In the News: Biomemes, Voodoo, Elie Wiesel and more!

A voodoo priestess leads a ceremony to fortify New Orleans's levees on Nov. 6, 2007. Tyrone Turner/National Geographic/Getty

A voodoo priestess leads a ceremony to fortify New Orleans’s levees on Nov. 6, 2007. Tyrone Turner/National Geographic/Getty

Some great new work by Revealer writers: 

Brook Wilensky-Lanford will be speaking on a panel called “In _____ We Trust” at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Brooklyn Law School Student LoungeSunday, Sept. 21, 2014 at 10am

What do you believe in? A twelve-year-old preacher, a cult that will end loneliness, a community promising hope? When strong personalities and religion collide, what or whom we trust becomes a complicated topic. Scott Cheshire (High as the Horses’ Bridles), Fiona Maazel(Woke Up Lonely), and Rachel Urquhart (The Visionist) talk about their proselytizing protagonists. Moderated by Brook Wilensky-Lanford, Paradise Lust. 

Kiera Feldman published an oral history of Tindr over at Playboy, “The Dating Game: An Oral History of the Tinderverse.”

This is the story of Tinder, an oral history of dating in our time, as told by ten denizens of the Tinderverse: the Lothario, the adman out for ass, the adwoman out for ass, the secret romantic, the over-thinker, the career woman, the Grindr veteran, the femme, the Mormon, and the virgin.

Feldman also recently published an account of the rise and fall of the Oral Roberts empire, “The Prodigal Prince: Richard Roberts and the Decline of the Oral Roberts Dynasty” with This Land Press via Longreads.

“Success without a successor is failure,” Oral often said. He dreamed that his brilliant first-born son, Ronnie, would succeed him. Yet, Ronnie refused the mantle, unwilling to play a role in the succession drama into which he’d been born. The eldest child, Rebecca, and the youngest, Roberta, were not considered suitable heirs: Only the sons would carry on the family name. It was Roberta alone among the Roberts children who was enchanted with the mythology of her father, the faith healer, and it was Roberta, a deeply studious child, who so loved the namesake school he built in South Tulsa, near the Arkansas River. But the house that Oral Roberts built had no room for daughters. That left Richard.

S. Brent Plate reviews Camil Ungureanu and Costica Bradatan’s edited volume Religion in Contemporary European Cinema: The Postsecular Constellation for the Los Angeles Review of Books, “The Resurrection of God in Cinema

In a thoughtful new collection, Religion in Contemporary European Cinema, edited by Costica Bradatan and Camil Ungureanu, Bradatan suggests that “behind the façade of a secularized world, a wide range of ‘spiritual experiences’ gives people a new sense of belonging to a grander, cosmic order, as well as of personal fulfillment.” So, while politics and religion have undergone a trial separation in the modern West, cinema provides an arena for filmmakers and audiences to jointly partake in a “cosmopoietic” project. If anything, as the subtitle of the volume suggests, today’s Europe lives under a “postsecular constellation,” a star sign that links heavens and earth, sacred and profane, and, yes, politics and theology.

For more religion on screen, check out Mary Valle‘s list of “Priests on Film” over at Killing the Buddha.

Jared Malsin published a reflective piece, “Egypt’s Tianamen Square: Rabaa One Year On” on Beacon.

The true value of the Human Rights Watch report, in addition to its granular accounting of how the killing unfolded, is that it guarantees that Rabaa will be recorded with the appropriate gravity: as a colossal act of political killing and a turning point that ushered in an era of repression that has been far deadlier than that of the Mubarak era.

Kathryn Joyce writes for The Pacific Standard about “The Rise of Biblical Counseling.

In practice, despite its rejection of secular psychology, biblical counseling draws both on psychoanalysis, with its focus on getting to the root of problems, and on behaviorism, with its stress on correcting habits. A constant refrain in biblical counseling is the command for counselees to “put off” bad and sinful thoughts, and to “put on” biblical, God-pleasing thoughts instead.

News from New York: 

Simran Jeet Singh declares at Al Jazeera America that the “NYPD’s outdated policy perpetuates ant-Sikh stereotypes

As our nation continues to modernize, our public institutions ought to follow suit. It is time for police forces across the United States — including the NYPD — to follow the examples other departments have set by abandoning their outdated and discriminatory policies. Until our law enforcement agencies fully embrace the populations they serve, they will remain complicit in perpetuating the same negative stereotypes that lead to hate crimes. 

Anne Noyes Saini and Ramaa Reddy Raghavan report for NPR, “At Houses of Worship, Women Serve Food for a Higher Purpose.”

Behind the scenes of the feasts and meals at houses of worship, there’s almost always an army of women (and a few men) who peel potatoes, stir stews, mash chickpeas, slice onions and make by hand the various breads essential to the central meal. They see this service as their religious calling. Here are a few stories from women in the New York City area.

Religion & Media in the USA: 

Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times that “A Prisoner’s Beard Offers the Next Test of Religious Liberty for the Supreme Court

When the Supreme Court comes back from its summer break next month, it will pick up where it left off, returning to the subject of religious freedom. But the court’s focus will shift from corporations to prisoners.

To remain in prison for the rest of my life is the greatest honor you could give me.” Michael Edwards tells the story of the 84 year-old nun Sister Megan Rice for Open Democracy, “

The trio daubed the walls of the bunker with biblical references like “the fruit of justice is peace,” and scattered small vials of human blood across the ground. Then they sat down for a picnic. When the security guards arrived they offered them some bread, along with a candle, a bible and a bunch of white roses.

Nathan Schneider, asks “Can Monasteries be a Model for Reclaiming Tech Culture for Good?” in The Nation. 

As tech achieves its Constantinian apotheosis, old religious tropes seem to offer a return to lost purity, a desert in which to flee, the stark opposite of Silicon Valley. A bonneted “Amish Futurist” began appearing at tech conferences, asking the luminaries about ultimate meaning, as if she came from a world without the Internet. Ariana Huffington cashed in with her mobile app, GPS for the Soul.

Connie Bruck goes deep into the world of AIPAC, with “Friends of Israel” for The New Yorker. 

For decades, AIPAC has maintained a hugely successful model, creating widespread support from an unlikely base, and tapping into a seemingly endless wellspring of support from the American Jewish community. But bipartisanship is a relic now, and a generation of unquestioning adherents is aging. Like its embattled allies in Congress, AIPAC needs to reach constituents who represent the country as it will look in the coming decades.

Robert Allen reports for the Detroit Free Press that “Detroit Satanists say they won’t sacrifice animals, people.” 

Based on Western civilization’s most notorious evil character, the sect is intrinsically controversial. The Satanic Temple was started about two years ago and has drawn national attention for First Amendment-related demonstrations in communities as far-flung as Florida and Massachusetts.

Preston Hocker asks “Can You Love Your Neighbor As Yourself When You’re Kneeing Him in the Face?” in response to the new film “Fight Church.” 

So can I love my neighbor as myself and knee him in the face? My answer is a resounding “yes.” I have come to be very close friends with many of my opponents. I’ve prayed with and for them. When they face a struggle, they know our church family is here for them. That kind of caring is the heart of Jesus and the foundation of Christianity.

Stacey Anderson reports for Newsweek, “Voodoo is Rebounding in New Orleans After Hurricane Katrina.

After Katrina, the remaining members began to forge a new, cross-faith community. The mixed ceremonies and social gatherings served a support network for participants from both sides of voodoo as they rebuilt their lives. “We became more close-knit. Those of us who stayed and didn’t evacuate opened what lines of communication had been closed,” says Michael “Belfazaar” Bousum, an employee of Voodoo Authentica and a priest of New Orleans voodoo.

A silhouetted Amish man waits during his buggy tour in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania August 9, 2014. Mark Makela, Reuters

A silhouetted Amish man waits during his buggy tour in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania August 9, 2014. Mark Makela, Reuters

David DeKok writes for Reuters about “Tourism vs. Reality TV: Exploiting Pennsylvania’s Amish

What the Amish don’t do, supporters say, is tote rifles as part of a violent protection racket – as depicted in the television show “Amish Mafia” – or regularly defy their religion, like in “Breaking Amish” and “Breaking Amish: Brave New World.” And, Amish horror stories are not the norm, despite the plot lines of the upcoming “Amish Haunting.”

