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Is Mehmet Ali Agca crazy or just a bad Catholic?: Get Religion, April 27, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The upcoming canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II have generated some very good press for the Roman Catholic Church. While a fewarticles have sought to punch holes in the reputations of the soon to be saints — a frequent criticism I have seen is that John Paul was negligent in disciplining the serial abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ — most converge has been positive.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel published an in depth piece on the miracles associated with John Paul, that treated the issue with sympathy and empathy. It is too early to tell how outfits normally hostile to the papacy such as the BBC or the European leftist press will present this story. However, interest in the canonization outside of religious circles appears to be very high.

On Friday Vatican Radio reported that 93 nations will send official delegations to the April 27 canonization service, while two dozen heads of state and as many as 150 cardinals and 1,000 bishops will be present at the Mass.

One oddball item that caught me eye amongst the flurry of articles was an interview conducted by the Italian wire service ANSA with John Paul’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. Here the lede of the story that ran with the headline: “Foiled killer said sinful to ‘deify’ John Paul”:

Pope John Paul II is not a saint, because only God can be considered holy and attempts to “deify a human being” are sinful, Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate the pope in 1981, said Thursday in an interview with ANSA.

The article offers some background information on Agca, who in 1981 shot and nearly killed John Paul — a crime for which he served 20 years in an Italian prison, before being deported to Turkey, where he served a further ten years imprisonment for a 1979 murder. The article further notes Agca:

 has claimed at various times that his attempted murder of the pontiff was ordered by Ayatollah Rhollah Khomeini of Iran and the Soviet-era Bulgarian Secret Police.

The piece then offers an insight into the assassin’s mind, giving him space to speak.

Agca, who was released from jail in 2010, said that he “definitely wanted to kill” John Paul II so it’s a “miracle” the pontiff survived the St. Peter’s Square attack, which shocked the world. “I have seen with indisputable evidence that on May 13, 1981, God performed a miracle in St. Peter’s Square,” …

The Turkish national added that he feels no remorse because his act was part of a “divine plan”. “There’s an immeasurable difference between a divine miracle such as my assassination attempt and a psychopathic, unjustifiable crime,” said Ali Agca. “I’m extremely happy to have been at the center of a divine plan that’s cost me 30 hellish years in solitary confinement”.

Which leads me to ask, which God? Whose divine plan? Is Agca a Muslim, Christian or something else? Is he crazy?

Upon his release from prison in Turkey in 2010 Agca claimed he was “the Christ eternal” and the Messiah. Ten years in a Turkish prison are likely to addle most people’s brains and long-distance psychiatry is a risky business.

But as a point of journalism, when the subject of an interview begins to talk about god, divine plans and the like, should not the newspaper clarify the religious tradition or belief system being offered? ANSA offers background on Agca’s past and his prison history, but in a story that focuses on religion it is silent as to the subject’s own beliefs and chosen faith.

Or, is “30 hellish years in solitary confinement” excuse enough not to press too hard upon the mind of Mehmet Ali Agca?

IMAGE: The famous encounter in which Pope John Paul II offered forgiveness to his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.

Der Spiegel and the cutting question of circumcision: Get Religion, September 30, 2013 October 2, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion.
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The issue of circumcision has returned to Germany’s newspapers — and the manner in which the controversy is being discussed suggests that while the press is aware of the issues of personal autonomy generated by state intervention into the private sphere, the religious liberty (or perhaps the religious sensibility) issue is missing from the story.

The English-language section of Der Spiegel ran a news analysis story on 27 Sept 2013 entitled “Cutting Controversy: German Court Sets New Circumcision Rules”. It also ran a story in the German-language Panorama section entitled: “Kinder müssen vorher aufgeklärt werden” that reported a court in Hamm had ruled that parents and doctors must first discuss the procedure with a boy before he is circumcised.

