Religion

Wedding Bells in Illinois?

(Flickr/Benson Kua)
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!) All of which is to say: here are two more little bright spots that show how fast the tide is changing, coming back in to wash away all the nasty old antigay state DOMA laws that piled up when the shockingly new idea of marrying same-sex pairs was first discussed in 1996, 2000, and 2004. Bright spot #1: Recently the ACLU and Lambda brought two...

Unorthodoxies

Could Israel's new coalition get the ultra-Orthodox to go to work? Not by Netanyahu's methods.

(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
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. But perhaps there's a bright spot in this dark plot line. To paraphrase a question I've heard repeatedly over the last couple of weeks: Since the new coalition is broad enough to maintain its majority in parliament even if clerical parties walk out, can it finally end one of the strangest and best-known aberrations of Israeli life? Can it end the bizarre pork-barreling that allows most ultra-Orthodox men to spend their life in religious studies rather than working? After all, isn't the Israeli economy slowly sinking as the ultra-Orthodox community grows and the financial...

Planned Parenthood Can't Catch a Break

(Flickr/WeNews)
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. By Friday, the 5th Circuit had reversed the decision, granting a temporary injuction while Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against the state proceeds. While long-term fates are up in the air, this news was the best the organization has heard in quite a while. But any celebration would have been short-lived. By Friday night, the organization was already getting bad news. Texas may now have to...

The End Times, Always Around the Corner

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? It's important to realize just how widespread the idea that the apocalypse is coming very soon really is. A poll conducted last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found an incredible 44 percent of Americans (and 67 percent of white evangelical Christians) agreeing with the statement, "The severity of recent natural disasters is evidence that we are in what the Bible calls the end times." The Left Behind apocalypse potboilers have supposedly sold over 65 million copies. So isn't just complete nutballs who are anticipating the end of...

Will Liberals Prove to Be the Real Anti-Mormons?

Flickr/More Good Foundation
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. I'm a little skeptical that devout believers of other religions are going to be more tolerant of Mormonism "because they understand from firsthand experience the comfort and strength that religious...

Religious Belief Declining Very Slowly Around the World

Nope. Not by a long shot.
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...

How Mitt Romney's Supporters Are Like Uncle Leo

Uncle Leo and his anti-Semitic hamburger.
We always knew that Mormonism was going to be a touchy issue in this presidential campaign. After all, there are still many Americans who express discomfort with the idea of a Mormon president (up to 40 percent , depending on how you ask the question). But it's one thing when you ask that question in the abstract, and quite another when we're talking about a particular Mormon. In that case, I'm fairly sure that nearly everyone is going to decide their votes on how they feel about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, not how they feel about Joseph Smith. Even Robert Jeffress, the Baptist minister and Rick Perry supporter who only a couple of months ago denounced Mormonism as a "cult," just announced that he'll be supporting a member of that cult for president, since Obama is so vile unto his sight. But all that doesn't mean that the Romney campaign and its supporters aren't going to be on the lookout for any anti-Mormon slights, so long as they come from Democrats. You may remember that back...

Bible Reading and Faithful Politics

Flickr/knowhimonline
If you're a deeply religious person seeking guidance as you navigate the political realm, sacred scriptures can be distressingly puzzling. The problem is that (depending on your religion) they were written a long, long time ago, when no one knew about the problems we have to confront in the modern world. The Bible is full of specific instructions for things that most people today don't do (the proper method of ceremonial animal slaughter, for instance), and general instructions that different people apply to particular situations in radically different ways. Jesus says we ought to treat other people as we would have them treat us, but that doesn't really tell you whether net neutrality or an extension of copyright limits is a good idea. But that doesn't stop people from trying. Today NPR has an interesting story about Christians having a "fierce debate" about which policy moves the Bible actually commands. You'll be shocked to learn that people mostly find scriptural justification for...

Chill. Jews Aren't Voting Republican.

Faith-based policy, nativism, and Ayn Randian economics will not create a Jewish electoral shift.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Forecasts of the Great Jewish Shift began as soon as the presidential campaign did: This year, we are told, Jews will finally vote Republican, or at least significantly more of them will than have done so in many a decade, perhaps forever. The predictions are a quadrennial ritual. They are made most often by Jewish Republicans, speaking in the bright voice of a compulsive gambler who knows that on this spin, the little ball will absolutely land on the right number. They are made by social scientists certain that reality will finally behave according to their models. They are made by Jewish Democrats as unable to control their anxiety as someone is to stop a tic. This year's minor variation is the explanation that Jews will switch because they are upset with Barack Obama's attitude toward Israel. As an Israeli political writer, I admit, I am particularly conscious of this ritual, because the Great Jewish Shift (GJS) is the second thing that people want to discuss with me as soon as I...

