In the News: Mad Men, Mormons, Monks, and more!



One time, my dad told me a pretty funny story about a bunch of folks walking barefoot out of a workshop at Esalen standing around for a long time trying to figure out which set of Birkenstocks belonged to which pair of feet. So, maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that I was not praying on Sunday, instead, I, like so many, was knelt in front of my TV set waiting to have the fates of Don, Peggy, Joan, Richard, et al revealed. I was left weirdly thirsty and dreaming of a vacation in Big Sur… Curious how others were left feeling?

Well, according to our friend S. Brent Plate in “Don Draper: Dharma Bum, Priestly Sage” for Sacred Matters: 

Don Draper is an unaffiliated priest in the religion of consumerism.

And Elesha Kauffman got straight to the pedagogy for Religion in American History  with a sampling of texts one might use to teach the final episode in a religious studies course: “Religion and Advertising in the 1970s.

It occurred to me that we were not the first clever folks to spot deep connections between advertising and spirituality in American culture. Religion-minded folks in the 1970s probably noticed, too.

Matthew Weiner isn’t the only New Age cynic, though. Andrew Aghapour interviews JP Sears about his YouTube channel, AwakenWithJP, “The Cubit vx. ‘The New Age Colbert,’ JP Sears” for Religion Dispatches. 


While on Crux Michael O’Loughlin covers responses to two new sitcoms – “The Real O’Neals” based loosely on the life of Dan Savage, and “The Jim Gaffigan Show” – that prominently feature Catholic families, “Two new ‘Catholic’ sitcoms, two very different reactions.”


Then there’s “Icons” a new “documentary-style show” about two monks, Brother Angelus and Brother Innocent. Mary Rezac talked to the brothers (the Brothers are, in fact, brothers) for EWTN News in, “These twin monks are taking it to the streets – and your TV – to save souls.”


“Catholic media is really irrelevant right now to a lot of young people,” Brother Angelus said. “That’s a dramatic statement, but it’s true. So we wanted to wrestle with that question and wrestle with that reality that Catholic media is irrelevant to a lot of young people today.”

Much, much, much less sanctimonious in all possible ways, Vice goes “Behind the Rise of Hijab Porn.”

Most of these scenes play on the notion of the Middle Eastern woman as the innocent yet obedient sexual object, subjugated to do anything a man asks of her. Which, in most cases, is giving a blow job. In these scenes, the hijab or headscarf is used as an insignia for “Middle Eastern girl,” a way to tell the viewer (along with the bashful glances and often feigned Middle Eastern accents) that this girl is a sexually repressed “Arab” ready and willing to bow down to her Western master.

Considerably more reverent, “Son of Saul star: ‘God was holding the hand of every Jew in the gas chamber.” Catherine Shoard interviews Géza Röhrig star of a new, and much lauded, Holocaust film.

His faith was then forged on a trip to Auschwitz. Making a movie set there inevitably tested it. “But it wasn’t God who rounded up the Jews and the Gypsies and the Soviet PoWs and the gays and the perfectly German mental patients and the perfectly German midgets and slaughtered them. We did it. The human family did it. I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage. But I would not be able to get up from my bed in the morning, let alone pray, if I didn’t fully believe that God somehow was there holding the hands of each and every Jew in the gas chamber – each and every Tutsi, Armenian, Kurd, Israeli, Palestinian who suffers unjustly.”

And Jason Francisco reviews a new exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, Poland––Israel––Germany:  The Experience of Auschwitz

The overall spirit of “The Experience of Auschwitz” is a rejection of the Holocaust as a sacred mystery––a development that I would count as positive.  But implicitly it is also a rejection of other things.  Most obviously to me, the show turns away from the world itself––the world where the Holocaust happened and continues to ripple forward in time––in favor of what strikes me as an insular world of aesthetic events.  Many will disagree with the term “aestheticizing” to describe these works, but it isn’t obvious to me why the term is wrong.  Not all aestheticization involves sentimentality, romanticization, and irresistible beauty––things that most of the works in the show disavow in one way or another.  The question is how a work of art treats its subject.  Does it convert it to the terms of art itself, which is to say subject it to those terms, colonize it with those terms?  Or does it allow the subject a freedom within itself (as it were), a condition of non-possession from the terms of its own artistic maneuverings?  