The issue of circumcision of boys in Germany carries with it the baggage of the Nazi era and is fraught with social, cultural and religious issues. The issue attracted international prominence in 2012 when a Cologne court ruled that religious circumcision of boys constituted “bodily harm”. Der Spiegel noted that court held that as a matter of law:

a child’s right to self-determination superceded his parents’ right to freedom of religion. The decision prompted widespread uproar, particularly among Jewish and Muslim groups and as far away as Turkey, Israel and the United States. Germany’s Central Council of Jews called it “an unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the right to self-determination of religious communities.” Ali Demir, the chairman of the Islamic Religious Community, argued that circumcision is a “harmless procedure, a tradition that is thousands of years old and highly symbolic.”

Ultimately, the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, passed a law allowing the religious procedure. According to the new rules, specially qualified members of religious communities can perform the operation in the first six months of a boy’s life, after which it must be performed by a physician.

Last week’s ruling clarified the new law.

According to the judges, the mother has an inherent right to decide whether to have the procedure performed as long as the child cannot make that decision himself. However, they also ruled that the parents and doctors are obliged to inform the child “in a manner appropriate to his age and development” about the procedure and be mindful of his wishes. In the case of the 6-year-old, this did not occur. Parents must also be informed about the procedure ahead of time.

The court ultimately found the 31-year-old mother’s justification for the procedure to be unsatisfactory. Since the family had Germany as its primary place of residence, visits to Kenya were rarely possible, and the child was baptized as a protestant. Moreover, they concluded, a procedure could cause psychological damage to the child, since the mother said she couldn’t accompany her son to the circumcision.

We hear the who, what, when and where, but not the why. There is a hint of it in the report the “child was baptized as a protestant.” (Why the small “p”? What does that signify?) But there is nothing more.

Last December I compared the coverage of the circumcision debate in the Bundestag by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and NBC. I wrote:

Turn to the NBC story written by Donald Snyder you can see the difference between adequate and great reporting. The article entitled “Circumcision to remain legal in Germany” provided the same political background and offering quotes from a number of MPs. It also addressed the religious freedom question from the perspective of Judaism and Islam. But in the same space as the New York Times it did a better job in conveying why this issue was important to supporters and opponents of circumcision.

While the Times noted the infrequency of circumcision in Germany, NBC took this angle further.

German society is highly secular. Religion is generally viewed as a relic from the past. This is especially true in what was formerly Communist East Germany, where atheism was the official doctrine for 44 years.

“The basic sentiment here is anti-religious,” said Sylke Tempel, editor-in-chief of Internationale Politik, a foreign policy journal published by the German Council of Foreign Affairs. “And Germans throw overboard anything that has to do with tradition.”

According to Tempel, the Cologne ruling was not a deliberate attack on Islam or Judaism but showed a total misunderstanding of how important circumcision is to both religions. TNS Emnid, a German polling organization, found in a July 2012 survey that 56 percent of Germans agree with the Cologne ruling.

Deirdre Berger, executive director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin, a Jewish advocacy organization, said that the Cologne ruling can be traced to a body of law and medical literature that has been accumulating over the past decade. This school of thought, based on little scientific evidence, holds that circumcision does irreversible physical damage and causes emotional trauma, a view held by the German Association of Pediatricians, which has called for a two-year moratorium on circumcisions. By contrast, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization endorse circumcision for its medical benefits, particularly in fighting the spread of HIV in Africa.

What is missing from Der Spiegel‘s story is this background detail. The article is written from a German secularist perspective. This may not be such a very great crime as Der Spiegel is a German secular magazine — yet its story is incomplete, and insular. It lacks the self awareness found in quality journalism that acknowledges its own presuppositions, but also attempts to explain and engage other world views.

Perhaps it is too much to expect insight from a news story. But one should see balance — and that we do not see in this piece.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Paedophilia and the left redux: Get Religion, May 16, 2013 May 16, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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Absent a priestly predator is paedophilia a religion news story? In comments posted in response to my 24 April 2013 story “Paedophilia and the Radical Left of ’68″, Ira Rifkin questioned whether politics and paedophilia were properly within the ambit of GetReligion. Was I pushing too hard? Confusing the moral and ethical issues in the story I cited in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) — protests over public honors to a prominent politician who 30 years ago as one of the stars of the radical left wrote of his sexual encounters with children, which he now claims are fiction –with religion news?

