Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Why so few Christians among the refugees?

November 21, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.  Source: Newsweek.

The Christian community in Syria dates back to the time of St. Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus.

Today the survival of Christianity in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries is under threat.  Syria has lost 700,000 Christians in the past five year, nearly two-thirds of its Christian population.  Iraq has lost more than a million Christians since the 2003 invasion.

The so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh) singles out Christians for beheading and rape.  It calls them “crusaders,” meaning that they are supposedly part of an age-old European invasion of the Middle East.  Yet Syria was a Christian country for centuries before Mohammad was even born.

20150327cover600x800revMany religious scholars fear for the survival of the ancient Christian communities in Syria and Iraq.  This is something new, not a centuries-old conflict.

Christians and Muslims mostly lived together in peace during the Arab Caliphates, the Ottoman Empire and European colonial rule, and, if there was persecution, it fell short of genocide.

Despite all this, there are relatively few Christians among the Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees knocking on the doors of Europe and the United States.

An estimated 10 percent of Syria’s population is Christian, yet they constitute only 2.5 percent of the Syrian applicants for asylum in Europe.   I would have expected more, if only because, unlike with Muslims, there are no predominantly Christian nations in the Middle East region.

I don’t think this is because of intentional discrimination.   Asylum seekers are screened in refugee camps, and Middle Eastern Christians reportedly are reluctant to enter refugee camps because of persecution and abuse by Muslim refugees.

Certain American and European politicians have called for asylum of Syrian refugees to be limited to Christians. [1]

Barring refugees solely on the  basis of religion is wrong and possibly a violation of international law.  But there surely is justification for an affirmative action program for some of the world’s most persecuted people.


The New Exodus: Christians Flee ISIS in the Middle East by Janine Di Giovanni and Conor Gaffey for Newsweek.

Syria’s Beleaguered Christians by the BBC.

Christian refugees discriminated against by US and UK governments by Harry Farley for Christianity Today.

Why So Few Syrian Christian Refugees by Jonathan Witt for The Stream.

Why the question of Christian vs. Muslim refugees has become so incredibly divisive by Michelle Boorstein for the Washington Post.


[1]  Actually, I think it would be a fine thing if Texas, Hungary or some other place became a haven for the world’s persecuted Christians.

ISIS law and Saudi law

November 21, 2015



The Shared History of Saudi Arabia and ISIS by Madawi Al-Rasheed for Hurst Publishers.

Crime and punishment: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Rori Donaghy and Mary Atkinson for Middle East Eye.

Inhuman Monsters: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.


The Jewish scene: November 6, 2015

November 6, 2015

These links are from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

THE Most Amazing Falafel Assembly OF ALL TIME    :-)

The Soldier Who Voluntarily Became A Prisoner in Auschwitz

[Not about Jews, but an interesting story nevertheless -M]

Hitler & the Muslims

[2 books reviewed from ‘The NY Review of Books’ -M]

She gives me partridges – Domineering, drunk, anti-Semitic: The composer Alma Mahler sought relationships with Jewish men.  She wanted to “improve” them

Preaching to the converted: how Kabbalah keeps on growing

This Day in History: October 30, 1944 – Margo and Anne

[The last days of the Frank sisters -M]


Will Russia take sides in Shiite-Sunni conflict?

October 22, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The Sunni-Shiite war is a tragedy, but it would burn itself out if Saudi Arabia and Iran were not using the two Islamic factions are proxies in their struggle for power in the Middle East.

The lineup is Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Turkey and the Sunni militias on the other.

The U.S. government has inflamed the conflict further by taking the side of Saudi Arabia.  This has undermined our “war on terror,” because Al Qaeda and ISIS are among the Saudi-backed Sunni militias warring against Syria.

Now Russia is befriending Iran and giving military assistance to Syria, and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq is thinking of calling in Russian help.  All this is in the name of fighting ISIS, which is a good thing, not a bad thing.  But if Russia is lining up permanently with Iran’s proxies against the U.S.-backed Saudi proxies, this is quite another thing.

A U.S.-Russian proxy conflict would increase human suffering in the Middle East, and be of no benefit to the American or Russian peoples  It would be dangerous for the world..  Washington should open negotiations with Moscow to keep the conflict from escalating further.


Isis in Iraq: Shia leaders want Russian air strikes against militant threat by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

The Return of the Syrian Army by Robert Fisk for The Independent (via Counterpunch)

Putin Forces Obama to Capitulate on Syria by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Seymour Hersh Report of False Flag Syrian Gas Attack by Peter Lee for China Matters.


Nationalism and religious fanaticism in Israel

October 16, 2015

Nationalism and religious fanaticism are a dangerous combination in any country.

It means that people worship their collective selves instead of a universal God, and regard rival nations as the equivalent of demons.

I hesitated to post this video because I don’t want to associate myself with the anti-Semites in the comment thread.  I have had many Jewish friends and acquaintances during my life, none of whom adhered to the theology described by the brave Israeli journalist Yossi Gurvitz.   I do not think that what he describes represents the best values of Judaism.

But I think what he describes is real, and should not be ignored in the name of tolerance.

I do not criticize Israeli policy from the standpoint of moral superiority.  I don’t think the Israeli government has done anything that the American government has not done.

Nationalism and religious fanaticism in India

October 16, 2015

Nationalism and religious fanaticism are a dangerous combination.

It means that people worship their collective selves instead of a universal God, and that they regard other people as the equivalent of demons.

Very few, if any, countries are immune from this danger—certainly not mine.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 735 other followers