Yes, I know.  It’s been quiet around here for a few weeks.  I was out traveling, talking to lobbyists, doctors, activists, writers, terminal patients and morticians about death, an endeavor that took me across the other Great Divide about four times in five weeks.  I’ve been passing!  But I’ve been reading.  Some things you should read too:

You say post-secular, I say…  We’re excited to have in the hopper a double review from James S. Bielo of The Post-Secular in Question: Religion in Contemporary Society and What Matters: Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age.  Look for it to post in the next week!  In the meanwhile, you can read two excerpts from The Post-Secular in Question at The Immanent Frame:  “Enter the Post-Secular” by Michele Dillon and “Religion and Modern Communication” by Bryan S. Turner.

Speaking of Bielo, go read his recent essay, “Belief, Deconversion, and Authenticity among U.S. Emerging Evangelicals,” at Ethos.  (And if you missed it but have access to Jstor.org, Bielo’s also reviewed Omri Elisha’s Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches.)  AND, you can read a recent article, “A Response to Martin and Wiebe,” by Ann Taves, co-Editor, with Courtney Bender, of What Matters?, in the recent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

Science and Religion Today asks the question, “Why do we have more faith in complex rituals?,” a question that made me think of the recent fantastic essay on sympathetic magic, “Very Superstitious,” by Colin Dickey in Lapham’s Quarterly.

Judith Butler was recently awarded the Adorno, “an award given every three years to someone who works in the tradition of critical theory broadly construed.”  The Jerusalem Post promptly attacked her.  She writes at Mondoweis, ” The accusations against me are that I support Hamas and Hezbollah (which is not true) that I support BDS (partially true), and that I am anti-Semitic (patently false).”  Read her entire response here.

I’m torn on which of these two stories is my favorite from the past week, the one about fresco restoration or the prudish reactions to a little skinny-dipping.

Our man in the horn.  Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, may be deep in his home soil, but the deputy prime minister has already reassured his U.S. allies that he will continue the war against “Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as the Shabab in Somalia.”  Long a western ally and one of the first Christian countries in the world (declared the state religion in the 4th century) Ethiopia is now 34% Muslim.

Where Akin and his allies will continue to have his way.  Of the new report by Dr. Kapya Kaoma (an Anglican minister), “Colonizing African Values – How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa,” GlobalPost’s Alex Pearlman writes:

A new report from PublicEye, a progressive Boston think tank, shows how policies of the American conservative Christian movement have contributed to outlawing abortions, including in cases of rape, in countries where rape is most prevalent and population control is a very serious concern.

God gave rock and roll to you! “‘This music is generated in the heart of man and is therefore fundamentally of the religious need, which is the fundamental original need of man; to know who made him, who he is, where he is bound,’ said John Waters in an Aug. 21interview with CNA.”

Holy abandon.  “What do you do with your faith when your religious leader is found dead, sitting in a chair surrounded by a pool of his own piss, his luxury hotel room ‘strewn with pills and empty liquor bottles?'”

Speaking of prudes, have you been watching the fascinating American backlash against Pussy Riot?  (Stay tuned for an event here at NYU in September, a roundtable of academics and cultural critics discussing the punk sisters and their media sensation.)  I’m with empty wheel; Joshua Foust, linked above, gets the Konification part all wrong.

Oh, and do we have events coming in the fall!  Here’s the full calendar:  http://www.cmchnyu.org/

The kettles are only black if the shoe fits!  Family Research Council has accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of giving a recent gunman “license”; the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed FRC as a hate group.  Who’s right?  I guess the answer depends on whether you think gays are pedophiles and sleep with animals.  Or not.  (Read more on the shooting by Becky Garrison at WaPo.)

For a mere $25 you can prevent the media from doing to a good Catholic man, Paul Ryan, what was done to Christ.  “…His opponents are seeking to crucify him,” writes the absurd Catholic Advocate in a fundraising email.

Unholy knit.  We stole the picture of this brilliant knit re-creation of a scene from “The Exorcist” from Alex Schlacher’s Facebook page.  Don’t thank us, thank her.

Who’s a Jew?  Theodore Ross is interviewed by Josh Rolnick over at The Daily Forward.  Ross talks about his new book, Am I a Jew? Lost Tribes, Lapsed Jews, and One Man’s Search for Himself, conversion, fatherhood and ancestry.

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Our Daily Bread.  When political conversation eventually rolls around to that sticky matter of how we should best take care of our poor, unemployed, ill, aged and/or disadvantaged, there are basically two schools of thought represented.  The first, espoused by the GOP, is similar to the Catholic idea of subsidiarity (a slightly bastardized form of do what can be done at the local level):  starve the government beast and leave care of those who need it to the church and community charity.  Government distribution of funds will only foster a sense of entitlement among recipients and create a forever-dependent class of citizens.  When you stop giving them checks (they’ll only spend on steaks and twinkies), they’ll go get jobs and become better, honest people.  In short, they’re on their own.

The other approach, one Democrats talk up, is the creation of state and federal programs that provide social services to those who can’t afford them.  The idea here is that society as a whole benefits when we share in caring for our fellow citizens: the economy benefits, kids get better grades and have better diets, everybody shares in taking care of everybody else, a national community.  If you leave it to churches, assistance programs fall into the category of just that, assistance, rather than a shared effort to float society.  Too, there’s a concern that churches and other minority groups will ask a heavy price aid:  spiritual allegiance.

Of course we all know that these two positions are malarky.  Republicans are wary of attacking the more popular programs that their constituents might not want to do away with.  Democrats over the past few decades have been more than happy to weight any of these government programs with heavy strings.  You can be on welfare for only so long.  You’ll have to work for it.

Neither side seems interested in discussing the inequalities inherent in so many of our social institutions, somehow built to keep down the ones who are down, to support privileged populations by pretending that equality can be bought (or, I guess, put on lay-away).

As well, neither party seems to be paying attention to what really works.  Their happier putting social ills on a slow drip; they’ll talk unemployment or welfare but not muster the muscle to make meaningful changes.  Maybe some of this is because we’ve forgotten that not all of society’s requirements can be financially viable.  We’re not a poor country, yet we expect social security to pay for itself, day care to be the burden of single mothers, disability to be minimized not according to the number of disabled but according to voter tolerance for talk about the responsibility of citizenship.

As a nation, all that bootstraps stuff keeps getting in the way of profoundly taking on inequality.  Individual poverty (or illness, disadvantage, disability, unemployment, old age) is a reflection of one’s poor character, our national narrative of rugged individualism tells us.  You are your work, your wallet, your Myers-Briggs, your SAT, your watch, your car, your zip code, your birth certificate, your ambition….

One way the right’s position is both more successful and more flawed is that it capitalizes on the pride that giving to charity gives us.  Giving feels good, mostly for the wrong reasons.  It establishes a hierarchy, it reminds everybody of who has what and why.  It gets written off the tax forms, it makes you a better person, it shows your concern for your fellow citizen and it demonstrates your superiority to those who don’t give–or to those who receive.

A new study (h/t Nathan Schradle) shows that, depending on how you read the stats, Southerners give more to charities, religious and non, than anyone else in the country.  The differences are negligible (5.2% compared to 4%).  And then there’s that little matter of even 5.2% not putting a dent in our national need.