin requirement, we will send a message to speculators that they will no longer be allowed to artificially drive up the price of oil and gas." Currently, traders must put down anywhere between 5 percent and 7 percent when making energy futures trades, compared with 50 percent for stocks. The legislation does not specify how high that new margin requirement should be. It would instruct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to require a "substantial increase" in the amount.

Sounds like reasonable regulation to me.

UPDATE 3: From England, this editorial in The Mail. Mostly invective without actual argument, to the effect that commodities futures trading is behind the run-up in oil prices. Link from Last of the Few. (Last of the Few is NSFW)

The practice of commodites futures trading raises serious questions. From a Christian point of view, I've had trouble with commodity futures trading. I am more familiar with agriculture than petroleum, so I'll use an example from that area. A commodities trader decides, for whatever reasons, that the price of corn will be higher in 8 months than it is now. So he begins "buying" corn futures at a price lower than he anticipates in 8 months. Let's say he is a big and well-known trader. Others follow his lead. Soon, the current market is responding to the demand and prices rise. (The reverse scenario could also happen.) Prices, therefore, in this example are going up not because of current supply and demand for actual use of corn, but because of forecasts.

And it's not like the traders have any intention of eating the corn they are buying, or feeding it to livestock, or making ethanol. These are purely money-making transactions in which the buyers and sellers never will see the product.

Christian economic theories are not agreed-upon dogma, but most of them stipulate that work done should be honest and needful. Does commodities futures trading meet this criteria? Also, I think most Christian economic theories would hold that price increases should reflect real conditions, not speculative ones, and be related to actual value, not merely market value.

Would Jesus be a commodities futures trader?