Conservative religious leaders are denouncing Trump immigration policies

The New York Times reports:

Conservative religious leaders who have long preached about the sanctity of the family are now issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart or leave them in danger.

The criticism came after recent moves by the administration to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum on a routine basis to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Some of the religious leaders are the same evangelicals and Roman Catholics who helped President Trump to build his base and who have otherwise applauded his moves to limit abortion and champion the rights of religious believers.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, a son of the famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham and an outspoken defender of President Trump, said in an interview on Tuesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”

He quickly made it clear that this had not dimmed his enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, adding, “I blame the politicians for the last 20, 30 years that have allowed this to escalate to where it is today.”

Leaders of many faiths — including Jews, Mainline Protestants, Muslims and others — have spoken out consistently against the president’s immigration policies. What has changed is that now the objections are coming from faith groups that have been generally friendly to Mr. Trump. [Continue reading…]

Evangelical minister warns about dangerous alliance between American evangelicals and the Republican Party

Mother Jones reports:

The past four decades have seen an ever-tightening alliance between American evangelicals and the Republican Party, and few have played as pivotal a role in fostering that coupling as Reverend Rob Schenck. The evangelical minister from Buffalo, New York, gained national notoriety in the 1990s as a fervent anti-abortion activist who orchestrated shocking stunts to promote his cause, including one in which an aborted fetus was thrust in the face of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton. His keen ability to advance religiously conservative causes brought him to the nation’s capital and the epicenter of politically conservative power circles. During the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, he boosted the right’s anti-abortion and anti-LBGT agenda, netting great success with the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and Bush’s partial-birth abortion ban.

But today, Schenck is, in many respects, unrecognizable. He’s distanced himself from many of his fellow evangelical pastors and former political allies, leaving his anti-abortion work behind in favor of another pro-life cause, though one uncommon among American evangelicals: gun control.

Schenck attributes this transformation to his late-career doctorate in ministry—specifically, his research on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who questioned the symbiotic, and problematic, relationship that emerged between Adolf Hitler and 1930s German evangelical churches. Schenck began seeing parallels in the closeness between the American evangelical church and the Republican Party, and wondering if the religious institution to which he’d dedicated his life had become complicit in providing a spiritual veneer for a hate-filled political agenda. [Continue reading…]

The spiritual part of our brains — religion not required

Ephrat Livni writes:

Scientists seek to quantify everything—even the ineffable. And so the human search for meaning recently took a physical turn as Columbia and Yale University researchers isolated the place in our brains that processes spiritual experiences.

In a new study, published in Cerebral Cortex (paywall) on May 29, neuroscientists explain how they generated “personally relevant” spiritual experiences in a diverse group of subjects and scanned their brains while these experiences were happening. The results indicate that there is a “neurobiological home” for spirituality. When we feel a sense of connection with something greater than the self—whether transcendence involves communion with God, nature, or humanity—a certain part of the brain appears to activate.

The study suggests that there is universal, cognitive basis for spirituality, as opposed to a cultural grounding for such states. This new discovery, researchers say, could help improve mental health treatment down the line.

Previous studies have examined the brain activity of Buddhist monks or Catholic nuns, say—people who are already spiritually inclined and familiar with the practice of cultivating transcendent states. But this research analyzed subjects from different backgrounds with varying degrees of religiosity, and totally different individual notions of what constitutes a spiritual experience. [Continue reading…]

A triumph for women and for Ireland

Barbara Wesel writes:

It is such a resounding victory that campaigners in Ireland are weeping with joy. After a tense last few days when the referendum seemed too close to call, it turned out to be a landslide result. Irish people voted overwhelmingly in favor of abolishing the total abortion ban in the constitution. And with this amendment, the last part of an oppressive system that subjugated women in Ireland for centuries has gone. They have achieved what has long been the norm in other European countries: giving women the right to decide for themselves whether they feel capable of having a child or not. And, a woman’s right to get medical help in her own country, without having to travel to Britain as hundreds of thousands of Irish women have done over time.

