To "more fully understand why conservative [American] politics [has] become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel," Author Tom Bissell went on a ten day “Stand with Israel Tour” hosted by right-wing Jewish Conservative talk show pundit Dennis Prager. My Holy Land Vacation: Touring Israel with 450 Christian Zionists, is this month’s Harper’s Magazine cover story. [more inside]
Young Advocates For Fair Education, or YAFFED, is an NYC-based advocacy group of Orthodox Jewish youth and young adults who complain that their limited high school educations left them ill-equipped to support themselves as adults, and demand that the New York City and New York State education departments enforce laws on minimum school standards. Recently the ED of YAFFED co-wrote an op-ed, Why Do Jewish Leaders Keep Ignoring Ultra-Orthodox Education Crisis?
Mecca Goes Mega [The New York Times] A building boom in the city’s sacred center has created a dazzling, high-tech 21st-century pilgrimage. [more inside]
"You probably haven’t heard of the Constitution Party. They have no seats in the House or the Senate, and probably never will. They don’t have any spokespeople telegenic enough for Fox News. They’ve only been around since 1991, and they’ve only been called the Constitution Party since 1999. (They were the Taxpayers’ Party before that.) Basically, it’s a party for conservatives who think Republicans are too secular." - GOD AND COUNTRY, Kaleb Horton spends 36 hours with the dying embers of The Consitution Party
When Scientology Sponsored Race Cars [Road and Track] John Travolta. Mario Andretti. The Pope. Aliens. Germans. The Indy 500. Milwaukee. The Church of Scientology. Welcome to 1988's bizarre intersection between motorsports, religion, and sponsorship. [more inside]
The Faithful. "René and Juan Carlos set out to convert their Colombian megachurch to Orthodox Judaism. This is what happened."
Can an Outsider Become Amish?
Up until that summer, ... Alex’s knowledge of the Amish was derived solely, like any ‘90s child, from the Weird Al Yankovic song “Amish Paradise,” and from the few times his family drove by them while on their way to drop him off at summer camp in Northern Pennsylvania when he was a kid. But he entered his senior year of high school ... with the Plain people in his mind. He bought Twenty Most Asked Questions About the Amish and Mennonites and “hauled it around with [him] everywhere;” he’d occasionally wear button-down shirts and slacks to school and when other students would ask him if he had some sort of presentation that day, he’d cheerfully respond, “Nope, I’m just dressing Mennonite!”
When Middle East correspondent Carla Power began studying the Koran with a conservative Islamic scholar, she wasn’t expecting to learn that it nowhere advocates the oppression of women - or that Islam has a rich history of forgotten female leaders.
The Guardian reports on an accusation by a former Muskegon County, Michigan health official claiming that a Catholic healthcare provider forced five women between August 2009 and December 2010 to undergo dangerous miscarriages by giving them no other option. Catholic hospitals must follow the Ethical Health Directives issued by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and with consolidation in health care providers, more and more Americans are affected. [more inside]
"The way these governments are handling the virus is foolish, highly unrealistic, and insensitive to women." But Zika Virus Isn't The First Disease To Spark A Debate About Abortion [more inside]
Chrindie '95: A collection of essays about a seminal year in Christian indie rock. [via mefi projects].
1995 was also an incredibly important year for the scene we've come to call “Chrindie,” for Christian indie rock. Much has been written about the weird world of contemporary Christian music, but whatever you think it is , you’d be surprised by how many genuinely great Chrindie records were released twenty years ago. During the course of the year, we’ve been writing about brilliant, beautiful, challenging, difficult, weird albums that went mostly unnoticed by mainstream radio and the music press and MTV, in part because they were released on tiny labels with no budgets and marketed primarily to evangelical teenagers in the suburbs.[more inside]
Following the Christian Reconquest and unification of Spain, concluded with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the victorious Catholic sovereigns decreed on March 31, 1492 that all Jews convert to Christianity or leave Spain by the last day of July. Whether they stayed or left, many Jewish families continued to practice their faith in secret. Such crypto-Jews passed their traditions down the generations and around the world, some ending up in the Southwest. 500 years later, New Mexico's "hidden Jews" were found among strong Hispanic Catholic communities. Though some were skeptical about the origins of certain family practices, additional research and a pattern of breast cancer lead to genetic testing and confirmation of prior beliefs. [more inside]
I would feel bad about this pop theological education, except I'm not alone. As part of Sojourner's series on God in sci-fi and fantasy (in honor of Star Wars Week), Rose Marie Berger discusses Hell as a trope and a reality.