Whatever his crimes and immoralities, Cohn-Bendit’s actions are in no way comparable to those of the Roman Catholic Church. The 60s are long over; history has moved on. The media’s faults, blind spots and assorted deficiencies are not always at their root worthy of GR’s attention. Agreed: ain’t no ghost here worth the commentary.

… The Cohn-Bendit story contains little if any grist for GR.  As for Cohn-Bendit and the RC Church, it seems clear that the magnitude of the crimes Church leaders committed are far greater quantitatively, as well as qualitatively because of the Church’s unique position as a global religious/moral authority. Cohn-Bendit has far less reach. Whatever his personal responsibility, it cannot be compared to that of the Church. Bash the 60s if you like, even it’s values. But molestation – real or imagined – was not one of its identifiable hallmarks.

Some took issue with Mr. Rifkin’s comments, seeing religious ghosts in the story exhumed by GetReligion. Others noted that Daniel Cohn-Bendit is a prominent politician – – a public figure whose stock in trade has been lecturing Europe on how it should adopt his moral worldview on the environment, economics, immigration, foreign affairs, and social issues such as gay marriage. My observations focused on the different treatment accorded Mr. Cohn-Bendit and the Catholic Church by the media on the issue of paedophilia. I argued:

The opprobrium held by right thinking people against paedophilia in Europe does not apply, however to revolutionaries and left wing politicians. A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on the fracas over the award of a prize to Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggests a double standard is being applied to paedophiles in Europe. Those who molest children out of lust are criminals and beyond the pale — those who molest children out of revolutionary fervor to bring down the capitalist regime really aren’t so bad.

The paedophilia and the left story has now moved back into the public eye in Europe  with articles in Stern, Deutsche Wella, Der Tagesspiegel and other news outlets on protestations by Green Party leaders that their movement had not provided political respectability for pedophile activists.

Der Spiegel reported:

 He is a boy, roughly 10 years old, with a pretty face, full lips, a straight nose and shoulder-length hair. The wings of an angel protrude from his narrow back, and a penis is drawn with thin lines on the front of his body. The 1986 image was printed in the newsletter of the Green Party’s national working group on “Gays, Pederasts and Transsexuals,” abbreviated as “BAG SchwuP.” It wasn’t just sent to a few scattered party members, but was addressed to Green Party members of the German parliament, as well as the party’s headquarters in Bonn.

Documents like this have become a problem for the Greens today. Some 33 years after the party was founded, it is now being haunted by a chapter in its history that many would have preferred to forget. No political group in Germany promoted the interests of men with pedophile tendencies as staunchly as the environmental party. For a period of time in the mid-1980s, it practically served as the parliamentary arm of the pedophile movement. A look at its archives reveals numerous traces of the pedophiles’ flirtation with the Green Party. They appear in motions, party resolutions, memos and even reports by the party treasurer. That is because at times the party not only supported its now forgotten fellow campaigners politically, but also more tangibly, in the form of financial support.

The protests over Cohn-Bendit have led to an internal party investigation. the Guardian reported:

Germany’s Green party is to launch an investigation into its active promotion in the 80s of paedophile groups who lobbied for the legalisation of sex with children. The party’s leadership has said it will commission an independent researcher to investigate “for how long and to what extent” such groups had an influence. The party’s chief whip, Jürgen Trittin, said the initiative aimed to take a close look at the “totally unacceptable demand” in the 80s that sex with children should be made legal. He admitted that the party had made wrong decisions about paedophilia.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, the Guardian wrote  Mr. Cohn-Bendit conceded his confessions were lies, prompted by a desire to shock.

