Archive for the ‘religion’ tag
Our society has whitewashed the civil rights leader’s life and deeds. On Monday, we should remember his dream of beloved community and his commitment to activism.
By Jay Youngdahl, President and columnist of EastBayExpress in Oakland, California. Published with permission.
On January 20, our nation will celebrate the American hero Martin Luther King Jr. Schools and post offices will be closed, giving many of us a three-day weekend — a welcome respite from our busy lives. But what will we be celebrating?
If we are to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. the man, we need a return to the real King, not to the tissue-paper-thin image of him devoid of meaning or historical accuracy. Tributes and celebrations are all too often marked by false remembrance, in which radical and transformational leaders and movements are cynically turned into bland narratives of fairness and justice. When applied to King, this process does a disservice to his work and the issues he held dear.
King was an activist and an intellectual whose courage shone during one of our nation’s most important moments. He was moved by religious faith and earthly fire. He was a believer in divine miracles and in progress through human endeavor. He was a religious figure and scholar who understood how the ills of society interconnect. He was a complicated man in a time in which the fundamental question upon which his activism began — justice for black Americans — was a simple binary. In the town where I grew up, Little Rock, Arkansas, there was one question with only two possible answers: Do you believe in segregation of the races — yes or no?
It is in King’s extraordinary writings that we can find the man today. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written to a hostile white southern clergy, is a classic of American prose. It should be read by kids and adults everywhere this week. King argued for the sacredness of the inclusive “beloved community” of our human species and the importance of all of us. He stressed notions of love, power, and justice and their relationship to the nature of social existence — a message echoed in progressive strains of Buddhism and Catholicism.
It was through his conception of beloved community that King led the Civil Rights Movement, maybe the most important movement in our country’s history. In this struggle, he also inspired a generation of activists. In response to the Vietnam War, he called our government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” The elite howled and The New York Timesexcoriated him for this “reckless” connection of racism and militarism. King died in 1968 while in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers, yet many believed his decision to link war with racism led to his murder.
The realization of beloved communities of human joy, plenty, and safety, King preached, is frustrated by three things: poverty, racism, and war. On January 20, we should remember that these three evils still exist today. Last week, the US Census Bureau reported that nearly one in three Americans experienced an episode of poverty between 2009 and 2011, a scandalous proportion. As to racism, the legacy of the death of Oscar Grant remains with us, and the educational opportunities for black Americans continue to deteriorate, as our privileged starve the public education system in the guise of standing up to teachers unions. As to war, our culture of endless conflict continues to cost us dearly in lives and money. King fretted about the diversion of resources from human improvement to war. Last year, a Harvard researcher calculated that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually hit $6 trillion.
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day also comes on the heels of the death of Nelson Mandela, another hero who is being sanitized by contemporary culture. Mandela was praised by all the world’s leaders, yet, in his struggle against apartheid in South Africa, he was no pacifist. Despite tremendous pressure, he refused to condemn the actions of apartheid’s opponents — even when those actions included violence. Yet at his funeral, world leaders tried to remake him in the image of their sanitized version of Martin Luther King. Mandela’s funeral was surreal, as he was joyfully praised by leaders of nations who had branded him a terrorist and funded the apartheid system that kept black South Africans in slave-like conditions. Luminaries such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, a supporter of apartheid in his college days, and one of our American princes of impoverishment, Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, made the pilgrimage.
Whitewashing the misdeeds of the elite — and the responses of historical heroes — is nothing new, of course. It’s worth revisiting Tom Paxton’s satirical ballad “What Did You Learn in School Today,” which Pete Seeger sang at a historic Carnegie Hall concert fifty years ago. Paxton’s lyrics described what kids were being taught at the time.
I learned that Washington never told a lie. I learned that soldiers seldom die. …
I learned that war is not so bad. I learned about the great ones we have had. …
I learned that policemen are my friends. I learned that justice never ends. …
I learned our government must be strong. It’s always right and never wrong. …
An understanding of history and what to honor and what to remember is not an empty intellectual enterprise. As Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote from the Mandela funeral, “The past has a legacy and the present has consequences: our understanding of how we got here and why is crucial to our decision about where we go from here next and how.” Understanding who our heroes really were and what they actually did is, indeed, critical.
