Religion

Daily Meme: Have My People Call Your People

Today brings news and reminiscing of unlikely meet-ups, past, present, and future. In a Nixon-in-China moment, India’s newly minted prime minister, Narendra Modi (a Hindu nationalist), welcomed Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif (a Muslim nationalist), to New Delhi for the former’s swearing-in ceremony. The two nations have been arch-rivals since Pakistan was carved out of Greater India in 1947, and both possess nuclear weapons. The New York Times reports that the two became emotional when discussing their mothers. Pope Francis, on a return flight from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, announced plans to meet with a small group of people who survived sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy, according to the Guardian . Joelle Casteix of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests is not impressed, the Times reports , saying it’s all for show. The Vatican has been under extreme pressure ever since a United Nations commission denounced the sexual abuse of children by...

Did Pope Francis Throw the Symbolism Contest to the Palestinians?

For the head of the Catholic Church to visit a Jewish memorial and say nothing of the historical Holocaust—the Jewish victims; the role of the Church in creating in European anti-Semitism—is jarring.

AP Photo/Osservatore Romano
AP Photo/Osservatore Romano Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday, May 25, 2014. "T he Vatican treats this as a pilgrimage. We consider it a pilgrimage it with political implications." So a Palestinian official involved in negotiating the precise form of Pope Francis's visit to the Holy Land told me yesterday. The comment, though, could as easily have come from an Israeli government source. The pope's two hosts agreed on this much and no more: His pilgrimage, so carefully choreographed that even the spontaneous moments were planned in advance, sparkled with symbolism. The battle was over determining what the symbolic journey would stand for. The Palestinians won: They largely succeeded in making Francis's visit part of their campaign for statehood through international...

Ehud Olmert Exits Stage Right, But His Very Bad Idea Remains

Prominent politicians are proposing that Israel redraw its border, keeping some or all settlements and imposing a new map by fiat—an old Olmert idea. Call it hubris.

AP Photo/Dan Balilty
AP Photo/Dan Balilty Former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 18, 2013. E hud Olmert is over. The judge who sentenced Israel's former prime minister to six years in prison has struck the final sledgehammer blow to Olmert's reputation and his comeback chances. Ironically, at the same political moment, what may have been the most irresponsible policy proposal of Olmert's career is enjoying a renaissance: the idea that Israel should unilaterally draw a new border in the West Bank, ignoring the Palestinians. Olmert was convicted of accepting bribes as Jerusalem mayor to help win approval for a monstrous set of apartment towers known (even in Hebrew) as the Holyland. Last week, handing down an unusually stiff sentence by Israeli standards, Judge David Rozen described a bribe-taking official as "a traitor." Even were Olmert to win an appeal and survive new witness-tampering allegations, the daydream of...

Moral Monday Movement Gears Up for Round Two

2013 ©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina conference of the NAACP, leads a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C., in 2013. This article has been corrected. O n Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina legislature will open its 2014 session. It will be hard for the Republican majority to top last year’s performance, which shattered the final vestiges of the state’s 50-year reputation for moderate governance. With the help of newly elected GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, lawmakers in 2013 slashed both public education and unemployment benefits. They rejected an expansion of Medicaid, paid for almost entirely by the federal government, that would have covered at least 300,000 low-income North Carolinians. They cut corporate taxes and eliminated the earned-income credit for low-wage workers. And they rewrote the state’s election laws in a way that will make registration and voting harder, particularly for African-American, blue-collar, and younger voters. They might have...

Daily Meme: Separation, Schleparation

The Supreme Court of the United States took a bold stand today for the invocation of somebody’s God at official government functions. It may not be your God--hey, maybe you don’t even have a God. (Wait, is that even legal in America?) At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner writes that ”advocates of church-state separation are warning that the 5-4 decision could lead to the marginalizing of religious minorities in localities across the country.” At issue in the case decided today is the practice of beginning government meetings in the town of Greece, New York, with a Christian prayer, a tradition that Justice Anthony Kennedy described, in the majority opinion, “a benign acknowledgment of religion's role in society.” Justice Elana Kagan penned the dissent, noting a great many prayers offered in Jesus’s name at Greece town meetings. You don’t have a problem with J.C., now do you? In the meantime, Ralph Reed (remember him?), now chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, promised, Posner...

Did Jesus Have a Wife?

An ancient fragment doesn’t prove that Jesus was married—but it does raise questions about Christians’ attitudes toward sex.

AP Photo/Harvard University, Karen L. King
T he world of ancient papyrology—the study of tiny scraps of manuscripts unearthed in archeological digs across the Mediterranean—is not, in general, a font of juicy media stories. That is, unless the papyrus in question seems to suggest that Jesus, long understood to have been celibate, was married. Last September, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King presented her initial findings about a business-card-sized fragment of papyrus, believed to be the work of early followers of Jesus. The 33 words on the fragment included: Jesus said to them, “My wife …" "she will be able to be my disciple" King’s discovery—which she dubbed the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”—immediately made headlines across the world, and sent shockwaves through academic and religious communities. The Vatican dismissed the fragment, saying it was a clear fake. Scholars of antiquity lined up on either side, some declaring it a historic find, while others decried it as an inept forgery designed to undermine...

The End of the "Ick Factor"

This hard-core rock-'n-roller knows his scripture. (Flickr/Center for American Progress)
Let it not be said that conservatives have failed to evolve on the question of gay rights. These days, even if you are adamantly opposed to marriage equality, you're required to express a kind of libertarian attitude toward homosexuality itself. Love the sinner, hate the sin? Not anymore. Now it's love the sinner, and as for the sin, well that's none of my business, you do what you like. But this public display of live-and-let-livism is a rather shocking contradiction with the very grounds on which many conservatives base their beliefs about this issue, namely the Old Testament. I give you Mike Huckabee, speaking yesterday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition: "I'm not against anybody. I'm really not. I'm not a hater. I'm not homophobic," he said. "I honestly don't care what people do personally in their individual lives." Well hold on there! You honestly don't care? But doesn't the Bible condemn the act itself? Yahweh doesn't say, "Whatever you do in the bedroom is none of anybody...

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...

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