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All Reason.com articles with the "Religion" tag.



Published: Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 06 Dec 2016 12:50:40 -0500

 



So This Is (Your Annual War on) Christmas

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500

The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone by now. Memories of oppressive Black Friday crowds (or the social signaling from those who refuse to participate) are fading. The Christmas holiday season is in full swing, and with it comes all the news hooks from people being just stupid about it all. Welcome to another viral outrage Christmas, full of media stories about how the tidings of comfort and joy are cultural appropriation, or colonialization, or denials of the glory of Christ (the reason for the season!), or bad for children's psychological development, or in some other fashion not being observed the way it ought to be. Let's take a look at what's on the menu just today. It's too soon to say whether this may end up being a recurring feature across the month, but all these stories bouncing around all at once already suggests the culture war has something important to say about egg nog and candy canes. The Myth of Santa Claus May Cause Kids to Distrust Adults. So … What's the Downside? If CBS wants to pay to read some British psychologist muse in the pages of Lancet Psychiatry over whether it's wrong to lie to children about the existence of Santa Claus, more power to them. I'll politely decline and draw from their reporting. What does researcher Christopher Boyle think is the problem? When kids find out the truth, it challenges their perception of their parents as the ultimate omniscient narrators of how the universe works: The paper, entitled "A wonderful lie," suggests that children's trust in their parents may be undermined by the Santa myth. "If they are capable of lying about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?" the researchers write. "If adults have been lying about Santa, even though it has usually been well intentioned, what else is a lie? If Santa isn't real, are fairies real? Is magic? Is God?" For psychologist Christopher Boyle, a professor at the University of Exeter in the U.K., one of the authors of the paper, the "morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned." "All children will eventually find out they've been consistently lied to for years, and this might make them wonder what other lies they've been told," he said in a statement. "Whether it's right to make children believe in Father Christmas is an interesting question, and it's also interesting to ask whether lying in this way will affect children in ways that have not been considered." God, just imagine if the kids grow up and start questioning other things they're told by authority figures! Just think what terrible, terrible outcomes those would be! Surely Somebody on Twitter Must Be Offended by Black Santa! Mall of America in Minneapolis has a black Santa Claus for the very first time this year, the result of a lengthy search for a "diverse St. Nicholas that kids of color would relate to," according to the Star Tribune. They tracked down Larry Jefferson, who will be at the mall for four days before heading back to the Texas to play black Santa down there. Yes, see, it turns out that Jefferson has been playing Santa Claus since 1999 for kids and it's no big deal. It's easy to see why the Star Tribune would want to report on the first appearance of a non-white Santa in its major mall, but the story for some reason has gone national. I suppose it would be cynical and unseasonably mean of me to wonder if there are other media folks combing the Twittersphere looking for four or five random people to express outrage that Santa is not white in order to write a piece about angry racists? Sure enough, it turns out the Star Tribune has turned comments off on the story, though the Daily Dot was unable to determine whether there were any comments offensive enough to mandate such a measure. People's responses on Facebook tend to be telegraphing their own ideas about what the "other side" is going to say about the Santa Claus rather than their own opinions. Your Gigantic Door Santa Is Triggering Me Outrage is also the order of the day at the Hillsboro School Distr[...]



