In the News: Wins and Losses

Let’s start with Beyoncé, shall we? (Because, really, when there’s an opportunity to start with Beyoncé, why wouldn’t you?)

Beyoncé, Chance the Rapper, A Tribe Called Quest bring religion to the Grammys” by Emily McFarlan Miller for Religion News Service

It’s been featured before at the awards ceremony — in gospel hymns, a mock exorcism, even a real mass marriage ceremony — but Tripp Hudgins, a doctoral student in liturgical studies and ethnomusicology at the Graduate Theological Union, noted, “What makes the religious impulse so evident this year is that this year it’s reflecting the countercultural.”

And Constance Grady broke all of the references in Beyoncé’s performance down for Vox in Grammys 2017: all of the iconographic references in Beyoncé’s performance,” a list with gifs, which is the best kind of list, if we say so.

And with a great deal more critical analysis, Denene Miller wrote this very smart piece for Code Switch: Beyoncé Is Not The Magical Negro Mammy

Beyoncé’s ethereal, multimedia celebration of pregnancy in her Grammy Awards performance of “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” was nothing less than stunning: With airy yellow goddess robes floating about her crowned head and her baby, Blue Ivy, joyfully prancing and giggling around her bare, pregnant belly, she created a powerful, dramatic piece of art, an exultant narrative for black motherhood.

It’s a narrative that follows in the footsteps of exemplary black mothers like first lady Michelle Obama, the self-styled “mom in chief” who shaped her legacy in the White House around her role as a working mother dedicated to the concerns of America’s children; and actress Jada Pinkett, who regularly expounds on her nontraditional but dedicated parenting style; and TV executive Shonda Rhimes, who has often waxed poetic about her role as a mother shaping daughters who will grow up to be powerful women.

This narrative also happens to be the opposite of one typically ascribed to everyday black moms.

Our history, particularly here on these shores, is littered with the broken hearts of black mothers who, working as chattel in the brutal American slave system, were forced to mother everyone but their own babies. Indeed, the power structure of that system made it practically impossible for black women to have their own say in when and how they would parent. Our children were often the products of breeding arranged by plantation owners anxious to increase profits by creating more “property.” These mothers were subjected to rape by hypersexual masters who thought nothing of asserting their power over both enslaved men and women by turning the women into concubines. And their babies were taken away from them — sometimes as punishment, sometimes to avenge the honor of aggrieved plantation wives, and regularly for income.

This month brought us three other truly brilliant essays about women and loss. Their connection to religion may be tenuous, but they’re just too good not to share

First, the sublimely beautiful and tragic “When Things Go Missing: Reflections on two seasons of loss.” by Kathryn Schulz for The New Yorker

Even so, for a while longer, he endured—I mean his him-ness, his Isaac-ness, that inexplicable, assertive bit of self in each of us. A few days before his death, having ignored every request made of him by a constant stream of medical professionals (“Mr. Schulz, can you wiggle your toes?” “Mr. Schulz, can you squeeze my hand?”), my father chose to respond to one final command: Mr. Schulz, we learned, could still stick out his tongue. His last voluntary movement, which he retained almost until the end, was the ability to kiss my mother. Whenever she leaned in close to brush his lips, he puckered up and returned the same brief, adoring gesture that I had seen all my days. In front of my sister and me, at least, it was my parents’ hello and goodbye, their “Sweet dreams” and “I’m only teasing,” their “I’m sorry” and “You’re beautiful” and “I love you”—the basic punctuation mark of their common language, the sign and seal of fifty years of happiness.

Second, Claire Jarvis‘ breathtaking “Woman Problems” for n+1 

These moments happened periodically after that. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time—it didn’t seem plausible, and I didn’t exactly know what I could say: I was cardboard, cut out and painted. I was a cloud of milk. It wasn’t clear to me how to say the thing that was happening to me. It’s hard to admit to anyone that you don’t feel real. The irony of this, I can see now, is that my sense of unreality has coincided with perhaps my life’s deepest encounter with the real: I carried a child, I had a child, and I am feeding that child, still. And any parent of any stripe knows that child-rearing is nothing if not endlessly reaffirming of one’s own reality: you pick a crying baby up, you give a dirty toddler a bath, you make endless, endless lunches, scraping macaroni and cheese into cups, slicing apples into slivers. I had known this already—I have a stepdaughter who is 8 years old—but the unreality of it had heretofore escaped my notice.