“It was a type of manifesto against the bourgeois society,” he said. … He said he had written the descriptions of his time in the kindergarten in an attempt to “appear to be more dangerous than I was”, and admitted they had been “irresponsible”.

Germany’s tabloids and conservative political parties are not likely to let this story die. But is Ira Rifkin correct in saying this is the a political story, not a religion story.

Like Lord Copper, he is right up to a point. All social interaction, all life is based upon choices. Making a choice implies using moral judgment. It could be argued that the political pedophile scandal is a story about the moral failings of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the Green party.

Here I agree with Mr. Rifkin. This is a political story that has moral and ethical overtones. But what makes this a Get Religion story is a comparison to the reporting by the Guardian, Der Spiegel and other European newspapers on the Catholic clergy abuse scandal. The perspective these newspapers have brought to the Catholic scandal is that the institution is tarnished by the actions of pedophiles within the clergy ranks. The perspective in these articles is that the institution is to be applauded for examining its historical support for pedophiles within the party’s ranks.

What makes this a Get Religion story is the context of the European press environment. I am not defending or excusing the Catholic Church. I am however pointing out inconsistencies and double standards in media coverage.

First printed in Get Religion.

Der Spiegel really doesn’t like Catholic Bishops: Get Religion, January 10, 2013 January 10, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before … A European magazine has written a hit piece on the Catholic Church and the clergy abuse scandal that is unfair, incomplete and one-sided … Sound familiar?

The latest installment comes courtesy of Der Spiegel. In an English-language piece entitled “German Catholic Church Cancels Inquiry” published on 9 Jan 2013, the mass circulation news weekly takes a stick to the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz, the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, over the cancellation of a study it had begun on the clergy abuse scandal.

The German bishops could well paraphrase Sally Fields, “You don’t like me, you really don’t like me!”

Here is the lede:

It was a major promise after a major disaster: In summer 2011, the Catholic Church in Germany pledged full transparency. One year earlier, an abuse scandal had shaken the country’s faithful, as an increasing number of cases surfaced in which priests had sexually abused children and then hidden behind a wall of silence.

The Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute (KFN) was given the job of investigating the cases in 2011. The personnel files from churches in all 27 dioceses were to be examined for cases of abuse in an attempt to win back some of the Church’s depleted credibility.

But now the Church has called off the study, citing a breakdown in trust. “The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed,” said the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, on Wednesday morning.

How’s that for telegraphing your editorial opinions. Der Spiegel opens the story with a slippery trick — it defines the terms of the argument and then savages its opponent for not meeting those terms. The lede all but accuses the church of hypocrisy.  “They promised transparency but have cancelled the investigation.”

It makes an assertion the church is a shallow self-serving institution stating the abuse study was undertaken as a public relations stunt, an “attempt to win back some of the Church’s depleted credibility.” Der Spiegel may well think so, but should not it have cited a statement to this effect by the church, or even from one of its detractors?

Following the bishop’s explanation as to why the study was cancelled — the church did not trust Prof. Christian Pfeiffer of the KFN — Der Spiegel offers Dr. Pfeiffer space to air his complaints about the bishops lack of cooperation. A politician is then given a platform to criticize the church for cancelling the study, followed by an old quote from a Church spokesman stating:

Before the inquiry was called off, the spokesman for the German Bishops’ Conference, Matthias Kopp, had insisted that the project should continue regardless of the outcome of the conflict: “Should cooperation with the KFN fall through, there would be a continuation of the project with another partner,” he said.

The story then peters out with a few more quotes from Dr. Pfeiffer and a gratuitous editorial aside followed by a spiteful jab at Bishop Ackermann.

The project was of incalculable importance to the Catholic Church, because the loss of confidence after the abuse scandal was enormous. The cancellation of the inquiry throws into high relief Bishop Ackermann’s statement from 2011: “We also want the truth, which may still lie hidden in decades-old files, to be uncovered.”

