In the News: Pulse, Pulpits, and Podiums

Welcome to this month’s religion news round-up! We’ll start, as we often do, with a few friends.* 


Ann Neumann argues that “WHO advice that women at Zika risk delay pregnancy isn’t an abortion debate” in The Guardian.

Claims that the abortion of microcephaly fetuses amounts to eugenics have muted and complicated the debate over how to address the Zika epidemic. They shouldn’t. Women know best what their capabilities are, what children they are able to raise, what resources they can commit to parenting. In countries, including the US, where those who have limited access to reproductive services are predominantly minorities and the poor, concerns for the morality of selective abortion are overwrought. And they are used to further an ideology of reproductive control that should never trump the rights of women.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch.

Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet analyze “Hillary’s Prayer: Hillary Clinton’s Religion and Politics” in Mother Jones. 

Clinton’s God talk is more complicated—and more deeply rooted—than either fans or foes would have it, a revelation not just of her determination to out-Jesus the gop, but of the powerful religious strand in her own politics. Over the past year, we’ve interviewed dozens of Clinton’s friends, mentors, and pastors about her faith, her politics, and how each shapes the other. And while media reports tend to characterize Clinton’s subtle recalibration of tone and style as part of the Democrats’ broader move to recapture the terrain of “moral values,” those who know her say there’s far more to it than that.

Brent Plate explores “The horrors and hells of Hieronymus Bosch” for Religion News Service.

Horror has become part of our moral landscape. As Susan Sontag put it, “Wars are now also living room sights and sounds.” The worlds that were so fantastically other in Bosch’s age have become intertwined with images of our everyday lives. Perhaps we go to the museum to remember a time when the worlds could be kept separate.

Speaking of apocalypse (as Plate does) Ed Simon argues that “Apocalypse is the Mother of Beauty” in the Marginalia Review of Books.

If science’s role in all of this is to try and save the world, the humanists’ is in part to preserve it. If there are future historians, they may be as befuddled with our “culture wars” as we are with the scholastic abstractions of ancient church councils. This is not to say that our “culture wars” are unimportant — or indeed that what those church councils debated was unimportant either. But perhaps it’s time for a détente, or a treaty of some sort. These arguments will seem less significant once the West Antarctic ice-sheet has collapsed into the ocean. 

Quoted in Simon’s piece is Roy Scranton, who happens to have written another piece we want to recommend this week. Scranton writes about “‘Star Wars’ and the Fantasy of American Violence” in The New York Times.

The real gap is between the fantasy of American heroism and the reality of what the American military does, between the myth of violence and the truth of war. The real gap is between our subconscious belief that righteous violence can redeem us, even ennoble us, and the chastening truth that violence debases and corrupts.

Meanwhile, but perhaps not unrelatedly, Peter Manseau asks “Is Trumpism its own religion?” in the Los Angeles Times.

This is not about Trump’s alleged Christianity. It’s no revelation that he knows little about the religious tradition he calls his own. His attempts to present himself as godly in “Crippled America” were laughable. (“In business, I don’t actively make decisions based on my religious beliefs, but those beliefs are there — big time.”) And he has apparently barely read the family Bible he uses as a campaign prop.

The religiosity of Trumpism, however, is not dependent on his level of religious literacy. The Church of Trump draws from a deeper well — specifically from what the sociologist Emile Durkheim called the “elementary forms of religious life.”

Speaking (as, regrettably, we must) of Trump, Jeremy Biles on Capain America: Civil Religion (And Why Donald Trump Thinks He’s Batman” in Religion Dispatches. 

This image of vulnerability speaks to (and against) the presence of another pop-cultural figure, one who is producing terribly real effects within and beyond the American political landscape: Donald Trump. The GOP candidate’s rhetoric of dominance; his pernicious promise to build a wall along the Mexican border; his pledge to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”; his self-celebrating proclamations of wealth; his sexist and racist flourishes: all these are points of bombastic but dangerous asininity underscoring a quasi-fascist authoritarianism, propagated via “popular culture.”

The civil religion thereby championed and intensified by Trump presumes the violent “goodness” and essential sacrality of American empire, here understood according to Jon Pahl’s characterization of empire as “the centralization of material resources around ‘American’ nationalism and its corporate extensions,” and upheld through military might.

