29 December 2010

Jesus Is A Liberal Democrat (Colbert Report)

Jesus is a Liberal Democrat (The Colbert Report, 16 December 2010)

Jesus was always flapping his gums about the poor, but not once did he call for tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Romans.

"If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we've got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy, without condition. And then admit that we just don't want to do it."
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>March to Keep Fear Alive

Brooklyn Immigrant Congregations Clash

Brooklyn Immigrant Congregations Clash, by Sam Dolnick (New York Times, 28 December 2010)

The United Methodist church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is anything but united. Two pastors preach from the same pulpit and live in the same parsonage next door, but they are barely on speaking terms and openly criticize each other’s approach to the faith. In the church’s social hall, two camps eye each other suspiciously as one finishes its meal of rice and beans while the other prepares steaming pans of chicken lo mein.

Two very different congregations share the soaring brick building on Fourth Avenue: a small cadre of about 30 Spanish-speaking people who have worshiped there for decades and a fledgling throng of more than 1,000 Chinese immigrants that expands week by week — the fastest-growing Methodist congregation in New York City. The Latinos say they feel steamrolled and under threat, while their tenants, the Chinese, say they feel stifled and unappreciated. Mediators have been sent in, to little effect. This holiday season, there are even two competing Christmas trees.
Link: Brooklyn Immigrant Congregations Clash

28 December 2010

On Their Way Out

On Their Way Out: What Exit Interviews Could Teach Us About Lapsed Catholics, by William J. Byron (America, 3 January 2011)

Ever since Larry Bossidy, a former C.E.O. of Allied Signal and the Honeywell Corporation, raised the question of conducting interviews with lapsed Catholics, I have been giving it a lot of thought. Mr. Bossidy is a devout Catholic and the co-author (with Ram Charan) of a bestselling book, Execution, which Bossidy likes to explain is about effective management in business, not about capital punishment. He addressed a meeting of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management a couple of years ago and pointed out that if businesses were losing customers at the rate the Catholic Church in the United States is losing members, someone would surely be conducting exit interviews. His observation was prompted by data on declining church attendance released by the Pew Research Center.

Link: On Their Way Out: What Exit Interviews Could Teach Us About Lapsed Catholics

15 December 2010

Abu Dhabi Archeological Site Offers Rare Glimpse of Christian Past

Abu Dhabi Archeological Site Offers Rare Glimpse of Christian Past, by Benjamin Peim (The Media Line, 13 December 2010)

The remains of a monastery and church opened this week to the public in Abu Dhabi, offering tourists and locals a rare glimpse into the Islamic emirate’s often-forgotten Christian past.

The site contains the remains of a an Eastern Syrian church and monastery that was erected around the year 600, and was in use for about 150 years, Peter Hellyer, the project director for the Sir Bani Yas Monastery Project, told The Media Line. Located on Sir Bani Yas, a small deserted island off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the site shows the first physical evidence of a Christian presence in the southern gulf.
Link: Abu Dhabi Archeological Site Offers Rare Glimpse of Christian Past

How December 25 Became Christmas

How December 25 Became Christmas, by Andrew McGowan (Biblical Archaeology Review)

On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods—these all characterize the feast today, at least in the northern hemisphere. But just how did the Christmas festival originate? How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday?

The Bible offers few clues: Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year. The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they hear the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season; in the cold month of December, on the other hand, sheep might well have been corralled. Yet most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical.
Link: How December 25 Became Christmas

Liberation Theology: 40 Years Later (video)

Gustavo Gutiérrez, author of A Theology of Liberation; History, Politics, Salvation and other ground-breaking works on issues of spirituality and Latin American history, speaks on the topic: Liberation Theology: 40 Years Later

For more information.

11 December 2010

Broadside Fired At Al-Qaeda Leaders

Broadside Fired At Al-Qaeda Leaders, by Syed Saleem Shahzad (Asia Times, 10 December 2010)

A number of senior al-Qaeda members who had earlier opposed the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and some of whom were recently released from detention in Iran, have produced an electronic book critical of al-Qaeda's leadership vision and strategy.

The book, the first of its kind to publicly show collective dissent within al-Qaeda, was released last month. It urges the self-acclaimed global Muslim resistance against Western hegemony to open itself to the Muslim intelligentsia for advice and to harmonize its strategy with mainstream Islamic movements.

Analysts who spoke to Asia Times Online said that on face value the book did not indicate a spilt, rather an academic and "polite" review of al-Qaeda's policies. However, at a later stage, such discussion could lead to a division within al-Qaeda's ranks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where the top leadership is stationed.
Link: Broadside Fired At Al-Qaeda Leaders

07 December 2010

Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics

Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics, by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (Washington Post, 3 December 2010)

In her new book, "America by Heart," Palin objects to my uncle's famous 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in which he challenged the ministers - and the country - to judge him, a Catholic presidential candidate, by his views rather than his faith. "Contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president," Kennedy said. "I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic."

Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that Kennedy's speech had "succeeded in the best possible way: It reconciled public service and religion without compromising either." Now, however, she says she has revisited the speech and changed her mind. She finds it "defensive . . . in tone and content" and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an "unequivocal divorce of the two."

Palin's argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.

If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate's religious affiliation to be "reconciled." My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.
Link: Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics

05 December 2010

Round up of Discussion on American Exceptionalism

Round up of discussion on American Exceptionalism:

(1) Study Finds White Evangelicals Believe in American Exceptionalism (Sojourners, 23 November 2010)

(2) Washington Post Discussion on American Exceptionalism:

01 December 2010

China’s urbanites rediscover Buddhism

China's urbanites rediscover Buddhism, by Mitch Moxley (Asia Times, 2 December 2010)

Quan Zhenyuan discovered Buddhism by accident. After the owner of a vegetarian restaurant here in the Chinese capital gave her a book about the religion, she became hooked. Today, Quan is one of a growing number of urban Chinese turning to the religion for spiritual fulfillment.

"I always used to believe Buddhism was a kind of superstition, but I changed my mind completely after reading the book Recognizing Buddhism”, says Quan, 32, an executive manager at a tourism agency in Beijing. She says Buddhism has taught her how to better solve problems and cooperate with employees and clients. "Buddhism gives me peace of mind."

China, an officially atheist country, is experiencing a Buddhism revival. In the three decades since Deng Xiaoping announced the reform and opening up policy, a spiritual void has opened among many Chinese, experts say. Stressed and overfocused on careers and material gain, many of its citizens have started to look for answers in religion. Buddhism has a 2,000-year history in China.
Link: China's urbanites rediscover Buddhism, by Mitch Moxley

Buddhist Perspectives on Abortion

Round up of selected fulltext articles from the Journal of Buddhist Ethics on Buddhist perspectives on abortion:

"Abortion in Thailand: a Feminist Perspective"

"Buddhism and the Morality of Abortion"

"Abortion, Ambiguity, and Exorcism"

28 November 2010

Haiti Quake Strengthens Charismatic Catholicism

Haiti Quake Strengthens Charismatic Catholicism: Suffering, Haitians Turn To Charismatic Prayer (New York Times, 24 November 2010)

The pastor likes to sing in tongues on his daily walk around the park. Certain women in his parish say so many Hail Marys on their own that he no longer assigns them the prayers as penance for sins; instead, he may prescribe a pedicure. On a Saturday night in the basement of his mostly Haitian church in Queens, in a bare white room vibrating with hymns and exclamations, a young woman may find herself channeling the Holy Spirit to reveal news from Haiti.

The earthquake that killed an estimated quarter-million Haitians 10 months ago has made the noisy devotion of the parish, SS. Joachim and Anne, even more exuberant. On Jan. 12, barely two hours after the quake visited devastation on their homeland, Haitian immigrants flooded the church, dancing, singing, waving their arms above their heads — and praising God. Amid the lamentations and the laying on of hands and the surprising deluge of thanksgiving from people who did not yet know if their relatives were alive or dead, they ran out of tissues.
Link: Haiti Quake Strengthens Charismatic Catholicism

The National Day of Mourning

The National Day of Mourning (Manataka/American Indian Council, December 2010)

On Thanksgiving Day, many Native Americans and their supporters gather at the top of Coles Hill, overlooking Plymouth Rock, for the "National Day of Mourning."

The first National Day of Mourning was held in 1970. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts invited Wampanoag leader Frank James to deliver a speech. When the text of Mr. James’ speech, a powerful statement of anger at the history of oppression of the Native people of America, became known before the event, the Commonwealth "disinvited" him. That silencing of a strong and honest Native voice led to the convening of the National Day of Mourning.

The historical event we know today as the "First Thanksgiving" was a harvest festival held in 1621 by the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors and allies. It has acquired significance beyond the bare historical facts. Thanksgiving has become a much broader symbol of the entirety of the American experience. Many find this a cause for rejoicing. The dissenting view of Native Americans, who have suffered the theft of their lands and the destruction of their traditional way of life at the hands of the American nation, is equally valid.
Link: The National Day of Mourning

The Real Problem: Income Inequality

The Real Problem: Income Inequality, by David Futrelle (Money Magazine, 24 November 2010)

Raghuram Rajan wasn't the only economist who warned of the financial crisis before it struck. He was, however, the sole one brave enough to make this prediction in front of Alan Greenspan at a 2005 Jackson Hole Conference devoted to celebrating the legacy of the once-seemingly infallible Fed chief.

Nor is Rajan unique in blaming the panic on the decoupling of risk and reward in the financial sector. But he stands out as one of the few economists who cite income inequality as another root cause.

That's hardly the type of theory you'd expect to hear from an economist at the University of Chicago, a bastion of free-market thinking. But he argues that this income gap inspired politicians on both sides of the aisle to push low-income housing loans as a palliative for the poor, which helped to send the housing sector into overdrive.

The author of Fault Lines tells MONEY contributing writer David Futrelle that unless we come to terms with our economy's structural problems, we may be setting ourselves up for another fall.
Link: The Real Problem: Income Inequality

20 November 2010

The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families (Pew Research Center)

The transformative trends of the past 50 years that have led to a sharp decline in marriage and a rise of new family forms have been shaped by attitudes and behaviors that differ by class, age and race, according to a new Pew Research Center nationwide survey, conducted in association with TIME magazine, and complemented by an analysis of demographic and economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A new "marriage gap" in the United States is increasingly aligned with a growing income gap.

Marriage, while declining among all groups, remains the norm for adults with a college education and good income but is now markedly less prevalent among those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

The survey finds that those in this less-advantaged group are as likely as others to want to marry, but they place a higher premium on economic security as a condition for marriage.

The survey also finds striking differences by generation. In 1960, two-thirds (68%) of all twenty-somethings were married. In 2008, just 26% were.

Link: The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families

18 November 2010

Catholics in Belgium Start Parishes of Their Own

Catholics in Belgium Start Parishes of Their Own, by Doreen Carvajal (New York Times, 16 November 2010)

Willy Delsaert is a retired railroad employee with dyslexia who practiced intensively before facing the suburban Don Bosco Catholic parish to perform the Sunday Mass rituals he grew up with.

“Who takes this bread and eats,” he murmured, cracking a communion wafer with his wife at his side, “declares a desire for a new world.”

With those words, Mr. Delsaert, 60, and his fellow parishioners are discreetly pioneering a grass-roots movement that defies centuries of Roman Catholic Church doctrine by worshiping and sharing communion without a priest.

Don Bosco is one of about a dozen alternative Catholic churches that have sprouted and grown in the last two years in Dutch-speaking regions of Belgium and the Netherlands. They are an uneasy reaction to a combination of forces: a shortage of priests, the closing of churches, dissatisfaction with Vatican appointments of conservative bishops and, most recently, dismay over cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests.
Link: Catholics in Belgium Start Parishes of Their Own

17 November 2010

"Goddess of English" Breaks Caste Chains

"Goddess of English" Breaks Caste Chains, by Ranjit Devraj (Asia Times, 17 November 2010)

India's Dalits are turning to the "Goddess of English" for deliverance from centuries of religiously-sanctioned caste oppression.

Dalits, meaning literally “the broken people”, have begun erecting a temple to their new muse in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of northern Uttar Pradesh, a sprawling state of 190 million people, regarded as the heartland of orthodox Hinduism.

The inspiration for the idol of the goddess is unmistakable for the close resemblance it bears to the Statue of Liberty in New York. But – instead of a flaming torch – the goddess holds aloft a pen with her right hand, and cradles a book in the crook of her left arm.

Also, where Hindu deities are usually portrayed standing on a lotus flower pedestal, the Goddess of English stands on a computer console, signifying the technological age that the Dalits hope to enter. It also represents a break with a traditional past that has been so cruel to Dalits, once regarded as untouchables and forced to do menial work.
Link: "Goddess of English" Breaks Caste Chains

14 November 2010

Tough Times For Traditional Church Music

Tough Times For Traditional Church Music, by Teresa Lostroh (ABCNews, 13 November 2010)

No one has touched the organ at First United Methodist Church in Oakland, Neb., since last January. Small congregations find it difficult to pay well-trained organists. That's when 80-year-old Pat Anderson played her last note as the small-town church's volunteer organist, a post she held for 18 years. "It was time for me to retire," she said. When she did, there was nobody to step in. Two young women have taken over the musical duties for the 190-member congregation, but they play a digital piano – not the organ. "There are some people who wish we had the organ still, but they face the reality that it just isn't going to happen," said the Rev. Richard Karohl.

First United's struggle is indicative of a nationwide plight: There aren't enough organists to fill all of the open church positions. Many of the stay-at-home moms who once volunteered as organists are working now, and fewer young people are studying the organ. Those who are training to be professionals aren't interested in playing for small churches where the music program is limited to Sunday services and the pay is minimal – if there's pay at all.
Link: Tough Times For Traditional Church Music

Daisy Khan, An Eloquent Face of Islam

Daisy Khan, An Eloquent Face of Islam, by Michael M. Grynbaum (New York Times, 12 November 2010)

DAISY KHAN had never seen so many Jews in her life. The year was 1974, and Ms. Khan, an awkward, artistic 16-year-old who had just emigrated from India to the suburban Long Island enclave of Jericho, N.Y., was attending her first day of school in America.

It was not going well.

Her fellow students giggled at the newcomer with the dark skin, exotic accent and unfamiliar religion. Few Muslims, it seemed, had ever attended the mostly Jewish Jericho High School. When a teacher asked her to stand and introduce herself, the questions came fast: Did she ride a camel? Did she ride an elephant?

“It was very strange when you are 16 years old and you have to explain your religion to an entire class,” Ms. Khan, now 52, recalled recently in the Upper West Side offices of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, her nonprofit group. “But that’s where my first activism began. I realized that actually I was a spokesperson for Islam.”
Link: Daisy Khan, An Eloquent Face of Islam

Housewives of God

Housewives of God, by Molly Worthen (New York Times, 12 November 2010)

Priscilla Shirer’s marriage appears to be just the sort of enlightened partnership that would make feminists cheer. On an average morning in their house in suburban Dallas, Shirer and her husband, Jerry, are up around 6:30, fixing breakfast for their three small boys. While Priscilla, 35, settles in to work at home and care for their 2-year-old, Jerry, 42, shuttles the older two children to school and heads to his office. He spends much of the day negotiating her speaking invitations and her book contracts. In the afternoon it’s often Jerry who collects the boys from school. Back home, Priscilla and Jerry divide chores and child care equally. “He will most often jump in and do the dinner dishes,” Priscilla says. “We don’t have, ‘these are wife tasks and these are husband tasks.’ . . . Kids are not a wife-mommy thing.”

Yet Shirer avoids using words like “feminist” or “career woman” to describe herself. She is an evangelical Bible teacher who makes her living by guiding thousands of women through the study of Scripture in her books, videos and weekend conferences — in which she stresses that in a biblical home and church, the man is the head and the woman must submit. She steers women away from the “feminist activists” who tell women to “do your own thing, make your own decisions and never let a man slow you down,” as she puts it. “Satan will do everything in his power to get us to take the lead in our homes,” she wrote in her book “A Jewel in His Crown: Rediscovering Your Value as a Woman of Excellence.” “He wants to make us resent our husband’s position of authority so that we will begin to usurp it. . . . Women need to pray for God to renew a spirit of submission in their hearts.”
Link: Housewives of God

For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism is Revived

For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism is Revived, by Laurie Goodstein (New York Times, 12 November 2010)

Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.

“But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary,” he said. “But we have to be prepared.”
Link: For Catholics, Interest in Exocism is Revived

12 November 2010

The Rise Of The Tao: China's Taoism Revival

The Rise Of The Tao: China's Taoism Revival, by Ian Johnson (New York Times, 5 November 2010)

RELIGION HAS LONG played a central role in Chinese life, but for much of the 20th century, reformers and revolutionaries saw it as a hindrance holding the country back and a key reason for China’s “century of humiliation.” Now, with three decades of prosperity under their belt — the first significant period of relative stability in more than a century — the Chinese are in the midst of a great awakening of religious belief. In cities, yuppies are turning to Christianity. Buddhism attracts the middle class, while Taoism has rebounded in small towns and the countryside. Islam is also on the rise, not only in troubled minority areas but also among tens of millions elsewhere in China.

It is impossible to miss the religious building boom, with churches, temples and mosques dotting areas where none existed a few years ago. How many Chinese reject the state’s official atheism is hard to quantify, but numbers suggest a return to widespread religious belief. In contrast to earlier surveys that showed just 100 million believers, or less than 10 percent of the population, a new survey shows that an estimated 300 million people claim a faith. A broader question in another poll showed that 85 percent of the population believes in religion or the supernatural.
Link: The Rise Of The Tao: China's Taoism Revival

10 November 2010

Islamophobes Seduced By Crusader Myth

Islamophobes Seduced By Crusader Myth, by John Feffer (Asia Times, 10 November 2010)

The Crusades, which finally petered out in the 17th century, continue to shape our global imagination today. The Cold War ended in 1991, but key elements of the anticommunism credo have been awkwardly grafted onto the new Islamist adversary. And the "war on terror", which US President Barack Obama quietly renamed shortly after taking office, has in fact metastasized into the wars that his administration continues to prosecute in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

Those in Europe and the United States who cheer on these wars claim that they are issuing a wake-up call about the continued threat of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militants who claim the banner of Islam. However, what really keeps Islamophobes up at night is not the marginal and backwards-looking Islamic fundamentalists but rather the growing economic, political, and global influence of modern, mainstream Islam. Examples of Islam successfully grappling with modernity abound, from Turkey's new foreign policy and Indonesia's economic muscle to the Islamic political parties participating in elections in Lebanon, Morocco, and Jordan. Instead of providing reassurance, however, these trends only incite Islamophobes to intensify their battles to "save" Western civilization.

As long as our unfinished wars still burn in the collective consciousness - and still rage in Kabul, Baghdad, Sana'a, and the tribal areas of Pakistan - Islamophobia will make its impact felt in our media, politics, and daily life. Only if we decisively end the millennial Crusades, the half-century Cold War, and the decade-long "war on terror" (under whatever name) will we overcome the dangerous divide that has consumed so many lives, wasted so much wealth, and distorted our very understanding of our Western selves.
Link: Islamophobes Seduced By Crusader Myth, by John Feffer

08 November 2010

Asian American Religion, Spirituality & Faith

Asian American Religion, Spirituality, and Faith, by C.N. Le (Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America)

Among the more traditional elements of Asian American culture, religion, spirituality, and faith have always been important to Asian American communities, as they were for many generations before them. But within the diversity of the Asian American community, so too comes diversity in Asian American religious beliefs and practices.
Link: Asian American Religion, Spirituality, and Faith

Further Adrift: The American Church's Crisis of Attrition

Further Adrift: The American Church's Crisis of Attrition, by Peter Steinfels (Commonweal, 22 October 2010)

In February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, based on interviews with a representative sample of thirty-five thousand adult Americans, reported that one out of every three adult Americans who were raised Catholic have left the church. If these ex-Catholics were to form a single church, they would constitute the second largest church in the nation.

One in three. Think about it. This record makes the percentage of bad loans and mortgages leading to the financial meltdown look absolutely stellar. It dwarfs the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. Thomas Reese, SJ, the former editor of America, recently described this loss of one-third of those raised Catholic as “a disaster.” He added, “You wonder if the bishops have noticed.”

I wonder too. As far as I know, there has never been any systematic discussion of these findings at the meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They will meet again in mid-November, with an agenda that will deal with many things—but not with these devastating losses.

Link: Further Adrift: The American Church's Crisis of Attrition, by Peter Steinfels

18 October 2010

Walking Away From Church

Walking Away From Church by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell (Los Angeles Times, 17 October 2010)

Abstract: Organized religion's increasing identification with conservative politics is a turnoff to more and more young adults. Evangelical Protestantism has been hit hard by this development.

The most rapidly growing religious category today is composed of those Americans who say they have no religious affiliation. While middle-aged and older Americans continue to embrace organized religion, rapidly increasing numbers of young people are rejecting it.

As recently as 1990, all but 7% of Americans claimed a religious affiliation, a figure that had held constant for decades. Today, 17% of Americans say they have no religion, and these new "nones" are very heavily concentrated among Americans who have come of age since 1990. Between 25% and 30% of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation — roughly four times higher than in any previous generation.

So, why this sudden jump in youthful disaffection from organized religion? The surprising answer, according to a mounting body of evidence, is politics. Very few of these new "nones" actually call themselves atheists, and many have rather conventional beliefs about God and theology. But they have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics.
Link: Walking Away From Church

15 October 2010

God In America (PBS)

God in America: Inside the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life in America (PBS American Experience & Frontline)

You can watch the full program online.


For the first time on television, God in America explores the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life in America, from the first European settlements to the 2008 presidential election. A co-production of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and FRONTLINE, this six-hour series examines how religious dissidents helped shape the American concept of religious liberty and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation's courts and political arena; how religious freedom and waves of new immigrants and religious revivals fueled competition in the religious marketplace; how movements for social reform -- from abolition to civil rights -- galvanized men and women to put their faith into political action; and how religious faith influenced conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War.


"The American story cannot be fully understood without understanding the country's religious history," says series executive producer Michael Sullivan. "By examining that history, God in America will offer viewers a fresh, revealing and challenging portrait of the country."
(1) Official Website: God in America: Inside the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life in America
(2) Watch the full program online

From Jesus To Christ: The First Christians (PBS)

From Jesus To Christ: The First Christians (PBS Frontline)

You can watch the full program online.

From Jesus To Christ is an intellectual and visual guide to the new and controversial historical evidence which challenges familiar assumptions about the life of Jesus and the epic rise of Christianity.
(1) Official Website: From Jesus To Christ: The First Christians
(2) Watch the full program online

12 October 2010

House of Bishops Issues 'Theological Resource,' Pastoral Letter on Immigration

House of Bishops Issues 'Theological Resource,' Pastoral Letter on Immigration, by Mary Frances Schjonberg and Pat McCaughan (Episcopal Life Online, 21 September 2010)

The House of Bishops, at the conclusion of the Sept. 16-21 meeting in Phoenix, told the Episcopal Church that the starting point for any effort towards immigration reform begins with "an obligation to advocate for every undocumented worker as already being a citizen of God's reign on earth and one for whom Christ died."

The statement came in a 17-page document titled "The Nation and the Common Good: Reflections on Immigration Reform," which is meant to be used as a theological resource on migration and immigration.

In an accompanying pastoral letter, the bishops rooted their statements in the baptismal covenant's call to respect the dignity of every human being.

Link: House of Bishops Issues 'Theological Resource,' Pastoral Letter on Immigration

Test Your Savvy on Religion

Test Your Savvy On Religion, by Nicholas D. Kristof (New York Times, 9 October 2010)

The New York Times reported recently on a Pew Research Center poll in which religious people turned out to be remarkably uninformed about religion. Almost half of Catholics didn’t understand Communion. Most Protestants didn’t know that Martin Luther started the Reformation. Almost half of Jews didn’t realize Maimonides was Jewish. And atheists were among the best informed about religion.

So let me give everybody another chance. And given the uproar about Islam, I’ll focus on extremism and fundamentalism — and, as you’ll see, there’s a larger point to this quiz. Note that some questions have more than one correct choice; answers are at the end.
Link: Test Your Savvy On Religion

10 October 2010

When Americans Feared And Reviled Catholics

When Americans Feared and Reviled Catholics (Los Angeles Times, 10 October 2010)

The mind-set is all too familiar: A radical religious group, lurking inside the country, owing loyalty to a foreign power, threatens America. No one denies that its members have a right to worship as they please, but good Americans, patriots, feel compelled to call for curbs against the menace they present. Because of the number of Americans sharing these fears, calls for restrictions on the religion are voiced openly and unapologetically, even proudly.

Today this description may bring to mind the flap over the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero in New York, or recent calls for greater restrictions on Muslims in America, like banning their service on the Supreme Court or in the Oval Office. But in fact, it describes the year 1920, when the reviled group was Roman Catholics, not Muslims. As Mark Twain once quipped, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
Link: When Americans Feared and Reviled Catholics

Readings on the Ursuline Convent Riots (August 11-12, 1834)

Readings on the Ursuline Convent Riots in Charlestown, MA on August 11-12, 1834:

08 October 2010

In Fierce Opposition to a Muslim Center, Echoes of an Old Fight

In Fierce Opposition to a Muslim Center, Echoes of an Old Fight, by Paul Vitello (New York Times, 7 October 2010)

On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after the church was built, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed. “We were treated as second-class citizens; we were viewed with suspicion,” Father Madigan wrote in his letter to parishioners, adding, “Many of the charges being leveled at Muslim-Americans today are the same as those once leveled at our forebears.”

The pastor said he respected the feelings of those who lost relatives or friends on 9/11. “They bear a grief that is inexpressible,” he said. Park51’s organizers, he added, would have to “make clear that they are in no way sympathetic to or supported by any ideology antithetical to our American ideals, which I am sure they can do.” But he said Catholic New Yorkers had a special obligation. The discrimination suffered by their forebears, he said, “ought to be an incentive for us to ensure that similar indignities not be inflicted on more recent arrivals.”
Link: In Fierce Opposition to a Muslim Center, Echoes of an Old Fight

28 September 2010

Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Executive Summary: U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life)

Full report:
Abbreviated Online Quiz

Excerpt from Executive Summary:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

27 September 2010

Missionary to the Forbidden City

Missionary to the Forbidden City, by Sheila Melvin (New York Times, 27 September 2010)

In early May of 1610, the renowned Italian missionary Matteo Ricci took to his bed in the small Beijing rectory he shared with his fellow Jesuits.

It was the Confucian exam season, when candidates from around China flocked to the capital to be tested, and Ricci had been besieged by visitors — sometimes 100 a day. The men who knocked unbidden were drawn by his knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, mechanics, philosophy, literature and rhetoric; the widely popular books he had written — in Chinese — including “On Friendship” and “Ten Discourses of a Strange Man”; his Chinese translation of Euclid’s “Geometry”; annotated maps of the world; deep knowledge of the Confucian classics; phenomenally trained memory — he could scan a list of 500 Chinese characters once and then recite it from memory — backwards — and, no doubt, his reputation for sincerity and modesty.
Link: Missionary to the Forbidden City

23 September 2010

When A Catholic Priest Said Mass In A Muslim Home

When A Catholic Priest Said Mass In A Muslim Home, by Rev. Bekeh Utietiang (Huffington Post, 20 September 2010)