Ian Cook interviews Nicholas B. Dirks about his new collection, Autobiography of an Archive: A Scholar’s Passage to India. You can listen to their conversation on New Books in Anthropology.

The chapters touch upon themes such as empire and the politics of knowledge, as well as the experience of archival research. Illuminating, lucid and always challenging, Autobiography of an Archive is a stimulating and pleasurable read.

And Shape Shifting Capital: Spiritual Management, Critical Theory, and the Ethnographic Project by George Gonzalez has just been released. We’re excited to have a look!

González suggests that it is imperative to reorient our critical energies towards a present day evaluation of postmodern capitalism’s boundary-blurring. González further argues that the kind of “existential deconstruction” performed by what he calls “existential archeology” can serve the needs of any social criticism of neoliberal “religion” and corporate spirituality.



Okay, so, we sort of blew right past that new PEW “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” report last week. But we still think it’s worth some thought.

Peter Manseau, as usual, has a very smart take on the subject in the New York Times, Thou Shalt Worship None of the Above.”

To live in a country as pluralistic as the United States is inevitably to be influenced by a grab bag of beliefs. “Thou shalt reconsider assumptions you held as a child and remain open to new ideas” might as well be the first commandment of our national faith.

As does Kaya Oakes who requests, “Just Give Me That Old-Time, DIY Religion” in Killing the Buddha.

The new Pew Survey should not be giving people who are creating their own religions and communities something to think about. They’ve already thought about the role religions should play in their lives. It should, however, be giving these Christian churches who are losing members something to think about.

Our friend Ed Simon weighed in as well with Predicting the Future of Religion: A Thought Experiment” for Religion Dispatches. 

In the manner of our dear imaginary Court Demographer, let’s imagine what it might be like to look back, a hundred years from now, on religious change in the 21st century.

Another Revealer pal, S. Brent Plate was busy this week. Commenting not only on “Mad Men” (above) but also on Pew with “From ‘the God Beat’ to’ the None Beat” for Religion Dispatches. We’re quite inclined to agree with him.

With new shifts in the religious landscape of the United States, however slight or severe they are, we also need writers on the “none beat.” That is, we need good writing by people who can make sense of the unaffiliated, not just in the knee-jerk way of saying “we are becoming more secular,” or as the New York Times piece by political reporter David Leonhardt offers its silly title “The Rise of Young Americans Who Don’t Believe in God” (which is not what the Pew report indicated—the report was about religious affiliation).


Dean Obeidallah points out in The Daily Beast that “America Snores When Christian Terrorist Threatens to Massacre Muslims.”

Have you heard about the Christian terrorist Robert Doggart, who was plotting a violent attack against a Muslim-American community in New York state? Probably not, because as opposed to when U.S. law enforcement officials arrest a Muslim for planning a violent assault, they didn’t send out a press release or hold a press conference publicizing Doggart’s arrest.

With “The Christian Terrorist” in Marginalia, Thomas J. Whitley  rightly agrees with Obeidallah that we need to pay more attention to the likes of Doggart, but makes a very smart critique of the way in which he approached the topic,

Instead of calling for a deeper, critical examination of the ways in which “terrorist” is employed by our news media and our law enforcement agencies, Obeidallah is content to allow the term to remain as an important identificatory marker that tells viewers and readers how they should think of Doggart, which category they can place him so that they can go ahead and dismiss him and his concerns.

Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote powerfully in this week’s New Yorker about how hard it is to understand mass killer Anders Behring Breivik in “The Inexplicable.”

In many ways, I find it repellent to write about Anders Behring Breivik. Every time his name appears in public, he gets what he wants, and becomes who he wants, while those whom he murdered, at whose expense he asserted himself, lost not only their lives but also their names—we remember his name, but they have become numbers. And yet we must write about him, we must think about the crisis that Breivik’s actions represent.

 Lastly, some well-deserved mocking for those who call on “all moderate Muslims” to condemn violence done at the hands of others, “I’m a Moderate Biker Gang Member Compelled to Condemn This Violence” by Wajahat Ali in The New York Times. 

Let me be clear: There is no such thing as a single, monolithic “biker gang community.” There is a diversity of biker gang communities: white men with goatees, bushy beards, trimmed mustaches; white men with cropped hair, long hair, ponytails; white men with leather jackets, denim jackets, leather vests; white men with shotguns, handguns, brass knuckles, knives and so forth. It should be obvious that the way innocent bikers are profiled by the police and law enforcement agencies is a threat to all our constitutional liberties.



Mo Moulton explains “Why One of the World’s Most Catholic Countries Might Approve Gay Marriage” in The Atlantic.

The Irish overwhelmingly still believe in God, but they’ve lost their faith in the Catholic Church.

Remember Dan Savage from, oh, half a page ago? He got a solid scholar scolding recently that went viral. David Perry reports for The Chronicle of Higher Education about “A Medievalist on Savage Love.”

In April 22, to the delight and surprise of many academics on social media, the noted sex-advice columnist and social critic Dan Savage published a long letter on the website of The Stranger, an alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle, from a medievalist as his “Savage Love Letter of the Day: A Medievalist Schools Dan on Medieval Attitudes Toward Sex.”

Savage had referred to a conservative Muslim man as following a “medieval version of his faith.” A pseudonymous letter writer took erudite and witty issue with the casual appellation of medieval as a pejorative, first showing why medieval was the wrong term, then explaining why it matters. The writer, who turned out to be Matthew Irvin, associate professor of English and chair of medieval studies at Sewanee: The University of the South, in Tennessee, followed the Savage Love practice of signing off with an amusing acronym. He wrote, “Sorry for such a long letter, but it allowed me to put off my grading for a while. Best, Middle Eastern Dude Is Entirely Victorian, Alright? LOL.” (For newcomers to Savage’s column, letter writers often sign off with a phrase that can be turned into an acronym, which, in this case, would be MEDIEVAL.)

And Avi Steinberg profiles Everett Fox and his work translating the bible in “Tinkering with the Word of God” for The New Yorker. 

Fox has dedicated his life to giving the Anglophone ear a hint of that Hebrew drama. Many translators have tried, in one way or another, to make the Bible do in English what it does in Hebrew, but few have given top priority to the sound and feel of the original language. Fox uses every poetic means at his disposal: phrase length, line break, puns. He has paid particular attention to the word repetitions that the Biblical narrator uses to develop the story’s themes. He scrupulously preserves ancient Hebrew’s doubled verbs, which themselves sometimes double up (“you will overtake, yes, overtake, and will rescue, yes, rescue”). Orality is key to understanding the story, Fox believes, because the Bible, like many ancient texts, was designed to be sung and performed aloud. For Fox, the standard continues to be musical performance, with its openness to interpretation.

And lastly, holy sweet teeth, Joseph Smith! “Mormon vice: Utah buys more candy than any other state” reports Kathy Stephenson for the Salt Lake Tribune.

While many Utahns have the willpower to avoid alcohol, coffee and tobacco, they just can’t stay away from the candy.


Past links round-ups can be found here:

Candles, Kombucha, Crocodiles, and more! (May 15, 2015)

Lindsey Graham, Garland, TX, God’s Plaintiff, and more! (May 8, 2015)

Pamela Geller, Prophesy, PEN, and more! (May 1, 2015)

Talal Asad, Taylor Swift, Turbans, and more! (April 2015)

Passover, Prison, Pop Music, and more! (March 2015)

The Crusades, Anti-Vaxxers, Chocolate Gods, and  more! (February 2015)

Paris, Witches, the CNN Apocalypse, and more! (January 2015)

#black lives matter, #Illridewithyou, TL;DR Bible Stories, and more! (December 2014)

Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)

Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)

Prison Churches, Museums, and, of course, Hobby Lobby (July 2014)


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer

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