Aziz Ansari shares “Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family” in The New York Times.



There were many beautiful essays, pleas, and meditations written after the massacre at the Pulse night club in Orlando last month. Here are a few we thought particularly called to be shared. 

Please Don’t Stop the Music” by Richard Kim for The Nation.

Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression. They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, and under cover of darkness and the influence of alcohol or drugs, transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia.

Black Lives Matter‘s statement “In Honor of Our Dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black — We Will Be Free.

Despite the media’s framing of this as a terrorist attack, we are very clear that this terror is completely homegrown, born from the anti-Black white supremacy, patriarchy and homophobia of  the conservative right and of those who would use religious extremism as a weapon to gain power for the few and take power from the rest. Those who seek to profit from our deaths hope we will forget who our real enemy is, and blame Muslim communities instead.

But we will never forget.

Mehammed Amadeus Mack answers the question “What does the Koran Say About Being Gay?” for Newsweek.

And yet the perception of Islamic homophobia persists. This would have to do, in my argument, with a double standard in our perception of the great monotheistic religions and the degree to which we must literally follow them: We expect that Muslims will obey the literal word of the Koran and especially the ahadith, while Christians and Jews are free to interpret their holy texts figuratively, take it or leave it.

Philip L. Tite writes about “Scripting Acts of Violence: Intersectionality and the Orlando Shooting” in The Bulletin for the Study of Religion.

To apply this model of intersectionality to violence, including of course religious violence, would lead us to recognize and explore some of the dynamics being played out within initial reactions to the Orlando shooting. We should ask how the various scripts “fit” together and, perhaps  just as important, how do these scripts contest each other? The focus of such an analysis is not just on the shooter and his motivations or the influences that brought him to commit such a horrific act. Intersectionality certainly comes into play here, but it also plays a role in our analysis of the “secondary impact” scripting and counter-scripting that we see (and even participate in) through news outlets, political statements, online social forums, and in general conversations over this shooting.

Gimme Shelter: Queer Space is Sanctuary” by Kaya Oakes for Religion Dispatches.

Sanctuaries have a long history in the often bloody struggle for equality in the United States. Gay bars, lesbian bookstores, trans performance spaces, queer owned coffee houses, and yes, even churches, synagogues and mosques. These have been shelter, ritual, habit. But bars were the first sanctuaries for queers. Here under colored lights with the soundtrack that couldn’t be played at home, the garb of the outside world falls away. Here the true self can emerge, if only for a few hours, before the cops come in, the shooter, the good old boys with a confederate flag on their pickup, enraged bigots with hands full of flame.


Candice Benbow writes about “Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and Black Christian Women’s Spirituality” for Religion & Politics.

Beyoncé is doing everything she has been taught to do but something remains insufficient. The praying and the fasting are unable to keep her husband faithful. The pleas for divine intervention are unable to keep her from spiraling. Her next movements can be read as destructive, not only to the people around her but also to herself. She has invested so much of herself into a love that has harmed her. She reacts out of her own humanity. It is in this moment we begin to see how Beyoncé’s generation of Black churched women will make their own lemonade out of lemons in ways that will contradict Black Church teachings.

Joshua Rothman shares a clip from “Bacon & God’s Wrath” in The New Yorker.

Bacon, atheism, the Internet, Julia Child, and Christopher Hitchens converge in
the intellectual awakening of a Canadian nonagenarian.

Mecca Goes Mega” photo essay by Luca Locatelli for The New York Times.

The Italian photographer Luca Locatelli, visiting Mecca this year during the umrah period, captured how radically the city has changed to accommodate this growing influx of pilgrims. Until the first half of the 20th century, this was a small city of spacious stone houses famed for their mashrabiyah, or latticed windows and balconies. Five hills known as the rim of Mecca encircled the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba, or House of God, located in the city center. Today, all a visitor would recognize from older images of Mecca are the Ottoman domes of the Grand Mosque, its minarets and the Kaaba. The ancient hills, the old stone homes and many of the sites linked to the life of the Prophet Muhammad have been obliterated by towering shopping malls, hotels and apartment blocks.

