It’s been a long minute since I’ve done one of these, so I’m bringing it back. Below, some recent highlights (and lowlights) relevant to secularism, interfaith and religion:

psych todayWill Atheism replace religion? That’s the claim made by Nigel Barber over at Psychology Today. What do you think? His points are well made, but I don’t agree with all of them. Religion meets some fundamental needs and is continuing to adapt to contemporary context, as it always has. His portrayal of religion as “[requiring] slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs” does not accurately represent the way that religion functions today. That aside, a myriad of psychological studies demonstrate that religion has become an integral component to individual and communal identification for many (as I learned in my second Psychology of Religion course this last semester) and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Ultimately, the relationship between religion and psychological wish fulfillment is a bit more complex than this article would like to make it seem. As a starting point for a more well-balanced counter-argument, check out this brief introductory piece on ways in which religion is psychologically beneficial.

Everybody’s Talkin’ ’bout Chalkin’ as the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” (EDMD) debate continues. After my blog post on the campaign a couple weeks ago, I’ve been working closely with the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) on how secular folks who penaren’t interested in engaging in this campaign can best respond in light of the awful vitriol it has inspired on the internet. The Young Turks took on IFYC’s Eboo Patel’s post that went up on the Huffington Post, Sojourners and the Washington Post (in which my blog post on the controversy was given a nod). The critiques they make of Eboo’s blog can essentially be boiled down to: “You’re offended? Get over it.” I find this operating position, which I identified as a common problem in our community in my initial post on EDMD, to be arrogant and demonstrative of a lack of personal responsibility. Additionally, The Young Turks raise the comparison of EDMD to drawing offensive images of African Americans and say that it isn’t an appropriate parallel because Blacks have faced a history of violence and subjugation in this country. But this point collapses in on itself precisely because Muslims are a minority group in America that is a frequent target of oppression. This is an important point to remember as we consider this issue. Our free speech does not occur in a vacuum; in fact, activities such as EDMD are innately and intentionally public. It is our responsibility to acknowledge context and weigh our actions in light of it. I have so much more I could say on this subject, but since I already said my peace, I’ll stop here — for now. For more information on this issue, check out IFYC’s resource (which I helped write and which borrows its title from my blog post).

The rest: First off, I can’t recommend enough a piece up over at the New Republic called “Another Kind of Atheism”  by Damon Linker. Read it and let me know what you think. After that, I’m happy to report that Bill Maher got schooled on his miss usaantagonistic Atheism — I’ll try to hide my grin. Secular Student Alliance intern Nate Mauger got interviewed by Bridge Builders about the guest piece he wrote for us on interfaith cooperation. I “interviewed” homosexuality and the Bible documentary Fish Out of Water director Ky Dickens for The New Gay (part 1 went up last week, part two goes up next). On less exciting fronts, tensions are high in France as they prepare to ban the Burka. In spite of what a good story it would make, the majority of mainstream media ignored the fact that the man who stopped the Times Square bomber is himself a Muslim. The political Right is up in arms over Muslim Miss USA Rima Fikah. And, finally, the angry robocallers struck again last Wednesday with three calls in one night. I’m still no closer to finding out who they are and feeling more and more like I have a stalker — especially since they called me back right after I tweeted about them saying they read my tweet. So I blocked the number. What now, robocallers?

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Church FiresWondering what’s going on in the world of religion and secularism? Wonder no more — it’s time for your weekly religion and secular roundup! This week:

Church Burning and Atheist Learning: Reports this week on the ongoing investigation into a series of church fires in Texas prominently featured the fact that raids on one suspect’s home uncovered “books on demons and atheism.” What does it say that news reports are so strongly linking a suspect’s books on atheism to his alleged participation in church arson? Whether there is an actual correlation between the material he read and the crimes he is accused of committing, it is an unfortunate narrative on secular folks that we need work to change. Additionally, if these men are in fact guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, I’d be inclined to raise questions about what role narratives of fundamentalist anti-theism may have played in informing these actions and if anti-theistic motivations were involved. I strongly believe that one is innocent until proven guilty, but I also cannot help but fear that, if these men were in fact driven by totalitarian anti-theism to burn down religious houses of worship, their actions could have easily been prevented if only they had been exposed to a different, more pluralistic understanding of how atheists and religious folks can engage in the world.

