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religion and modernity February 25, 2008

Posted by AP in comedy, religion, science.
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alan wolfe writes a piece on wealth and religiosity at theatlantic.com:

Until relatively recently, most social theorists, from Marx to Freud to Weber, believed that as societies became more modern, religion would lose its capacity to inspire. Industrialization would substitute the rational pursuit of self-interest for blind submission to authority. Science would undermine belief in miracles. Democracy would encourage the separation of church and state. Gender equality would undermine patriarchy, and with it, clerical authority. However one defined modernity, it always seemed likely to involve societies focused on this world rather than on some other.

But intellectual fashions are fickle, and the idea of inevitable secularization has fallen out of favor with many scholars and journalists. Still, its most basic tenet—that material progress will slowly erode religious fervor—appears unassailable. Last October, the Pew Global Attitudes Project plotted 44 countries according to per capita gross domestic product and intensity of religious belief, gauged by the responses to several questions about faith (a rendition of the Pew data appears on the opposite page). The pattern, as seen in the Pew study and a number of other sources, is hard to miss: when God and Mammon collide, Mammon usually wins.

but wait! you may be thinking, i just netflixed jesus camp and boy are people here crazy!

You’ll have noticed that I’ve said nothing yet about the United States. Talk about an outlier—there on the Pew chart it stands, nearly alone, as the only country in the world, apart from Kuwait, that is both wealthy and religious. Americans are not only more religious than Europeans; they are more religious than the citizens of some Latin American countries. If proof is needed that religion will remain a dominant force in history for a long time to come, the fact that the world’s most affluent society is also well up among the faithful would seem to provide it. When the president says that his decision to invade another country was influenced by a call from God, or when school boards decide to include creationism in their curriculum, it appears safe to conclude that Americans are not living in the world envisioned by Marx or Freud.

and finally, wolfe details what i have informally called my “hey let’s hang out at jesus’s house, he’s got a ps3 and a trampoline” theory:

So what happens to religions that find themselves with many competitors? Consider what is occurring within the growing American evangelical movement. It has built megachurches that meet the needs of time-pressed professionals by offering such things as day-care centers, self-help groups, and networking opportunities. Its music owes more to Janis Joplin than to Johann Sebastian Bach. Its church officials learn more from business-school case studies than from theological texts. And its young people—well, as the children of parents who have gone through a born-again experience, they are not likely to be as obedient as the evangelical leader James Dobson wants them to be. Having opted to grow on secular terms, American evangelicalism is becoming less hostile to liberal ideas such as tolerance and pluralism. New efforts to take it in directions sympathetic to environmentalism and social justice are a direct result of the maturing of the faith, which followed from earlier decisions to make the movement more appealing to large numbers of Americans, especially the young.

bye bye mitt February 7, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, news, politics, religion.
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photo by flickr user Joe Crimmings Photography used under a creative commons license

you will not be missed.

hendrik hertzberg in the new yorker last month:

And the dogmas of Mitt Romney’s sect are breathtaking. They include these: that in 1827 a young man named Joseph Smith dug up a set of golden plates covered with indecipherable writing; that, with the help of a pair of magic spectacles, he “translated” the plates from an otherwise unknown language (Reformed Egyptian) into an Olde English that reads like an unfunny parody of the King James Bible; that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri; that American Indians descend from Hebrew immigrants; that Jesus reappeared in pre-Columbian America and converted so many people that the result was a series of archeologically unconfirmable wars in which millions died; that while polygamy had divine approval for most of the nineteenth century, God changed his mind in 1890, just in time for Utah to be allowed into the Union; and that God waited until 1978 to reveal that it was O.K. for blacks to be fully paid-up members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

One might ask, What of it? Plenty of religions have curious doctrines. (Several, for example, hold that on Sundays millions of people drink blood and eat flesh.) The Framers knew this was dangerous territory, which was one reason they tried to rule it out of political bounds. And Romney himself warned, in a speech, titled “Faith in America,” that he delivered on December 6th, “There are some who would have a Presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited.”

The weasel word here is “distinctive.” Romney had no problem describing his church’s not-so-distinctive doctrines. “There is one fundamental question,” he continued, as if he were speaking on tax cuts, “about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of mankind.” (But please don’t ask about Jesus’ post-Resurrection travel schedule.) The candidate went on to patronize rival religions, administering quick head pats to Catholicism (“I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass”), evangelicalism (for the “approachability” of its version of God), Pentecostalism (“tenderness of spirit”), Lutheranism (“confident independence”), Judaism (“ancient traditions”), and Islam (“frequent prayer”—a bit feeble, that).

Missing from this litany, of course, was something to the effect of “I appreciate the deep commitment to reason of the agnostics and atheists.” Indeed, the only “religion” that Romney had anything rude to say about was “the religion of secularism.” He pointed scornfully at the “empty” cathedrals of Europe as evidence of “societies just too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer,” adding a little later that “any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty” has “a friend and ally in me.” Take that, NATO. On your knees.

Secularism is not a religion. And it is not true that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” as Romney maintained. What freedom, including religious freedom, requires is, precisely, secularism—which is to say, state neutrality in matters of religion. (Nor does religion require freedom, as the European past and the Middle Eastern present demonstrate; religions, plural, do, however.) “Americans do not respect believers of convenience,” Romney thundered in his “faith” speech. “Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.” These were strange observations, coming as they did from a man whose campaign has consisted largely of jettisoning the beliefs he found convenient as a Massachusetts politician but finds highly inconvenient now that he stands to gain the Republican nomination for President. But then those were merely political beliefs.

Touch gloves, Mitt and Mike. And perhaps, if God interests Himself in the minutiae of earthly politics, He’ll arrange a double knockout.

rolling stone’s 40th anniversary issue November 14, 2007

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, arts/culture, books, campaign finance, comedy, design, econ, environment, film, health, hip-hop, history, immigration, international, interviews, iraq, iraq war, media, misc, music, news, politics, race, religion, science, style, tech, television, terrorism.
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“This issue looks forward, not back, and it’s packed with interviews with the artists, leaders and thinkers who can best divine what our future holds. It arrives, appropriately, during the run-up to next year’s presidential election, which looms as a moment of truth for our nation. “People are nauseous about being perceived as the enemy,” Bono says of America’s standing in the world. “Whoever fixes that problem gets elected.” But it’s not just politics – as a society, we face choices that will likely determine the fate of our civilization, matters of war and peace, resource depletion and explosive population growth. And, of course, global warming: “It’s a mistake to think of the climate crisis as one in a list of issues that will define our future,” Al Gore tells us. “It is the issue.”

We don’t claim to have the answers to these challenges, but we do know where to look for leadership and inspiration. The values of tolerance, inclusiveness, common sense and personal liberty (not to mention fun) that took shape in the 1960s have animated this magazine ever since.”

chock full of wit and wisdom from some of the world’s most interesting minds…

you can find the entire issue digitally right here, but the interface rolling stone set up is really horrible, so i’ve made the text from some of the interviews into pdfs:

BILL CLINTON

BILL GATES

AL GORE

SAM HARRIS

PAUL KRUGMAN

BILL MAHER

JON STEWART

CORNEL WEST

KANYE WEST

here’s some quotes that i’ve culled:

(more…)