In the News: Lindsey Graham, Garland, TX, God’s Plaintiff, and more!

First up, some good news for two friends of  The Revealer:

We’re pleased to announce that two of our favorite religion writers, Maurice Chammah and Kiera Feldman won Livingston Awards for Young Journalists. Chammah won for his article, “The Slow Death of the Death Penalty” published in The Texas Tribune and Feldman won for “Sexual Assault at God’s Harvard” published in The New Republic. You can read work by both Chammah and Feldman in past issue of The Revealer.

The future is now!(?) The 2016 Presidential campaigns have begun:

According to Al Jazeera AmericaBelieve it (or not): Clinton camp likely to downplay religious outreach

Religion News Service has helpfully compiled the following talking points:

5 faith facts about Mike Huckabee, Southern Baptist-pastor-turned-politician

5 faith facts about Ben Carson: retired neurosurgeon, Seventh-day Adventist

5 faith facts about Carly Fiorina: ‘What you make of yourself is your gift to god

For more about Mike Huckabee and the Evangelical vote, we recommend Thomas J. Whitley‘s take over at Marginalia, “Mike Huckabee and the Evangelical vote.”

And has the story of a six-year old article by Jimmy Carter titled, “Losing my religion over equality” that has “suddenly” gone “viral.”

In non-election-related U.S. political news:

The Associated Press reports on a  “Madison law bans religious discrimination against atheists

“It just seems to me that religion has spread into government more than I feel comfortable with,” said Weier, who left the council after the statute passed. “It just occurred to me that religion was protected, so non-religion should be, too.”

Sarah Posner writes “About That “Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage” in Religion Dispatches. 

At the very heart of this pledge is the claim that no court can trump what the signers claim is “God’s law.” At the heart of the pledge is not a plea for justice, but a plea for a legal system that yields to their religious views. A plea, in other words, to subvert the Constitution in the service of subverting the Constitution; to undermine the Establishment Clause in the service of depriving certain citizens, deemed sinful by a particular religious view, of equal protection of the law.

Also for Religion Dispatches, Andrew Aghapour and Michael Schulson explain “What Republicans Mean When They Compare Climate Change to Religion.”

Comparing climate change to religion has become a go-to GOP talking point during the run-up to next year’s elections. Painting climate science and proposed reforms as “articles of faith” allows Republicans to avoid criticism for their political inaction. It reduces a deeply consequential scientific consensus about global risk to the culture war rhetoric of cable news.


While Matthew Smith reports for Reveal that an “Oklahoma man wants to bring satanic church’s teachings to schools.”

“I understand the amount of anguish caused by someone attacking their faith,” he said. “But they’re always attacking our faith. So what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

And Mark Joseph Stern calls “Driskell v. Homosexuals: The Civil Rights Case of the Century.”

Technically, Driskell v. Homosexuals is a bit more complex than that. Driskell isn’t suing “the Homosexuals” on her own behalf; rather, she is “an Ambassador for Plaintiffs God, and His, Son, Jesus Christ” (sic). According to Driskell, God and Jesus want the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska to hold a trial to determine “Is Homosexuality a sin, or not a sin” (sic).

And, lastly, “Lindsey Graham al-Most Knows Arabic” reports Benjamin Soloway for Foreign Policy. 

We prefer Paul Simon’s version of that song.


Confounding and compelling as politicians can be, though, we’ve spent most of our Internet-time this week reading commentary on the shooting in Garland, Texas last Sunday. Here’s some of the best work we’ve read on the topic.

Looking for a quick background summary on Pamela Geller, Margaret Hartmann at New York Magazine has you covered.

If your introduction to Pamela Geller was the CNN interview following Sunday’s shooting in Garland, Texas, you might be wondering why journalists were so combative with the well-spoken, patriotic lady from Long Island.

Then, not to boast, but we really do think that Patrick Blanchfield‘s take on the events in Garland and how we continue to frame and interpret them,”Shooting in the Name Of,” is one of the most insightful responses out there.

We also especially appreciated Ryan T. Woods reading of Blanchfield’s piece over at Marginalia, “Free Speech in Garland, Texas.”


Aaron Bady also has an important and thoughtful perspective on the events. These two recent pieces in The New Inquiry are must-reads: “Islamophobia as Narrative Device, in the Second Person

I don’t know the whole story, of course. But an “Art Exhibit” or “contest” was not the thing that was attacked, not if the word “art” means anything. If it was a story about violent extremists attempting to commit murder, then we can be glad they failed. But this is also a story about escalation and reaction, and that story gets lost if its flattened into LIBERAL FREE SPEECH vs. VIOLENT ISLAMISTS by the many commentators who not only love simple binaries, but particularly enjoy that one.

and “On the Variety of Ways to Not Praise Charlie Hebdo.

The trouble with radical secularists is that they so often jump past this contradiction, forgetting that they, too, are believers. They have such confidence in their own clarity of thought, and such contempt for mere believers. For the passionately intense disbeliever, getting rid of “religion” means that whatever is left behind turns out to be Science and Truth. But there is no outside to cultural belief, as ethnographers like Geertz started to understand: there simply is no opting out of ideology, and to think that you have done so is often to become the worst kind of fundamentalist. If you think you’ve found the Archimedean point from which to understand the world’s illusions as such, then those who believe in them become fools whose beliefs can be safely dismissed, whose words can be ignored, and whose humanity can be bracketed off. If you congratulate yourself on having found Reality, then you are in danger of becoming its tool. Because what makes your belief different than anyone else’s is the fact that you believe in it, and real belief – if it means anything – means the inability to acknowledge that you might be wrong. 

