TORONTO – The abundantly available video evidence is as disturbing to listen to as it is to watch.
But you know it will be by a lot people.
“You’re a f—ing pussy.” These are believed to be the final words of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim as he was shot from the gun of at least one Toronto Police officer.
“Drop the knife” may have been the very last words he heard before being shot to death.
These are just some of many revelations on a new video taken by downtown resident Markus Grupp, who was walking by when the incident occurred on Dundas St. W. and Grace St. just after midnight Saturday.
Candida Moss, a professor of early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and a practicing Catholic, wants to shatter what she calls the “myth” of martyrdom in the Christian faith.
Sunday school tales of early Christians being rounded up at their secret catacomb meetings and thrown to the lions by evil Romans are mere fairy tales, Moss writes in a new book. In fact, in the first 250 years of Christianity, Romans mostly regarded the religion’s practitioners as meddlesome members of a superstitious cult.
The government actively persecuted Christians for only about 10 years, Moss suggests, and even then intermittently. And, she says, many of the best known early stories of brave Christian martyrs were entirely fabricated.
The controversial thesis, laid out in “The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” has earned her a lot of hate mail and a few sidelong looks from fellow faculty members. But Moss maintains that the Roman Catholic Church and historians have known for centuries that most early Christian martyr stories were exaggerated or invented.
A small group of priest scholars in the 17th century began sifting through the myths, discrediting not only embellished stories about saints (including that St. George slew a dragon) but also tossing out popular stories about early Christian martyrs.
Historians, including Moss, say only a handful of martyrdom stories from the first 300 years of Christianity—which includes the reign of the cruel, Christian-loathing Nero—are verifiable. (Saint Perpetua of Carthage, pictured in the stained glass window above, is one of the six famous early Christian martyrs Moss believes was actually killed for her faith.)
Moss contends that when Christians were executed, it was often not because of their religious beliefs but because they wouldn’t follow Roman rules. Many laws that led to early Christians’ execution were not specifically targeted at them—such as a law requiring all Roman citizens to engage in a public sacrifice to the gods—but their refusal to observe those laws and other mores of Roman society led to their deaths.
Moss calls early Christians “rude, subversive and disrespectful,” noting that they refused to swear oaths, join the military or participate in any other part of Roman society.
Moss can at times seem clinical when attempting to distinguish between true and systematic persecution of Christians for their faith and intermittent violence against them for refusing to conform.
“If persecution is to be defined as hostility toward a group because of its religious beliefs, then surely it is important that the Romans intended to target Christians,” she writes. “Otherwise this is prosecution, not persecution.”
With true government persecution, victims have no room to negotiate when trying to convince the government to stop targeting them, Moss said. But when the government’s laws inadvertently lead to the persecution of Christians, there remains room for dialogue and debate over changing those laws.
“The reason I make the distinction is in the case of people seeking you out, torturing you just because you’re Christian—which did happen for a few years—in that situation, you can’t negotiate,” she said. “You have no opportunity to resist or to fight back. In a situation where there’s sort of disagreements … there’s room for debate.”
Moss pointed to the new U.S. health care law’s requirement that insurance companies cover contraception as an example of a law that inadvertently targeted Christians but was interpreted as a direct attack on the faith.
Much like the Emperor Diocletian’s edict that all Romans make a sacrifice to the gods (which Moss describes as being like a mandatory “pledge of allegiance”), the contraceptive mandate was not designed to target or single out Christians, she says. (Christians and others who refused to make the sacrifice in the fourth century were slaughtered. Christian organizations that do not want to provide contraception under the 21st century law will be fined.)
Notre Dame is one dozens of religiously affiliated universities that sued over the birth control mandate, saying providing its employees and students with health insurance that covered contraceptives would violate the university’s religious freedom.
Some in the religious community framed the contraceptive mandate as a deliberate persecution of Christians, rather than as bad policy, Moss says, in a way that’s made it difficult for them to negotiate.
“Labeling it persecution is saying, ‘We’re under attack, we’re persecuted. The other side has no reason to do this and we have to fight. We shouldn’t have to negotiate or compromise,” she said.
Moss says she is personally against her university’s decision to sue over the mandate.