LGBT Lives Are Better Than Ever, Yet The Culture War Grows Louder

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500

My public reaction (on Twitter) when I saw BuzzFeed's strange, now-viral piece about a couple of HGTV hosts going to a church whose pastor doesn't support gay marriage was to wonder if the media outlet was going to write a similar piece about every single Catholic in America or just the famous ones. Whatever the stated intent for running a story about the church attendance of some C-list home improvement show hosts (they do well in cable ratings, anyway), the subtext is clearly intended for us to look askance at Chip and Joanna Gaines for belonging to a church whose pastor preaches against gay marriage. The weirdest part of the piece is that it's entirely speculative. The Gaineses didn't respond to requests for comment, so it's a piece that cannot even tell the reader whether the Gaineses themselves support or oppose gay marriage. Robby Soave noted this morning a couple of media outlets like Jezebel and Cosmopolitan running with the story. There's also been a much larger blitz of responses that are critical of the BuzzFeed piece. Here's some critical analysis over at the Washington Post from an engaged gay man who worries that the digital media environment under the Donald Trump administration is going to end up as "four agonizing, tedious years of 'gotcha' non-stories like this one." There is some possible good news here amid the media feeding frenzy surrounding the story: At the time that I'm writing this, a host of outlets have written about and linked to the BuzzFeed story. But I haven't seen a peep at the major blogs or media outlets (such as The Advocate) that specifically cater to LGBT readers. I may have missed a blog link somewhere given the size of the internet, but this "controversy" doesn't seem to be a focus of sites that are narrowly focused on LGBT lives and issues. Why is this good news? Because it's a sign that the people who are actually affected by cultural attitudes toward gay marriage recognition understand where the battles truly are (to the extent that there are any battles left). Whatever the Gaineses and their retrograde preacher believe about gay marriage is not relevant to whether the practice will continue. There is no indication that any of these people in this story have influence to alter the state of legal recognition (or any interest in doing so). There is a lot of focus at LGBT sites about who will be serving the Trump administration and fears about what they may do. Trump actively courted LGBT voters, which is remarkable on its own for a representative of the Republican Party. Let's not forget that the Republican Party's opposition to gay issues hasn't been just a plank in the platform—it's also historically been an issue to campaign with, something largely absent from this year's race. Trump nevertheless did terribly with gay voters, according to exit polls. But while Trump doesn't seem to personally have much opposition to the LGBT agenda, the same cannot be said for the people he's selecting for his administration, and that's where all the power will be. I've noted previously fear over Trump's selection of Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services, given his record of opposition on gay issues. Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for secretary of education, didn't just oppose legal recognition of gay marriage; she actually bankrolled ballot initiatives to block it. Her family has significant connections to organizations that have done everything they could to halt the legal normalization of same-sex relationships, and it's worth analyzing how that might affect what she does in Trump's cabinet. So having said that, what I'm seeing from pieces like this bizarre one from BuzzFeed, and from things like a gay politician's attempt to promote a boycott of a beer company owner for supporting Trump, is an inability to accept a norm that we live side-by-side in a world with significant ideological diversity, and an inability to place an emphasis on policy-making over signaling and culture war judging. Debate over DeVos' actual anti-gay background and[...]



6 Fast Facts About the FBI's New Hate-Crime Report

Tue, 15 Nov 2016 10:30:00 -0500

The FBI just released new information on hate crimes—defined as "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity"—that occurred in America last year. Here are six key points and takeaways that are crucial to understanding the data. 1. The new report covers incidents that occurred in 2015. This seems like the first important fact to note, since some people have already been trying to pass the data off as a response to Donald Trump's election as president. That's obviously impossible. Trump did start his campaign seriously in the summer of 2015, which leaves open the possibility for his influence on bias-based crimes last year. But other influential events of 2015 include major Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and Turkey; the mass shooting carried out by ISIS supporters in San Bernardino, California; the rising refugee crisis in Europe; an array of "officer involved shootings," anti-police brutality protests, and Black Lives Matter activism within the U.S.; and the transgender bathroom issue breaking into the mainstream media/political scene for the first time, to name a few. Any serious explanation for a shift in violence against various minorities last year must take all of that (and many other factors) into account, so it's disappointing to see people immediately leap to pin new data to "Trumpism." One needn't feel love for Trump and his fan club to find any explanation that starts and stops with them woefully lacking, partisan, and, to the extent that it clouds out analysis of other factors, possibly destructive. 2. The data is incomplete + inherently increase-prone every year. The FBI collects national data on all sorts of crimes as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. It has done so since the 1930s. In 1990, it started specifically collecting data "about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity," or what it calls "hate crimes." The first FBI hate-crime statistics included reporting data from just 11 states. Since 1990, the number of law-enforcement agencies participating in the FBI's hate-crime reporting program has grown relatively steadily, meaning that in terms of sheer number of incidents, part (or perhaps all) of any increases may be attributed to an increase in the number of jurisdictions and agencies reporting hate-crime data to the FBI. The 2015 statistics include information from law-enforcement agencies representing some 283,884,034 people, or about 89 percent of the U.S. population. This is actually down from 2014 and 2013 (when 15,494 and 15,016 agencies participated, respectively), but up from 2012, when just 13,022 participated.* 3. Hate-crimes against persons are down over last year. The FBI reported a total of 5,850 incidents from 2015 that it categorized as hate crimes, up slightly over 2014, when 5,479 incidents were reported. Overall, 65 of these biased-based incidents were classified as "crimes against society," 3,646 as "crimes against persons," and 2,338 as property crimes (with some incidents counted in more than one category). This represents a decrease in crimes against persons since 2014, when 4,048 such crimes were reported. 4. Nearly two-thirds of all hate crimes involved no physical violence. Of all 2015 incidents that the FBI deemed hate crimes, a little more than one third—36.5 percent—involved some sort of physical violence against an individual or group of individuals. Simple assault accounted for 24.5 percent of all incidents, aggravated assault for 11.6 percent, rape for 0.22 percent, and murder for 0.14 percent. Looking at just crimes against people, the most common occurrence was intimidation, which made up 41 percent of the incidents in this category. Simple assault accounted for 39 percent of crimes against people and aggravated assault for 18.7 percent. There were also 13 rapes and 8 murders in 2015 that were classified as hate crimes. In the property-crime category, vandalism was by far t[...]



