First of all, let’s all breath a collective sigh for relief: the doomsdaysayers were wrong again!
Good. Now for some news. First up, some new work by some friends of ours:
It is tempting to see in the pope’s varied messages during his first visit to the United States the ploys of a seasoned political fighter who knows that a move left on the climate and the economy gives him the space he needs to jab right on social issues. That may be part of it. As the future pope counseled, one should not be naïve. The Vatican was an old hand at international politics before this country was born.
Yet another interpretation is far more unsettling to our bifurcated culture: that Pope Francis is a man who sees more similarities than differences between Kim Davis and Dorothy Day.
Ann Neumann explains that “California doctors can offer aid in dying, but many people won’t have access” in The Guardian.
The most obvious question is not how these laws get passed (with dogged grass-roots activism over decades) but why more states don’t have them. The answer: the Catholic Church opposes them.
Stephen Colbert is good for American Catholicism and he is good for America. For many secular Americans, many of whom are former Catholics, the face of the American Church has too often been the unsmiling visage of Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. Taking offense at everything, picketing, petitioning and seemingly always enraged about any difference in opinion or the appearance of mere irreverence. Colbert on the other hand is irreverence incarnate, first in his performance as a blowhard newscaster on Comedy Central and now on CBS’ The Late Show. And despite his “foolishness” his Catholic bona fides are not to be doubted (check out the Catholic trivia competition between him and rock virtuoso/former altar boy Jack White). But it is this “foolishness” that makes him such a potent voice.
Margaret Talbot draws a biblical picture of Bernie Sanders in “The Populist Prophet” for The New Yorker.
Sanders’s close friend Richard Sugarman, an Orthodox Jew who teaches religious studies at the University of Vermont, said, “He’s not what you would call rule-observant.” But, Sugarman added, “if you talk about his Jewish identity, it’s strong. It’s certainly more ethnic and cultural than religious—except for his devotion to the ethical part of public life in Judaism, the moral part. He does have a prophetic sensibility.” Sugarman and Sanders were housemates for a while in the seventies, and Sugarman says that his friend would often greet him in the morning by saying, “We’re not crazy, you know,” referring to the anger they felt about social injustices. Sugarman would respond, “Could you say good morning first?”
“Daniel Thompson, Whose Bagel Machine Altered the American Diet, Dies at 94” reports Margalit Fox for The New York Times.
What was more, Mr. Thompson’s machine proved to be a mirror of midcentury American history. For bound up in the story of its introduction is the story of Jewish assimilation, gastronomic homogenization, the decline of trade unionism, the rise of franchise retailing and the perennial tension between tradition and innovation.
Anwar Omeish critiques “Sam Harris, Maajid Nawas, and the Illusion of Knowlege” in the Harvard Political Review, with a shout-out to Suzanne Schneider and her stellar Revealer article, “The Reformation Will Be Televised: On ISIS, Religious Authority and the Allure of Textual Simplicity.”
It is not an unreasonable expectation of the Harvard Institute of Politics’ John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum that it host events that produce critical, informed, and productive dialogue. Unfortunately, an event hosted on September 14 titled, “Islam and the Future of Tolerance,” did anything but that. This panel discussion between Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and atheist activist, and Maajid Nawaz, a self-professed former radical and U.K. politician—moderated by Juliette Kayyem of the Kennedy School—was instead an echo chamber of conventional anti-Islamic and neoconservative thought, rife with the traditional claims that Islam is inherently violent and that the only way to remedy this is via Western-style religious reform.
And Rafia Zakaria discusses a new exhibition, “The Feminism of Resilience: Shirin Neshat at the Hirshhorn” in The Los Angeles Review of Books.
Neshat’s women wield guns and supplicate at the same time; their veils do not stanch their sexuality; the female gaze looking back at its audience is bold and unflinching. Women in orthodox religious schools in Iran and beyond — in Islamabad, in Muslim ghettoes in France and Britain — now consume and sometimes adopt this alternative conception of the feminine, a premonition of which appeared in Neshat’s “Women of Allah” series decades ago in images such as Rebellious Silence andFaceless (both works, 1994). (The latter also features a woman in chador, but now her gun is pointed at the viewer.)
“H&M Features Hijab-Wearing Model in New Campaign” reports Katie Rogers for The New York Times.
The company used plus-size models, Sikh men and amputees to illustrate its point and to promote a broader message calling for sustainable fashion through recycling. (Lots of their clothing is basically disposable.) But the story of Mariah Idrissi, a hijab-wearing model, has prompted a discussion about women who are reclaiming the head scarf as a form of stylish self expression.
“A Sinner in Mecca” opens with Mr. Sharma sitting at a laptop in his apartment, chatting online with Mohammed, a gay man in the Saudi city of Medina. Mohammed describes visiting a market to pick up some things for his mother, only to witness the beheading of a man rumored to be gay. “Please know you are not alone,” Mr. Sharma writes. The film then cuts to videotape footage of the scene, stopping just before the executioner’s ax strikes the man’s neck. It sets the stage for the anxious 79 minutes that follow.