The question is not whether to praise King; the question is what we commemorate. For me, it was his commitment to direct action with his eye always on the prize of a beloved community, a place where joy and a healthy life for all can be created. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote in his Birmingham letter. This is the message to be celebrated and taught to our kids.
Originally appeared in the ‘Sightings’ column of The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School/December 2, 2013
“Pope attacks ‘tyranny’ of markets in manifesto” (Chicago Tribune, Nov. 26), “Pope Assails ‘New Tyranny’ of Unchecked Capitalism” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 26), “Pope Francis the Revolutionary” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 28) are just three of the thousands of headlines in newspapers and on blog posts this past week.
The focus of these headlines—Pope Francis’ “apostolic exhortation”—wiped out all competition for attention among opinion-makers and reporters who deal with significant news in the spheres where religion (once a.k.a. a “private affair”) and everything public meet.
First, this is so because the Pope, any Pope, commands notice as head of the Catholic Church and its more than one-billion adherents. Second, it is so because this Pope, with his refreshing statements, has surprised pro- and con- religion world citizens and observers on the left, right, and center. Third, journalists, commentators, and their readerships and audiences can grow, have grown, weary of the obsessive preoccupation with sex-related issues which has dominated the media for years. They are not alone: the Pope is also weary of what he calls such “obsessive” concerns and says he wants to change the topic. And, fourth, because he has lifted up the often-obscured, but certainly the oldest, ethical issue in the Christian treasury, rooted as it is in the Gospels, the whole New Testament, and the Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians share with Jews.
A student in one of my courses used a ruler to measure how many inches of type in his New Testament were dedicated to various topics. “Homosexuality” took up about two inches in the Pauline writings, and that was that. “Birth control?” Zero. “Abortion?” Zero. I don’t mean to trivialize these subjects, but this student chronicler found that throughout his Bible, the ethical focus for individuals and “the people of God,” more often than not—in many, many inches or feet of measured type—dealt with “economic inequality,” “unequal wealth,” and the “tyranny” of various economic orders or disorders.
Champions of inequality, in their legions of legions, should not quake because a mere pope speaks critically of the way of life they champion or embody. “We” are accustomed or even wired to turn off visions of the poor. Nicholas D. Kristof, in theNew York Times (Nov. 27), pointed to a typical finding, this time by Susan Fiske of Princeton: “When research subjects hooked up to neuro-imaging machines look at photos of the poor and the homeless, their brains often react as if they are seeing things, not people.” Fiske’s analysis—and you do not have to be a Princeton psychologist to observe this—“suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion.”
I like the words “often” and “sometimes” in the previous two sentences, for they suggest that positive visions, criticisms, and appeals “often” and “sometimes” bypass our neuro-imaging blockings and do inspire sympathy. Pope Francis believes that, and “exhorts” others—not only Catholics—to react with sympathy, and then to change, and act on the many levels where inequality goes unnoticed or where notice can do some good.
Some of the media images of Thanksgiving/Black Friday week showed that not all citizens are idolaters of wealth, but displayed their generosity of spirit and how, both personally and through organizations and political approaches, they worked to effect change.
References and Further Reading:
O’Leary, Naomi. “Pope attacks ‘tyranny’ of markets in manifesto.” Reuters. Chicago Tribune, November 26, 2013. Accessed November 30, 2013.http://www.chicagotribune.com/
Moloney, Liam. “Pope Assails ‘New Tyranny’ Of Unchecked Capitalism.” Wall Street Journal, November 26, 2013. Accessed November 30, 2013.http://online.wsj.com/news/
Weigel, George. “Pope Francis the Revolutionary.” Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2013. Accessed November 30, 2013. http://online.wsj.com/news/
Burke, Daniel. “No more business as usual.” Belief Blog, November 26, 2013. Accessed November 30, 2013. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/
Kristof, Nicholas. “Where Is the Love?” New York Times, November 27, 2013. Accessed November 30, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 MartyCenter Junior Fellow.
