10/31/2008 11:02:23 AM
The fact that the Bible is the best selling book of all time hasn’t stopped publishers from cooking up creative, new ways to market the good book. In its latest rendering, the Bible gets all dressed up, with glossy, fashion-forward photos you'd expect to find in Vogue, not the Gospel of Mark.
, from Bible Illuminated, is peppered with famous faces and targeted at the hearts and image-conscious minds of the “iPod-toting, compulsive texting, Facebook crowd,” Stacey Vanek-Smith reports for Marketplace. Marketing guru Marissa Gluck tells Vanek-Smith, “This is the Bible wrapped up as Us Weekly."
“It is sexy,” Reverend Jeremy Smith writes of The Book on his blog, Hacking Christianity. “Not in a 'rock me sexy Jesus' way, but in a sleek sophisticated way.” Smith outlines how powerful imagery paired with Bible verses lends The Book a political edge, at least in parts. For instance, the line “the whole earth was amazed and followed the beast” is set against an image of a man at the gas pump. And the book of Revelation is illustrated by photos of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Smith also points out some less progressive aspects of the book, like the highlighted pull quote, “wives must submit to their husbands,” from Ephesians, irritated him “greatly.”
10/24/2008 4:25:04 PM
The city of Edmond, Oklahoma, recently offered to pay for half of a sculpture that looks suspiciously like Jesus and is titled, “Come Unto Me,” the Associated Press reports. The 26-inch bronze sculpture by Rosalind Cook, which shows a familiar-looking bearded man in a robe and sandals talking to children, is to be placed outside a Catholic gift shop whose owner raised the funds to pay the other half of the statue’s $7800 price tag. Speaking to the AP, June Cartwright of the Edmond Visual Arts Commission said, “It doesn't state that it is specifically Jesus. It is whatever you perceive it to be.”
The claim might be slightly disingenuous, considering the artist identified the sculpture as one of Jesus on her website.
After an outcry led by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the mayor of Edmond announced that the city would not go through with the deal, and that the sculpture would be paid for by private funding.
The controversy lasted only a few days, but it's just one of many instances where the city of Edmond has tried to muddle the line between church and state. In 1996, Edmond lost a Supreme Court battle to keep a cross in the city seal. Last year, city officials were forced to back down from their decision to use over $8000 in public funds to put a statue of Moses outside a local church.
10/24/2008 3:48:43 PM
When a Catholic gets hurt, an image of the Virgin Mary could help soothe the pain. New research suggests that “religious belief alters the brain in a way that changes how a person responds to pain,” Irene Tracey of Oxford University told Science News.
For the research, Catholics, agnostics, and atheists were subjected to a series of electric shocks, some while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary and some without the image. Practicing Catholics perceived less pain when they were staring at the Virgin Mary, Science News reports, and displayed increased activity in an area of the brain associated with “emotional detachment and perceived control over pain.” Agnostics and atheists didn't show the same kind of neuro-activity, nor the perceived pain reduction.
10/24/2008 10:03:38 AM
Are Americans living in a recession or a financial apocalypse? Is now a time for prudent financial choices or a time to pray? Sean Cole reports for Marketplace that some economists are embracing the gloomy financial indicators as a sign that Armageddon is upon us. Cole talked to an “end times economist” who said that the current recession is God “saying that this world's financial system is built upon an unrighteous foundation.”
The financial system has become a religious cult of its own, Peter Laarman writes for Religion Dispatches. The financial crisis was caused in part by an adherence to “economism,” a creed that Laarman describes as “the notion that every part of human life is governed by economic considerations and that everything that happens—or at least everything that matters—is reducible to human monads pursuing their rational self-interest.”
Questions about financial regulation in the current presidential race should be treated with the same importance as religious questions, since the two have become so closely related. Laarman writes, “we are now in actual danger of losing what remains of democracy itself in our unseemly desire to enshrine the money-changing cult at the very center of the temple.”
