January 2, 2011
Pretentious, self-indulgent alert! Every January since I was in middle school, I’ve written a “top music of the previous year” list. It’s become a fun tradition; a way of reflecting on the year that was and the music that was its soundtrack. While NonProphet Status isn’t a music blog, I want to share 2010’s list here because, well, I just can’t help myself! So here we go again — my annual list of my favorite music of the year. Last year I spent a week working on my 2009 year-end “best of” music list; time I just don’t have this year. So I tried to keep this short and sweet… but then I got a little carried away, ha. Oops!
Anyway, without further ado: write-ups on my favorite 25 albums released in 2010, a list of the other 30 I loved, write-ups for five “honorable mentions,” and videos and three song highlights for each listing. Because, as a writer on religion and atheism, my opinions on music are totally important and worth sharing? (Hey, I was the A&E Editor / Music Columnist for my college paper! Ha.) I hope you see something that reminds you of what a great year it was for music, or that you discover something new. If you do, consider this my New Year’s gift to you. Happy 2011, and thanks for all of your support this year! Now: back to writing my book, heh.
I. TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2010
1. Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz | All Delighted People EP
Few people alive can make music like Stevens does; but he’s essentially unparalleled when it comes to making music that is an event. His albums are a tactile experience — highbrow and immediate, meticulously orchestrated and chaotically organic. This couldn’t be more true with Adz, a sharp and seismic veer to the left that, following the Sufjan-of-old catharthis of the All Delighted People EP, couldn’t feel any more right or any more right now. Post-folk-purge, the old Sufjan has picked himself up and left the cave. The man of Adz is a new creation: once again the greatest musician of his generation, once again making music.
Highlights: “I Want To Be Well,” “Impossible Soul,” “Age of Adz”
Continue after the jump…
December 13, 2010
Today’s guest blog, the latest in our ongoing series of guest contributors, comes from Stephen Goeman and Bruce Wang, members of Tufts Freethought Society. It is a reflection on pluralism and its ramifications for several contemporary social issues, written from the perspective of two up-and-coming nonreligious student leaders. Initially produced for the Tufts Roundtable, it is a thorough and compelling call for pluralism — please check it out:
A fundamental challenge is confronting America’s modern religiosity: a nation once considered primarily Christian, or at least Judeo-Christian, is getting a taste of secular values. The National Day of Prayer, first started in 1952, has been challenged by a federal judge, LGBT teen suicides have many reconsidering their stance on homosexuality, and Muslims are fighting to build Islamic centers wherever they please—regardless of their proximity to Ground Zero. These examples characterize a push against the fundamentalist stances of religious America—the push of pluralism—or the idea that peace in a modern society depends on allowing all lifestances to thrive. While fundamentalism threatens to divide members of various communities, enforcers of pluralism seek to unite these beliefs in order to maintain the progression of civilized debate and inclusive cooperation.
Traditionally, there are few limitations on what or who is considered American: all individuals, regardless of their point of origin, creed, or identity have an equal position as American citizens. This is a tradition worth preserving. However, this basic right is under fire on America’s religious spectrum by exclusivists, who counter America’s growing religious diversity by denying outsiders the right to participate in America’s religious culture. This view has a consecrated history in everyday language through the exclusivist phrase “Christian nation.” Exclusivism creates a unity at the expense of America’s minority opinions—opinions that need protecting.
The progressive preservation of equality comes from pluralism. Eboo Patel, President and Founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, explains that “pluralism is neither mere coexistence nor forced consensus… Instead, religious pluralism is ‘energetic engagement’ that affirms the unique identity of each particular religious tradition and community, while recognizing that the well-being of each depends on the health of the whole.”
Pluralism is advanced through interfaith cooperation, the goal of which is to make knowledge of individual beliefs readily accessible through positive and productive interaction. Interestingly, nonbelievers are taking a leading role in this movement. Chris Stedman, Managing Director of State of Formation at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, claims that “it is precisely because I am an atheist, and not in spite of it, that I am motivated to do interfaith work.” It is clear that the stereotype of atheists as desirous of conflict with religion is monstrously untrue (even the aggressive Christopher Hitchens is on record as saying that, given the chance, he would not end international religious belief).
As Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain for Harvard University, notes, “Would some atheists reject the concept of pluralism? Of course. But plenty of Christians reject it as well, and you’d hardly think of holding an interfaith meeting without Christians because of it.” Epstein believes that interfaith events which exclude the nonreligious are arbitrarily divisive and not truly pluralistic. Stedman agrees, and further argues that the religious should be willing to come to the defense of nonbelievers when individuals belittle nonreligious values. Progress is already being made in these areas; the Universal Society of Hinduism publicly defended atheists from Pope Benedict XVI’s comparison of atheists and Nazis, and even the conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly has recently admitted that atheists are not immoral. If we desire the end of prejudice in America, pluralism must be advocated.
Recent legislation has called exclusivist values into question. For almost 60 years, Americans have gathered once a year to celebrate faith through the medium of unified prayer with government sponsorship. However, the legality of this event has been questioned by federal judge Barbara Crabb. Does this event actually encourage equal participation between all Americans, or does it lend itself to an unconstitutional favor of religion? Crabb asserts that the event characterizes the latter, stating that, “In this instance, the government has taken sides on an issue that must be left to individual conscience.” It is also clear that the event is not a celebration of all American religions, but instead caters exclusively to Christians. An Indiana celebration in 2003 split into two disjointed events: one for conservative Christians, and one for everyone else. In 2005, invitations to participate in the Day of Prayer in Plano, Texas were restricted to Christians. That same year, the National Day of Prayer Task Force objected to an American Hindu woman leading a prayer.
This string of events characterizes the clash of exclusivism and pluralism; Americans who seek equal representation for all citizens, regardless of their religious stance, have to contend with an exclusivist tradition. Crabb is right to contest the National Day of Prayer’s government sponsorship. America is characterized by a distinct cohesiveness which unifies greatly varying beliefs, and this is absolutely something to celebrate. However, the National Day of Prayer does not foster these pluralistic values. Our nation can do better.
The conflict between Christianity and homosexuality could also desperately use an injection of pluralist values. The issues of gay marriage and LGBT teen suicides in the last few years have been a painfully divisive wedge between fundamentalist Christian values and those advocating for progressive equality. At every gay rights rally, there are those who vehemently oppose legal equality for all LGBT-identified people on religious or moral grounds, and there are the Christian progressives reminding us that everyone falls under God’s love. If the focus is adjusted to today’s main-stream Evangelicals, the new progressives are those who fully accept homosexuality and the fundamentalists that now advocate a stance similar to the “love the sinner, not the sin” approach. While secular culture overwhelmingly continues to favor gay rights, outspoken fundamentalists have ramped up their rhetoric in order to balance against what they perceive to be antagonism towards their religious values, resulting in their radicalization.
Consider the recent controversy over censorship of high school senior Sean Simonson’s article asking students to reach out in support of LGBT youth. Administrators of Benilde- St. Margaret’s School banned the publication of Simonson’s article, offering this explanation; “this particular discussion is not appropriate because the level of intensity has created an unsafe environment for students.” While the general response to LGBT youth suicide by the majority of Christians is that of compassion, this is merely one example of many of the widening gap of opinion on the issue of homosexuality. Both sides want to prevent mistreatment and suicides of LGBT youth, yet one accepts their identity as morally valid while the other continues to condemn their nature as intrinsically immoral.
The questions Christians must ask themselves, regarding this issue, are: do we really want to help stop teen suicide, and does this condemnation of homosexuality further that commitment? To answer these questions definitively is vital to the reconciliation between traditional fundamentalists and a growing liberal movement, but first a plurality of opinions and stances must be accepted in order to foster civilized debate between the traditionalist and progressive communities. If the issue of homosexuality is to cease existing as a wedge, they must abandon their combative and hostile attitude regarding fundamentalist tradition and embrace a movement to bridge their differences.