The average percentage of global youth trusting religious leaders is now in the single digits. This “mass exodus” is becoming a pervasive challenge for a lion’s share of the world’s major faith traditions while leaders grapple, struggle, and investigate. Even framing the issue is problematic and poses controversy. So how can the claim religious leaders are performing best in South Africa to connecting to youth be considered credible?
Viacom International, the media corporation owning MTV networks and numerable communications platform is spearheading an ambitious research endeavor. “The Next Normal” plans to be the largest, sharpest, and most comprehensive survey of Millennials (Gen-Y, predecessors to “Digital Natives) in the world. In April, research conducted by the project reported a comprehensive look at the generational character on religion, spirituality and faith nation by nation.
Some of the most significant findings include South African millennials having the most trust for religious leaders of any nationality, and that Japanese and Saudi Arabian Millennials are the most inflexible in terms of individualism and choice in religious matters.
Most significant of all is that these numbers are powerful and help plot the future of interfaith around the world.
The study shows,
In exploring Millennial attitudes toward religion, faith and spirituality across the globe, we found that overall, this generation believes that everybody should have the right to choose their own religion. But their openness and tolerance are also marked by distrust in organised religion, as well as distinctions between faith and spirituality in some countries.
On average, only 9% of Millennials say they trust their religious leader and only 10% name “religious leader” among the top 5 inspirational people or bodies of people in their lives (compared to 19% for celebrities and 14% for sports stars). In terms of trust in religious leaders (who could be anyone from a local priest, preacher, imam or rabbi to the Pope), South Africa comes out strongest with a score of 29% trust – still a relatively small minority – followed by USA on 24% and Turkey on 17%.
Trust in religious leaders is lowest in France (2%), Japan and Spain (both 3%).
So where are the magic answers?
The New Digital Age Google forcecasts shows us that via the internet, humans will increasingly utilize their virtual passports to meet on the social web. This creates unprecedented and uncontrollable influences on millennial attitudes, and may reveal why, some unexpectedly, the youth of certain nationalities are shifting longstanding views on religion.
Considering the parallel, but alternate universe existing on and off the world wide web, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently shared a shocking measure of our day and age. In North Korea, he met women conducting traffic that have become YouTube sensations for their strange, revealing clothing and mythical relationship with the supreme leader. Yet, these women don’t have the slightest notional understanding of YouTube, let alone the internet. Nowadays, the web enables geophysical outsiders unprecedented access into clues about what makes any nation’s people tick.
Cultivating Online What We Do Face to Face
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the one global event where these relationships can be built organically through personal encounter, with the intentional and expressed purpose of cultivating international bonds of harmony through interfaith understanding. Historically, youth have made remarkable contributions to the Parliament, and leave changed for life. The difference for the next Parliament is that these meeting will have already happened through introductions on the web.
Can we gauge the meaning of all this, and should we? Does the Parliament answer to the youth exodus? The results of this survey is consistent with the reports flurrying in from all corners of the world in our Global Listening Campaign. These sessions conducted by Parliament Ambassadors have uniquely national flair, but express one sentiment that is resoundingly the same: have we lost our youth? How can we get them back?
The Parliament’s answer is simple: engage online, and act proactively to talk with youth. If confidence is greatest in favor of South African faith leaders, it must mean that faith leaders deliver on their promises and in an age of expecting results, they must act on their word.
Do you find this to be true? How do religious institutions answer to the attitudes of youth to engage millennials in religious and spiritual communities inclusive to all living generations? What can the Parliament do?