We finally gathered for Mass at 9 p.m., and the opening song to the celebration lasted for one hour. Present at the Mass were Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, African Traditional Religionists, Muslims, and others. Everyone sang, and the women danced -- and danced and danced. The Mass lasted till 1 a.m. The Mass was powerful and moving for me. I had never had such a wonderful experience in the celebration of the Eucharist, not even in my very first Mass as a priest. If this was the only Mass I had to celebrate as a priest, I told myself, it was worth my becoming a priest. The people gathered for this celebration did not see each other as foreigners from different tribes, religions, and churches. They saw each other as one people, with one common origin. This unity is never portrayed in the media. What we see are stories of the radical fringe elements in the different religions. They seem to be the loudest, and so often, their story is one that is told, casting religion in bad light.
Link: When A Catholic Priest Said Mass In A Muslim Home

22 September 2010

Christian Activists Show Faith in East Oakland

Christian Activists Show Faith In East Oakland, by Hilary Abramson (San Francisco Chronicle, 20 September 2010)

In the past three years, two bullets shattered the front window, a teenager was shot just outside and the downstairs neighbor was mugged. Before that, a woman's lifeless body was unearthed from a trash bin less than a block away.

But that part of East Oakland - where the neighborhoods of Fruitvale and San Antonio meet - is where Dr. Joan Jie-eun Jeung has chosen to live with her husband and their 6-year-old son.


Their home is where 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and barely 50 percent of the adults graduated from high school. There are people who only go outside in daylight. But with more than 40 percent of the residents foreign-born, the community has African American, Latino and Tongan churches, Southeast-Asian American shopkeepers and European Americans.
Link: Christian Activists Show Faith In East Oakland, by Hilary Abramson

21 September 2010

The Meaning of the Koran

The Meaning of the Koran, by Robert Wright (New York Times' Opinionator, 14 September 2010)

Test your religious literacy:

Which sacred text says that Jesus is the “word” of God? a) the Gospel of John; b) the Book of Isaiah; c) the Koran.

The correct answer is the Koran. But if you guessed the Gospel of John you get partial credit because its opening passage — “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God” — is an implicit reference to Jesus. In fact, when Muhammad described Jesus as God’s word, he was no doubt aware that he was affirming Christian teaching.

Extra-credit question: Which sacred text has this to say about the Hebrews: God, in his “prescience,” chose “the children of Israel … above all peoples”? I won’t bother to list the choices, since you’ve probably caught onto my game by now; that line, too, is in the Koran.
Link: The Meaning of the Koran

Turnout Still Falling At Masses

Turnout Still Falling At Masses: Catholic Church Struggles Against Attendance Trend, by Dan Horn (Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 September 2010)

Almost two out of three Catholics in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky won't go to church this weekend to celebrate Mass, an event they have been told since childhood is the center of their spiritual lives. The church's most recent count of people in the pews found that about 290,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and 60,000 in the Diocese of Covington skip Mass in a typical week. The annual attendance count begins again next month, but church officials don't expect dramatic improvement.
Link: Turnout Still Falling At Masses: Catholic Church Struggles Against Attendance Trend

20 September 2010

The Jews and the Chinese: Reaching for the Moon

The Jews and the Chinese: Reaching for the Moon, by Michele Kriegman [source: Moment 10 (1995): 32-33]

Every autumn since my marriage to an ethnic Chinese man, I had celebrated the holiday of the 5,000-year-old culture whose people gather on the 15th of Tishri to reenact an important historic event while enjoying the harvest moon. But although the 15th of Tishri is the first day of Sukkot, these people are not Jewish and the holiday celebrated is not Sukkot. It is the Chinese Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, that is celebrated throughout the sphere of Chinese cultural influence, from Vietnam to Japan. Not having grown up in a family of Sukkot-celebrators, it took several years before I realized that the Asian holiday coincided with a holiday of my own people. I have found that selectively borrowing from the Moon Festival can draw us back to the agricultural roots of Sukkot, to appreciate better the Creator of nature, and fulfill our need for connection with other peoples. But juxtaposing these two different full-moon holidays also confirms for me the distinctiveness of the Jewish people and our ethical mission
Link: The Jews and the Chinese: Reaching for the Moon

19 September 2010

Part of the Fabric of the City, a Growing Islamic Community

Part of the Fabric of the City, a Growing Islamic Community, by Julia O'Malley (Anchorage Daily News, 14 September 2010)

Anchorage's Muslim community has no Imam, or main religious teacher. On Friday, Mohamed Sayed, a 28-year-old petroleum engineer for BP who is originally from Egypt, led the prayers and gave the sermon. I asked what he wanted people to take from what he said. He told me he hoped they would remember to be devout and unified, that they would try to be visible examples in Anchorage of compassion and charity. Islam, he said, is just like any other religion.

He hoisted his young sons in either arm. They were wearing matching sweater vests. He introduced me to his wife. They like Anchorage because it's quiet and family-oriented, he said. He plays in a soccer league with people from all walks of life. That's an example of how the city is tolerant, and how Muslims like him are integrated into the mainstream, he said.

"You'll find us around you, but you probably won't notice we are Muslim," he told me. "Because we are just like you."

17 September 2010

Religious Studies Thrive In Troubled Times

Religious Studies Thrive In Troubled Times (Newsweek, 12 September 2010)


But elsewhere, the study of religion thrives, often in surprising places. Sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists are all getting into the religion game, trying to discover the roots of human religious belief and bring quantitative methods to bear on the study of religious practice. A small but growing number of economists are endeavoring to measure the impact of the business cycle on religiosity—and, conversely, the impact of religiosity on prosperity. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, long home to one of the country’s most innovative religion departments, two new courses illustrate religious studies’ shift in emphasis. One, The Evolutionary and Cognitive Science of Religion, looks at the religious impulse of the human mind; the other, Origins: A Dialogue Between Scientists and Humanists, is cross-listed as a physics course and is UCSB’s answer to the broader culture’s larger “faith versus reason” debates.

Public universities often host the best religion departments. For one thing, they are newer and don’t have to cope, institutionally, with a legacy of Christian origins. And, as recipients of taxpayer money, they have to be very clear about their secular framework: they can’t teach students to be religious; they have to teach about religion.

15 September 2010

Black Muslims: Left Out Of The National Conversation On Islam

Black Muslims: Left Out of the National Conversation on Islam (New America Media)

But despite the protests and the vitriol directed at the proposed mosque (and Islam in general), Abdur-Rashid sees something missing when it comes to the national conversation: Black Muslims.

“The first thing we need to do is decode some of the language,” said Abdur-Rashid. “The first language that has to be decoded is “Americans.” That really means “white Americans.” That’s who’s uptight about this. It’s opposition that’s occurring in different parts of the country in reaction to the construction of mosques. It’s not just Park 51 in Lower Manhattan. It’s in Milwaukee. It’s in California. It’s in different parts of the country.”

But Abdur-Rashid also detects something more than a religious angle to the protests. “The opposition that is coming from certain segments of the White American community is not just tied to the building of mosques. There’s a race angle, an ethnicity angle as well as a religious angle,” he said. “Ethnicity wise, it’s not just Arabs. It’s Arabs and southern Asians. Southern Asian immigrants, according to all of the studies done over the past 15 to 20 years, are the largest group of Muslims in the United States. Then African-Americans are second and Arabs are third.
Link: Black Muslims: Left Out of the National Conversation on Islam

Race and Ethnicity of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population by Generation (CARA)

Diversification: Race and Ethnicity of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population by Generation (CARA Blog, 25 August 2010)

According to the results of recent CARA Catholic Polls (CCP), generational changes are underway that are transforming the demography of the U.S. Catholic population. Through a combination of immigration and different fertility rates among sub-groups of the population, racial and ethnic identities of the Catholic population now vary significantly by generation.
As the figure below shows, differences between these groups are not limited to age. Estimates based on the aggregated results of multiple recent CCPs indicate that three in four of the oldest generation of Catholics self-identifies their race and ethnicity as non-Hispanic White. By comparison, just fewer than four in ten of the youngest generation of adult Catholics identifies as such.

Link: Diversification: Race and Ethnicity of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population by Generation

12 September 2010

Islam & Modernity: Not All Muslims Think Alike

Islam & Modernity: Not All Muslims Think Alike, by Patrick J. Ryan (Commonweal, 10 September 2010)

Since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001, Americans have been living in a world riven by antagonism between Muslims and non-Muslims, a polarization arguably not seen since the medieval period and the Crusades of Christian Europe. In the face of this antipathy, it’s important to acknowledge that just as the West today is more religiously diverse than was Europe when Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade almost a thousand years ago, so too is the Muslim world. Too many talking heads in the American media want to reduce the Islamic tradition to its most politicized and militant version. Such a simplification insults the richness of that religious tradition.

When I recently read through the names of those who died in the World Trade Center that September morning, I was struck by how many were identifiably Muslim. In this regard it seems wholly suitable that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wishes to build, on a site two blocks from Ground Zero, a community center and mosque. Like us, our Muslim neighbors need a place to pray and mourn for their relatives and friends who died on that terrible day. But the willingness, even the ability, to extend sympathetic support for such a need depends on a knowledge of Islam many Americans lack.

Link: Islam & Modernity: Not All Muslims Think Alike