My Lost Body: the radical claim of militancy and mourning” by Christina Crosby for Guernica

Yet I remember quite vividly how my strong and able body felt, despite my lack of capacity. Thirteen years later, I can still recall in minute detail how deeply content I was sitting in my kayak, watching the seaweed stream below me, the sharp chill of the ocean water running through my fingers. I know how my body felt as I crested the hill where I broke my neck, though I have no memory of the accident. I remember setting out for the ride, the two-mile mark, but nothing more. Nonetheless, I can feel my exertion upon starting up the hill, the cool fall air, the sweat on my face, my determination to maintain a steady cadence of pedal strokes. I can feel myself breathing hard as I climbed. I am confident in these facts because by the time of the accident, I’d ridden that route many hundreds of times, and the traces of both muscular and mental effort live on in my body.

Because of my transformation, I have worked hard to conceptualize how embodied memory works—like the muscle memory that allows you to ride a bike even if you haven’t been on one for years. Some phenomenologists use the neologism “bodymind” and teach us that there is no separating body from mind. I think that’s right. What am I to make, then, of my profoundly altered state? The loss of the body that I was and the life that I had made is affectively as well as physically profound, and the sense of loss can be suddenly piercing when I see a cyclist with good form or ocean kayaks strapped to the roof of a car. For an instant, a vividly embodied memory of riding or paddling will come over me. Then the light will change, making a claim on my attention I can’t ignore, but the preemptory present cannot make me feel less alien to myself in such moments.

Her essays aren’t necessarily about loss, but we often quite enjoy Alana Massey‘s writing, so we were pretty excited about the release of her first book All The Lives I Want. Here, she’s interviewed about the book by Tina Horn for Hazlitt:The Primary Emotion I Was Following Was Anger’

Tina Horn: All The Lives I Want struck me as a very moral book, in the sense that it has consistent principles and calls for us to do better by our iconic women. You identify a whole lot of sexist hypocrisy in media and culture, for example. Reflecting on the fact that you have an MA from Yale Divinity School, I began to think of these essays as almost pop sermons. I wonder if you think of them that way?

Alana Massey: I’ve never had my writing described that way before, but I like it. I think my writing has been deeply informed by having a religious education. The Bible is a book dense with blood and bones, angels and architecture. It is often really stark in its visuals and metaphors, and I think that can lend itself to writing that reads like parable. Except in this case, it’s The Parable Of That Bitch You Thought You Could Sleep On, in several variations.

I think that Christian moral teaching is often about seeing the unexpected in a story, getting thrown a moral or ethical curveball that challenges your preconceptions, the shape of the lens you see the world through, and that’s something I do want to do here.

We also strongly recommend these two long reads about spirituality and land.

And, “Sovereignty Under the Stars” by Trevor Quirk for The Virginia Quarterly.

I was there on the suspicion that something had been missed, or elided, in the coverage of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). In April 2015, the construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea was halted by protesters, many of them Native Hawaiians who valued the “White Mountain” for cultural reasons. Thirty-one people were arrested. The story won national attention, and then the narrative hardened: An instrument of modern science had been challenged by postcolonial discontent and benighted religion. It was a tragic accident of history, in which an ancient culture, stuck in time, defied a contingent of astronomers who were running out of it, anxious as they were to launch careers and bequeath legacies. The deeper battle, so the narrative went, was between ways of knowing, ways of seeing the world. Mauna Kea was either a restricted high temple, a site of prime creation, or a technically perfect locale for our world’s next great telescope, the instrument that would enable “astronomers’ quest to understand the origins of everything,” as one science journalist wrote.

That’s how tidy the story seemed. But the “clash of epistemologies” is, of course, just another way of framing this particular issue. And as I got closer to the Big Island, it seemed increasingly incomplete, and sometimes disingenuous. There were other ways of looking at the conflict over Mauna Kea’s summit, and not all of them were so convenient. 