William O’Conner reviews Robert Wuthnow‘s new book, Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt StateHow Religion Turned Texas Red” in The Daily Beast

Wuthnow extensively covers the institutionalization of racism through churches, Texas’s unique origin story, the Catholic Church and Latino political organizing, as well as current politicians such as Rick Perry. He also spends considerable space pushing back convincingly on the understanding that the rise of the state’s Religious Right came about in response to liberals. His section on the battle over evolution and the power of the Scofield Reference Bible is particularly instructive for anyone grappling with the contemporary debate over climate change.

Because sometimes the worship of tweens and teens just isn’t enough, the actor Andrew Keegan (“10 Things I Hate About You” and “7th Heaven”) now has his own cult. The Mail Online reports in, “Healing crystals, synchronicity, and gang violence: How 90s heartthrob Andrew Keegan became the founder of a new religion.”

Members of the church’s inner circle include a man who calls himself Third Eye, a giant talking parrot named Krishna, and a childhood friend of Keegan’s 10 Things I Hate About You co-star Heath Ledger.

@tomgara alerts the public to Pre-packaged communion snacks at a U.S. megachurchOne Reddit commenter called them “Christables.”



…and in the world: 

Joshua Rothman explores “The Church of U2 in The New Yorker. 

Most people think of U2 as a wildly popular rock band. Actually, they’re a wildly popular, semi-secretly Christian rock band. In some ways, this seems obvious: a song on one recent album was called “Yahweh,” and where else would the streets have no name? But even critics and fans who say that they know about U2’s Christianity often underestimate how important it is to the band’s music, and to the U2 phenomenon. The result has been a divide that’s unusual in pop culture. While secular listeners tend to think of U2’s religiosity as preachy window dressing, religious listeners see faith as central to the band’s identity. To some people, Bono’s lyrics are treacly platitudes, verging on nonsense; to others, they’re thoughtful, searching, and profound meditations on faith.

Ishmael N. Daro reports for, Quebec ‘clairvoyant medium charged under obscure sorcery law.”

Charges under the anti-witchcraft law, Section 365 of the Criminal Code of Canada, are not that uncommon. In Toronto alone there have been at least two incidents in the last five years. Gustavo Valencia Gomez was arrested in 2012 for posing as a healer who could lift a curse on a 56-year-old woman’s family for $14,000, and in 2009 Toronto Police charged Vishwantee Persaud for bilking lawyer Noel Daley out of $27,000 by claiming to be possessed by the man’s sister.

Is religious ritual biological? A new scientific study, “Midichlorians – the biomeme hypothesis: is there a microbial component to religious rituals” by Alexander Y Panchin, Alexander I Tuzhikov, and Yuri Panchin argues it might be.

Some microorganisms would gain an evolutionary advantage by encouraging human hosts to perform certain rituals that favor microbial transmission. We hypothesize that certain aspects of religious behavior observed in the human society could be influenced by microbial host control and that the transmission of some religious rituals could be regarded as the simultaneous transmission of both ideas (memes) and parasitic organisms.

Michael Schulson wrote an excellent response in The Daily Beast, “The Midichlorians Made Me Do It: Can Microbes Explain Religion?

One feels, reading the Panchin paper and its viral ilk, not that they’ve plumbed the psychology of the religious impulse, but that, unwittingly, they’ve revealed their own total bafflement at why someone might actually want to do something spiritual. 

Fortunately, there’s a cure for that bafflement. It’s called interacting with human beings who are different from you. Unfortunately, this kind of activity is also one of the leading vectors for disease transmission. But, hey, just ask anyone who’s ever shared a communion cup with a few dozen other people: sometimes the world’s a little bit messy. 

With particular attention focused on ISIS: 

First, there’s Slavoj Zizek possibly self-plagiarized provocation over at the New York Times‘ philosophy blog The Stone by declaring that “ISIS is a Disgrace to Fundamentalism.”

Instead of seeing in ISIS a case of extreme resistance to modernization, one should rather conceive of it as a case of perverted modernization and locate it into the series of conservative modernizations which began with the Meiji restoration in 19th-century Japan (rapid industrial modernization assumed the ideological form of “restoration,” or the return to the full authority of the emperor).