- To share a response in writing to become part of a Parliament online publication, please e-mail email@example.com
- To pursue Ambassador opportunities to hold a Listening Session in your community, please e-mail Stephen@parliamentofreligions.org
by Rev. Anne Benvenuti, PhD
Board Trustee, The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
© April 2013
The “Nones” are the largest and fastest growing segment of the population on the religious landscape in America, according to the most recent Pew survey. In just the last five years, this group of willfully unaffiliated people has grown from 15% to 20% of the population. They are people who have no religious affiliation, and who don’t want one. Yet only 5% of those surveyed call themselves atheists. In other words, the Nones include many people who, while they don’t want a religious label also don’t want the traditional secular-rationalist-humanist label. 28% of them have practiced yoga, and I wonder how many of them have meditated. That question wasn’t asked. But 60% of these people feel close to the natural world. The majority of the Nones are white people who were raised in religiously affiliated homes. Beyond this, they cut across many of the more common culture divides; they are people with college degrees and people without a college education; they have incomes over 75K, as well as incomes under 30K. In this they defy traditional interpretations, that people who go to college outgrow a childish intellectual dependency on religion, and that poor people lean on religion to support them in living with poverty and its attendant adversity. And it’s especially noteworthy that the Nones are disproportionately young: they’re people who grew up on a socially networked planet, not a religiously networked town.
I’d like to suggest that many of the Nones have “gotten off the bus,” an expression that refers to travelers who want to escape pre-packaged tourism so that they can discover a place as it “really” is. I know a lot of Nones and many of them are Alls. They celebrate the Winter Solstice, and Easter sunrise, they may do yoga or meditate, and they give thoughtfully to charities, all in no particular order, but depending on where they are, how they feel, what seems to be called for. They resist labels produced by media-saturated culture to represent certain predetermined sets of characteristics. They distrust such prepackaged beliefs, and also distrust religious institutions that are so often corrupt and hypocritical. Yet they value human spiritual heritage, often in great variety, and many of these people are more comfortable in a variety of religious settings than they would be in only one.
As a Trustee of the Parliament, I feel it is very important to acknowledge the Nones, and particularly the Alls among them, to notice that they have gotten off the bus and don’t want to get back on. They are not looking for certainties. The old definitions are not relevant for them. Atheist? No. Agnostic? No. Believer? No. They live in verbs more than in nouns; they are more about experience itself and less invested in beliefs about experience.
My best guess is that the Nones, and especially the Alls among them, express a vital spiritual pulse in the contemporary human world; one that samples spiritual practices, just as people sample the music and cuisine of many cultures. I’ve seen many religious eyes roll at the notion that people are sampling religion like hors d’oeuvres. I’ve heard religious people say that this cannot possibly be a path of spiritual depth, selecting from the menu the most delectable items while eschewing the solidly nutritious, wanting the pleasures of spiritual comfort without the disciplines of communal practice. But, I ask, why make such negative attributions to our fellow humans, especially when we know well the struggles of relating old institutions to an ever-changing world? Once the familiar critique from those who practice solely within specific religious institutions has been stated—and I think it worth a listen– where are we?
I think that we are on a new page, in a new chapter; maybe we are in a new book. For the first time in the history of human psyches, human life is global as a matter of course. At the same time, this global planet is suffering from the collective impact of the human species. It might well be this context that makes the traditional religious issues seem trivial, tribal, and irrelevant. A very legitimate question might be, “Who cares what you believe, much less about religious in-fighting, when we are on the brink of ecological disaster?” Perhaps those who carry forward the religious institutions should seek in the depths of our heritage the wisdom that is relevant to the global and ecologically threatened context in which humans, indeed, all species now live. We should expect to bring forward something of value for this utterly new context, and we might need to accept that many people will engage our traditions on their own terms, not on ours.
As an Episcopal priest I think it is time to welcome conversation with the Nones, and to welcome spiritual practice with the Alls. It is time to listen and to see the way that the Nones can so easily incorporate the All of humanity’s spiritual heritage. We may offer to the Nones and Alls from our own religious heritage, but we need to respect them for what they are too. They invite us to get off the bus, to experience the contemporary world as it really is, a place in which increasing numbers of people are not only comfortable in mixed cultural settings, but who are themselves multicultural individuals living in a multicultural world. We can at least consider that some of the Alls are genuinely interfaith individuals, bringing religions into a new and global era in human history.
9mm Golden Calves
by James E. Atwood | January 2013
Originally printed in Sojourners Magazine
BACK IN 1990, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued this warning: “The religious community must … take seriously the risk of idolatry that could result from an unwarranted fascination with guns, which overlooks or ignores the social consequences of their misuse.” Two decades later, about 660,000 more Americans have been killed by guns, with a million more injured.
These figures convince me that what was a risk in 1990 has become our reality today: For too many, guns have become idols. They claim divine status; make promises of safety and security they cannot keep; transform people and neighborhoods; create enemies; and require human sacrifice.
Not all gun owners have permitted their guns to become idols or absolutes. In fact, a recent poll shows most gun owners and NRA members, in contrast to public perception, believe personal freedom and public safety are complementary, not contradictory. But those few who hold the microphone at the NRA (the wealthy manufacturers and the gun zealots who do their bidding) have permitted their fascination for guns to supplant God and God’s requirements for human community.
An idol’s followers boldly claim divine status for it. Former NRA executive Warren Cassidy was clear when he boasted, “You would get a far better understanding [of the NRA] if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.” Not to be outdone, Charlton Heston, during a speech as NRA president, intoned, “Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blued steel—something that gives the most common man [sic] the most uncommon of freedoms, when ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument that symbolizes the full measure of human dignity and liberty.”
To turn away from the idolatry of guns will require community dialogue, self-examination, and prayer. One part of our response should also be to enact common-sense gun laws—which, when they have teeth, are very effective. We in the U.S. need two new federal laws, which would almost guarantee an immediate, dramatic decline in gun violence. The first needed law is a renewed ban on the sale of assault weapons. Good citizens have no need for guns that can rapidly fire up to 150 rounds without reloading and are designed to kill great numbers of people in close-quarter military combat. These are the weapons of choice for deranged individuals who are determined to kill. They must be banned in America forever.
A second common-sense law would require all gun purchasers to undergo an instant background check. This is technically feasible today, but it has not been implemented because the Gun Empire considers any law, however wise or minimal, to be a coordinated attempt to confiscate their weapons. Such a law would eliminate the many sales by unlicensed dealers at America’s 5,000 gun shows—dealers who can, in most states, legally sell any weapon to any person with no questions asked. It’s simply cash and carry.
I make no claims of certainty in determining whether or not a particular individual’s spirit has been converted by an idol, but for 37 years I have observed individuals who grow threatened and angry when gun values are questioned; who show little grief for society’s gun victims; who oppose any preventive measures to stop gun violence; and who believe the solution to gun violence is to arm more people. I am confident that such traits indicate that people are, at least, struggling with idolatry as they turn a human-made thing into an absolute that challenges the requirements of the living God. As Jesus taught us, we cannot serve two masters.
James E. Atwood, a retired Presbyterian pastor, is a gun owner, author of America and its Guns: A Theological Exposé, and chair of the Greater Washington chapter of the anti-gun- violence group Heeding God’s Call.
Image: Christmasstockimages.com Licensed for Re-Use
from The New York Times
by Sharon Otterman
The psychology graduate student ran a wooden stick across the edge of a Tibetan Buddhist singing bowl on Tuesday and asked the five homeless young men sitting in front of him to listen to the undulating sound, and to raise their hands when they could no longer hear it. One by one hands went up, until well after the sound had seemed to dissipate.
Then the student asked the men to take long breaths and to visualize themselves not in their current circumstances — living in transitional housing near the Lincoln Tunnel — but as their “best selves.” With eyes closed, the young men pictured those best selves loving their present selves. Then they visualized sending that love across the room, first to one of the other men, then to all of them.