The story as told by Der Spiegel  is the Catholic Church organized a face-saving study on the clergy abuse scandal, but pulled out saying they did not trust Dr. Pfeiffer just as the KFN’s investigators began digging in the bowels of the chancelleries. The clear insinuation being the Catholic Bishops Conference are a bunch of hypocrites.

Let me stop for a moment and say I have no special knowledge of this case. I have no reason to privilege the testimony of the bishops over Dr. Pfeiffer  or Dr. Pfeiffer over the bishops. The only dog I have in this fight is that of professional journalism. And this story as journalism stinks.

Why? Take a look a the press release from the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz that served as the basis for this story. Bishop Ackermann explains in detail the study was ended due to a personal dispute with Dr. Pfeiffer — and that the study will continue with another investigator.

This is a critical omission by Der Spiegel. The study has not been cancelled — the investigator has been fired and the study will be restarted with a new team. Rather than report what Bishop Ackermann said in his statement,

Ich bedauere, dass der jetzige Schritt unumgänglich wurde, der allein mit dem mangelnden Vertrauen in die Person von Professor Dr. Pfeiffer zusammenhängt. Gleichzeitig bin ich zuversichtlich, dass wir schon bald das Forschungsprojekt mit anderen Partnern in Angriff nehmen können.

Roughly translated as: Regrettably this step was inevitable due solely to our the lack of trust in the person of Prof. Dr. Pfeiffer. At the same time I am confident that we will soon be able to address this research project with other study partners.

Der Spiegel brings up an old quote from a spokesman for the bishops saying that should there be a conflict between the bishops and the KFN, the study would continue. By not mentioning the current statement while inserting the older one, Der Spiegel is insinuating bad faith.

I have never worked with the German bishops and do not know their reputation for truthfulness or transparency. There are some English and American ecclesiastical entities and figures whom I have learned not to trust — if  one London based Anglican agency were to tell me the sun will rise tomorrow morning, I would not print that story until I saw the sun rise myself and then I would ask for a second opinion — their reputation for integrity is so poor. There well may be bad faith on the part of the bishops. Dr. Pfieffer thinks so. But Der Spiegel is improving the story — sexing it up (to use a British newspaper phrase) — so that the reader will be led to believe one side over another. If deliberate that is journalistic misconduct, it an accident that is a most unfortunate error.

First printed in Get Religion.

Defining depravity downwards in Deutschland: Get Religion, November 27, 2012 November 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Der Spiegel‘s English-language bulletin reports that conservative deputies on the Agricultural Affairs committee of the Bundestag have introduced legislation banning sex with animals. I never knew the farm beat for German reporters was so, so … so edgy?

Let’s pause for a  moment to contemplate the work of government. Courage mon amie … be brave and join me for a look at the article “Germany to Ban Sex with Animals”:

The German government plans to ban zoophilia — sex with animals — as part of an amendment to the country’s animal protection law, but faces a backlash from the country’s zoophile community, estimated to number over 100,000. Zoophilia was legalized in Germany in 1969 and animal protection groups have been lobbying for a ban in a campaign that has been fuelled by heated debate in Internet forums in recent years.

Now the center-right government wants to outlaw using animals “for personal sexual activities or making them available to third parties for sexual activities and thereby forcing them to behave in ways that are inappropriate to their species,” said Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the parliament’s Agricultural Committee. In the future, having sex with an animal could be punished with a fine of up to €25,000 ($32,400).

The article continues with a response from Michael Kiok, who is identified as chairman of zoophile pressure group ZETA (Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information). Mr. Kiok appears to be channeling Harvey Fierstein and one can hear echoes of “I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?” in his arguments.

He argues the new law is unfair telling Spiegel: “We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don’t force them to do anything.” Mr Kiok goes on to describe his relationship with an “Alsatian called Cessie” and argues that the cruelty animals undergo as they are prepared for slaughter in the meat packing business should be addressed before the police come looking for him. The author rounds out the story with a summary of European laws banning zoophilia — illegal just about everywhere but Denmark — and this scientific nugget:

Sexual research in the 1940s suggested that 5 to 8 percent of men and 3 to 5 percent of women engaged in zoophilia. “That would put the figure in Germany at 1.6 million but that’s definitely too high. Taking a wild guess, I’d say it’s well over 100,000,” said Kiok.