“Whether you're a believer or not, maybe now is a good time to ask ourselves what we worship,” Cole said for Marketplace. That simple sentiment was applauded by Amy Frykholm, writing for Theoblog. Even if he didn’t mean to, Frykholm writes that Cole echoed Matthew 6:2, which reads, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also”
David Paul Ohmer
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10/23/2008 3:00:03 PM
Every Sunday, many Christians go to church. Every time Sarah Palin said “maverick,” many debate-watchers took a drink of beer. The churchgoers and debate-watchers both practice distinct forms of devotionalism, Omri Elisha writes for the Immanent Frame. Ritualized prayer and drinking games “give people reasons to pay closer attention to what’s happening before their eyes,” according to Elisha.
Like the Jewish tradition of a Minyan, where 10 people are required for prayer, debate drinking games facilitate engagement in a social setting. The parallel isn’t perfect, but the popularity of the debate drinking games shows the near-religious importance that’s being placed on the election. “In the absence of certainty and the growing instability of public faith,” Elisha writes, “something akin to secular devotionalism steps in to fill the gap.” During the debates, that devotionalism took the form of a drinking game.
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10/15/2008 12:53:07 PM
The tradition of burning witches has developed a bad reputation. In Alberta, burning witches sounds like a rather pleasant experience. In an article for Maisonneuve (not available online), Tadzio Richards writes about his family’s Danish tradition called the Heks, where trash from spring cleaning is fashioned into a witch effigy and set on fire. His grandmother calls it “an awful heathen thing we do here,” but the view of the burning waste could be quite beautiful. I just hope his family takes the environment into consideration before burning their trash.
Image of the Heks by EPO, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/15/2008 12:11:10 AM
With a notoriously “faith-based” presidential administration in its last throes and a race for the White House boasting a varied slate of Christians—a man who’s been called a “semi-Baptist,” a Pentecostal conservative, a Catholic Democrat, and a member of the United Church of Christ whom some insist is a “secret Muslim”—it’s surprising that faith and religion aren’t playing a more central role in the presidential and vice-presidential debates.
There’s been a relative lack of religious talk during the presidential face-offs, and various spirituality blogs are wondering if tonight’s will be any different. Both Christianity Today and the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life noted a dearth of religious talk in their liveblogs of last week’s debate, with the notable exception of Tom Brokaw’s zen question. GetReligion also called attention to the fact that the latest presidential debate’s only spiritual reference was to Buddhism, after the website live-blogged the Palin-Biden debate and its own lack of religious language.
One explanation is that Iraq and the tanking economy have largely pushed aside religious and social issues that dominated previous debate cycles. Nathan Empsall at the Wayward Episcopalian is glad the candidates are addressing the economy, but still frustrated by both candidates’ remarks in that regard. With McCain foundering in the polls and in need of a game changer, it’s questionable whether Christianity will make an appearance in tonight’s debate.
Image by Ricardo Carreon, licensed by Creative Commons.
10/14/2008 2:52:04 PM
Considering the community they provide and the devotion they inspire, sports serve religious functions, Andrew Cooper writes for Tricycle. “Sports satisfy our deep hunger to connect with a realm of mythic meaning, to see the transpersonal forces that work within and upon human nature enacted in dramatic form, and to experience the social cohesion that these forms make possible,” Cooper writes.
For players, a form of spirituality is often experienced in the idea of the “zone,” according to Cooper. Players and announcers speak of a game-time “zone” mindset, where a player is able to forget himself and his surroundings and play almost unconsciously. Cooper writes that this experience is similar, though not the same, as the Buddhist idea of enlightenment. He writes, “a Zen perspective on the relationship between practice and enlightenment may help clarify structural issues in the relationship between self-effort and self-transcendence in sport.”
Ten examples of the transcendence in sports can be found on BeliefNet, where the editors have compiled the top 10 “sports miracles.” The website compiled 10 feats of athleticism that they call miracles because of their improbability.
Taken to the extreme, the parallels between sports and religion quickly become absurd. The Onion ran an article with the headline, “God Wastes Miracle On Running Catch In Outfield.” Rather than bringing peace to the Middle East or helping victims of natural disasters, the God of the Onion opts instead to meddle in a baseball games. No word yet on who God supports in the current Major League Baseball playoffs, unfortunately.
