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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category



Monotheism as a Moral Issue

Feb24

by: George P. Fletcher on February 24th, 2016 | Comments Off

Source: r the Providence Lithograph Company

Part I. Domination Over Nature

And God said, let us make Adam in our image, after our likeness and they shall dominate the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and the cattle and every moving thing on the Earth. – Genesis 1:26

In this installment, the first of four, I will concentrate on the moral imperative of monotheism; in the next, on the implication of this passage for the principle of equality; in the third, on the moral limitations on equality that inhere in the principle of loyalty; and finally, in the fourth, on the implications of God’s Image for the concept of reason, an innate human characteristic.

Monotheism is taken for granted in the Abrahamic faiths and indeed in many other religions, even though the commitment to a single God is inconsistent with the use of the plural to refer to God, not only in the beginning but in the second clause this passage. We do not receive a singular reference to God until the tetragrammaton (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh) is introduced in Genesis 2.

True, we are not bound by the text as some American constitutional lawyers think they are committed to the words written down on parchment one hot summer in Philadelphia. It would seem inevitable that not only the language changes over time but the moral grid that we bring to interpretation changes as well. Therefore, it is entirely plausible to read this text through the grid of accepted monotheism.

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Calling Secular Voters to Make Ourselves Known to the Politicians

Feb18

by: Annie Laurie Gaylor on February 18th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

A button from the "I'm Secular and I Vote" campaign via FFRF.org

Secular voters are tired of being ignored during elections. That’s why the Freedom From Religion Foundation has launched the “I’m Secular and I Vote” campaign.

During election years, we atheists and agnostics have to pinch ourselves to remember we exist. Candidates have been so schooled in pandering to Bible Belters and the evangelical right has thrown its king-making power around so long that popular portrayals of the influence of religious voters are vastly exaggerated.

More the pity then that no one is wooing the “Nones,” the one-quarter of the adult U.S. population and one-third of all Millennials who identify as “nonreligious.” Political campaigns and parties haven’t caught up with the changing demographic that secular voters are the fastest-growing segment of the population by religious identification.

Pew Research Center recently reported that the Nones outnumber Roman Catholics today and technically form the largest single “denomination.” That should be big news to any campaign interested in reaching voters.

A major survey of FFRF membership (with 8,000 of our 23,500 dues-paying members participating) found that nonbelievers are highly educated and independent-minded. A quarter are veterans, a third are volunteers and 97 percent are registered voters (20 percent higher than the general population).

A full 70 percent decline to affiliate themselves with one of the major political parties, and more than 20 percent identify as independent voters. Thirty-six percent describe themselves as progressive or liberal.

So why aren’t seculars courted and treated as election-year VIPs?

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For Hindu Americans, Long-Term Hopes for Pluralism About More Than Just Days Off

Feb10

by: Murali Balaji on February 10th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Tulsi Gabbard, America's first Hindu member of Congress. Creative Commons/AFGE

At a time when our struggle for civil and human rights seems daunting given the vitriolic political climate, one of the most striking lessons from history is that movements for social change never go smoothly.

In fact, one of the lessons many of us fail to appreciate from the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is how many internal struggles there was among the various groups and leaders that were calling for change. Ava DuVernay’s masterful Selma captured some of these struggles from the perspective of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., but there were many ideological, geographical, cultural, and religious fault-lines that hindered attempts to articulate a unified message for full equality and suffrage.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, some of those tensions remained, even as groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and NAACP continued to try to impact long-lasting change.

Today, new battlefronts in the call for civil rights have emerged, most notably for recognizing the rights of religious minorities in a rapidly diversifying country. Religious pluralism is no longer just an ideal, but a reality that cities and communities across America are coming to grips with.

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Night and Day

Feb9

by: George P. Fletcher on February 9th, 2016 | Comments Off

Genesis 1:5
AND GOD CALLED THE LIGHT DAY, AND THE DARKNESS, NIGHT. EVENING AND THE MORNING: ONE DAY.

Source: Flickr (John Dill)

Reading this passage, we can incline toward pessimism or optimism. The down side is that the text literally says one day, not the first day. This one day could have been all there was – the source of the Mel Brook’s famous line – “That’s all there is, folks.” This one day — – first without light, then with light – could have been the creation. Are there hints in the text that there will be more? Yes, the very act of naming carries an optimistic message that there will eventually come a being who understands the names given. Only human beings understand not only their own names but thousands of others.

One day, then, but how long is this day? All units of time – except those that have specific astronomic references – are notoriously indeterminate. The week – a foundational concept in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic life – is our invention. Its value is that it generates the idea of the sabbath in all three Abrahamic faiths. Indeed we might say that the purpose of the creation story is to introduce the notions of work and rest into human culture. Without the notion of a limited day, however, we could never progress beyond creation to a time of rest.

Underlying this rhythm of the week is a deeper philosophical distinction between actions and omissions. We are responsible for the consequences but not necessarily those of our omissions. One of my favorite Talmudic stories explaining this point is the tale of the two travelers with the canteen in the desert. If there is enough water for one, does the possessor have to share with the other one who will otherwise die. The answer is no. This is poignant as compared to the treatment of killing one to save another in the same pages of Sanhedrin. That is not permitted: Is your blood redder than his?

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A Second Scientific Revolution Reveals the Mortality of the Modern World

Feb5

by: David W. Noble on February 5th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

In this essay I explain how I moved from a critique of a metaphor of two worlds, America and Europe, to a critique of a metaphor of two worlds, modern and traditional. I also now see America and the modern as symbolic representations of a limitless frontier. I see Europe and the traditional as symbolic representations of a limited home. Once I saw Europeans leaving home to come to an American frontier; now I see modern people leaving traditional homes to come to a universal frontier/marketplace. And I see this powerful modern prophecy of an exodus from a limited old world to a limitless new world as the major cause of our dangerous environmental crisis. We do not nurture our earthly home because we believe we are going to a frontier of unlimited resources.

During the summer of 1944 I became self-conscious of the fact that irony is a significant aspect of human experience. I had graduated from high school into the army in June 1943. Throughout my childhood and youth I was told that my German grandparents had left a European old world of economic scarcity and war and came to an American new world of plenty and peace. But now in an army hospital I began to question this metaphor of two worlds and the concept of a redemptive exodus to a new world. Before being injured in an accidental explosion I had experienced severe poverty from 1940, when our farm was foreclosed, to 1943, when I entered the army. Our home for my father, mother, and me during those years was a small barn that had electricity and running water. We could not afford morphine to ease my father’s pain as he was dying from stomach cancer.

My sense of irony was compounded, therefore, by my financial ability as a disabled veteran to enroll at Princeton University in 1945. Working with my older brother in the 1930s to deliver milk in Princeton, I had learned that Princeton University was a school for the sons of rich men. I was not grateful, however, that I could now sit in classes with young men who came from wealthy backgrounds. But I was grateful that I could begin to prepare for a career in teaching. I wanted to inform my fellow citizens that the metaphor of two worlds and an exodus narrative were not true. They were not an accurate description of human experience.


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View from the Ladder

Dec3

by: Irwin Keller on December 3rd, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Eighty years ago, the United States debated whether it would open its doors to Jewish refugees fleeing the terror of the Nazis. It did not. And this historical echo was not lost on me, as I’m sure it was not lost on Jews throughout this country.

These have been weeks of significant gravity. Serious things have happened. We have been weighed down in their aftermath, by sadness, fear, and anger. What happened on a Friday evening – the Shabbos! – in mid-November in Paris captures our imagination and won’t let go. And the attacks last week on the tourists in Mali just add to our fear and helplessness.

All of this would be enough to burden us heavily. But then comes a second wave of injury, as we watch politicians turn tragedy into cheap rhetoric. Two dozen American governors saying they would close their borders to Syrian refugees: the very people who are fleeing ISIS. Offering terrorists their victims back. And knowing that the public is insular and racist enough to believe that we couldn’t possibly tell refugees and terrorists apart.