“I think that the University of Notre Dame does not control how I spend my salary, therefore controlling what kinds of health care people have access to is maybe something we should not be trying to do,” she said. “I think Catholic institutions should trust their employees not to use contraception.”
Moss said the early Christian “persecution complex” influences the present-day political debate in America. The cable news hobbyhorse that there’s a deliberate “War on Christmas” in America is one example of a modern day martyrdom myth, she said.
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich argued during his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination last year that there was an “aggressive” war on Christianity waged throughout the country, Moss also heard echoes of apocryphal martyrdom.
Moss says she thinks dispelling the myths of martyrdom of the early church will not minimize the true instances of religious persecution occurring around the world.
“I completely sympathize with [my critics’] concern that in writing a book like this maybe I will make people less interested in persecution that is happening around the world,” she said. “I do care. I think we should care about those who are oppressed. I don’t think misusing the category here in America draws attention to persecution around the world. I think it cannibalizes those experiences. It steals their thunder.”
psychopathic and cultic and greedy college fraternities and sororities calling for tax dollars and tax breaks
About 40 per cent of US senators, and 25 per cent of US representatives, belonged to fraternities or sororities in college. On April 24, more than a dozen of these grateful alumni extolled Greek life at an annual $500-a-plate dinner in a Washington hotel ballroom for “FratPAC,” the industry’s political arm.
One by one, they took the podium and praised fraternities for teaching them loyalty, leadership, and practical skills.
“We learned to tap a keg,” declared Representative Steven Palazzo, a Mississippi Republican and Sigma Chi brother, who then yelled a cheer as hundreds of FratPAC donors applauded.
Many of the legislators also pledged support for FratPAC’s pet legislation: a multi-million-dollar tax break to let fraternities and sororities use charitable donations to renovate and help build chapter houses.
“This time, we think we can get it done,” said Ohio Republican Steve Stivers, a Delta Upsilon alumnus, adding, “We need more Greeks in Congress.”
While fraternities used to limit their political activity to fending off potential threats, they’re “playing offence today” by promoting initiatives such as the tax break, FratPAC and two companion groups told fraternity leaders in a January 10, 2011, memo.
Besides pushing the tax bill, FratPAC, as the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee calls itself on its Twitter page, has helped dissuade US Representative Frederica Wilson from filing federal anti-hazing legislation. Ms Wilson, a Democrat, is co-sponsoring the tax proposal with six senators and more than 50 other representatives.
Debbie Smith, whose 21-year-old son died in 2005 from heart failure and seizures after a hazing ritual, is “dumbfounded” by the industry’s lobbying for a tax break and against national hazing penalties, she said.
Ms Smith’s son, Matthew Carrington, collapsed after being forced to do push-ups in raw sewage while fans blasted cold air on him in a basement at Chi Tau fraternity at California State University in Chico. After his death, her advocacy spurred the California legislature to enact “Matt’s Law,” toughening hazing penalties.
“Why do fraternities need government help?” Ms Smith asked. “They want to build more houses for hazing? I don’t think so. They need to learn safety first.”
Attracting undergraduates with aggressive recruiting and the prospect of jobs at Wall Street firms and other fields dominated by Greek alumni, fraternities are making a comeback on college campuses.
Meanwhile the toll from hazing and binge drinking is mounting. The 101 fraternities and sororities in the industry’s trade groups had 630,052 members in 2012, up 25 per cent from 503,875 in 2007. Since 2005, 59 students have died in incidents involving fraternities, about half of them alcohol-related, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ten students died in 2012, the most fatalities in at least a decade.
A 1996 fraternity house fire at the University of North Carolina that killed five students spurred the industry’s drive for the tax break. They decided that they needed a federal law to let them tap funds in their charitable foundations to outfit chapter houses with fire sprinklers. About half of all fraternity houses lack sprinklers, according to an internal industry memorandum reviewed by Bloomberg News.
In 2003, the tax bill passed the House. Two years later, fraternities and sororities established FratPAC, which has contributed $818,000 to political campaigns, primarily to Republicans. It has made some of its largest contributions to key backers of its tax initiative, and to members of the House Ways and Means committee, where the bill is pending.
