6/25/2008 10:43:02 AM
Catholics are no strangers to schisms, but breaking secular ties is proving tricky, reports the Catholic newsweekly America (subscription required). When Amnesty International announced its policy supporting the worldwide decriminalization of abortion in August 2007, affiliated Catholic chapters had to decide whether the nonprofit’s work against torture and the death penalty outweighed its stance on abortion.
Unsurprisingly, America found that many Catholic chapters disaffiliated from Amnesty International. “It’s disappointing,” says Monsignor Robert McClory, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Detroit. “On particular cases, we can work together. But the kind of in-depth collaborative work of the past would be stifled by the decision they’ve taken.”
In spite of the controversial policy, some social justice–minded Catholics are finding it difficult to abandon Amnesty International's work completely. Notre Dame’s campus chapter changed its name to “Human Rights Notre Dame” but continues to rely on information from Amnesty’s “Urgent Action” alerts. Across the Atlantic, the predominantly Catholic Amnesty Northern Ireland has struggled with breaking ties, reports Ireland’s public service broadcaster RTÉ, and is considering letting Catholic schools re-join Amnesty International if they can be sure funds raised won’t help support abortion.
Catholic human rights groups may continue to seek new affiliations. America speculates that some may look to abortion-neutral human rights organizations such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
Image by Takoma Bibelot, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/23/2008 8:56:26 AM
Teeming with Buddhist reflections on the modern world, the Mindfulness Bell, encourages readers to “dwell deeply in the present moment, to be aware of what is going on within and around us.”
Buddhist incantations are rife throughout the magazine: “Breathing in, I see the goodness inside of you. Breathing out, I smile at your goodness." But plenty of the articles will be relevant to anyone who thinks, or would like to think, spiritually about current events and world affairs.
The Summer issue includes a feature section on the aftermath of war, with personal narratives that address issues ranging from the responsibility for the war in Iraq to recounting the effects of post-traumatic stress and drug addiction. In an essay inspired by his first visit to Vietnam years after the war, Brian McNaught describes his difficult choice to become conscientious objector, and why young people today aren’t faced with the same involvement in the war in Iraq.
For readers already geared up for Buddhism in practice, each issue features the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The Summer issue also has a great section on spirituality for children, including a dharma talk directed to youth and activities to involve little ones in the pursuit of mindfulness.
Sustaining your newly achieved multi-level awareness may be difficult, however, since the Mindfulness Bell is published only three times a year. Breathing in, I see the motivation in you. Breathing out, I smile at your motivation.
6/20/2008 12:06:24 PM
Cosmic forces are combining in strange and astrologically stressful ways leading up to the 2008 election, Barry Orr writes for Reality Sandwich. On election day, November 4, 2008, Saturn and Uranus will be in direct opposition with each other. Saturn is a force for conservatism, according to Orr, while Uranus is a force for reform. Having these two planets 180 degrees apart from the earth, as they will be on election day, could be cataclysmic. Orr suggests a number of astrologically possible situations:
1. “The election will be postponed or canceled due to some ‘national emergency.’”
2. “One or more candidates will leave the race.”
3. “There will be rampant fraud or data foul-ups on Election Day, and yet another election will be stolen.”
The fates laid out by Orr and other astrologers aren’t deterministic. There were, however, a number of prescient political readings made by astrologers before. Orr gives the example of astrologer Jim Shawvan, who predicted before the 2000 election:
The election may be so close in some states that it may be several days before the actual electoral college votes can be tallied with accuracy. This could involve the counting of absentee ballots, and possible charges of fraud or irregularities in some places. As of election night, it may look very much like a Bush victory, but uncertainty may develop as the count goes on.
6/20/2008 12:04:40 PM
Outsiders sometimes pejoratively refer to Hasidim as “black-hatters” or “penguins,” in reference to the Orthodox men’s old-fashioned, black-and-white garb. Colorless though their clothes may be, the Jewish student magazine New Voices points out that subtle variations exist among the wardrobes of Hasidic sects. New Voices provides a taxonomy, not a trend report—after all, most of the fashions are deliberate hold-outs from another century on another continent. If you’re still tempted to label Hasidim “penguins” after reading this fashion primer, New Voices tries a new tack: “Penguins? Maybe. But penguins as differentiated as the Macaroni, the Emperor, the Humboldt, and the Gentoo.”
6/17/2008 4:58:57 PM
Although he’s still on John McCain’s short list, revelations that Bobby Jindal took part in an unconventional exorcism ceremony must have hurt the Louisiana governor’s chances at the vice presidential nod. Jindal wrote about his exorcism experience in 1994 for the New Oxford Review, a Roman Catholic magazine. In the article, deconstructed on the Daily Kingfish blog, Jindal describes a formative religious experience where a number of students laid hands on a young woman who tried to escape, but was restrained by the students who forced her to read passages from the bible. “The essay raises more questions than answers,” according to the Daily Kingfish, “and many of these questions are uncomfortable.”
