11/30/2009 11:24:22 AM
John de Graaf, filmmaker, co-author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic and Executive Director of Take Back Your Time, is reporting for Utne.com from the International Gross National Happiness Conference.
John de Graaf's first dispatch
Held in an enormous hotel in the southern Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu, the International Gross National Happiness conference began with a talk from an acknowledged world expert in the field, economics professor John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He led the entire audience of 700 people in rousing if not always on-key English and Portuguese versions of the “happiness theme song,” an old favorite I remembered from childhood:
The more we get together, together, together,
The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.
For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends.
The more we get together the happier we’ll be.
Social connection, Helliwell stressed, is a key to happiness. But as a worldwide Gallup Poll of 140 countries over three years reveals, other factors matter more than our economic measure of well-being, the Gross Domestic Product. Income is not irrelevant—the highest scores for happiness are found in wealthier countries. Freedom from hunger and physical insecurity is a must. But after moderate levels of comfort and security are met, other factors assert themselves.
Among them are a sense of control over one’s life, government as free as possible from corruption, friends and relatives one can count on, trust in one’s neighbors, generosity (a key question in the poll is “Have you donated to charity this year?”), freedom (another question: “Do you have the freedom to do what you choose in life?”—consistently, contrary to what Americans might expect, the highest scores on this question come in precisely the Scandinavian countries we often mock as “nanny states”).
Religion is definitely a plus for individuals, but probably because it helps build social connections. Countries with the most religious fervor, like the United States, don’t necessarily rank near the top in life satisfaction. The consistent happiness champion? Denmark—with Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden not far behind.
Jon Hall, an Englishman now with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, followed Dr. Helliwell with encouraging news. The OECD (made up of about thirty of the world’s richest nations) is looking for a whole new set of indicators on which to judge the progress of member countries. Its new “Global Project” aims at collecting so-called “best practices”—social and economic policies that are clearly shown to increase life satisfaction.
Hall cited other good news: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, only two years ago the champion of economic growth and American-style economics, recently organized a commission led by Nobel Prize economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. The commission called for a focus on indicators such as health, family cohesion and leisure time instead of the current emphasis on GDP.
A new European Commission is called “GDP and Beyond,” and OECD’s recent World Forum in Pusan, South Korea, brought together two thousand researchers and activists to consider policies built on measures of life satisfaction, rather than economic growth. “It really is a movement now,” Hall declared. The point is to find ways that can clearly tell us whether people are satisfied or suffering. “Statistics,” as they are now, Hall suggested, “are people with their tears washed away.”
11/24/2009 11:24:11 AM
The financial crisis has hit the Abbey of the Genesee, a Trappist monastery in Western New York, but the monks inside aren’t panicked like much of the rest of the country. Sales of their artisan bread has dropped steeply, and unemployed locals are looking to the monastery for employment and help. The monks, however, aren’t too worried. “Society values short-term goals,” one of the monks, Dom John Eudes Bamberger, told America magazine. “The monastic life takes the long view.”
“If people are just looking to get past the recession, they are missing an opportunity,” according to Dom Eudes. This crisis is a moment for reflection, to get beyond the hyper-materialistic, short-term thinking that got people into this problem. “Recession, as a human phenomenon, is analogous to other crises that test one’s lifestyle,” Dom Eudies continued. “But that lifestyle, for many Americans, was never real.”
Source: America (excerpt available online)
Image by Daniel Tibi, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/23/2009 2:00:01 PM
When sexual competition heats up, people turn toward god. A recent study highlighted by Miller McCune indicates that when people perceive competition over potential mates, they report themselves as “significantly more religious” than other people. The researchers tested college undergraduates by showing them profiles of attractive people and then asking about how religious they are. The men who saw profiles of attractive men, and the women who saw profiles of attractive women, reported that they were more religiously intense than people who were shown profiles of people of the opposite sex. According to Miller McCune, the study seems to imply that “religiosity, like so many other human values, is not as firm and consistent as we tend to believe.”
11/16/2009 2:57:32 PM
Responding to a post by conservative Catholic Rod Dreher at Beliefnet, who asks why gay Catholics don't leave the church, Atlantic writer and blogger Andrew Sullivan engages Dreher in that rarest of acts: a nuanced discussion of the Catholic experience:
I wore an ACT-UP t-shirt to communion once, but that was the limit of my daring. I am not a gay Catholic at Mass. I am a Catholic. The issue of eros is trivial in the face of consecration, prayer and meditation.
I write about it because I feel a need to bear witness as a gay Christian in a painful time, but mainly because I want to argue for a civil change in civil society. But it is in no ways central to my faith. It is peripheral to the Gospels, is unmentioned in the mass, and I try to focus on the liturgy and prayer and to take in as much of the sermon as is safe for my intellectual composure.
That's just an excerpt. Be sure to read all of Sullivan's post: On Remaining Catholic .
Sources: Beliefnet, The Daily Dish
Image by lhar, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/16/2009 12:08:44 PM
Where do atheists, agnostics, and non-religious people turn for spiritual guidance? At Tufts University, non-religious students think they should have their own “humanist chaplain,” the same way that schools enlist Jewish, Christian, or Muslim teachers for their students.
