"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)
[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)
Quiverfull of shit: a Guide to the Duggars' Scary Brand of Christianity - Gawker, Jennifer C. Martin
"In 1985, a writer named Mary Pride published a book called The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, which detailed her journey away from the second-wave feminism of the '70s and into what she perceived was a woman’s Biblical place in the home, and the commandment to fill the house with as many of her husband’s children as possible.
"Pride insisted that no woman could possibly find true happiness without submitting to her vision of Christianity: Relinquish control of your womb to God, and exist only to please your husband, give birth, feed everyone, and educate your children in the home—almost certainly without having received any formal higher education yourself."
Can evolution explain acts of kindness, and morality? [The Guardian]
We arranged a debate between a sceptical Tom Stoppard and the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. Stuart Jeffries acted as referee. We arranged for the two to meet recently in the grand boardroom of Wilson’s London publishers to discuss their differences, and reflect on two hard problems – what is the proper scope of science, and what is it to be human.
America’s Changing Religious Landscape: The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life has published the results of a new study of the religious affiliations of Americans, and finds a precipitous drop in the share of Christians since the last such study in 2007, along with a massive increase in the share of "nones" (which includes atheists, agnostics, and believers with no religious affiliation) and a small increase in the share of non-Christian faiths. Highlights below the fold. [more inside]
Yet to tell the diffusion of Indian influence at this period as two separate processes partially obscures a still more extraordinary story. For it is now increasingly clear that between the fourth and twelfth centuries the influence of India in both Southeast and Central Asia, and to some degree also China, was comparable to the influence of Greece in Aegean Turkey and Rome, and then in the rest of Europe in the early centuries BC. From the empire of the Gupta dynasty in the north and that of the Pallava dynasty in the south, India during this period radiated its philosophies, political ideas, and architectural forms out over an entire continent not by conquest but by sheer cultural sophistication.
I’m occasionally told my life would be easier if I backed off from my relentless efforts to advance evolution education. Maybe so. But to shy away from emphasizing evolutionary biology is to fail as a biology teacher. I continue to teach biology as I do, because biology makes sense only in the light of evolution.
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, along with six other Indiana tech CEOs, co-signed a letter opposing the a bill which would allow business to refuse to serve LGBT customers. When asked about his participation in the effort, Benioff said in an email to IBJ: "We will be forced to dramatically reduce our investment in Indiana based on our employees' and customers' outrage over the Indiana religious freedom bill." [more inside]
Sufjan Stevens's new album Carrie and Lowell can be streamed in its entirety at NPR and The Guardian. Four (very) early reviews. Previously
Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do. David Bentley Hart on Adam Gopnik's review of the state of theism and atheism.
Troubles in Paradise is a review of the history and arguments of the creationism/intelligent design movement, written by James Downard.
African religions fused with Christianity to create Voodoo, but today many open practitioners of the faith are white.
The Holy Junk Heap: In 1896, a cache of manuscripts -- mostly fragments -- was discovered in the storeroom ("genizah") at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo. The collection outlines a 1,000-year continuum (870 CE to the 19th century) of Jewish Middle-Eastern and North African history and comprises the largest and most diverse collection of medieval manuscripts in the world, including Jewish religious texts such as Biblical, Talmudic and later Rabbinic works (some in the original hands of the authors), "letters, wills, bills of lading, prayers, marriage contracts and writs of divorce, Bibles, money orders, court depositions, business inventories, leases, magic charms and receipts" which give a detailed picture of the economic and cultural life of the North African and Eastern Mediterranean regions, especially during the 10th to 13th centuries. [more inside]
"There are many like me. We don't believe in a monolithic practice of Islam. We love Islam, and because we love it so much we refuse to reduce it to an inflexible and fossilized way of life. Yet we still don't fit anywhere."
Vincent Price is theologically significant. Price wore a devilish goatee that made him look like Satan. How do we know that’s what Satan looks like? We learned it from Vincent Price — and from a thousand other pop-culture and folk-culture figures preceding him. Price carries a pitchfork — a red one, of course. That tells the audience that he’s the devil. What does a pitchfork have to do with the devil? Simple: It’s what we always see him carrying in movies. The pitchfork simultaneously references those folk traditions and reinforces them for future audiences.[more inside]
But these pop-culture portrayals also reference and reinforce our “theology” of the devil. Sure, most Christians realize that the pitchfork and goatee don’t come from the Bible. But the devilish stuff that most Christians think does come from the Bible cannot be found there either. [Fred Clark, The Slacktivist]
In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil. Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul.
From neo-pagan marriage ceremonies to edda study groups and plans for a new temple, Iceland is reconnecting with its pagan past.
Religion in China: Cracks in the atheist edifice - "Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China's Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire." [more inside]
"I am the gay community that many people think of, that gets to have its voice heard, who considers the prospect of marriage. But it certainly doesn’t end with me." (SL Atlantic)
Oklahoma. This was a place where Kathryn's workplace had a cussing jar, a quarter per swear, and the words written on it, “Let Go and Let God.” Here, Christianity was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and Oklahoma football was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and people could be decent and kind and judgmental, sometimes all at once, which was why, when Tracy told some Rotary Club friends that she and Kathryn were getting married, she kept her eyes planted above their heads so she wouldn't have to look at their faces.