11/24/2008 11:24:55 AM
The sectarian violence in Iraq has many people wondering, what is wrong with Islam? A better question may be, what is wrong with secularism? International politics professor Vali Nasr pointed out on NPR’s Speaking of Faith that religion is resurgent in Iraq, Israel, India, and the United States. People throughout the world are turning to religion and challenging the separation between church and state. Nasr asks, “Why is secularism sick?”
Part of the problem may lie in the style of democracy that the U.S. tries to export in places like Iraq. “We have a very good system of government,” said Nasr, “but whenever we go abroad we promote and implement a French one.” In U.S. history, there were strong bridges between religion and commerce in organizations like the YMCA or the Rotary Club. The style of democracy the U.S. has tried to export is more centralized and secularized, according to Nasr, more French than American. Ideally, the government would promote a more federalist system, less centralized, encouraging commerce and religion to work together for stability in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
11/21/2008 11:14:23 AM
Instead of gorging yourself on industrialized, Butterball turkey, canned cranberries, and just-add-broth stuffing this Thanksgiving, take a cue from the folks at Slow Food USA, who have given serious thought (and research) to the dishes that will populate their Thanksgiving spreads.
To aid in menu planning, the Slow Food USA blog is referring readers to their US Ark of Taste list, which catalogs hundreds of rare, regional American foods. These foods make for an inspired family feast, the blog contends, because it's only "fitting to prepare foods that support people in our communities and reflect our local traditions," on a holiday that's all about celebrating thankfulness through food.
Here are a few of the foods in the Ark catalog that should blend seamlessly into your Thanksgiving meal:
The site highlights eight heirloom turkey varieties, including the Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Midget White, and American Bronze. (NPR's Monkey See blog makes a good argument for embracing these turkeys and leaving Butterball behind for good.)
It offers a list of American apples long enough to fill a whole bakery with pies.
And, it also suggests the Ivis White Cream Sweet Potato, produced in the northern U.S., and two white potato varieties, the Ozette and the Green Mountain.
Each of the ingredients on the Ark list is accompanied by a thorough description of its heritage and cultural significance, which provides the added bonus of great fodder for dinner table conversation.
Image by CarbonNYC, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/20/2008 2:31:26 PM
Reading magazines like Sojourners or Commonweal all the time, you might think that all Christians are crazy, love-thy-neighbor kinds of people. The Onion has an editorial from someone who wants people to know that all Christians aren’t like that. Here’s a key quote:
My faith in the Lord is about the pure, simple values: raising children right, saying grace at the table, strictly forbidding those who are Methodists or Presbyterians from receiving communion because their beliefs are heresies, and curing homosexuals. That's all. Just the core beliefs. You won't see me going on some frothy-mouthed tirade about being a comfort to the downtrodden.
11/20/2008 11:40:51 AM
In the desperate search for new congregants, some churches have developed a case of Obsessive Branding Disorder. The problem is that they’re doing it wrong. The website Beyond Relevance has created an amusing video wondering what it would be like if Starbucks marketed like a church, showing some of the ways that churches are made into unwelcoming, kind of creepy places.
Here’s the video:
Coffee is a religion for me, but I usually don’t drink the stuff from Starbucks. I prefer the stuff I make on my own.
(Thanks, Adult Christianity.)
11/18/2008 5:20:31 PM
On election day, Californians passed Proposition 8, eliminating the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Many are still wondering how this could have happened, and some are looking to religion as an easy target to blame. But careful study of the issue belies the blame game.
“Both the organizing successes of the Christian right and the failures of the gay movement” allowed the proposition to pass, Richard Kim writes for the Nation. Anti-gay marriage organizations pushed hard in minority communities, organizing rallies and buying up advertising space in Chinese, black, Spanish, and Korean media outlets. Although polls predicted the proposition’s failure in the days leading up to the election, exit polls indicate that 70 percent of African Americans ended up voting in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Pointing the finger at Christian or minority communities is overly simplistic, Wendy Cadge writes for the Immanent Frame. When it comes to gay marriage, a huge “diversity of opinion exists within families, communities, churches, and racial and ethnic groups,” Cadge writes. Rather than fighting against religion (or against minorities, for that matter), defenders of gay marriage should reach out more to religious and minority communities.
Some have suggested taking the word “marriage” out of the discussion in general, to avoid religious connotations. That won’t solve the problem either, according to E.J. Graff, the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution. Graff told On the Media’s Bob Garfield that marriage is “the passport word” that’s understood throughout the world, extending rights to couples no matter where they go.
For better or worse, the definition of “marriage” has been in contention for hundreds of years. Graff argues that people shouldn’t simply give up on marriage, they should continue working to change the definition. “Just change the rules,” says Graff, “like we always have.”
