Revealer favorite Guernica‘s fourth and final special issue is about Religion in America: Gods and Devils! It includes revealer contributing editor Ann Neumann‘s interview with Katherine Hayhoe, a scientist and evangelical who believes that “God’s mandate is to address climate change” in “God’s Creation Is Running a Fever“ and Brook Wilensky-Lanford interviews transgender Rabbi Becky Silverstein and talks about “rituals surrounding transitioning and the language of gender inclusion” in “Whole Self Movement.”
In this year’s fourth and final special issue, Guernica explores religion’s imprint on America and finds that present articulations of belief run alongside reverberations of past faiths. While this collection only gestures toward the myriad approaches to spiritual life, it highlights the lasting expression of belief, be it through dogged observance, syncretism, resistance, or renewal.
Elsewhere in the news, Brook Wilensky-Lanford argues that, “Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus’ Proves the ‘Bible Movies’ Trend Is Nonsense” in her review of “Exodus” for The New Republic.
But lumping together all Bible movies borders on laziness. “Bible” is not a synonym for “Christian,” or even for “faith-based.” The Bible is source material, like Shakespeare or Greek mythology or even Marvel Comics.
S. Brent Plate writes about The Coltrane Church in “Saint John Coltrane: Fifty Years of ‘A Love Supreme‘” for Religion Dispatches.
The Coltrane church began in the late 1960s, when Franzo Wayne King and then-girlfriend Marina King heard Coltrane perform in San Francisco. They called their experience of hearing him live, a “sound baptism.” This led them to form the “Yardbird Temple,” named with Charlie Parker in mind, and with jazz at its base. In 1982 the little independent congregation joined the global fellowship of the African Orthodox Church, a denomination that began in the 1920s as an African-American split from the Episcopal church.
Kiera Feldman‘s article “The Prodigal Prince: Richard Roberts and the Decline of the Oral Roberts Dynasty” written for This Land Press was one of the 10 most popular stories on Longreads in 2014! Check out her piece along with other excellent religion writing here.
“Something Good Is Going to Happen to You” was Oral’s slogan on TV. But a life lived on camera took its toll.
Race, Justice and Religion
The Revealer has been closely following the #blacklivesmatter movement. Here is a short selection of articles that bring religion into this important and ongoing civil rights conversation.
In the wake of a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner, WNYC asked religious leaders who listen to the station to share the texts of their sermons.
The sermons they’ve prepared talk about race, the criminal justice system and people’s moral obligation to grapple with the issues raised in the wake of the Garner case. We’ve excerpted highlights, and linked to the full texts below.
You can watch a video of Zahara Zahav leading hundreds of Jews in mourners Kaddish in the middle of Broadway during a recent #blacklivesmatter march in New York City.
Wallace Best‘s “The Fear of Black Bodies in Motion” in The Huffington Post.
We cannot change this history overnight, but if we are ever to live up to our ideal of a “Christian nation,” we must move beyond rhetoric and business-as-usual. And we all have work to do, perhaps particularly our nation’s churches, divided as they are so problematically into categories of “black” and “white.” These institutions can no longer claim to be beacons of morality without showing some moral courage. Black churches must become more than simply warehouses of resistance, and it is time to question the “Shall” of “We Shall Overcome.” White churches, drunk as they are on the Eucharistic wine of their own self-satisfaction, must realize that it is not enough to be a “white ally.” Black Americans are fellow citizens and fellow human beings with all the rights that God and the government bestow. Any effective alliance must be based on that truth. In my view, the only way to make this right is to fundamentally change who we are as a nation. Only then can we give alternative answers to Levar Jones’s prescient question, “why did you shoot me?”
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi’s has an insightful meditation in The New Inquiry on the demons in Darren Wilson’s testimony to the grand jury in “Transcript on a Face”
The transcript of the Grand Jury investigation of Officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown reads like a flip book jumping between the demonological past and the criminological present.
It’s not Wilson’s culpability that is on trial, but Michael Brown’s face.
Willie James Jennings implores “After Ferguson: America Must Abandon ‘Sick Christianity“ at Ease with Violence” by in Religion Dispatches.