From what I have seen, this legislation appears to follow a February 2012 article in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Its article “Verbot von Sex mit Tieren gefordert” reported on the efforts of an animal welfare office in Hesse to criminalize zoophilia in light of her experiences in working on farms. This story has also been an occasion of journalistic fun — some of the French accounts of this story I have read are a delight. “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge … What can you expect from the Germans.” The Mail and other English newspapers also have fun with this story. The Guardian has the best, most complete story, I’ve seen so far and it is written in a matter of fact tone that attempts to keep a straight face — yet the Minister of Agriculture’s face is prominently plastered a top the story.

The Guardian‘s thorough reporting brings out the information that the zoophilia group, ZETA, has 100 members and gives details about Herr Kiok.

But it is the British tabloid, The Sun who has the best quotes, has the most fun and raises the best question.

Bestiality dropped off the statute books as a crime in 1969 but in recent years incidents of it have mushroomed along with websites promoting it. There are even “erotic zoos” for perverts to visit and abuse animals ranging from llamas to goats. Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the agriculture committee, said the government aimed to forbid using an animal “for individual sexual acts and to outlaw people ‘pimping’ creatures to others for sexual use”.

But pro-zoophilia campaign group ZETA — Zoophiles Commitment to Tolerance and Enlightenment — vowed to challenge any ban on bestiality. Chairman Michael Kiok said: “Mere concepts of morality have no business being law.”

Leave it to the tabloids to be the only forum where issues of ethics and morality are raised in conjunction with this story.

Perhaps this issue is clear there was no need to have an explanation why it is necessary to re-criminalize zoophilia after its having been made legal for 43 years. It is not necessary to explain why Nazi race theory, for example, is repellant and its arguments not disseminated. Yet, I believe Michael Kiok’s assertion that “mere concepts of morality have no business being law” need be addressed.

The Frankfurter Rundschau story raises the issue of mutual consent. Bestiality is wrong because an animal cannot give consent to participation in sexual acts with a human. But should not the ethical and moral tradition that lay behind laws banning bestiality be acknowledged — and perhaps a word or two from an ethicist or moral theologian on why this has always been considered wrong?

In the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) bestiality is a sin. Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament passages from  Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 20:15-16, and Deuteronomy 27:21) the Western religions have held that sexual contact with animals is a form of self-abuse, defiles the body and dishonors God and his creation. It is, to use that wonderfully old fashioned word, an abomination.

While little studied, the current state of medical knowledge classifies zoophilia as an illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III R 1987), zoophilia (bestiality) is a mental disorder in which human beings have sexual desires for animals. The DSM-IV, (1994) placed it under the residual classification “paraphilias not otherwise specified”. Paraphilias are inappropriate sexual deviant fantasies and fetishes, such as bestiality, pedophilia, sadomasochism, and other inappropriate forms of sexual thoughts, urges, and actions.

All of which brings me back to Der Spiegel. There is a hesitancy by the German news weekly to say that this is wrong. Is that the business of a newspaper? Should the moral voice be extinguished in modern newspaper reporting? Is Herr Kiok’s argument that morality should not govern law true?

Der Spiegel appears to think so, as it has framed this story in such a way as to remove the moral element. By not providing contrary voices to the Zoophilia activists, the newspaper does not address the issue as to why this conduct should be governed by law. Popular disgust with the practices under consideration might make such arguments appear superfluous, but when Der Spiegel writes from the philosophical presupposition of antinomianism — the rejection of socially established morality — it concedes the argument to the Michael Kioks.

Zoophilia was illegal for centuries. Has been legal for 43 years, and now will be criminalized once again. Why?

First printed in GetReligion.