Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us for this week’s round-up. We’ll start off with a few of our usual groupings, then break things down into some slightly less conventional sections, before, as usual, rounding things out with some especially image-heavy religion and media miscellanea. In fact, the whole darn thing is image heavy this week. Hope you like it!
#Prayers: “Instapray app puts our best (and worst) prayer impulses on display“ according to Laura Turner for the Religion News Service.
An app can’t take the place of the church, and it can’t take the place of praying with someone in person. It feels a little goofy to claim that God gave you victory on your drivers’ test the sixth time through just because you prayed the right prayer. The logo is cheesy and Instapray will be impossible to monetize.
The impulse, though, is a lovely one — to connect people in need of something beyond what they can create for themselves. Our best and worst impulses are on display when we pray — and now they’re available to us all, with the press of a button.
Is there a problem with virtual communion? Joel J. Miller explains “The problem with virtual communion“ in Ancient Faith Blogs.
Why does it take a sci-fi novelist to nail what so many Christian leaders miss? Who wants a simulation when you can have the real thing? It’s a question proponents of virtual communion should ask themselves more often. And if pastors and theologians find Ignatius, Ephraim, and Augustine inaccessible these days, they could do worse than start with Cline’s novel.
Erin White reflects on Catholicism, marriage, parenting, illness, and Goethe in “Faith Enough” by for Killing the Buddha.
We also read Goethe’s Wish. “I wish for you,” he writes, “faith enough to make real the things of God.” For years after I left the Catholic Church this was my prayer. I imagined Goethe meant faith enough to make real the hills and rivers, the climbing pea shoots, the hungry child. My plain New England church. I believed in the aggregation of such places and sights, hoping I could collect my own attic of holy moments, so many that I wouldn’t need the Catholic Church, wouldn’t need those five o’clock Masses, those candles, those saints’ days. Those tethers, now cut, which had once tied me to God. I gave up on the idea of being touched again, gave up on the possibility of visions, of voices.
But then Grace was in pain and my eyes were touched again, and the men did not look like trees. And I saw God everywhere. In the hospital waiting room I watched a father put a piece of pizza in front of his wheelchair-bound child and I saw the Eucharist. Grace floated in a gleaming steel hospital tub and fluttered her legs without pain, and I heard God say: Can you see the miracle of water? Can you see, once again, the bright curve of her future?
Daniel Bennett writes about “The Rise of Christian Conservative Legal Organizations” for Religion and Politics.
Just as the Federalist Society spurred and lent credibility to the conservative legal movement, the Christian Right did the same for CCLOs. Specifically, elites in the Christian Right, sensing the promise of legal advocacy for their causes, lent organizational support and resources to new legal interest groups: Pat Robertson founded both the National Legal Foundation and the American Center for Law and Justice; James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Bill Bright (among others) were instrumental in organizing Alliance Defending Freedom; and Jerry Falwell lent Liberty Counsel institutional support. Without this early assistance from the Christian Right, many CCLOs would not exist as we now know them.
Dave Krueger interviews Kelly Brown Douglas about her new book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God for Marginalia‘s “First Impressions” podcast.
And Bookforum has one of their great “Omnivore” round-ups titled, “Will Pope Francis Break the Church?” with all sorts of great recent Pope links.
Lastly, thinking of retiring soon? Or, you know, at least someday? Too bad! “Noah From The Bible [Ed.’s note: Is that like Jenny from the block?] Didn’t Retire, So This Likely GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Doesn’t See Why You Should” reports Samantha Lachman for The Huffington Post.
There’s nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. And yet it’s been an accepted concept in our culture today,” he said. “Nowhere does it say, ‘Well, he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach.’ It doesn’t say that anywhere.”
“The example I think of is Noah,” he continued. “How old was Noah when he built the ark? 600. He wasn’t like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn’t hanging out, he was working. So, I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical.”
Phyllis Rose gives us a taste of “My Mother’s Yiddish” in The American Scholar.
My mother’s Yiddish was the Yiddish of American Jews at a particular historical moment, when the experiences of immigration and assimilation to a new culture were not far in the past. A klug zu Columbus (a curse on Columbus, or, damn Columbus) expressed the immigrant’s exasperation with the land of opportunity. Mother said this when her children were being too American, as in:
“I have to have a new dress for graduation.”
“A new dress? What’s wrong with the old dresses?”
“Everyone is getting a new dress.”
“A klug zu Columbus!”
As for the next generation of American Jews, you can have a look at ’em in Meryl Meisler‘s photographs collected in “Seventies Long Island: The Whole Misphocha” for The New Yorker.
In grim historical news, Slate published “Separated at Birth: How a few days in 1947 turned India and Pakistan into sworn enemies” an excerpt from Nisid Hajari new book, Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition.
As awful as the carnage was, though, it was for much of August concentrated in the Punjab. The combatants were mostly peasants, armed with crude weapons. If the two new governments had managed to quell the mayhem quickly, they might in time have found scope to cooperate on issues ranging from economic development to foreign policy. Instead, the infant India and Pakistan would soon be drawn into a rivalry that’s lasted almost 70 years and has cast a nuclear shadow over the subcontinent.
You can listen to an interview with Hajari on Fresh Air.
Also on Fresh Air, and on a lighter, but still historical, note: “Those Yoga Poses May Not Be Ancient After All, And Maybe That’s Okay” explains Michelle Goldberg.
And on an even lighter, and totally futuristic note: “What a ‘Mischievous Blonde Woman’ Dalai Lama Could Look Like” according to I-fan Lin for Global Voices.
Looking to add to your summer reading list?
Marion Holmes Katz talks about her new book “Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Though and Social Practice” with Kristian Petersen for The New Books Network.
And Anthony Petro (whom you may remember from this month’s edition of Ann Neumann‘s column, “The Patient Body: Pathological Sex“) was interviewed by Samira K. Mehta for the Religion in American History blog: “After the Wrath of God: An Interview with Anthony Petro.”
Of course, when we get into the thick of this history, we see that the AIDS crisis was never a single issue. Christians across the political and theological spectrum understood it as an apocalyptic event or a wake-up call for the church to engage with the world. Many gay men — the population most closely associated with the disease in the 1980s — understood it variously as a government conspiracy, a sign of moral punishment, or a call to grow up into monogamous sexual adulthood. AIDS was a medical event, to be sure, but it was also a deeply moral epidemic. The medical and moral often overlapped. The chapters of my book take up different sites of moral engagement to unravel the ways Christian rhetoric gained traction, not merely by declaring AIDS a divine punishment, but more importantly by offering a moral prescription for sex.
Anna M. Gade has written a series of four essays about “Islam and Prayers for The Environment in Java” for Reverberations: New Directions in the Study of Prayer hosted by the Social Science Research Council.
Across the island of Java, devotions for environmental well-being introduced a new object of purpose (“the environment” itself), through forms of dhikr and salawat that nevertheless still conserved outward form. Esoteric theory and practice combined with modern patterns of ritual purpose to support the specificity of such explicitly “environmental” prayer. As I discusselsewhere, new stakeholders, such as Muslim and non-Muslim NGOs, now seek to extract from Islamic traditions such ritual resources in order to promote environmental care. The conditions that shift landscapes of prayer in this manner also form the contours for pluralistic religious norms of environmentalism that are committed to notions of the traditions of “world religions.” This renders Muslim prayers, now re-dedicated in their intent to be universally and instrumentally “environmental” as globalized performances in our shared era of the Anthropocene.
Steven Jackson writes about “A Mountain of Many Legends Draws Spiritual Seekers from Around The Globe” for NPR.
Ashalyn (just Ashalyn — she doesn’t use a surname) is the founder of Shasta Vortex Adventures. Her company leads guided meditations, vision quests and hiking and driving tours of the mountain’s sacred sites.
“I get people from all over the world,” she says, pointing to a world map on the wall behind her desk. There’s a little pushpin for every client’s home country. The map is bursting with pins. “They come here for spiritual growth, healing, understanding more about themselves, figuring out what their life purpose is, and sometimes just to feel the energy.”
And a “Monk takes devotion to new heights” and is photographed by Amos Chapple for CNN Photos.
Maxime the monk lives on a pillar. When he wants to step down out of the clouds, the 59-year-old scales a 131-foot ladder, which takes him about 20 minutes.
ARTS & CULTURE
Scott MacDougall argues that “Faith in the Future is no Faith at All: Disney’s Weak Theology” by for Religion Dispatches.
It’s true that news and other media shape our attitudes, which in turn shape our realities. And it is true, as the character behind this scheme observes, that the more the media turns up the volume on our collective awfulness, the more the public appears to embrace it. But Tomorrowland never asks why this might be (except to posit a general unthematized, solipsistic nihilism infecting the vast majority of the global population), nor does it ask us to take a closer look at the consumerism, gross inequality, and ecological rapaciousness that lie behind those news stories—never mind asking us to take action against such conditions (or even simply to demand better journalism!).
Al Downham shares why “I Hid My Gender Dysphoria from My Christian Hardcore Band” in Vice.