“The current chaplaincies just don’t address the needs of [non-religious students],” Xavier Malina, president of the Tufts Freethought Society, told Inside Higher Education. “A lot of students might want spiritual guidance but don’t feel comfortable going to the available chaplains on campus, [who] might not satisfy their spiritual needs.”
Harvard University, Rutgers University, and Adelphi University all currently retain humanist chaplains, according to Inside Higher Education, though some people take issue with the entire idea. Don Brewington, president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains, told the magazine that providing non-religious students with guidance seemed valid. But describing humanist guidance as “spiritual,” according to Brewington, “seems to be somewhat contradictory.”
Source: Inside Higher Education
Elephant Wearing Striped Pants
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11/13/2009 4:21:16 PM
The Canadian feminist magazine Herizons reports on a museum-in-progress that’s setting out to honor mothers and their stories: the Museum of Motherhood.
“Mother-blaming and objectifying women has created a lot of damage,” museum cofounder Joy Rose tells Herizons. “We need to dig deep into the well of our subconscious when it comes to our attitudes about mothers. Our society needs to make a major shift.”
For now, the museum exists online (at www.museumofmotherhood.org) while Rose and her colleagues raise money and look for a space in upstate New York. They’re using the website to gather testimonials about mothers and motherhood, which they plan to use in their inaugural exhibit.
(The article is not yet up on the Herizons website, but you can read a fairly legible scanned copy at the Museum of Motherhood's website.)
Image by hans s, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/5/2009 3:17:37 PM
At 16 years old, Jason Perez was dealing drugs in his Massachusetts neighborhood. By the time the documentary New Muslim Cool begins, Perez has converted to Islam, changed his name to Hamza Perez, and moved to Pittsburgh to start a Muslim community. The film tracks Perez through intimate and important episodes of his life, including his wedding to a Muslim woman and the birth of their first child. Every moment evokes a larger theme of what it means to be Latino and Muslim in post-9-11 America.
Perez, like many Latinos, grew up Catholic. His mother is quoted in the film talking about the family’s struggle to reconcile her son’s faith with the rest of her Puerto Rican family. With his conversion to Islam, Perez is no longer able to eat the lechong, the roasted pig, which is popular in Puerto Rico.
Conversion to Islam doesn’t mean giving up on Puerto Rican culture, however. As one half of the hip hop duo, the Mujahadeen Team, Perez and his brother Suliman mix Latino and African American influences, often with strong Islamic messages.
Not everyone has found the conversion to Islam as natural as Perez’s. An article for the Brooklyn Rail profiles various Latino converts to Islam and the struggles they’ve encountered. Some Latinos have been made to feel unwelcome in certain Mosques, where speaking Spanish was looked down on. Some Latino families profiled in the piece have refused to accept their children’s conversions to Islam, in one case continuing to serve pig products, knowing of the dietary restrictions.
Estimates vary on the number of Latino Muslims in the United States. According to a Voice of America article from 2007, there are anywhere between 70,000 and 200,000. The group still represents a small minority within a minority, but people like Perez aim to change that by converting more people to Islam.
The Brooklyn Rail quotes Alex Robayo, the host at a Hispanic Muslim Day, who tried to emphasize the similarities between Catholicism “You may say in Spanish ‘dios,’ in English ‘God,’ in Arabic ‘Allah. Is dios and God different?” Robayo added, “Dios es grande.”
Watch the trailer for New Musilm Cool below:
New Muslim Cool
Image by Kauthar Umar.
11/5/2009 2:16:13 PM
We don’t talk enough about prisons in this country. And we never talk about the religious roots of the prison. Here’s what Caleb Smith, author of The Prison and the American Imagination had to say in an interview with Religion Dispatches:
The reformers who built the model institutions of the early nineteenth century called them penitentiaries, to compel penitence. They drew from Christian traditions—Quaker tenets of nonviolence, Catholic and Calvinist varieties of asceticism and moral rigor—and they often represented the cell as a place of spiritual rebirth. As a precondition for that resurrection, they led convicts through mortifying processes including “civil death,” a loss of legal personhood with origins in European monasticism. The Philadelphia reformer Benjamin Rush quoted scripture in describing the rehabilitated convict as a man who “was lost and is found—was dead and is alive.”
Some states are reconsidering the cost (financial, not social or emotional) of leaning too heavily on prisons to deal with criminal behavior. We should pause to remember a time when rehabilitation, however misguided a manifestation the penitentiary was at the time, was at the center of the idea of the prison. Today the rhetoric of rehabilitation is all but gone from the tough-on-crime diatribes that have become the guiding light for criminal justice policy in the United States. There’s a “civil death” I’d like to see.
Source: Religion Dispatches
Image by Sean Munson, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/4/2009 4:45:25 PM
Sometimes it’s smart to play the fool. There are three types of fools, Michael Dirda writes for In Character: real, professional, and unsuspecting. Shakespeare’s King Lear thinks himself wise, until his best plans fall apart and he realizes that he is an unsuspecting fool. Professionals fools include con men, jesters, and other hucksters who “aims to reinforce his client’s conviction of his own superiority.” And the unsuspecting fools are the innocents, the idiot savants, the “saintly or holy fools” who “possess a primitive, almost prelapsarian goodness.” They’re also the ones most apt to speak up and say, “the emperor has no clothes!”
Source: In Character
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