Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nichole Phillips: Sharing Discoveries in Religion and Ritual

Nichole Phillips was on her way to medical school when she heard a different calling.

"I had always been interested in religion, but medical school was my goal," recalled Phillips, an assistant professor of religion and human difference in Emory's Candler School of Theology. "Taken together, I thought I would be a more empathetic, compassionate physician."

So she embraced them both: an undergraduate biochemistry major and religion minor who was both president of her pre-med society and deeply involved in ministry to black women through Ethos, a Wellesley College student organization for women of African descent.

With research interests that today span religion, psychology, African American history and culture, as well as community and ritual studies, Phillips still considers herself a scientist: "I'm both a social scientist of religion and a practical theologian," she explains.

As a Humanistic Inquiry Program (HIP) Fellow, a position supported through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to strengthen the humanities and expand interdisciplinary inquiry, Phillips is in her element — among a new generation of humanities scholars with both deep training in the humanities and broad training in other areas.

"I think it's wonderful," she says. "Because I hold science and religion in tension, I've always been interdisciplinary. I'm bringing sociology, anthropology and ethnography into the conversation about the science of religion."

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The Black Madonnas Of Europe: Miracle Workers and Holy Icons

Of all the varied aspects of African womanhood, none are more fascinating than the hundreds of representations of Black Madonnas. Indeed, the Black Madonnas of Europe are perhaps the most venerated icons in all of European Christendom. Their shrines have attracted millions of devotees. They are thought to be miracle workers, and their miracle-working powers are derived from their blackness.
In Russia during the nineteenth century, the celebrated Russian General Kutuzov had his army pray before the Black Madonna of Kazan before the historic battle with the Napoleonic army at Borodino. The same Madonna is said to have inspired Rasputin and may now be in the United States. At least two major paintings of Black Madonnas are on display in the Kremlin, in Moscow.
In reference to La Moreneta (the Little Black Lady), the Black Madonna of Montserrat, Spain – more than 1,000 years old and the patroness of the Catalonian region, it is said “He is not well wed who has not taken his wife to Montserrat.” She is in charge of sexuality and fertility, and presides over weddings and childbirth. In the mountains north of Barcelona, La Moreneta’s shrine has attracted millions of visitors, including pope John Paul II. Both Goethe and Schiller attached great importance to Montserrat.
France probably has more representations of Black Madonnas than any other country. France has more than 300 representations of Black Madonnas, a chief center of which is Chartres – a small quiet town about 85 kilometers southwest of Paris. The most notable of the Black Madonna images in Chartres is called Notre-Dame du Pilier (Our Lady of the Pillar). This representation, about a meter high, of a Black Madonna statue made of natural wood placed on a pillar holding the infant Jesus. Both the Madonna and Child are colored a very dark brown and are dressed in white robes embroidered with gold. The images are highly venerated, especially among Catholics, and I confess that even I, out of respect, got down on both knees during my two visits to the cathedral and whispered a prayer.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Passover in the Confederacy

For at least one night each spring during the Civil War, in places like Louisiana and South Carolina and Georgia and Virginia, Confederate Jews commemorated how God freed the children of Israel from slavery. They retold the story of when God is said to have sent down 10 plagues to help free the Hebrews from their bondage, the last of which was the slaying of all Egyptians’ firstborn children, and how the Jews marked their door posts with the blood of a slaughtered lamb so the Angel of Death would know to “pass over” them. Thus, they celebrated their liberation more than 3,000 years ago from slavery in ancient Egypt, and their exodus.

Some of those commemorating Passover may have gathered with their families around a dinner table partaking in a Seder — possibly served by slaves. Many others were on the battlefield, holding impromptu Seders or simply noting the special night for a moment in their minds as they focused on fighting for their home states — Southern slave states.

For many American Jews today, particularly those descended from immigrants coming through Northeast corridors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea that Confederate Jews fought on the side of slavery offends their entire worldview, rooted so deeply in social justice. Even the idea of there being so many Jews in the American South, decades before Ellis Island opened its gates, is a strange idea.

But just as Robert E. Lee, an Army officer for 32 years, sided with his home state of Virginia against the federal government, many Jews found a homeland in Dixie over the centuries and decided they could not take up arms against it. To them, after all they’d suffered and fled throughout the ages, the South was their new motherland, the land of milk and honey (and cotton), and it was worth fighting for. “This land has been good to all of us,” one Jewish-German Southerner wrote. “I shall fight to my last breath.”

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Ask and Ye Shall Receive

by Jessie Jennings
*Special to R3

The spring is finally upon us. I enjoy many things about the springtime. I enjoy the return of the birds that I hear singing as I walk my dog each morning. I enjoy seeing the sun shine through the curtains of my home as I prepare for work.. I enjoy being able to walk outside without a hat (which is strictly avoided in the winter since only my chin is covered with hair).  While I enjoy many things about springtime, there are a few things that I have come to expect that I do not enjoy. First, I expect to have to pick up allergy medicine before pollen envelopes my car. Second, I expect to lose an hour of sleep when we “spring forward.” Finally, I expect to hear during a spring pledge drive how this is my year…or it could be if I would sow into that word; the bigger the seed the better. After all, you have to sow where you want to go, right?

