Is the U.S. Post-Christian?

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Evangelical Christian demographer, George Barna investigates whether the US is a post-Christian nation. He concludes that the US is moving in that direction:

http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/613-how-post-christian-is-us-society

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Mali and the Cruelty of Fundamentalist Religion

Mali1

Mali is a wonderful African country with gorgeous music, a cosmopolitan history, and a diverse population, but Al Qaeda Islamists have wreaked havoc on the northen section, including the culturally renowned cities of Gao and Timbuktu. This is another warning about what happens when the fanatically religious take control of a society (take a look at Christian fundamentalists in Uganda who are persecuting gays). The embedded video is hard to watch, but powerful:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/24/world/africa/mali-victims-speak-out/index.html

 

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Climate Change and Political Action

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Bill McKibben complains that Obama is too patient on global climate change in the Guardian article below. However, we can’t expect Obama or any president or congress to do anything on their own. Politics never works that way and never has. Churchill responded to Hitler only because he really had no other choice other than to surrender to a brutal, maniacal dictator.

Environmentalists complain incessantly about how little Obama has done for the planet. However, it’s not his job. It’s our job and the job of activists. If not enough people accept climate change or the urgency of solving the problem, it’s up to environmental leaders to change the discourse and persuade people otherwise. If they aren’t up to the task, it’s their fault, not that of Obama or any politician.

Politicians like Obama will respond, and respond with urgency, if enough people demand it. Right now there is insufficient political space for Obama to do anything on climate change. Environmentalists must stop whining about the failure of political leaders and create the space themselves. This kind of action is what the planet is calling for us to engage in.

The job of a president (or any political leader in a democratic society) is to push people when they are not quite ready to do something, but need the extra lift to get them going. A president cannot create something out of nothing (only God–maybe–can do that in Genesis 1). It’s the job of the rest of us to move us to a place where the president can act without getting totally eviscerated.

From a spiritual point of view, humanity needs to act locally as members of broad-based coalitions and groups. We have depended far too long on individual leaders to do this work for us. By acting on our own as part of collective movements that transcend nation states, ethnic groups, socio-economic classes, and religions, we move humanity toward authentic empowerment by serving as co-creators.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/06/fossil-fuel-special-interests-barack-obama?commentpage=1

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Mormon Women Protest by Wearing Pants

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In a move to assert their rights in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and to bring attention to gender inequalities, Mormon women put out a call to wear pants to church. We may think of women as having achieved parity in many sectors of American society, but in religious institutions women often find themselves caught in the backdraft of ancient traditions and historical precedents.

In my own Jewish tradition, for example, women have found themselves arrested by Israeli police simply for wearing a prayer shawl (talit) while praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In fact, there is nothing in Jewish law that would prevent women from doing this: it’s simply a custom that men in authority don’t like.

This is another example of religious institutions trailing behind other sectors of society in promoting economic and social progress. In the modern world, organized religion has in fact mostly stood as an impediment to the expansion of freedom and to cultural advancement. In contrast, spiritual thought and practice is much more attuned to the unfolding consciousness that is very gradually bringing humanity to a higher state of awareness and living.

Thanks to these Mormon women for helping humanity move forward just a little bit further.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121220&_r=1&

 

 

 

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General Boykin and Christian Dominionism

Former General William “Jerry” Boykin is busy promoting Christian dominionism, targeting Islam, and promoting “Christian warriors.” This is one wierd world. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that “earth is the insane asylum of the universe.” I guess General Boykin and his allies are not very familiar with cultures and traditions other than his own. Just living in his own little isolation chamber, I guess
http://coloradoindependent.com/85808/palin-to-honor-troops-in-colorado-with-christian-military-crusader-boykin

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Huckabee Indoctrination

Huckabee wants Americans indoctrinated at gunpoint by David Barton, pseudo-historian who claims the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. Barton apparently denies that the First Amendment protects the religious rights of all US citizens; rather it protects only those who are Christian. Another Oy vez.
http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2011/03/30/mike-huckabee-says-he-wants-americans-to-be-indoctrinated-at-gunpoint/

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The Power of Symbolism

Here is my dissertation:  “The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World:  A Case Study of   Early  Christian Fish Symbolism” (3 vols):  Yale University, 1993.  Please note that the pagination in the PDF files, though close, is not exactly the same as in my original dissertation (due to formatting issues).

I originally intended this as part of a comparative study of ancient symbols, including the menorah for Jews.   Given the length of the project, this was not practical.  However, I regard my dissertation as comparative project whose goal is to understand the nature of religious symbolism.

There are many things that I would now change, including writing style.  Of note is the Avercius (Abercius) inscription text, which has several errors; for a correct edition, see http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/AverciusText1a.pdf.  I also wish that I had  included a section on the use of fish and fishing symbolism in the gospels.  If interested, take a look at the text of a talk I gave on this topic in “Essays and Talks” in “Larry Kant” (http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/FishNTTalk1.pdf).

I have also somewhat changed my views of Freud and Jung.  I always appreciated them, but my dissertation is more critical of them than I would be now.

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The Muslim Brotherhood’s Internal Divisions

The Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, and it may receive less support when it is not the only alternative.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/21/AR2011022102498.html

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al-Qaradawi Returns to Egypt and Publicly Attacks Israel

This is a danger that the Egyptian democratic movement must confront clearly and courageously.

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=209102

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Bahrain and Iran


An excellent analysis of this potential social and religious powder keg, where ethnic and religious conflict lies just beneath the surface.  US policy has glossed over much of this, but the chickens are coming home to roost.  Now is the time to encourage peaceful, democratic change in order to avoid an extremist religious Shiite takeover.
http://jerusalemcenter.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/could-the-kingdom-of-bahrain-become-an-iranian-pearl-harbor/

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Tunisia: Secular and Religion


Tunisia has a very proud civil, secular tradition that includes women’s rights.  With the collapse of the dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian society and politics are at a crossroads.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/world/africa/21tunisia.html?_r=1&hp

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Religion Not Important in Egypt Revolution


Despite the understandable talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolt in Egypt (and throughout the Middle East) has not been about religion, but about economic opportunity and freedom.  This is a secular issue.  While this does not guarantee that religious extremists will not come to power in the midst of chaos, it suggests that there is tremendous pressure against that scenario.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/world/middleeast/16islam.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

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Rebel Yoga: Tara Stiles

While many (including me) emphasize the religious and spiritual roots of yoga, Tara Stiles takes another approach.  She just wants people to do yoga and improve their lives and bodies.  She rebels against those teachers who see themselves as gurus.  Her goal is to make yoga accessible rather than difficult and total.  Deepak Chopra is among her students.  I am impressed by her authenticity and determination to simplify this ancient tradition.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/nyregion/23stretch.html?sq=yoga&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=all

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Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt

I don’t agree with Religion Link’s description (http://www.religionlink.com/topic_110131.php) of the Muslim Brotherhood as “not simply a religion, but a way of life.”  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood believes that.  Yet, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, it also believes that Egypt should be an Islamic state, as should other Muslim countries in the Middle East.  It does not historically affirm freedom, openness, an entrepreneurial economy, or secular democratic values such as a free press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.  Unlike Iranian Shi’ites, the Mujhadeen, and Jihadists generally, the Muslim Brotherhood is not wedded to intimidation and violence as the primary means of achieving its goals, but it is willing to use violence when it sees fit.  For example, members assassinated King Abdullah I in Jordan in 1951, tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, were implicated in the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981, assassinated a number of moderate Arab leaders in the 1950’s, and perpetrated other terrorist attacks including the Hebron massacre of Jews in1929.  Since the 1970’s and 80’s, it has renounced violence and has spoken of Islamic democracy, but given its history and its hostility to generally accepted democratic values, it would not be unreasonable to view its democratic advocacy very skeptically.  Further, Hamas (which rules Gaza) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has consistently used violence against both Israelis and Palestinians as an important tactical component.  In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood views Israel as the enemy of Arabs and Muslims.  The Muslim Brotherhood has also had a long-standing, well-documented admiration of, and support, for Nazi ideology.  In general, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt now uses moderate tactics, but its goal is still an Islamic state.  And, remember, calling for Islam to be a part of government is not the same as calling for an Islamic State, with Sharia law and all its accoutrements.  There’s certainly the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed and will continue to evolve into a democratic movement, but there will have to be more evidence to trust that.

Here is a link from Juan Cole, suggesting that a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is unlikely.  Many Egyptians who are religious and who oppose the current government also have democratic, secular values.  And there is a long tradition of secular politics in Egypt.  There is also widespread support for Islamic values, but not necessarily for an Islamic state:  http://www.juancole.com/2011/02/why-egypt-2011-is-not-iran-1979.html .  I hope Cole is right.

That said, in the final analysis, prosperity and peace in the Middle East depend upon Muslim/Arab societies developing democratic traditions and cultures of openness,  That will be good for everyone, including the US and Israel, in the long run.  Of course, the “long run” can take a long time, and there can be a lot of turbulence and suffering in-between.

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Avercius (aka Abercius)

Final Draft before publication of Laurence H. Kant “The Earliest Christian Inscription:  Bishop Avercius’ Last Words Document the Emergence of the Church,” in Bible Review 17.1, February, 2001, pp. 10-19, 47:  AverciusBAS1

3b) Here is my most up-to-date edition of the text:  AverciusText

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Fish Symbolism

Here is my dissertation:  Laurence H. Kant, “The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World:  A Case Study of   Early  Christian Fish Symbolism” (3 vols):  Yale University, 1993.  Please note that the pagination in the PDF files, though close, is not exactly the same as in my original dissertation (due to formatting issues).

I originally intended this as part of a comparative study of ancient symbols, including the menorah for Jews.   Given the length of the project, this was not practical.  However, I regard my dissertation as comparative project whose goal is to understand the nature of religious symbolism.

There are many things that I would now change, including writing style.  Of note is the Avercius (Abercius) inscription text, which has several errors; for a correct edition, see above.  I also wish that I had  included a section on the use of fish and fishing symbolism in the gospels.  If interested, take a look at the text of a talk I gave on this topic in “Essays and Talks” in “Larry Kant.”

I have also somewhat changed my views of Freud and Jung.  I always appreciated them, but my dissertation is more critical of them than I would be now.

Diss1Diss2Diss3Diss4Diss5Diss6

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American Yoga

This is a timely piece giving a real sense of the difference between modern fitness yoga and the authentic tradition of spiritual discipline practiced by Indian yogis and yoginis.  Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that was then adapted in other religious traditions in the twentieth century.  Yet, it has its roots in Indian religion, and this is how it first came to the US.  Yoga is not necessarily exercise or breath work, but a system of feeling, thought, and experience. In fact, Yoga does not even have to involve the body at all, but can consist of communal activities or study.  Yoga simply means “union” (as in union with God).

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/culture/3917/mormon-born_daya_mata_typifies_american_yoga/

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A Buddhist View of the Environment and Evolution

http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=16105

“In his recent book, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology (2008), the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh asserts that Buddhism, as a robust type of humanism, allows people to learn how to live on our planet not only responsibly, but with compassion and lovingkindness. …”

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Are Religions Different Paths to the Same Wisdom?

Below is an interesting piece by Stephen Prothero. I agree with a lot of what Prothero says. The goals of different religions are not the same. Eliding the differences inevitably leads to misunderstanding others. For example, talking about who will be saved is a Christian question, which most in the world do not even share, because they are not interested in salvation at all. Christians are focused on the person of Jesus Christ, while Jews and Muslims are focused on texts and words. Talking about God makes no sense to many Buddhists. Many influenced by New Age approaches desire reincarnation, but Hindus want to liberate themselves from it, and Buddhists view it as ultimately an illusion. Confucians uphold political and social order, while Daoists are political and social minimalists. Plus the goal of sameness is not a goal that all share. Jews view themselves as different, and Christians and Muslims want others to be like them.

Where I disagree with Prothero is his idea that “God” or “wisdom” is not one. The fact that there are different goals and multiple truths does not negate the oneness in which we dwell. Oneness does not mean that we don’t share fundamental values (e.g. the Golden Rule) and share important spiritual outlooks. Further, the fact that we have different goals and purposes does not negate oneness. It just means that our definition of “oneness” and “unity” is too limited and narrow, since it does not make room for multiple truths, paradox, and contradiction. There are not two choices–difference or sameness. That’s a false dichotomy.

Idolatry is making an object, a person, or an idea into a fetish. That is what both sides of this debate do. The “lumpers” privilege commonality and sameness, while the “splitters” privilege separation and difference. In so doing, they end up defining “God” or a “higher power” or the ultimate energy or “nirvana” or “heaven” or “nature” or “wisdom” in simplistic and objectifying language. They cannot envision unity as complex, multivalent, or chaotic. But perhaps that is what the oneness of “God”–or whomever or whatever you prefer call it–is.

There is not one path or one truth, but many paths and many truths held together in a paradoxical unity.

In this regard, mystical approaches offer a lot, because, with the loss of the ego/self, paradox is not a problem to be solved, but a dynamic energy in which to live.

©Laurence H. Kant

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/04/25/separate_truths/?page=full

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Yoga’s New Wave

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/fashion/25yoga.html
A movement against the rock star model of teaching yoga and an emphasis on practice over star instructors

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Who Murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero?

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