It has given $29,500 to Representative Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and chairman of the House Budget Committee, and $24,500 to Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee. Mr Ryan, a member of Delta Tau Delta at Miami University in Ohio, previously sponsored FratPAC’s tax- break legislation. Mr Sessions, a long-time supporter of the bill, is now the sponsor.
The bill improves housing for college students “so that they avoid problems that we have seen across the country where there are electrical fires and substandard housing,” Mr Sessions said in an interview. He added that he “served proudly” as a member of Pi Kappa Alpha at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.
Mr Ryan declined to comment.
As a congressman from North Dakota and member of the Ways and Means committee, Rick Berg co-sponsored the tax bill. FratPAC contributed $10,000 to his 2012 campaign for the US Senate. He lost.
“The organisation is much more than their financial support,” said Mr Berg, a member of the Farmhouse International Fraternity. “There’s a network there.”
Of the 81 House and Senate incumbents to whom FratPAC contributed in the last election cycle, 54, or two-thirds, sponsored or co-sponsored the tax bill, according to FratPAC. It also donated to 17 first-time candidates.
FratPAC doesn’t donate to candidates just because they support the tax break, said Kevin O’Neill, a lobbyist at Washington-based Patton Boggs and FratPAC’s executive director. He was a fundraiser for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2004 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican in 2007.
It “looks at a variety of factors,” he said. “Good government needs more fraternity-sorority alumni who can help us tackle the major challenges confronting our nation.”
FratPAC is seeking to send more fraternity and sorority alumni to Congress. Freshman Republicans Robert Pittenger, a member of Kappa Alpha Order and a University of Texas graduate, and Brad Wenstrup, who joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Cincinnati, spoke at the ballroom dinner.
“We invest” in open Congressional seats, Mr O’Neill told the gathering.
FratPAC emphasises alumni ties in its lobbying, said former US Representative Ron Klein, a Florida Democrat who received $5000 from the group in 2010. The national fraternity groups that came to see him about the tax bill reminded him that he had been president of the Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter at Ohio State University, he said. He co-sponsored the legislation in 2009.
“The way they’re targeting is a logical way to do it,” Mr Klein said. “If you happen to have been in a fraternity or sorority in college, and you lived in one of these houses, they make it a health and safety issue.”
Another fraternity alumnus, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, co-sponsored the bill in 2007. Mr Lott, who had been president of the Sigma Nu chapter at the University of Mississippi, had such warm memories that he awarded jobs and favours to fraternity brothers, according to Curtis Wilkie, author of The Fall of the House of Zeus. Mr Lott, who resigned from the Senate in December 2007, declined to comment.
Representative Palazzo, also a Mississippi Republican, is currently a co-sponsor. He denies having made the keg reference.
The tax proposal has gained bi-partisan support. Last term, it had 169 House sponsors and co-sponsors, including 105 Republicans and 64 Democrats, and 22 sponsors and co-sponsors in the Senate, including 15 Republicans and seven Democrats. Formally known as the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act, it would cost taxpayers $148 million over 10 years, according to a 2007 estimate by the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Under IRS interpretation of existing law, donations to fraternities’ charitable foundations may be used “to build or improve” libraries or computer rooms within fraternity houses, not for sleeping or “recreational areas,” which the Internal Revenue Service deems “incidental” to schooling.
The bill, which fraternity leaders say is endorsed by dozens of colleges, would eliminate such restrictions by allowing fraternity and sorority foundations to use tax-deductible gifts to “provide, improve, operate or maintain” chapter housing. Fraternity foundations collectively held $534 million in 2010. Other groups that provide housing to college students would also benefit from the bill, its advocates say.
Donations are needed for fire sprinklers and other repairs, said Eve Riley, former chairwoman of the National Panhellenic Conference, or NPC, an Indianapolis-based group representing 26 sororities.
“They’re trying to get the houses up to code,” she said. “It’s not for building houses.”
The tax benefit is primarily for “safety for students,” Cindy Stellhorn, FratPAC’s president and an insurance executive, said in an interview.
The bill has other benefits for Greek institutions. It would probably increase gifts to fraternity foundations, and help “leverage private funds” to build new housing, according to the industry’s April 2011 lobbying guide.