As I have listened to various forms of giving campaigns on television and radio alike, I have seen that there is some interesting rhetoric being used to compel people to contribute toward their causes. Some of the rhetoric can be helpful. One example of rhetoric that I heard recently that could be viewed as helpful was on the Christian radio stations K-Love and Air One.  These stations appeared to have avoided the use of “Give to get” rhetoric at all costs. I know what you’re thinking…how could they convince people in our consumerist culture to contribute if they didn’t list a benefit for doing so? Not so fast, they did list a benefit. The appeal was made more toward the altruistic individual than toward the self-serving individual (although someone could argue that altruism is self-serving as well because the individual receives a warm and fuzzy feeling inside for doing something to serve others). The rhetoric that was used on the radio stations tended to revolve around the understanding that the listeners who were contributing were making a difference in the lives of others. This was reinforced by the use of testimonials and sound bits of people sharing how the radio station had saved their life by helping them to find help when they needed it or given them hope when they were at their wits end. This was in stark contrast to the approach that was used on the popular television station recently. 

Whereas the radio repeatedly shared how the funds were used to make a difference in the lives of people around the world, the television station used more religious rhetoric that tried to convince the viewers that the station was “good ground.” Never mind the fact that the text they were using in this instance was from a parable that was explained by Jesus and was referring to how people hear and receive His Word...not where they send their contributions. There were no images of how they used the funds to change the world. No video or audio testimonials of how the viewers were becoming a part of a movement that would carry the hope of Christ to a hopeless person they hadn’t even met. There were only long messages about how others had given to God before seeing a miraculous release of favor and blessing. 

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that to be so. I believe God has blessed people in the Word who have stepped out on faith. However, I’m not so sure of how their stories are being treated in many modern contexts when it comes to raising an offering. Sometimes it makes sense and other times it feels a little bit like manipulation. Sometimes it feels as though I can hear the voice of Obery Hendricks Jr. in his book The Politics of Jesus where he wrote, “Josephus writes matter-of-factly of the lands his family owned outside Jerusalem, and reports priests amassing ‘a large amount of property from the tithes which they accepted as their due.” And if we think this doesn’t happen today all we need to do is turn on the news and we’d see that an Archbishop in Atlanta was pressed to sell the $2M home he bought with money that had been donated to the church to help those in need. Granted, I realize we all have needs. 

While rhetoric (according to Cicero) should instruct, please and persuade we must always be careful to ensure that what we are conveying is consistent with the cause of Christ. He discussed money and, as such, we should be open to discuss these matters but we have considered the manner in which we talk about these things. If we were instructing others about the benefits of giving, it would behoove us to communicate how we are giving ourselves (individually, collectively, organizationally). Sure, “you have not because you ask not” but what about those who have not because unjust systems are preventing them from receiving? Is their breakthrough one offering away? Or are we playing into that same system that could be keeping them from walking into it when we levy additional “temple taxes” on them under the hopes that God will see their act of faith and command a blessing in their direction. I know God is able to do so, but sometimes I wonder if the way we direct people toward it is the best way to go about it. Because of these thoughts, I opt for communicating how their seed will make a difference in the lives of others (because I can be sure of this when the funds are handled with integrity) rather than making promises that the offering will make an immediate difference in their own lives. That’s just my practice. How about you?

Jessie Jennings is a student at Memphis Theological Seminary and the Pastor of Communications at Golden Gate Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee.

Of Football, Maps, Mourning, Mom, and Foot Washing

Re Contributor

Robert saw me bending over to pick up a discarded coffee cup at Manna House this morning.

“Not so easy getting down low anymore is it?” he asked.
“Some days are better than others.  But on all days I’m not nearly as flexible as I used to be.”
“Me neither.  I was in the hospital most of yesterday with back spasms.”
“Sorry to hear that Robert.  That’s painful.”
“Years of cement work on top of high school football.  I’m paying the price.”
“Where did you play?”
“Orange Mound, Melrose.  I was a halfback.  Fast and strong.  They could count on me.”

John likes maps.  He always carries a few with him.  He likes to peruse them while he drinks his coffee at Manna House.  He had heard that I was up in Minnesota this past weekend, so he was curious about where in Minnesota I had been.  When I told him “Rochester,” he wanted to know which county.  “Olmsted.”  Then the conversation really took off.

“Is that in the southeastern corner of Minnesota?”
“Yes, about an hour or so southeast of the Twin Cities.”
“Not far from Iowa?”
“About an hour or so.”
“You know those northern counties of Iowa?”
“Not really.”
“Winnebago.  Worth. Mitchell. Howard. Winneshiek.  Allamahee.”
“I really don’t know those counties, John.”
“I study maps.  I just like knowing where things are.”
When I got home, I checked up on the list (which I had written down).  Sure enough, those counties go right across northern Iowa.

We started the day with sad news.  “Dusty” also known as “Charles” has died. Dusty was a regular guest at Manna House for many years.  When he first started coming he was on crutches.  He only had one leg.  He went everywhere on those crutches, and he went through lots of those rubber tips at the bottom of the crutches.  We’d buy them and just keep on replacing the tips.  June Averyt started working with him and tried to get him into housing.  He’d been on the streets so long he didn’t feel comfortable inside.  So, she agreed that he could stay in a tent in the backyard of where she had housed other folks.  Dusty eventually lost his other leg and so he got around on a motorized wheelchair.  This happened about the same time that he was able to get himself to move into a place to live.  He was still a regular in the neighborhood.  He was well liked.   Along with our guests we took news of his death hard.