With this referendum, the Catholic Church has lost its last battle in Ireland. Throughout the last 20 years, as the wrongdoings of clerics and bishops were uncovered, the nation increasingly turned away from its teachings and from the whole intertwined system of state and church. Scandal after scandal of child abuse involving priests was uncovered. The horror of children’s homes where small boys and girls were mistreated and broken was made public. And finally, there was the investigation of the unspeakable Magdalene laundries, where unmarried girls were incarcerated when they became pregnant, were beaten and enslaved, their babies taken from them by force.

This whole system of abuse, this vicious cycle of oppression, was run by the Catholic Church. And it was largely, if not exclusively, directed against women. Ireland has throughout the last 20 years uncovered this dark past and publicized these horrors. The Church subsequently has lost its status in the Irish state and in society. The constitutional amendment completely banning abortion, even risking the life of the mother, was their last bastion. In the end, the Church hardly dared to defend it. The clergy understand that it would have riled people even further and that they have lost their hold over morality and law in Ireland. [Continue reading…]

 

Rev William Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign

The Guardian reports:

In his prayer at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem last week, a prayer delivered against a backdrop of violence in Gaza, the evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress said Donald Trump was a moral leader who stood “on the right side of you, O God”.

Half a world away, outside the Capitol in Washington, the Rev William Barber led a moment of silence for the 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers.

As one group of faith leaders celebrates the fruits of a decades-long alliance with the Republican party, another is mounting a multi-faith challenge to the dominance of the Christian right, in an attempt to recapture the moral agenda.

“There is no religious left and religious right,” Barber, a pastor and political leader in North Carolina, told the Guardian. “There is only a moral center. And the scripture is very clear about where you have to be to be in the moral center – you have to be on the side of the poor, the working, the sick, the immigrant.”

Frustrated by conservative Christians’ focus on culture wars over issues such as abortion and gay marriage, Barber leads an ascendent grassroots movement that is trying to turn the national conversation to what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: care for the poor, heal the sick, welcome the stranger. [Continue reading…]

Islam in Eastern Europe

Jacob Mikanowski writes:

There has never been an Eastern Europe without Islam. Eastern Europe owes its existence to the intermingling of languages, of cultures, and, perhaps above all, of faiths. It is the meeting place of the Catholic West and the Orthodox East, of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry, of militant Islam and crusading Christianity, of Byzantine mystics and Sufi saints.

Once, this plurality would have been obvious. A visitor to Vilnius in the 17th century would have heard six languages spoken in the streets; they could have heard prayers conducted in at least five more. The city had churches belonging to five denominations, as well as a synagogue and a mosque. Some examples of “Lithuanian” mosques still exist in Poland and Belarus. Wooden and square, they look just like parish churches, with the minor exception of the ornament at the top: a slim silver crescent instead of a cross.

If anything marks Eastern Europe as a place of its own, and not someone else’s periphery, it is this function as gateway and bridge between and among different traditions. And yet, again and again, the role of Islam in the making of this tapestry has been forgotten or disavowed. That is a grave mistake. Islam is the silver thread holding the whole together. Thirty years ago, the historian Larry Wolff argued that Eastern Europe was a product of the Enlightenment. When Western (principally French) intellectuals began to fashion their countries as realms of progress and rationality, they created the “East” as a flattering foil for their ambitions, filled as it was (in their eyes at least) with backwardness and superstition.

It seems to me that Wolff is only partially right. I think a notion of a separate Eastern Europe predates the Enlightenment by a few hundred years. I think, moreover, that its genesis is intimately tied to the introduction of Islam to the Balkans and southern steppes and, with it, the creation of a shatter-zone between empires stretching from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. This shatter-zone consisted of a sharp border and a soft frontier. Armies and lone warriors fought along the border. People, stories, and miracles crossed the frontiers. So many of the legends that came to define the nations of the region stem from this space of contact. And everywhere you look, relationships that appear at first to be based on enmity turn out instead to be characterized by mutual influence, mimicry, friendship, and even love. [Continue reading…]

Pastor who said Jews are going to hell led prayer at Jerusalem embassy opening

The New York Times reports:

A Dallas evangelical pastor who once said that Jewish people are going to hell and a megachurch televangelist who claimed that Hitler was part of God’s plan to return Jews to Israel both played prominent roles on Monday in the opening ceremony of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem.

