Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Religion, rhetoric and the 2012 presidential election

Who says religion and politics don’t mix? Religion scholar Anthea Butler thinks they do, now more so than ever. The 2012 presidential contest, she says, “could be the most religiously based presidential race in recent memory.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Butler, an associate professor of religious studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, will discuss “Faith Matters: Religion and Rhetoric in the 2012 Election” for the Penn Lightbulb Café. Free and open to the public, the talk will begin at 6 p.m. at the Pepper Mill Café on the second floor of the Penn Museum.
A highly sought after media commentator, Butler blogs regularly about religion and politics for the daily online magazine Religion Dispatches. She also is completing a book titled “The Gospel According to Sarah: How Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are Galvanizing the Religious Right,” set to be published in the spring of 2012.
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2012 Presidential Hopefuls Urged to Sign a ‘Pledge for Religious Freedom’

A religious freedom advocacy group is challenging all 2012 presidential contenders to sign a pledge committing themselves to promote religious freedom at home and to make it a foreign policy priority.

As of late Tuesday, Republican former Sen. Rick Santorum had signed the Open Doors USA pledge and the other candidates – including the Democratic incumbent – were “considering” doing so, the organization said.

Signatories to the “pledge for religious freedom” commit themselves to uphold religious freedom for Americans of all faiths; to nominate federal judges who are committed to upholding religious freedom (including the right to employ religious arguments in contending for or against laws and policies such as those “designed to protect the unborn and traditional marriage”); and to prioritize religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.
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Beyond Trivial Melodies: The Black Church and Occupy Wall Street

When creative genius neglects to ally itself in this way to some public interest it hardly gives birth to works of wide or perennial influence. Imagination needs a soil in history, tradition, or human institutions, else its random growths are not significant enough and, like trivial melodies, go immediately out of fashion.

-George Santayana

I am a radical democrat or improvisational socialist—as opposed to a social democrat or left liberal— because I am convinced that the rule of capital (an interlocking network of corporate, bank, and political elites), the hegemony of white and male supremacist ideologies, the proliferation of homophobic sensibilities, and the relative weakness of ecological consciousness are the major obstacles to our task.

-Cornel West

The Black church has been virtually absent in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Black Church, which has nearly a mythological hold on progressive religious identity in America, was born in the crucible of slavery and reached its political height in the Civil Rights movement. Asserting the humanity of Black people and demanding god-given democratic rights placed the Black Church at the left of most political discourse inside the American empire. Two generations later, save a few stalwarts from a bygone era, the most visible Black religious leaders are the purveyors of a Wall Street theology. This is a feature and function of capitalist discourse that dominates both liberal and conservative political affiliations in the United States.

Occupy Wall Street has placed economic justice (i.e. income inequality and a corrupt governmental-financial industrial complex) at the center of the public conversation. The very idea of class warfare has gained a certain salience in the American mind. Occupy Wall Street presents a unique moment in the life of the Black Church to wrestle with the class divisions and economic justice. Combined the high levels of economic deprivation that has wreaked havoc on Black communities for the past generation, the nature of what its means to be the Black Church and to have success in the Black community is up for debate. While acknowledging racism barriers, most African Americans still hold to the Horatio Algiers’ narrative—hard work is rewarded with economic success. Yet the current economic crisis has proven this axiom to be hollow.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gingrich meets with pastors in South Carolina

by Shawna Shepherd
from CNN

The first stop on Newt Gingrich’s three-day swing through South Carolina was a town hall-style event at a church in Summerville, where the rising GOP presidential hopeful answered questions from area pastors on a range of issues.

The event at the Faith Assembly of God was closed to the media, but one Gingrich supporter who attended said she was among 50 people who attended – not all of them pastors.

“They asked how does God influence, how does your religion influence your decisions. And he said that is very important to him, that faith is very important,” said the supporter, Dana Bertoluzzi. “They wanted to know just various things about what should happen at the state level, what should happen within the communities and how he plans to support various things. So it was just good. It answered a lot of questions that the pastors had over a lot of areas. So it’s hard to be specific.”
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Monday, November 28, 2011

“Authentic Religion”: Meta-Narratives of Orthodoxy at the AAR/SBL Meeting

By Philip L. Tite

This year’s annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) was a fun experience. I went through the typical routine of attending a smattering of sessions, connecting up with friends and colleagues, meeting new people, meandering through the book exhibit looking for interesting titles and good deals, and finally exploring a new city (I had never been to San Francisco before).