Banned in Cannes

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0400

(image) Perched on France's southern coast, Cannes is famous for its luxurious beaches. But enjoying the seaside became more difficult for many Muslim women this summer: In July, the city passed a month-long ban on burkinis—head-to-toe two-piece swimsuits—on public shores.

Cannes is one of several French municipalities that moved to prohibit the demure swimwear following recent terrorist attacks across Europe. Prime Minister Manuel Valls supported the bans, telling the French newspaper La Provence that mayors are trying to "encourage people to coexist peacefully." In Cannes, women wearing the swimwear would be asked to leave as well as face a fine of 38 euros ($42).

In late August France's highest administrative court overturned one of the ordinances, calling it a "manifestly illegal infringement of fundamental liberties." But mayors in the region vowed to ignore the ruling; the situation remains in flux. Civil liberties groups have denounced the laws.

France has a history of mandating and enforcing secularism. In 2004, Parliament banned noticeable religious symbols, including headscarves and large crosses, in public schools. And in 2010, lawmakers passed a prohibition against women wearing burqas and niqabs in public, a vote that drew criticism from human rights and religious organizations.




Brickbat: Tell Me About It

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a California law that forces religious pregnancy clinics to give women information on how to obtain an abortion. The court ruled that the law does not violate anyone's First Amendment rights.




Future Nobel Laureate Warns: The Antichrist Is Coming!