Published before the shooting in Garland, but very relevant nonetheless, is David Nirenberg‘s “Power and Piety,” a review of Karen Armstrong‘s books, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, in The Nation. 

Perhaps we should not judge religions by the company they keep. Still, even (or especially) if we share Armstrong’s sympathies—that is, her view that religion is generally innocent as charged—we should want to ask why religion so often finds itself in arms with the wicked. It seems question-begging or dogmatic to base a study of the relationship between religion and violence upon the axiom that the workings of religion can have nothing to do with violence. It is also historically unhelpful, because a sharp separation between power and piety can’t account for the very long history of intimate relations between the two. Armstrong jumps from episode to violent episode in that long history, attempting to explain why the violence she is describing has nothing to do with what she takes to be true religion. Divorcing religion from power might ease one’s conscience about faith traditions, but it won’t help us understand why those traditions have so often sought dowries from dominion, which seems to me precisely what we most want and need to know.

Much as there is to be read, written, and said about religion, violence, and free speech, these stories, too, warranted some attention:

Trent Wolbe takes us “Beyond televangelism: inside TED’s new gospel” with The Verge.

TEDActive is the overflow chapel to TED’s Long Beach Cathedral, but the production quality is stunning, there are bean bag chairs instead of pews, and no pesky deities around to cloud anyone’s judgment. Ruminations from philosophers and scientists were the constantly-referenced touchstones, not some poorly-translated cryptolanguage from the boring New Testament. TEDsters not only laughed at the simulcast screens, they gave them full-on standing ovations. Once I wrapped my head around this non-shitty church metaphor everything else at TED was much easier to understand.

Kelly J. Baker gives “The Messengers” an insightful review in Killing the Buddha‘s “Look for The Signs.”

The Messengers is supposed to be an entertaining take on that the often-trod terrain of good versus evil, and I despise the show for its lack of awareness and nuance. It warns us about things that we’ve already learned to fear. We still suffer the ramifications of financial crises. We place metal detectors in schools and ponder whether teachers should pack heat. We (slowly) realize the danger of global warming. These are the low-hanging fruit of signs. We don’t have to look far to find them, and they require no deep reflection about what remains broken.

Joel Hodge at The Washington Post explains, How ‘Star Wars’ answers our biggest religious questions.”

But the story that unfurls is an inversion of the Christian Gospel: The Chosen One does not save others but falls into the depths of evil, power and anger by following a false model (the Emperor) who in a sense personifies evil (“Satan”). Vader thinks he can restore order to the galaxy – as he says to Luke after revealing his identity – but his evil is ultimately destructive to others and himself.

Al Jazeera has two stories about old religions trying to find and keep new members. First up, “Keeping the Faith: American Druze work to ensure the survival of their 1,000-year-old religion by bringing young members into the fold

The Druze have persisted for over a thousand years, but for American Druze, ensuring that their community will survive past the 21st century has meant facing difficult questions about striking a balance between religion and secular culture. 

and second, “A few good Shakers wanted: Last few members hope young African-American novice can revive religion’s communal society.”

Only a half hour outside bustling Portland, Maine, is a slice of bucolic countryside where a communal way of life has endured since this colony’s founding in 1783. Welcome to the shores of Sabbathday Lake, Maine, home of the last remaining Shaker community in the world. Population: 4. For outsiders who view them as a sort-of-Amish sect, the Shakers are full of surprises.

Speaking of “old-fashioned” Religion Dispatches has the story of “How Marketers Invented ‘Old Time Religion,'” Daniel Silliman’s interview with Timothy Gloege, author of Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism.

Cristian fundamentalism was invented in an advertising campaign, according to a new book by historian Timothy Gloege. The all-American brand of “old-time religion” was developed by an early captain of consumer capitalism—who wanted to sell pure Christianity like he sold breakfast.

In his fascinating narrative of the origins of modern evangelicalism, Gloege traces its close relationship to modern marketing back to the founder of Quaker Oats, Henry Parsons Crowell.

How’d you like a bit of retro schadenfreude? The New Republic dug up Martin Grumpert‘s “Scathing 1950 Takedown of L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetics” from the archives. It originally appeared in the magazine on August 14, 1950.

This physician has no use for the aberrations of dianetics-addicts, but he earnestly hopes to prevent readers of the book from trying their luck with its methods. There can be no doubt that many will feel helped by the new fad, and, unfortunately, it was only to be expected that somebody would get the idea of inventing some kind of home psychoanalysis. No method of psychotherapy exists—however bizarre it may be—which will not exert a temporary effect in the hands of disciples who are haunted by anxiety and despair. However, the harm that may be done by dianetics-auditors and their victims should not be underestimated. 

Lastly, boy do we like Kathryn Lofton! Definitely make sure you check out Marko Geslani‘s set of interviews with her on Sacred Matters, “Religion in the Post-Colonial Humanities: An Interview with Kathryn Lofton.”


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