Attending the AAR/SBL meeting also offers me a good opportunity to pick up on emerging or enduring trends in the field. In one session I attended, for example, the theme of wealth or economy in early Christianity was explored. This was a fascinating session, with some wonderful papers that addressed a range of texts, social dynamics, and economic influences on those dynamics (e.g., exploring the intersection of trade routes with the emergence of communication networks). However, in this same session I noticed that nearly every speaker invoked the terms “orthodox”, “proto-orthodox”, or “mainstream” in their selection and explanatory treatment of their sources. Several speakers openly indicated their need to delimit their source base to a manageable level (which makes perfect sense as each paper is allotted only 20 minutes), with that delimitation excluding heterodox works or groups.

This model for selection evokes an enduring meta-narrative that continues to dominate religious studies, especially in biblical and patristic studies. This meta-narrative is that of orthodoxy and heresy/heterodoxy – i.e., “authentic” and “inauthentic” religion. We’ve inherited this model, in early Christian studies at least, from the Church Fathers, at least since Irenaeus (late second century), likely also Justin Martyr (mid-second century), and this model certainly is the ideological framework for Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History in the fourth century. The Greek term hairesis simply means “choice” or “path” (such as choosing to follow a particular career or adhere to a particular philosophical school of thought), but by the time we reach Justin, the term had taken on inherently negative connotations (“bad choice”). Those groups or individuals who were labeled “heretics” were seen as innovators of novel ideas (rather than adhering to established truths; i.e., those set down by the apostles as understood by the Church Fathers), as parasitical entities that preyed upon the true church. For Eusebius in particular the history of the church falls into two major trajectories: a lineage of apostolic truth, and another lineage of heretical teachers.
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New Mass Translation Launches In American Parishes

English-speaking Roman Catholics who have regularly attended Mass for years found themselves in an unfamiliar position Sunday, needing printed cards or sheets of paper to follow along with a ritual many have known since childhood.

"I don't think I said it the right way once," said Matthew Hoover, who attends St. Ann Catholic Church in Clayton, a growing town on the edge of the Raleigh suburbs. "I kept forgetting, and saying the old words."

The Mass itself – the central ritual of the Catholic faith – hasn't changed, but the English translation has, in the largest shakeup to the everyday faith of believers since the upheavals that followed the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. A years-long process of revision and negotiation led to an updated version of the Roman Missal, the text of prayers and instructions for celebrating Mass, which originally was written in Latin. The new translation was rolled out across the English-speaking Catholic world on Sunday after months of preparation.
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Whiteness and the White Privilege Paradigm

In the previous post I offered some critical reflections on colorblindness, the paradigm that dominates the mainstream conversation on race in the United States. In this post I will discuss the white privilege paradigm. The white privilege paradigm represents a formidable challenge to the paradigm of colorblindness, and it constitutes a vital dimension of the stand I take throughout this blog. White privilege helps account for the durability of institutional and structural racism by reminding us that systemic oppression continues to have real beneficiaries in post Civil Rights America. In addition, the white privilege paradigm reframes the question of racial progress. Whereas the colorblind paradigm portrays a post-racial America, where racism has been all but eliminated, the white privilege paradigm enables us to see the ways in which the advancement of formal human rights for people of color has coincided with the consolidation of informal structural and institutional advantages for those able to identify as white Americans.

As I discussed in the previous post, those who believe in the narrative of racial progress point to the removal of formal barriers, legal and otherwise, which excluded black Americans from certain schools and neighborhoods, from access to public accommodations, and from voting. They also cite surveys that reveal a steady decline in explicitly prejudiced attitudes among white Americans. The reason that these particular types of evidence are considered convincing is that the colorblind paradigm relies on a mechanistic conception of society, in general, and racism, in particular. The methodology appropriate to understanding a machine is to analyze it into its component parts and evaluate its parts in isolation. With respect to racism, the parts appear to be OK. As I said, the laws are no longer explicitly racist and most individual white people at least know how to avoid sounding prejudiced in a phone survey.[i] For those with a strictly mechanistic understanding of society, therefore, the conclusion that racism is largely behind us makes sense.

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American Ministers: Preachers or Pimps?

by Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
Gee Joyner
Rainbows and Lilacs

I have always wondered whether preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the ‘gospel’ or philosophy of any deity for that matter, was a social calling of humanity or a profession-- which reaps massively grotesque amounts of financial benefits. I am not sure, but I do believe some ministers tend to get into the business as a means to create a self-worth and societal relevance that they could not acquire within the normal realm of social standing and hierarchical positioning.