Part of the discomfort stems from the fact that exorcisms in America are often confined to the movies. In Germany, however, exorcisms are experiencing a revival in popularity, according to an article from the British Times Online. The German Catholic Church has shied away from exorcisms since 1973, when a 23-year-old woman was killed during an exorcism ceremony. Today, the Times reports that hundreds Germans are turning to find exorcists abroad, where cultures are more accepting of the pracitce. In Italy, for example, the Times estimates that there are some 300 trained exorcists.
“To the people who come to see me, I first advise them to go see a doctor or a psychologist,” the official exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, Father Gabriele Amorth, told the Spanish newspaper La Razon, but there are still enough possessed people to keep him busy. At 82 years old, Amorth has performed an estimated 70,000 exorcisms in his lifetime, he continues to work seven days each week, and his schedule is full for the next two months. Amorth also gave some insight into the roll of exorcisms in politics, telling La Razon, “the devil likes to take over those that hold political positions.”
6/17/2008 2:08:05 PM
The end of the world has cinematic appeal. Big-budget films like Armageddon or Children of Men have shown that the destruction of civilization can provide the plot for some great and some terrible cinematic events. Beliefnet has a list of their top 10 apocalyptic movies, adding how the plots relate to Revelation or other end-times stories. The website also has a breakdown of eschatology in 10 different religions, including Buddhist, Mormon, and Hopi end-times beliefs.
6/17/2008 12:47:09 PM
It’s hallelujah-worthy: a thoughtful argument for abandoning single-issue voting. Catholics should examine all of a candidate’s stances regarding “intrinsic evils,” writes theology professor Gerald J. Beyer for Commonweal, not simply his or her voting record on abortion. “In the U.S. political context, where no candidate perfectly mirrors Catholic teaching on issues such as abortion, war, stem-cell research, poverty, discrimination, gay marriage, and immigration, voting should be a difficult matter of conscience for Catholics,” writes Beyer.
Instead of automatically supporting John McCain as the stronger anti-abortion candidate, Beyer advises Catholics to look at a range of domestic and foreign policy issues before deciding which candidate acts more in accordance with Catholic values. “Not only is Obama’s position on the war and his strategy to end it more consonant with Catholic teaching,” writes Beyer, “but his vision for the place of the United States in the international community much more closely resembles modern papal teaching on international relations.”
Beyer urges Catholics to consider supporting Obama, even though he doesn't encourage them to accept Obama’s pro-choice position. Instead, Beyer writes that Catholic Obama endorsers “should strongly encourage him to take steps to limit the evil of abortion.”
6/17/2008 12:37:30 PM
Spanish photographer Fèlix Curto's latest exhibit, “Heart of Gold: Visits to the Mennonite communities in America,” on display at La Fábrica Galería in Madrid, is the result of a number of visits to traditional Mennonite communities. The website We Make Money Not Art showcases the photographer's work, some of which could reinforce the popular perception of Mennonites as luddites who live apart from modern society. Comments on the site point out that the people represented are a small subset of a larger Mennonite population that has otherwise integrated itself into mainstream, modern life. Still, Curto’s photographs display a beautiful, almost surreal austerity: Mr. Soul (seen left), for example, depicts a farmer whose weathered face emanates strength and rectitude against a wide-open sky.
Image by Fèlix Curto, courtesy of La Fábrica Galería.
6/16/2008 1:15:27 PM
The people behind church lawn signs, much like drivers with political bumper stickers, seem to be mixing two very different motivations: On one hand, the signs and the stickers are designed to broadcast a message to others driving by. However, since people are rarely swayed by something read while passing at 30 miles per hour, the messages seem more self-serving. Duncan Nicholls, writing a reader-contributed sermon for the irreverent Christian magazine Geez, explores the motivations behind Christian lawn signs, and comes up with an idea for one sign that could actually get him to walk inside. I’d repeat the message here, but the language is a bit harsh for the purposes of this blog.
6/10/2008 12:19:33 PM
“Most Asian American Christians are conservative,” begins Bruce Reyes-Chow in Asian Week. Reyes-Chow describes the similarities between “traditional Asian values” and conservative Christian values, both of which esteem hard work, the family before the individual, and obedience to the authority of elders. “If this does not describe you as a person of faith,” Reyes-Chow writes, anticipating his detractors, “please save the hate mail for another day.” He promises a taxonomy of progressive Asian American Christians in a June issue of Asian Week.