“Black Folk Don’t...” is an open conversation that invites everyone to take a second look at the grey areas between us all, no matter the race, and most importantly to do it with a sense of humor. This documentary web series is a special presentation of BlackPublicMedia.org, directed and produced by Angela Tucker, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Did you know that black folk don't… [more inside]
Judaism's core texts grew out of millennia-long conversations and arguments across generations, with interconnected dialogues, source citing and (re)interpretation. Now, it's all going digital: Sefaria is creating a massive public domain, interactive "living library of Jewish texts and their interconnections, in Hebrew and translations." Their goal is to build a reference resource and community that "gives a better learning experience than anything that comes before it," from ancient to modern texts and "all the volumes of commentary in between." Read texts, browse submitted public source sheets on dozens of topics or visualize associations between texts.
"He believed that since the coconut grew high up in the tree, closest to God and closest to the sun, it was godlike. And since it had hair and looked like a human head, he thought it came closest to being a man. According to his rather crackpot theory, to be a cocovore was to be a theophage — or eater of God."
Holy Ghost People (1967) Dir. Peter Adair. Sound. Steve Reich "Ground-breaking example of "cinema verite" filmmaking at its best! This documentary explores the individual experiences of Pentacostal Christians. Film culminates with ceremonial handling of poisonous snakes. Ironically, it is the preacher that gets bitten."
A new Pew survey looks at attitudes towards free speech from around the world. It explores how different nations think about free speech and government, the press, religion, minorities, the internet. Also in the report: attitudes towards democracy, religion, and gender. (SLP)
"I can still hear him signing off his show similar to the way he concluded his letter to Amy Melder: “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” Some have suggested that this message sought to instill children with a sense of self-importance, but to believe that is to fundamentally misunderstand Fred Rogers. At the core of Rogers’ mission was the paradoxical Christian belief that the way to gain one’s life is to give it away." (SL Atlantic)
Sixteenth century European Catholics with sufficiently heavy purses could upgrade their rosary beads with Prayer Nuts, virtuoso boxwood carvings of astonishing detail. You can get lost in these things, and probably the more so back in the day when, some believe, they were infused with scent, mixing the visual with the olfactory. They've been known to hit the market, latterly in the low six figures. [more inside]
[Megan] Phelps-Roper spent the summer and the fall in an existential spiral. She would conclude that everything about Westboro’s doctrine was wrong, only to be seized with terror that these thoughts were a test from God, and she was failing. “You literally feel insane,” she said. Eventually, her doubts won out. “I just couldn’t keep up the charade,” she said. “I couldn’t bring myself to do the things we were doing and say the things we were saying.” - How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs. (content warning : extreme homophobic & anti-Semitic language)
The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World A new study published in Cell shows that "Parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life. However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children’s altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies." [more inside]
Today, the Union of Reform Judaism, the body that represents synagogues in the Reform movement —Judaism's largest U.S. branch — unanimously passed the most far-reaching resolution on transgender rights of any major religious organization. The resolution affirms the equality of transgender people and welcomes them into congregations, camps and other Reform Jewish institutions. [more inside]
President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa. "It seems to me as if democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level. And it [applies] to everyone. It’s the human image. It’s not any loyalty or tradition or anything else; it’s being human that enlists the respect, the love of God being implied in it."
"Every society struggles to care for people with mental illness. In parts of West Africa, where psychiatry is virtually unknown, the chain is often a last resort for desperate families who cannot control a loved one in the grip of psychosis. Religious retreats, known as prayer camps, set up makeshift psychiatric wards, usually with prayer as the only intervention." NYTimes. Links contain upsetting images and video. [more inside]
On the Nature of Things Humanity Was Not Meant to Know: Cosma Shalizi considers Lucretius' De Rerum Natura ('On the Nature of Things') as a "real-life Necronomicon, a book full of things humanity was not meant to know."
Conservative Christian communities are split between doubling down on their advocacy, or walling themselves off from mainstream culture. - Laura Turner, Atlantic [more inside]
For the second time, Memorial University professor Ranee Panjabi refuses to wear an FM transmitter that will allow a hearing-impaired student to hear her lectures. The student, history major William Sears, is forced to drop out of her History of Espionage course. Now Memorial University has discovered an agreement that it signed with Panjabi nearly 20 years ago that allows her to refuse to wear the transmitter on religious grounds.