Image of a protest against Proposition 8 that singled out the Mormon Church, credited with bankrolling much of the Yes on 8 campaign, by
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11/13/2008 10:42:14 AM
Barack Obama’s faith was the subject of a lot of analysis on the campaign trail, and many are pondering the effect that his victory will have on religions in America. Jeff Sharlet at the Revealer wonders whether Obama’s election signals the demise of the Religious Right, but some think that reports of the movement’s death are premature. Sharlet quotes conservative scholar D. Michael Lindsay who predicts that an Obama Administration will give the movement something rally against: “Political movements like the Religious Right don’t need a ‘god’ to succeed, but they do need a devil. Nothing builds allegiances among a coalition like a common enemy.”
The Religious Right might make an enemy of Obama, even though he is a Christian, because his faith is moderate and measured, and because he’s prone to seek out different opinions and shun absolutism.
This measured worldview could be why Obama will present a problem the New Atheists, too. As Frank Schaffer wrote for the Huffington Post the day after the election that Obama’s victory is drawing the curtain on an era on spiritual certitude and intolerance at both extremes:
Into the all or nothing culture wars, and the all or nothing wars between the so-called New Atheists and religion the election of President elect Obama reintroduces nuance. President elect Obama’s ability to believe in Jesus, yet question, is going to rescue American religion in general and Christianity in particular, from the extremes.
11/12/2008 8:57:57 AM
Is it strange for boys to play with dolls? Even for parents who generally shun gender stereotypes, the idea of a boy playing with his dolly seems slightly off. But why?
In a humorous essay for Mothering (subscription required), Joel Troxell struggles with his wife’s insistence on buying a doll for their one-year-old son Nathan. Though the doll is gender-neutral in shape and dress, Troxell feels the need to compensate for this “affront to his masculinity” by telling Nathan that the doll is actually an operative for the US military, and his neutral facial expression means he’s impervious to fear or pain.
Nathan quickly grows tired of the doll, much to his dad’s secret delight. A few months later, however, Nathan’s mom is back at it, looking for bigger and better dolls. Troxell’s “daydreams of Nathan going first round in the NFL draft [are] replaced by disturbing images of him walking across the stage at graduation, sucking his thumb and carrying his doll.”
The author finds that doll play is still associated with outdated gender roles in his mind. He thinks of playing with dolls as childcare practice for girls (a.k.a. future moms and wives), and toy weapons as encouraging boys to develop the hunting skills they’d need to provide for their families.
Eventually, Troxell learns the benefits of boys with dolls: They teach compassion, sensitivity, and responsibility, as well as a practical knowledge of things like holding and feeding a baby. So in reality, Troxell’s wife points out, giving a boy a doll is giving him practice as a good father and a good person who is ready to care for others.
To the kid, his dolly may later be a source of future embarrassment, much like those ubiquitous naked-in-the-tub pictures. But if the values imbued through playing with a “girl’s toy” hold up, he’ll likely have grown to be well-adjusted enough not to care.
Mothering’s archives include another great essay (free) on a mom’s quest for a doll for her son.
Image courtesy of Savannah Grandfather, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/11/2008 2:10:43 PM
Meditation and psychology are intertwining as experts in the fields realize the benefits of a symbiotic relationship. Joelle Hann reports for Whole Life Times that many psychologists have begun to incorporate yoga and mindfulness into their therapies, and some yoga instructors are studying up on psychology to create “yoga psychotherapy” for their clients.
“Integrating yoga-based methods into psychotherapeutic work presents inherent challenges,” Hann writes. Part of the problem lies in a strict taboo against physical contact in traditional psychotherapy, a standard born out of concern about abuse from therapists. There are, however, many yoga-based therapies that don’t involve any touching. For example, some psychologists have found that controlled breathing and meditative exercises can go a long way toward psychological healing.
Many of these mindfulness-based therapies have hard science to back them up. “Mindfulness reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer,” Jay Dixit writes for Psychology Today. The article offers six tips on how people can incorporate mindfulness into daily lives.
The mindfulness exercises have also been used to help children in war-torn countries. In the September-October issue of Utne Reader, Aaron Huey wrote about a yoga class in the Allahoddin Orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. Huey writes that yoga helps the children “move away from painful thoughts to ones that give them strength. In a place so full of suffering, the comfort this simple routine provides is immeasurable.”
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11/11/2008 9:33:06 AM
A new survey of 12- to 25-year-olds finds that many young people are increasingly spiritual but more skeptical of organized religion, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The study, recently released by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute, surveyed almost 7,000 subjects of diverse faiths (and of no faith) from around the world.
Miriam Cameron, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, told the Star Tribune that the study’s findings didn’t surprise her. “Many of my students equate religion with dogma and spirituality with harmony,” she said. But Cameron also noted that, “Spirituality works well with most religions. The only ones it doesn't work with are the angry people who say that everyone else's image of God is wrong.”
One 15-year-old girl from South Africa said in a focus group for the study (PDF), “Spiritual is something one experiences in your own being. Religion is, well, your religion. Most of our religion is forced—the do’s and don’ts. Being spiritual means standing on a mountain with the wind blowing through your hair, and the feeling of being free.”