Another guest had additional mourning today.  He mother died yesterday of cancer. He’s now an orphan.  One of thirteen children, Keith is more or less in the middle he said.  Nine are still alive.  The funeral is tomorrow, and Saturday morning she will be laid to rest.  “I have to stay strong for the rest of the family.  They’re taking it pretty hard.  I knew it was coming.  I’ve been going to see her in the hospital and so I’m at peace.”

Every third Thursday, Camille and Ashley head up the Foot Washing and Foot Clinic at Manna House.  Guests sign up in advance for this evening, which includes a meal.  Tonight’s Foot Washing and Clinic happened to fall on Holy Thursday when many Christian churches commemorate the Last Supper, including in John’s Gospel, where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, telling them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set an example for you, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-14).

Eight guests had their feet washed by four volunteers, enjoyed a meal prepared and served by two more volunteers, then saw a foot doctor, and in turn were fitted with gently used shoes courtesy of Fleet Feet.  It was a good liturgy.

Follow Peter on Twitter @petegath

Reflexive Religious Studies: A Note

As I have been arguing for a long time, the category “religion” is transformative. [i] Various entities become “religions.” I want to emphasize that this is not a teleological or transhistorical process, but one that came out of a particular logic at a particular moment in Western Christendom, and its globalization was necessarily selective and to some extent arbitrary. It should also be noted that this was a modern process, articulated in various stages, but in essence coinciding with the formation of globalization or transnational modernity.

This process is always incomplete. Christianity, Buddhism, and so on always retain remainders that are not fully brought under the category. Moreover, this process of becoming a religion is still ongoing. Indeed, in a certain sense it may be seen as having permeated the whole intellectual stratum of modernity. Even in modernity, “religion” cannot be taken as a self-evident category. Religious Studies must therefore be the discipline that suspends its primary object of inquiry, never taking for granted religion’s meaning.

To put it in different terms and to indicate this non-universal category, one might say that: things become religions. At the risk of skirting typographical silliness, I want to use the strike through here (evocative of the Lacanian barred subject) in order to indicate religion as an impossible object, something like a term “under erasure” (Sous rature) in the Heidegger/Derrida sense, which for our purposes we might identify with a de-essentialized process. By this I mean more than the reification of an abstraction. Irrespective of any “essential” nature, to designate something a religion is to place it into a series of relations with other “religions.” Various entities become religions by being linked up to the world-system in a way that transforms them. Here I mean to gesture toward the insights of both Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis and Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory (as well as those articulated more recently by Peter Beyer). According to a synthesis of these accounts, our current world-system came into effect along with the formation of a system exchange of knowledge and capital, which began to encircle the globe over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In so doing, it produced global systems of self-reinforcing discourse.

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Jesus and the Cross: Rejection and Resurrection

I hate to be rejected. Don't you?
No one likes rejection. Yet, we experience rejection and its pain from an early age. Children feel hurt when, on the playground or in other settings, they are not allowed to play a game with the rest of the kids. Childhood rejection may even be self-inflicted, when we resent the fact that we are afraid to climb up to the top of the Jungle Gym.
I remember growing up and anticipating my being picked for a sports team at school. It could be a baseball game or a volleyball game. I waited with the other students as the teacher chose two leaders to pick their teams. The process was devastating as students waited. And waited. And waited some more, to be picked. The process lasted less than five minutes, but it seemed an eternity.
It felt awful to be one of the last ones picked for a team. It hurt as all the strong athletic kids got picked first and the ones with no perceptible athletic ability were left to the end. If you were the last, or among the last, you felt the rejection as each person, other than you, was picked.
Nobody wants to feel rejected. None of us wants to receive a rejection letter to our college application, audition or job application. It is painful and could be heartbreaking.
Jesus knew rejection through his life. The people of Nazareth, his own hometown, rejected him (Luke 4:26-30). Still others wondered about him because of that hometown. "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked (John 1:46). People rejected much of his teaching. Many questioned the origin of his teachings and do not accept him as he was born poor, the son of Joseph the carpenter. In Matthew 21:42, Jesus talks about the stone the builders rejected. The story is a revelation about Jesus, himself.
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More than Hobby Lobby: My Take as a Scholar of Religious History

Hobby Lobby was not my favorite work experience—it required long hours, ridiculous record-keeping, exposure to monotonous Christian muzak, and putting up with some creepy coworkers. It was, well, retail. Also, I worked there for all of three months. I’ve been a religious historian for far longer and thought I’d share my thoughts on the current case and the evolution of corporate Christianity in general instead of dwelling on those three months of stocking googly eyes. Huffington Post and Businessweek both interviewed me regarding the current SCOTUS case and, while they had good questions, I think that there are some points that have been missing from the discourse. Namely, how is Hobby Lobby related to larger trends? What is actually happening to evangelical religion in the United States? And why are reproductive rights/contraception at the center of this struggle?   