Some colleges, such as Clemson University in South Carolina, have endorsed the tax break. Clemson has a “robust Greek community,” said Katy Bayless, its director of federal relations. Clemson has also hired O’Neill to lobby for federal funding.
On June 8, 2011, Mr O’Neill and another Patton Boggs lobbyist met with a staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee to explain the legislation, according to a memorandum by FratPAC and two companion groups, the NPC and the North American Interfraternity Conference. Fraternities and their allies said they hope the bill will be part of comprehensive tax reform that Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp is promising.
“We’re hoping” it will pass this year, FratPAC president Stellhorn said. “We had great receptions when we were on the Hill in April.”
Preceding the April 24 ballroom dinner, hundreds of undergraduate fraternity and sorority members descended on Capitol Hill to lobby for the tax bill. Armed with talking points, maps and schedules, they moved in small groups from one lawmaker’s office to the next for meetings arranged by Mr O’Neill’s firm.
The conversations sometimes began with legislators reminiscing about their own fraternity days. Some students posed with members of Congress for photos and posted them on FratPAC’s Twitter page.
Mike Rodmaker, a student at the University of Cincinnati and president of its Interfraternity Council, said he pitched the tax break to Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, who wasn’t in a fraternity. Portman’s spokeswoman, Caitlin Dunn, said he is reviewing the legislation.
“He was definitely receptive,” Mr Rodmaker said. “We’re the second-largest landlord behind colleges and universities.”
further reading: Paying for the Party: How college maintains inequality by Elizabeth A Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton
PETERBOROUGH — The federal government’s move to honour the late Pope John Paul II with a national day of recognition is sparking concern amongst various Canadian secular groups.
With the Senate’s stamp of approval next month, April 2 would become Pope John Paul II Day across the country, making the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church one of only four people whose names and lives are recognized on Canadian calendars.
Peterborough resident Veronica Abbass, a member of the Canadian Secular Alliance, says choosing a foreign religious figurehead for such an honour casts a dim light on the federal government and leaves well-deserving Canadians in the shadows.
Religion is a private matter, she adds.
Ms Abbass assumes many Canadians won’t pay too much attention to Bill C-266, which passed in the House of Commons with 217 votes in favour and 42 votes against it. Citizens won’t enjoy a day off or see an increase in their pay on April 2.
Still, she says it’s an insult to Canadians.
“It’s ridiculous,” she says. “Personally, I don’t care if we name a day after anyone. But if we’re going to do it, let’s recognize our own. There are so many people who’ve done wonderful things in this country.”
A petition by the Centre for Inquiry Canada, available on Change.org, had garnered 3,000 signatures as of Wednesday (July 24).
The petition argues designating a day to the Pope is inconsistent with the goals and values promoted by Canadian government.
“While John Paul II was a charismatic figure, his record as a leader of the Catholic Church is full of scandal and poor management,” the petition states. It adds the former pope vigorously supported the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception, abortion and homosexuality, and he could have taken further action to safeguard children against sexual abuse.
Another petition, launched by Jason Kenney, MP for the Calgary Southeast riding, encourages residents to support the private members bill.
“Blessed Pope John Paul II was not only a religious figure, but also a profoundly important civic leader who built lasting relationships with other faith groups,” the message on his website reads.
Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro voted in favour of the bill and says the work of Pope John Paul II transcended far past his duty as a religious leader.
“I actually think he was a very rare person, not unlike other throughout history that stand out,” he says. “He was a tremendous humanitarian.”
The local MP isn’t suggesting his position as a religious figure be put aside, since the Roman Catholic Church is the largest faith group in Canada. Still he says it’s important to remember many citizens feel the Pope went above and beyond the call of duty, fighting for peace and becoming a vocal advocate for human rights.
“You’ve also got to remember virtually nothing in Canada is unanimous,” he says, adding Canadians have a government requiring a majority to make weighted decisions. “It’s OK to agree to disagree.”
Pope John Paul II, who led the Catholic Church for nearly three decades, will be made a saint during canonization ceremonies expected to be held in Rome this year.
The bill will go up for approval in the Senate this fall.