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 10:40:00 -0400

It's April 1980. You live in Toronto. You're going to see future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan play a show at Massey Hall. Of course, you don't think of him as future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. You think of him as a hippie rock star who's just pissed off vast swaths of his fan base by converting to evangelical Christianity. Hopefully you weren't expecting to hear his old hits, because Dylan doesn't sing any of those. Instead he plays a bunch of his new religious songs, and at one point, with the band vamping behind him like he's a preacher and it's Sunday morning, he lets loose a little sermon. "In the Bible," he says, "it tells you specific things, in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, which just might apply to these times here." And he talks about Afghanistan and he talks about the Antichrist, and while he's standing there playing the prophet you start to realize that future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan isn't just into Christianity; he's into some freaky endtimes shit. But damn if he doesn't make it compelling, and somehow it all builds to a revved-up performance of "Solid Rock." Check out the whole thing here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TPEv1y_Navk" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> I'm already on record as a fan of Dylan's Christian albums, and I'm not gonna recycle my arguments for them here. I wrote a piece for No Depression back in 2003 that makes my case, and if you're interested you can check that out. I'll just note that I'm not a Christian myself, so I'm not inflating their quality because I agree with them. And much as I love Dylan's best work, I'm definitely not the sort of fan who eats up everything he puts out, so that's not the issue here either. I honestly believe that Slow Train Coming is one of the great American jeremiads and that Saved is 43 minutes of good-and-sometimes-great gospel music. But I do have one little bias that might be magnifying my affection for this stage of Dylan's career. It's the window it opens on that Carter-era apocalyptic mood, when everything from the Afghan war to the Jonestown massacre—yeah, Dylan mentioned Jonestown in that sermon too—felt like a sign that Armageddon was near. Every era of American history has its own set of apocalyptic fears, a particular collection of cataclysms that seemed to loom at that specific moment. Inevitably, someone combines those historically contingent threats with the more long-lived tales Americans tell each other about the endtimes, so that, say, whatever happened that week in the Middle East is imagined as an event foretold in the Bible. Such exercises always look a little ridiculous in retrospect, once the crisis has passed without the world ending. But try to look past the ridiculousness. Try to suspend your disbelief and take them seriously, the way you might when you watch a horror movie. If you can do that, you'll find they're a valuable portal to the past. If you want to understand how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan felt as it happened, you have to take yourself out of the mindset that sees that incursion as the beginning of a nine-year war that ended nearly three decades ago. You have to imagine how it looked to someone who had no idea how this was going to end, someone who caught a whiff of Armageddon in the air. Someone who might talk about the invasion as though he was just a few years removed from doomsday, not 36 years removed from winning a Nobel Prize. And if he can wrap up that talk with a solid song, all the better. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For the Orson Welles version of Carter-era apocalypticism, check out the second and third videos here. For the far end of the period's endtimes fears, go here.)[...]



Is Religion in the Crosshairs?

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 06:00:00 -0400

It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, by Mary Eberstadt, HarperCollins, 192 pages, $25.99 In December 2015, the state of Oregon seized the contents of Melissa Klein's checking and savings accounts. A judge had ordered the bakery owner to pay $135,000 as punishment for declining, on the basis of her religious beliefs, to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. She objected, pledging to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court if necessary, so the state's labor commissioner took the money by force. One month earlier, a black teacher named Madeline Kirksey lost her job at a Texas day care center, allegedly for refusing to call an anatomically female 6-year-old student by a boy's name. Question: What do these two incidents have in common? Answer: It depends entirely on your ideological persuasion. For progressives, both are social justice victories. In each case, this view goes, a religious bigot attempted to impose her beliefs about morality on other people and the authorities slapped her down for it. For conservatives, both show a heavy-handed secularism working to stamp out traditional mores. Descriptions of these incidents appear together, in fact, in the introduction of It's Dangerous to Believe, a new book by the Catholic writer Mary Eberstadt, as commensurate examples of the "soft persecution" that increasingly befalls Christians in the West. For libertarians, the two are really not alike at all. To follow the latter logic, you need to distinguish between public and private behaviors. Where the state can use coercion and compulsion, private actors must turn to persuasion and negotiation. Because private individuals operate in the realm of voluntary interactions, they have to accept that sometimes they won't get their way. (To the demand "Work for my company!" a person can say "No!" To the demand "Pay your taxes!" there is no legal right of refusal.) So what happened to Melissa Klein, who was punished by the state, and what happened to Madeline Kirksey, who was punished by her employer, are different not just in degree but in kind. The core weakness of It's Dangerous to Believe is a failure to draw this conceptual distinction between governmental oppression and mere social stricture. Truly egregious violations of people's rights (a campus police officer shutting down a street preacher by falsely claiming it's illegal "to offend the students") are listed alongside nonviolent pressure (former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigning after the internet masses learned he supported an anti-gay marriage initiative). "Consider today's unprecedented legal and other attacks on Christian colleges, Christian associations and clubs on campuses and elsewhere, and Christian homeschooling," Eberstadt writes. Then, without a beat: "Or the range of tactics of intimidation, shunning, and smearing now deployed against religious traditionalists." There is, to be sure, a case to be made even against the latter form of punishment. Most lists of libertarian virtues would include the acceptance of unpopular beliefs and lifestyles, after all. And Eberstadt compiles a damning catalog of evidence that the left has indeed abandoned its own "secular-progressive standards of tolerance, diversity, and freedom for all" in a single-minded drive to penalize cultural conservatives for their wrongthink. She points, for example, to the pattern of "disinvitations," in which colleges revoke requests for politically radioactive figures to speak on campuses. Then there's the story that lawyer and National Review staff writer David French relayed from his time working admissions at Cornell Law School: "The committee almost rejected an extraordinarily qualified applicant because of his obvious Christian faith (he'd attended Christian college, a conservative seminary, and worked for religious conservative causes). In writing, committee members questioned whether they wanted his 'Bible-thum[...]



Euro Logic: We Must Kill Free Speech to Promote Free Speech

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 09:30:00 -0400

Recent "hate speech" investigations in European countries have been spawned by homily remarks by a Spanish Cardinal who opposed "radical feminism," a hyperbolic hashtag tweeted by a U.K. diversity coordinator, a chant for fewer Moroccan immigrants to enter the Netherlands, comments from a reality TV star implying Scottish people have Ebola, a man who put a sign in his home window saying "Islam out of Britian," French activists calling for boycotts of Israeli products, an anti-Semitic tweet sent to a British politician, a Facebook post referring to refugees to Germany as "scum," and various other sorts of so-called "verbal radicalism" on social media. One might consider any or all of these comments distasteful, but Americans (recent trends on college campuses notwithstanding) tend to appreciate that for a free-speech right to truly exist, we must severely limit the types of speech—true threats, slander, etc.—that don't deserve protection from government censorship and potential prosecution. Not so in European Union (E.U.) member countries, many of which have laws against any language that "insults," "offends," "degrades," "expresses contempt," or "incites hatred" based on certain protected traits like race, religion, or sexual orientation. As Nick Gillespie has put it, "hate speech" is like the secular equivalent of blasphemy. On Monday, Věra Jourová, the E.U. Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, gave a speech stressing the importance of such laws and calling for even more intense policing of so-called hate speech. (Just to be clear, by "hate speech" we are not talking about things like threats or criminal harassment.) "My top priority is to ensure that the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia is correctly translated into the national criminal codes and enforced, so that perpetrators of online hate speech are duly punished," Jourová said. The commissioner offered a characteristically European rationale for the imposition: only by government censorship of free expression can free expression flourish. "In recent years, we have seen messages of extremism and intolerance spread around the globe like wildfire" and "we need to stand united against this growing phenomenon," said Jourová. "Our commitment is to deliver change so that people do not need to live in fear, and to ensure that the internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected." "The spread of illegal hate speech online not only distresses the people it targets," she continued, "it also affects those who speak up for freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination in our society. If left unattended, the fear of intimidation can keep opinion makers, journalists and citizens away from social media platforms." It's easy to see how folks might buy Jourová's idea that allowing intolerant speech online "means a shrinking digital space for freedom of expression." We've all heard about public figures or controversial thinkers who were allegedly hounded off of social media by online criticism, with its harsh, vulgar, and sometimes violent tones. And what is gained by such uncivil opprobrium? By sanctioning not only violent threats and ongoing harassment but also speech that serves no purpose but to troll, denigrate, or spread bigotry, we can usher in a more welcoming environment for all sorts of ideas and speakers online... Or so the thinking goes, anyway. But the fatal flaw in this conceit is pretending there's some bright line between desirable, pro-social speech and speech that merely incites offense, fear, or feelings of negativity. Of course, many of us object on pure principle to censoring the latter forms of speech. But setting aside classical-liberal notions, there are still plenty of good arguments against EU-style speech policing. For one, it makes distinctions between legal and ille[...]



U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Wants to Subjugate the First Amendment

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 07:30:00 -0400

Preventing people from being discriminated against by private organizations is so exceptionally vital that the First Amendment needs to be subjugated to that aim, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights declared last week. That's a paraphrase on my part. So that you don't think I'm making it up, I'll now quote directly from the report, which describes "civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination" as being "of preeminent importance." (The definition of preeminent is, of course, "above or before others" and "superior.") "Although the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) limit the ability of government actors to impede individuals from practicing their religious beliefs," the report goes on, "religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws and policies must be weighed carefully and defined narrowly on a fact-specific basis." Weighed carefully? That's an interesting choice of words. So how is a policy maker to know if the need for the religious exemption outweighs the need to protect people from, say, having a photographer refuse to work their wedding? According to the report, the answer is: It almost never does. The commission showed its hand by writing that the federal RFRA (which Bill Clinton signed to ensure Americans wouldn't be forced to violate their religious beliefs absent a compelling government interest and no less burdensome alternative) needs to be altered so that everyone understands that it "creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights...only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination." Likewise for the several-dozen state-based RFRAs that have been enacted over the years. In other words, your right to not be subjected to laws that violate your beliefs should be treated as categorically less important than my right not to have anyone discriminate against me. There would be little to take issue with here if the discrimination in question were the work of the government, a la state-mandated segregation under Jim Crow. (When Kim Davis tried to use the power of her office to deny marriage licenses to gay couples, to cite a more recent example, she was ordered to desist—and rightly so.) Unfortunately, the report isn't about public discrimination. It's about private discrimination, such as when a Catholic school wants to hire only people who adhere to the Church's teachings. It's a fact that different people hold different beliefs about morality. Some feel that offering a health insurance plan that covers contraceptives would make them complicit in a behavior they view as sinful. Others say the same about participating in same-sex weddings, or employing individuals who openly flout the strictures of their faith, or stocking abortifacient drugs in their privately owned pharmacies. The point isn't that these are good or bad beliefs to hold. The point is that a subset of people understands these actions to be wrong, and yet government entities (at the federal level in the first example, and at the state level in the latter three) have opted to require everyone to engage in them anyway—people's faith be damned. And these are precisely the types of requirements that the Commission on Civil Rights wants enforced at all costs, and only the narrowest possible exceptions to them entertained. That's a perfect inversion of how it ought to be. It's probably true that, as the report points out, religious exemptions to such laws "significantly infringe upon" the particular class of "civil rights" that statutorily enjoin private discrimination "based upon classifications" like religion and sexual orientation. But it's just as true that the laws themselves "significantly infringe upon" religion and "the free exercise thereof." The whole conversation is a red herring. Re[...]



Brickbat: Separation of Church and State

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination says the state's new ban on gender identity discrimination applies to churches when conducting any "secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public." That would seem to include the right to use the bathroom of their choice.




Brickbat: Norwegian Wouldn’t

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Norwegian hairdresser faces up to six months in prison for refusing to pay a fine of 870 euros for religious discrimination. Merete Hodne refused to cut Malika Bayan's hair because Bayan was wearing a hijab. Hodne says she regards the hijab as a totalitarian symbol. She also says serving hijab-wearing customers would force her to turn away male customers since they will not remove the headscarf in front of men.




Brickbat: Go Tigers

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Clemson University official told a man praying on a campus lawn he would have to leave because he was not in a free speech area. The official also said that by putting up a sign that said "prayer" the man was soliciting and would need to get a permit for that.




Is American Multiculturalism a Failure?

