Why America is exceptional – the crowds in the street during the inauguration weekend

America is an exceptional country in certain interesting ways. Most large democracies today have a parliamentary system of government. The vast majority of democracies with a strong presidential system like ours have experienced either a period of dictatorship or a military coup at some point in their history. America has had neither of these. We’ve always had a peaceful transition of power, and even after some hard fought and contested elections, the losing candidate has always recognized the other as the legitimate winner.

Why is the Controversy over the Cordoba Islamic Cultural Center Beginning to Wane?

As I discussed in a previous post, I recently moved to Austin Texas and started sampling some of the local community events here. This past week I attended my second meeting of the Austin Area Interreligious Ministries (AAIM). The meeting was organized as a collection of small table discussion groups. The topics for the evening were the Cordoba Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in NY City, and how to respond to the fear of Islam surfacing in our society. First, some general observations about the people I talked to there.

My First Encounter with a Red State Interreligious Community

I recently moved from New York state to Austin Texas.  So far, the people I’ve meet in Austin have done a very poor job of playing the roles depicted by the standard red state stereotypes.  As an example, let me tell you about a recent interfaith event I attend here.   
The Austin Area Interreligious Ministries (AAIM) organized an event to discuss the fear generated by the  controversy over the Cordoba Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in NYC.  Most of the people at our discussion table proclaimed outrage that what is basically a zoning board decision for lower Manhattan has been turned into a national issue, and is being exploited for political (or ratings) gains by stoking the flames of fear and anger.

The Coffee Party – Filling a Longing in Society?

The Coffee Party was established in January, 2010 by Annabel Park and Eric Byler.  After becoming frustrated by the angry and disruptive tone that seemed to dominate so much of the political discussion lately, Annabel vented her frustration on her Facebook page.  She argued that contrary to the impression given by the media coverage, the Tea Party was not representative of most Americans.   After receiving significant support for her views, she started a “Join the Coffee Party Movement” fan page on Facebook.  The goal of the movement was to promote civil and respectful public discussion of political issues and bring people together to work cooperatively for the common good.  The group rapidly grew to over 150,000 in under six weeks, a growth rate much faster than the Tea Party movement.   Since then it has received positive media coverage from the NY Times, CNN, Public Radio, and most other major news outlets. When I first heard about the Coffee Party movement, it immediately struck a strong emotional chord with me.  I originally joined the Network of Spiritual Progressives because of a longing to be part of a larger movement of people who came together to work in a civil and respectful manner for a better community, and to balance what I saw as the destructive and negative influences of the groups (secular and religious) that were promoting anger, divisiveness, and “pathological hyper-individualism”.  For me, the Coffee Party was a secular appeal to many of the same things that motivated people to join the NSP. Without pausing to think things through, I signed up to host a small community Coffee Party discussion on the first national Coffee Party day – March 13.  We had 10 people show up in our small rural town early on a Saturday morning, which we considered to be a good turnout.  On March 27 we held our second discussion group on the second national Coffee Party day with a similar turnout.  On both mornings we had a great heartfelt discussion of our hopes, dreams, and concerns for our society.   Some people disagreed on issues, but the discussion remained exquisitely civil and polite.  This was the type of social interaction that we seemed to be lacking but desperately needed in our town. Many people at these discussions commented that they were upset and bothered after watching the “emotional and non-thinking response” of the Tea Party members and their disruptions of the Town Hall meetings last summer.  Several people at our Coffee Party meetings expressed the common sentiment that –
“I’m not a political person, but I’ve had enough!” Other views expressed include:
“There is a time for discourse and a time for compromise.  That is what democracy is about.”

Environmentalism as Religion

There is an interesting article in the NY Times Ideas section today about Environmentalism as a Religion. It points out that environmentalism has the concept of guilt and sins (leaving the water running and the lights on), the righteous pleasures of being more orthodox (green) than your neighbor, and new heresies include failure to compost or refusal to go organic (I would add questioning global climate change). It has Satan figures (evil corporate chief executives), prophets (Al Gore), and even a belief in an imminent apocalypse if we don’t change our ways. While the article points out that “environmentalism as a religion” is not a new idea, it does provide a nice short summary of the concept. To what extent is this idea true, and if so, is that a bad or good thing?It can certainly be argued that two of the main purposes of religion are to (1) teach us how to live better and more ethical lives in a community with others, and (2) provide us with a connection to something that is bigger than ourselves.