The older I get, the more I realize that the preacher’s preaching is not necessary for one to live a ‘good’ life or to be smiled upon by God, or whatever name one calls their Creator and Higher Power. I come from a family with a history of males who have made a comfortable existence through the discipline of Christian Theology (i.e. Baptist, Lutheran), but I have yet to comprehend the notion of being ‘called’ by God to preach this Gospel. I believe ministering and preaching is a chosen field of occupation, a profession if you will. Living in the South, where ministers are as prevalent as maggots in a wet garbage can, I can hardly differentiate a preacher from a pimp. From their usage of smooth, if not slick, sounding words of manipulation to their chosen attire of peacock-colored suits to their jewelry to the vehicles they navigate through the city streets, a preacher is synonymous with a pimp in my book. Sure, a pimp manipulates the bodies of women by selling the sex of a particular whore for profit, but doesn’t a preacher do the same by sending members of his congregation or flock out into the workforce for five or more days a week only to bring their tithes back to the preacher’s church or ‘God’s storehouse’ so that the church can maintain their utilities and general maintenance? And in most churches, the head minister/preacher, or pastor, draws a salary that, in some cases, mirrors that of a Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘minister’ as “one officiating or assisting the officiant in church worship” or “a clergyman especially of the Protestant communion.” ‘Pimp’, as defined by Merriam-Webster is defined as “a man who solicits clients for a prostitute.” Now, by no means am I equating God to a ‘Lady of the Night’, but who are ministers soliciting parishioners for—God or themselves? Now, if the job, for lack of a better term, is for the preacher to preach the Word of God as a means to bring lost and wicked souls to salvation, then why is it that the preacher or minister, be they male or female, take a salary? Why do these ministers not live meagerly like the revered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jesus the Christ for that matter? I thought, from my Judeo-Christian upbringing, that the goal of Man is to be more Christ-like? If so, would Jesus be riding clean in a high-end vehicle or dressing like a GQ model (although tackily with the fluorescent suits) or going around preaching for funds by being paid to preach at another pastor’s church? Why is monetary reciprocity always on the voucher submitted by ministers of the Gospel?

Well, maybe because the Bible tells us so; I Timothy 5:17-18 “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Basically, doing God’s work is the equivalent of doing our secular jobs. Need more scriptural evidence? 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 says, “13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

Even Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke 10:7-8 (and Matthew 10:10) suggested that the worker of his Father be given a stipend or payment for their duties; “7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.” Now, Jesus said to eat, not gorge, and some of these so-called ‘prosperity preachers’ or ‘poverty pimps’ we call men of God who claimed to have been ‘called’ to preach are gorging the communities, that are often times economically depraved and disadvantaged, of the little wealth they may have in hopes of being saved from their conditions. Not through Christ’s salvation, but through the preacher’s duplicitous rhetoric emitted weekly from the pimpin’ pulpit.

The American Preaching Pimp dates back to the 1930s when tent preaching became a huge draw for the desolate and displaced families and workers trying to recover and find some comfort in the word of God during the Great Depression. The tent preachers, who traversed from town to town, made their living by garnering donations from the crowds that attended their outdoor concerts (oops, I meant sermons). We can even go further back than the tent preaching and trace the popularized and celebrity version of our ministers to S. Parkes Cadman who was one of the first preachers to be broadcast on radio in 1923, and was eventually given a weekly radio spot on NBC radio and reportedly had a listening audience of over 5 million Americans (it goes without saying that donations were accepted). Though radio made celebrities out of preachers, the advent of the television in the 1950s and the popularization of the television in the homes of our average U.S. citizens in the 1960s would make little gods out of the American Minister.

From Fulton Sheen to Billy Graham to Oral Roberts to Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker to Creflo Dollar (what a name) to T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen, it is difficult to separate the salaries, and sometimes the opulence—particularly T.D. Jakes and his private jet, of these Holy Men from their ‘calling’ to preach the Gospel. Yes, many of these ministers, pastors, and preachers mentioned have done much for the communities in which their congregations reside and have probably saved countless souls from moral decay and an eternity of playing Marco Polo in the Lake of Fire, but why must they live better than the average parishioner?

I would bet a dollar to your dime that in most of these mega-churches (churches with an average weekly attendance of at least 2000 people) in the United States of America the pastor is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, individual there (and there are politicians, CEOs, CFOs, professional athletes, entertainers, doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs who are members of their church, and they all give their tithes!). There are 50 mega churches in Tennessee, the state in which I reside, alone and ten of those are either in Memphis or the surrounding suburban cities that many consider a part of the Memphis-metro ‘area.’ The list is as follows: Christ United Methodist, New Salem Missionary Baptist, Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, New Direction Christian Church, Temple of Deliverance, Pentecostal Tabernacle-COGIC, St. Stephens Baptist, Mt. Vernon Baptist, Central Church (Collierville), Germantown Baptist (Germantown), Bellevue Baptist (Cordova), and Hope Presbyterian (Cordova). This is interesting and alarming information for a city whose poverty level is 67.2% greater than the national average and has an average household income of $41000 per year (per the 2009/2010 census).

I guess the question is “What are these ministers peddling?” Do we really need a preacher to guide us to God? Is he or she a better discerner of the biblical texts than we are? I’ve even heard of a mega-church in Memphis that offers an automatic pay plan for their monthly tithes. Since when are our tithes a bill or the Church a creditor? How can we really know that the churches we attend are adequately allocating our monies to the people and places that need those monies the most? I think I can give my time and money in my own way and honor my God? You don’t have to fool or scare me into thinking that I must tithe to a specific ‘Church’ on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis (depending upon how often I get my direct deposit from my ‘secular’ or ‘worldly’ job) in order to gain favor and receive blessings from God. Don’t pimp me, pastor? I’m not naïve, and I’m not a whore.

The Unbelievers

New York Times

RONNELLE ADAMS came out to his mother twice, first about his homosexuality, then about his atheism.

“My mother is very devout,” said Mr. Adams, 30, a Washington resident who has published an atheist children’s book, “Aching and Praying,” but who in high school considered becoming a Baptist preacher. “She started telling me her issues with homosexuality, which were, of course, Biblical,” he said. “ ‘I just don’t care what the Bible says about that,’ I told her, and she asked why. ‘I don’t believe that stuff anymore.’ It got silent. She was distraught. She told me she was more bothered by that than the revelation I was gay.”

This was in 2000, and Mr. Adams did not meet another black atheist in Washington until 2009, when he found the Facebook group called Black Atheists, which immediately struck a chord. “I felt like, ‘100 black atheists? Wow!’ ” he said.
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Religion & Hip Hop (Rappers Belief On The Lord Of This Universe, Religious Principles & More)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hard questions about Pope Benedict in Africa

Benedict XVI said he came to Benin, a country of eight million in West Africa, to deliver a message of hope. Throughout the Nov. 18-20 trip, he repeatedly invoked the image of Africa as a "spiritual lung" for humanity, praising its deeply religious worldview and stressing that the joy, resilience and traditional moral values of Africa are precious gifts to the world.
It may seem counterintuitive that an 84-year-old German intellectual should be the Western leader most enthusiastic about Africa, yet it actually makes all the sense in the world. Spiritually speaking, Africa is a superpower -- both the world's largest manufacturer and consumer of religion. For a pope who has spent a lifetime lamenting the "death of God" in Europe, Africa can't help but seem an oasis of vibrant faith.
Africans seemed to return the sentiment.
Vast crowds, including large numbers of children and young people, thronged the streets of Cotonou, Benin's capital, and Ouidah, on the Atlantic coast, to see the pope. For Benedict's open-air Mass in a Cotonou soccer stadium Sunday, there were at least as many people outside as the 40,000 who made their way inside, spending several hours dancing and singing before the main event. Observers compared the turnout (which also drew people from neighboring countries such as Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger) to papal outings to Poland and Mexico.

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On the side of the needy

Let's talk about charity.
What should the federal government be doing to help those less well off? It's an appropriate question as the nation enters the season of giving, when even the grumpiest among us silence the inner Scrooge and drop a few coppers into the donation kettle.
The congressional superommittee's recent failure to reach compromise on how to trim the national debt, be it by raising taxes on the wealthy, cutting spending or some combination of the two, provides the perfect backdrop.
Government, Republicans endlessly intone, should do less, not more for the unfortunate. Leave the food pantries and the homeless shelters to the churches and the do-gooders.
This is wishful thinking, and judging by new polling data, most Americans seem to see right through it. Seven in 10 Americans oppose cutting funds for social programs aimed at helping the poor, according to a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. Moreover, 67 percent of those polled said that government should do more to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

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What Asian American Religion Tells Us About Religious Incongruity

So as you’ve probably figured out, I am fascinated by Asian Americans and their religions. And wherever possible I try to find the best examples that can shed light on this population because they help us to learn about how we know anything about religion today, and how we need to improve what we know. I mentioned earlier that sociologists are struggling over how to identify Asian Americans and their religious preferences in surveys. And I alluded to the problem that people with “no religion” might in fact be religious .
What makes someone religious? In the minds of many it could simply be belief in God, or it could be praying, reading a sacred text, or attending a religious service on a regular basis. Sociologists describe this as measures of religiosity. We tend to think of religiosity in two forms: beliefs and behavior. Note: you can believe all kinds of things, and practice all kinds of rituals and say that you’re a Christian or that you have no religion. It’s what Brad Wright summarized in a recent argument made by sociologist Mark Chaves: most religious people experience incongruity between what they say they are, what they believe, and what they do. Asian Americans are no exception. To get an idea about how incongruity might look like we can examine the connection between one measure of religiosity, church attendance, and religious affiliation (how someone identifies their religion) among Asian Americans.

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Religious ideals, imperfect candidates

By Janice Shaw Crouse

There is nothing edifying about our current situation, where yet another high-profile politician faces the cameras to defend himself against charges of sexual harassment. Herman Cain, Republican presidential candidate, finally stated categorically in a press conference that he has “never acted inappropriately with anyone - period.” How sad that the public, so jaded by similar protestations of innocence in the face of accusations, cannot take his words at face value. We have seen far too many men stare at the cameras and make such statements, only to learn later that the lies added further heft to the accumulation of shameful behavior. 

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Poll Finds Religion Is Early Drag on Romney

Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith will most likely cost him support in the primaries, but even Republicans with reservations about his religion would rally to his side in a general election against President Obama, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The poll, by the Pew Research Center, examined the impact of religion on the 2012 election in light of claims by some analysts that a Mormon stigma is significant enough to impede Mr. Romney’s run for president.
The national survey of 1,576 registered voters found that while Mr. Romney was virtually tied with Herman Cain in the nominating fight, he would fare far better than any other Republican candidate against Mr. Obama. (The support was 47 percent for Mr. Romney and 49 percent for Mr. Obama.)
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Why the World Needs Religious Studies

By Nathan Schneider
Religion Dispatches

The first time I went to the American Academy of Religion conference it really got my hopes up. This was the fall of 2006 and, with only a summer in between, I’d just finished college and begun my first year of a PhD program in religious studies. The AAR was at the enormous new Washington, DC convention center. Fittingly, one of the plenary speakers was Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state who had just written a book about why religion is so important.
What I remember her saying, which stuck with me and probably a lot of the other graduate students in the hall, were things like this: “Our diplomats need to be trained to know the religions of the countries where they’re going.” And: “I think the Secretary of State needs to have religion advisors.” I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but it made great sense, especially with someone like Albright saying it. Religion is everywhere. It does matter. The ongoing sectarian violence in occupied Iraq had turned the headlines into daily reminders about the consequences of not taking religion seriously—to say nothing of politics in DC back then. Yes—sounds like a job for a religion scholar.

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Hospitality, not tolerance: Civil society and inter-faith relations

In current government policy in the UK, there is great emphasis on inter-faith dialogue, encounter and partnership, such as in the government white paper, Face to Face and Side by Side: A Framework for Partnership in our Multi-Faith Society.

But while the white paper stresses the importance of social cohesion and social relationships, it lacks any account of how the very relationships it is concerned to uphold are increasingly subordinated to and undermined by the needs of the market and the state.

It should be noted that policy directed at community and inter-faith relations increasingly uses the term "social cohesion" as the ideal it is aiming for, and envisages joint action in terms of joint humanitarian endeavours.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Child Rape, Penn State and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad?

The child rape scandal at Penn State raises inevitable comparisons with the Catholic Church. Does religion make these kinds of abuses worse? 
by Great Christina

I can't be the only person who heard about the Penn State child rape scandal and thought, "Holy crap -- it's just like the Catholic Church." The abuse of power by a trusted authority figure; the coverup by people in authority; the unwillingness of witnesses to speak out; the grotesque, morally bankrupt defenses of a beloved institution by its followers... all of it is depressingly familiar.
And I can't be the only critic of religion who's been wondering, "Hmm. If Penn State has been acting like the Catholic Church... then did the Catholic Church child rape scandal actually have anything to do with religion?"

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Patriotism and the 'God gap'

by By Dave Schechter