Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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.

(more…)

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

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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 Creationists 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?

(more…)

Muslim scholars say ‘Islamic State’ is un-Islamic

February 24, 2015

 Last September more than 120 well-known Muslim scholars wrote an open letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the self-declared “Islamic state,” and his followers rebutting their claim to represent Islam.

This is old news, but it is new to me.

These scholars included Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

In Islam, there is no equivalent of a Pope or a church council that can rule authoritatively on religious doctrine.

Instead Islamic rulers are expected to conform to the teachings of religious scholars, when these scholars are all agreed.  So this letter is as authoritative as it gets in Islam.

∞∞∞

Here is the executive summary of the letter, translated from Arabic into English.

1.  It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements.  Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts.  It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter.  In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.

2.  It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.

3.  It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.

4.  It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.

5.  It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.

6.  It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.

7.  It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.

8.  Jihad in Islam is defensive war.  It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.

9.  It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.

10.  It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.

11.  It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.

12.  The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.

13.  It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.

14.  It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.

15.  It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.

16.  It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy.

17.  It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.

18.  It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.

19.  It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.

20. It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.

21.  Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.

22.  It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.

23.  Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.

24.  After the death of the Prophet, Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.

Muslims believe the Qu’ran (Koran) is a transcription of God’s revelation to Mohammad.  The Hadith are sayings of Mohammad.   Shari’ah is Islamic law, and a fatwa is a ruling under Islamic law.

LINKS

Muslim Scholars Release Open Letter To Islamic State Meticulously Blasting Its Ideology by Lauren Markoe for Religion News Service.  (Hat tip to Jack Clontz)

English translation of the complete Open Letter to al-Baghdadi.

 

Is the Islamic State contrary to Islam?

February 20, 2015

Is the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) un-Islamic, as President Obama has said?  Or can we best understand the Islamic State as part of Islam as a whole?

It’s not for me, or for President Obama, to say who is a true Muslim and who isn’t.  But the facts are that the vast majority of Muslims, including those who think it is right and just to kill blasphemers who insult Islam, are horrified by the killing of harmless people.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600The reaction of the Iranian ayatollahs to the 9/11 attacks is a case in point.  In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini called upon all Muslims to kill the author Salman Rushdie for his allegedly blasphemous depiction of Mohammad in his novel, The Satanic Verses. 

But in 2001, his successor, Ayatollah Khameni, strongly condemned the Al Qaeda’s attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  Apparently, for him, suppressing blasphemy is one thing and killing the innocent quite another.

I of course condemn blasphemy laws and fatwas against alleged blasphemers.  At the same time I can understand the distinction.

Graeme Wood wrote an enlightening and frightening article in the March issue of The Atlantic on the apocalyptic religious reliefs of the Islamic State, but falls for their claim that they represent a more authentic version of Islam than that held by the vast majority of Muslims.

Mohammad was a warrior as well as a prophet, but neither he or his immediate successors went around be-heading people on a regular basis.  The rule of the first Islamic caliphs was in fact tolerable for most Christians and Jews because all they had to do was pay a special tax.

(more…)

Darwin’s theory and American exceptionalism

January 20, 2015

20150119_differnt_0Source: Calamities of Nature via Zero Hedge.

As this chart shows, we Americans are less likely to believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution than the people of any European nation.

Oddly, though, we are more likely to believe in social Darwinism (although we don’t call it that)—the idea the law of life is survival of the fittest, and society does not exist so that people can cooperate for mutually beneficial ends, but so that the population can be sorted into winners and losers.

(more…)

Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolence

January 19, 2015

.

.

We Americans honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of our national heroes, but the only thing we remember that he stood for is that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skins.

That’s important, of course.  But many of us tend to forget his strong advocacy of economic justice and, even more, we forget his strong commitment to nonviolence, or rather mass defiance as an alternative revolutionary violence.

I am not a pacifist, as Dr. King was.  I do not believe that war is always wrong.  But the stronger reason is that I do not have the moral strength to following his teaching.  I am unable to live up to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels to love my enemies, resist not evil and do good to them that hate me.

The amazing thing about Dr. King was that he was able, for a short time, to persuade large numbers of Americans to fight without violence and to win.

Considered purely pragmatically, the nonviolent techniques of struggle advocated by Gene Sharp and practiced by Saul Alinsky have been at least as successful as revolutionary violence.

Alinsky’s career in particular is evidence that successful use of nonviolent techniques did not require Christian love or the turning of the other cheek.

My impression is that many black Americans today regard Malcolm X as a more manly role model than Dr. King.  Yet Dr. King made governors and presidents bow to his will, while Malcolm X’s struggles were mostly with other African-Americans.

This statement is not completely fair to Malcolm X, because he was murdered when his work had only just begun while Dr. King was struck down after he had accomplished most of what was in him to do.

But the fact remains that the Black Panthers and other advocates of armed struggle were much more easily crushed than the followers of Dr. King.

The power of oppressive elites is the power to compel obedience.  Their power ceases when the oppressed cease to obey.  I admit that’s easy for me to say when I’ve never put myself at physical risk in any struggle, nonviolent or otherwise.  But I believe it’s true.

(more…)

Different laws for different religions?

January 12, 2015

In colonial Maryland, relations between Catholics and Protestants were so tense that there were laws that defined an insult to either religion as a breach of the peace.

In the Ottoman Empire, people of different religions lived side-by-side in peace for centuries, all governed by their own religious laws and leaders, subject only to paying taxes to their Turkish rulers.

