Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was already an extremist, not to mention not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, before he offered up his opinion on abortion and rape the other day. But I'm sure that even as he scrambles to contain the damage from his remarks, he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He expressed an opinion that is, among many millions of religious Americans, totally mundane: that God loves every baby and blastocyst, and therefore even a pregnancy that results from rape is good in His eyes. This episode reveals a couple of important things that are worth reiterating before we move on to the next campaign controversy, about both abortion and religion.
Levinsky Park is where you meet a friend if you're an African refugee living in South Tel Aviv. One recent afternoon, I found around 50 Sudanese and Eritreans sitting on the small stretch of lawn in groups of two or four or five. Nearly all were men in their twenties or thirties. Most were remarkably thin. They wore faded jeans and T-shirts or polo shirts, and talked softly amid the traffic roar.
The Middle East has a propensity for producing both the tragic and the absurd, two qualities that converged in appallingly consummate fashion with the attacks this week that killed U.S. diplomats in Libya and threatened American embassies across the region.
The deaths of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues at the American consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday represent a profound tragedy on many levels. First and foremost is the loss of such brave and dedicated individuals, who served their country in a place wracked by chaos, uncertainty and violence. Stevens had a well-deserved reputation as a diplomat with a rare understanding for this complicated region, but in the tributes to his valor, let those who died with him—and the thousands of others who have served alongside them—not be forgotten. Their willingness to put their lives on the line for their country reflects their commitment to making the world a better place, something that those who would do them harm lack the capacity to recognize, much less achieve.
Eight years ago, innumerable commentators said "values voters"—in other words, voters with conservative values—were responsible for George W. Bush's re-election (liberal voters, apparently, don't have values, they just have opinions). They noticed a correlation between religiosity and the propensity to vote Republican, and in the most religious of all industrialized countries, this "God gap" was routinely characterized as a problem that Democrats had to solve if they were to avoid electoral doom. In fact, today the "God gap" is more of a wash for the two parties, and in the future it could become the Republicans' problem.
Yesterday, I wrote about Floyd Corkins, the man who shot a security guard at the Family Research Council. (By the way, many people have called him a gay activist. I haven’t yet seen any reporting that identified him as gay; so far we only know that he was a volunteer at a D.C. LGBT community center. Straight people do volunteer for LGBT groups these days.) More recent reporting says that he was carrying Chik-Fil-A bags, apparently in an attempt to make a point about opposing LGBT rights. I was deeply disturbed that anyone would do such a thing, as if in my name. As my post’s title suggested, fighting hate with violence is absurd and appalling.
The Murfreesboro Muslim community has been through hell. After the so-called "Ground Zero" mosque controversy in New York—a fight over a building that was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero—Tennessee experienced its own wave of anti-Islamic fervor. While Muslim families have worshiped at a mosque in Murfreesboro for over 30 years, news that the county had granted permission for a new, bigger Islamic Center incurred the unexpected wrath of the community. The construction site was vandalized, then set on fire. Residents sued to halt its construction, claiming that Islam wasn't a real religion but rather a cult. In May, a local judge granted an injunction against the center on the grounds that the county failed to give sufficient public notice of the meeting in which the plans were approved. While the county had used the same practices and advertisements for all meetings, the judge decided this one need to have more notice because so many people had strong opinions.
When news broke Sunday that an armed Neo-Nazi walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire on the congregation, killing six people and wounding three, I was flooded with memories of the Hindu temple I attended as a child. Donning traditional Indian garb, each Sunday the predominantly South Asian congregation would gather on the ground floor of a brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The scent of incense and flowers filled the sparsely decorated room as the organ played devotional music. Congregants would meditate, eyes closed, while waiting for the Swami to arrive and give his lecture. I cannot fathom violence in a space of such serenity and peace.
It had happened. When I received the first phone call about the Wisconsin shooting on Sunday, I felt shock, grief, and immense horror. But I could not register surprise. Since the September 11th attacks, Sikhs like me had spent years preparing for this day and trying to ward it off. But with hate crimes and discrimination against Sikhs still rampant, an attack on our gurdwaras—the community’s gathering spaces and houses of worship—seemed inevitable. We just didn’t know when or where or who. Now we do.
You all have got to be tired by now of me celebrating good news for LGBT rights, bouncing around in my Tigger-y fashion, showing yet another way that we're winning. But I can't help it. As we've discussed, I grew up in the Pleistocene era, when you still had to look over your shoulder leaving a gay bar. Now I'm married to another woman, at least in the eyes of Massachusetts. It's crazy to live through so much social change in just a few decades. (A friend of mine says: "E.J., you sound like one of those older black folks who talk about how miraculous it is to no longer live under Jim Crow." Well, it's true! Being me is no longer a felony!)
In our last episode, dear viewers, we watched as Israel's main opposition party, Kadima, sold out its centrist voters and joined Benjamin Netanyahu's government—thereby providing the prime minister a reprieve of over a year before he must face the voters. This allows Bibi more time to raise regressive taxes, evade negotiations with the Palestinians, and deride diplomatic efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear issue.
Planned Parenthood staffers might have been inclined to celebrate last Friday. That afternoon, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled Texas could not exclude Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program. On Monday a district judge had granted an injunction, forcing the state to pay Planned Parenthood clinics that served the WHP clients—low-income women who are not pregnant. The injunction was short-lived—the state attorney general appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit, which granted an emergency stay, allowing state health officials to start kicking out the Planned Parenthood clinics.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov
Alternet's Adam Lee explores the history of the Christian obsession with the End Times, from St. Paul to Cotton Mather to the Jehova's Witnesses to that crazy Harold Camping who predicted that the world would end in 2011, and contends that end timers are responsible for serious political and social harm. I'd argue that the effects are pretty minimal, but the more interesting question is, why does this this idea continue to have so much power?
When the potential for anti-Mormonism harming Mitt Romney's candidacy is discussed, it's usually evangelical Christians we're talking about, since they have traditionally had the greatest antipathy toward Mormonism (some of them, at least). But what about liberals? Peter Beinart argues that by the time this election is over, they're going to evince more anti-Mormonism:
One reason Democrats may be more anti-Mormon than Republicans is that Democrats, on average, are more secular. Devout Protestants, Catholics, and Jews may be more tolerant of Mormonism because they understand from firsthand experience the comfort and strength that religious commitment brings. Many secular Democrats, by contrast, may start with the assumption that religious orthodoxy produces irrationality and intolerance.
For a century or two now, people have been predicting the eventual disappearance of religion. As education spreads and scientific knowledge increases, people were supposed to cast off their old superstitions and come into the light of reason. While that has happened in many places—basically, the developed countries of the West, with the exception of the United States—for the most part religion has stubbornly persisted. An interesting survey of religious belief in 30 countries just out from the University of Chicago shows overall religious belief is declining, but at a very slow rate. And even in countries with high rates of atheism, as people get older, they are more likely to become religious. There is evidence from the survey that this is both a cohort effect (older generations being more religious than younger generations), and an aging effect, that individuals may actually be changing their beliefs as they age, particularly as they hit senior citizenship. Why? Death, of course. Which helps explain why religion has such staying power.