If there’s a reason why I kept performing, preaching theology that attacked my sense of self, it’d be that I was scared of being a disappointment. I feared letting down my family, my band, the fans, a higher power. I’d never identified with anything more than I identified with the Christian community and I trusted its approach to my dysphoria.
Michael Serazio takes a Durkheimian approach and asks: “Just How Much is Sports Fandom Like Religion?” in The Atlantic.
What totems, therefore, still survive in this culture of ours? The Red Sox. The Packers. The Lakers. And so on. The notion that sports remain our civic religionis truer than we often let on: In fandom, as in religious worship, our social connections are brought to life, in the stands as in the pews. It serves as a reminder of our interconnectedness and dependency; it materially indexes belonging. Like others, I indulge the royal “we” when speaking of my team, though there is little evidence they need me much beyond ticket sales, merchandise, and advertising impressions. Nonetheless, as Durkheim long ago noticed, “Members of each clan try to give themselves the external appearance of their totem … When the totem is a bird, the individuals wear feathers on their heads.” Ravens fans surely understand this.
In short, if you look hard at sports, you can’t help but see contours of religion.
Speaking of Durkheim, there’s more to be had in Lieke Wijnia‘s “Everything You Own in a Box to the Left: Reclaiming the Potential of the Sacred in Music” for Marginalia.
According to Partridge, popular music is fundamentally transgressive. It operates in the margins, and its history is characterized by rejected behaviors and ideas. Because of this, music is able to challenge established sacred discourses, transform them, and establish new ones. The focus on transgression helps to understand popular music’s impure sacred potential in challenging the pure. A fine example is his analysis of bluesman Robert Johnson, who through his music criticized the American slavery system in the 1930s, while simultaneously offering a voice to those subjected to the system. While this system was celebrated by white America, Johnson gave voice to the taboo by challenging it.
One of our favorite “Man Men” post-mortems so far has been, “Mad men and the Enlightenment of Don Draper” by Matthew S. Hedstrom for Religion and Politics.
And yet, as we all now know, this did not come to pass. Don Draper did not come to Jesus. He did something even better—if not better for himself, certainly something better for the show, something better to dramatize the spiritual allure and danger of advertising. Don meditated. As we watched the final episode last week, we witnessed showrunner Matthew Weiner find the only corner of American religious life more deeply entwined with consumerism, more fully a creature of advertisers’ dreams, than evangelical Christianity. Don, if only for a moment, joined the “spiritual but not religious.”
Writing about some shows that are, thankfully, still on the air, Kathryn Reklis discusses”Funny Girls” in The Christian Century.
For people who track the fate of religion in America, this should come as no surprise. These women, after all, would show up as “nothing in particular” on surveys of religious affiliation. But “nothing in particular” is not “nothing at all.” As observers have pointed out about the rise of the nones, survey data can mask the complex variety of spiritual practices that exist alongside widespread suspicion of traditional institutions. The same might be said for attitudes toward sex, romance, and commitment. Mocking older conventions might be a step toward forming new ones. Most mainstream comedies still assume that women are desperate to get married, men are scared to commit, and both women and men need to be tamed by the mundane trials of domesticity. Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, and Girls all suggest that this narrative isn’t very funny anymore.
RELIGION OR MENTAL ILLNESS?
At least in our minds, these two articles did well being read together.
“Hallucination, or Divine Revelation?” by Emma Green for The Atlantic.
As “madness” became “mental illness,” the role of religion in explaining out-of-the-ordinary behavior has faded significantly, and medicine has taken its place. It’s not that strange happenings have faded from importance in religious life; it’s that in the shadow of modern medicine, it’s more difficult to discern between the strange phenomena of the brain and the potentially stranger phenomena of the supernatural.
“Narcissism and terrorism: how the personality disorder leads to deadly violence” by Ann Manne for The Guardian.
Malignant narcissists, though devoured by envy and rage, can still idealise powerful figures whose beliefs conveniently justify the destruction of those they denigrate, says Kernberg. This makes them susceptible to taking an ideology such as jihadism to the point of violent extremism. In Terror in the Name of God; Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern interviewed many terrorists. She found a common theme: “They start out feeling humiliated, enraged that they are viewed by some ‘Other’ as second class. They take on a new identity on behalf of a purported spiritual cause. The weak become strong … rage turns to conviction.” As the world is simplified into good and evil, they feel “spiritually intoxicated”. The “apocalyptic violence” on behalf of their spiritual calling, committed as if in a trance, is addictive, the ultimate high.
