black holes and gray matter. in one thousand tangos.

             

"[T]here is a real lack of sophistication on both sides of the argument when it comes to discussing religion and violence.

On one hand, people of faith are far too eager to distance themselves from extremists in their community, often denying that religious violence has any religious motivation whatsoever. This is especially true of Muslims, who often glibly dismiss those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam as “not really Muslim.”

On the other, critics of religion tend to exhibit an inability to understand religion outside of its absolutist connotations. They scour holy texts for bits of savagery and point to extreme examples of religious bigotry, of which there are too many, to generalize about the causes of oppression throughout the world.

What both the believers and the critics often miss is that religion is often far more a matter of identity than it is a matter of beliefs and practices. The phrase “I am a Muslim,” “I am a Christian,” “I am a Jew” and the like is, often, not so much a description of what a person believes or what rituals he or she follows, as a simple statement of identity, of how the speaker views her or his place in the world.

As a form of identity, religion is inextricable from all the other factors that make up a person’s self-understanding, like culture, ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexual orientation. What a member of a suburban megachurch in Texas calls Christianity may be radically different from what an impoverished coffee picker in the hills of Guatemala calls Christianity. The cultural practices of a Saudi Muslim, when it comes to the role of women in society, are largely irrelevant to a Muslim in a more secular society like Turkey or Indonesia. The differences between Tibetan Buddhists living in exile in India and militant Buddhist monks persecuting the Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, in neighboring Myanmar, has everything to do with the political cultures of those countries and almost nothing to do with Buddhism itself.

No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives

The same Bible that commands Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) also exhorts them to “kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” who worship any other God (1 Sam. 15:3). The same Jesus Christ who told his disciples to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) also told them that he had “not come to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The same Quran that warns believers “if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity” (5:32) also commands them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5).

How a worshiper treats these conflicting commandments depends on the believer. If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in your scriptures to justify your beliefs. If you are a peaceful, democratic feminist, you will also find justification in the scriptures for your point of view.”

Bill Maher is right to condemn religious practices that violate fundamental human rights. Religious communities must do more to counter extremist interpretations of their faith. But failing to recognize that religion is embedded in culture — and making a blanket judgment about the world’s second largest religion — is simply bigotry.”

Reza Aslan: Bill Maher Isn’t the Only Person Who Misunderstands Religion

More than two hundred schoolgirls, ages 12-17, who were kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists in Nigeria two weeks ago, have been sold as wives to Islamist fighters abroad for $12 each. 
187 are still being held hostage.
“The attack was one of the most shocking in Boko Haram’s five-year uprising in which thousands of people have been killed across northern and central Nigeria. …
Boko Haram’s name translates as “western education is forbidden” and it has repeatedly attacked schools during an insurgency aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.
The Islamists have set schools on fire, massacred students in their sleep and detonated bombs at university campus churches.”
Guardian [photo]

More than two hundred schoolgirls, ages 12-17, who were kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists in Nigeria two weeks ago, have been sold as wives to Islamist fighters abroad for $12 each

187 are still being held hostage.

The attack was one of the most shocking in Boko Haram’s five-year uprising in which thousands of people have been killed across northern and central Nigeria. …

Boko Haram’s name translates as “western education is forbidden” and it has repeatedly attacked schools during an insurgency aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.

The Islamists have set schools on fire, massacred students in their sleep and detonated bombs at university campus churches.”

Guardian [photo]

"Mr. McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister at Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, had prepared for worse when he committed to wearing the jumpsuit for Lent. After years of providing both spiritual and legal assistance to the poor and formerly incarcerated, it was time to do something more visible to call attention to the nation’s prison crisis, and to the obstacles inmates face on returning to society. But 40 days is a long time to dress like a convict, especially in Texas. “A couple different people said, ‘I hope you don’t get shot!’ ” …
Mr. McKeever, who grew up three hours west in Abilene, has worn prisoner’s clothes while delivering sermons, shopping for groceries, strolling the San Antonio River Walk and taking his daughter to the movies. He has kept a blog reflecting on his experiences (Day 6: “Stares, questioning glances, avoidance”) and on the politics of mass incarceration.
Engaging with those politics is the essence of his Christianity. ‘We follow a condemned criminal!…That’s very much at the heart of our faith. So I try to bring that in.’ …
Among other efforts, he has pushed employers to stop asking about a job applicant’s criminal history — an effort known elsewhere as ‘Ban the Box.’ But as a native Texan, he’s sensitive to tone. ‘I call it a fair-chance hiring policy…It’d be hard even in a conservative place not to get behind something called a fair chance.'”
An Orange jumpsuit for Lent

"Mr. McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister at Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, had prepared for worse when he committed to wearing the jumpsuit for Lent. After years of providing both spiritual and legal assistance to the poor and formerly incarcerated, it was time to do something more visible to call attention to the nation’s prison crisis, and to the obstacles inmates face on returning to society. But 40 days is a long time to dress like a convict, especially in Texas. “A couple different people said, ‘I hope you don’t get shot!’ ” …

Mr. McKeever, who grew up three hours west in Abilene, has worn prisoner’s clothes while delivering sermons, shopping for groceries, strolling the San Antonio River Walk and taking his daughter to the movies. He has kept a blog reflecting on his experiences (Day 6: “Stares, questioning glances, avoidance”) and on the politics of mass incarceration.

Engaging with those politics is the essence of his Christianity. ‘We follow a condemned criminal!…That’s very much at the heart of our faith. So I try to bring that in.’ …

Among other efforts, he has pushed employers to stop asking about a job applicant’s criminal history — an effort known elsewhere as ‘Ban the Box.’ But as a native Texan, he’s sensitive to tone. ‘I call it a fair-chance hiring policy…It’d be hard even in a conservative place not to get behind something called a fair chance.'”

An Orange jumpsuit for Lent

The wearing of the hijab is enforced in part by a volunteer citizens’ militia, the Basij, as well as what are called the ‘guidance’ police. They roam the popular streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities, monitoring religious observance.

Improper dress code, including insufficient coverage of a woman’s head, shoulders and chest in public is officially illegal and can incur arrest and fines. Though Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, whom many see as a moderate and a reformer, has said publicly that guidance on women’s dress code should be encouraged through education rather than enforced by the police, secular Iranian women continue to face censure for insufficiently modest dress.”

Hossein Fatemi | NYT

[T]he process of ascertaining which of the thousands of skeletons belonged to a martyr was a nebulous one. If they found “M.” engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome. If any vials of dehydrated sediment turned up with the bones, they assumed it must be a martyr’s blood rather than perfume, which the Romans often left on graves in the way we leave flowers today. The Church also believed that the bones of martyrs cast off a golden glow and a faintly sweet smell, and teams of psychics would journey through the corporeal tunnels, slip into a trance and point out skeletons from which they perceived a telling aura. After identifying a skeleton as holy, the Vatican then decided who was who and issued the title of martyr.”

Paul Koudounaris documenting how the bones of Christian martyrs were transformed into bejeweled relics and displayed in European churches in Heavenly Bodies.

“To begin with, the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago. We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes. We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small. We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are. And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.”

When Buddhists Go Bad | TIME

The spectacle of faith makes for luminous photography. Buddhism, in particular, lends itself to the lens: those shaven heads and richly hued monastic robes; the swirls of incense; the pure expressions of devotees to a religion whose first precept is “do not kill.” But as photographer Adam Dean and I discovered when traveling through Burma and Thailand from May to June, Buddhism’s pacifist image is being challenged by a radical strain that marries spirituality with ethnic chauvinism. In Buddhist-majority Burma, where communal clashes have proliferated over the past year, scores of Muslims have been killed by Buddhist mobs, while in Thailand and Sri Lanka the fabric binding temple and state is being stitched ever tighter.

The godfather of radical Buddhism is a monk named Wirathu, a slight presence with an outsized message of hate. Adam followed Wirathu, who has taken the title of “Burmese bin Laden,” around Mandalay in central Burma, as he preached his loathing of the country’s Muslim minority to schoolchildren and housewives alike. In March, tensions detonated in the town of Meikhtila, where communal violence ended dozens of lives, mostly Muslim. Entire Muslim quarters were razed by Buddhists hordes. Even today, anxiety churns. One late afternoon as Adam walked near Wirathu’s monastic compound, a monk hurled a brick at him. Burgundy robes cannot camouflage inborn hostility.”

©2011 Kateoplis