Tiger Woods and the Need for Religious Literacy: The USA Today ran an intelligent reflection on Tiger Woods’ public apology, highlighting Woods’ appeal to his Buddhist commitments as a means for considering the controversy. The piece thoughtfully situates Woods’ apology within the larger context of American religious diversity. As Brit Hume’s controversial comments suggesting that Woods seek forgiveness in Christ exemplified, American society generally expects fallen public figures to offer Christian apologies and seek Christian redemption. Woods’ Buddhist narrative suggests that our country is in need of greater religious literacy. To quote the article: “Part of living in a multireligious society… is learning multiple religious languages. In a country where most citizens cannot name the first book of the Bible, we obviously need more Christian literacy. But to make sense of the furiously religious world in which we live, we need Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist literacy too.” This should be a keen reminder to secular folks of the importance of knowing about the religious beliefs of others. If we don’t know about the beliefs of others, how can we expect to try to understand them?

The Secularists Are Coming! The Secularists Are Coming!: This last week, representatives of the Obama administration hosted members of the secular community for the first time in American Presidential history. The Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group representing secular interests, was briefed by the members of Obama administration in a White House meeting. As you might expect, this was met with shock and horror from some on the political right — Sean Hannity, for example, featured an inflammatory and outright false segment on his show about the meeting. But reports from the secular community indicate that it was a positive experience; check out Hemant Mehta’s The Friendly Atheist blog for an inside scoop. If nothing else, the meeting is an important symbolic step toward the recognition of a salient, cohesive, and growing secular community.

More Reflections on Religion and Millenials: Earlier this week I posted on the new Pew report on Millenials and its implications for Millenial secularists living in a religiously pluralistic world. I wasn’t the only one ruminating on this data — Politics Daily ran a piece called “Young Adults Doing Religion on Their Own? Blame Politics” that suggests that less Millenials are affiliated with traditional religious institutions while still retaining religious beliefs because many tend to be more politically liberal and see traditional religiosity as being aligned with political conservatism — which explains some of why religious affiliation is down among Millenials even though belief in god and that one’s own belief system is “the one true path to eternal life” are on the rise. Separately, the New York Times ran a piece by Charles M. Blow that posits that Millenials are more “spiritually thirsty than older generations.” He bases this claim in the Pew report’s finding that Millennials articulate a desire for “closeness to God” as a long term goal significantly more than previous generations have. Blow asserts that though less Millenials are religiously affiliated than members of generations that have come before, we value religious and spiritual commitments — perhaps even more so than other generations. Both pieces are well worth reading and I suggest you check them out.

Are There Secular Reasons?: The New York Times has a heady, thought-provoking opinion piece by Stanley Fish. In it, he challenges the notion that there is a distinction between “secular” motivations and “religious” motivations in public policy. He postulates: “Insofar as modern liberal discourse rests on a distinction between reasons that emerge in the course of disinterested observation — secular reasons — and reasons that flow from a prior metaphysical commitment, it hasn’t got a leg to stand on.” He makes an interesting point, and he makes it well. What do you think, fellow secularists?

Religion’s Role in U.S. Foreign Policy: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs task force, featuring Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, just released a new report called “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad.” You can view the full report here; the Washington Post has a good summary of it here.

Finally, if you missed them, I did my first “The Non Prophet” column for The New Gay, titled “All My Friends,” and gave a statement to Just Out Portland on the French anti-smoking ad controversy. Stay tuned to The New Gay every Wednesday at 1 PM (CST) for a new column, and thanks for reading!

obamabfastNational Prayer Breakfast Acknowledges Those Who Don’t Pray: Obama mentioned Americans of “no faith” at the National Prayer Breakfast but in, uh, this context: “God’s grace [is expressed] by Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose.” Is it just nitpick-y to criticize his language here? To his credit, his words throughout were very inclusive of people of all faiths (and “no faith,” which is again a first for an American President). But his language did at times carry some assumptions: “we all share a recognition — one as old as time — that a willingness to believe, an openness to grace, a commitment to prayer can bring sustenance to our lives.” No, Mr. President, that isn’t a recognition we all share. But then again, there was this beautiful bit: “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.” So, like his Presidency so far, the speech had its flaws but contained significant “firsts.” (source)

Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson: Good Buddies?: The New York Times has a truly excellent op/ed on how fundamentalist Atheists use fundamentalist religious folks to drive their narrative that religion is universally extremist. Writes Ross Douthat: “the fact that Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson both disagree tells us something, important, I think, about the symbiosis between the new atheism and fundamentalism — how deeply the new atheists are invested in the idea that a mad literalism is the truest form of any faith, and how completely they depend on outbursts from fools and fanatics to confirm their view that religion must, of necessity, be cruel, literal-minded, and intellectually embarrassing.” Bravo!

