Category : Other Faiths

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on ‘The Great Partnership’ between Religion+Science

The human mind is capable of doing two quite different things. One is the ability to break things down into their constituent parts and see how they mesh and interact. This is often called “left brain” thinking, and the best example is science. The other, often called “right brain thinking,” is the ability to join events together so that they tell a story, or to join people together so that they form relationships. The best example of this is religion.

To put it at its simplest: science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. And we need them both, the way we need the two hemispheres of the brain.

Science is about explanation, religion is about interpretation. Science analyses, religion integrates. Science breaks things down to their component parts; religion binds people together in relationships of trust. Science tells us what is, religion tells us what ought to be. Science describes; religion inspires, beckons, calls.

Science practices detachment; religion is the art of attachment, self to self, soul to soul. Science sees the underlying order of the physical world. Religion hears the music beneath the noise. Science is the conquest of ignorance. Religion is the redemption of solitude.

One way of seeing the difference is to think about their relationship with time. Science looks for causes of events, and a cause always comes before its effect. How did the window break? Because I threw a stone at it. First came the throwing of the stone, then came the breaking of the window. Science looks back from effect to cause.

However, human action is always looking forward….

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Posted in History, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

William Witt–Why I Do Not Take the “New Atheism” Seriously: “Flying Spaghetti Monsters,” Orbiting Tea Pots, and Invisible Pink Unicorns

While the above responses do indeed point to weaknesses in arguments that compare the existence of God to “Flying Spaghetti Monsters” or orbiting tea pots, they do not specifically address what I think is the most important problem with the New Atheists, and that is that the very use of such arguments shows that the New Atheists do not know what they are talking about when they use the word “God.” What all of these New Atheist memes – invisible pink unicorns, “Flying Spaghetti Monsters,” orbiting tea pots – have in common is that they compare God to finite contingent physical objects existing within the known physical universe. God is understood to be one additional entity among others in the same way that an orbiting teapot would be one teapot among other non-orbiting teapots or a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” would be composed of “spaghetti,” a physical substance of which every grocery store has numerous items. (This is also evident in the New Atheist claim “I just believe in one less god than you do,” or the claim, “I don’t believe in the Christian god, but I don’t believe in Zeus or Thor either.”)

In the same way that an argument about Physics as a scientific discipline would have to address accurate accounts of the scientific discipline and not beliefs in phlogiston or physical reality being made of earth, fire, air, and water, New Atheist rejections of the Christian God at least should clearly show an understanding of what it is that Christians mean when they affirm that God exists. And no competent Christian theologian or philosopher has ever claimed that God is one finite contingent entity among others – another item existing within the physical universe. When the New Atheists say that they do not believe in God, comparisons to “Flying Spaghetti Monsters” and “orbiting tea pots” make clear that they do not know what they are talking about.

If one is going to deny the existence of God, then what needs to be denied is the God of historical Christian faith, and the place to turn for an account of this Christian God would be classic Christian theologians such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, John of Damascus or Thomas Aquinas, or even more contemporary theologians such as Karl Barth or Thomas F. Torrance (among Protestants), or (among Catholics) Hans Urs von Balthasar or Matthew Levering or numerous philosophical theologians such as David Burrell (my dissertation director) or Herbert McCabe, or Orthodox thinkers such as David Bentley Hart.

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Posted in Atheism, Theology

(New Atlantis) Doug Sikkema–Taking a Careful look at the Modern disenchantment myth

That magic, religion, and superstition have all persisted up to the modern day does not quite demonstrate his claim that “we have never been disenchanted” — or, put another way, that “modernity signals a societal fissure” between religion and reason “that never occurred.” In his keenness to show that the idea of disenchantment is undermined by the persistence of both sides of the binary, he fails to examine a more interesting and arguably much more important line of inquiry: how this myth has altered the conditions in which both religion and science are now practiced. When we consider this, we see that despite the continued prevalence of enchanting beliefs and practices, we are indeed disenchanted in a more fundamental and pervasive way than Josephson-Storm recognizes.

Just recall his origin story for a moment and his blind spot becomes apparent. He deems pre-Revolutionary Europe to be merely a “historical moment” the Romantics were reacting against in their writings. In doing so “they were making grand themes out of the specifics of their local history.” But this reading fails to take seriously the broader cultural conditions in which such a political and philosophical climate even became possible. Might it have something to do with a broader notion of disenchantment, or “dis-God-ing” (to translate from Schiller’s “entgötterte Natur”), that transcended this particular place and time? If so, the German Romantics may have had real reason for concern, as may have the thinkers who built on their insights. Perhaps their understanding of history’s pattern as a linear alienation from God and nature was questionable, but the idea of a dis-godded condition becoming solidified in a theory of progress and in revolutionary politics, and of it manifesting in physical form in the new industrial world, was so terrifying to them precisely because they knew these things were greater than their particular historical moment.