Thu, 01 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Has the great American experiment in diversity ended in failure? That's the impression you might get from an array of recent developments -- Black Lives Matter protests, anti-Muslim sentiment, resentment of undocumented immigrants and, last but not least, Donald Trump. We seem to be loudly fracturing and separating, not coming together. We're all pluribus and no unum. Trump's embracing of the alt-right movement, which was condemned at length by Hillary Clinton in a recent speech, highlights our apparent racial and religious polarization. His new campaign CEO is also head of Breitbart News, which regularly fans white fears and denounces "multiculturalism." A characteristic Breitbart story began mournfully, "Four centuries after white Christians landed in Jamestown and settled what would later become America, a report reveals that white Christians are now a minority in the nation their forebearers settled." (They were also a minority then, by the way.) More mainstream conservatives also fret about the perils of diversity. "Multicultural societies," warned Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, "usually end up mired in nihilistic and endemic violence." It's clear from Trump's capture of the Republican nomination that many whites regard demographic diversity as an evil, not a blessing. When he vows to "make America great again," he harks back to a time when the country was more homogeneous. But the Trump phenomenon is a symptom of growing desperation, not growing strength, among a shrinking faction whose conception of America is obsolete. These people are in a frenzy because they are beginning to realize the battle is lost. Most Americans have come to embrace the inclusion of every race, ethnicity and religion in our society. That wasn't always the case. In 1994, reports the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Americans said immigrants were a burden. Today 59 percent regard them as an asset. The shift is even more pronounced among young people, 76 percent of whom have a positive view of immigrants. For many people, racial and ethnic lines are increasingly irrelevant. In 2010, 15 percent of new marriages occurred between partners of different races or ethnicities—more than double the rate in 1980. "Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9 percent of whites, 17 percent of blacks, 26 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of Asians married out," reports Pew. One reason white Christians are a declining share of the population is that more whites are abandoning Christianity. Since 2007, the share of whites with no religious affiliation has risen from 16 percent to 24 percent. Islamophobia is rife among Trump supporters. Two-thirds of them express negative attitudes toward Muslims. But only one-third of all Americans feel that way. Islamic terrorism has obviously fueled worries and suspicions. Even so, in 2011, 82 percent of American Muslims said they were satisfied with their lives—which suggests they don't find prejudice to be a major problem. The biggest source of racial tension is also the oldest one—the divide between whites and blacks, manifested in economic disparities and broadly different views of law enforcement. Most whites express confidence in police, but only 30 percent of African-Americans share that trust. Though blacks continue to feel they face discrimination, most whites believe they don't. Other groups, though, have integrated themselves into American society more fully than could have been expected. Asian-Americans, who once faced intense prejudice, are likelier than any other group to intermarry and to live in racially mixed neighborhoods. Their households also have a higher median income than white households. In a society dominated by racial animosity,[...]



The Man Who Turned Beauty into an Actual Cult

Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Holy Hell. CNN. Thursday, September 1, 9 p.m. One man's cult is another man's religion. I remember listening with amusement some years back to an argument between a member of Rev. Moon's Unification Church and a rather strident Christian critic who was fulminating on the obvious absurdity of the reverend's (ambiguous) claim to be the messiah. Why would God, the man snapped, choose a peasant from a remote Korean mountainside village as his messenger? Replied the Moon follower, wide-eyed: "You mean, instead of an illiterate Palestinian carpenter?" So I'm always dubious about the loose use of the word "cults," and even more so about their supposed dangers. As a second-generation atheist, it's not so obvious to me why, say, Rev. Moon's communal group homes are any more sinister than cloistered Catholic monasteries. I say all that so you'll know that when I tell you that Holy Hell, a documentary about a creepily eccentric spiritual community led by an extra from Rosemary's Baby, is aberrantly fascinating and more than a bit unsettling, I'm not just weirded out by the unfamiliar rituals of an off-brand religion. Buddhafield, as the group is called, has left a trail of disillusioned followers with broken hearts and busted bank accounts in its churning wake. One of them is Will Allen, the writer and director of Holy Hell, which has been kicking around the festival circuit this year and gets its first mass exposure next week on CNN. Allen spent 22 years as Buddhafield's house videographer and propagandist before breaking away in 2007, taking with him countless hours of revealing footage. Allen, a recent film-school grad trying to break into the movie business, was introduced to Buddhafield by a sister who bumped into some of the followers in West Hollywood in the mid-80s. They didn't have any of the standard cult accoutrements—no shaved heads or flowing robes or saffron incense. In fact, they were mostly socially conventional and startlingly attractive (that, it would turn out, was not by chance) and formed a lively, funny crowd. "Constantly, your soul was being fed with love and inspiration and awe," wistfully recalls another new recruit of the day. Buddhafield's leader was an elfin former ballet dancer and bit-role actor—you can see him in the crowd at that Satanist party at the end of Rosemary's Baby—who called himself Michel. Frequently clad in little more than a Speedo, striking dramatic poses and leveling smoky gazes apparently stolen from old Valentino movies while he spoke in an intriguing accent of indeterminate national origin, he preached a blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age mysticism that the West Hollywood crowd found irresistible. ("His energy was still, and I thought, 'What a beautiful man,'" explains one follower in the fractured argot of the spiritually overdosed.) Pretty soon they'd all moved into a communal setting from which radio, TV, and sex were banned. (And especially the wages of sex; pregnant women either had to undergo abortions or leave the group.) Compulsory hypnotherapy, in which the Buddhafielders had to disclose their most intimate secrets, took place once a week, at $50 a pop. "Service" was required, too, especially to Michel, who needed drivers, helpers and, after a while, somebody to carry his throne, literally. What service was directed outside the group itself was often hilariously misconceived. One acolyte who hadn't yet moved in with the group recounts spending hours creating artistic fruit salad renditions of scenes like The Last Supper for his roommate, only to discover the guy was simply shoveling them into a blender for smoothies without so much as a glance. The most assiduous of Michel's devotees were invited to undergo The Kn[...]



