The first round of stories about the Smithsonian’s new museum of the American Indian is over, and The Revealer awards first prize to The Washington Post‘s Libby Copeland for “Guiding Spirit” — which reveals that “spirit” is relative when it comes to museum-craft. “What’s sacred?” writes Copeland. “Words get slippery here…” Indeed. Copeland starts with a noble savage premise — a real live Indian is going to show her around the museum — and quickly undercuts the cheap kind of magic that could ensue by mixing tales of commerce and spiritual belief together with advantage given to neither. There’s some new-agey reverence here, but there’s also skepticism. There are some historical missteps — the European concept of “religion” applied to the pre-Columbian past — but there are also the subtle moves of a reporter writing with eyes wide open to both the past and the present. And writing well: “In non-native culture, there are few items considered so holy, so forbidden, that they cannot even be looked at…. But there are religious symbols that maintain their power: crosses, relics, altars. There is our national flag, a secular object with such totemic power that there is substantive debate over whether it should be illegal to burn what is, in fact, a piece of cloth. The Great Pyramid has a magical quality that surpasses its bigness, its oldness, its ingenuity. Certainly, a secular object like the flag is not the same as kachina masks to the devout. But there is a common human reality here.” Oh, no — is Copeland about to sink into a Joseph Campbell soup of meaningless equivalences? Nope. “It has,” she observes, “to do with reverence.” In other words, it’s not about archetypes, it’s about actions, the verbs called into being by believers who do things here in this world. That insight makes this a great story, and a model for writing about “religion.”
Lebanon bans The Da Vinci Code : “‘We have to work for public interest, banning anything that could worsen sectarian prejudices or offend religions.'”
Two prominent Sunni clerics in Iraq, Sheikh Hazem Zeidi and Sheikh Muhammad Jadu were shot by gunmen last night and today, adding to fears of a possible Sunni-Shia conflict. Both belonged to the Muslim Scholars’ Association, a conservative group that opposes the U.S. military presence in Iraq, but has worked for the release of foreign hostages. “‘We hope it is not an organised campaign to assassinate the association’s clerics,'” said a source for the group.
Lashing back against your hippie elders isn’t just for Young Republican preps: Teresa Watanabe of The Los Angeles Times reports on the seminary class of the early ’80s — a generation ordained under Pope John Paul II that rebelled against the older, more liberal priests ordained during the 1960s reforms brought on by the Second Vatican Council. Fully dedicated to the orthodox teachings of the presiding pope, many of these young conservatives believe that artificial birth control and gay sex are always a sin; oppose the ordination of women and wear the black cassock abandoned by most priests decades ago.
A New Jersey Six Flags amusement park was besieged by complaints for holding a “Muslim Youth Day,” on a weekday when the park would have otherwise remained closed. The New York Times’ Jill P. Capuzzo reports that company headquarters were flooded with threats to boycott or sue the park, and talk show hosts implied that the park was hosting terrorist supporters. The park has regularly been rented to groups of Jewish, Catholic and home-schooled children.