From its Christian and colonial beginnings, America has always trafficked in the fear of black people, its political and social potency too tempting a resource to leave untapped. The continuous use of racialized fear has damaged our collective psyche by entangling in us violence, danger, and fear, woven so tightly together now that to think the one conjures the others. This is why the idea of placing cameras on the bodies of the police to record their actions will never be enough. It takes vision to see, and until the prevailing vision of black bodies is altered from dangerous to fully human, what will be seen with almost every violent incident will be a police officer in danger protecting themselves and us. A camera on a police officer is always poised to become a reality television video game, complete with weapon and target.
And Briallen Hopper writes powerfully about “White People Problems” in Killing the Buddha.
I want to be unafraid of failure, and I want to redefine failure. This is not a struggle that will ever be over. Just as there is an unbroken line from Emmett Till to Michael Brown, there is an unbroken line from Martin Luther King, Jr. to the woman who can’t believe she still has to protest this shit. Struggles for freedom fail only if we assume that unlike every other generation we are destined to see the end of the bent arc of the moral universe. After getting kicked out of Augustana, Bill Youngdahl proceeded to protest the Vietnam War, start an urban studies program at a Lutheran college, and work for justice for LGBT people in the church. Ernie Chambers has served in the Nebraska State Senate since before I was born, and he is just as fiery and unrelenting as ever. I’m not a historical figure and I don’t matter, but I believe it is better to live in the struggle, because like those long-ago Christians in Omaha I believe that sin is real, and I believe that religion is meaningful when it says that someday I will need to give an account of what I did with the racial privilege I was randomly given at birth, and of what I did about the burning injustice I sometimes chose not to see.
Luke Savage has a scathing condemnation of New Atheism in his article for Jacobin, “New Atheism, Old Empire“
For the New Atheists, then, all religions are equally bad — but Islam is more equally bad.
Meanwhile, “In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban” reports Laurie Goodstein for The New York Times.
But 53 years later, Maryland and six other states still have articles in their constitutions saying people who do not believe in God are not eligible to hold public office. Maryland’s Constitution still says belief in God is a requirement even for jurors and witnesses.
Now a coalition of nonbelievers says it is time to get rid of the atheist bans because they are discriminatory, offensive and unconstitutional. The bans are unenforceable dead letters, legal experts say, and state and local governments have rarely invoked them in recent years. But for some secular Americans, who are increasingly visible and organized, removing the bans is not only a just cause, but a test of their growing movement’s political clout.
In possibly related news, “Decline in Church-Building Reflects Changed Tastes and Times” reports Ben Leubsdorf in the Wall Street Journal.Americans aren’t building churches like they used to anymore. Construction of religious buildings in the U.S. has fallen to the lowest level at any time since private records began in 1967.
Jesse Hicks shares the story of a mentally ill programmer who created an operating system that allows the user to talk to God in “God’s Lonely Programmer” for Motherboard.
“The way God works is he caused the course of my life. I can see how it’s been a charmed life in some ways, so I think He planned it,” Davis says. Sometimes he seems to believe TempleOS will exist for 1,000 years, that it will be embraced and perfected by the giants of Silicon Valley, and that he will be recognized as King Solomon 2.0. Other times he seems less certain, even vulnerable to doubt. “Is it going to be as big as Solomon’s Temple?” he asks. “I don’t know. But we’ll see. What else is there?”
Rebecca Davis, Gillian Frank, Bethany Moreton and Heather White of the blog Notches, want us to “Believe It: Finding Religion in the History of U.S. Sexuality.”
If we turn our focus to the U.S. history of sexuality more broadly, it becomes clear that there is a substantial and growing body of scholarship that takes as its starting point the intersections of religion and sexuality and insists upon them as crucial to analyzing some of the core elements of American history generally—racial formations, household formations, public spheres, economic processes, work organization, political power, ideologies and belief systems, intellectual and artistic production, migration and immigration.
Josh Nathan-Kazis searches for a lost New York vacationland called Amenia in “Before the Flood” in The Forward.
One spring day in 1927, two New York City real estate speculators drove upstate to Dutchess County with a couple of girls and had a bit to drink.
Before they got home again, they had bought half of Amenia, an old upstate mining hamlet ringed with dairy farms. By summer, they were selling bungalows on the shores of a mill pond they had renamed Lake Amenia. They hired a retired cycling superstar to organize games and built a dancehall to attract flappers.
It didn’t last. Today, there’s nothing left, not even the lake itself. This past summer, I went upstate to find out where it all went.
Daniel Sillman is here to help with: “It’s the Apocalypse, Stupid: Understanding Christian Opposition to Obamacare, Civil Rights, New Deal and More” in Religion Dispatches
American evangelicals have been waiting for the world to end for a long time. But that’s not to say they’ve just been sitting around. Apocalypticism has inspired evangelistic crusades, moral reform movements, and generations of political activism.
Let’s check in with that Hobby Lobby decision one more time before the new year, shall we? “Catholic Church Argues It Doesn’t Have to Show Up in Court Because Religious Freedom” reports Molly Redden of Mother Jones.
“I’ve never seen this before, and I couldn’t find any other cases like it,” says Brian Hauss, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Center for Liberty. The group is not directly involved in the lawsuit but has filed amicus briefs supporting Herx. “What the diocese is saying is, ‘We can fire anybody, and we have absolute immunity from even going to trial, as long as we think they’re violating our religion. And to have civil authorities even look into what we’re doing is a violation.’…It’s astonishing.”
Friend of The Revealer Simran Jeet Singh was featured in the new CBS News special, “World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists & Mennonites.” on “Three faith traditions as they are practiced in the United States.”
Of related interest, “In Response to Racist Facebook Commenters, Sikh Cartoonist Preaches Tolerance” in The Huffington Post.
“I have always believed there is way more than meets the eye. In that spirit, I want to share with [Facebook users] the brief arc of my life, which might help lay to rest our simplistic judgment of people at first sight.”
Speaking of people who don’t get it, Fox’s farce radar seems to be back in the shop: “Religious group wants to build McDonald’s in a church.”
And while we’re on the subject of Fox and Friends, might as well mention RightWingWatch’s proclamation “Kirk Cameron Will Win The War on Christmas With His Latest Movie.”
Cameron told Glenn Beck’s outlet The Blaze that he seeks to save the holiday from a barrage of attacks from those who seek to “snuff out the holy root” Christmas.
But don’t worry, he insists that the movie is not an “angry rant about the culture war.”
Sara Lipton provides us with a fascinating history of “The Invention of the Jewish Nose” in The New York Review of Books.
For the rest of the century, and for several decades beyond, the shape of Jews’ noses in art remained too varied to constitute markers of identity. That is, Jews sported many different kinds of “bad” noses—some long and tapering, others snout-like—but the same noses appeared on many “bad” non-Jews as well, and there was no single, identifiable “Jewish” nose. By the later thirteenth century, however, a move toward realism in art and an increased interest in physiognomy spurred artists to devise visual signs of ethnicity. The range of features assigned to Jews consolidated into one fairly narrowly construed, simultaneously grotesque and naturalistic face, and the hook-nosed, pointy-bearded Jewish caricature was born.
WNYC’s wonderful On The Media side project TLDR is hopeful about a new Australian hashtag in “#Illridewithyou and Rising Beyond Clicktivism.”
In a moment of anxiety and tragedy, Australians have banded together to push back at the reactionary paranoia that typically follows a terrorist act. #illridewithyou attempts to offer an actual service to traditional Muslims who may be or feel targeted following the hostages crisis, and simultaneously exists as a loving and important reminder of the difference between a religion’s adherents and the extremists who pervert it. The tag created a sense of solidarity, presumably the opposite of what the man now identified as Man Haron Monis wanted to achieved when he stormed the downtown Sydney café with a gun.
You know what else is, apparently too long to read? The Bible. Worry not, busy Internetizens, reddit user Cabbagetroll has crafted some highly abbreviated bible stories for your speedy edification. For example:REVELATION John: When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime, stop doing the things.
Still too many words? Try these amazing new Mughal miniature comic strips! Nayantara Narayanan has the story at Scroll.in.
For ages, Mughal and Rajput miniature paintings have provided a vivid window into the past, relating tales from the lives and times of kings and queens. Now those contemplative royals are speaking up for themselves in a writer-filmmaker’s web-comic series, telling ironic stories of unfairness.
Bengaluru-based Aarthi Parthasarathy has created the series Royal Existentials using the multitude of characters and opulent settings of miniatures to articulate contemporary social angst. Putting words in their mouths, she has broken the characters’ enigmatic silence. Here is a sample of her tongue-in-cheek take on social inequality.
Words matter still matter, though. They matter a lot. For example, Ishaan Tharoor explains “Why Netanyahu’s Use of Blood Libel Is So Explosive” in The Washington Post.
The phrase summons a deep, long and traumatic history for Jews, one which Netanyahu thinks is apt to invoke in the context of an already fraught, volatile situation in Jerusalem.
You know who else says hostile things? Internet trolls. Over at The Guardian Sarah Galo talks to Diane E Anderson who claims that “The worst trolls claim to be Christian.”
By far the worst trolls I’ve gotten have been cisgender heterosexual white men who claim to be Christian. They’re the trolls who don’t know they’re trolls. They’re going to be really mean to you, but in a nice way. I’ve been told I’m going to hell because I’m bisexual — but they do it in this super-nice way where it’s like I know what they’re saying, but they have enough plausible deniability that if I call them on it, I’m going to be the mean one.
Meanwhile, Arun Venugopal of WNYC has something a bit more righteous from the religion web in “PR Expert to Muslims: Face Your Haters“
“Sometimes I tell my people, ‘Is it worth it that you go out there and say this or write these statements? Why do you feel so defensive? Why do you feel like you have to defend yourself? You’re a good American. You’re leading a congregation. You’re talking about social justice. You’re a law-abiding citizens. Why do you always feel compelled to have to apologize for every damn Muslim out there that does something crazy or does something violent?” Sarsour said.
What’s up in Catholicism these days, you ask? Dogs (maybe) go to heaven! Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.
Pope John Paul II appeared to reverse Pius in 1990 when he proclaimed that animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” But the Vatican did not widely publicize his assertion, perhaps because it so directly contradicted Pius, who was the first to declare the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1854.
Pretty cool, right? Not so fast says Gothamist: “Fail Mary: Diocese of Brooklyn Tries to Make Catholicism Cool with New Campaign.”
Is this a Craigslist reference or a flaccid attempt at a dropped call burn? How can you miss a connection when you’re the one calling, and what does failing to get through to the office have to do with attending mass? Doesn’t the Catholic church know that mixed metaphors are a mortal sin, and that Hell is being forced to read all of the #BrooklynCatholic tweets, one. at. a. time?
That was a lot of news. How about something distracting, something, say, along the lines of Orthodox-Calender.com’s steamy new advert available on YouTube:
OC (Orthodox Calendar) is the title of wall calendars and videos first published in 2012, featuring nude and semi-nude photographs of members of the Orthodox Church. The calendar is the brainchild of a group composed mostly of Orthodox eastern Europeans of the former communist region. The primary goal was to create the very first organized global effort against homophobia in the Orthodox Region. At the same time, the calendar takes an ironic approach to the Orthodox Church itself, which in recent years has been embroiled in artist repression, questionable behavior and homophobia.
Through their unconventional and bold images, OC’s creative Team seeks to counteract the negative and outdated influences of most of the Orthodox Church leadership. While recognizing that change might not come quickly to the official Orthodox Church position, OC nonetheless believes that at least it can encourage people (believers or not) to reflect and realize that there is an urgent need for an update in values as part of the modern society.
And, finally, it’s been a great year here at The Revealer, we’re very grateful to you for reading along. Thank you and molotov! If you’ve enjoyed our publication this year and want to show your appreciation with a holiday gift, please, someone out there, photoshop Bono’s face into the image below. All we want for Christmas is rockstar Jewish impostor puns.
Happy New Year!
-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer