Religion Feed

Islam & Reformation

You often hear that Islam needs something like western Christianities Reformation.  This good article from The Atlantic disagrees.  It reminds us that the 16th century Ottoman Empire was more religiously tolerant than most of the European Christian states.  And its analysis is that the current state of the Muslim world is closer to that of post-Reformation Europe, when there has been great division leading to sectarian violence.  The article argues that what Islam needs is a John Locke or a Moses Mendelssohn, not a Martin Luther, its own version of the Enlightenment.

Here is the closing paragraph:

If the Protestant Reformation teaches us anything, it is that the road from religious fracturing to religious tolerance is long and winding. The Muslim world is somewhere on that road at the moment, and more twists and turns probably await us in the decades to come. In the meantime, it would be a mistake to look at the darkest forces within the current crisis of Islam and to arrive at pessimistic conclusions about its supposedly immutable essence.


Hillary Clinton's faith

I was reading the New Yorker article on her latest book. The author referenced a 1993 profile in the Times by Michael Kelly which discussed Hillary's theological worldview (a profile she didn't like). So I googled the article, which is quite revealing. 

One of the great puzzles of the last quarter century is how a basically devout woman got portrayed as something else.  She is a social justice Methodist who was deeply affected by her experiences in youth group.  While in Arkansas she developed close ties with many in religious communities.  This article also discusses how she used to preach and the influence upon her thinking of Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.  Also how her political liberalism is at root a religious liberalism.  This latter I knew.

What she seems to have not liked about the article is how it presented her crusade to make the world a better place as a kind of benevolent paternalism.  This aspect of the Clinton's (most obvious in the 1996 Democratic convention) is something I haven't liked about them.  Though I now read her moral warnings and defense of virtue as another time when she was warning about something before it became obvious to the rest of (and clearly one reason she is so galled by Donald Trump).  In fact, many of the things she says in the 1993 profile sound like recent David Brooks.  Another puzzle how this left of center person with many ideas in common with the right was so villainized by the right.


History of religious liberty

This essay argues that it was not philosophical ideas that gave rise to religious liberty but the changing nature of the political state which made society open to toleration.

A point from the conclusion:

Finally, the history of how religious freedom came to be is a reminder that commitment to liberal values alone is not enough for liberalism to flourish. It requires a suitable political and economic foundation.


Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians

Becoming Fire!: Spiritual Practices for Global ChristiansBecoming Fire!: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians by Bruce G. Epperly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will now be my go-to introduction for spiritual practices. It is a lively discussion of spirituality rooted in Christianity but informed by spiritual practices of other faith traditions. And a handy guide for spirituality in progressive church.

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After the Wrath of God

After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American ReligionAfter the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion by Anthony M. Petro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best written non-fiction books I've read. This is the author's first book, so I look forward to reading what he writes in the future. According to his bio at Boston University his next two book projects look equally as interesting.

This book is about the religious rhetoric used during the early years of the AIDS crisis and how that rhetoric shaped public policy. This is a fascinating study exploring how left, right, and center developed moral language to grapple with the crisis. The study refutes any reductionistic notions of religious conservatives versus secular leftists.

The final two chapters discuss Cardinal O'Connor and ACT UP's confrontation of him. Reading those chapters made me very angry at the Cardinal.

In the final section the author explores how AIDS and gay activists developed their own religious and moral language, but he left me wanting more. I hope that comes in subsequent books.

Also, while he does treat of progressive Christian responses, they don't get as much discussion as conservative responses. This is probably because conservative responses dominated much of the public health debates at the time.

Petro is a keen intellect and engaging writer.

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The problem in rural America

I was annoyed by the reductionistic accounts after the election that liberals don't understand the heartland or rural folk.  Baloney.  For one, many of us live in the heartland or are from the heartland.  Plus most liberals I know go out of their way to try to understand diverse perspectives, it's part of what it means to be a liberal. 

Yes, I too have experienced the annoying trait of folks on the coast (both liberal and conservative) for not understanding or caring to understand the heartland, but that's a slightly different thing.

What I've also experienced in the complete unwillingness of many people, including many in the heartland, to not engage in any open-minded exploration of ideas. 

This good article on fundamentalism and its affects upon American life gets to that point.  

The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

The author explains further:

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

More than a decade ago I began arguing that LGBT rights really wasn't advanced through education, but more like a conversion experience.  Older liberals often strongly disagreed with me; they hold such romantic ideas about the efficacy of being exposed to new information.  This article makes a similar point for how fundamentalism is changed: "Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal."


How the Bible Belt Lost God and Found Trump

A powerful article, from April, in the Financial Times on how Evangelicals have abandoned their faith in their embrace of Donald Trump. An excerpt:

As evangelical Christianity has grown more successful in the political realm, Flynt fears that it has been reduced to a sum of its slogans. Lost in the transition, he says, is the traditional evangelical standard for sizing up candidates — “personal moral character”, which includes such criteria as marital fidelity, church attendance and kindness. “No one I know of would argue that Donald Trump inculcates moral character,” Flynt says. “What has happened to American Christianity is there is this afterglow of what a candidate is supposed to represent. It’s no longer moral character. It’s policy positions on things that bother evangelicals.”