Image by Moazzam Brohi, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/14/2008 1:34:39 PM
Years after their original releases, books like Eat, Pray, Love and The Power of Now remain fixtures on nonfiction bestseller lists due to their personal, uplifting messages on the exploration of life and spirituality. But for every captivating memoir of religious journey and self-realization, there’s at least one that tries to pass off a common experience as something unique. Writing for The Smart Set, Bookslut founder and editor Jessa Crispin’s smart, funny essay picks apart the recent influx of mediocre spiritual memoirs, calling out all those authors who assume that “a story being true is a greater virtue than being well written, or insightful, or interesting.”
Crispin uses two opposing examples of the spiritual autobiographies: Danya Ruttenberg’s Surprised by God and Robert N. Levine’s What God Can Do for You Now. Ruttenberg’s book tracks her spiritual journey from renouncing Judaism at age 13 to revisiting faith and tradition after her mother’s death. Her personal story is somewhat intriguing, says Crispin, but in her return to religion she leaves all of her previous questions about religious origin and belief unanswered. Instead the book focuses on her complete acceptance of doctrine and her disdain for those who don’t follow religion as closely as she does. Her ideas come off as frustratingly “half-formed and unsupported,” reinforcing Crispin’s point that “just because you lived through something, that doesn’t mean you have anything interesting to say about it.” Harsh, but true.
Ruttenberg’s second-rate execution contrasts with Levine’s intelligent discourse on God and the Bible. Levine tells readers of his belief that actions like charity, compassion, and protecting God’s creation can all contribute to spiritual healing as much as (or more than) traditional rituals. His message is one of tolerance and personal spirituality: A person can establish a relationship with God even without following all the rules and restrictions of mainstream religion. Though she doesn’t agree with many of his beliefs, Crispin respects Levine’s non-judgmental tone much more than Ruttenberg’s shallow dismissal of the spiritually deficient.
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10/13/2008 2:10:00 PM
Conservationist Calvin DeWitt sees the Bible as our earliest environmentalist treatise: “an ecological handbook on how to live rightly on earth.”
The newly published Green Bible drives that message home by highlighting all verses with ecological and conservationist themes in green ink. It’s a variation on the red-letter editions of the Bible that highlight the words of Jesus. The green edition includes an index of environmental topics, a foreword by Desmond Tutu, a “trail guide for further study,” and “inspirational essays by scholars and leaders,” among them DeWitt.
Perusing the text and zeroing in on the green passages makes for an illuminating kind of exegesis. Most of Genesis is printed in green, concerning as it does the natural world and humankind’s relationship to it. When God says, “‘And have dominion over the fish of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (1:28), the Green Bible and its contributors interpret “dominion” not as free reign, but as responsibility.
The Book of Jeremiah is more to the point, recasting the Old Testament God as an angry environmental activist: “But my people have forgotten me … making their land a horror.” (18:15-16).
The Green Bible hopes to remind the faithful that adherence to their faith includes a responsibility toward God’s creations—an increasingly common theology reflected in the emergence of Christian environmental initiatives. Environmental awareness in this edition also encompasses a mindfulness of the earth’s other human inhabitants, and every exhortation to love thy neighbor, every reminder of our interconnectivity, is printed green. An example comes from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “There may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for each other. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (12:25).
10/6/2008 5:21:41 PM
A spiritual question lies at the core of many science fiction stories: What makes us human? There are countless explorations of the line between humans and machines in popular culture, from the newly remade TV show Battlestar Galactica to the film Wall-E. Nan Runde writes for Parabola (excerpt only available online), “the popularity of cyborg stories reveals a deep undercurrent of ambivalence and anxiety about the presence of machines in our lives.”
The fight between humans and machines often represents the tension between assimilation and individualism, according to Runde. Machines embody a hive mentality, where the spirit is reduced to just another cog in the machinery. The struggle against that mentality is akin to the fight for free will, and humans often represent both the heroes and the enemies in the battle. “Though human beings are the ones who make machines,” Runde writes, “our technology is undeniably changing us as well.”
This tension also manifests itself in the revulsion people feel toward some real-life objects. Writing for Search Magazine, Sam Kean explores the phenomenon of the “uncanny valley,” a theory stating that objects and robots get creepy when they look too much like humans. A talking cartoon dog, for example, is cute, but a zombie is disturbing. A chart (below) shows the progression: Objects become more familiar as they look more like humans, until they reach a certain point when they just get creepy.