Much of the discourse surrounding Hobby Lobby is, necessarily, about corporate Christianity. Of course, Hobby Lobby is a great example of this particular phenomenon and contributes to a larger narrative of the blending of the corporate and religious that has been a theme in American religious history. As our own Darren Grem pointed out, “Religion has been a part of corporate America for quite some time.” I’ll leave this territory to Darren and fellow business and religion scholars—it’s an exciting field and there is obviously much relevance in this work right now. From my own developing research on megachurches, however, I’m considering a slightly different perspective on current trends. 

Hobby Lobby may win this case because of the pro-business and conservative nature of the Roberts Court, of course, but there’s a larger cultural phenomenon that might be influencing public and political opinion as well. The case is significant because it represents the blending of corporate and Christian—and one very visible sector of American religion that mixes the same stuff is the rapidly rising megachurch movement. The public and our leadership have been primed to consider the religious rights of corporations because of the general growth of Christian industry and that industry is manifested in tax-free organizations like megachurches. In other words, megachurches and seeker-sensitive churches, in particular, are assisting in blurring the lines between business and religion so that it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins.

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How Religion and Spirituality Can Help (or Harm) You

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” (Billy Sunday)

Is it better for your happiness and health to belong to an organized religion or to be “spiritual”? Does it matter?
Being religious refers to believing in a specific deity (or group of deities) and following the regulations of a particular religion. In addition, organized religion (as implied by its title) generally takes place in a relatively formal, organized context. In contrast, being spiritual may or may not involve belief in a particular god but does imply that the person is trying to follow a specific moral code, such as being loving and kind, and is seeking a meaning in life that’s bigger than him or herself.

In other words, a person can be both religious and spiritual. In contrast, someone can be religious but not spiritual, as in the case of adhering to religious dogma such as tithing 10% of one’s income but being consistently cruel or unjust. Or, an individual can be spiritual but not religious.

Unfortunately, some organized religions have become associated with hypocrisy and worse, due to a few (or more) individuals of high standing in such communities behaving in regrettable and hurtful ways. So have some spiritual pursuits found themselves under scrutiny, for that matter.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From Self Love to Suicide: The Conversation Starts Now

by Karren D. Todd
Special to R3

Today, I logged on to Facebook and received tragic news. The post read that Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls, had died of an apparent suicide. According to the organization’s website, “FBG was created to celebrate the beauty of dark skin while combating colorism and promoting self love.” It goes on to speak of “encouraging those struggling with accepting having a darker skin complexion to love and embrace the skin they are in” in hopes that all may take away from For Brown Girls “the universal and essential message of self love and acceptance”. Self Love. Acceptance. Suicide. It’s evident that one of these words does not belong.

The life of a young, African American woman who had dedicated her life to uplifting and encouraging other women of color had come to an abrupt and sorrowful end. With all that she had done to inspire and raise the spirits of others – who was there for her? It has been reported that this vibrant young woman may have suffered from depression as she coped with the loss of her mother. Did she hide her emotional distress from those around her or were there signs of depression that we missed?

As the Twitter world begins to weigh in on this heartbreaking story, many supporters are mothers of teenaged African American girls who were moved and motivated by the many initiatives that sprang from the heart of this young lady. These mothers are now faced with the daunting task of sharing this sad news with their daughters who had found hope through the voice of someone whose voice has been silenced by hopelessness. What will they say? How will they cope with hopelessness after this? We may never know the answers to these questions but there are questions we must raise in the wake of this devastating news: Why would a young black woman feel constrained to keep her pain and hurt secret or more universally, why is there such a stigma when addressing the issue of mental health in the Black Community?

We must have the conversations that save the lives of our young sisters and brothers. As one tweet suggested, “This shouldn’t be just a shock and awe social media moment.” And I agree. We must address the facts and remove the myths that suicide contradicts gender and/or role expectations. It is a myth that African American men are “brave and fearless” and do not battle depression. It is a myth that African American women are always strong and resilient and never crack under pressure. We must also have the conversations to remove the stigma associated with mental health treatment and any barriers to treatment. In one of my tweets, I agreed with the suggestion that today we should ask the strongest woman we know, Are you okay? One of the responses I received was that the strongest woman would probably never reply with “No I am not”. Unfortunately, she was right.

Whitney Houston had a song that said, “I was not built to break.” But what happens when you do break or essentially have a break down? We have to know that we are not infallible and we are not alone. If you are a person of faith, your answers are expected to be given through your religion. But has the Black Church failed in instances like this? Do we offer enough information and/or support in the realm of mental health? I believe that the faith community has an unquestionable responsibility in the onset of these conversations because we have also played a significant role in the silence of the spiritually and mentally wounded. We have given instructions to “pray harder” and “just have more faith” but have we deterred believers from seeking counseling or any source of professional help thinking that it would reveal a spiritual weakness or a lack of God’s power? We must do better and we must do better now. My prayers go out to the family, friends and supporters of Karyn Washington and my advice to us all is to redefine strong. The strongest person should be the one who says “I need help”.

Karren is a student at Memphis Theological Seminary and Senior Associate Pastor of New Direction Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Farewell Evangelicalism? Not So Fast

In the wake of World Vision’s reversal of their short-lived policy to hire employees who are in married gay relationships, many progressives are swearing off evangelicalism. Perhaps the most public of these vows was a piece that Rachel Held Evans wrote for CNN wherein she professes, “I, for one, am tired of arguing. I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly.” (In a later post on her blog, she seemed less certain of this decision.)

Evans is not the only progressive distancing herself from the evangelical label though. Some like Nish Weiseth and Micah J. Murray are resolving to quit evangelicalism altogether while others, like Zach Hoag, are committing to reinventing it (a “Newer New Evangelicalism” perhaps?). Despite these resolutions — and the accompanying slew of tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates –progressives may have a harder time leaving evangelicalism than they think. In fact, many are perpetuating the very things about evangelicalism that they profess to deplore. Post-evangelicals are still operating within evangelical paradigms.

A Brief History

Millennials tend to associate evangelicalism with an odd collection of American religiosity, traditional mores, and a “God-said-it-I-believe-it” reductionism. In many ways, their understanding has been shaped by growing up in the culture wars of the 1980s and 90s, and has been exacerbated by a religious consumerism unique to capitalism.

Step back a generation or two and you’ll find an evangelicalism less defined by politics and more defined by a commitment to the relevancy and authority of Scripture. Step back yet one more generation and evangelicalism is embodied in cross-denominational cooperation, the global missions movement, and social reform. Step back again and you’ll discover an evangelicalism that was birthed in the revivals of the Great Awakening.

Just as our DNA is the product of the generations before us, today’s evangelicals carry traits, not only of their mothers and fathers, but of their grandmothers and grandfathers and great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. What many millennials understand to be evangelicalism—some kind of quasi-Protestant, flag-waving, gun-toting, ‘mericanism–simply isn’t.

Read the rest here

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Focus on African Religious Roots Opens Rifts Among the Branches

The worshippers flock from Miami, Venezuela, Brazil and other far-flung destinations on their pilgrimage into the heartland of the tribal faith.
Alexandre Texiera Ramos flew from São Paulo to Lagos, then drove five hours to this dusty, teeming West African town along the banks of a hallowed river. For six days, he embarked on a series of rituals, from herbal baths to drumming ceremonies in forests sacred to this ancient faith of deities and divination.
In Cuba and South Florida, the religion has evolved into a distinct offshoot widely known as Santeria but called Lukumi by followers. In Haiti, elements of the tribal beliefs are famously known as voodoo. In Brazil, Ramos studied a variation called Candomble.
Whatever the names, at the root of them all is Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe. When members were forced into slavery hundreds of years ago, they brought their beliefs to the Americas. Now followers like Ramos — in a world made smaller by the Internet and social media — are increasingly looking back to Africa to reconnect with the roots of their faith.
Ifayemi Elebuibon, the high priest of Osogbo, welcomes a stream of devout believers to his temple.
“They discover many of the ceremonies they are doing, something is missing,” said Elebuibon. “They want to do things in the authentic way.”
Said Ramos, who concluded his trip by paying homage to Elebuibon: “Everything was really intense. It was incredible because you’re in a touch with a divine being, with something higher.”
In South Florida, Santeria has often been belittled by uninformed outsiders for its mysticism, ritual animal sacrifices and colorful deities. And scholars point to an emerging wave of “traditionalists” as evidence of the increasing worldwide popularity of religions spun from the Yorubas.
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The Internet Is Not Killing Religion, Religion is Killing Religion

In the first decade of the seventeenth century in England, with the break with the Roman Catholic Church fully encoded into law and a bevy of scholars working to complete a new translation of the Bible under the sponsorship of the Protestant King James the VI of Scotland, a Lancaster minister, William Harrison, complained that “for one person which we have in the church to hear divine service, sermons and catechism, every piper (there be many in the parish) should at the same instant have many hundred on the greens.”
The comparative success of the piper over the preacher in gathering locals was possible even though church attendance at the time was a matter of law, punishable by fines, public shaming, and even imprisonment.
“Pipers are Killing Religion,” the town crier might well have declared, offering data on the correlation between the number of pipers in a village and the number of butts in local church pews.
Across the pond in the American colonies, religion was not faring much better. In his masterful reconstruction of American religious history, Awash in a Sea of Faith (from which the previous anecdote is drawn), Jon Butler reports that Christianity was “in crisis” in the New World:
Pennsylvania aside, the Restoration colonies of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and North and South Carolina exhibited extraordinary spiritual discord and sectarianism as well as a remarkable but all too familiar indifference to things spiritual. In America’s first European century, then, traditionally thought of as exclusively Puritan, Christian practice not only proved insecure but showed dangerous signs of declining rather than rising. 
Colonialism, against its own Christianizing designs was, it seems, killing religion. 
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The Bible and the Box Office with Bishop Gene Robinson

This weekend on State of Belief, hear about faith-based efforts to stop the bullying of LGBTQ students in schools – and the opposition that claims to stand for religious freedom. Also, settle into your seat and grab your bag of popcorn, because we’re talking about the Bible’s recent “boom” in Hollywood with Bishop Gene Robinson. Finally, we talk with one author about the scary – not to mention sad – parallels between the hysteria of the Salem witch trials and the modern world.