Elizabeth Dias writes for Time, “Faith of Slain Journalists Remembered at Home.”

Words often escape when grief strikes deep. In the last two weeks, the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) beheaded two American journalists and posted the gruesome videos of their deaths online. The first victim, James Foley, was Catholic. The second, Steven Joel Sotloff, was Jewish. Both were truth-tellers, and both were men of prayer. Their communities of faith now face new challenges as their families and their nation mourns: comforting the living and remembering the dead.

Michael Muhammed Knight writes for The Washington Post, I understand why Westerners are joining jiadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them.”

It’s easy to assume that religious people, particularly Muslims, simply do things because their religions tell them to. But when I think about my impulse at age 17 to run away and become a fighter for the Chechen rebels, I consider more than religious factors. My imagined scenario of liberating Chechnya and turning it into an Islamic state was a purely American fantasy, grounded in American ideals and values. Whenever I hear of an American who flies across the globe to throw himself into freedom struggles that are not his own, I think, What a very, very American thing to do.

Collage by Art Spiegelman for The Nation.

Collage by Art Spiegelman for The Nation.


Seth Sanders does a brilliant job of arguing that “Elie Wiesel Distorts Bible in Controversial ‘Child Sacrifice’ Ad in Religion Dispatches.

The revelation we get from reading our own scriptures deeply and honestly, and from reading other people’s scriptures alongside our own, is the same: the loss of this misleading innocence. The challenge that flows from understanding the original meaning of the biblical stories about child sacrifice is precisely to recognize our ancient desire to mythologize violence (including human sacrifice) while recognizing that violence and its victims are anything but mythic. What stories like Genesis 22 can never do is exonerate us from our own responsibilities toward any victim of that violence.

Interested in debates over how Isreal is portrayed in the media? Chemi Salev in Haaretz ask some important questions in his article, “West of Eden.”

What does it say about American Jewish supporters of Israel if they can no longer tolerate what many people, including this writer, consider to be the finest newspaper in the world? What does it say about “liberal” American Jews if Israel drives them to boycott the most prominent and most respected platform for liberal views?

Famed cartoonist Art Spiegelman spoke publicly for the first time about Israel on his Facebook page where he posted a collage he created for The Nation.

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to NOT think about Israel—deciding it has nothin more to do with me, a diasporist, than the rest of the World’s Bad News on Parade. Israel is like some badly battered child with PTSD who has grown up to batter others.  But… here’s a collage I did for last week’s Nation magazine.

A chaplain at Yale University was forced to resign after writing a three sentence letter to the New York Times. Philip Weiss reports on the story on his site, Mondoweiss.

This seems another instance of the intense pressure to support Israel inside elite institutions, because that’s all the Israel lobby has now in the wake of Gaza.

Dahlia Schiendlin asks “Do anti-miscegenation protestors hate or love Judaism?” at 972mag.

And there at the heart of the summer circus lies the core: a struggle to define, re-define, own or appropriate Judaism in the state of Israel today. Uriel, the formerly ultra-orthodox man, explains that Judaism is fundamentally racist, while a fellow pro-wedding protester chants “Judaism is not racism.” A Lehava activist shouts at cars looking for parking. “Whoever goes to the wedding is destroying Am Yisrael!” while others insist that assimilation is more dangerous than physical persecution.

And last, but not least, atheism: 

Emma Green writes about “Burying Your Dead Without Religion” in The Atlantic.

No matter your beliefs, it’s important for everyone to process loss, intellectually and emotionally: After all, death is weird. In everyday life, it can be easy to ignore the starkest truth of human existence—we are finite, and one day, life will end—but not when somebody dies. 

Barbara J. King argues at NPR that “Atheists Feel Awe, Too.”

Atheists feel awe, too. Everyone does. That wondrous sense needn’t be described by invoking the sacred.

Atheist awe is mind- and heart-expanding. I love seeing this real-world feeling mirrored in works of contemporary fiction.

Alva Noë tells us why “Atheists Need Captain Kirk” at NPR.

What we need, then, is a Kirkian understanding of science and its place in our lives. The world, for Captain Kirk and his ontological followers, is a field of play, and science is a form of action.

Captain Kirk

Captain Kirk


– Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer  

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