Dmitry Orlov thinks that such arrangements are the key to peace in countries in which Muslims and non-Muslims live together.

The only solution I see is a duopoly, where Moslems and non-Moslems run their respective segments of society according to different sets of rules.

Some rules they must have in common, such as a ban on incendiary, extremist speech. The prohibition against “shouting fire in a crowded theater” applies to such arrangements.

Vladimir_Putin_and_Gusman_hazrat_IzhakovExamples of such arrangements being successful include the Republic of Tatarstan (Russian Federation) where Orthodox Christianity and (majority) Islam coexist peacefully, and mixed marriages can offer a choice of religions to the children they produce.

Another example is the Republic of Chechnya (also Russian Federation) which, having fought a bloody separatist conflict financed by the Saudis and the US, can now successfully combat Islamic terrorism on its own, without involving federal authorities.

Russia is now a dual Christian/Islamic federation; if current demographic trends continue, then at some point it will become an Islamic/Christian federation. So be it. If peace is maintained, nobody will notice or care.

France can embrace the same choice, forming Les Républiques Françaises, and probably will, because what choice does it have—other than losing the war?

via ClubOrlov.

A thoughtful proposal, but I have problems with it—even assuming that dual law works as well in Tatarstan and Chechnya as Orlov thinks it does.

(more…)

Terrorism and the true face of Islam

January 11, 2015
Two Muslim heroes, Ahmed Merbet and Lassana Baithily

Two Muslim heroes, Ahmed Merabet and Lassana Bathily

After the 9/11 attacks, Muslim organizations and leaders all over the world condemned the attackers, and yet there were those who said the Muslim world was silent in the face of the attacks.

Now Muslims all over the world condemn the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and there are still willfully-blind people who say the Muslim world is silent.

The main enemy of the extremist Muslim terrorists are mainstream Muslims.  According to Global Terrorism Watch, about 80 percent of terrorist killings last year were in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, all predominantly Muslim countries.  Only 5 percent were in Western countries such as France.

The best hope for the terrorists is to convince other Muslims their campaign is part of a larger struggle between the West and Islam as a whole.  To the extent that people interpret the Charlie Hebdo attacks in terms of that narrative, the terrorists will have succeeded.

When people blame Muslims in general for terrorism, they forget Ahmed Merabet, the Paris policeman killed by the terrorists while trying to prevent the attacks.  And Lassana Bathily, the clerk in a kosher grocery store who saved Jewish customers by hiding them in a freezer.   They, not the terrorists, should be regarded as the true face of Islam.

∞∞∞

45 Examples of Muslim Outrage About Charlie Hebdo Attack That Fox News Missed by Katie Halper for Alternet.

QOTD: Hezbollah and Hamas by Heather Digby Parsons for Hullabaloo.  The leaders of both Hezbollah and Hamas condemned the attacks.

Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim Police Officer Killed in the Charlie Hebdo Shooting by Jim Edwards for Business Insider.

Paris policeman’s brother: ‘Islam is a religion of love.  My brother was killed by terrorists, by false Muslims’ by Emma Graham-Harrison for The Guardian.

Muslim Man Hailed as Hero in Kosher Grocery Store Attack by Charlotte Alter for Time magazine.

 

Religion and the burden of proof

January 11, 2015

The late Carl Sagan used to say that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

What makes something an “extraordinary claim”?  For Sagan, a humanist and freethinker, the reality of the supernatural, of supernatural religion or of anything outside the scientific consensus was an extraordinary claim.

I think this is perfectly reasonable.  I, too, have made up my mind about certain things, and it would take extraordinary evidence to shake my conviction.

But for a great many people, it is atheism that makes the extraordinary claim and must assume the burden of proof.  They include:

  • prayer11People who are committed to certain religious practices and disciplines because they find them a good way to live.
  • People who’ve had transcendent spiritual experiences, and find the religion is a way to make sense of those experiences.
  • People who find that religious practices help them to deal with their troubles.  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are examples.
  • People who admire someone who is wise and good, and adopt that person’s religious practice to become wiser and better themselves.

(more…)

The passing scene: January 4, 2015

January 4, 2015

Scavengers by Adam Johnson for Granta.

Adam Johnson walked down the stairs of his North Korean tourist hotel because he did not trust the elevator, and discovered that most floors of were unoccupied and scavenged for furnishings in order to keep up appearances on the few floors on which the tourists stayed.  This is one of the glimpses his article provides of the reality of life in North Korea.

Remembering the Russian Orthodox Priest Who Fought the Orthodox Church by Cathy Young for the Daily Beast.

Father Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest who died on Christmas, fought for democracy, Christian values and freedom for all religions against Communist totalitarianism and Putinist corruption.  He was defrocked twice for protesting and exposing the ties of the Russian Orthodox church with the Soviet government.

Religion in Latin America by the Pew Research Center.

Pentecostalism is on the rise in a historically Roman Catholic region.  The worldwide spread of Pentecostalism may be the most significant religious development of our time.

Tayloring Christianity by Matthew Rose for First Things.

A Secular Age? by Patrick J. Dineen for The American Conservative.

Secularism in the USA does not war on religion, the way anti-clericalism has done in France, Mexico and other countries.  American secularists simply want religion to be an individual matter rather than the organizing principle of society.  In a way, American secular liberals are the ultimate Protestants.

(more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 683 other followers