The only way for the book’s argument to work, then, is to accept at face value the idea of disenchantment as the simple absence of religion and magic. But we are actually disenchanted in a much more profound way. Yes, religion and magic remain ubiquitous; but they are now performed against a backdrop in which disenchantment is regarded, in ways conscious and unconscious, as true. Disenchantment is the default position in the social imaginary, encoded in our language and in all manner of habits and practices that carry as if we inhabit a mechanistic world. It has become one of the myths we live by, even as we resist it.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–Seeing What Isn’t There: A Reflection on the Sending out of and Reporting back from the Spies in Canaan (Numbers 13)

His name is Aaron T. Beck and he is the founder of one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy yet devised: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He discovered it through his work at the depression research clinic he founded in the University of Pennsylvania. He began to detect a pattern among his patients. It had to do with the way they interpreted events. They did so in negative ways that were damaging to their self-respect, and fatalistic. It was as if they had thought themselves into a condition that one of Beck’s most brilliant disciples, Martin Seligman, was later to call “learned helplessness.” Essentially they kept telling themselves, “I am a failure. Nothing I try ever succeeds. I am useless. Things will never change.”

They had these thoughts automatically. They were their default reaction to anything that went wrong in their lives. But Beck found that if they became conscious of these thoughts, saw how unjustified they were, and developed different and more realistic thought patterns, they could, in effect, cure themselves. This also turns out to be a revelatory way of understanding the key episode of our parsha, namely the story of the spies.

Recall what happened. Moses sent twelve men to spy out the land. The men were leaders, princes of their tribes, people of distinction. Yet ten of them came back with a demoralising report. The land, they said, is indeed good. It does flow with milk and honey. But the people are strong. The cities are large and well fortified. Caleb tried to calm the people. “We can do it.” But the ten said that it could not be done. The people are stronger than we are. They are giants. We are grasshoppers.

And so the terrible event happened. The people lost heart. “If only,” they said, “we had died in Egypt. Let us choose a leader and go back.” God became angry. Moses pleaded for mercy. God relented, but insisted that none of that generation, with the sole exceptions of the two dissenting spies, Caleb and Joshua, would live to enter the land. The people would stay in the wilderness for forty years, and there they would die. Their children would eventually inherit what might have been theirs had they only had faith.

Essential to understanding this passage is the fact that the report of the ten spies was utterly unfounded.

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Posted in Judaism, Psychology, Theology: Scripture

(WSJ) Sabeeha Rehman–How America Makes Ramadan Easier

Ramadan, the monthlong ritual of fasting for Muslims world-wide, began for me this year on May 16. But no one at my New York mosque knew it would take place until the night before, when the crescent marking the beginning of the new month became visible above the horizon. Where skies were cloudy, mosques relied on the sighting of the crescent by mosques in sunnier places. Once a mosque certified the validity of the sighting, it would declare the official start of Ramadan. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and the beginning of a new month is subject to moon sighting.

Some young American Muslims are now challenging this tradition. They argue that Muslims should rely on calculations predicting the visibility of the crescent at any given location rather than waiting until the last minute to learn whether fasting starts in the morning or the day after. Count me among those who want to plan their next meal with ease.

The Ramadan fast—which requires total abstention from water and food—lasts from daybreak until sundown. In the middle of May, that makes for a 14-hour fast. The first few days are trying. I miss my morning coffee, my afternoon fruit snack. A whiff of cinnamon buns or roasted garlic on the streets of Manhattan makes me quicken my pace. Yet by the time Ramadan is over, I instinctively pull back my hand when offered a pastry or samosa. My clothes fit better, and my blood-sugar level is great. I find it easier to say the five daily prayers consistently, particularly the one at dawn.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Islam, Religion & Culture

(CC) Philip Jenkins–In Europe, even occasional prayer is on the way out

Stephen Bullivant is a highly re­spected British academic who, among other topics, studies the state of religion in contemporary Europe. He has just produced perhaps the single most depressing portrait of the Christian present and future on that continent—and that is not a genre noted for its optimism.

Drawing on the European Social Survey, Bullivant published a concise re­port, Europe’s Young Adults and Reli­gion, to assist the deliberations of the Synod of Catholic Bishops that meets in Rome in October. The report covers the religious outlook of young adults aged 16 through 29. The levels of religious behavior and interest it depicts in most countries are extraordinarily low.

In the Czech Republic, 91 percent of young adults claim no religious affiliation whatever, 8o percent never pray, and 70 percent never attend religious services. That country might be an outlier, but very low levels of religiosity also characterize Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Although Bullivant does not stress this denominational angle, by far the grimmest conditions apply in what for centuries were the heartlands of Protestant Europe. Only 7 percent of English respondents identify as Angli­cans (the state church), compared to 10 percent who identify as Catholics and 6 percent as Muslims.

The “never praying” category is striking, since it shows we are not just dealing with basically religiously oriented people who happen to be disaffected from particular state churches.

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Posted in Europe, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NYT) When Living Your Truth Can Mean Losing Your Children

The questioning went on for days. Did she allow her children to watch a Christmas video? Did she include plastic Easter eggs as part of her celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim? Did she use English nicknames for them, instead of their Hebrew names?

This grilling of Chavie Weisberger, 35, took place not in front of a rabbi or a religious court, but in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, during a custody battle with her ultra-Orthodox Jewish ex-husband after she came out as lesbian and decided to leave the ultra-Orthodox fold. The stakes could not have been higher. In fact, the judge, Eric I. Prus, eventually ruled that she should lose custody of her children, largely because she had lapsed in raising them according to Hasidic customs.

Ms. Weisberger’s case, which was reversed on appeal in August, is still reverberating through New York courts that handle divorce and custody matters for the state’s hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

A New York State appellate court ruled that Justice Prus had erred in making religious observance the paramount factor when deciding custody. The court also said he had violated Ms. Weisberger’s constitutional rights by requiring her to pretend to be ultra-Orthodox around her children, even though she was no longer religious, in order to spend unsupervised time with them.

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Posted in Children, Judaism, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NPR) Q&A: National Correspondent Leila Fadel Discusses ‘Muslims in America’

Were you surprised by anything you learned through reporting this series?

What shocked me was just how much the communities I visited seem to be flourishing at a really difficult time for Muslim Americans. Despite the anti-Muslim rhetoric, people are out there telling their own stories. They’re getting into politics and fashion and music and storytelling. I also was surprised by the incredible diversity of practice and culture that exists here. I’ve covered the Muslim world for over a decade, and I don’t think I’ve seen such diversity within Islam outside of the Muslim pilgrimage, Hajj, in Mecca.

What do you hope readers and listeners will take from reading or listening to “Muslims in America”?

I hope people listen to these as stories about Americans they might not know otherwise. One of the things I’ve been struck by since coming back to the U.S. is how we live in a country with such rich diversity of culture, religion and race but so often people feel stuck in a stereotype of their own community. After the presidential election, which was seen as so polarizing, I think a lot of people felt they didn’t know their fellow citizens.

I want these stories to be about knowing and understanding people not through the lens of what you think they might be, but who they actually are.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Islam, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Joe Lieberman–A Holiday for the Rule of Law

A doctor, an engineer, and a lawyer get into a debate about whose profession is the oldest. The doctor argues that it’s medicine: “There must have been a doctor in the Garden of Eden to help God transform Adam’s rib into Eve.”

“Oh no,” the engineer shoots back. “Before that there must have been an engineer who assisted God in changing primordial chaos into the order of the universe.” Then the lawyer chimes in: “You’re both wrong. There must have been a lawyer there first to create the chaos.”

Sure, some lawyers’ behavior merits such jokes. But many play a crucial role in maintaining the rule of law, which creates order. A good legal system makes the difference between a civilized society and a chaotic one, and it all began when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.

For Jews, now is the perfect time of year—between Passover and the much less observed holiday of Shavuot—to contemplate the role of law in our lives.

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Posted in Judaism, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

(Guardian) Simon Jenkins–‘The Quakers are considering dropping God from their meetings guidance as it makes some feel uncomfortable’

The Quakers are clearly on to something. At their annual get-together this weekend they are reportedly thinking of dropping God from their “guidance to meetings”. The reason, said one of them, is because the term “makes some Quakers feel uncomfortable”. Atheists, according to a Birmingham University academic, comprise a rising 14% of professed Quakers, while a full 43% felt “unable to profess a belief in God”. They come to meetings for fellowship, rather than for higher guidance. The meeting will also consider transgenderism, same-sex marriage, climate change and social media. Religion is a tiring business.

I am not a Quaker or religious, but I have been to Quaker meetings, usually marriages or funerals, and found them deeply moving. The absence of ritual, the emphasis on silence and thought and the witness of “friends” seemed starkly modernist. Meeting houses can be beautiful spaces. The loveliest I know dates from 1700 and is lost in deep woods near Meifod, Powys. It is a place of the purest serenity, miles from any road and with only birdsong to blend with inner reflection.

The Quakers’ lack of ceremony and liturgical clutter gives them a point from which to view the no man’s land between faith and non-faith that is the “new religiosity”. A dwindling 40% of Britons claim to believe in some form of God, while a third say they are atheists. But that leaves over a quarter in a state of vaguely agnostic “spirituality”. Likewise, while well over half of Americans believe in the biblical God, nearly all believe in “a higher power or spiritual force”.

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Posted in England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(HC) Houston Area Muslims say retailers can help bring Ramadan into the mainstream

Children’s Ramadan books were stacked on Asma Malik’s dining table, soon to be wrapped and placed in a gift basket. Colorful lights bought during an after-Christmas sale framed a paper plate scissored into the shape of a crescent moon. A similarly handmade message etched in gold on a wall heralded the coming season.

“It’s Ramadan time!!!”

As the sacred, monthlong tradition begins this week for the world’s estimated 1 billion Muslims — and upward of 60,000 across the Houston area — a growing number of Americans who practice Islam are decorating their homes by repurposing items purchased at craft stores and Christmas closeouts. It’s how Malik, 30, has decorated her southwest Houston home for years.

But big retailers now see opportunity as well, following the lead of companies like Mattel, which makes a Barbie with a hijab, and Macy’s, which offers a line of women’s wear designed with Islamic sensibilities in mind.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Islam, Religion & Culture

[The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record] Cremation gaining in popularity fast as burial costs rise

Fred and Margaret, of Clifton, N.J., died one month apart during the winter.

The couple, whose last name their children asked not to divulge, met in high school and were married for 69 years. They were inseparable.

Death was not about to change that.

They made arrangements years ago: Margaret, 87, would take the last grave in the family’s plot at St. Nicholas Cemetery in Lodi, N.J. Fred, 88, a devout Catholic who was born some 30 years before the Vatican lifted its ban on cremation in 1963, decided his ashes would be buried by her head.

Perhaps, if there were space, Fred would not have chosen to be cremated, his daughter Donna said. But there was room for only one.

“I think he just wanted to be with my mom and that’s what he had to do in order for him to be with her,” she said.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(BBC) How Nigeria’s cattle war is fuelling religious tension

A long-running conflict between cattle herders and farmers in central Nigeria is increasingly assuming a religious dimension, writes the BBC’s Mayeni Jones after visiting Benue state.

Sebastian Nyamgba is a tall, wiry farmer with sharp cheekbones and piercing eyes.

He guides me to a small bungalow adjacent to the local church, St Ignatus. It was the home of local priest Father Joseph Gor.

“This is his blood,” he says, as he points to faint pink splatters on the wall of the porch of the house.

“This is where he was killed. They shot him as he was getting on this motorbike to escape and his blood sprayed on the wall.”

Father Gor was killed in the compound of his Catholic church, in the small village of Mbalom, about an hour’s drive south from the capital of Benue state, Makurdi.

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Posted in Animals, Muslim-Christian relations, Nigeria, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(Economist) Anti-Semitism in Europe may not in fact be rising

…in Ukraine, where the history of anti-Semitism is as bloody as anywhere, just 5% are unwilling to see Jews as citizens. Unlike Catholic Poland, Ukraine is multi-religious (though mainly Orthodox Christian) and has a substantial Jewish population, of around 300,000. Vyacheslav Likhachev, a sociologist who monitors anti-Semitism, says that apart from a fad for neo-Nazi youth subculture a decade ago, it has not really caught on. Radical-right parties with anti-Semitic ideologies have rarely won more than 1% of the vote. More recently, he points out, “because of Russian aggression they have a real enemy. They don’t need conspiracy theories about the Zionist Occupation Government.”

Indeed, in most countries, anti-Semitism rises or falls in concert with nationalism and identity politics. David Feldman of the Pears Institute notes the importance of “competitive victimhood”, in which claims of oppression by Jews, Muslims and other groups step on each others’ toes. Dariusz Stola, head of the Polin Museum of Polish Jewish History, says the same is true in Poland, where the national story is one of victimisation by Germany and Russia. It is more accurate, he thinks, to see anti-Semitism as part of a general wave of chauvinist sentiment since the migrant crisis of 2015; levels of hostility to Muslims, gays and Roma have risen too. Says Mr Stola: “Xenophobia is not selective.”

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Posted in Europe, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(NYT) In Berlin, a Show of Solidarity Does Little to Dampen Jewish Fears

After an attack on a young man wearing a kipa in a trendy Berlin neighborhood, the leader of Germany’s largest Jewish organization urged Jews to wear baseball caps instead. It was just too dangerous, he said, to walk around openly with a kipa or skullcap, a sign of devotion.

In a country that has spent 70 years fighting the legacy of the Holocaust, the backlash was swift: We are all kipa wearers. Berliners, including the mayor, and other Jewish groups participated in demonstrations on Wednesday in which people of all faiths donned skullcaps in solidarity.

“Today the kipa is a symbol of the Berlin that we would like to have,” Mayor Michael Müller told a crowd of hundreds of people outside the Jewish community center in western Berlin. It is, he said, “a symbol of tolerance.”

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Posted in Germany, History, Judaism, Religion & Culture