Non-Religious Fundamentalists

Thu, 25 Aug 2016 14:47:00 -0400

France's recent crackdown on a garment known as the "burkini," popular among Muslim women who want to remain modest while enjoying a swim, has accrued ample criticism from all over the world this week. But it's just one example of a wave of non-religious fundamentalism, in which the allegedly patriarchal print of Islam and other faiths must be destroyed by the righteous benevolence of public officials. In Germany this week, a Muslim woman was fired from her government internship when she refused to remove her headscarf. In Tajikistan, a country long hostile to Islam, some officials have begun keeping lists of women who sport hijabs, the traditional head-covering worn by Muslim girls and women. "The country's staunchly secular authoritarian government disapproves of attire or grooming that would suggest supposedly radical Islamic beliefs," reports The Washington Post. True, Tajikstan is an extreme example: its government has been known to shut down mosques at random, ban parents from giving their children Arabic names, and otherwise go hard on quashing religious expression. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, "the government of Tajikistan suppresses and punishes all religious activity independent of state control." But France, an allegedly liberal and democratic country, also takes a pretty authoritarian line toward religious expression. Secularity is its own sort of religion there, at least to those in power, who have banned religious symbols such as crosses, yarmulkes, and hijabs in all government buildings and public schools. More recently, some 15 towns voted to ban burkinis on public beaches. This week, the sight of French police publicly forcing a Muslim woman at the beach to remove clothing has (understandably) drawn a lot of outrage, with many rushing to point out why such policies go against the spirit in which they're intended. This takes the state at its word on why Muslim women's garments have been banned: they're a symbol of women's ongoing inequality in some cultures. That is not the culture of France, say leaders, and hence its zero-tolerance policy for such symbols of female oppression. It's a silly scheme for several reasons. For one, it's unlikely to make the lives of actual oppressed women any better; for those whom husbands or families force headscarves and burquas in public, a ban on these items will simply mean many Muslim have to forgo the beach and other public outings entirely. (It's also unlikely to inspire goodwill among Muslim communities already alienated from mainstream French society.) For another, it's contradictory: in the name of women's equality, France is literally forcing women to wear less clothing than they're comfortable in and passing laws that target female attire but not male. And these policies are also hypocritical in how they define symbols of female oppression. As many, many Muslim women have pointed out, hijabs and other traditional Muslim garments don't necessarily signify second-class status, and women may choose to wear them for cultural reasons or personal beliefs about modesty. Some folks counter that the "cultural reasons" are rooted in sexism, so what difference does it make? But surely we could say the same about many women's garments, from the habits worn by Catholic nuns to the wigs worn by Hasidic Jewish ladies to the stiletto-heels and string-bikinis worn by some secular women. Certainly not every woman who dons a skimpy outfits or slaps on bright-red lipstick is doing so to please men, or fulfill cultural norms, but many are, and you don't see France rushing to ban Forever 21 or L'Oréal. But of course this is about more than just women's clothing. Franc[...]