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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Governments and Clerics Cannot Decide Our Faith For Us

Jan12

by: Huma Munir on January 12th, 2015 | No Comments »

Liwa-e-ahmadiyya

The Liwa-e-Ahmadiyya is the flag of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Credit: Creative Commons / Ceddyfresse

During my second year of college in New Jersey, another Muslim student stopped me in a hallway and said  Ahmadis can never be Muslims. He told me if he had his way, he would make sure everyone converted to the ‘true’ Islam.

For those unaware, the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are persecuted in different parts of the Islamic world for their beliefs. Many clerics in Islamic nations believe that Ahmadi Muslims are a threat to their brand of Islam because millions have joined the Community since its inception in 1889.

In countries like Pakistan, where I am from, Ahmadis face government sanctioned persecution because the government itself declared them non-Muslims in 1974. Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims have been targeted and killed because of this state-sponsored persecution.

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Yes, they’re Condemning the Paris Attacks: The Muslims’ War on Terror

Jan12

by: Juan Cole on January 12th, 2015 | No Comments »

Originally published on Informed Comment

When American commentators like Carl Bernstein complain that Muslim authorities have not sufficiently denounced the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, they show a profound ignorance of the current situation in the Middle East.

The fact is that both governments of Muslim-majority countries and the chief religious institutions have been engaged in a vigorous war on religious extremism for some time.

Egypt has gone too far in this direction, criminalizing the activist members of the Muslim Brotherhood. But it is also committing troops to fight extremists in Sinai. Egyptian acquaintances of mine in Cairo say that it has become unpleasant to wear a beard there (for long a sign of religious commitment).

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke to an audience of clerics at the Department of Religious Endowments a few days ago. He made waves by denouncing terrorism among Muslims, and said it wasn’t right for the rest of the world to be afraid of 1.5 billion Muslims. He pointedly insisted that the al-Azhar clerics do something about this stain on the honor of Islam, implying that they were not effectively combating extremist ideas. He called for a new sort of “religious discourse” and a “new revolution” to combat extremism.

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On the Survival of Our Human Species

Jan9

by: Fred E. Katz on January 9th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

hands on planet

Credit: Creative Commons / PublicDomainPictures

Website | Blog

The Spiritual Progressive agenda of creating a caring society presupposes that our human species will actually continue to exist. Yet, by our own actions, our human species is endangered. During the past century we managed to kill over 100 million of our fellow-human beings. We produced genocides and ever-more sophisticated forms of warfare, including nuclear weapons that may yet put an end to human life on this earth. We attempted to put a stop to social horrors by creating the League of Nations after the First World War and the United Nations after the Second World War. Those attempts did not stop the endangerment of our species. Neither did the efforts of the psychological and social sciences (my own background) produce a viable end to our social impotence.

From Henry Margenau, a highly respected theoretical physicist of the past century, we have the lesson that the most basic tools of science are Constructs. What are constructs? The Periodic Table is a construct in chemistry. Gravitation is a construct in physics. DNA is a construct in genetics. What do all of these have in common? Each takes something that exists in nature and adds the Mental Leap to make sense of it! The resulting constructs can become mainstays of a very real and practical science.

For the past decade I have operated from the conviction that we need better science about the Social Space in which we humans operate. Only then can we achieve better control over our actions and, with it, work toward a more secure and humane social existence. We can do so by developing, and seeing the power of four constructs: Links, Transcendence, Closed Moral Worlds, and The Second Path. I am going to give you a brief taste of each of these below.

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The Choices of 1947 Return: A Review of Zionism and Its Discontents

Dec24

by: Abba A. Solomon on December 24th, 2014 | 20 Comments »

book coverZionism and Its Discontents: Radical Currents in Israel/Palestine
by Ran Greenstein
Pluto Press, 2014

Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh. This assertion, that “All Jews are responsible for each other,” has the crux of the situation. How are Jews to work out their relationship and “responsibility” to the “national home of the Jewish people”? To act decently, we must face what happened, face what the “return to Zion” led to.

Zionism and Its Discontents by Ran Greenstein reviews opposition to the Jewish nationalist state project in Mandate Palestine and after the State of Israel was proclaimed, May 14, 1948. Israeli-born Greenstein’s focus on Israel/Palestine is enriched by his study of South Africa’s liberation from Apartheid ideology.

Reading of pre-State opposition — from Arabs, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, and Zionists who rejected the “Jewish state” goal — reminds us that the consequences of making a Zionist state, consequences of perpetual conflict and injustice, were foreseen.

As I found, while researching a book on the American Jewish establishment and Zionism, the records of Jewish organizations are full of predictions of disaster that would come from taking possession of Palestine as a matter of right, over the interests of residents of that land.

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Kavanah (Intention) for Candle Lighting: Eighth Night of Hanukkah

Dec23

by: Aryeh Cohen on December 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

eighth night of hanukkah

Credit: Creative Commons / Wikipedia entry: Jewish holidays

The deepest yet also the simplest truth of Hanukkah is that it is a holiday about a miracle. The real power of the miracle, however, is not that one cruse of pure oil was found after the Temple was defiled by occupying forces. Neither is the real power that that one cruse of oil burned for eight days when it should have burned for only one day. The real power is the story of the miracle itself.