His generalizations set off a storm of comments. In a response to the article, Calvin Chen wrote that Reyes-Chow oversimplified the situation, failing to "distinguish between theological, cultural, and political conservatism." Chen attempted to offer a more nuanced reason why Asian Americans Christians might be thought of as more conservative:
Theologically, Asian American Christians are overwhelmingly conservative (evangelical or fundamentalist) because liberal Christianity has little to no evangelistic drive and Asians are not historically Christian — therefore Asian Americans who are Christian are recent (relatively speaking) converts to a theologically conservative faith.
Image by Shubert Ciencia, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/8/2008 4:33:22 PM
Images of nuns in popular culture often involve austere older women, lording over classrooms of inattentive young children. That stereotype is not always undeserved, in a country where the average age of nuns is 70 years old. The Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia, however, are changing the face of convents in America, Betty Rollin reported in February for the Religion and Ethics Newsweekly show on PBS. The Nashville, Tennessee-based convent has an average age of 36, and their numbers are growing. Influenced by the former pope John Paul II, a new generation of young women are embracing the ultra-conservative lifestyle practiced by the convent, including days that start at 5 am, meals held in silence, and, of course, strict vows of celibacy.
6/5/2008 4:56:36 PM
When the National Geographic Society published a long-lost text dubbed The Gospel of Judas back in 2006, news of the book made headlines in most major newspapers. Based on a codex roughly 1,700 years old and translated in secret by a group of scholars that National Geographic called a “dream team,” the book portrayed Judas Iscariot as a trusted friend of Jesus, rather than the evil betrayer he’s thought to be.
In the two years since the book was published, Thomas Bartlett reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education that a shadow of doubt has been cast on The Gospel of Judas. Serious errors were made in the translation of the text. For example, Jesus refers to Judas as “daimon,” a word the National Geographic team translated as “spirit.” Other scholars have called that into question, translating the word as “daemon,” reinforcing traditional views of Judas as evil. April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times accusing the National Geographic team of errors that bordered on fraud. She asked of the mistranslations, “Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on?”
Today, The Gospel of Judas is still causing fractures within religious scholarly communities. Members of the so-called “dream team” have even begun to question the work they signed their names to. Some accuse others of bullying them into publishing, while others hurl accusations of profiteering. Bartlett reports that the controversy continues to cause “some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed.”
6/5/2008 12:49:47 PM
Barack Obama will continue to face challenges in his occasionally troubled relationship with religion in America—from the Reverend Wright fracas to the (howlingly inaccurate yet maddeningly persistent) rumor that he is a Muslim—Bruce Feiler writes for Beliefnet. In “More Moses, Please, Mr. Obama,” Feiler draws analogies between Moses, “who created the template for how to escape from slavery,” America’s fraught racial history, and Obama’s promise as a reconciler in racial and religious arenas. “At times [Obama] has made his debt to Moses public” with subtle religious language, but Feiler argues that the newly minted Democratic presidential candidate could afford to make Biblical imagery even more overt without alienating his secular followers. It’s an interesting idea for the next phase of Obama’s campaign: a forward-looking prescription for how the candidate might navigate race and faith, two issues that have both plagued and invigorated his campaign.
6/4/2008 4:32:58 PM
The term tikkun olam, translating from Hebrew as “repairing the world,” has become the spiritual equivalent of a cliché. In a paper for the Jewish Funds for Justice (pdf), Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes that the idea behind tikkun olam has merged with “tzedakah (financial support of the poor), g’milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), and tzedek (justice).” It has also become a catch-all phrase for progressive values, divorced from religion. Many believe that this has distorted the phrase, depriving it of all meaning. In fact, Jacobs reports that “some Jewish social justice activists and thinkers have moved away from using the term at all.” Instead of abandoning the term all together, Jacobs proposes a new definition that would fuse different Jewish traditions concerning tikkun olam, without losing its real-world uses.
6/4/2008 10:56:03 AM
A lot of ink has been spilled over recent experiments that study religious experiences using brain scanners. Brendan Mackie wrote about the experiments back in 2007 for Utne.com. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about how neuroscience will “not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going to end up challenging faith in the Bible.”
Brooks’ assertion is entirely backwards, according to Kelly Bulkeley, writing for the Immanent Frame religion blog. Since religious experiences have differed drastically in the brain scans, depending on the person and the religion, Bulkeley writes that neuroscience will likely undermine people’s faith in a monotheistic God, favoring a more polytheistic view of religion. It will, however, reaffirm the importance of the Bible as “a valuable collection of teachings about history, morality, and collective meaning-making.”
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