Rick Warren and the Gospel of Supply-Side Jesus

(jurvetson/Flickr)
This past weekend, evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren spent a portion of his Easter on the Sunday shows, where he patiently explained to ABC News' Jake Tapper that the Gospels require him to oppose both a social safety net and higher marginal tax rates on the rich: Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There’s over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness.” Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation. The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You – you rob them of dignity. The primary purpose of...

Purpose-Driven Partisanship

Flickr/Steve Jurvetson
Remember just a few years ago, when "Purpose-Driven Life" author Rick Warren was considered such a bipartisan figure that candidate Obama visited his Saddleback Church, and then invited him to deliver an invocation at the inauguration? Even at the time, a lot of knowledgeable people on the left protested that Warren was actually a deeply conservative person, even if he wore Hawaiian shirts and led the hip and casual megachurch movement that presented itself as inclusive. Well listen to Warren now. In an appearance on ABC's This Week yesterday, he was asked to respond to President Obama saying "I believe in God's command to love thy neighbor as thyself": Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There's over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there's a fundamental question on the meaning of "fairness." Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of...

Bait and Convert

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
The 2012 Republican primaries were without question the most religious party contest in memory. Nearly all the major candidates put their religious beliefs at or near the center of their public personas, from the puritanical scold Rick Santorum, to the prayer warrior Rick Perry, to Newt Gingrich, producer of books and movies on the importance of God in American politics. As for the Almighty himself, He apparently told no fewer than three separate candidates (Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Santorum) that they should run. Awfully sneaky of Him not to tell them they were going to lose, but who has time to consult the fine print when you're hearing messages from above? Yet in the end, the candidate who prevailed was the one least interested in talking about his religion. That's not because Mitt Romney isn't devout, but because he's all too aware that his Mormonism presents some political complications. Many evangelicals consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) a...

An Easter Foreign-Policy Lesson

(Flickr/WillowGardeners)
There’s nothing like a double-barreled Holy Week/Passover to send media flacks leaping for “hooks” of relevance. Here’s my nominee for Most Dubious Holy Week Tie-in—an article from the august Council on Foreign Relations which documents, the email release promises me, how: [W]hile Obama is by all accounts religious, that faith has not resulted in real foreign policy gains. "Rhetoric is important, but direct action grounds real diplomacy. And on that front, the White House has not kept up with the issue," Preston writes. ‘Cause the first thing you thought when Rick Santorum questioned whether Obama actually was a Christian, and said his theology was “phony,” was, No, Rick, Obama’s faith is an important tool of American foreign-policy efforts to exercise hegemony express American values in the global arena . Of course what’s funny is that, when the author wants Obama to turn from words to deeds, what does he point to as an effective example? A speech by Franklin Roosevelt. A great...

Why Do Conservative Christians Feel Persecuted?

(Liberty University, Wikipedia)
Kevin Drum has a few smart thoughts on why conservative Christians might feel persecuted in a country that overwhelming identifies as Christian: A century ago, something like 10% of the country belonged to a conservative Protestant denomination. That’s grown steadily ever since, and today it’s around 30%. So there’s really no mystery to explain here. Conservative Christians have become more outspoken and more politically powerful simply because they’ve grown more numerous. Sometime in the 70s, their numbers finally passed a threshold where they became a serious voting bloc, and they’ve been growing more powerful every year since then. We’ve been chipping away at traditional religious expression in the public square for decades. At the same time, conservative Christians denominations have grown steadily. Put the two together and you have a substantial segment of the population that feels like it’s under assault. I would add one more thing, namely, the rise of an evangelical subsculture...

Anti-Abortion Measures Die with a Whimper

(Flickr/World Can't Wait)
Women's health and abortion access have dominated state legislatures across the country and, until recently, dominated the headlines as well. But as legislative sessions are wrapping up and final decisions get made, there's been less focus on the issues. Perhaps it's because, in several cases, the bills are dying with whimpers instead of bangs. This week, many of the measures look doomed. Idaho's pre-abortion sonogram bill died Tuesday, with pro-life activists accepting defeat—at least for this year. According to the Spokesman-Review , House State Affairs Chair Tom Loertscher worried that the controversy around the sonogram could threaten the state's other anti-abortion measures. The bill did not have any exemptions for rape or incest and would likely have required invasive, transvaginal sonograms—the kind that got Virginia so much attention. Right to Life of Idaho has said it plans to bring the bill back next year. In Pennsylvania, a similar sonogram measure has stalled after...

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