Holly Salzman of Albuquerque, NM, had to attend 10 court-ordered sessions with counselor Mary Pepper to resolve co-parenting conflicts with her estranged husband. Local KRQE reports that the class has highly religious overtones, which Salzman disagrees with but she could not get the courts to change the counselor. [more inside]
"For nearly three years, there has been considerable controversy and confusion about whether a business-card sized papyrus fragment dubbed the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is an authentic ancient artifact or not. The current scholarly consensus already holds that the fragment is forgery. In addition, a recent development has confirmed that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a forgery created using a specific internet edition of the Gospel of Thomas [pdf]. It seems that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife forgery debate has finally come to an end. " [Previously]
Hitler's World by Timothy Snyder [New York Review of Books]
In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.
FINLAND: New Government Commits to a Basic Income Experiment - "The Finnish government of Juha Sipilä is considering a pilot project that would give everyone of working age a basic income."[1,2,3] (via) [more inside]
Children are defenseless against abuse. They don’t vote. They don’t organize. They don’t have money to hire lobbyists or spin media campaigns to protect their interests. They don’t have a voice. They rely on adults for protection—and sometimes it’s those same adults who violate their rights. Children of the Tribes is a look at child abuse masked as religious practice in the reclusive and controversial Christian Twelve Tribes sect. Some may find the descriptions of corporal punishment of children at these links disturbing.
Jaime Prater grew up in the Jesus People U.S.A. commune in Chicago. He set out to make a documentary about the religion, and in the process uncovered widespread sexual abuse of children in the group.
The Late, Great Stephen Colbert “The level of emotion you're getting from me right now—I'm not saying it's dishonest,” he said. “I'm just saying it's not normal. I'd really love to go to bed. I promise you, I do not spend my time on the edge of tears.”
Gaahl is the former vocalist for Gorgoroth, Norwegin black metal powerhouse and satanic ideologues. In 2005 he was sentenced to 14 months in prison for beating and torturing an intruder in his home. In 2007 Vice went to the remote Norwegian hamlet of Espedal (named for/owned by Gaahl's family for generations) to talk music, philosophy, painting, and get some insights into True Norwegian Black Metal. [more inside]
"Julie Ingersoll‘s new book, Building God’s Kingdom, is a meticulous account of this movement’s history and its aims. Founded by Rousas John Rushdoony in the early 1970s, Reconstructionism asserts the primacy of the Bible from the home to local government to national political life. While Rushdoony’s views were as alienating to the right as to the left in some aspects, many of his ideas did find traction among Christian conservatives. I began my conversation with Ingersoll last week by asking her to elaborate on the history of that influence."
"They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing... Once allied with but now increasingly hostile to the Republican hierarchy, conservative media is shaping the party’s agenda in ways that are impeding Republicans’ ability to govern and to win presidential elections."
An Update on the Gay Debate: evolving ideas, untidy stories, and hopes for the church
While I struggle to understand how to apply Scripture to the marriage debate today (just like we all struggle to know how to interpret Scripture on countless controversial topics), I’ve become increasingly troubled by the unintended consequences of messages that insist all LGBT people commit to lifelong celibacy. No matter how graciously it’s framed, that message tends to contribute to feelings of shame and alienation for gay Christians. It leaves folks feeling like love and acceptance are contingent upon them not-gay-marrying and not-falling-in-gay-love. When that’s the case—when communion is contingent upon gays holding very narrow beliefs and making extraordinary sacrifices to live up to a standard that demands everything from an individual with little help from the community—it’s hard to believe our bodies might be an occasion for joy. It’s hard to believe we’re actually wanted in our churches. It’s hard to believe the God who loves us actually likes us.[more inside]
"Science, Chance, and Emotion with Real Cosima": A Longreads profile of Cosima Herter, the show's science consultant and the inspiration for Orphan Black's character Cosima. Mostly not directly about the show, but probably contains some spoilers if you're not fully caught up through season three.
An overview of folklore, religion and popular intuition surrounding childbirth, pregnant women, and young infants: abortion by aswang, blood-drinking Lilith, curses from witches, skeletal-faced spirits, and demonic births. content advisory: infant mortality [more inside]
Who's the fastest selling Playmobil figure of all time? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a dinosaur? [more inside]
Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life - "Please give this sermon a try. I think it has much in it that will be of interest to a wide range of readers: philosophy, cosmology, evolutionary theory, and science fiction, as well as theology. And nothing in it depends on believing in God at all." Abstract: As an enlightened form of atheism, I turn to teleotheism. Teleotheism is the view that God comes at the end, not at the beginning, where I am defining “God” as “the greatest of all things that can come true.” In this view, the quest to discover what are the greatest things that are possible is of the utmost importance. The best of our religious heritage is just such an effort to discover the greatest things that are possible. (via; previously)