Some Say Mother Theresa Doesn’t Deserve a Stamp: The U.S. Postal Service has come under attack from atheists for announcing its intent to issue stamps featuring Mother Theresa because she was a Catholic saint. Really — that’s the most productive place to direct your energy? In opposition to acknowledging a widely respected figure that did good work in the world as motivated by her religious beliefs? Because with that logic, stamps featuring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X should be unacceptable as well — right?

College Blocks Secular Student Club: Concordia College in Moorhead, MN (my sister is an alumni) has forbidden the formation of a Secular Students Association because they say that, while they support freedom of speech, the group’s mission is in direct opposition with the school’s identity as a college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). As a graduate of another college affiliated with the ELCA, I can tell you that religious diversity was present at my school, including many secular folks. The school’s decision is ridiculous and I hope that they will reconsider. (source)

Religion And Science Get in Bed Together: The Guardian has a fascinating piece drawing parallels between organized religion and science. It concludes: “Science and organised traditional religion have to some extent the same enemies. Both rely for their influence on society on trust in authority and that is rapidly eroding. This is obvious in the case of religion, but we can see from the progress of climate change denialism how helpless scientists are against the same kind of jeering and suspicious anti-intellectualism that some of them direct at religion.”

Sociologists See Religion in a New Light: New research from “Inside Higher Ed” describes how religion has moved from a fringe study within an academic discipline to becoming an area of study all its own. Sociologists now recognize that religion is not “only a reflection of some other socioeconomic trend, but increasingly… the factor that may be central to understanding a given group of people.”  This is reminiscent of trends seen in disciplines like economics, foreign policy, and history. (source)

Are Atheists Moral?: Beliefnet has a great piece on the question of whether Atheists can be moral — it brings in a variety of voices and does a good survey of the current conversation in light of some pretty heated issues.

Atheistic Fiction: The Boston Globe reviews the new book “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, dubbing it the story of an “Atheist with a soul.”

pat robertsonHello from me and my buddy Pat! I’m quite busy these days and will only be getting busier as the run-up to my thesis submission intensifies, but fear not: NonProphet Status will continue to bring you original content every week.

Without further ado: religion news, from me to you!

Haitian Hubbub: The earthquake in Haiti has been unavoidable in the media, and with good reason — it was and continues to be absolutely devastating. Distracting from the devastation, however, was good ‘ol Pat Robertson, who offered on his “700 Club” soapbox the god-awful opinion that Haiti suffered tragedy on a national scale because, once upon a time, Haitian slaves made a pact with the devil to secure freedom from their French slave-holders. This idea is so offensive and unbelievable that it was of course immediately derided by the mainstream media, but it did provide an opportunity for reflection on what profoundly inaccurate narratives informed his claim. For more reflections on the implications behind Robertson’s claims, check out this helpful roundup of reactions. Robertson aside, the crisis in Haiti also inspired some inspired reflection, including a brilliant rumination posted on NPR on religion as a mode of processing and meaning-making in the face of devastation. Meanwhile, my fellow secularists set up a religion-free fund to donate to the recovery effort in Haiti.

Debating Brit: The Brit Hume fallout continues (see the most recent Religion Roundup). Check out two very worthwhile responses: one in the New York Times which suggests that Hume was not out of line but was rather operating rationally from the Christian worldview and that there is a more important conversation to be had in response to Hume’s comments; and one from Martin Marty which responds to claims by Hume and others that the negative responses to Hume’s comments highlights a backlash rooted in a deep persecution of Christians in America — Marty boldly cautions Christians against this narrative because, he claims, it belittles the idea of persecution in a world where real persecution is very common and very serious.

Creation Recreation: The film “Creation” will finally see its U.S. debut this weekend, four months following its international release, after several complications including the announcement that it had found a distributor everywhere else in the world besides the United States because distributors balked at the idea of a film on Charles Darwin in a country where, according to Gallup, only 14% of the population believe in pure evolution (as opposed to 36% who believe in intelligent design and 44% who believe in creation theory).

Winning (?) The War: The New York Times has a “letter from Europe” about the American war on terror that asks the important question of whether the West is winning the war on terror under the framework that the real battle is for “hearts and minds.” Their conclusion? It is “hard to say the West is winning.”

Furor For Cartoon Turns Violent: The long-simmering fury over Danish cartoons that belittled the Prophet Muhammad resulted in a recent attack on one of the cartoonists. In an article on the incident, the New York Times calls the attack a “certain awful inevitability,” then breaks down the reactions to the attack. Catch yourself up to speed, and then ask yourself the obvious question: what will bring healing for all parties involved in this situation? If you’ve got an idea, let me know in the comments.

tiger-woodsCome and get it: your religion roundup, hot and fresh out the kitchen!

Reflecting on Religion: Religion Dispatches has a must-read for anyone interested in religion. This profound reflection on the role of religion in the world today summarizes the shifts in religion at the end of the first decade of this century — highlighting in particular the death of the certainty of secularization, moves in public and academic discourse around religion, and a call to interfaith action.

Bad Sense of Hume-r: On the less articulate and thoughtful side of commentary, Brit Hume opened his mouth and offended a bunch of people when he said that Tiger Woods needs to turn to Christianity to find forgiveness because he didn’t think that Buddhism, the religion Woods reportedly follows, “offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.” Because, you know, Buddhism has nothing to say on ethical conduct, eh?

Blasphemy Ban: Hume’s comment wouldn’t go unchecked in Ireland; in fact, it might be punishable by law. On January 1st, a new law went into effect in Ireland that forbids “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion” and is punishable by $35,000 fine. This is, obviously, a threat to free speech and religious freedom that is raising all kinds of controversy as Atheist groups mount a public campaign challenging it.

College Bans Head Coverings, Then Hits “Undo”: Speaking of bans, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences issued a ban this week of “any head covering that obscures a student’s face.” Claiming the ban was a safety issue and that they discussed the  ban in advance with students it might effect, the school reversed the ban a few days later after receiving severe criticism from several civil rights, religious freedom, Muslim and media organizations. As this article notes, this is the first time that such a ban has happened on an American university. The ban echoes issues that have occured in France and other parts of Europe; the difference in this case was the almost immediate public outcry, which I believe speaks to the significance of free public religious expression in American life. Of course, the college had its supporters too.

A Scientology Controversy That Has Nothing To Do With Tom Cruise: As the above ban demonstrates, media reports on religion thrive on controversy, and Scientology is an easy target. In the culmination of a 25-year recovery process, the release of a batch of lectures and writings from Scientology’s deceased founder L. Ron Hubbard is raising controversy as some question the validity of these documents and others balk at the $7,500 price tag for those who wish to access these materials.

Callin’ All (Lapsed) Catholics: On the less expensive end of the spectrum, The Catholic Church’s “Catholics Come Home,” which aims to bring former Catholics back into the fold, is producing results. It is interesting to see the Catholic Church take advantage of new media models and attempt to readjust its public image (kind of reminiscent of “Catholicism Wow!” from “Dogma,” eh?); I can’t help but wonder how the positive response to this will affect the Church.

Coming Home to Religion: Perhaps the Catholic Church read the most recent Pew report on religion’s state-by-state breakdown and is responding in time. Not exactly a Catholic hotbed, Mississippi is the “most religious” state in America, which, for all of its southern religiosity stereotypes, shouldn’t surprise many.

What You Haven’t Heard About Muslims: You may not have known that Mississippi was America’s most religious state, and Ethics Daily has some more possible surprises; their run-down of top “good-news” stories about the Muslim world that you may not have heard is worth reading and a great example of how stories of conflict sell better than stories of cooperation, reminding us to be all the more watchful for the less-heard narratives.

Cautioned Cartoons: One story about Islam heard ’round the world was the conflict that followed the publication of some cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Netherlands. Here is an excellent story on a new book by Saba Mahmoud that raises a distinctive nuance of the situation that was lost on the majority of people unfamiliar with the traditions of Islam: that the secular interpretation of the events tended to read Muslim offense at the Danish cartoons in terms of legality, i.e. that a law prohibiting the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad had been broken. This book reframes this reading, suggesting that, rather, it was about profound sorrow as someone dearly revered and loved was insulted. At the heart of the issue is a weighty and potentially game-changing misunderstanding, mistaking deep religious sentiment for mere legalism, and highlighting a much deeper misunderstanding between secular Europe and Muslims who were offended by the cartoons.

Conflict All-Over Malaysia Over “Allah”: In Malaysia, a new conflict that centers on similar misunderstandings is brewing. Major attacks followed a December 31 court ruling in Malaysia that overturned a federal ban on the use of the word “Allah” in reference to the Christian God that left many Muslims upset. It is a conflict of semantics; as this New York Times piece highlights, “though [the usage of “Allah” to denote the Christian God] is common in many countries, where Arabic- and Malay-language Bibles describe Jesus as the ‘son of Allah,’ many Muslims [in Malaysia] insist that the word belongs exclusively to them and say that its use by other faiths could confuse Muslim worshipers.” The article goes on to unpack how religion is being used as a political tool in Malaysia — a reminder that we must be vigilant against those who will manuever to manipulate inter-religious conflict (in this case, Christian-Muslim) for political gain.

Bare Necessities: PETA and the Catholic church continue to spar over this NSFWish ad.

Moralizing in the Media: Some Christians call out all America’s political liars; few people notice.

Top Stories in Religion: Finally — the Winnipeg Free Press has an engaging piece on religion in the last year that is a bit more journalistic than my top ten list on religion in 2009. Worth reading, and it ends on just the right note: “What will 2010 bring? I hope there are more stories of how people of faith walk hand in hand.”

dog-sleddingSorry for the lack of updates! I’ve been in limbo — in Minnesota visiting family and friends for secular Christmas with limited internet access. I’m still here but will be back with a vengeance in 2010. Until then, here is your (delayed) religion roundup and, to compensate for my slacking, a picture of me sledding with the family dog (dog-sledding… get it?!). And to those who celebrate something this time of year: Happy ____!

The Terrorist Next Door: The New York Times has an informative piece on homegrown terrorism and how this year’s incident at Fort Hood challenges the widespread assumption that America is relatively safe from homegrown terrorism (as opposed to European nations) due to more economic and social opportunities for American Muslims. The article credits the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as partially responsible for this shift. The role of religion in this conversation is huge, and it is important that we approach it with sensitivity and empathy. This article of course eerily preceded yesterday’s near-hijacking of a plane bound for Detroit, though the suspect, claiming ties to al Qaeda, was Nigerian.

Welcoming the Stranger: An inspiring story for the holidays about one of the many ways religious communities are doing good work across the country — the New York Times has a profile on a New Jersey Church that is drawing upon its religious convictions in an encouraging way. The young pastor of this congregation is working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to spare immigrants detention; the article suggests that this might signal a new trend in immigration rules under the Obama administration. This, to me, is a story of a Christian community truly “following in Christ’s footsteps.”

Restricting Religion: A new study from Pew explores the many ways religious freedoms are restricted globally. A disturbing highlight: 70% of all countries restrict religion in some way. Oof.

Faith and Climate Change: I know we secular folks often feel religion can be a stumbling block in environmental efforts, but in truth religious communities are taking a real lead in the movement. Washington Post’s always-excellent On Faith recently featured a piece on how faith communities gathered in Copenhagen for the climate change talks. Certainly worth checking out.

"Islam is of the Devil"

Beginning this week, I will try to offer a weekly roundup of what is going on in the world of religion, from a (fairly) respectful secular perspective.

Conservative and Caring: The common perception among us secularists is that conservative religious folks are either unengaged or dangerously opposed to progress, but as this recent New York Times piece shows, Evangelical Christians are moving more and more toward issues of social reform and justice. Hallelujah!

Mix and Match: The Pew Forum has a new report out this week that reveals an increased number Americans who “hyphenate” their religious identity, pulling from more than one tradition. Religion is changing, folks.

Turn the Other Cheek?: NPR notes that a new FBI report shows that the greatest rise in hate crimes has been ones committed against people because of their religious identity. This may come as a surprise to those who view all religion as oppressive but, as it turns out, religious people get hated on for who they are, too.

Sacred Symbols: Worth checking out is an interesting piece by Hussein Rashid that compares the banning of t-shirts at a high school in Florida that say “Islam is of the Devil” and the inexplicable banning of Minarets in Switzerland.

Preventing a Gay Genocide: A potential (horrifying) new measure in Uganda that would condemn those “suspected of homosexual activity” to imprisonment and, in some cases, even death, has raised controversy around the world. The issue has significant implications in the field of religion, particularly because of the connections of many of the act’s Ugandan supporters to the American evangelical community. For those out of the loop, Time does a good job providing some background. More recently, Faith in Public Life published a joint letter from conservative and liberal Christians condemning the law; this is especially interesting because it is signed by those from across the Christian perspective, with widely varied views on issues of gay marriage and civil unions. Additionally, after initially refusing to take a stance Rick Warren, the world’s most influential minister, finally came out against the measure this week. I can’t understate how important it is that we keep talking about this measure.

Barack Obama, Theologian: This article highlights Obama’s growing discourse on religion as evidenced in his Nobel Prize Speech. In his address, Obama criticized religious extremism while also offering his own particular hope for cooperation and peace, sounding like a preacher for much of it. His message was profound and important. While acknowledging I have a soft spot for this kind of language, I was surprised by how moved I was by this speech. The following passage is, for me, especially inspiring: Read the rest of this entry »

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