It may be possible to solve the problem of the uncanny valley, according to Kean, further blurring the line between humans and machines. That could have serious implications, especially considering the amount of time people already spend with computers. Before that happens, Kean writes that exploring that line between humans and machines, and our opposing feelings of revulsion and familiarity, could give valuable insights into what it means to be human.
Image by Jennifer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Image by Smurrayinchester, licensed under GNU.
Jason Kottke has
more on the uncanny valley
on his blog.
10/6/2008 1:06:13 PM
A controversy erupted recently in upstate New York, when public high school teachers tried to use yoga to help students relax before tests, the Associated Press reports. Parents and community members, including a Baptist minister, alleged that the program blurred the line between church and state and might indoctrinate students into Hinduism.
The immense popularity of yoga in secular society could render its religious provenance moot, but Mollie Ziegler at GetReligion points out, “whether or not yoga can be divorced from Hinduism, to the Hindu it certainly is a religious discipline.” Ziegler quotes yoga experts who argue that the practice’s secularization has stripped away its mental and spiritual components and focused solely on the body, robbing yoga of much of its power by re-branding it as a get-fit-quick regimen. The AP article hints at this tension, but never tackles it, causing Ziegler to write, “it's just a weak story all around.”
For more on the rocky relationship between yoga and the press, read Robert Love's "Fear of Yoga" from the March/April 2007 issue of Utne Reader.
Photo by Angela Sevin, licensed by Creative Commons.
10/2/2008 9:50:48 AM
As political junkies across the country eagerly await the Biden-Palin showdown tonight, On Faith, a joint project of the Washington Post and Newsweek, asked a panel of contributors what they would want to know about the candidates' faith. A few of these spiritual thinkers said the debates would be better if the questions left out religion all together.
Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said:
I would ask Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin absolutely nothing about their religious beliefs… The media, political pundits, and many of the public have gorged themselves on religious issues of almost complete irrelevance while the country, deeply divided by everything from the Iraq war to how to control the price of gas, has spiraled toward economic meltdown… As long as respected news organizations treat religion like this—presenting it like it's a public policy issue or giving platforms to extreme voices to generate controversy—more people will become disillusioned until matters of faith lose their relevance altogether. Please! Let's grapple with the real issues of an election and leave the candidates to pray and worship in whatever way they choose.
Deepak Chopra, founder and president of Alliance for a New Humanity said:
If Joe Biden and Sarah Palin aren't asked about religion in their upcoming debate, that would be healthy. The fact that the right wing has profited handsomely from the religious issue doesn't make it fair or even constitutional. Nor does it offset the harm they have done. The Constitution kept God out of politics in order to avoid the inflamed conflict that has mired this country since the Reagan revolution.
Susan K. Smith, senior pastor at Advent United Church of Christ said:
Quite frankly, I am tired of all the discussion about religion and beliefs in this campaign. Being "religious" doesn't make one a necessarily better president. George Bush is religious, but neither the world nor this country seems to be the better for it. So, I really don't care about Palin's and Biden's religious beliefs. I do care, though, about what they think about what is the best way to help “the least of these” in this country and in this world. I hate religion. I hate how it makes people think they're better than others, or how it seems to make people think they have the right to stuff their beliefs down the throats of other people... and still treat people really badly. I think some of the nicest, and most moral people, are NOT religious. So, given the chance, I would not ask Palin or Biden about their religious beliefs.
10/1/2008 3:49:17 PM
The fourth most popular film in America right now isn’t the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading. And it’s not Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it’s Kirk Cameron’s new Christian film Fireproof. Made by a cast and crew of 1,200 volunteers, the Catholic News Agency reports that the film has grossed $6,804,764. That’s something of a miracle, according to the Guardian, considering the film cost just $500,000 to make.
Cameron, best known as Mike Seaver on the TV show Growing Pains and co-star of the Way of the Master anti-evolution DVDs, stars in Fireproof as a fireman who contemplates, and later rejects, divorce. In the film, Scott Tobias writes for the Onion AV Club, “Cameron acts like a childish jerk, even in the reconciliation phase, and the underlying reason is that he—and the movie—hates women.”
Image by Allan Light, licensed under Creative Commons.
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