Getting Congress – and Conservatives – to Stop LGBTQ Bullying in Schools
This past week, students across the country participated in the National Day of Silence, an annual event in which they take a 24-hour vow of silence to demonstrate the harmful effects of their LGBT classmates being bullied. Legislation stalled in Congress could help reduce that bullying. Joining Welton this week is Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, a Jewish organization working to support the LGBTQ community. Keshet joined a coalition of organizations to send a letter a day to Capitol Hill urging support of The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA, H.R. 1199/S. 403) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA, H.R. 1652/S. 1088). Idit talks with Welton about that campaign, the importance of the legislation and why conservatives no longer own the language of values – a change evident in how people of progressive faith are connecting their moral convictions and their political actions.

Hollywood, the Bible, and Bishop Gene Robinson
State of Belief is excited to welcome back the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop installed in the Episcopal Church, a leader in the movement for inclusion and celebration of LGBTQ people and a big movie buff, to talk about the recent boom in movies pulling their plots from Bible stories. Bishop Gene and Welton discuss the recent “Son of God,” as well as which bible story Bishop Gene would like to see made into a Hollywood film. And we’ll ask the bishop for his message for the Easter season.

The Similarities of 17th-Century Salem and the Modern World
One historian and author went to direct archival sources to write a personality-driven book about the Salem witch trials. Marilynne K. Roach joins State of Belief to discuss Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials, and to explain how the Salem story is a cautionary tale for today’s America. She notes the disturbing parallels between the Salem trials and modern day, including the accusations of Satanism and possession hurled at LGBTQ people by some modern religious leaders in the United States, as well as the many atrocities committed around the world in the name of those claiming to battle witchcraft and demonic possession.

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America: Stupidly Stuck between Religion and Science

Karl Marx’s famous maxim that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, can apply just as well to the history of ideas as to the political sphere. Consider the teapot-tempest over religion and science that has mysteriously broken out in 2014, and has proven so irresistible to the media. We already had this debate, which occupied a great deal of the intellectual life of Western civilization in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was a whole lot less stupid the first time around. Of course, no one on any side of the argument understands its philosophical and theological history, and the very idea of “Western civilization” is in considerable disrepute on the left and right alike. So we get the sinister cartoon version, in which religious faith and scientific rationalism are reduced to ideological caricatures of themselves, and in which we are revealed to believe in neither one.
Young-earth creationism, a tiny fringe movement within Christianity whose influence is largely a reflection of liberal hysteria, is getting a totally unearned moment in the spotlight (for at least the second or third time). Evangelist Ken Ham of the pseudo-scientific advocacy group Answers in Genesis gets to “debate” Bill Nye the Science Guy about whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old, in a grotesque parody of academic discourse. Ham’s allies, meanwhile, complain that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new “Cosmos” TV series has no room for their ludicrous anti-scientific beliefs. If anything, Tyson’s show has spent a suspicious amount of time indirectly debunking creationist ideas. They seem to make him (or, more properly, his writers) nervous. Not, as Ham would have it, because somewhere inside themselves these infidels recognize revealed truth, but because religious ecstasy, however nonsensical, is powerful in a way reason and logic are not.
Everyone who writes a snarky Internet comment about why the T-Rex couple didn’t make it onto Noah’s ark betrays the same nervousness, and so do earnest Northeast Corridor journalists who rush to assure us that Ham’s elaborate fantasy scenarios about fossils and the Grand Canyon are not actually true, and that we would all find science just as wonderful as religion if only we paid attention. (Such articles strike me as totems of liberal self-reassurance, and not terribly convincing ones at that.) Repeating facts over and over again doesn’t make them any more true, and definitely doesn’t make them more convincing. I suppose this is about trying to win the hearts and minds of some uninformed but uncommitted mass of people out there who don’t quite know what they think. But hectoring or patronizing them is unlikely to do any good, and if you believe that facts are what carry the day in American public discourse then you haven’t paid much attention to the last 350 years or so.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

The #MichaelDunn Trial: After the Verdict: A Reader

On February 15, 2014, while a jury found Michael Dunn guilty of 3 counts of attempted murder, they could not reach a verdict on the murder of Jordan Davis. During the trial, we here at Rhetoric Race and Religion collected editorials and essays associated with the trial. Now we here at Rhetoric Race and Religion thought we would collect some of the editorials and essays responding to the verdict. We ask that if you come across some articles please share them with us on our Facebook page or you can tweet us @examinereligionEnjoy.

