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