Two lodges used for smoking fish and drying meat were illuminated by the northern lights, near the site of the prophet Eht’se Ayah’s home. Credit Christopher Miller for The New York Times

Guardians of a Vast Lake, and a Refuge for Humanity” by Peter Kujawinski for The New York Times 

Protecting the lake, however, is not just about self-preservation and increased tourism. For the Sahtuto’ine, Mr. Neyelle and Mr. Gaudet explained, the lake was a powerful force in the world: a place critical to the survival of the human species. This belief is based on the prophecies of a Sahtuto’ine elder named Eht’se Ayah, who died in 1940. Some believe Mr. Ayah’s prophecies are literal, others believe they are allegory.

Mr. Ayah foretold that in the future, people from the south would come to Great Bear Lake because it would be one of the few places left with water to drink and fish to eat. He said so many boats would come that you could walk from one to another without entering the water. Simply put, Great Bear Lake would be a last refuge for humanity.

Mr. Gaudet said the predictions were a big reason the new government pushed to have authority over everyone in the area, aboriginal and nonaboriginal alike. If “hundreds of thousands of people” come because of the prophecies and because “we have the freshest water in the world,” he said, then “you have to live under our rules.”

Which has us in mind of of a fight being fought by Mark Clatterbuck and many others and covered in “Is Pa. pipeline fight on Amish farm the next Standing Rock? ‘We’re prepared to be here for months” by Colin Deppen at Penn Live. 

Mark Clatterbuck watched footage of this from his home in Lancaster County. He’d gone to Standing Rock last year and been there during a violent clash between protesters and security personnel that helped thrust the protest into the international spotlight. He’s also spent years fighting a natural gas pipeline project in his own backyard, one set to cross through 10 Pennsylvania counties and 200 miles of terrain. For Clatterbuck and activists like him, Standing Rock was a watershed moment, he explained, and its lessons and catalytic properties capable of being taken home and re-harnessed. Just last week, Clatterbuck helped oversee the beginnings of a DAPL-inspired encampment on an Amish farm in Lancaster County atop the route of the proposed pipeline he’s spent years working to stop. He says hundreds of people, mostly locals, have also signed pledges “committing to civil disobedience to protect our homes, farms and properties” once pipeline construction begins. Hundreds have also taken “non-violent mass-action” trainings, he added.   

Clatterbuck is, in fact, a professor of religious studies. As are a great many of the writers whose work we try to share with you each month. 

For instance, the brilliant Judith Weisenfeld, interviewed here by Vaughn A. Booker about “Religious Movements of the Great Migration for Religion and Politics. 

Rather than characterize the movements as “new religions” in relation to existing religions, I decided to describe them in a way that I thought captured the individual and collective self-understanding that motivated those within the groups. The category of religio-racial identity allowed me to highlight the particular form of intersectionality that was important for those within the groups but also leaves open the option for scholars to group them differently and explore other configurations that illuminate different aspects of early twentieth-century American religious life. I hope that the framework of religio-racial identity helps to make sense of the degree to which participants in these movements understood race and religion as linked, and that it encourages scholars of religion to attend to racial formation and identity in more complex ways. Just as the category of religion is constructed and situated differently in different historical contexts, so too race has been constructed and experienced in complicated ways that intersect with religion.

And also the superb Anthony Petro writing for the religion and culture forum about “Studying Religion in the Era of Trump — Part 1 of a Scholar’s Roundtable

We will need intellectual tools to understand the forms that religion will take and how they will impact American politics, from its formal operations through the very ways we imagine ourselves and others as citizens (or non-citizens). This moment, perhaps more than any time in the last couple decades, requires that we think with sophistication about the work of religious language, especially in its Protestant formulations, and the work that it does. It seems important, for instance, to recognize how Trump’s movement invokes the rhetoric of apocalypse to claim the coming of a new king and the start to making American great (again). Too many of those who oppose Trump share in this narrative as well, seeing a dystopic future ruled by hatred. We can live within this Protestant American narrative, taking advantage of the powerful and negative (but mobilizing) affects that it engenders. We could also refuse the Trump movement’s desire to control the rhetorical terms of its emergence. Trump is not the divine second coming. In most ways, he’s not even new.