1.Michael Dunn: this case was a mistrial?! 
2. Why Are White Men Like Michael Dunn So Angry? 
4. Michael Dunn’s Racism Couldn’t Be Hidden Behind Stand Your Ground 
5. How Michael Dunn legally got away with murder 
6. Jordan Davis Was the Victim of A Murderer, Not Rap Music 
7. Michael Dunn and Our ‘Dirty Harry’ Epidemic 
8. Failure to Convict Michael Dunn of First Degree Murder a Travesty; Must be Rectified in Second Trial 
9. Remembering X-Clan’s ‘Day of Outrage’ in the Wake of the Michael Dunn Verdict 
11. Justice for Jordan Davis? — Michael Dunn not convicted of murder 
12.After verdict in slaying of Jordan Davis, pastors talk about avoiding new killings 
13. Jordan Davis (1995-2012) 
14. Jordan Davis and Florida’s war on young black males 
15. We Continue to Wait for Justice for Jordan Davis 
16. Jordan Davis and the heritage of racism 
17. On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn 
18. The Jordan Davis Case: A Prosecutor's Point of View 
19. Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis and the plight of black boys 
20. I Am Young, Black and Afraid: The Jordan Davis Outcome 
21. From Jordan Davis to Barack Obama: White America's Historic Problem With 'Arrogant' Black People 
22. Michael Dunn verdict: The racist system is guilty! 
23. Romans 13, Michael Dunn and gun-toting citizen vigilantes
24. Michael Dunn's Letters From Prison: Culture, not Race? 
25. From George Zimmerman to Michael Dunn, "Carrying" Makes People More Violent 
26. Jordan Davis Verdict 
27. Highlights Need for "Race-Conscious Solution" To U.S. Racism 
28. Jordan Davis deserves justice 
29. Black Boy Interrupted 
30. What We Wanted to Believe: An Open Letter to America (For Jordan Davis) 
31. Choosing Whiteness or Humanity: Jordan Davis and the Minimizing of Black Pain 
32. Unforgivable Blackness: Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and Emmett Till 
33. Verdict in Jordan Davis Case Highlights Continuing Injustice of "Stand Your Ground" 
34. How Not to Lose Another Jordan Davis 
35. Stand Your Ground Post-Jordan Davis Michael Dunn Colorblind Racist Talking Points: Are 'Big White Men' 'Stereotyped' in the Same Way as 'African-Americans'? 
38. Teaching About the Jordan Davis Murder Trial 
39. I, Too Am Jordan Davis 
40. Stand Your Ground Has No Moral Ground
41. Why we can’t see Jordan Davis and why it matters 
43. Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis, and what Florida represents 
44. From Rodney King to Jordan Davis, When Will Black People Learn? 
45. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Who's Next? It's Time for Us to Heal the Wound of Racism 
46. Jordan Davis and the Refrain of Black Death 
47. Many Blacks Misfire on Jordan Davis 
48. An Elegy for Fairness: Jordan Davis, Defiance, and White Entitlement
49. Prejudice isn’t just wrong, it kills 
50. Why Shouldn't We Arm Ourselves Against Stand-Your-Ground Shooters?  
51. I'm Dunn (But Not Really) With This: A Few Notes on Strategic Apathy and White Supremacy 
52. The Bias Against Black Bodies  
53. The Logic of the Michael Dunn Jury 
54. Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis, and America's Racist Heritage 
55. An Open Letter to Michael Dunn’s Daughter Rebecca from Deborah Smith Simpkins a Mother of Five 
56. The Murder Case Against Michael Dunn Isn’t The Only Place Where Hip-Hop Is On Trial 
57. Jane Velez-Mitchell: ‘Jordan Davis Was On Trial, Not Michael Dunn’ 
58. Michael Dunn And Open Season On Black Teenagers: The Onslaught Of White Murder 
59. Michael Dunn and open season on black teenagers: The onslaught of white murder 
60. On Jordan Davis, Michael Dunn and "White Fear" 
61. After Trayvon and Jordan, Who's Next? 
62. Clarence Thomas, Jordan Davis, And America’s “Sensitivity” About Race, Pt. 1 
63. Michael Dunn verdict and the civil rights schism between blacks and gays 
64. Time for White Americans To Wake the Hell Up! 
65. To the (Probably White) Person Who Says It Shouldn’t Be About Race 
66. An Open Letter to Prosecutor Angela Corey and the Legal Community  
67. Are Your Children #DangerousBlackKids? 
68. Do White Folks Fear Violence When Black Folks Are Just Being Blunt? 
69. The Travesty Of Justice In Michael Dunn's Killing Of Jordan Davis 
70. For Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, is a public debate enough? 
71. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride: A Call to Action 
72. Jordan Davis: Thoughts From A Black Teenager 
73. Race and Murder in America from the Time of Jefferson Davis to Jordan Davis 
74. Who was the real thug in Dunn/Davis shooting?  
75. Race and the Jordan Davis Murder  
76. On Michael Dunn, and raising black sons: Jordan Davis’ mother talks to Salon  
77. Henry Rollins on Young African-American Males: Stop existing. It could get you killed 
78. Young, Black and Afraid of 'The System' 
79. The 'Threatening' 'Thug' Through History 
80. Valuing Black Life 
81. Sympathy for the Shooter: How America Has Become a "Stand Your Ground" Nation
82. White Christians: Please Stop Denying Your Privilege 
83. Time for Black parents to update the talk’ 
84. Michael Dunn, Zimmerman & Michael Giles: Why Race Still Matters 
85. Jordan Davis and unarmed blackness 
86. 'I Am Still Called by the God I Serve to Walk This Out' 
87. Fear of a Black Teenager
88. Blacks Have More Reasons to be Fearful than Whites 
89. Black Twitter Uses Social Media To Power 21st Century Civil Rights Movement 
90. “Post-racial America” is a dangerous lie: Why the fantasy is naive, insidious and deadly 
91. Fearing Hip-Hop: The Decline of the White Conscience 
92. Blacks are the hunters, not the hunted 
93. Trial demonstrates that white fear trumps black life 
94. When Michael Dunn Compared Himself to a Rape Victim, He Was Following an Old, Racist Script 
95. Jordan Davis, Colorblind Prosecutions And ‘Presumed Guiltiness of Black Bodies’ 
96. The 'Invisible Man' in the age of Trayvon and Jordan 
97. Black youth must change behavior to alter perception 
98. Bill O’Reilly to Blacks: Stop Listening to ‘Gangsta’ Music! 
99. Color of Change director Rashad Robinson: Negative images of black men becoming ‘dangerous’  
100. Trayvon and Jordan: Why Knowing Their Names Hurts 
102. Stand Your Ground in Context: Did the South's Culture of Racialized Violence and Honor Encourage Michael Dunn to Kill Jordan Davis? 

Testing reveals no evidence that ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ is a modern forgery

A papyrus fragment of “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” that was dismissed by the Vatican as a “clumsy forgery” has been dated as having originated in Egypt around 700 C.E.
In an article published Tuesday in Harvard Theological Review, Karen King provides evidence that “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” (GJW) cannot be a modern forgery.
The significance of GJW stems from the fact that it appears to be a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples about the role of women in the church. “The dialogue concerns family and discipleship,” King wrote, and “Jesus speaks of ‘my mother’ and ‘my wife’ in lines 1 and 4, and line 5 refers to a female person who is able to be Jesus’s ‘disciple.’”
The evidence that the work is not a modern forgery is of both the intellectual and scientific sort. The carbon “lamp black” pigments in which it is written “match closely those of several manuscripts from the Columbia [University] collection of papyri dated between 1 B.C.E. and 800 C.E., while they deviate significantly from modern commercial lamp black pigments.” Radiocarbon analysis of the papyrus fragment — conducted at the NSR-Arizona ANS Laboratory — indicated that the papyrus itself originated between 404 and 209 B.C.E.
The discrepancy between the date of the papyrus and the date of the ink on it is not unusual, as paper was a highly valued commodity that was often rewritten upon for hundreds of years. However, King had Noreen Tuross of Harvard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute retest the papyrus, and she generated a mean date of 741 C.E. for GJW.
In either case, King wrote, all scientific “testing thus supports the conclusion that the papyrus and ink of GJW are ancient.”
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Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

There are the well-meaning ladies who ask you about your husband and children and, when you say you don’t have any, suddenly run out of things to say to you. There are the women’s Bible studies scheduled on weekday mornings, because aren’t all church women married homemakers? There are the sermons and activities directed exclusively at families. There are the pastors who fault the single men for not getting married, even if they’ve tried, and who seem to think that singles are marked out for some terrible fate.

There are the Christians who tell you that life doesn’t start until you’re married. Or that you can’t really understand what love is because you’re single and childless. Never mind that this goes directly against the Christian faith, which teaches that God is the source of all love and that everyone — regardless of marital status! — can know that love.

Churches are so committed to the idea of a family-centered church that they’re just not sure how to handle rising rates of singleness.

There are the people who talk about singles in the church as a problem. There are the people who say you’re “too picky” if you have any standards at all. There are the people who hint that you couldn’t get a spouse because you’re not spiritual enough or because God is trying to punish you for something. And then there are my favorites: the people who helpfully point out that there’ll be no one to look after you in your old age. (Thanks for reminding me once again of that topic that has so often kept me lying awake into the small hours!)

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Race, Religion, and Constantine

I am supposed to be reading about Constantine and his relationship to the bishops in the 4th century. H. A. Drake turns the discussion away from merely looking at Constantine and his actions, and whether or not he was genuine or not, you know the old Constantine scholarly debates. Instead, he looks at the Bishops and their role in the emerging form of Christianity, and their complicity in shaping a coercive Christianity. This is so important. For me, the issue of Constantinian Christianity (as Anabaptists often describe it) has less to do with Constantine, because heck, he is an emperor. Christian or not, he has imperial interests. Nothing surprising about any move or decision he makes.
What I am much more interested in is moving the discussion away from Constantine, to towards the way that the Church apostasized itself by displacing Christ as central and allowing Constantine to take that place. One must go no further than looking at Eusebius’ Church History to see that many Christian leaders were seeing Constantine rather than Jesus, as the new David. That Constantine presided over councils rather than the presence of Jesus, and the imperial edicts mandating and coercively enforcing orthodoxy following that council is not surprising when the way of Jesus is no longer normative. In fact, as people have noticed, even images of Jesus began to change after that point. Jesus himself begins to no longer be portrayed as a humble man, but as an imperial figure in art post-Constantine. The imperial figure, then is centralized, has the right to make calls on orthodoxy, and enforces those boundaries, reigning supreme over the Church.  It is the Bishops and the Church, and their gazing on “Christian” emperors that give them this power. It is a choice to fix one’s eyes on Jesus or the imperial figure.
Yet, can we really make huge distinctions between the past and the present, like we are above such problems? While no Roman Imperial Image reigns over us today, hasn’t the center still been occupied by something other than the Jewish anointed, crucified, and resurrected One? Certainly in America, that dominating figure since the 1600s has been “the White Male Figure”. The supremacy of the White Male Citizen as the standard to be measured against runs at the heart of the American experiment. When it was “self-evident” that all men were created equal, didn’t it really mean all “white men”?  Were not black people subjugated to the status of property? And finally, wasn’t Jesus himself recast and refashioned into a “white male figure” which remains on the walls of churches and homes even today?
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