So what can we do? What course do we take? Maybe a first thing is to climb out of this morass for a higher view. But how do we climb, when the drama and trauma hold us so tight, when gravity weighs so strong?

We dream a ladder. That’s what we do. It’s what Jacob did, in last week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayetzei. He was fleeing danger too, running scared. He was escaping his brother, but in the world of Torah, violence between siblings is meant to point also to violence between nations. So Jacob’s moment was not so dissimilar to ours.

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Kristallnacht 2015?

Oct9

by: on October 9th, 2015 | 7 Comments »

Image Courtesy WikiPedia

As a grandchild of the holocaust, brought up on the horrible images and stories of that which we were told to never forget, one word came to mind this afternoon when my friend Samina Sundas called to tell me about armed protests planned against Muslims this coming weekend: Kristallnacht.

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Women’s Rights and the Decline of the Global Culture Wars

Oct8

by: Jonathan Zimmerman on October 8th, 2015 | Comments Off

Last Sunday, at the United Nations, world leaders marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing accord on women’s rights. They celebrated women’s progress—especially in education, health, and labor—and underscored ongoing gender inequalities.

But they also condemned the jailing of female political dissidents in China, which co-hosted Sunday’s summit. And, most importantly, they didn’t debate abortion, contraception, or forced marriage. That might signal a decline of the global culture wars about gender and sexuality, which have defined the Beijing legacy since 1995.

The Beijing agreement was the first international affirmation of women’s sexual autonomy, declaring that women have the right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality.” And that was anathema to conservatives around the world, who saw it as a prescription for sexual license and an assault on traditional institutions. If all women were sexually independent, could parents no longer arrange their marriages? And would women also have the right to engage in sex outside of marriage, despite traditional religious prohibitions on the same?

Before the ink was dry on the Beijing accord, delegates from Muslim countries and the Vatican joined hands with American right-wing activists to condemn it. They also forged new organizations like the World Congress of Families, which galvanized conservatives around the globe–“the most orthodox of each group, people that are least likely to compromise,” as the WCF declared—to challenge the Beijing principles.


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Justice for Mohammad Akhlaq

Oct2

by: Sunita Viswanath on October 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

On this auspicious day – Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) and International Day of Non-Violence – my colleagues and I at Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus are heartbroken to read the news that a Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched and murdered by a Hindu mob in Northern India because it was rumored that he killed and cow and consumed the meat. News reports claim that a mob of Hindus wielding bricks, batons, and swords came to the man’s house to hunt him down, beat him to death and severely injure his son and mother.


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Pope Francis and Climate Change: Some Critical Questions

Sep24

by: on September 24th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

For the many of us – clergy and laypeople, academics and plain citizens, in the U.S. and throughout the world – who for decades have been saying that the environmental crisis calls for a religious perspective and an activist religious response Pope Francis’ bold words are a wonderfully welcome addition.

At least three things give those words special weight: first, as the years pass the reality of both global warming in particular and the other dimensions of the crisis (including the vast scale of pollution, species loss, and environmental illness) have become increasingly clear. Second, Pope Francis has established himself as a humble, intelligent, and authentic spiritual leader. If political conservatives resent his critique of capitalism, and cultural conservatives wish he would condemn homosexuals, an awful lot of other people (Catholic or not) see him as a man trying to live up to the traditional Christian virtues of love, forgiveness, and humility.

Third, and perhaps most important: Francis is clearly and unambiguously (for the most part, at least, skirting population control) calling a spade a spade: he rejects consumerism and unfettered capitalism, anthropocentrism and turning the earth into “an immense pile of filth.” He does not take refuge in vague generalities or idealistic appeals to unthreatening platitudes.

As an essentially secular person, I am delighted. Every (serious) environmentalist needs every other (serious) environmentalist. If there was ever an “issue” on which religious and secular, scientists and critical theorists, people of all races and nations and cultures might agree, it is this one.

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