Come 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.
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.
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.”