After 15 minutes, they opened their eyes. They were still in a fluorescent-lighted conference room at Covenant House with a few plants, a coffee machine and a microwave. But their faces were relaxed. Over the course of 16 weeks of group therapy and meditation, a bond had formed among them, the young men said, one that they said filled them with a sense of possibility.
by Christopher Gordon, M.D. and Ben Herzig
from The Huffington Post
National surveys have consistently found that the vast majority of Americans identify as religious and/or spiritual in one way or another. But is there any room for spirituality or religious practice in psychiatric treatment? Is there a place at all for faith in an era that so privileges the brain over the mind and posits neurochemical explanations — and pharmaceutical treatments — for most ailments?
Nowadays, slick television commercials and glossy magazine ads market antidepressants directly to sufferers and their treatment providers, promising extraordinary relief and happiness. In the real world, life is not so simple. It is actually a rare case when a person’s problems are satisfactorily resolved by a prescription alone. Much more commonly, anxiety or depression or other symptoms are part of a larger picture, requiring a more complex solution. So how do we figure out what is the matter, and what might be helpful, beyond a symptom-targeted medication?
It is useful to think about human problems from four perspectives, and then to bring these perspectives together to get a sense of the whole person. The first useful perspective is a social one, which looks at what is going on in someone’s life, particularly their important relationships, to assess whether something important is occurring there. Examples might include domestic violence, or, less drastically, marital unhappiness, or being bullied in school, or some other important life circumstance. Clearly, we don’t want to offer medication when the problem requires addressing some real problem in living — for which counseling can be very helpful. The second perspective, however, is a biological one. In fact, many times depression and other mood disorders and anxiety disorders do reflect “chemical imbalances,” which have a biological component and are amenable to medical treatment if that is what the person prefers.
by Ryan Strom
from Common Ground News Service
The holiest month of the Islamic year, Ramadan, began last Friday, 20 July. This Ramadan, many Muslims are looking at a new dimension of the month: our impact on the earth. This is particularly important as we learn more about the effects of climate change, dwindling resources and, most importantly, decreasing access to fresh water around the world, which is a growing concern in many Muslim communities and countries.
Muslims believe that God has asked them to abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. In addition to fasting, Muslims around the world aspire to attain spiritual contentment and come closer to God through increased prayer, meditation, helping others and self-reflection. While fasting is the most well known aspect of the month, it is also a time to be more aware of the universal principles of mercy, compassion and respect for the Earth that our faith teaches.
What part should religion play in democratic society? How should democracy respond to the challenges – and protect the positive impact – that faith can bring?
The excitement in the air was palpable as three of the most dynamic figures in Britain took the stage to address these and many more questions about the role of religion in public life yesterday at the Central Hall Westminster in front of a packed house of 450 guests.
Highlights from the event with Tony Blair, Archbishop Rowan Williams and former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, included enthusiastic debate around the protection of religious minorities and free speech, contributions of faith communities to the global society, and confessions about how the media views religion.
by Jahnabi Barooah
from The Huffington Post
This week’s Faith Inspires highlights the work of Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), an organization whose mission is to engage in “seva, interfaith collaboration, pluralism, social justice and sustainable civic engagement to ignite grassroots social change and build healthy communities.” Seva, which means “service” in Sanskrit, is an important aspect of the Dharmic traditions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama issued a “call to serve,” Anju Bhargava, a Hindu American resident of Livingston, NJ, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. HASC is a result of that collaboration, and was designed to strengthen and put a spotlight on civic engagement and community service efforts in the Dharmic community.
Despite the White House’s support and guidance, HASC did not have the easiest start, and their success over the past two years can be attributed as much to creative theological thinking, as to the Dharmic community’s desire to be fully accepted in the American community.
“The Hindu community didn’t have a faith-based infrastructure [to perform community service],” Anju Bhargava, the founder of the HASC told The Huffington Post. Even though many Hindus were engaging in community service through informal means, Hindus did not have access to sustainable community service programs that were faith-based. If the goal was to bring seva to the forefront and make it relevant in the American context, the challenge was that the Hindu-American community was so fragmented because of its varied religious and philosophical beliefs, Bhargava told The Huffington Post.