Religion

Thrown to the Lions

There have been many odd and interesting developments in American conservatism in the last few years, but there are few that liberals find more incomprehensible than the belief among many conservative Christians that not only are they currently being oppressed for their religious beliefs, but that today's outrages are but a prelude to a far more vicious and violent crackdown on Christianity that is right around the corner. There's a movie I want to talk about in a moment, but first, I'd like to explore where this is coming from, both from the perspective of the conservative Christians themselves, and the liberals who have such a hard time understanding it. Part of the problem is that the Christians most liberals know are more likely to be liberal Christians (I'll cop to that), so we've never actually sat down with someone who really feels oppressed and explored their thoughts on this issue. Another part is that the idea of Christian oppression gets its most visible airing from the...

The News Isn't the Silencing. It's the Debate

AP Images/Nanette Kardaszeski
The event was billed as a discussion about "What It Means To Be Pro-Israel." It was actually a screening of a new film ostensibly aimed at proving that the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, J Street, is aligned "with the Arab side" against Israel. The film, The J Street Challenge, features talking heads of the Jewish right haughtily describing their opponents as arrogant. It begins with a quote from George Orwell, an unintentionally appropriate touch in an thoroughly Orwellian movie. By the final credits, it turns out that the film is also somewhat mislabeled: Its ultimate target isn't J Street or its support for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The target is American Jewish liberalism as such. The screening took place last Thursday in a rented hall at the University of Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia—the umbrella organization of the city's Jewish community, which could reasonably be expected to stay...

Why "Noah" Shouldn’t Get a Happy Ending

O ver the past month, faced with a torrent of criticism from Christians in the U.S. and Muslims abroad who say his interpretation of the Bible as blasphemous, the director Darren Aronofsky has taken to calling his new movie, Noah , a midrash, after the stories that ancient Jewish sages told to bulk up sparse passages in the Hebrew Bible. It’s an apt descriptor for a film that turns a few hundred lines of scripture where the protagonist never speaks into a 140-minute meditation on the folly of humankind. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of layering commentary upon commentary, Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, scoured Jewish apocryphal texts and rabbinic midrashim for detail about Noah’s world. Often, these interpretations give snippets of backstory, making the Biblical patriarchs less mysterious and more human. One famous midrash explains why Moses—who tells God he is “slow of speech and of tongue”—was such a clumsy talker. (The answer: As part of an elaborate test from...

The Strange Bedfellows of the Anti-Contraception Alliance

AP Images/Patrick Semansky
AP Images/Patrick Semansky O n March 25, lawyers representing the owners of a large purveyor of craft supplies and a much smaller cabinetry business will appear before the Supreme Court in what has become the cornerstone case for opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.” Under the mandate, all employers—with the exception of religious organizations like churches—must include free birth control under their insurance plans. Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service agencies immediately raised a ruckus. Dozens of Catholic nonprofits filed lawsuits against the government, arguing that because their tradition forbids them from using birth control, paying for it—even indirectly through insurance—would violate their religious liberty. The cases that will appear before the highest court deal with a different question: whether the owners of corporations can claim religious liberty exemptions. But there’s a stranger and less remarked-upon twist. The owners of both...

Tolerance For the Non-Religious, Here and Around the World

Our chart of the day comes from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project , which asked people in 40 different countries whether it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. There's a lot going on within that yes-or-no question, and one could see how it could carry different connotations in different cultures. The results aren't just a measure of people's own religious beliefs, but also of the character of the place they're in and the exposure they have to people who aren't like them. If you've always been taught that the nature of right and wrong and the enforcement of those rules comes from the church, and virtually everyone you've ever known believes in God, those who don't would seem like something of an alien species. So for instance, in Ghana, where 96 percent of people in another poll described themselves as religious, it isn't surprising that 99 percent in this poll—or basically everyone in both cases —says you have to believe in God to be moral...

Israel-Palestine Peace: A Hostage to History

AP Images/Mahmoud Illean
AP Images/Mahmoud Illean O ne of Benjamin Netanyahu's best known preconditions for a two-state peace accord is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. That's actually the short version of the Israeli prime minister's demand, it turns out. The long version, as he laid out last week before the most amenable audience he could find, is that the Palestinians must sign off on the entire Jewish narrative of the history of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Speaking in Jerusalem to a delegation of leaders of American Jewish organizations, Netanyahu asked: "Do they not know that we’ve been here for the last 3,800 years? They don’t know that this is the land of the Bible? That this is where Jewish history and Jewish identity was forged?" These, of course, were rhetorical questions. Netanyahu's implication was that Palestinians understand that these truths are self-evident, as is the conclusion that Jews have the primary claim on political sovereignty...

Platinum-Level Citizenship

AP Images/Robert F. Bukaty
A sk a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you're likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a "war on religion" since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there's little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind. In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They...

Pope Francis's "Cardinal" Rules

Thinking about Otto Preminger's film 50 years later in the context of Pope Francis.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
What to make of last year's onslaught of Francismania? Like the sucker for pop-culture phenomenons I am, I haven't enjoyed anything so much since the Harry Potter books took off. As a veteran secular humanist, I can't help feeling some simpatico with the killjoys striving to remind us that the first Pope in memory to rate an affectionate New Yorker cover still presides over an essentially reactionary organization whose core doctrines haven't changed. But all the same, screw it: they're messing with everybody else's good time . Those of us without a dogma in this hunt just dig waiting for Pope Frank's next Bob Newhart-ish "He said that??" surprise, even as we relish the consternation he's provoked in everybody from Rush Limbaugh—"pure Marxism," the great man flatulated—to Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who fretted that Francis doesn't understand how good rich Americans are. Cardinal Timothy Dolan had to reassure Langone that the latest Pontiff does indeed love his flock's...

Bishops May Not Be the Crooks This Time

AP Images/Luca Zennaro
T amesha Means was only 18 weeks pregnant on the morning of December 1, 2010, when her water broke. In a haze of pain, she called a friend for a ride to the only hospital in her central Michigan county. She had no idea that the hospital, Mercy Health Partners, was part of a Catholic health system. She just knew she needed help. What happened next, contend the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU on Means’s behalf , was not just the fault of a doctor, emergency room staff, or even the hospital. The blame goes right to the top—to the U.S. Catholic bishops. According to the lawsuit, over the course of the next 36 hours, Means was never told that her fetus had little chance of surviving. Nor was she told—as she would have been in a secular hospital—that doctors could induce labor or terminate her pregnancy. Instead, Means was twice sent home with painkillers and told to return only if she was having contractions three to four minutes apart. Unaware of the risks of continuing the...

With God on His Side

Does my opponent own a bible? Will he shake it at you thusly? I think not.
Mark Pryor has a problem. A Democratic senator in a state Barack Obama lost by 24 points, in a region where party identification is an increasingly rigid tribal marker, Pryor needs to get voters to look beyond the D next to his name if he's going to win re-election next year. So how does he do it? By appealing to an even higher tribal identification. Forget politics, he all but says in his new ad—all you need to know about me is that I'm right with the Lord. Take a look: The ad's first line is, "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in his Word." In America in general, and in Arkansas in particular, saying "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God" is sort of like saying, "I'm not ashamed to say that I love my children." Such courage! But of course, these days the fantasy of persecution is de rigeur among evangelicals, what with the War on Christmas raging, so it makes good political sense for Pryor to tell voters that like them, he feels the sting of...

The Contraception-Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception

Ap Images/Tony Gutierrez
Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs. Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case— Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores , documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer —deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The...

The Gay Awakening

While Christian leadership has held fast against the changing tide of public opinion on same-sex marriage, congregations have moved on without them.

AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma
AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma Supporters of same-sex marriage outside Camp Innnabah, the Methodist retreat center where Rev. Frank Schaeffer is facing trial for officiating his son's same-sex wedding. A ny other day, Reverend Frank Schaeffer might look out onto the 179 acres of woods at Camp Innabah—a Christian retreat center 40 miles outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—and stop to ponder God's design in the natural beauty. But today, his mind is on another matter: his trial. "There probably won't be an acquittal," says Schaeffer, who faces losing his credentials to preach in the United Methodist Church, the country's largest mainline protestant denomination. "I just hope the penalty will be restorative rather than punitive." The 51-year-old pastor's crime? Officiating his son's same-sex wedding in 2007. Schaeffer informed the church leadership that he would be performing the ceremony at the time, but disciplinary proceedings were not started against him until last April, when a member...

A Church Basement Revival without the God Part

Even if you can start a religion that prominently features Bon Jovi songs, should you?

AP Images/REX/IBL
AP Images/REX/IBL Wednesday night, the charismatic leader of the world’s newest religious movement was bouncing manically around a rehearsal room in the basement of the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, D.C., herding his flock into chairs. Freddie Mercury’s dulcet tones thumped out of the speakers. The congregation—a motley crew of four dozen 20-somethings wearing tie clips and middle-aged hippies in patterned fleeces—shambled to the front of the room as Sanderson Jones, the man of the hour, warned us that he was going to make us sing. “When they killed Richard III, a group of people did it so they didn’t have to take responsibility for what happened,” said Jones, a tall man sporting enormous black-rimmed glasses with a wraparound band—the kind you give toddlers or athletes to keep their glasses from falling off. “It’s the same with singing.” Jones is an apostle for the Sunday Assembly, a congregation of nonbelievers that was founded in England in January. (Tagline: “A global...

George W. Bush Prepares to Offend Millions of Jews, Probably without Realizing It

George W. Bush has been spending much of his post-presidency working to end the problems of poverty and disease ... kidding! Actually, he's been working a lot on his painting . Which I guess is perfectly fine, since it isn't like there are major world crises that would go unsolved were it not for Dubya's intervention. But friend of the magazine Sarah Posner informs us that Bush is also doing some speaking, and in front of at least one audience a touch more controversial than your run-of-the-mill Processed Meat Product Association or whoever is usually able to pony up the six-figure fee a former president demands: Next week, former President George W. Bush is scheduled to keynote a fundraiser in Irving, Texas, for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains people in the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The organization's goal: to "restore" Israel and the Jews and bring about about the second coming of Christ...

Just Like a Prayer?

AP Photo/Kevin Wolf
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster I n 1999, when John Auburger was elected supervisor of the Town of Greece, he decided to introduce a change of policy. Instead of opening the Rochester, New York, suburb’s monthly town board meetings with a moment of silence, Auburger invited a rotating slate of local religious leaders to give an invocation. For the following nine years, every chaplain who delivered the opening prayer was a Christian. In February 2008, two Greece residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, sued the town, arguing that the prayers violated the First Amendment by endorsing Christianity. On November 6, the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway , will go before the Supreme Court. It’s the first time in three decades that the Court has taken up a case on legislative prayer. In Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 case that tackled the constitutionality of prayer before legislative sessions, the Court upheld the practice of using taxpayer funds to pay state chaplains. The ruling in Marsh protects...

Pages