Deciding who’s sick and who isn’t has always been pretty politically and historically contingent. Definitely something worth considering. Among those who are doing their best to work with the subjectiveness of these designations is Al Jazeera. Here, to that point, they explain why they never use the word “terrorist” in their reporting.
ROUNDING OUT THE ROUND-UP
Good news for our Kosher friends! “Italian Parmigiano Reggiano goes Kosher to Grab U.S. Market” by Chiara Vasarri and Flavia Rotondi for Bloomberg Business.
The first Kosher parmesan cheese wheels produced by Bertinelli will be available on the market in October and will be presented at the ongoing World Expo in Milan, dedicated to food.
A degree in agriculture, a background in theological studies and four years in Canada eased his ability to make parmesan that complies with the kashrut, the set of Jewish religious dietary laws, and with an 800-year-old Italian Parmigiano Reggiano making tradition.
Signs are everywhere: “Man accused of Ponzi scheme allegedly believed Holy Spirit guided his investing” by Anthony Fay for WWLP Channel 22 News.
“Erickson believed that the ‘Holy Spirit’ had given him a proprietary system for day trading of a particularly volatile type of futures contract,” the administrative report stated. He is accused of showing spreadsheets to clients showing returns of 4% per month; returns with which they would be able to recover 96% of their investment in only two years’ time.
And, “Stain Below Jesus Painting in Newport Church Seen as a Sign from God” by Mark Schieldrop for Newport Patch.
Humphrey said the church is not advertising it as a miracle, nor is he making any claim.
“The mark has been there for years–washed off from time to time, as I understand it, yet reappearing. People have noticed it and remarked upon it before. Some find it deeply moving, located as it is directly beneath the bleeding feet of Jesus. I know I do,” Humphrey said.
Ready for lots of pictures! First up, we really enjoyed looking at both of these sets of photos this week.
First, “Finding Female Spirituality with Poland’s Witches, Druids, and Whisperers” by David Rosenberg with photographs by Katarzyna Majak.
And also this series of images from “Corpus Christi Celebrations” by Aland Taylor for The Atlantic.
Ever wondered what hell sounds like? Well, good news: “Hieronymus Bosch painted sheet music on a man’s butt and now you can hear it.”
And finally, “Charlie, Charlie, are you there?” from Dan Piepenbring at The Paris Review.
I like to root for the underdog, so I’m always comforted to find Satanism in the news. There are, after all, some two billion Christians in the world, and only about a hundred thousand Satanists; if the eternal war between good and evil is a numbers game, then it would seem the good guys have this one in the bag. And yet Satanism persists—pure evil’s got moxie.
The latest coup from the dark arts is Charlie Charlie Challenge, a Ouija Board-ish pursuit in which players—who tend to be, let’s face it, kids and teens—cross two pencils over a piece of paper and attempt to summon a Mexican demon. According to no less reliable a source than the Daily Mail, four Colombian high school students were hospitalized for “hysteria” after playing the game, which set off an international pandemic of DIY voodoo…
Pencils have always been among the finest weapons in a Satanist’s arsenal; problem is, these kids are stacking with them instead of drawing with them. It’s downright primitive. To behold the true power of an occultist with good draftsmanship, one need only look to an eighteenth-century grimoire called Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros, about which the Internet yields little. It’s written in Latin and German; the Wellcome Library, which published a high-resolution scan of the book in its entirety, suggests that it dates to 1775, though its unknown author apparently attempted to pass it off as a relic from 1057. The volume is labeled NOLI ME TANGERE: don’t touch.
Below are some of our favorites from the compendium, well, at least our favorites that are safe for work. When you have a chance for some NSFW perusing, we really, really recommend clicking through to see the rest.
And with that… We hope to see you all back here next week!
Past links round-ups can be found here:
Hip Hop, Hijabs, Hasidic Fashion, and more! (June 5, 2015)
TLC, THC, OMG! (May 29, 2015)
Mad Men, Mormons, Monks, and more! (May 22, 2015)
Candles, Kombucha, Crocodiles, and more! (May 15, 2015)
Lindsey Graham, Garland, TX, God’s Plaintiff, and more! (May 8, 2015)
Pamela Geller, Prophesy, PEN, and more! (May 1, 2015)
Talal Asad, Taylor Swift, Turbans, and more! (April 2015)
Passover, Prison, Pop Music, and more! (March 2015)
The Crusades, Anti-Vaxxers, Chocolate Gods, and more! (February 2015)
Paris, Witches, the CNN Apocalypse, and more! (January 2015)
Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)
Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)
-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer