Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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.

LINKS

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.

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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

evo_env-relig3_0

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.

LINKS

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.

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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.

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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.

sunnishiitemap5_0

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.

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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

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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.

LINKS

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.

Garry Wills: The Pope Is a Christian!

April 3, 2015

Garry Wills wrote in the New York Review of Books that contrary to appearances, Pope Francis is popular with the Catholic laity.  A Pew poll indicates that 90 percent of Catholics approve of the Pope’s statements, and 95 percent of the Catholics who are most observant.

What makes Pope Francis controversial, Wills wrote, is that he follows the teachings of Jesus.  In fact, he said, the Pope, in his preaching of charity to the poor, is less radical than Jesus, who said it was harder for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Perhaps it is wrong to think of a “Catholic right” and a “Catholic left.” It may be more fitting to think of the former as the defenders of Dives, or the Pharisees who do not want people to eat with Jesus, or the flushers of the homeless, or the priestly Levites, or the prodigal’s elder brother—while their opposites are the lovers of Lazarus, or the sinners who eat with Jesus, or the bedroll people, or the “outcast” Samaritan, or the prodigal’s father.  These are the two forms of Christianity now on offer.  Let Catholics make their choice.

via The New York Review of Books.

Gay marriage and religious liberty

March 31, 2015

Marriage is both a legal contract and a religious sacrament.   The dual nature of marriage makes it a more complicated question than, say, voting rights.

same sex weddingNobody should be denied access to the benefits of the marriage contract based on race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.  Gay married couples should have the same rights as any other couples in regard to pensions, insurance, credit, hospital visitation or anything else.

Neither should anybody be required to support or participate in a religious ritual they don’t believe in, for the same reason that nobody should be required to recite the Lord’s Prayer in a public ceremony if they don’t believe in it.

For example, an independent photographer who believes on religious grounds that marriage is only between a man and a woman should not be required to take photographs as a gay wedding.

I think that religious institutions should be free to set their own internal rules of moral conduct, including sexual conduct.

On the other hand, I do not believe that owners of a business corporation have the right to impose their private moral beliefs on employees, or to use religion as an excuse for depriving employees of their legal rights, as was done by the Hobby Lobby corporation.

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Strong opposition to Darwinism in Israel

March 30, 2015

evolution-views

The United States is exceptional among economically-advanced nations in the large percentage of the population who reject Darwin’s theory of evolution.

But the USA has a partner in this respect.  A large percentage of the population of Israel also reject evolution.

us_il_evo3

Religious fundamentalists—that is, those who believe that Scripture should be taken as literal fact as well as teaching a lesson—are strong in both countries, and are politically allied to right-wing nationalists.

Right-wing nationalism is not inherent in religious fundamentalism.  The Old Order Amish are fundamentalists.  But when fundamentalism and nationalism are allied, they make a powerful and dangerous force, because the nation and its military are treated as if they are sacred.

The Likud Party in Israel is close to the Republican Party in the United States, in spite of the fact that most Jewish citizens in the United States support the Democrats.

I believe that is because the Likud supporters and Republicans have an affinity in their leaders’ assertive nationalism and in their appeal to religious fundamentalist voters.   The majority of Jewish people in the United States, on the other hand, are liberal humanitarians who accept the conclusions of modern science.

LINKS

In Israel, Will Creationists Reign? by Josh Rosenau for the Science League of America.

A Shande Vor De Goyim: Israelis Are as Creationist as U.S. Non-Jews by Josh Rosenau for the Science League of America.

Israeli politicians views on evolution: more waffling and denialism by Jerry Coyne.

The silence of the religious liberals

March 8, 2015

Public opinion polls show there are as many Americans who call themselves religious liberals as who call themselves religious conservatives.

Yet religion has come to be identified with conservatism, and liberalism has come to be identified with atheism and recularism.

Paul Rasor

Paul Rasor

Paul Rasor in his book, RECLAIMING PROPHETIC WITNESS: Liberal Religion in the Public Square (2012), blames the timidity of religious liberals.

We religious liberals don’t always preach what we practice, and this is especially true of us Unitarian Universalists, the quintessential religious liberals.

Rasor, who is a professor of religion and a UU himself, said religious liberals are shy about expressing our religious values in public.  When we take a stand on a public issue, our rhetoric is no different from any progressive or civil rights group.  We argue on practical, legal and ethical grounds, but not on religious grounds—unlike our counterparts on the religious right.

Why is this?

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