Go to previous slideGo to next slide The Saudi Broadcasting Corporation transmits live from the Grand Mosque all day, every day. The CCTV cameras also add an extra level of security. Luca Locatelli/Institute, for The New York Times

The Saudi Broadcasting Corporation transmits live from the Grand Mosque all day, every day. The CCTV cameras also add an extra level of security. (Luca Locatelli/Institute, for The New York Times)

Hamid Dabashi in Al Jazeera “The Hollywood bull enters Rumi’s china shop: If Hollywood wants to turn to Rumi, may Rumi’s blessings be on Hollywood

Rumi was the single most towering moral intellect at the crosscurrent of that world-historic moment. His universe of imagination, the God he praised, the heavens he fathomed, the Persian poetry he perfected to the pitch of that divine presence are all at fundamental odds with the fragmentary attention span of a world in which Hollywood has turned its attention to Rumi.

This cultural treasure trove seems nearly endless: “Angels in America: The Complete Oral History: How Tony Kushner’s play became the defining work of American art of the past 25 years” by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois for Slate.

Wesley Morris: Based on what we know at this point about this guy in Orlando, this shooter, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you do about a person who at some point doesn’t know what to do with himself. In some ways we’re talking about mental illness, in some ways about upbringing and religion and what you’re exposed to, but at the same time we’re also talking about there still not being enough culture in this country that is explicitly and politically gay. There’s virtually none at this point. You could introduce Angels in Americaright now—he could have sat on this for 25 years and put it up in 2016—and I think people’s minds would still be blown.

 Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: a pandrogenous devotee of sex magick. Photograph: Peter Dibdin/Publicity image

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: a pandrogenous devotee of sex magick. Photograph: Peter Dibdin/Publicity image

The new issue of Critical Inquiry is out and will definitely be next to our theoretical beach chair this summer. We’re especially excited about our friend Jeremy Stolow‘s “Mediumnic Lights, Xx Rays, and the Spirit Who Photographed Herself.”

In the spirit of such a leveling of the playing field, I propose that it is in our collective interest to try to rescue Ochorowicz’s research and his photographic discoveries from the retroactive gaze of a purified techno-scientific practice that imagines itself as having been liberated from the shackles of metaphysical speculation and pseudoscientific practice. Taken on its own terms, Ochorowicz’s visual language of Xx-rays and mediumnic lights points to a startling and unsettling intersection of competing assumptions about experimental procedure and diverging conceptions of what counts as evidence regarding the invisible and the terms on which it can be made visible

Speaking of which: “Could it be magick? The occult returns to the art world” reports Andy Battaglia for The Guardian.

Best known as a musical dissident with the proto-industrial band Throbbing Gristle and later Psychic TV, Breyer P-Orridge has made visual art for decades as part of a ritualistic practice in which boundaries tend to blur. The first transmissions of musical noise started in the 1970s, but art has been part of the project from several years before then to the present day. Work of the more recent vintage makes up the bulk of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Try to Altar Everything, an exhibition on view at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York.

The Rubin show focuses on correspondences between global contemporaneity and historic cultures from areas around the Himalayas and India, and the show surveys, in an expansive fashion, Breyer P-Orridge’s engagement with ideas from Hindu mythology and Nepal. Nepal is a favored haven away from the artist’s home in New York, but – as with most matters in Breyer P-Orridge’s realm – worldly matters turn otherworldly fast.

Lastly, if otherworldy art shows aren’t really your speed, maybe check out: “Hotdogs in Zion: A day of revelations at Orlando’s Christian theme park” by Jacob Silverman for The Baffler.

Miracles are the stock-in-trade of this Christian theme park, which welcomes about a quarter-million people per year. They might come to the Holy Land Experience (HLE for short) out of faith or fascination or a misplaced sense of irony, but they all pay fifty dollars for entry, and some will spend a little extra for a “My Cup Overflows Refillable Souvenir Cup.” In return, they get a curious kind of history lesson, plus a dose of American prosperity theology, which turns spending into a higher calling and spiritual pathos into gaudy pageantry.

*And, as is fast becoming our habit, a GIF. We’ll keep these coming as long as the Internet provides, but if you have a favorite to share, please do leave it in the comments. 

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