A few articles about new books caught our attention this week.
First, “In Dialogue with Dogma: Women Doing Battle with Religion” by Miranda Kennedy for The Los Angeles Review of Books.
Through 12 short essays, Fresh Courage Take looks at the experience of being a woman inside the Mormon faith. Many of the authors are writing about their faith for the first time, and it often seems as though they are writing for one another rather than for the rest of us. This is not a book that tries to explain The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS (as the main church of Mormonism is officially called) to outsiders. The newcomer to Mormonism will learn something about the faith, but only sidelong
Second, “Reforming Sodom: Prostestants and the Rise of Gay Rights an Interview with Heather Rachelle White” by Samira Mehta for Religion in American History.
I show that Christians since the 1950s, roughly speaking, have interpreted their past prohibitions and the meanings of biblical texts through a medical lens that retroactively reconfigured sodomy. When you go back and trace out the change in late 19th and early 20th century biblical interpretation, you see something different than a shift from prohibition against behavior to discussion of a medical condition. Sodomy and the various biblical texts that are today associated with homosexuality actually had different common sense meanings. This is really interesting because we think of Christian traditions–and especially the bible–as the source for the medicalized category of homosexuality. But the remembered tradition and the seemingly stable bible meanings don’t match up with the preoccupations of even the relatively recent Christian past.
And lastly, “The Devil – Writ Large and in the Details” by Adam Kotsko for The Marginalia Review of Books.
In my view, in order to figure out how the devil might speak to the modern era, we first need to think through how he spoke to people of past eras — the concrete circumstances and convictions, quandaries and catastrophes that made the development of this increasingly baroque theological system appear plausible and even urgent. If we cannot recapture the existential pull the devil exercised on previous generations, if we cannot reopen the questions to which the demonic was the most credible answer, then we are fundamentally doing nothing more than taking inventory of the documents of a dead world.
ROUNDING OUT THE ROUND-UP
At a time when even the most bumbling #brands can usually manage to cultivate a nonembarrassing social media presence, the church didn’t represent itself well. It came across as, well, a little intense.
Critics and former Scientologists suggest that’s because the church doesn’t really get the Internet. “Scientology is frozen in amber in the 1960s,” says Tony Ortega, a journalist and former Village Voice editor who’s reported on the church for two decades. When L. Ron Hubbard established the church, it was a strictly hierarchical, deeply secretive organization run by one man whose paranoia colored the entire proceedings. He imagined, consciously or not, its secrets could be kept, its hierarchy preserved, its paranoia channeled to productive ends. For decades, that worked; with stumbles and false starts along the way, Hubbard eventually became the wealthy prophet he wanted to be.
Jolyon Baraka Thomas thinks about “Corporate Profit Through Buddhist Kitsch“ for Sacred Matters.
Just as some retail establishments will maintain their thermostats slightly above a comfortable temperature to encourage people to make impulse buys, and just as IKEA will wear down consumer resistance by making people physically walk past the entire store catalogue in a carefully scripted pilgrimage, this particular store lulled customers into a sense of complacent consumption by providing omnipresent physical reminders of non-acquisitiveness. The serene countenance of the Buddha blissfully absorbed in supreme unexcelled awakening said nothing at all, but his familiar visage nevertheless offered a hortatory message.
“Go ahead and buy it,” the silent statues seemed to say. “No materialism here.”
Oh, and another Quiz! This one is from Vanity Fair: Quiz: Oberlin College Newspaper or Pope Francis’s Anti-Capitalist Apostolic Exhortation?
Lastly, we can’t not tell you about Augustus Sol Invictus, Florida candidate for U.S. Senate admits to sacrificing goat, drinking its blood.” His law firm is called Imperium.
“I did sacrifice a goat. I know that’s probably a quibble in the mind of most Americans,” he said. “I sacrificed an animal to the god of the wilderness … Yes, I drank the goat’s blood.”
Just look at all those flags.
Heaven, Human Rights, His Holiness, and more! (October 2, 2015)
Poetry, Puritans, Politicians, and more! (September 11, 2015)
Wax, Wits, William James, and more! (August 21, 2015)
Saints, Slavery, Celibacy, and more! (August 14, 2015)
Pundits, Prophets, Politics, and more! (August 7, 2015)
Senselessness, Stereotypes, Slayer, and more! (July 31, 2015)
Apps, Apologies, Apocalypse, and more! (July 15, 2015)
Heathens, Hymns, and Holy Men (July 8, 2015)
#LoveWins, #TakeItDown, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches (July 2, 2015)
Racism, Ramadan, Romanian Witches, and more! (June 25, 2015)
Emanuel A.M.E., Encyclicals, Etsy, and more! (June 19, 2015)
Satanism, Sacred Music, Shasta Seekers, and more! (June 11, 2015)
Hip Hop, Hijabs, Hasidic Fashion, and more! (June 5, 2015)
TLC, THC, OMG! (May 29, 2015)
Mad Men, Mormons, Monks, and more! (May 22, 2015)
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)
Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)
Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)
-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer