Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Glimpses of Asia – October 1, 2015

October 1, 2015

Hat tip for these links to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

Go Delhi Go | Hyperlapse (2 min)

Colonial Photography in British India

Where Do Languages Go to Die? – The tale of Aramaic, a language that once ruled the Middle East and now faces extinction

Mount Everest to be declared off-limits to inexperienced climbers, says Nepal

Map: Where the East and the West meet

Zen and the Art of Bonsai Maintenance


How the USA got over being anti-Catholic

September 24, 2015

The most significant thing about Pope Francis’ address to Congress is that it happened.

During most of American history, a majority of Americans saw the Roman Catholic Church as an enemy of American freedom and democracy.   Persecution of Catholic immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s was worse than persecution of Muslim immigrants today.

Anti-Catholic cartoon from the 1850s

Anti-Catholic cartoon from the 1850s

This would be unthinkable today, and it reflects changes in both American public opinion and Vatican policy.

The Founders of the American republic defined themselves in opposition to the absolute monarchs of Europe.

The French Revolution was a revolution against the church as well as against the king and aristocracy, and, after the defeat of Napoleon, the Papacy aligned itself with the Holy Alliance, a union of Austria, Prussia, Russia to suppress any democratic uprising in Europe.

Vatican policy for more than a century was based on opposition to the legacy of the French Revolution, and, as a result, all revolutionary movements in Catholic countries were anti-clerical.

Catholics in Protestant countries were persecuted sometimes by law and almost always in public opinion.  Poor Catholic immigrants into the United States had equal legal rights, but in the early 19th century were targets of mob violence, both because they were poor and foreign and because they were regarded as proxies for the Vatican.


Bernie Sanders at Liberty University

September 15, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke yesterday at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., a conservative Christian college founded by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority movement.

Liberty University deserves credit for inviting Sanders, whose views on abortion, gay marriage and other subjects are opposed to what virtually call conservative Christians believe.

Sanders deserves credit for the respectful but unapologetic manner in which he addressed the students.   Often when politicians go before a potentially hostile audience, they either talk down to its members or insult them, but don’t make an effort to convince.

Judging by the look of the audience, I don’t think Sanders changed many minds.   Attendance at the student convocation was compulsory.  A few students cheered him loudly, but most listened in polite silence.

Rod Dreher, a writer and blogger for The American Conservative, said he wished the Republicans had a candidate like Sanders who was on the side of the common people, but socially conservative.

I would vote for such a candidate rather than a socially liberal candidate who is aligned with Wall Street, the energy industry and the military-industrial-surveillance complex.


Sabbath observance as a class privilege

September 6, 2015

I attend church almost every Sunday morning.  Not everybody is able to do this.

Nowadays many people are forced to work on Sunday mornings or work on flextime schedules so that they don’t know whether their Sunday mornings will be free or not.   And even more are unable to have an old-fashioned Sunday dinner with family or spend Sundays visiting relatives and family friends.

Closed-on-SundayI hadn’t given much thought to this until it was pointed out this Sunday morning by Peter House, who serves as summer minister at First Universalist Church of Rochester NY.

Peter grew up in one of those families of whom members say later, “We were poor, but we were happy, because we didn’t know we were poor.”  His mother was a poor widow who supported the family by working in a retail store.

When he was a boy, Sundays were spent going to church, visiting relatives, paying respects at the cemetery to deceased loved ones, and eating family meals.

This started to erode when he was in his early teens, with the repeal of the Sunday blue laws and the coming of big box retail stores.   Churches adapted by holding multiple Sunday services and even Saturday evening services, but it was no long possible for his family to count on all being together at the same time on Sunday.  His mother was sometimes free on Sunday mornings, but no longer could be sure of knowing when.

Traditional holidays are being broken down as well.  Black Friday means that store employees have to cut short their Thanksgiving in order to be read to open at 5 a.m. or even midnight.  Now Walmart opens all day on Thanksgiving.

Peter’s weekday job is teacher of special needs children.  As part of an effort to teach social skills to children, he once talked to six of his students about Thanksgiving.  Five of the six had mothers who had to work on Thanksgiving Day.   Some of them didn’t know what a traditional Thanksgiving meal consisted of.  One thought Thanksgiving dinner was hot dogs cut up into macaroni and cheese.

The teachers’ aides at his school, many of them women of color, have to moonlight at other jobs, often big-box retailers.   Many miss not being able to cook holiday meals for their families.  But the reality of employment in 21st century America is that they can’t.


The cruel logic of treating abortion as murder

September 1, 2015

For a long time the leaders of the Republican Party have said that “abortion is murder,” but, until now, they haven’t meant this literally.

130306_prolife_abortion_605_reutAll the Republican presidential candidates from George H.W. Bush to Mitt Romney have opposed abortion, but made exceptions, such as for women who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest.

No such exception would be allowed by Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, Rand Paul or Mike Huckabee, according to a report by Thomas B. Edsall of the New York Times.

If you honestly believe that abortion is murder, it is logical to say, as Huckabee did, that friends of a 10-year-old girl in Paraguay who became pregnant after being raped by her step-father has no more right to commit murder than anybody else.

Edsall noted that the top 15 Republican candidates, including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, all agree that life begins at conception.  This sounds strict to me, but Edsall pointed out that, to some of the most powerful anti-abortion groups, it is not enough.  To these groups, life begins at fertilization.

The difference is that conception begins when the fertilized egg is implanted in the womb.  Most fertilized eggs fail to be implanted.

The importance of this difference is that the “morning after” birth control pill works by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg.   Experts disagree on whether IUDs prevent implantation of fertilized eggs.   Extremist anti-abortionists think such forms of birth control are the same as abortion.


Reinhold Niebuhr on optimism and pessimism

August 9, 2015

An adequate religion is always an ultimate optimism which has entertained all the facts which lead to pessimism.
                  ==Reinhold Niebuhr

The passing scene – August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015

These are links to interesting articles I’ve come across in the past day or so.  I may add links during the day.  Please feel free to make general or off-topic comments.

Coyotes in New York and Chicago by Lance Richardson for Slate. now inhabit New York, Chicago and other big American cities.  Lance Richardson thinks they may well fit the urban and suburban environment better than the rural environment.

Coyotes eat rats and mice.  They eat feral cats, which prey on songbirds.  In suburbs, where hunters are forbidden to discharge firearms, they keep the deer population down.

Farmers and ranchers kill coyotes because coyotes destroy poultry and livestock.  But in cities and suburbs, most pets and other domestic animals are locked up, and coyotes survive by eating vermin.

Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy by Catherine Brahic for New Scientist.

Scientists have discovered bacteria that eat and breathe electrons, and they can be found nearly everywhere.  All life and all chemical reactions are based on a flow of electrons, but these bacteria survive on electricity in its purest form.

Kropotkin on the Hudson by Polly Howells for In These Times.

Members of the Long Spoon Collective in Saugerties, New York, try to live by the anarchist values of voluntary sharing.   I highly approve of what they’re attempting and wish them well.  I’m not sure such communities can work without extra-ordinary dedication, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.  I don’t have it in me to live as they do myself.


Loving your neighbor as yourself

August 2, 2015

If someone has to agree with your theological system in order to agree that what you are doing is “love,” then you are not loving your neighbor as yourself.

via Storied Theology.

Racial diversity and American religion

August 2, 2015


We Unitarian Universalists value diversity and try to welcome all people, regardless of race.  So why are we so much more racially homogeneous than the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

I think the reason is that the intensity of the Adventists’ and Witnesses’ belief in their dogmas makes other considerations, such as race, unimportant.  The same thing is true of the Bahai.

We UUs are a big tent in terms of religious belief (even if relatively few people are under it).  But a non-creedal religion is something that college-educated white people tend to want more than people of other ethnicities and backgrounds do.

Should we give up our distinctive trait in order to broaden our appeal?  I don’t think that anybody—white or black—would want to affiliate with a group of people who are embarrassed about what they are.

One question that this chart raises is whether diversity within groups is compatible with diversity among groups.

I wouldn’t want to see the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the National Baptist Convention give up their identity as black churches.  And I don’t see how you could have a strong AME Church if the United Methodists recruited a large number of their members.

Likewise, it may be the case that the Missouri Synod Lutherans or the Evangelical Lutheran Church have traditions thjat are more meaningful to Germans or German-Americans than to the general public..

Religion is supposed to express universal values, but these values are rooted in particular heritages.  Get rid of these heritages and there might not be much left.


The most and least racially diverse U.S. religious groups by Pew Research.

A nun on the meaning of being “pro-life”

July 31, 2015

Slide1_3Source: Daily Kos.

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Nothing in this statement implies that Sister Joan Chittister supports the pro-choice movement.  Rather she indicates where pro-choicers and pro-lifers ought to agree..

The biggest book in the world

July 24, 2015

largest book 1Source: Kuriositas.

The biggest book in the world is an edition of the Pali Canon, a scripture of Theravada Buddhism, inscribed on marble by order of King Mindon of Burma in 1860.

Located in Mandalay, it consists of 1,640 marble pages, each 3.5 feet wide, 5 feet tall and 5 inches thick, sheltered by its own pagoda, and arranged around the central golden Kuthodaw Pagoda.  Only one page is devoted to King Mindon’s own deeds.

The project was completed and opened to the public in 1868.   Tended by Buddhist monks, it is still visited by pilgrims and tourists.

King Mindon believed that books were the most valuable creation of civilization, and he hoped his edition of the Pali Canon would last 5,000 years.


Life under the Islamic State

July 10, 2015


Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine has published a grim and terrifying account of life under the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh).

It reminds me of reports of life in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War or in the USSR under Stalin’s terror.

I think that U.S. efforts against ISIS will be futile so long as they are conditional—that is, conditional on not doing anything to offend Saudi Arabia or help Iran or Syria.

Iran and Syria are not democracies, nor was Libya before the overthrow of Qaddafi, but in these countries it was possible for a normal person to lead a normal life without day-to-day horrors.

The result of destruction of Libya, the proxy war in Syria and any attack on Iran are to create conditions of lawless violence from which movements such as ISIS can emerge.


Reports of Everyday Life Under the Islamic State by Uwe Buse and Katrin Kunz for Spiegel Online.

Thoughts on marriage and gay marriage

July 5, 2015
The last statement presumably was on June 24, 2015

The last statement was on June  24, 2015 (not August)

Hat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

There are lessons in this chart for people who advocate social change, and that is to never think that electing a particular politician is enough, and especially to never settle for the lesser of two evils.

I respect the gay rights movement for pressing relentlessly for social change and especially for withholding support for politicians who do not support their agenda.

The labor movement can learn from this.  Of course the gay rights movement had an easier task because its goals do not threaten any powerful monied interests.


An American Imam fights ISIS propaganda

June 20, 2015

ThinkProgress had a good article about how a sensible American Imam explained to Muslim teenagers that the Islamic State’s propaganda is contrary to the authoritative teachings and the historic practice of Islam.

When people are ignorant of their own religion, they are vulnerable to those who try to sell them a twisted version of it.   The best cure for ignorance is accurate knowledge.

The disturbing thing to me about the article is that Imam Mohamid Magid’s effort is necessary in the first place.  It is disturbing that ISIS has such a big presence on American social media.  The New York Times reported that ISIS sends out an estimated 500 million messages a day via 46,000 Twitter accounts.

It also is disturbing that ISIS propaganda has an impact.  I can understand radical Muslim movements with grievances against the United States, Israel and other Western countries.  I do not volunteer to become a victim of such movements, nor advocate that others do so, but they are understandable in a way that ISIS is not.

The primary targets of ISIS are other Muslims and harmless religious minorities who have been living in peace in majority-Muslim countries, and the images that ISIS broadcasts of be-headings and burnings are manifestations of sadistic cruelty.  This is very hard to understand.

U.S. government officials estimate that 150 young Americans have gone or tried to go to Syria to join ISIS, the New York Times reported.  Imam Magid said some of them were no doubt mentally ill, and I’m sure that is true.

Eric Hoffer pointed out years ago in his book, The True Believer, that people who join extremist mass movements are not those who are rooted in a traditional religion, but people who are uprooted from their culture and desperately need something to give them sense of meaning and belonging.


How This Imam Has Kept Americans From Joining the Islamic State by Igor Volsky and Victoria Fleischer for ThinkProgress.

U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS’ Recruiting Machine by Laurie Goodstein for the New York Times.

The amazing colors of China’s Buddhist temples

June 13, 2015
Monks in Kandze monastery in Ganzi, China

Monks in Kandze monastery in Ganzi, China

chengduWhen a photographer named Colin Miller visited Chengdu, China, he was struck by the colorful beauty of the nearby Buddhist temples and monasteries.  He spent two and a half weeks traveling through small towns in Sichuan province, taking pictures.

My expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack, who called my attention to these photographs, said many of these temples are Tibetan, or at least are dedicated to the school of Buddhism found in Tibet.

The lavish beauty shown in these photos is a contrast to the austere beauty of Zen temples and gardens in Japan.   Any religion that can inspire such beauty must have something good about it.


Monasteries of Ladakh

June 8, 2015

I like time-lapse videos.  They show me the world in a unique way.

I got a link to this one from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack C.

Ladakh is the northernmost region of India.  It is part of Kashmir, high in the Himalayas and close to the Chinese border.  According to Wikipedia, it is inhabited mainly by Shia Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, who live in peace—most of the time.

Pro-science religion and anti-science religion

May 27, 2015


What this chart indicates is that the big religious split in the United States is not between Protestants and Catholics, or among Christians, Jews and Muslims, but between pro-science religion and anti-science religion.

This chart is based on a 2007 survey by Pew Research.  It will be interesting to see if the 2014 survey is significantly different.


Evolution, Science and Religion by Josh Rosenau for the Science League of America.

Our new pro-science pontiff: Pope Francis on climate change, evolution and the Big Bang by Chris Mooney for the Washington Post.

What went wrong in Afghanistan

May 19, 2015

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who makes connections that other people don’t see.

In his new documentary, Bitter Lake, he shows how Afghanistan has been a focal point of a three-way struggle among Anglo-American capitalism, Soviet Communism and Saudi Arabia’s radical extremist Wahhabist Islam.

While Soviet Communism has collapsed and Anglo-American capitalism is in crisis, Wahhabism is spreading and growing stronger.

Curtis doesn’t offer a policy for dealing with Wahhabism, but his documentary shows that mere firepower is not the answer, nor is providing money and weapons to prop up corrupt warlords and governments.   The First Rule of Holes applies: When you’re in one, stop digging.

The embedded YouTube video above is a history teacher’s abridgment of Bitter Lake which covers all the main points.  Click on Bitter Lake if you want to see the full version or if the embedded video doesn’t work.

The USA’s Christian majority is shrinking

May 13, 2015

PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310pxAlthough there are more avowed Christians in the United States than in any other country, the U.S. Christian majority in the United States is shrinking, Pew Research Center reports.

About 5 million fewer Americans identified themselves as Christians in 2014 than in 2007, and the percentage of self-identified Christians declined by nearly 8 percentage points.

The decline was most noticeable in the Millennial generation—those born in the period from 1981 to 1996.   Only 56 percent of this group identified themselves as Christian in Pew’s 2014 poll.

Evangelical Protestants are the strongest segment of American Christianity.  They grew in absolute numbers from 2007 and 2014, and declined only slightly as a percentage of the U.S. population.

But they are growing at a less rapid rate that the religiously unaffiliated.  And growth in that segment comes from the “nothing in particular” group, not the avowed atheists or agnostics.   I suppose this includes a lot of people who say they are spiritual, but not religious.

I don’t claim to know why this is so.

I can think of possible reasons.  One is the sexual revolution and the decline in the belief that marriage is a sacrament received through a church wedding.  Another is the growing awareness that scientific belief is incompatible with the literal belief in the Bible.  A third is the identification of Christianity in the public mind with conservative politics.  The so-called religious right, which is strongest among evangelical Protestants, is a backlash against these trends.

I would be interested in your thoughts.

For the full Pew report, click on America’s Changing Religious Landscape.


Beautiful mosques of Shiraz, Iran

May 10, 2015
Interior of Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran

Interior of Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran

More photographs can be seen on this Slate web site.

Courtyard of Nasir al Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran

Courtyard of Nasir al Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran

When I look at these, I think about the devotion and care that went into creating so much beauty.

Prayer hall of Vaki mosques in Shiraz, Iran

Prayer hall of Vaki mosque in Shiraz, Iran

Source: Atlas Obscura via Slate.

Religious extremists warp U.S. policy on Israel

April 29, 2015

Many of us Americans distrust the Iranians because we think of them as apocalyptic religious fanatics who can’t be trusted to behave rationally.   We ought to look at the apocalyptic religious fanatics in our own midst—and in Israel.

These are the evangelical Christian Zionists such as John Hagee and Pat Robertson who say that the United States should give unconditional support to Israel because Biblical prophecies say the foundation of Israel is part of God’s plan.

-1x-1A recent Bloomberg poll indicated that 46 percent of Americans—and 58 percent of American born-again Christians—believe that the United States should support Israel even when it is not in the American national interest.

Now there is a sense in which I believe this myself.  I think it was right for the U.S. government in the 1970s to send aid to Israel when Israel was in danger of being wiped out, even though the United States lost some geopolitical advantage by doing so.  This is a different thing from saying today that the United States should attack Iran for Israel’s benefit.

It is also a different thing from Mitt Romney saying in 2012 that Americans should not allow any “daylight” between American foreign policy and Israel’s.  Or Ted Cruz a few months ago making support for Israel a litmus test for persecuted Middle Eastern Christians.


Yemen intervention is dangerous for the US

April 21, 2015

The U.S. government should beware of being drawn into the conflict in Yemen.

The fight among Shiite Houthi militia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the government of Yemen are part of a wider Middle East conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.


Source: Zero Hedge.  Click to enlage.

That religious conflict is overlaid with a conflict between two alliances of Middle East powers—Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Shiite militias on the one hand, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, the Sunni militias in Iraq and Syria and Turkey, with Israel as a silent partner, on the other.

Washington sides with Saudi Arabia and Israel.  I have come to realize that sanctions against Iran were never about the imaginary danger of nuclear weapons, but to keep Iran weak.   Now Iran has found an ally in Putin’s Russia.

This is a highly dangerous situation.  National governments are keeping the religious wars going by sending arms and money to the different religious factions.  But religious wars are not controllable.  Being drawn in to these wars serves no national interest of the United States, does not benefit the people of the region and puts the American people at risk of being drawn into a wider war.

The USA has had a strange relationship with Iran during the past 35 years.  While waging economic war against Iran, the U.S. government strengthened Iran’s position by defeating its main enemies, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.  A defeat of ISIS would further strengthen Iran.

By agreeing to end sanctions, the Obama administration appeared to accept Iran as a major power in the Middle East.  Now Obama is sending warships to checkmate Iranian power.

I’m by no means an expert on the religious and cultural geography of the Middle East, but I don’t see this ending well.


The magnificence of baroque churches

April 5, 2015
Cathedral of Saint Francis, Quito, Ecuador

Cathedral of Saint Francis, Quito, Ecuador

These photographs of Baroque churches in Europe and Latin America were taken by Cyril Porchet as part of a book entitled Seduction.

You don’t have to be a Catholic or even a Christian to appreciate the love, talent and hard work that went into creating such beauty.

Asam Church in Munich, Germany

Asam’s Church in Munich, Germany


Are we governed by the electorate or by CEOs?

April 4, 2015

Indiana’s quick modification of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act shows much clout corporate CEOs have when a state government does something that displeases them.

jm040315_COLOR_GOP_Business_Religious_FreedomMany of us liberals worry about the power of the so-called religious right.  But what happened in Indiana shows who holds the real power.

I’m glad the law was modified.  I think it went beyond the legitimate purpose of not forcing people to support or participate in religious rites they don’t believe in.  But I’m not happy about how easily CEOs of large corporations can force elected officials to cave in when they displease the CEOs.

Of course there’s no way of knowing whether the CEOs were bluffing or making symbolic gestures or threatening to do things they were planning to do anyway.  I doubt that institutional investors would tolerate a CEO doing something that would reduce profits just for reasons of personal conviction.


A CEO champions gays (and CEOcracy): “The Party of CEOs” is emerging by Steve Sailer for the Unz Review.

The Hypocrisy of Mark Benioff and Co. by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Should Mon and Pops That Forgo Gay Weddings Be Destroyed? by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.

Indiana and the Constitution by Andrew Napolitano for the Unz Review.  Why the law needed to be changed.


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