Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Countering hate speech

Monday, October 8th, 2012

The ad to the left is a response to the ad on the right:

What a great response! Instead of working to have the ad on the right taken down, the United Methodist Women put up their own message. This is how it’s supposed to work.

via andrew sullivan

Christmas in Puritan New England

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

This wikipedia article on the subject provides a useful history lesson. Quote:

Christmas celebrations in Puritan New England (1620–1850?) were culturally and legally suppressed and thus, virtually non-existent. The Puritan community found no Scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry. The earliest years of the Plymouth colony were troubled with non-Puritans attempting to make merry, and Governor William Bradford was forced to reprimand offenders.

I didn’t really know much about early Christmas celebrations (or lack thereof) until relatively recently. I wonder if there are good nonfiction books about Puritains.

Did you know?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

There’s an entire wikipedia article devoted to anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. Not the Broadway one.

It’s a pretty interesting read.


Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Just saw this clip from Anderson Cooper.


Favorite quote from Cooper:

You also talked about victory mosques that Muslims built hundres of years ago on sites of military conquest. Don’t all religions do that? You’re Catholic, Rome was conquered from the pagans and their altars were destroyed so the Vatican could be built. Christian conquistadors and pilgrims to America all destroyed local religions and built their own houses of worship. Is the Vatican a victory church?

I wouldn’t follow the same line of argument that he does (as he seems to be arguing ‘victory religious structures are normal’ instead of ‘this isn’t a victory mosque’), but it’s still an interesting point. The rest of the interview is pretty good.

Mainstream extremism

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I unfortunately haven’t been able to spend quite as much of my time following current events as I’d like to. In addition to working a lot, I’ve reallocated a lot of my news reading (and blog-writing) time to trying to learn Italian.

Anyway, sometimes I run into a news story that I should have known more about and think to myself “Wow, the media seems to be acting like this is an actual issue, surely it can’t be.” For example, when I first heard about the immigration law in Arizona, I assumed it was some loon state senator proposing something crazy that would be dismissed out-of-hand by any mainstream politician or commentator. Clearly, I was horribly wrong.

The same thing happened with the recent controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and community center a few blocks from ground zero in Manhattan. This seems like a zoning, land use and first amendment issue to me, but as is already clear, I’m wrong about a lot of things. I feel a bit silly wasting my time on something this obvious, but there are so many fish in this barrel that it’s time to start shooting.

First, let’s look at this apparently non-kidding statement from Newt Gingrich, which starts with this gem:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

Yes, apparently he believes we should be modeling our religious liberties after Saudi Arabia. And since when is expecting rights explicitly granted to you in the constitution equated to demanding “weakness and submission”? The First Amendment seems quite unambiguous on this subject:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Saying that there’s a large zone of Manhattan where mosques aren’t allowed seems to violate the “free exercise” part.

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement on the issue:

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

(My emphasis) Basically, it’s saying, yes, these freedoms are important, but some issues and places are just to sensitive, and we shouldn’t upset/offend people. This argument reminds me a lot of one I’d heard before: Muslims outraged by cartoons of Mohammed.

I worry that I’m creating a straw man here, so I should clarify a bit. Those who oppose the mosque are generally being pretty vague about what they think should actually happen. If you read the ADL statement, it doesn’t say “the government shouldn’t allow this”, it just says that it “is not right”. Whom are they trying to convince here? As far as I can tell, they are either trying to convince the mosque’s organizers to change their minds or they are requesting that this plan be blocked on the basis of religion at some level of government. I’m objecting to the latter, not the former.

The name of the mosque and community center is “Cordoba House”, which Gingrich seizes upon:

It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.

Today, some of the Mosque’s backers insist this term is being used to “symbolize interfaith cooperation” when, in fact, every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest.

I haven’t talked with any Islamists about this, let alone “every Islamist in the world”, but I was in Cordoba last Summer and visited the mosque. When I first got to the city, I was confused by people who kept referring to the mosque as mesquita catedral (“mosque cathedral”), only to discover that it’s basically a cathedral within a mosque. Here’s a picture I took while there, with the mosque part starting on the right:

From the mosque looking in to the cathedral:

A brief history of the site:
It was originally a Christian Visigoth church. After the Islamic conquest, the church was bought and built into a mosque and expanded over two centuries. When Cordoba was conquered by the Catholic Kings, it was re-purposed and they added the nave of a cathedral as well as a chapel to its interior.

At the height of Islamic Spain, Cordoba was a regional political, cultural and religious capital (with the mosque being one of the largest in the world at the time). Despite this, the religious freedom in Cordoba was much greater under Islamic rule than Catholic (the Moors were slightly less “inquisitive”). From wikipedia:

In spite of the restrictions placed upon the Jews as dhimmis, life under Muslim rule was one of great opportunity in comparison to that under prior Christian Visigoths, as testified by the influx of Jews from abroad. To Jews throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds, Iberia was seen as a land of relative tolerance and opportunity. Following initial Arab victories, and especially with the establishment of Umayyad rule by Abd-ar-Rahman I in 755, the native Jewish community was joined by Jews from the rest of Europe, as well as from Arab territories, from Morocco to Babylon (Assis, p. 12; Sarna, p. 324). Thus the Sephardim found themselves enriched culturally, intellectually, and religiously by the commingling of diverse Jewish traditions.

Cordoba isn’t a perfect picture of religious tolerance, but at its best, it was a good model.

Islamists want to portray the US as being in a war against Islam. Let’s stop acting like they’re right.


Monday, May 31st, 2010

Bill Maher’s material is very hit-or-miss.. he’s often too acerbic for me, but this segment from a few weeks ago was excellent.

(Some language not safe for work or for people who get offended)


A couple of my favorite quotes from that:
“Our culture isn’t just different from one that makes death threats to cartoonists, it’s better.”

“The western world needs to make it clear: some things about our culture are not negotiable and can’t change. And one of them is freedom of speech. Separation of church and state is another. Women are allowed to work here and you can’t beat them: not negotiable. This is how we roll. This is why our system is better, and if you don’t get that and you still want to kill someone over a stupid cartoon, please make it Garfield.”

When comparing cultures, it can sometimes be very easy to slip in to moral relativism and just accept just about anything (a “peculiar institution”, for example), but it’s important to draw the line somewhere. I think Maher’s list here, though certainly incomplete, is pretty easy to get behind.

It’s a sign!

Monday, December 21st, 2009

The nexus of local news and Jesus “sightings”:

At 4:16 in this video, a couple of quotes:

“Maybe it’s a sign that people who ride motorcycles should believe in God”

“We live in turbulent times now… you’re seeing more and more of this. Maybe it’s a sign that we’d better all start taking care of each other”

I realize that this isn’t a particularly rare conclusion to draw from one of these incidents, but for this sort of conjecture to be reported dispassionately in the news is a bit comical. If an omnipotent God wanted to send either of these messages, a blurry picture would be a horrible way to get this message across. Why not just write it in huge letters in the sky? Why not just have everyone hear a booming voice telling them to take better care of each other? (the voice would speak in each person’s native language, of course) Either of these options would be far more effective both in terms of the number of people affected and the degree to which it convinces them. They’re also really obvious.

(video via andrew sullivan)

Rapture insurance

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Eternal Earth-Bound Pets is an interesting variation of the “rapture insurance” idea that I’ve heard a few times. It works like this:

[…] When the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind. […] We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. For $110.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved. Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $15.00 fee. A small price to pay for your peace of mind and the health and safety of your four legged friends.

The expected value of this insurance is definitely quite different from the perspective of the receivers and providers in this case. I’m not sure that the atheists would be capable of pet-sitting in the case of rapture, so I don’t know that this would work.

(via BoingBoing)

I don’t get it

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

From the Columbia Tribune with my added emphasis:

“Interfaith Alliance and Jews on First sent a letter this month to President Barack Obama asking him to declare that the National Day of Prayer is for Americans of all faiths — and even for nonbelievers.”

Who are they supposed to be praying to, Joe Pesci?
(non-worksafe language, offensive to some video link of George Carlin if you don’t get the reference.. watch around 7:20)

National Day of Prayer

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Barack Obama is the President, not the Pope. Meanwhile, in Fox News land:

Maybe it’s just me, but they seem to be suggesting that private prayer is less effective than public prayer, as if it were somehow measurable.