11/6/2008 11:54:35 AM
In a list of people who would make atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher sick with rage, Foreign Policy has compiled the five most powerful religious leaders in the world. The Pope makes an appearance, but more for his power over Italian politics than for his theological pull. And Pastor Rick Warren, head of the 23,000-member Saddleback megachurch congregation and author of the bestselling book The Purpose Drive Life, also makes an appearance, after hosting Obama and McCain in their first joint appearance as the presumptive presidential nominees.
All five leaders may have their critics, but they’re certainly better than the five worst religious leaders that Foreign Policy listed back in April.
All About You God
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11/5/2008 10:52:51 AM
There has been a lot to repent for throughout this election. Both Republicans and Democrats have viciously attacked each other over the past few months (or years) in pursuit of a single goal: electoral victory. Now that Barack Obama’s victory has been decided, it’s time for a little forgiveness.
It wasn’t always this nasty. Gil Troy writes for the Wilson Quarterly that “our political ancestors often approached the political game in better humor and with a closer attachment to political life.” Today’s “media politics,” by contrast, engender partisan bickering and division for the sake of a compelling storyline. In their attempts to motivate the electorate, politicians end up distancing themselves from voters. The effect is that political parties today are approached with the same zeal as a pro-sports team, according to Troy, with all the intensity and vitriol, but little participation from the fans.
Evidence of this nastiness was on full display throughout campaign 2008. Many on the left focused on the hate-filled videos from outside of McCain-Palin rallies, but the Democrats released their share of attack advertisements, too. Watching television in battle-ground states over the past few weeks has been an exercise in muck-wallowing, with a constant stream of attack ads and over-the-top accusations coming from both sides.
The reality is that revenge serves an evolutionary purpose, psychologist Michael McCullough told In Character. When an animal feels wronged, revenge protects that animal’s interest and deters “harm-doers from harming us a second time.” The inclination for some may be to redress the harms of the past few months and lick the wounds inflicted throughout the campaign.
For many, however, Obama’s victory can send that same message of deterrence for the wrongs of the past eight years. On an evolutionary level, for a species to survive, animals must move beyond revenge to forgiveness.
“When people forgive,” according to McCullough, “they switch from ill will for someone who has harmed them to good will for that person.” That simple act has evolutionary and health benefits: Conflicts create anxiety and stress that forgiveness helps alleviate. Beyond the benefits to the individual, forgiveness fosters cooperation in a species, according to McCullough, and “helps us restore and maintain relationships that are valuable to us.”
In their final speeches of last night, both Obama and McCain seemed to acknowledge the importance of relationships with other Americans. Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln saying “We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” The way to ensure that is for both sides to forgive.
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11/4/2008 4:18:29 PM
Bringing food to grieving friends and family is a way of sustaining people close to us, both literally and figuratively. Preparing meals for the bereaved is a tradition in many cultures (during the Jewish mourning period called shiva, it’s forbidden to prepare your own food), but there is more to bringing food than simply dropping off a casserole.
Writing for the Jew and the Carrot, a website dedicated to Jews, food, and sustainability, Tamar Fox has compiled a list of tips for considerate food-bearing sympathizers.
In addition to etiquette guidelines (calling ahead, respecting dietary needs, etc.), Fox writes that food-related memories, such as a favorite meal or a funny story, can open up a healing dialogue. Fox writes that it “can be awkward to try to express sympathy without resorting to clichés. But food can be a great vehicle to beginning a conversation about the deceased.”
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11/3/2008 3:06:40 PM
A presidential or vice presidential candidate in this election said, “The political tactics of division and slander are not our values, they are corrupting influences on religion.” Do you know which one it was? Do you know what was “god’s will” according to Sarah Palin?
For the answers, Beliefnet has a quiz to see how much readers know about the candidates’ faiths. I got two wrong, when I took it. Feel free to leave your scores in the comment section.
11/3/2008 11:50:55 AM
The new website Intent.com is like the Huffington Post of the metaphysical realm, offering an online repository of mindful living writing. Started by Mallika Chopra, an entrepreneur and Deepak Chopra’s daughter, the site’s brand represents an amorphous mélange of business motivation, self-help, and Eastern spirituality. The site breaks down into the squishy categories of Health, Relationships, Success, Balance, Causes, Planet, and Spirit.
As the cornerstone of Intent.com, bloggers state their intent (“To laugh out loud every day!”, “Not to over indulge in candy or booze tonight!”, “To recognize and share the presence of life’s magic”) and users can register to add their own intents or to affirm others.
The site isn’t simply an unmitigated orgy of loving-kindness, however. Yesterday, Deepak Chopar posted an overtly political video blog about John McCain entitled, “War Hero or War Criminal, Who Decides?” In fact, there’s a generous dose of political content, most of it pro-Obama and against California’s Prop-8. There are also the sorts of diverting anecdotal pieces that wouldn’t be out of place at Slate, Salon, or, well, HuffPo.
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