Robert Jeffress, who spoke at President Trump’s private inaugural prayer service and is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivered a prayer at the opening ceremony on Monday, while the Rev. John C. Hagee, a televangelist who founded Christians United for Israel and leads a San Antonio megachurch, gave the closing benediction.

Despite their comments about Jewish people, the two pastors are among the leading pro-Israel voices in the evangelical Christian world. Some evangelicals believe that American foreign policy should support Israel to help fulfill biblical prophecies about the second coming of Christ. [Continue reading…]

Muslims recoil at a French proposal to change the Quran

The Atlantic reports:

A manifesto published in the French daily Le Parisien on April 21—signed by some 300 prominent intellectuals and politicians, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls—made a shocking demand. Arguing that the Quran incites violence, it insisted that “the verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities,” so that “no believer can refer to a sacred text to commit a crime.”

Although it’s not entirely clear whether “struck to obsolescence” means wholesale deletion of verses, the manifesto was perceived as a call to abrogate Muslims’ holiest text. And although pushing for a theological reform of Islam in France is nothing new—everyone from leading imams to President Emmanuel Macron have made plans to restructure Islam—demanding that scriptural verses be deleted is another thing altogether. In Islam, the Quran is considered divinely revealed; because it’s deemed to be the word of God, altering or deleting any part of the text would be blasphemous.

The manifesto came a month after the grisly murder of Mireille Knoll, an octogenarian Holocaust survivor who was stabbed to death in her apartment in an act authorities are calling an anti-Semitic crime. Last year, Sarah Halimi, a 67-year-old, was beaten to death and thrown out of her window, in the same area where Knoll lived. Her attacker yelled “Allahu Akbar!” as he committed the act; Knoll’s reportedly did the same. It took judicial authorities nearly a year to label Halimi’s death an anti-Semitic crime. [Continue reading…]

Reflective and unreflective atheists

Patrick Freyne writes:

John Gray is a self-described atheist who thinks that prominent advocates of atheism have made non-belief seem intolerant, uninspiring and dull. At the end of the first chapter of his new book, Seven Types of Atheism, he concludes that “the organised atheism of the present century is mostly a media phenomenon and best appreciated as a type of entertainment”.

He laughs when I remind him of this sick burn. “I wrote the book partly as a riposte to that kind of atheism,” he says. “There’s not much new in [new atheism] and what is in it is a tired recycled version of forms of atheism that were presented more interestingly in the 19th century. In the so-called new atheism people are [presented with] a binary option between atheism, as if there was only one kind, and religion, as if there was only one kind of religion. [It’s] historically illiterate.

“They don’t even know when they’re repeating ideas from the 19th or early 20th century . . .They don’t know anything of the history of atheism or religion. They’re also very parochial about religion. They take religion to be, not even monotheism or Christianity [but] contemporary American Protestant fundamentalism . . . It’s a parochial, dull debate. I thought of having a subtitle called Why the God Debate is Dead.”

In Seven Types of Atheism, Gray explores the rich philosophical history of non-belief and enlivens it with entertaining tales of humanists like August Comte who so believed in human co-operation he designed clothes that couldn’t be put on without assistance and “god-haters” like the Marquis de Sade whose life was lived in debased defiance of the divine. [Continue reading…]

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Despite his ties to porn stars and Playboy models, Trump’s white Christian nationalist supporters remain loyal

Andrew L. Whitehead, Joseph O. Baker and Samuel L. Perry write:

How much a U.S. voter feared Muslims was as significant in predicting who voted for Trump as Christian nationalism. Overall the strongest predictors of Trump voting were the usual suspects of political identity and race, followed closely by Islamophobia and Christian nationalism.

Many voters believed, and presumably still believe, that regardless of his personal piety (or lack thereof), Trump would defend what they saw as the country’s Christian heritage — and would help move the nation toward a distinctly Christian future. Ironically, Christian nationalism is focused on preserving a perceived Christian identity for America irrespective of the means by which such a project would be achieved.

Hence, many white Christians believe Trump may be an effective instrument in God’s plan for America, even if he is not particularly religious himself.

In the upcoming midterm elections, Trump and other politicians will keep emphasizing Christian nationalism. After all, it works. [Continue reading…]

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