We’re running low on superlatives, but we do always look forward to the super smart work of Briallen Hopper who recently wrote”Communal Living an its Discontents” for Religion & Politics

After a rebellious adolescence, I succeeded in getting my name struck from the membership rolls, and as an adult I’ve sought stability in mainline Protestantism and the Ivy League: institutions that I was raised to think of as godless, but that have become spiritual homes to me. But the legacy of my radical religious upbringing remains. Sometimes I think I’ve been inoculated against countercultural idealism, like the twentieth-century red diaper babies who became jaded conservatives, but other times I’m aware of the continuities between my past and my present. More than ever, I’m wary of the dominant American civic religion and its popular definition of greatness. I’m skeptical of notions of the good life that focus on individual freedom and individual achievements. And I’m wary of attitudes toward sex, love, and community that seem too easy and sunny—too dismissive of the sacrifices, capitulations, and thwarted feelings that underlie any attempt at well-regulated desire.


The same goes for Ed Simon on “Why Sin is Good” at Marginalia

How do we explain such a tremendous self-regard that it would condemn anyone who looks, thinks, or acts differently than its holder, especially when this self-regard is often dressed in the sickening language of piety? Its adherents are parishioners in a heretical church, where a prosperity gospel begets the delusion of perfectibility. Belief in original sin keeps one honest, because you know you at least share a propensity to error with everyone, no matter how low. The market-fetishist forgets that the only universal pre-existing condition is fallenness. They say things like, “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness if I don’t make mistakes?” Contrast that to the humility of Augustine’s “non possum non peccare,” or “I cannot not sin.” Say what you will about Augustine, I’d rather have someone with an awareness of his own inborn shortcomings occupying the highest position of power than someone who believes he never makes mistakes.

And of course, our colleague here at NYU, Adam Becker, here discussing his work with Matthew Ghazarian on the Ottoman History Podcast episode, “Assyrians, Evangelicals, and Borderland Nationalism

In the mid-nineteenth century Ottoman/Qajar borderlands (today’s Turco-Iranian border), East Syrian Christians had their first encounters with American Protestant missionaries. These encounters brought to the region new institutions like printing presses and American-style schools. They also helped remap Neo-Aramaic concepts for communal belonging like melat and tayepa – which loosely correspond with the Ottoman and Arabic terms millet and taife, what today we might translate as “nation” and “sect.” An older generation of scholars characterizes the missionary project as one of enlightenment or modernity, while others describe it as a form of colonialism. In this interview with Professor Adam Becker, we discuss approaches to studying changing notions of piety as well as different ways of thinking about the missionary encounter.

We were glad to see this forum on “Theologies of American exceptionalism” up over at The Immanent Frame

The one-day workshop which produced these essays focused on “Theologies of American Exceptionalism,” asking participants to expound on an exemplary text (a link to those texts is found in each essay). These ranged from what might usually be regarded as explicitly religious texts, such as John Winthrop’s sermon aboard the Arabella and Khomeini’s Last Testament, to judicial opinions, such as that of the US Supreme Court articulating the doctrine of conquest, literary reflections on the Great American Novel, explicitly political engagements with theology, and academic writing on capitalism, consumption, and excess. What followed was an intense discussion of the deeply ambiguous heritage of US exceptionality, both in terms of the stories Americans tell themselves and the stories others tell of them, of what they do at home and what they do abroad—of those excluded and those in charge,—of whether and how the US is or ever was new and innocent—of revolution and the exception,—and of the credibility of the rule of law. Perhaps reflecting the current political climate, much of the discussion, while not centered on the US presidential election, elaborated on the indeterminacy, elusiveness, and provisionality of the US project. Lingering questions concerned the nature and status of sacrifice, sovereignty, and supersessionism in the American context.

And this forum about a University of Chicago’s controversial defense of Milo Yiannopoulos: “A Packet for Rachel Fulton Brown” published by various authors at the Martin Marty for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago.

I decided to publish the Fulton Brown essay, knowing full well that to do so would be to invite controversy, because I found in it what one of my undergraduate mentors, Jonathan Z. Smith, once memorably termed “an occasion for thought.” Below, dear reader, you will find seven individual responses—four full-length essays and three shorter comments—occasioned by this column as well as the ensuing controversy. Taken together, they provide a snapshot of the debates that have been occurring on our campus, and across the country, these past two weeks. Some of the respondents are critical of my decision to run the piece; others are broadly supportive. All take issue with certain aspects of the piece itself. Yet all of them also testify to the importance and timeliness of the issues which the piece raises: the commitment to free expression, and its limits; the relationship between “religion” and “culture” (“Western,” “Christian,” or otherwise); the place of religious studies within the modern academy, and of theology within religious studies; the intellectual, social, and ethical responsibilities of scholars, educators… and editors.

And here is one of the articles which prompted that forum: To Professor Brown, With Love: Thanks for your opinions on Milo Yiannopoulos, but you’re wrong.” by Usama Rafi at The Maroon.

Brown and Yiannopoulos—whom she compares with Jesus—both love to champion freedom of expression as a truly unique feature of this country. I agree. I thank Brown for exercising her rights so freely. I love that she came out with what she believes in. Now I can engage her views on their own morally bankrupt terms, not because she is white, Christian, a woman, or a Republican voter, but because she has given me the opportunity to address what she feels to be the injustices of progressives against her views and those who share them. Professor Brown, thank you letting us know your thoughts, but as your self-anointed St. Yiannopoulos says: “fuck your feelings.” 

Last, but not at all least, there’s the terrific Hussein Rashid writing about “Why Mahershala Ali’s Win Matters to Muslims” for On Faith

As an “older man,” I am more acutely aware of the continuing need for role models. It’s not identity politics. For too long my religion, my way of being, has been defined by others than me. The twin forces of xenophobia and religious extremism have worked hard to make sure that I am defined by the yardsticks, where “truth” and “hate” are treated as synonyms. In this muck of insincerity and obfuscation, I paraphrase Salman Rushdie, that racism is not my problem, it is their problem, and I am simply the victim of it. My identity is not my problem, it is theirs; it is not my politics, it is theirs

Which leads us to some excellent work being done outside of the academy: 

Muslims Shouldn’t Have To Be ‘Good’ To Be Granted Human Rights” by Sara Yasin for BuzzFeed

Even insisting that all Muslims are good, or explaining what Islam really means, helps reinforce the same bad idea: that it is valid to talk about all Muslims in the same breath. Take Van Jones’ viral moment on CNN, where he fought against the negative perception of Muslim Americans. “If a Muslim family lived next door to you you’d be the happiest person in the world,” he said during the segment. But do Muslim families really need to be friendly to their neighbors in order to justify speaking out against their rights being curtailed?

There Has Never Been an American Without Muslims” by Shabana Mir for The Los Angeles Review of Books

Muslims and the Making of America is a highly accessible and readable book, more of a profound and well-crafted popular read than an academic one. This is a book that does not pull you into polemics or theoretical frameworks. It does not demand a serious commitment or a preexisting philosophical approach or attitude toward or about Islam. As he states in an interview at the New Books Network, Hussain crafted the book without the usual “scholarly apparatus” as a deliberate strategy to reach a wider readership than a traditional academic book could. A tenured professor who has published scholarly works, Hussain can afford to write such a book. It is a collection of profiles, portraits, events, and moments that are highlights of the Muslim-American journey. It would serve well for undergraduate college and advanced high school courses. Any person wishing to get a picture, not a comprehensive overview, of Islam’s cultural role in the United States can read this short book. It is not for the well-informed academic who wishes to catch up on the latest scholarship in Islamic Studies. It is not a description of Islam the religion, nor does it concern itself with the role of Islam internationally. Its focus is Muslim America. Yet I would happily recommend this book for most of my non-Muslim colleagues who do not specialize in Religion or American Studies.

And in Museums:

MoMA Installs Works by Artists from Countries Targeted by Trump’s Travel Ban” by Claire Voon at Hyperallergic.

In response to President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has replaced works in its permanent collection galleries with eight by artists from the targeted nations. Though it might sound small, the rehang is an unprecedented gesture in the museum’s history, instigated and executed by staff who wanted to react to unsettling political circumstances.

Muslim in New York: Highlights from the Photography Collection” at the Museum of the City of New York

Muslims have been woven into the fabric of New York since the city’s origins as New Amsterdam, and today New York’s diverse Muslim community—immigrant and American-born, from multiple racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds—constitutes an estimated 3% of the city’s population, some 270,000 people living in all five boroughs. They represent an important part of the diversity that the Museum of the City of New York’s rich photography collection chronicles.

Muslim in New York features 34 images by four photographers who have documented Muslim New Yorkers from the mid-20th to the early 21st century. Works by Alexander Alland date to ca. 1940, a time when New York’s diverse Muslim community included Arabs, Turks, Afghans, East Indians, Albanians, Malayans, African Americans, and others. Photographs by Ed Grazda come from his 1990s project “New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York City,” and cover both immigrant populations and native New York Muslims, including converts, the long-standing African-American community, and a growing Latino Muslim community. Mel Rosenthal’s photographs of Arab New York Muslims from the early 2000s were commissioned for the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York (2002). Robert Gerhardt’s images, a promised gift to the Museum’s collections, document Muslim New Yorkers in the early 2010s.

Together these photographs paint a group portrait of New Yorkers who have greatly enriched the life of the city. 

Ed Grazda, Gawsiah Jame Masjid, Astoria, Queens, NY, 1997. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York and the photographer.

And in journalism: 

First, reliable source of true news in the history of print culture Robert Darnton covers “The True History of Fake News” for The New York Review of Books.

In the long history of misinformation, the current outbreak of fake news has already secured a special place, with the president’s personal adviser, Kellyanne Conway, going so far as to invent a Kentucky massacre in order to defend a ban on travelers from seven Muslim countries. But the concoction of alternative facts is hardly rare, and the equivalent of today’s poisonous, bite-size texts and tweets can be found in most periods of history, going back to the ancients.

We’re huge fans of the, not at all fake,  work Pineapple Media is doing and were excited to see this profile of them and their work here: “Tune In to Pinaepple Street’s Podcasting Revolution” by Mallika Rao for The Village Voice

Monoculturalism in podcasting reflects the “built-in advantages and disadvantages of the existing world,” says Shaun Lau, a Chinese-Japanese-American podcast host who has sought to raise awareness of homogeneity in the industry. Podcasting could theoretically raise up outsiders, but its economics are tricky: low barriers to entry, but high standards for success. To sell advertising, a show must be popular (and thus findable), featured on the iTunes homepage, or given press. Hosts with built-in fan bases, or backing, tend to triumph in this sphere. “It’s not that listeners necessarily prefer [white male hosts], but they gravitate toward them,” Lau says, “because there’s money and resources behind established traditional media.”

Much as we love this new guard, we’re a bit sad about seeing”‘Religion and Ethics Weekly’ to Sign Off After 20 Years

Even in the 500-channel universe, PBS’ “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” was really the only program of its kind: a weekly half-hour program that took a serious look at religion and religious issues across the spectrum of belief, and how faith intersected with politics, society and culture.

However, that voice will be silenced, as the last installment of more than 1,000 episodes of the newscast will make its way to PBS stations the weekend of Feb. 24.

According to Arnold Labaton, the executive producer of “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” it was the digital broadcast milieu that killed off the show.

Okay, we’ve clearly been putting it off, but it’s time for a some straight on Trump articles:

First, let’s ease in with “How Donald Trump Is Making Witches and Christians Fight Again” by Lilly Dancyger for Rolling Stone

“This is not the equivalent of magically punching a Nazi,” Michael M. Hughes, the self-proclaimed “magical thinker” and novelist wrote in the Medium post where he shared the spell instructions. “Rather, it is ripping the bullhorn from his hands, smashing his phone so he can’t tweet, tying him up, and throwing him in a dark basement where he can’t hurt anyone.”

Hughes pointed out that parallels could be drawn to the 1967 exorcism and levitation of the pentagon, which was more performance art than a genuine attempt to perform magic. There, 50,000 anti-war protestors (including Abbie Hoffman and Alan Ginsberg), tried to rid the pentagon of war-hungry evil through exorcism, and to use their collective power to levitate it. The pentagon did not levitate, and the war continued for eight more years.

But, Hughes noted, “many are clearly taking it very seriously.” That group apparently includes the Christian Nationalist Alliance, who called for the day of prayer to “counter” the “ritualistic curse,” which they’ve referred to as “a declaration of spiritual war.”

A spell to bind President Donald Trump was performed at midnight on Feb. 24, 2017. (Credit: @Ghost_Lisa via Twitter)

Next, some very useful perspective from Abram Van Engen on “Advancing God’s Kingdom: Calvinism, Calvin College, and Betsy DeVos” at Religion & Politics.

When it comes to writing about religion, there is no need to abandon careful thought or nuance, and many writers, of course, never do. The most recent article in Politico about DeVos and Christianity, written by Laura Turner, reveals much more care of thought, showing multiple influences. Before that, however, we had plenty of articles offering a reductive version of the Christian Reformed Church as a way to “understand” Betsy DeVos, while using DeVos as the way to understand the CRC. That is a circular way of thinking that equates a political position with a religious background, and then finds in that religious background the roots of a political position.

Religious life is far more complex. It involves multiple perspectives and practices formed from many beliefs and traditions in constant interaction with secular life and culture. In fact, the secular and the religious often depend on one another and share a great deal in common. There is far more to religion than a set of doctrines printed in a book on the minister’s shelf. There is far more to religious life than a selective history of its immigrant past.

As well as “Trump’s immigration order means bureaucrats have to decide who’s a ‘real’ Christian” by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd for The Washington Post

For the government to decide who belongs to which religious group and which group gets special privileges can be dangerous — and in the United States, unconstitutional. Religion cannot be coherently defined for the purposes of U.S. law and governance because Americans have different definitions of religion. Official attempts to define religion can also heighten social tension. The government ends up dividing religions by law, empowering some and leaving others outside. This favors forms of religion authorized by those in positions of power and downgrades other ways of being and belonging.

And don’t miss Patrick Blanchfield‘s two latest, “New Praetorianism” for The Baffler and “Trump’s Tlön for n+1

To be clear: I am not just saying we will have war “if Trump gets his way,” if he is allowed to realize some secret, as yet uncertain agenda. Nor am I saying that we will have war if the Democrats resist him, and Trump turns to warmongering, as desperate authoritarians often do, to draw attention away from domestic failures and rally a nation behind the flag. Both of these outcomes are entirely possible. But I am also saying that we will have war if the Democrats “win”: if they sideline Trump, push him out, sweep the midterms, or even ultimately take back the White House. I am saying that, in all these circumstances, no matter which of these scenarios plays out, and unless something radical intervenes, America is building inexorably toward war. Our obsession with amateur Kremlinology and breaking news of international skullduggery has us all terrified about what might be hidden from us when in fact we should be terrified about what’s right in front of our faces.

Or “The Disturbing Alliance Between Zionists and Anti-Semites” by Suzanne Schneider for The Forward

Jewish life flourishes in pluralistic societies within which difference is not a “problem” to be resolved, but a fact to be celebrated. The alliance of right-wing Zionists and the “alt-right” should not be viewed as an abnormality, but as the meeting of quite compatible outlooks that assert — each in its own way – that the world will be secure only once we all retreat to our various plots of ancestral land. Nationalist thinking of this sort wrought more than its fair share of damage during the 20th century. Let’s not enact a repeat performance in the 21st.

And we couldn’t look away from Laurie Penny‘s “On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right” at Pacific Standard.

It is horribly ironic that of all the disgusting nonsense Yiannopoulos has said — about women, about Muslims, about transgender people, about immigrants — it is only now that the moderate right appears to have reached the limits of what it will tolerate in the name of free speech. The hypocrisy is clarion-clear: This was never, in fact, about free speech at all. It was about making it OK to say racist, sexist, transphobic, and xenophobic things, about tolerating the public expression of those views right up to the point where it becomes financially unwise to do so. Those suddenly dropping Yiannopoulos are making a business decision, not a moral one — and yes, even in Donald Trump’s America, there’s still a difference. If that difference devours Yiannopoulos and his minions, they will find few mourners.

Which is really quite enough of all that, no? 

We’re going to go shopping for tote bags now (help us choose, please!) 

But before we go, we’ll leave you this treasure from The Onion comrades, Clickhole: “These Sikhs Exude Dignity And Poise, But They Need To Get Out Of My Headshots

The poise and solemnity this man displays here is a testament to the beauty and power of Sikh culture. Sadly, when he displays these incredible things in my professional headshot, it means that I can’t send it to casting agencies. I’m trying to land a speaking role on Chicago Fire, and that’s pretty competitive, so I kind of need this man to step out of the picture so I can showcase my physicality to casting agents.


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer


You can find previous “In the News” round-ups here.

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