Islamphobia is another form of exclusivity which has gained widespread media attention through controversy stirred by the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. Ironically, when news of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York (actual name) was first publicized, few took notice, much less opposed the project. When Daisy Khan, wife of Feisal Abdul Rauf, project leader of the Islamic Cultural Center, was interviewed by Laura Ingraham on The O’Reily Factor, no indication of controversy was found. Ingraham, who has spoken out against radicalized Islam frequently on her radio show said, “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it” and “I like what you’re trying to do”.
However, when anti-Muslim blogger and Executive Director of Stop Islamization of America Pamela Geller framed the issue as an offense to the victims of 9/11 and a ploy to spread extremism in America, exclusivists began to take notice. She pushed her position to the mainstream media through the New York Post almost half a year later, drawing the fear and prejudice of an impassioned constituent. By later distorting Feisal Abdul Rauf’s intentions, Geller was able to promulgate this needlessly divisive issue in order to advance the self-explanatory goals of Stop Islamization of America.
The damage of religious exclusivity and marginalization has been dealt: hostility, insensitivity, and mischaracterization of the Muslim minority in America has only fed the flames of extremism abroad. Feisal Abdul Rauf began the Islamic Cultural Center as an effort to promote moderate Islam and to combat violent extremism from creeping into American society, but the effort by mostly right-wing Evangelicals to suppress a religious minority in order to preserve and extol one’s own religious identity over another has undermined a genuine effort towards advancing international peace. It is an affront to our principles of equality when Muslims so willingly meet America halfway, only to be cut off by exclusivist thinking.
As religion grows in America, exclusivist doctrine must be repudiated in favor of impartial pluralism. Members of all faiths—and no faith—should work together through the interfaith movement on an equal playing field, and we should not be surprised that nonbelievers are being included.
Americans should rush to fight prejudice, even when they are not members of the group being marginalized. Through pluralism we can defend universal equality which is simply not attainable through exclusivism. The pluralist movement, secular in principle, should be encouraged to continue as the catalyst of individual and communal growth in America. By these means, we can live up to our most progressive motto, E Pluribus Unum (from many, one), and leave the exclusionist motto, One Nation Under God, behind.
Bruce Wang is a sophomore majoring in International Relations with a minor in Film Studies. Currently he is also the Public Relations Chair of the Tufts Freethought Society. Stephen Goeman is a sophomore majoring in cognitive and brain science and philosophy. He is the community outreach representative of the Tufts Freethought Society.
December 10, 2010
“‘Thou shalt not’ might reach the head, but it takes ‘Once upon a time’ to reach the heart.” So said Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass, in a 2007 interview with The Atlantic. He might be right, but I can’t help but wonder: What if we could reach both the head and the heart?
It’s a question I asked myself many times over while writing my Master of Arts in Religion thesis on narrative and religion last year. Now, as the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders founded by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and run in partnership with Hebrew College, Andover Newton Theological School and collaboration with Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, I am so excited about the content that has flooded the site in its inaugural week — and how our religious and philosophical academics are using both their minds and their hearts to enter into dialogue. Continue reading at the Huffington Post.
December 6, 2010
Today’s guest post is a submission from Nico Lang, a regular NPS contributor. An intern at Interfaith Youth Core and a senior at DePaul University, Lang co-founded the Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and is head of campus outreach for the Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago. His previous writing for NPS includes “Talking the ‘Hereafter’ With Atheists and Believer,” as well as posts on his personal journey as a queer agnostic interested in interfaith work, about Park51 and the state of American dialogue and on the ramifications of “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”
When looking back over the year that was 2010, I am constantly bombarded with this phrase from media analysts, news commentators and interests on all sides of the spectrum. As just about anyone with a television knows, anti-Muslim and anti-gay hate were notable presences in the final half of our calendar year. “Bullying” became the buzzword du jour, as the media scrambled to respond to an epidemic of LGBT suicides, most notably epitomized by the Tyler Clementi scandal.
However, rather than seeing bullying as uniquely targeting the queer community and queer youth, shouldn’t we also be using it to describe what’s happening to American Muslims? For me, this year showed that homophobia and Islamophobia are not so thinly divided, that hate binds us all.
In the Muslim case, we started out the year by drawing blasphemous depictions of the Prophet of Islam. Then Fox News told us “they were building a Mosque on Ground Zero,” and even that “liberal elite” New York Times scrambledto interview people who felt like that gosh darned “Mosque” didn’t belong there. Now, Newt Gingrich wants to make America safe from Shariah law and, by extension, from Muslims.
Ask yourself: Is this not bullying?
Of course, it is. This was the year of mid-term elections so bullying and demonizing minorities once again became incredibly profitable for the Right, notably the Pam Gellers and Tea Partiers of America. Islamophobia wasn’t just spreading across the country. Groups with an interest reanointing Islam the Supreme Evil had to be spreading it.
Gays understand this phenomenon well, especially those that lived through the 2004 elections. When a right-wing group wants to drum up support for their platform, that wily homosexual agenda acts as a simple scapegoat. Although linking Tinkie Winkie’s purse to 9/11 and the downfall of America may a relic of the past, the industry of homophobia is alive and well. Just ask Tony Perkins, the American Family Association or Sarah Palin’s daughter.
Although FBI data showed that actual hate crimes are decreasing, gays still remain the most retaliated againstminority group in the country, joined by Jews and, yes, Muslims. Analysts warn that gay rights victories may increase the amount of anti-gay violence across America, just as increased Muslim visibility after Park51 led to unspeakable acts of hate. After events like stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York, many Muslims stated that they had never been so scared to live in America.
Gallup data further proved that their fear is justified. A majority of Americans now hold an unfavorable view of Islam, and more than a quarter identify as extremely prejudiced against the religion.
At a time when a majority of Americans likewise still believe that homosexuality is a sin, activists like Sherry Wolf believe that our struggles make gays and Muslims natural allies. Although we surely cannot excuse the anti-gay policies of fundamentalist Islamic countries like Iran, this in no way represents all or even most Muslims, and Wolf states that we must look past these divides to find common ground. Doing so is crucially important for “any oppressed people, whether…black, LGBT [or] immigrant” to fight for equality for all.
Last Spring, a dialogue between notable Chicago Muslims, like Hind Makki of the Interfaith Youth Core, and members of the Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago (SHAC) proved that we can find the common language to be able to articulate our shared struggles. Discussing the Everybody Draw Muhammad Day controversy, the event’s Muslims and LGBTQA members of SHAC found that our perspectives were motivated by the same thing: a need to feel safe and secure in our communities.
Recently, Hind Makki put it even more succinctly. Recently, Makki devised a Twitter hash tag around the topic of “Gays and Muslims Have a Lot in Common,” and the response in the affirmative has been incredible.
As a queer activist and intern at Interfaith Youth Core, I find commonality in the struggles of Muslim allies like Hind, who chooses to wear the headscarf at a time when one simple expression of her core identity is sadly unpopular. Although choosing to lead my life as an out queer man led to some harassment and hatred, I can only imagine what life is like for Hind’s queer co-religionists.
Whether Muslim, queer or queer and Muslim, all of us just want to be true to our selves and to be respected for exactly who those people are. We want to live in a society where we aren’t wedge issues, where we have the ability to create the homes, the families and the communities we so badly want.
What this year has shown us is that we must work together to build them.
Nico Lang is the Communications Intern for Interfaith Youth Core and a Senior in International Studies at DePaul University. Nico just started up DePaul’s first film club, the DePaul A.V. Club, and represents the lone agnostic among 2010-2011′s Vincent and Louise House residents, who represent DePaul’s Catholic intentional living and social justice community. He is also the co-founder of the Queer Intercollegiate Alliance, an initiative between Chicago’s LGBT campus groups; a writer for the DePaulia newspaper; and head of Campus Outreach for the Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago. Occassionally, Nico sleeps.
The University of Oregon’s Alliance of Happy Atheists are participating in the UO Dance Marathon on January 22nd, 2011 and they need your help!
Dance Marathon raises money for the local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital unit at Sacred Heart Hospital. The money supports local families with children in the NICU and Pediatric units at Sacred Heart Hospital in Springfield, Oregon. 100% of every single dollar raised for the event goes to directly supporting the families in the NICU and Pediatric units.
Dance Marathon is a 12 hour dance-a-thon representing the often month long stay families have in the hospital. This is the Alliance of Happy Atheists first year participating in Dance Marathon, and the fifth year the University of Oregon has hosted Dance Marathon, currently the only west coast school to have one.
The Alliance of Happy Atheists are hoping to make a big impact on the event, which is traditionally viewed as a fraternity and sorority event.
“As one of the least trusted demographics in the country, The Alliance of Happy Atheists strongly believe in the importance of humanizing the image of atheists and non-religious persons,” said Travis Prinslow, Social Co-Chair of the UO Alliance of Happy Atheists. “I can think of no better way to do this than to give back to the community and the families in it.”
They have set their team goal at $1000 to help keep families together. If you would like to support the Alliance of Happy Atheists in their endeavor to raise money for local families you can contribute to their team goal here.
November 29, 2010
Please check out my latest blog for the Washington Post On Faith, about the internet, morality, and State of Formation! [Update: This post has been refeatured on Tikkun Daily and The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue!] Below is a selection; it can be read in full at the Washington Post:
Is the Internet destroying our morals?
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI issued a warning that the Internet was “numbing” young people and creating an “educational emergency – a challenge that we can and must respond to with creative intelligence.”
Speaking at a Vatican conference on culture, Benedict also expressed concern that “a large number of young people” are “establish[ing] forms of communication that do not increase humaneness but instead risk increasing a sense of solitude and disorientation.”
Benedict’s comments created an uproar, but he has a point. Studies show that Internet addiction is linked to depression; in 2007, the comedy website Cracked offered a surprisingly moving take on this phenomenon titled “7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable.”
It’s tempting, knowing this, to suggest that we all take a step away from our keyboards, turn off our computers, and go find a field to frolic in. Continue reading at the Washington Post.
November 26, 2010
I’ll be live-tweeting the Munk Debate on religion as a force for good in the world between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens tonight by invitation of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation at 7 PM EST! Visit my Twitter page for my commentary, and if you want to see a stream of the debate, check out their live stream page.
November 22, 2010
November 19, 2010
Guilty as charged! I’m sorry, but I hope you’ve been enjoying the awesome commentary from guest bloggers. I’ve had a lot going on; here’s a taste of what I’ve been up to:
1. State of Formation
Over the summer, I was hired by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue to be the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders co-sponsored by Hebrew College, Andover Newton, and the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. We’ve been working hard since then to recruit amazing contributors and get the site together — and, last week, it began its rolling launch! Please check it out; I’m incredibly proud of the fantastic content by our contributors already up on the site.
2. Book deal!
This fall, I’ve been working with a publisher on a book proposal, and I was very pleased to learn that my proposal was accepted this week! I officially have a book deal! Every bloggers dream, eh? Haha. It’s been an amazing process so far, and I can’t wait to finish the book and share it with you all. I challenge you to guess what the book will be about… Ha.
3. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard
I’ve also been working with the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, and am so thrilled to announce that I am coming on board this year as the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow! In this position, I will coach and empower Humanist students to initiate and organize community service work in partnership with faith communities at Harvard. Read the announcement on HCH website here.
4. The Common Ground Campaign
I’ve been working hard with some awesome folks on the Common Ground Campaign, a youth-led movement standing up in response to the recent wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence in America. Stay tuned for several announcements about those efforts coming soon!
So that’s all for now! I’ve got more in the works, but I’ll keep it short and sweet for now. I just want to add that, as I announced some of this news over the week on Facebook, I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response to my news about my book and about HCH. I’m feeling especially grateful right now for all of your support, friends. It’s what got me here.