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Merry Christmas – John Lennon

Dec22

by: on December 22nd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

John Lennon

Jesus was not a Christian and Buddha was not a Buddhist but their religion was love. Can it really be this simple? That the ultimate religion is love! Perhaps we all need to see what we have settled for in order to fully realize that there is another choice besides war and injustice as well as understanding the full meaning of Lennon’s Merry Christmas (War is Over), which was recorded in 1971 – nine years before Lennon was shot down and killed in December, 1980.


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Churches of America Stand Up

Dec22

by: Rick Herrick on December 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

church congregation

Credit: Creative Commons / tpsdave

There’s a new threat on the climate change front, and it’s a big one. The recent midterm elections not only put Republicans in charge of the Congress, but the party of science deniers made dramatic gains at the state and local levels. This impressive victory was made possible by huge infusions of cash from oil, coal, and natural gas interests.

The problem is these interests do not donate money. They invest it. With victory in hand, they are already seeking a return on their investment. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, fossil fuel industry lobbyists are looking for ways to delay implementation of the Obama administration’s plan to place limits on coal-fired power plant emissions. Their hope is that with a Republican president in the White House in 2017 they can then reverse the policy. They are also demonizing the EPA as an out of control government agency in an attempt to weaken its authority.

How do you fight these people? Environmental groups are well aware of this new threat and will do everything in their power to combat it. But these groups need our help. The best way to defeat narrow vested interests is in the arena of public opinion. This is a difficult task, however, because public opinion is often uninformed and not much interested in national political issues.

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Beyond a Religion: Vodou Connects Haitians to their African Roots

Dec19

by: Rachael Bongiorno on December 19th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Haitian Vodou ceremony

An altar at a Haitian Vodou ceremony in Passaic, New Jersey. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno

(From Feet in 2 Worlds)

On a Saturday night around thirty people gather in the basement of a suburban New Jersey home. Friends and family greet each other and the scent of grilled fish lingers in the musty air.

This is not your typical weekend barbeque. It’s Fèt Gede, a ceremony to honor the Haitian Vodou spiritual force or Lwa, named Gede. An altar in the center of the room is laden with gifts for the Lwa including libation bottles filled with the Lwa’s favorite drinks and covered in colorful sequins. There are baskets of sweets, musical instruments, perfume, candles, and raw goat meat.

Everyone is wearing black and purple, colors associated with the dead and with Gede.

“Much like how Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, on Fèt Gede, we connect with those ancestors who have passed,” explains Dòwòti Désir, a Manbo Asogwe, or female high priest in Haitian Vodou who has come to lead the ceremony.

At one end of the room a group of drummers begins warming up with intermittent rhythmic tapping of their congas, sometimes adding a playful, yet startling bang to wake up the crowd.

Drummers at Haitian Vodou ceremony

Drummers at a Vodou ceremony. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno

“Vodou integrates all the senses,” explains Désir. “The scents, rhythm and vibrations of the songs and drums all connect to help call down the spirits.”

Désir is a passionate advocate of Vodou and dedicates much of her time to fostering a greater understanding of Vodou’s religious and cultural practices. Her work aims to dispel the myths that plague the Vodou religion including the Hollywood-invented stereotypes of zombies and ‘pins in dolls’ that were popularized throughout the twentieth century.

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Kavanah (Intention) for Candle Lighting: Third Night of Hanukkah

Dec18

by: Aryeh Cohen on December 18th, 2014 | Comments Off

lighting the menorah

Credit: Creative Commons / Elvert Barnes

The Talmud reports that the reason for adding a candle to the menorah every night of Hanukkah is that “one may raise up within holiness but one may not lower within holiness.” This principle usually governs an action that may or may not be taken with regard to vessels, materials, and foodstuffs that are dedicated to the Temple. In one example, a priest’s worn clothes may be used for wicks in the Temple candelabra but not for more mundane purposes. How might we understand this in relation to our more modest candelabra?

We are moved to the deeper meaning of the candlelight. Just as with each added candle there is more light, we must constantly add to the quantity of holiness in the world. How does one expand holiness in the world? The Torah (Leviticus 19) commands “you shall be holy, for I God, your God, am holy.” This general statement is followed by a list of specific actions, including this: “You shall do no iniquity in justice. You shall not favor the wretched and you shall not defer to the rich. In righteousness you shall judge your fellow … You shall not stand over the blood of your fellow. I am God.”

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The Cries of a Hundred Mothers

Dec16

by: on December 16th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

This morning I woke up unaware of the ordeal hundreds had endured overnight while I slept. Terrorists had entered a school in Peshawar and killed more than a hundred innocent children while my own safely dreamed in their soft beds. My Twitter feed alerted me to the calamity that had befallen the land of my birth, and the rest of the day was spent in a strange kind of agony. How many of us sleep safely in our beds without a thought for those who are killing and being killed in other parts of the world? Perhaps we have become immune to the suffering of others because that’s the only way to survive the mental and emotional stress of living in a violent and cruel world.

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